Before we talk about the exact steps to finding keywords for your SEO campaign, let’s briefly cover what keyword research is and why you should care.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the act of finding and examining keywords to target in an SEO campaign.
This is done using a number of free and/or paid tools that show you what people are searching for on Google and other search engines.
Suggested detailed guides: Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
The role of keyword research in digital marketing
The quality of your keywords is the difference between a successful marketing campaign and a waste of time. The keywords you choose will determine your SEO marketing strategy from start to finish.
How important is keyword research?
SEO can be complex, but it boils down to three fundamentals:
- Keyword research
- Link building
Of those three, keyword research is the most important.
Why? Because you can create the best content and build incredible links that put you at the top of Google’s rankings, and still get zero benefit in terms of business growth or revenue if you target the wrong keywords.
For example, let’s say you want to write some blog content for your site so that you can appear on the first page of Google. You have an idea for a blog post and you think you have a good keyword to target. You make awesome content, build links to it through guest posting and email outreach, and end up on the first page of Google. You’re getting hundreds of hits every month….
But the revenue from that article is still $0.
This is because you didn’t properly research your keyword ahead of time. You may have found a keyword, but finding a keyword and doing keyword research are very different things.
Properly researching a keyword means understanding its revenue potential, how competitive it is, and even the exact type of content you need to create in order to rank for it. You’ll see what I mean at the end of this guide.
Bottom line: Proper keyword research can be the difference between a highly successful SEO campaign that makes your business a lot of money and a total waste of time and money.
Search volume and long-tail keywords
The first concept to understand about keywords is search volume.
This is what most people look at when they start researching keywords, and also one of the worst metrics to look at.
A high search volume can be very misleading for two reasons:
- The raw number of people searching for something has very little to do with how much you can actually earn from that traffic. For example, if you rank for a keyword that gets 10,000 searches per month, but if people are only looking for information and are not ready to buy (hint: you would have to define search intent. More below.), that does nothing for your bottom line.
- Just because 10,000 people search for a keyword doesn’t mean that all 10,000 people click on a result. Take a look at the keyword “How old is Trump,” for example: it gets 30,000 searches a month, but only 13% of those people click on anything. That’s because people get the right answer on Google and don’t need to click to find it.
On the other hand, a low search volume does not mean that a keyword is bad or that the number you see is the number of visitors you will receive. Virtually every page that shows up in Google for one keyword also shows up for dozens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of other keywords.
These other keywords are often synonyms and long-listed variants. There are also latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords, which I get to in a section below.
What is the objective of the story? While search volume is an important metric, you should not base your target keywords solely on the number of people searching for it each month (unless you are only focusing on brand awareness and/or ad revenue per impression).
Intention to search
Search intent is exactly what it sounds like: the intent of the person searching for a particular keyword. It is similar to the marketing concept “purchase intent”.
In other words: What is the user looking for?
Are they looking for an item they are ready to buy right now? Are they researching before making a purchase decision? Or are they just looking for information that has nothing to do with buying anything, but a problem for which they may need a solution?
Let’s look at an example of each.
High purchase intent: A high purchase intent keyword might be the name of a product, such as “RV rental las vegas”. If you type this into Google and look at the results, you’ll see a bunch of ads for RV rentals and a map showing Las Vegas RV rental companies. Someone searching for this is likely ready to buy, or very close.
Research intent: These are keywords where people are still researching solutions, but are likely to buy soon. “Best” and “Review” keywords often fall into this category, such as “best RV rental companies.”
Informational Intent: These keywords are for people who are strictly looking for information and are not ready or even thinking about buying something. The example of “how old is Trump” falls into this category. Another example that fits with RV rentals might be something like “how to travel the country with a pet.”
However, don’t think that you should only go after buying intent keywords. Informational keywords can help you build your email list and get people into your marketing funnel to eventually buy from you.
Search intent is also important to know because it affects the content you rank for in Google. If you try to create a landing page to rank for an informational keyword when Google is ranking long-form blog content, it probably won’t rank even with perfect on-page SEO and a bunch of backlinks, because it’s simply not what the user is looking for.
For example, let’s say you want to be a “little camper”. So you create a guide to owning small campers. However, when we look at Google, we can see that people aren’t looking for a guide, they’re looking for a list of small campers to buy.
That’s why even after you find good keyword ideas, you should always manually type them into Google and see what is currently ranking to get an idea of what you need to create. Don’t write a massive guide when people just want a quick answer and don’t try to rank for a blog post when people are looking to buy a product.
The role of LSI and synonyms.
Earlier, I mentioned LSI keywords. This stands for Latent Semantic Indexing, and is a fancy way for Google to say “synonyms and related keywords.” These are words that are commonly found together within the same topic and are semantically related to each other.
They are important for telling search engines what your content is about, as there can be multiple meanings for the same keywords.
For example, let’s say you’re writing an article about cars. There are five different potential “cars” you could be talking about:
- Cars, the vehicles
- Cars, the Disney animated movie
- CARS, the Canadian Association of Rally Sports Cars
- CARs, the Canadian Aviation Regulations
- (The) Cars, the American music band of the 1970s.
How does Google know which version of the “cars” you are referring to? By LSI keywords! Take a look:
- Using the words “vehicle”, “used”, “new”, “buy”, “sell”, etc.
- Using the words “movie,” “film,” “Disney,” etc.
- Using the words “association”, “rally”, “sport”, etc.
- Using the words “aviation,” “regulation,” “administration,” etc.
While LSI keywords don’t necessarily matter during your keyword research, they are important when developing your actual content. You should include several LSI keywords naturally in your content without stuffing them, including in headers and image alt text.
You can find LSI keywords (and learn more about them) with a tool like LSI Graph.