Before you can genuinely understand the basics of keyword research, you must understand what SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is all about and why it matters for your brand’s content strategy.
SEO is the practice of increasing both the quality and quantity of website traffic through non-paid search engine results.
SEO is all about understanding:
- What people are searching for online
- The answers they are seeking
- The words they are using
- The type of content they want to consume
To understand SEO basics, you need to know the meaning of the following terms:
We like to think of search engines as “answer machines.” They aim to determine which content is most likely to answer a search query by “crawling & indexing” web pages, PDFs, images, videos, etc.
SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages)
Type a question in the Google search bar and click the search icon. The list of content that shows up on your screen is called a SERP.
Or, as WordStream defines it, “Search engine results pages are web pages served to users when they search for something online using a search engine, such as Google. The user enters their search query (often using specific terms and phrases known as keywords), upon which the search engine presents them with a SERP.”
SERPs usually show two types of content – “organic” results and paid results. Organic results are listings of web pages that appear as a result of the search engine’s algorithm, such as blogs or product pages. SEO is about optimizing your online content and web pages to rank on the SERP.
Below is an example of a SERP. The highlighted item is an example of organic content.
A SERP has other features such as:
- Featured snippets (answer boxes): Featured snippets are highlighted excerpts of text that appear at the top of a Google search results page in what is known as ‘Position 0’. They provide users with a quick answer to their search query. Featured snippets are more likely to appear when users enter informational search queries (SearchMetrics, 2022)
- People also ask boxes: ‘People also ask’ is a Google SERP feature that mostly appears on the first page of SERPs containing a list of questions and their answers. This section contains the results from the web pages with similar contents to users’ search queries. The ‘people also ask’ box can appear in different SERP positions, but in 75% of searches, it appears in the top 3 search rank positions. This section contains answers in various formats like paragraphs, lists, tables, and videos per the search query. But around 78% of the answers are in paragraph format. It presents the most relevant piece of information that would satisfy the users’ search intent by triggering dynamic loading (Search Engine Digest, 2022)
- Image carousels: A carousel is a list-like rich result that people can swipe through on mobile devices. It displays multiple cards from the same site (also known as a host carousel) (Google Search Central, 2022)
Why is SEO important for your content strategy?
There’s a plethora of reasons why SEO is an integral part of your content strategy, but to save us some time, here are some of the most important reasons, in our opinion:
- Search engines drive the majority of website traffic
- Organic search results receive way more clicks than paid advertisements
- It attracts searchers seeking your content, answers, and products right now.
- It allows you to control how your brand is seen in the search results
- It can nudge searchers toward queries you want them to make and results you want them to see.
What are keywords for search engines?
As MOZ defines it, keywords are ideas and topics that define what your content is about. Regarding SEO, they’re the words and phrases that searchers enter into search engines, also called “search queries.”
Keyword research is all about understanding how people will search for your brand.
It’s relatively straightforward; if you are not creating content based on keywords, how can you be sure people are actually looking for the topics you are writing about?
Many companies mistakenly guess their audience’s questions or what they care about. Keyword research removes the guesswork of creating a content strategy and ensures that your content calendar answers your customer questions while positioning your product as the answer to the question they asked in the first place.
Here’s an example. You sell tankless water heaters and want to know common questions your customers ask regarding your products.
A keyword research tool like SEMRush can help you identify keyword variations, questions, and related keywords and how many people search those keywords per month.
Here is an example of what SEMRush provided after I entered “tankless water heater” into the platform’s keyword overview tool:
Based on this research, it is safe to say that “how does a tankless water heater work” is an important question to answer on your website, as it receives 2.9K monthly searches. If you want the searchers to land on your website, you must develop content that answers their questions.
How to search for keywords
A lot of time and resources go into conducting keyword research and identifying content topics. But a good place to start is with manual search.
Step 1: Begin by understanding your users and your goals.
Before conducting keyword research, you must understand your target audience.
- What motivates your customer?
- What do your customers care about?
- Who are your audience personas?
- Identify any seasonal trends in your audience’s behavior
- Why do your customers use your products or services? What problems do your products or services solve?
- How can you help satisfy what your customers are looking for?
- Understand search intent. Search intent (or user intent, audience intent) is the term used to describe the purpose of an online search. It’s the reason why someone conducts a specific search. After all, everyone who does an online search is hoping to find something.
Another essential first step is to understand your goals, such as:
- Sales of a product or service
- Feeding different sections of the sales funnel
- Driving traffic to your website
- Building awareness of your website, services and products
- Ad clicks and impressions for paid traffic
Step 2: Make a list
- Make a list of important topics for your customers and your business. Identify keywords customers will use to look for your products.
For example, if your company sells kitchen sinks and you are targeting the consumer, what are some things a consumer would be looking for when they search for your product? Since you understand your products, you could start by making a list of your product lines, styles of sink you offer, colors, or terms like “farmhouse sink,” “quality sink,” or “fireclay sink .” However, this is just a starting point; advanced keyword research will help inform you if that is actually what consumers are searching for. It also never hurts to ask your customer.
- Explore Forums, Reddit (what’s upvoted), Google Trends, Quora, and Google SERPs to discover FAQs relating to your product or service.
- Check the “people also ask” results on Google or look at related searches.
- Check the phrases that your brand already ranks for
- Identify keywords/phrases that your competitors rank for
- Separate the topics into buckets and prioritize them
Step 3: Advanced Keyword Research
Once you have compiled a list of phrases based on manual research and customer input, use keyword research tools to conduct advanced keyword research and identify more related keyword variations and phrases.
There are many free keyword research tools available online.
Step 4: Refine & Prioritize
- Look at the volume of searches to prioritize keywords
- Target more long phrase keywords (they are usually easier to rank for)
- Look at metrics like Search Volume, PD (Paid Difficulty), CPC (Cost per Click), SD (SEO Difficulty)
- Consider quality over quantity. Even if a keyword receives thousands of searches a month, consider if that particular keyword will drive the right traffic to your website.
Aside from what we’ve already learned above, here are some best practices to keep in mind when conducting keyword research:
- Understand the search demand landscape so you can craft more optimal SEO strategies. What are people searching for? Any branded terms?
- Create a list of terms and phrases that match your marketing goals and can be used to achieve rankings.
- Identifying keywords you will be able to rank for, i.e., pay close attention to the keyword difficulty.
- Check that the keywords actually show up in organic searches, or should you consider taking a paid approach by running Google Ads?
- Prioritize keyword investments so you target the most important high ROI work first.
- Match keywords to pages on your site to find the gaps. If you don’t have matches, you need to create content.
- Before developing content, understand the intent behind the search. It’s not necessarily about the keyword searched but more about the meaning behind the search. What is the searcher trying to learn? Then, create content to teach them.
How to incorporate keywords into your content and website
When optimizing your site and content for SEO, there are many factors to look out for; one factor is on-page SEO.
According to Moz, on-page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual web pages to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. On-page refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized, as opposed to off-page SEO, which refers to links and other external signals.
Take a look at these 8 On-Page SEO Best Practices to help your brand rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines:
Include Keywords in Page Titles
A page’s SEO title should be descriptive, compelling, and keyword-rich. Be sure to include the keyword you are targeting towards the beginning of your title and then add a modifier towards the end. Modifiers include words like buy, review, offers, and even the year.
Include Keywords in Meta Descriptions
Your meta description acts as “organic ad text,” meaning that when your page ranks for a keyword, Google and other engines will often show the meta description as a page summary. A meta description doesn’t necessarily help you rank higher, but it does help to draw more clicks because it is a helpful tool to explain to your reader why your content is valuable.
Include keywords in the first 100 words
Google heavily crawls the first 100 words of your content because the first paragraph usually explains what the article is about. The keywords you are targeting should naturally appear in the first paragraph of your blog or page.
Include keywords in your URL
Be sure to keep your URL short. Shorten URLs perform better, and Google has actually stated that the first 3-5 words in your URL are given more weight. Add medium-tail keywords to your URL. Always remove dates from your URLs to keep your articles relevant.
Include keywords in your image alt text
Keep in mind that Google can’t see your images. That’s why it’s important to use Alt Tags to make the site more accessible to Google. Be sure to use a relevant file name.
There you have it! Hopefully, you are well on your way to conducting keyword research and informing your content strategy, ultimately increasing both the quality and quantity of your website traffic through non-paid search engine results.
If you have any questions about keyword research or want to learn more about how GreenHouse can develop a keyword plan and content calendar for your brand, don’t hesitate to set up a discovery call.