Keyword Research for SEO: A Quick Crash Course

Learn how to find the right search phrases to attract organic traffic from buyers at each stage in their journey

December 12, 2016

Coin-Operated Binoculars

When Google first launched in 1998, it handled about ten thousand queries per day. Now it handles that many searches in 1/5th of a second. That adds up to 3.5 billion searches per day—in two days, that’s one query for every adult and child in the world. And 15-20% of those search terms are phrases that have never been searched for before.

Your target audience is somewhere in those 3.5 billion expressions of desire. Your task as a marketer is threefold: 1) Determine what your audience is searching for, 2) Create content that meets their desire, and 3) Make it easy for search engines to connect your content to your audience. What could be simpler?

Okay, maybe it isn’t that simple. But it’s easier to do now than ever before, and there are plenty of tools to help you through the process. Let’s take a look at how to conduct keyword research, and how keywords can inform your content. 

Discover Topics of Interest

The first step is to determine what content your buyers are interested in. What do they want to learn? What do they need to hear? What are they struggling with? And, perhaps most importantly, where do these wants and needs intersect in a relevant way with your solution?

There is a wealth of resources online to help with this research. Try these to start:

1. Buyer Personas. If your department has already created personas based on customer interviews and other research, these can help guide the process. No need to reinvent the wheel.

2. Frequently Asked Questions. Ask your sales and customer service department for their most frequently asked questions. These can help guide keyword research and content creation.

3. Question and Answer Sites. Sites like Quora, where people can pose questions and collect answers, are an invaluable resource.

4. Reviews for Comparable Products and Services. Customers frequently express details about how a solution interacts with their day-to-day life in reviews, including what frustrates or delights them.

5. Trending Content around the Web. Use a tool for tracking the most shared content (more on that later) related to your business, and evaluate the top performers to see what is driving their success.

Turn Topics into Keywords

Once you know what questions your content will answer, you can determine what search terms should lead to it. The quality of a keyword is determined by three factors:

1.       Volume: How many searches are performed for the keyword?

2.       Competition: How hard it might be to rank for the keyword?

3.       Intent: At what stage of the buying process would one use this keyword?

The fastest way to determine the first two of these factors is with Google Keyword Planner. While it’s designed to help you get the most out of AdWords, it’s a good resource for creating keywords, full stop.  Keyword Planner can suggest keywords based on your topics and show the monthly search volume and level of competition for each. Razorsocial’s Keyword Planner Guide can walk you through the nuts and bolts of the process.

The tool for evaluating a keyword’s intent is no more nor less than your marketing mind. The purpose behind a search query falls into one of three categories:

1.       Navigational: Take me to a specific destination

2.       Informational: Answer a question for me

3.       Transactional: Help me make a purchase

The keywords you choose to focus on will depend on what stage of the journey you’re writing content for. “Best hiking shoes” is an informational keyword, and should return content a little higher in the funnel. But “Online discount hiking shoes” is more transactional; you can see the buyer is closer to making a purchase decision.

The important consideration is matching the keyword with the content to fulfil the searcher’s intent. That’s how to avoid high bounce rates and low rankings. The intent of “best hiking shoes” is likely an article comparing different brands in a neutral manner. If your link goes straight to a product page, the searcher is likely to head back to the search results.

When mapping keywords to content, it’s important to keep long tail keywords in mind. These are keywords that have lower search volume, but tend to be more specific and more transactional.  Compare that to “head terms,” which are broad, have high competition, and low transaction intent, and “middle terms,” which fall somewhere in between.

For example, a head term might be “shoes,” or even “men’s shoes.” It’s a broad category with little discernible intent—that is, no guarantee the searcher is looking for the kind of shoes you provide. A middle term might be, “men’s hiking boots.” That gets closer to a good relevancy fit.

Long tail keywords would include practically endless variations of phrases like, “best hiking shoes for the desert,” “how to buy hiking boots that fit,” or “hiking boots that last longer than a year.” Each of these terms might get 100 or fewer searches a month, but taken together, they add up.

It’s a good idea to have middle and long tail keywords together in your content. Let the middle term head the theme, then include a handful of long tail phrases throughout the content. Don’t worry about shoehorning them in, though—they should naturally come up in the content if you’re mindful of your head term. 

Use Keyword Research for Website Architecture

Once you collect topics and create keywords for the topics, look for ways to reflect your research not just in content, but in site architecture as well.

For example—to leave hiking shoes behind for a moment—imagine you’re a pet food supplier. Your search terms might include “organic dog food” or “vegan cat food.” Which is all well and good.

But your keyword research might reveal a lot of searches around pet food are about the best food for animals of a certain age, fitness level, or breed.

In that case, it would make sense to create a section of your website full of short guides that addresses the most popular concerns. “Best food for obese cats,” or “best food for elderly big dogs.” You could generate a great deal of long tail (no pun intended) value with a single big content asset. 

Tools to Assist in Keyword Research

There’s no shortage of free or inexpensive tools to help conduct keyword research. Here are a few of our favorites:

1.       Google Keyword Planner: It’s not the be-all and end-all, but it has a ton of functionality for free.

2.       KWFinder: An easy-to-use tool for finding long tail keywords and determining level of competition.

3.       Moz Keyword Explorer: It’s not a free tool, but it features a great deal more utility for a reasonable monthly rate, with a free trial.

4.       Ubersuggest: Expands on the keyword ideas you’ll find in Google Keyword Planner.

5.       HitTail: Runs in the background on your website and suggests keywords based on traffic.

Behind every search engine query is a person in need trying to solve a problem. When that problem overlaps with your business’ solution, quality content can turn a casual searcher into an interested potential buyer. Keyword research can help you connect your potential audience to your content.

When content is crafted around solid research, its SEO potential is baked in. There’s no need to stuff in keywords, because the content was strategically designed to include keywords. In other words, the content appears to search engines as a good answer to what the reader is searching for… because it actually is.

To learn more about content marketing from research to amplification and beyond, download The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing.