Keywords are the building blocks of SEO. They play a huge role in determining what you see in search results, providing a road map for users and search engines alike. An intentional keyword strategy is vital when it comes to having a strong online presence – if you don’t know what you want your business’s website to rank for, it’s unlikely it will rank at all. This is not something to ignore – with the top 3 search results in Google receiving 75.1% of all clicks, the importance of visibility in search results is undeniable.
Despite the foundational role keywords play in SEO, developing and revising a keyword strategy can be time-consuming, confusing, and daunting. In this guide, we’ll dive into what it means to optimize your website and content for keywords, and how to conduct keyword research to help you refine your SEO strategy.
What is a keyword?
A keyword is a word or phrase that identifies or explains what your website or content is about. In SEO, keywords are the link between your website, your social media, and your content and the search queries – the words or phrases users use to search – consumers are using online.
Keywords can help both users and search engines identify what your page is about and how relevant your page is to a particular search query. Pages optimized for a particular keyword are more likely to rank higher in search results for that keyword (or similar queries).
What does it mean to optimize for a keyword?
Optimizing a piece of content or a page on your site for a keyword – or targeting a keyword – means identifying and highlighting a particular keyword to improve a page or piece of content’s visibility in search results. By optimizing your content for a specific keyword, you can communicate to both search engines and users what your content is about, and how relevant it is to a particular query.
When a search engine crawls a page on your website or a piece of content, it will try to determine what it’s about. If you optimize a page for a particular keyword, it can help search engines identify the topic of the page, which can improve your ranking potential for related search queries.
Optimizing your website for relevant keywords can have a significant impact on your visibility in search results, which in turn can have a significant impact on the organic traffic – or visitors – your site receives. What’s more, ranking well for one keyword can yield more positive results: the average top-ranking page for a particular keyword or search term also ranks in the top 10 search results for almost 1,000 other relevant keywords.
Effective keyword optimization does not only require identifying words and phrases that are relevant to your industry and business, but also identifying what your target audience is searching for, how they’re searching, and how they phrase things to better refine your website and content to match their searches. This is where keyword research comes in.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research refers to the process of identifying potential keywords relevant to your business to target with online content. It takes into account not only relevant words and phrases, but what your audience is searching for and what language they use, in order to align your target keywords with the queries of your target audience.
Keyword research cannot only help you refine your SEO strategy and increase your visibility online, but can help you identify areas of potential for content and better ways to meet your audience’s needs. Though it may seem like a daunting process, we’ve put together a guide of where to start to help you improve your keyword strategy and SEO overall.
Keyword Research: Where to Start
- Brainstorm Keywords
It may seem obvious, but before you conduct your keyword research, you need to know where to start. Identifying any keywords you would like to rank for can help you have a jumping-off point for your research, and act as a guide when starting out.
When it comes to brainstorming keywords, stick to topics, words, and phrases that are related to your business, industry, and areas of expertise. One way to approach keyword brainstorming is to brainstorm larger topics or categories and then break those categories down into smaller topics.
- Google Your Keywords
As your list of keywords grows, you will need to determine which keywords are worth pursuing, or how difficult they may be to rank for. One of the easiest ways to do this is to Google the keyword. Looking at the results that populate will give you insight on the competitiveness of your keyword – if a keyword has several strong, high domain sites, such as Wikipedia, IMDB, etc., it may be difficult to get your own content to rank. However, if a keyword has lower tier results, or more variation, it may be easier to rank for that particular keyword.
Though this is an important step to do earlier on, this is one you will want to come back to. Searching a keyword is the easiest way to see real-time results, and get a sense of the competition for that keyword.
- Utilize Suggested and Related Search
Suggested and related search can be an invaluable tool when it comes to keyword research. These lists can give you insight into what people are searching for in relation to your identified keywords.
Suggested search refers to the list of terms that populates when you type a phrase into Google.
Related search refers to the list of terms at the bottom of the page when you conduct a Google search.
Both of these lists are influenced by what people are searching for, and can give you ideas for additional keywords to target.
People Also Ask (PAA) can provide similar insight, showing related questions asked by other users.
As stated earlier, a keyword can be a single word or a phrase, and questions as search queries are on the rise (partially as a result of voice search). Thus, targeting questions as keywords can be a great way to increase your visibility on Google, and PAA can provide insight on the questions searchers have.
- Look at Customer Feedback
Your current customers can be a valuable resource when it comes to determining keywords to target. Look at customer feedback, reviews, and other correspondence. If there are questions that come up frequently, areas of confusion, or recurring topics in reviews, these can all be addressed on your website and in your content.
- Stay Up-To-Date on Industry Conversations
Another way to find keywords is to look at conversations in your industry. Forums, such as Quora or Reddit, or industry-specific publications can be great resources for identifying trends and popular topics.
- Check Out the Competition
Similar to checking out the search results for keywords, seeing what your competitors rank for can help you develop your keywords list, content strategy, and determine competition for certain keywords. Not only can this give you insight on your own SEO and keyword strategy, but it will also help you determine which keywords are and are not worth competing for.
Keyword Research Tools
Keyword research tools can be a valuable asset in improving your overall SEO strategy. There are several research tools to choose from, depending on your needs and SEO literacy. While every keyword research tool is a bit different, there are certain factors you will see across the board that can help you determine the best keywords for you to target:
- Search Volume: the average number of searches a keyword receives per month. Generally, keywords with extremely high search volumes will be much more competitive, whereas keywords with lower search volumes are less so. However, keywords with incredibly low search volumes may not be worth targeting, as very few users are entering those search queries.
- Clicks: the average number of clicks search results for a particular keyword receive in a month. This number will often be lower than the same keyword’s search volume, likely because Google’s increase in featured snippets in results answers search queries without users having to click through.
- Cost Per Click (CPC): an estimate of how much advertisers would pay for each ad click from a particular keyword. Although SEO and advertising are not the same, CPC can give you an idea of how “valuable” ranking for a particular keyword is.
- Difficulty: also known as Keyword Difficulty, this refers to how difficult it is to rank for a particular keyword. As I discussed earlier, you can determine the difficulty of a keyword by searching it yourself and sifting through results. When using a keyword research tool, the difficulty will likely be displayed as a number between 0 and 100. Several factors determine difficulty when it comes to ranking for a particular keyword, including search volume, domain rating, referring backlinks, quality of content, etc.
Google has several resources available that can help you with keyword research. Although the express purpose of these tools isn’t specifically keyword research, the data from these tools comes directly from Google, unlike many other keyword research tools.
Google Keyword Planner: the Google AdWords Keyword Tool can provide you with hundreds of relevant keywords. Although the purpose of this tool is to help you develop a Google ad campaign, it can help you identify several relevant keywords, as well as provide you with valuable information such as how much competitors are bidding for a keyword (giving you a sense of keyword competition), search volume (both global and local), and CPC. An important note regarding the Google Keyword Planner is that signing in with a Google account or AdWords account may yield more keyword results.
Google Trends: this tool can give you insight on search trends over time. You can be as specific or general as you want when entering keywords into Google Trends. This tool will give you insight on concentration of searches in different areas, related searches, and how much or little a particular phrase has been searched over time. You can also compare search terms with this tool.
Google Search Console (GSC): designed to help you improve your ranking in search results, GSC can be a valuable tool for identifying areas of potential when it comes to keyword research. Not only can you determine which pages are performing well or poorly, but GSC will also provide you with information on how well your website is performing for certain keywords. To see this, click “Performance” and go to the “Queries” tab to see how your website is showing up in search results.
- Keep a target keyword list. As you conduct keyword research, you may find several keywords that would be valuable for you to target. You won’t benefit from including every keyword on your list on every page of your site. Instead, take the time to build out content and pages on your site that target specific keywords, and keep a list of the keywords you would like to target to keep yourself organized.
- Consider search intent. When conducting keyword research, remember to consider the intent of searchers. Identifying search intent can not only help you expand your list of target keywords, but can help you better serve your prospective customers and target audience by informing your content. Considering search intent can also help you identify synonyms or similar phrases that users may be searching that are close to but not exactly the same as your identified keywords.
- Include your keywords (but not too much!). Although it’s vital to include your target keywords on your website and in your content, it’s very possible to overdo it. Google has rolled out updates to its algorithm that penalize keyword stuffing, which can harm your SEO efforts. As a general rule, keywords should make up between 0.5% and 2.5% of the words on a page.
- Target a variety of keywords. Not all keywords are created equal. One-word or more general keywords, though they may have high search volumes, will also likely be the most competitive keywords to rank for. Long-tail keywords, while specific and less competitive, may not always receive much traffic. Make sure to include a variety of keywords in your SEO strategy to increase your likelihood of success.
- Research keywords regularly. As I said earlier in this piece, keyword research is most effective when conducted regularly. SEO is about reacting and evolving, and consistently conducting keyword research will ensure that your SEO strategy is up-to-date, and that you are taking advantage of any opportunities that arise online for your business.
- Embrace trial and error. No matter how much you learn about keywords, content, and SEO, trial and error will always be a part of optimizing your website and content for certain keywords. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to SEO strategy, so learn from your successes and your failures as you refine your own strategy and improve your online presence.