Before you can optimize your website, you need to know what you’re optimizing for. Finding the right keywords to focus your SEO efforts on, can be challenging, but fortunately, there’s a lot of data out there, and a structured approach that we can use for our SEO Keyword Research.
Search terms that people enter into search engines
Keywords are what searchers type into a search engine, search engines like Google and Bing will go out and fetch the most relevant results for your search query based on everything they know about you and all the content on the entire internet. But it’s important to remember that search engines have a hard time understanding what a user is after, unless it’s really spelled out. This is why you’ve probably followed up one search with another more descriptive search, more than a few times in your life.
You try one keyword or query but it doesn’t give you just what you’re looking for.
So you get more specific or you try it another way.
The bottom line is that people all over the world, are typing in all kinds of keywords, every second, of every hour, of every day. And it’s important for us to understand what they type in so that we can optimize our pages to be in the search results for those terms.
Things to consider to find the appropriate SEO keywords for your business:
Formal SEO Keyword Research is the foundational piece in SEO, that will help you understand what people are typing in the search engines. The intent of those keywords, as the search engines understand it. How frequently they do it, how relevant those terms are to your business objectives, and how competitive those terms will be to try to rank for.
Let’s take an example, say you sell cars, you might think that the keyword car is something that you want to rank for. But after you’ve done a little SEO Keyword Research, you’ll probably find that it won’t make your list.
Why, well even though that word gets typed into search engines with a very high frequency, think about its relevance, how many reasons could somebody type the word car into a search engine. They might be looking for toys, a place for repairs, a car wash, car parts, a rental car, any one of hundreds of things that have nothing to do with actually buying a car.
And think of all those people out there that are also trying to rank for the word car in the search engines. This is an extremely competitive term, a phrase like buy new blue Toyota Camry might not get typed in as much, but if that’s what you’re selling, it’s extremely relevant and much less competitive.
Keywords like this will very likely end up on your list of keywords to optimize for. Now that we understand a bit more about keywords and SEO Keyword Research, it’s time to talk about planning.
An effective keyword research plan involves having a sound, structured approach, that will lead to the discovery of keywords that you can use in the content of your website. Ultimately, a keyword research plan would give you the data that you need to make decisions about which keywords will give you the biggest bang for your buck. And having the highest likelihood of being both relevant, and profitable for your business. With billions of queries searched each month, it’s important that we understand the goals of SEO Keyword Research, what we’re looking for, and how we collect and analyze that data, to make decisions around our website.
Everyone eventually develop their own approach and process for doing keyword research and you’ll ultimately need to find something that works for your business. But the most important part of SEO Keyword Research is to forget about you and your business and put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers. The process typically begins with brainstorming and answering some key questions.
This stage is important from an organizational perspective because it will force you to look at different areas of your business. Start with answering a basic question:
What products and services do you offer?
Be as comprehensive as possible and list out as many keywords and phrases as you can. But make sure that you do it from the customers perspective. As people who work in our businesses day in and day out, we might have a very different way of explaining our products and services.
Take for example, a discount travel website, you might be tempted to write down keywords like high-value air transport or fare class eligible discount ticket. But at the end of the day, none of your prospective customers are typing that into a search engine.
While those things make sense to you, your customers are looking for cheap flights. It all comes back to intent, understanding the intent of your customer base is critical in developing a good seed list of keywords. While brainstorming can get you started, there are some great tools that can find and suggest similar keywords and expand your list of possibilities considerably.
To seed your keyword list, Google Search Console offers insights into exactly how people are finding your site today. And it’s a great place to start. Once you have a solid seed list of keywords, you’ll need to expand on it. Two favorite keyword expansion tools in the SEO industry are Google Trends and Answer The Public. Both offers suggestions around new target phrases based on your chosen keyword and both help you understand exactly how people are searching for things on the live web.
Once you’ve got that list of potential keywords, the next thing you’ll need to do is take a look at search volume metrics to see what kind of demand there is for those phrases. As you do this, you’ll notice that while a handful of keywords get typed in thousands and thousands of times everyday, there are a whole lot more that don’t get typed in nearly as often. These are probably more descriptive keywords or less common variations but the important thing to note is that these are known as long-tail keywords.
Long-tail keywords in SEO are incredibly useful. They let us go after a much larger amount of less competitive keywords that tend to be extremely relevant to our business objectives. And while individually, there’s not a lot of search volume on each term, they each do have some search volume.
For example, if I were selling iPhone cases, I may start looking into the keyword iPhone cases, a term that gets typed into search engines a lot. It’s extremely competitive and it’s probably going to be very difficult to rank for. But I might also take a look at a more long-tail keyword like protective blue iPhone cases, it’s going to be extremely relevant, less competitive, and easier to rank for, at the expense of raw search volume.
But here’s the important part, you might be able to find hundreds or thousands of these long-tail keywords that together have the potential to get you more traffic than ranking for iPhone cases would have from the start.
Finally, you’ll want to add some meaning and organization around the keywords that you’ve collected. You can do this by identifying themes or topics to group your keywords around, a process known as keyword categorization.
Back to the example with the blue iPhone case, we may want to create a group that will just be about blue iPhone cases that includes all the different models of the phone.
Alternatively, we could categorize these, not by phone model but instead by color. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Only a way that works for you and allows you to manage these groups of keywords as you optimize for them.
Remember, in the end, this is an exploratory and discovery exercise. Everyone searches differently and you’ll find lots and lots of data as you dig deeper and deeper. Be open-minded, put yourself in the mindset of your potential customers and make sure to consider all of your options as you evaluate your keyword performance over time.
Now that we understand the basics around how we conduct SEO Keyword Research, let’s dive into the tools that will help us find more keywords and collect all the data we’ll need. There are quite a few good tools out there, but in this example, we’ll use the Moz Keyword Explorer tool. Not only does this tool provide a good measure on search volume, but also it suggests related keywords as well as provides an idea of what types of sites and content are currently holding the top positions. You’ll need to sign up for an account, and decide between the free and paid versions, and, once you navigate to the Keyword Explorer, you’ll see a screen like this.
For our initial keyword research, we’ll leave the first option, Keyword, but know that you can use this tool to research specific domains, subdomains, and pages as well. Next, we’ll enter a keyword. For now, we’ll keep things simple, and just type in CBD, and we’ll leave things set to the United States.
Let’s take a look at the Keyword Suggestions report for a list of keywords related to our initial keyword. You can see that for each suggestion, we’re given a relevancy score, as well as the estimated monthly search volume anticipated for each term. Notice that we have some control over how the tool is finding new suggestions for us. We can have it group suggestions in a few different ways and we can filter unexpected search volume as well. As you play with this tool, make sure to test out different settings and see the results.
For this example, let’s display keyword suggestions that include a mix of sources. We’ll group our results with medium lexical similarity and, since we want to look at some longer tail opportunities, let’s keep the search volume on the low side.
From this single term, we start to discover that people are also searching for different names, like cbd benefits, cbd products and more. Note that you can also download a list of the raw data in CSV format, where you can work with the keywords offline in a tool like Excel.
Another great tool to get even more information about a keyword is Google Trends. This lets you type in different keywords and see all kinds of information about how that keyword is being typed into Google searches over time.
At the top of the page, you can filter this data by geography and time period, category, and even the type of search. Let’s stick iPhone cases in here and see what we can learn.
Here, we see a graph of how this term has been searched for over the past five years. While there have been a few spikes here and there, there seems to be a downward trend across the world.
Let’s get a little more specific, and select just the United States for the last 12 months and let’s compare it to the singular version of this keyword, iPhone case.
Here, we can see a very similar trend, but we can also see that more people are typing in the singular version than the plural.
Scrolling down, we can see state by state interest through the heat map, and below that, we can get even more related keyword ideas in the Related Queries sections.
Putting some of these back into your SEO keyword research tool of choice can start a whole new iteration of research. Using keyword research tools, like the Moz Keyword Explorer and Google Trends allows us to discover new keywords and understand just what people are typing into search engines.
This exploration and data collection is the backbone of our keyword research process and can provide us with wonderful insights and ideas around which keywords we’ll focus on as part of our SEO strategy.
There’s a lot of data available to us about the keywords people are typing into search engines. And it’s important to be able to evaluate the different attributes of a keyword before we decide whether or not to target one with our SEO strategy. There are three key things you’ll need to consider when choosing your keywords. Relevance, search volume, and competition.
Let’s start with relevance. The first thing you need to do when you’re deciding whether a keyword is relevant to your business is to ask yourself one simple question. Does the keyword you found accurately reflect the nature of the products and services that you offer? If so, you’ve nailed it.
Remember, the number one objective of a search engine is to find and deliver the most relevant content to its users for a given search term. The best way to understand your customers’ search behavior is to put yourself in their shoes and really try to get at their intent.
If you were in the market to buy a car, how would you use a search engine? You probably wouldn’t type the word car in and click search. Instead, you’d use something very specific to what you’re looking for. Like, used late model Toyota Camry. Now, if you’re selling late model used Toyota Camrys and have a page on your website dedicated to them, then that is a relevant keyword. And the best part about relevant keywords is that they’re much more likely to drive conversion actions on your website than more generic ones.
The second item to look at is search volume. While used late model Toyota Camry might be extremely relevant to your business and likely to lead to an eventual sale, it’s also not typed into a search engine all that often. Search volume is the number of searches being done for a particular keyword. And if you use a tool like the
It’s represented as the potential monthly search volume. If you have a seasonal business or if you want to take a look at trends over time, many of these tools break down keywords volume seasonally, and you’ll also want to take a look at Google Trends, where you can look at time periods, going all the way back to 2004.
Now let’s have a look at competition. Keyword competition, or keyword difficulty, as it’s often called, is just a measure of how difficult it’s going to be for us to rank a keyword in front of our competition on a search engine results page. Unless you’re introducing a brand new product or technology into the market, you’re probably going to find content similar to yours already on the web. And we can look at things like the number of pages about a given topic, authority and trust of the websites competing with you, backlinks to their sites and more to really understand the competitive space for a given keyword.
And again, many of the great tools mentioned earlier can help you really dig into some of these competitive metrics. For now, let’s take a look at the Moz tool to dive in a little deeper. Here’s a keyword list I’ve created around iPhone cases. This tool makes it easy for us to see where we can get the most bang for our buck by looking for the most potential traffic at the lowest levels of competition.
And if we want to get a feel for the specific competitors you might be up against, we can drill deeper into the SERP analysis report. This kind of analysis can give us a gut check and a realistic look at just what it would take for us to rank for a keyword we’re researching.
Another way to look at competition is by evaluating the keyword in page search or cost per click markets. Looking at how actively and aggressively search advertisers are bidding on a keyword can be a good proxy for just how difficult a keyword is going to be on the organic side. And if you have an active Google Ads account, the Google keyword planner has a competition column, as well as bid information, that can help.
While the competition metric gives you only low, medium, or high ratings, you can also look at the high and low bid ranges to get a sense of how competitive keywords are in the page search market. And don’t forget, you can customize and filter right here in the interface. And you can also download these lists to work within a tool like Excel.
Let’s tie it all together by going back over this quick example with respect to the three pillars of keyword research. Relevance, volume, and competition. We saw how terms like used late model Toyota Camry would actually be considered much more relevant to a company selling used late model Toyota Camrys than a generic word, like car.
And on the competition side, we saw just how competitive those generic terms like car can be. We can also clearly see the trade off between search volume against relevance and competition.
And hopefully, you’re now seeing that for many organizations, finding lots and lots of these specific types of keywords that don’t get a lot of search volume, but are very relevant and not as competitive, can be a solid strategy to guide their SEO efforts.
Often, if you add up all those relevant, less competitive keywords together, you’ll find that you can be attracting lots and lots of highly relevant, likely to convert visitors, to your website.
So let your competitors spend all their budgets going after the keyword car, and let your keyword research be your guide as you balance how to get as much relevant search volume as you possibly can with the least competition.
Keyword distribution is the process of assigning keywords to specific pages on your website. This is an important step in the content creation process and results in the content on the page being aligned and relevant to the keyword you’re targeting on that page. Remember, you can’t have an optimized page unless you know what keyword you’re optimizing it for. Once you’ve identified all your target keywords through that keyword research process, working in Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or another spreadsheet program allows you to create this mapping of keywords to the pages in your site structure in an organized way, and it has the added benefit of keeping a record of which pages are targeting which keywords to refer back to in the future.
Of course, you’ll be listing out all the current pages of your website, but keep in mind that for many of your target keywords; you won’t yet have a page and you’ll probably need to create one. By using a spreadsheet, you can easily see where in your site’s architecture you’ll want to put it and you can define some key pieces of information about it before you even start writing. Here’s an example of a spreadsheet that we’ve created for a fictitious sample winery.
Feel free to format your spreadsheet any way you like, but there are some common fields that you should include. Down the left hand side, we like to use cells or tabbing to show us the hierarchy of the various sections and pages of our site. As you can see, for each page we have a column for the keyword we’ll be targeting with this page, the URL of the page, the title tag, meta-description, and h1 header.
We’ve even used a formula function to count our characters so that we can see how close we are to our general targets. Again, our targets of 65 characters for a title and 156 characters for a description, are not hard limits by any means, but they’re guidelines that will minimize search engines truncating this information on the search engine results page.
The first step is to populate this spreadsheet with your existing webpages including the title tags, meta descriptions and h1’s or first headers from the page. Be sure to include every page of your site including your Home page, your About page your Location page, Contact page, and other general kinds of content. Remember, search engines want to see unique information for each and every page and listing them all out here is a good way to quickly spot and correct duplications.
The second step is to take a look at the keywords from your keyword list and find the most appropriate pages of your site for each of the keywords. You should make sure to distribute one keyword per page and try not to force anything. Remember, search engines prefer unique and relevant content, so if you have a keyword that doesn’t match any page of your site; you’ll probably want to create a new one.
When you add a new page to your spreadsheet the good news is that you’ve got a blank canvas; you can define the SEO friendly URL, title, description, and header right here in the spreadsheet; that will define this new page of content. Writing content when you know the keyword you’re optimizing it for up-front; allows you to really dial in on all of the best practices of content writing for keywords that we’ll be covering later on.
Remember, the meat of each page is the body copy, and you’ll probably need to go back through your existing pages to make sure that they’re really optimized for the keyword you’ve defined as a target, and now that you’ve got your target keyword in mind, it’s a pretty good time to head over to one of the on-page analysis tools that we’ll talk about in the course as well. The suggestions from these tools can really help guide the changes that you’ll be making on your pages.
Using a keyword distribution spreadsheet will help you in a number of different ways. First, it gives you one place to organize and document the content of your site that will support the keywords you’re targeting. Second, it serves as an excellent resource your copywriters and will help streamline workflows across the different members of your website production team, and treating this as a living document will ensure that you can quickly adapt to the changing nature of the search landscape and keep your content strategy on track month after month, and year after year.