Is organic search part of your overall marketing strategy? Would it change your answer if you knew that over half of all web traffic and 40% of captured revenue comes from Google and other search engines?
If you haven’t yet made organic search a priority in your overall marketing and website strategy, now is the time. To help you grab more organic traffic in 2021 and beyond, we’ll walk you through one of the most fundamental elements of SEO strategy–keyword research.
Why all the fuss over keywords?
First, the basics: when we talk about keywords, we’re talking about the process of finding & using the keyword phrases that users type into search engines. Once you’ve identified where your website ‘fits’ in that wider universe of search terms, you can strategically use those phrases across your web pages to help your target audience find you through search.
Your keyword strategy is both a page- and site-level effort. Think of your keyword strategy the same way you do your UVP or elevator pitch…but for search engines. The search terms you use offer signals that act like a blueprint. This helps search engines understand what your site does, who you serve and when to rank your pages so the right people find them.
You could say that search engine crawlers are the robot equivalent of an industry connector or influencer: they help expand your network and refer you to new customers.
By understanding the keyword ecosystem of your website, you more deeply understand your core audience. That’s because studying the keyword phrases your audience uses most often gives you access to a new way of understanding customer behavior, the buyer journey, and how you fit into that sales funnel.
When done correctly, a solid keyword strategy will yield you more site traffic and more targeted leads.By understanding the keyword ecosystem of your website, you more deeply understand your core audience. Read more: Click To Tweet
Getting started: Keyword research & topic coverage
To get started with keyword research, you first need to understand your topic and how users are searching for different aspects of your topic. Keyword research helps you get answers to questions like:
- What are people searching for when it comes to this topic?
- How much traffic could I potentially get from this page and how difficult will it be to get that traffic?
- How popular is this search term and how many people are searching for it?
- What kind of content is my audience searching for the most?
Brainstorm a list of keywords
Start by generating a list of ideas related to your topic. Brainstorm questions about your topic and list out related ideas and sub-topics. Answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Imagine that you’re an email marketing strategist and service provider who wants to bring in more customers from search.
Plug your topic (“email marketing”) into different tools to gather more information about what people are searching for:
1. Google: start typing your topic into Google search and jot down related topics that are auto-suggested for you.
You’ll also see these at the bottom of any search results page:
2. Answer the Public: Plug your topic into Answer the Public’s engine for unfiltered search data. You’ll get relevant topics, questions, and search queries for everything you can think of regarding your topic:
3. Google Operators: Search your competitors’ sites and industry-leading sites for similar content to see how they wrote about it. For example, if you wanted to see Mailchimp’s content related to email marketing, you’d put this information into a Google search: site:mailchimp.com intext:”email marketing”
Use keyword research tools to narrow your search
Once you have a list of phrases, ideas, and topic coverage for your page, you need to jump over to a keyword tool to learn more. Use these tools during the research stage to capture the best keyword phrases and topic coverage for your page.
First, plug your list of phrases in to see how popular they are in search. Then use the competitive analysis to look at your competitor pages and see what phrases they’re ranking for.
Here are some popular tools to get you started. Most have a free trial or offer limited free access with a paid subscription after the trial.
- Ahrefs: Accurate and comprehensive, Ahrefs is the gold standard for all things keyword and SEO related. The tool includes organic data across multiple search engines (including Amazon and YouTube), which makes it a good choice for businesses with organic strategies that extend beyond Google.
- SemRush: Another industry gold standard, SemRush will give you everything you need to audit and track your organic efforts, with highly accurate results. There’s also the very useful Keyword Magic Tool, which generates 100s of alternative phrases to choose from. SemRush provides organic + PPC data, which is helpful for businesses looking for more insights into Google ads.
- KeySearch: A budget-friendly alternative to the big name research tools, KeySearch includes a less in-depth version of most of the comparable features at a friendlier price. Plus, they’re always making improvements.
- UberSuggest: Developed by marketing guru Neil Patel, UberSuggest is perfect for quick keyword research and competitor analysis, with free limited daily access. The Site Audit tool is also worth checking out for a quick assessment of your site’s SEO
Pay attention to search volume, CPC (cost per click), and competition (sometimes call keyword difficulty). This data will help you find the right mix of keywords for your page.
Understanding your audience
By now, you have a list of phrases and some data about those phrases, which means you’re ready to compare and cull them. There are a few ways to narrow your list and identify what will be most beneficial for your page of content.
Search volume and cost per click are two measures of popularity. You want to make sure your keyword phrases are popular enough to bring in meaningful traffic to your site. The higher the estimated monthly volume and the cost to run an ad, the more likely it’s relevant and popular.
Keyword mix & competition
On the flip side, keyword phrases that are too large will be hard for you to rank for. Why? A lot of other sites are also doing their best to be in that top spot.
So, take note of the top volume words, but also look at phrases with search volumes between 100 and 1,000. Those are less competitive, which means it’s easier to rank higher even if you don’t have a large or high authoritative site yet.
You want to decide on a primary keyword (one that has a higher search volume and difficulty rating) and several long tail keywords. This gives you a nice mix of phrases that will help you rank in the short and long term. But note that this will vary based on the type of page you’re optimizing and what’s most relevant for that page.
Search intent & relevance
Going back to the example of email marketing, you may have noticed that many of the phrases related to this topic could be covered at a high level on one page (for example, a Services page for an email marketing strategist) or several pages (for example, multiple blog posts about email marketing platforms and tools for a blogger). This is where search intent plays a big role. Understanding who you want to attract and what type of query you want to answer will help you eliminate keyword phrases that aren’t relevant for your content. It can also help you decide what phrase to use as your primary keyword versus longtail.
Using your keywords
Once you’ve got your list of keywords ready to go, it’s time to implement them so they can be found by search engines. Use on-page SEO best practices to add your keyword phrases strategically throughout your page and across your website for the best results.
Use primary or high-level keywords in your:
- Page title
- Header 1 (H1)
- Anchor text & interlinks
Use long tail keywords in your:
- Meta description
- Image alt text
- Anchor text & interlinks
If you complete this research before you write your content (bonus points for you!) let the keywords guide your content and the coverage of that content. You may decide to create a blog series on email marketing because you see that it could bring in ideal customers to your site to help them learn the value of email marketing.
You may organize your Services page with keywords that you know will resonate for ideal customers who are ready to hire someone to help with email. The mix of phrases will be different for each, because each serves a different purpose.
Finally, remember that search terms are always shifting. The way we use search engines is impacted by the season, big events, changes in the marketplace, and technical advancements. Once you have your keyword strategy in place, make sure to monitor your efforts and continuously refresh your approach with website audits and keyword updates.
Similarly, if you publish a page and find it’s not ranking, try a different approach. Eventually, you’ll find the right mix that will help your site get noticed more in organic search.