Keyword Research is the foundation to any custom SEO strategy.
Having a solid keyword list will allow you to rank for the correct phrases to bring in higher converting customers.
Remember, search engine optimization is more than simply bringing in more traffic to a website. It is about bringing in the right customers that are more likely to result in a sale.
Think of keywords as a GPS.
They allow you to understand where you start and tell you where to go. Therefore, ranking for the correct keywords can make or break a website.
Take this example.
If you are a company selling custom guitars, chances are your site is not going to rank high for the term “guitar”.
This is because there is too much competition and high authority sites are already ranking for this general term. Even if you were ranked high for the term “guitar”, what percentage of those customers would lead to a sale?
Now if you were to rank for the phrase “custom mahogany acoustic guitar”, that would be a much more specific term and could be a consumer that might have interest in your product. While this specific phrase is going to draw less traffic than a broader term, it will be this traffic that is more likely to convert and lead to a sale. It is more focused and relevant to the services offered by the business.
This search query is a more concrete term and is known as a long-tail keyword. The phrase “long-tail” can be understood by a simple distribution graph. While search terms such as Facebook, Wikipedia, or CNN might include a large number of searches, these broad keywords only account for 10 to 15 percent of all searches made worldwide.
The remaining 75-80% of searches fall into the long-tail of keyword searches. These long-tail keywords are the three to five keyword phrases that are very specific to what the user is trying to find.
When a user is searching with these many words, it is likely they know exactly what they are looking for or at the very least, they are in the middle of the sales funnel. Let’s look back at the searcher buying cycle to help illustrate this. With this term, a user may not even be in the awareness stage of the sales funnel.
Once again, the awareness stage is when a searcher is seeking information about a solution to their needs or becomes aware of a problem to solve. So, does the term, “guitar” even have a place in the buying cycle for our custom guitar business?
Think of all the possible reasons a person might type the term “guitar” into a search engine.
It could be someone wanting to learn history of guitars. Perhaps it is a user simply looking to surf the web for guitar players. Or maybe, it could be me looking for a commercial use photo of a guitar for this article.
There is no way of knowing any sort of motive behind this broad term.
When searching the web, users have common patterns that lead them to a purchase. Let’s look at this in detail. First, the user becomes aware of your product. This step could also be a user becoming conscious of a need that they were previously unaware of. Next is the research phase. The user seeks information about the product or searches on how to fulfill their newly acquired need. Then, the consumer enters the comparison stage.
At this point, the user is seeking alternatives to a product or service. During this stage, a searcher could be comparing reviews, features, pricing, or any other factors that could influence their purchase decision.
Finally, the consumer enters the purchase stage. They found the correct solution and are ready to pull out their credit card to complete the transaction. Now, let’s look at this process with a consumer buying a laptop computer. First, the consumer looks up laptops for sale and realizes they need a computer powerful enough to run their work applications including Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
Next, with having a clear idea of what specifications they need for their new laptop, they search for additional information on the Dell Inspiron FHD Laptop.
Then, after learning all about the Dell laptop, the searcher compares other computers with the same specifications. The customer makes sure to consider the highest rated reviews and the price of each comparable laptop.
Finally, after hours of researching and comparing products, the user purchases a ProStar laptop due to the high reviews and affordable price.
While this is the standard process of how a user searches for products online, keep in mind that a user can leave the buying cycle at any point. Perhaps the searcher realized that they needed a larger hard drive for their laptop after reading reviews during the comparison stage.
That could set them back to the awareness stage now that they are aware of new needs. Or maybe, during the comparison stage, the searcher realizes that they cannot afford a computer to support their current needs at this time. A customer can also enter the buying cycle at any point. Maybe they are already aware of what they need and are ready to research the product online.
Or perhaps after comparing products in an electronics store, they go online to purchase the product at the lower cost.
Take note of how each of these searches in the buying cycle become more and more specific as they continue down the funnel. Therefore, targeting long-tail keywords is crucial to business success.
When you target relevant long-tail keywords that are specific to your business then you are targeting the consumers that are most likely to lead to a sale. These are the customers we want to optimize our content for.
Now, if you were working for a rafting adventure company in Buena Vista, Colorado, you wouldn’t want to try and rank for the term “whitewater rafting” as there would be too much competition and you would spend an arm and a leg trying to rank for that term. Instead, you could optimize webpages for long-tail keyword terms such as, “Buena Vista Whitewater Rafting” or perhaps, “Adventure Trips on the Arkansas River”.
The same goes for other places that use many local search terms. If your company was in Durango, Colorado, you might try to aim for a term like “whitewater rafting in Durango“.
It is phrases like this that will bring in your high converting customers and it will be much easier to help rank for these terms that have the least competition. Now that we have a clear understanding of targeting long-tail keywords, let’s look at how to begin the keyword research process.
There are numerous tools available on the internet to aid in keyword research. Feel free to explore the web and find the best tools that work for you. While there are many advanced keyword research programs that you can pay for, there are also a handful of free tools that are excellent for beginning your SEO work.
Throughout this course, we will use some of our favorite free and paid tools for keyword research. First, let’s look at the free keyword planner from Google using our whitewater rafting example. Navigate to the Google keyword planner tool by simply typing in the term into the Google search engine. After signing into a google account, you will arrive at the beginning screen.
Here, you can add a keyword phrase and gain hundreds or thousands of ideas that are similar along with search volume data and how competitive the phrase is.
There are many filters you can use to customize your search. There are also options to target the search data based on location, language, and negative keywords. Adding a negative keyword will omit that term from the results.
For example, if you were searching for similar terms to “adventure trip in Buena Vista” you might want to omit the keyword “Climbing” if you do not offer any climbing services. Let’s begin by adding the term, “white water rafting Arkansas river Colorado”.
Since our targeting can include tourists from around the world, we keep the targeting to “All locations”. After clicking on “Get Ideas” we enter the main area for the keyword planning tool. At the top of the results, we can see the monthly trend in phrases related to our search term. With whitewater rafting, it is no surprise that the trends peak during the summer. Moving forward, we see the average monthly searches for our specified term. Our term, “White water rafting arkansas river Colorado” shows an average monthly search volume of 320 with a low competition value. Like mentioned previously, the more specific the long-tail keywords are, the lower the competition.
This means that it will be much easier to rank for these terms than a more general term with high competition. Now, let’s find the long-tail keywords that are relevant to the whitewater rafting business and add them to our list of keywords.
You can easily do this by clicking on the “Add to Plan” button to the right of each suggested keyword.
Keep in mind that some of these phrases will be more relevant to your business and you can list them by importance once you are organizing your list of keywords. We can add terms such as “Best rafting in Colorado” to our list but it would be wise to place importance on the more specific phrases including, “Buena Vista Rafting” or “Browns Canyon rafting” since browns canyon is the most popular rafting section in Buena Vista, Colorado.
While we will be using the suggested keywords from our first term, it is important to use various terms and refreshing the page to come up with other ideas. For example, by typing in the term “Buena vista adventure” into the main search term area and clicking “Get Ideas” you can find the term “Buena Vista combo tours” which you might not have thought of with just the single phrase.
Keep in mind that you can have hundreds to thousands of terms for your keyword research list depending on the size of the business. Once you have your relevant keywords, you can download the plan directly from the keyword planner screen.
This can be exported to an Excel file, copied to your clipboard, or uploaded to google drive. This free tool is an excellent start to any keyword research plan, but it is good practice to use multiple tools and other people to help build this list.
Not only will this help you gather many ideas, but each program has different methods for obtaining search volume data. Let’s look at a tool offered by MOZ.
With a free account, you can search up to 20 terms a month or you can upgrade to a paid account which allows you to search up to a thousand queries a month.
Once you navigate to the Keyword Explorer tool, enter your search term in the keywords box.
Once you click search, the results will show in seconds and will include relevant keyword suggestions along with monthly volume in seconds. This tool gives up much more relevant terms than the Google keyword planner due to the algorithmic sorting by relevancy.
Like the previous tool, you can export this list of keywords into an excel or other spreadsheet style software. Another great and often overlooked tool is simply using Google!
In a previous section, we discussed the elements that make up the Google search engine and the query refinement suggestions at the bottom of the results.
As mentioned before, this area shows searches related to the current term that you are using. With the advanced technology that is used to come up with these suggestions, this area might include some of the best phrases relevant to your keyword.
Let’s look at this by using the example phrase, “Buena Vista rafting”. When looking at the query refinement suggestions, we see some excellent keyword matches relevant to the term we used. With using just three keyword research tools, we were able to come up with an extensive list of terms to use for the rafting company in your SEO strategy.
Awesome! Let’s see how we can compile these keywords into a spreadsheet to organize our terms.
Keep in mind that this example is a method that we like to use when organizing our keyword list but feel free to compile your list of terms however suits you best.
For our Buena Vista Rafting company, we have compiled a list of 112 keywords. Included in this data from the Google keyword planner is the average monthly searches and the competition value.
Remember, the lower the competition value, the easier it will be to rank high on search engines for that term. With our list, we decide to manually include a rank of importance on a three-point scale with one being the most important, and three being the least important.
Notice that our rank of importance is based upon how specific the search term is for our business. So, now that we have created a solid list of keywords for our SEO strategy, what’s next? Well, from here we can try to group similar keywords together to rank for certain pages listed on a website. Rather than try to rank for as many terms as you can to one page, you can strategically group keywords to rank for certain pages.
For example, let’s look at the common rafting sections that include “Browns Canyon”, “The Numbers”, or “Arkansas River”. We could group all the terms that include the keyword, “Browns Canyon” and use those terms for a page that is focused on rafting that section of the river.
So, we include all those terms to the Browns Canyon Rafting page. We can include the same for terms that include “The Numbers” or “Arkansas River”. Now, let’s use the leftover terms that include the keywords, “Buena Vista”, “Whitewater”, and “Rafting” and use those terms for our homepage.
Since we have added our keywords to four different pages on the website, let’s use the sort function to group them together.
This gives us a clear idea of which keywords to add to each specific page to the website. Now that we have an understanding of the keyword research process, let’s dive into the world of on-page search engine optimization. Let’s go through the steps to come up with an extensive list of keywords for any business.
First, grab a cup of coffee, find a quiet place to think, and begin to brainstorm. During this brainstorming process, feel free to bring in other external sources to help bring keywords to the list. This could be from a business owner, employee, potential or previous customers.
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