Keyword research is the foundation for any online marketing campaign. You need to learn the words your target audience is searching for, so you can rank for those keywords, optimize your website, compile information for link building, and make decisions about the content you will provide on your website. When you stay organized and systematically approach keyword research, you can create an effective SEO strategy to boost your business.
The following guide offers fundamental information about keyword research and its importance before delving into more specifics like search volume and competition. We also provide suggestions for the best keyword research tools and valuable direction on how you should prioritize keywords to target and track the keywords your competitors are using.
What Is Keyword Research and Why Is it Important?
When people surf the internet they enter a variety of terms and phrases into search engines to find the information they want. Keyword research is the process of discovering and analyzing these words and phrases to help you develop an effective marketing and content strategy. Your keyword research provides information for you to optimize your content around the most commonly used words and phrases so your website ranks for those terms in Google and other search engines.
Keyword research is important because it informs and impacts your entire SEO strategy, which can lead to the success or failure of your marketing campaign. The main areas that keyword research impacts include:
- Topics for content. Keyword research helps you determine which topics your audience cares about, the popularity of each topic, and how people want to consume the information about the topic.
- Link building. Once you perform your keyword research, you can increase the number and quality of inbound links to your website to help increase your SEO rankings.
- Search engine ranking. Doing thorough keyword research and applying it to your SEO strategy in the proper way will increase your web page’s search engine ranking.
- Promotion. When you use keyword research to learn about your audience’s intent and the things they care about, you learn how to better promote your product or service.
- Traffic growth. Researching keywords allows you to create an effective SEO strategy that will increase traffic to your website.
- Lead quality. High traffic drives sales, but it needs to be quality traffic that converts. Thorough keyword research creates higher quality leads who are more likely to proceed all the way through your sales funnel.
Understanding Search Volume and Competition for a Keyword
As you begin your keyword research, you will notice that some words and phrases are more popular than others. You want to target keywords your audience is searching for, but targeting the highest volume phrases and terms will not always be your best choice. Your ultimate goal is to choose the keywords that provide your web page with the biggest strategic advantage. Making this choice means you have to understand search volume and competition for a specific keyword.
Search volume refers to the number of times someone has searched for a particular word or phrase. Higher search volumes indicate you will have to work much harder to achieve higher rankings. This is typically the result of large brands taking up the highest volume keywords. If you’ve only just started a website, it could take you years to rank if you are competing against large companies. This means you need to find keywords with a lower search volume. Yet, you do not want too low volume or you won’t drive visitors to your site.
Keyword research for an effective SEO strategy requires going after long-tail keywords. These are more specific search terms and phrases that typically have lower competition. In many cases, long-tail keywords convert at a higher rate because searches are more intentional, indicating a searcher is closer to buying.
Consider the following example. You are selling shampoo on your website, so in a perfect world, you want to rank at the top for the keyword shampoo. If you search for shampoo, you will see popular beauty stores, some big brands, and big-box retailers ranked at the top. If you want to increase your rankings, you need to research long-tail options. Examples might include phrases like:
- All-natural shampoo no sulfates
- Shampoo for curly hair without parabens
- Best price shampoo for color-treated hair
Best Free and Paid Tools for Keyword Research
With an understanding of keyword volume and competition and how to target the right keywords, you can begin your research. Several tools exist to help you choose and analyze keywords and phrases. Here are some of the best free and paid tools for keyword research:
Google’s Keyword Planner is the place where many start their keyword research. This free tool gives you estimates for volume and traffic for any keywords you are thinking about targeting and you can use the planner to get keyword ideas. The major drawback of the Google Keyword Planner is that they categorize their search volume data by combining keywords into different ranges of search volume.
You can use Google Trends two ways to help with your keyword research. First, you can enter a specific keyword you are thinking about and review the percentage volume. Second, you can see the long-term growth in the popularity of a specific keyword. Google Trends is a must-have if you want to provide evergreen content on your website and it also helps you monitor seasonal changes in keyword popularity.
This free keyword research tool is quick, easy to use, and it gives you loads of keyword ideas on one page. Soovle is a scraper that provides keywords from Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, and more.
If you aren’t yet ready to explore data about your keywords, but you need ideas, you must use Keyword Snatcher. Typically you get about 2,000 ideas for one search. You can also narrow results by the number of words, making it really simple to focus on long-tail keywords for your topic.
The MOZ Keyword Explorer remains a popular choice for paid keyword research because it often provides ideas you won’t get from other keyword research sites. Additionally, Moz gives you the terms and phrases that will generate the most traffic and has some extra tools to help you estimate how many clicks you should get from the keywords you target.
This free keyword research tool is a browser add-on for Chrome or Firefox. Keywords Everywhere provide users with monthly search volume, cost per click, and competitive data for keywords from more than 15 different sites. It’s a great extension to use with other keyword research tools such as Moz, Ubersuggest, Soolve, and more.
SEMrush is another paid tool that offers some unique information not provided by other keyword research tools. Users can search for keywords by finding the terms and phrases their competition already ranks for. SEMrush shows each competitor’s top five keyword rankings. SEMrush’s Keyword Magic feature also offers loads of keyword ideas from their huge database.
Ahrefs is a premium tool that you need to pay for, but with recent improvements to their Keywords Explorer, the cost is worth it. Not only do you get in-depth information on each keyword, but Ahrefts gives you information about those who have ranked on the first page. In fact, you can find out exactly how many backlinks you need to rank on the first page.
How to Prioritize Keywords to Target
Once you start your keyword research you will likely build a pretty large list of possible terms and phrases, causing you to wonder how you should prioritize them. You can start one of two ways, each of which offers a different advantage:
- Target High Volume Keywords your competition isn’t ranking for so you can take advantage of their mistake or missed opportunity.
- Target Competitive Keywords that are performing well for your competition and compete with them for a higher ranking.
Some other things you can consider to help you prioritize the keywords you want to target include:
- Seasonal trends. You can prepare content around keywords that coincide with seasonal trends. For example, you might want to build content for “easter baskets without candy” in January or February or build content for “recipes for your fall harvest” in July or August. You can use Google Trends to help you examine seasonal popularity in your keyword.
- Local SEO. Driving local business your way means you need to geographically target your keywords to your specific city, county, or state. Providing geo-specific content can increase the value of your content to your target audience.
How to Track Competitor Keywords
Do not spend all your time tracking your competition, but you want to stay up-to-date on the keywords they are using. Specifically, keep an eye out for the keywords your competitors are targeting, but not ranking and those terms and phrases that are performing well in the search results for them. When you understand your competition’s performance, you can devise a strategy to beat them. You can also discover new keywords you missed during your research. You can do this all manually, or you can use some of the tools above. SpyFu also offers a great product that can find every place your competitors have shown up on Google, all of the Adwords purchases, every organic rank, and every ad variation in the last 13 years.
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