Keyword research is the backbone of search engine optimisation. Get it wrong and your campaign will turn to jelly; get is right and you’re well on your way to SEO success.

The aim of keyword research is to identify the language searchers use when looking for your products or services. Guesswork simply doesn’t work. You need to pinpoint the actual words and phrases your customers type into Google not what you think they type in.

Sounds daunting, but luckily there’s plenty of help at hand. Keyword research is a necessity, but it’s also full of real opportunity. And it’s actually quite fun.

What are keywords?

Think of the World Wide Web as a library, with the search engines as the librarians and websites the books. If you are looking for a particular book, a page or fact; it’s the librarian’s (Google’s) job to help you find it. However, the librarian won’t know what’s in a book unless the publisher labels it correctly.

As a webmaster it’s your job to label all your content in a way that helps search engines find and retrieve it, and to do this you use keywords. So at the most basic level a keyword is simply a signpost to tell Google what your content is all about.

Now imagine three strangers walk into the library, they are all planning to invite some friends over for a barbecue and because the nights are drawing in they are looking for some outside lighting. Despite the fact that they are all looking for the exact same information; each is likely to ask for it in a different way. The first wants something on ‘garden lighting’, the second ‘outdoor lights’ and the third ‘weatherproof lighting’.

The real-life librarian has no trouble pointing all of them to the same book, However Google is likely point them in three different directions. Why? Well firstly the librarian is smarter, but more importantly they’ve had a chance to chat to the customer and find out what they really want (and in this case it turned out to be the same thing).

Google has a much tougher time of it. Searchers don’t enter into a dialogue with them explaining what they what they are looking for; they merely punch a few keywords into the query box. The solution is for search engines to be much more exact in matching their results. Google thinks ‘you asked for garden lighting, I’m going to give you garden lighting…I’m not even thinking about outdoor lights or that other one’.

Now you can begin to see why keywords are so important. As a publisher you need to label your content with the same language that your customers use. You need to think like your customers and mirror the keywords they type into a search box.

Keywords aren’t the search queries you would like your customers to use, or you think they use; they are the exact phrases typed into Google. There’s no point in labelling a page ‘affordable outdoor lighting’ if everyone is searching for ‘cheap garden lights’.

Why bother with keyword research?

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of keyword research. It’s the cornerstone of any SEO campaign and if you mess it up, all your other efforts are wasted. Why bother building up links, spending time creating fresh content or getting involved in social media if the basics all wrong? Climbing to the top of the search results might give you a warm glow inside, but if you are targeting the wrong keywords you won’t see any increase in traffic.

And don’t’ forget that your loss is your competitor’s gain. Take the following example of two online travel agents: the first is happy because they are ranking at the top of Google for ‘cheap flights’, the second is equally as happy because they are Number One for ‘lowest airfares’. Everybody is happy and everybody is making money, right?

Wrong, the first travel agent is really, really happy. He’s used a keyword research tool to establish that 500 times as many people search for ‘cheap flights’ than search for ‘lowest airfares’. His traffic has shot through the roof and the second travel agent doesn’t even know there’s anything wrong.

Top tip SEO is about increasing the volume of qualified traffic to your website, not chasing high rankings. Any idiot can get a website ranking for a ‘keyword’ which no searchers ever use. 

Without well-chosen keywords a SEO campaign simply won’t work, but there are other benefits to keyword research:

Ongoing keyword research

Don’t think that once you’ve overhauled your website site; it’s time to put your feet up and relax. Keyword research is an ongoing task. As your business develops, you’ll need to add products and services, react to industry news, expand into different marketplaces and target new customers. And for every new page you add to your website; you will need to find the right keyword.

It’s also important to understand that search behaviour is continually evolving. Not only do keywords come and go, but studies show that search queries are getting longer and longer. Search is getting more sophisticated and so are searchers. Think of keyword research as an ongoing project full of opportunities, rather than something done once then consigned to a forgotten corner of your hard drive

Google’s Getting Semantic

When it comes to recognising semantically related keywords; Google’s algorithm is already way ahead of the competition. And it’s quickly evolving to understand ‘conceptually’ related keywords too.

For now it’s best to have individual pages targeting, say ‘healthy dog food’ & ‘nutritious doggy diet’, but Google is getting smarter at tying such ‘concepts’ together in their index.

Both terms are barely related semantically, but Google realises that searchers are likely to be looking for similar information… and the search results are beginning to crossover. Be warned: keyword targeting is about to get a whole lot tougher.

Killer Keywords: Quick Recap 

  • Keywords are the exact phrases that searchers type into Google to find your products or services.
  • Keyword research is the foundation of SEO. And without laying foundations; you’ve got nothing to build on.
  • By identifying the language your customers speak, and using the same keywords to ‘label’ your content, you’re helping Google to do its job.
  • Keyword research: ensures that you are correctly targeting your audience, highlights customers you may have overlooked, and provides inspiration for new business opportunities.
  • Keyword research is time consuming, but there are much worse ways to pass the time. Here’s a quick reminder of the steps you’ll need to follow:

Step One: Keyword Soup

First you need to create a giant soup of all potential keywords. Start with a brainstorming session before moving on to existing company public relations material. Don’t forget synonyms and try to put yourselves in your customers’ shoes.  Next have a close look at your competitors’ sites, noting down the keywords they focus on and any ideas you can ‘borrow’ for future articles.

Step Two: Traffic Report

Now it’s time to make sense of your keyword soup. First strip out any keywords that immediately appear inappropriate or  irrelevant. Then, run the remainder of your list through a keyword research tool, noting relative traffic volumes.

Step Three: Competition Analysis

Next have a look at your online competition. Type each keyword into Google and make an assessment of the strength of the top ranking websites. Google’s PageRank measure isn’t perfect for evaluating your competition, but it’s a good starting point.

You need to strike the right balance between the popularity of a keyword and its competitiveness. Once you have decided which search terms to target; all that’s left is to begin matching them to your content.

Step Four: Evolution

Keep your keyword list up-to-date. The web is continually evolving and if your website isn’t, then you’ll be left behind. By adding fresh content, and targeting new keywords, you’ll be giving your customers and Google what they both want.

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