Here at Digital Davidson we firmly believe that keyword research is the bedrock of search engine optimisation (SEO) – and that it should be conducted at the same time the objectives of the campaign are set. There are many theories about the right way to go about it and because of Google’s changing algorithm, new approaches are suggested by SEO’s almost every week.
That’s probably the way it should be. The purpose of this post is to share some top tips for how to do keyword research without the frustration, which we’ve developed through hours spent in front of the screen, doing the hard yards, often cursing!
Keyword research is monotonous. Keyword research takes time. There aren’t many short cuts. But it feels a whole lot better doing it if a) you know you’re doing it correctly and b) you start to feel the benefits of your exertions.
So without any further ado, here goes. This post won’t explain the steps in the process, you’ll need to come to a workshop for that, but it will help alleviate the pain and hopefully get you thinking. Top tips ahoy!
First take stock
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The process and solution is likely to be very different for a start up, to a business that has been operating for years – and will vary depending on sector, products/services being promoted etc. So assess your current situation and establish where you are right now. Think about the ways keyword research can help you, be it to improve your site architecture, develop better cornerstone content, create new content – or something else.
Audit your website. We use Screaming Frog. It’s free to use on sites with less than 500 urls. If your site is larger than that you’ll probably find, like us, that paying the subscription is easily worth the investment each year.
Uncover the synonyms to the head terms
It’s crucial to establish all the relevant head terms – by head terms we mean the short (one to two words only), popular, broad keywords that searchers are likely to type into a Google search to find your products and services. You can use these to uncover the longer tail terms that you’re targeting. The simple way is to look at all the products and services you offer and pick a head term for each.
There may be synonyms – alternative words used to describe the same thing – that you’re not aware of. You can brainstorm these of course, but you can also use the default Ad group ideas tab in the Google Keyword Planner (as opposed to Keyword ideas), your Search Analytics report in your Google Search Console (sort by Impressions to find the most popular) and of course a little competitor bench-marking can help.
Do the grunt work in a day
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At some stage of the process you’re going to have to sit yourself in front of a computer, look at the options suggested in your keyword research tool (based on the head terms you’ve entered) and work your way through hundreds of rows of data. For each you’ll need to make a snap judgement about whether there is intent in the suggested keyword – that is relevant to your business and the objectives you’ve set for the campaign. That’s going to take a lot of brain power and it’s exhausting. But we strongly believe that you need to commit a window of time to this without distraction. Why? Because you need to remember what keywords you’ve selected previously and why. You need to be fully immersed in the task. Take the phone off the hook, ignore emails and social media. Drink coffee.
We also suggest, if you’re using the Google Keyword Planner, that you change the default setting from 30 to 100 suggestions and page down rather than scroll down the page to stop yourself from getting giddy!
If you’ve got more than one head term to research, then do one in a day then stop. Pick another day to do the other(s).
Likewise, after you’ve gone through and added all the keywords with intent to your buckets/folders – review the buckets the next day with fresh eyes. Refining these lists is really important. You don’t want to do this when you’re eyes are about to close.
SEOs are generally moving away from one focus keyword for a piece of content – to a focus keyword and a handful of other keywords which address both the other commonly used terms, synonyms and associated topics. We believe in this too and have a process in place whereby we review our long lists of keywords, look to find commonality – and then connect the terms together for each proposed piece of content. Easier said than done right? I’m afraid, as with much of our keyword research process, we haven’t found a short cut for this and rely on manually tagging keywords that have such association – and picking a lead focus keyword for each.
If you are planning to use more than one keyword tool, and why not if you’ve got the time, as they all have their own merits. I’d strongly recommend you read the post which compares the Google Keyword Planner and Moz’s Keyword Explorer. We use lookup formula to ensure we’re not adding duplicate keywords to our master lists. Knowing that you’re going to do this as part of the process means you can judge each keyword suggestion on its own merits (intent and relevance) and nothing else. You don’t need to be concerned with whether the keyword already appears on your list – and it’ll save you time referring back to check each time which spoils your flow.
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Most keyword research tools offer free trials for you to get a hands-on feel for how they work. Do the trials, get your hands dirty and work out which one (or ones) works best for you. Keyword research should be an ongoing process, so at some stage you’ll need to invest. If you can work with the recently introduced ‘vague-ranges’ in the Google Keyword Planner then maybe you don’t need to. In most instances you’ll have to buy into a whole suite of SEO tools, but some, like the aforementioned Keyword Explorer is available to subscribe too as a stand alone tool.
Use the information wisely
Sound obvious I know but you’ve probably got the idea now that keyword research takes time – so make sure you reap the rewards you’ve earned through your hard work. Focus your work on the areas that offer best returns first. Spend time planning out your content. Use the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) – see what content already exists, that’s your benchmark, you know what you need to beat.
Track the terms you’re targeting
You don’t need to invest in an expensive suite of SEO tools to report on the performance of your content for the keywords you’re targeting. The Search Analytics report in the Search Console provides average ranking positions and click thru rates for each term. You can report on these every 90 days, which is the largest time frame available within the tool – or more often if you’ve got the time. We’ve created a template – which we intend to share at some stage – which helps us to ascertain how our clients content is performing against their targets – and all it has taken is a bit of jiggery pokery (tips hat to the Duckworth Lewis Method and Will Howarth) to format them as we required – as all the data is available (provided you’ve verified your site of course).
So there you have it, eight top tips to ease the strain of the keyword research process. It would be fantastic to get your thoughts on these and if you have any tips to share please do so below.
Main image by punttim