Keyword research can be defined as the activity you undertake in order to come up with an extensive list of keywords you would like to rank for. Keyword strategy can be defined as all the decisions you make on the base of that keyword research.
Keyword research is the basis of all search marketing. It starts with explaining what you do in the language your audience uses. Keyword research furthermore helps you to discover what you should be ranking for, or aiming to rank for.
In our view, keyword research has three steps. First, you write down the mission of your business. Next, you make a list of all the keywords you want to be found on. Finally, you create landing pages for all keywords. In the next chapter, we will take you through these three steps in much more detail.
After completing your keyword research, you should have a clear overview of the terms people use and the terms you want the pages on your site to be found on. This overview should function as a guidance for writing content on your website.
Why is keyword research important?
Proper keyword research will make clear what search terms are used by your audience. And this is of great importance. At Yoast, we regularly encounter clients that have a specific set of words they use when referencing their products, while their users use a completely different set of words. Optimizing for words that people don’t use of course doesn’t make any sense. Doing good keyword research makes sure that you use the words your target audience uses, and therefore makes the whole effort of optimizing your website worthwhile.
We tend to use the word keyword all the time, but we don’t necessarily mean it’s only one word. ‘WordPress SEO’ is a keyword, as is ‘Google Analytics plugin’. You can thus have keywords containing multiple words! We will refer to these keyphrases as keywords throughout this chapter.
The longer (and more specific) search terms are, the easier it will be to rank on the term. Keywords that are more specific (and often longer) are usually referred to as long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are more specific and less common. They focus more on a niche.
How to execute your own keyword research
In this post we will take you through the entire process of executing a keyword research step by step. We will give practical tips you can use to start doing your own keyword research.
Step 1: What is your mission?
Before starting anything, you will have to think about your mission. You have to think about questions like: who are you and what is your website about? What makes it special? And what promise do you make on your website?
A lot of people can’t answer these questions effectively at first. So take your time. Once you are able to answer these questions in detail, you have taken the first and most important step in your keyword strategy. Businesses are born of ideas, some of which are great, some are not. But they’re all born out of the idea that what you have to offer is special, and adds something to the market. That benefit, that advantage, that promise, is bound to be reflected in the keywords people should be finding you for.
Step 1 in keyword research is thus to write down your own mission. You have to figure out what makes you stand out from the rest. Take the time and literally write down your mission on a piece of paper. A computer or an Ipad of course will do as well.
Whether or not your mission will prove to be genius enough to sell to people, largely depends on the market you are in. Some markets are highly competitive, with large companies dominating the search results. These companies have a very large budget to spend on marketing in general and SEO specifically. Competing in these markets is hard, therefore ranking in these markets is also hard.
Perhaps you sell cruises to Hawaii. You offer great facilities for children, making the cruises especially suitable for young parents or single moms. Offering great cruises to Hawaii for single moms could very well be the uniqueness of your service. Look for the thing that makes your product stand out from the others. This should be your mission, your niche; this is what you have to offer your audience!
Starting in a competitive market, probably means that you should start out small. Once you ‘own’ a small part of that niche and become a big name in the business of cruises to Hawaii, you could try to go one level up and sell your cruises to a larger (more general) audience. Your mission will then become much more general as well.
Step 2: Making a list of keywords
With your mission in mind, you should try to get into the heads of your potential buyers. What will these people be looking for? What kind of search terms could they be using while looking for your amazing service or product? Ask yourself these questions and write down as many answers as you possibly can.
If your mission is clear, you will have a rather clear image of your niche and your unique selling points (the things that set your business apart from others). These will be terms you want to be find for.
Be aware that you should be found for terms that fit your site. If we get crazy and do our very best to let yoast.com rank for ballet shoes, people would be rather disappointed to find our site. They will probably instantly go back to Google. Ranking on ballet shoes will, in our case, lead to a massive bounce rate. And a high bounce rate tells Google that people do not find what they are looking for based on that search term. This will inevitably lead to a lower ranking on ballet shoes for our site (and totally justified, we know nothing about ballet or about shoes for that matter).
Making a list of possible search terms remains hard. And up until a few years ago, doing your keyword research was much easier. You could simply check Google Analytics to see with which terms people found your website. Unfortunately, that is no longer possible. So you’re pretty much left in the dark about the terms people use in search engines to end up at your website. Luckily, there are still some other tools which make your keyword research a bit easier:
Google Adwords Keyword Planner
Use the Google Adwords Keyword Planner to find new and related keywords, but ignore the search volume data unless you’re advertising on these keywords! The search volume data in the planner is really only accurate for keywords that you’re actually spending money on for advertising. Otherwise, these volumes are not reliable. While not really helpful to decide which keyword is most used by your potential audience, Google Adwords Keyword Planner does make a useful tool in coming up with ideas for potential keywords.
Yoast developed his own keyword research tool to come up with keywords as well. Yoast Suggest uses the Google Suggest functional-ity you know from searching in Google. It finds the keyword expansions Google gives and then requests more of them. So if you type ‘example’, it’ll also give you the expansions for ‘example a…’ through ‘example z…’ etc. Just go on and try it and fill out some of your potential keywords. It’s a great way to quickly find more long tail keywords you can focus on.
Google Trends allows you to compare the traffic for sets of keywords. You can even see the difference for numerous geographical regions. It’s very important to check Google Trends if you expect that some of your keywords are seasonal, for instance due to regulations, holiday seasons etc.
Your internal search engine What are people looking for on your site? These terms are keywords in the vocabulary of your actual audience and should definitely be added to your keyword list. Do not forget to look at the keywords people filled out that didn’t get any results: this was something people were expecting but didn’t find. You can look into the results of your internal search engine with Google Analytics. Our GoogleAnalytics by Yoast plugin makes this very easy.
These tools will help you to set up an extensive list of keywords. Try to come up with combinations of keywords as well. And add some kind of priority. Which keywords are especially important to rank on (very close to your mission) and which ones are less important.
Step 3: Construct landing pages
The third step towards a long term keyword strategy is to create awesome landing pages for keywords you want to be found on. We would advise you to do that in a well structured manner. Start by putting the list of keywords you have made in a table. A table (use for instance Excel or Google Docs / Sheets to set one up) forces you to set up a structure and to make a landing page for all the search terms you came up with. Put the search terms in the first column and add columns in which you put the different levels of your site’s structure.
The more specific your search term is, the further down into your site structure you put your landing page of this term. Make sure that you make a landing page for every search term you come up with. You do not have to create all these pages immediately. This could very well be a long term thing. In the third section of this book (about site structure) you can read much more about the way to set up (or adjust) your site structure.
Example of a keyword research
The theory of keyword research can be a bit dry and hard to digest. That’s why we will spice things up! We’ll give you an example of steps 1 to 3. Let’s say that I have a blog about children. I write about children’s clothes, children’s room and children’s toys. I blog about new products, about things that I have bought and like and about new trends.
As you can see from this Google Trends chart, ‘kids clothes’, for instance, is actually used far more often. Which means we could go after the probably less competitive, ‘children’s clothes’ etc. anyway, or go for ‘kids clothes’. There are no rights or wrongs in this regard, you just have to be aware that you’re making this decision. In the next chapters, we will tell you more about how to make decisions about which keywords to aim at.
Long term keyword strategy
No website should rely on one single keyword or one keyphrase for its traffic. You should use your mission as a starting point, take our three steps in doing proper keyword research and work towards a solid base: a keyword strategy. In this chapter, we will explain what a keyword strat-egy is and why it is important to have a long term keyword strategy.
Keyword research and keyword strategy
Keyword research is the activity you undertake in order to come up with an extensive list of keywords you would like to rank for. Your keyword strategy is a bit broader than just that. It can be defined as all the decisions you make on the base of your keyword research. What keywords do you want to rank for? How many? And what is your long term plan? Will you aim at the same keywords, or will you start with long tail keywords and go after more general keywords in the long run?
How many keywords?
It is very hard to give an exact number of keywords one should focus on. And then again, it is very simple. You just have to have a large number, as large a number that is feasible for you. More than a 1000 keywords is probably more than you can chew off.
Even if you’re a reasonably small business, you’ll probably end up with a couple hundred keywords. But you don’t have to have pages for all of these immediately. The great thing about having a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress is that you can incremen-tally add content. Think about what keywords you would like to rank for now, and which ones aren’t that important (yet). Make some kind of priority and plan the creation of your content.
Adapting your keyword strategy
Your keyword strategy isn’t static. It should change and evolve along-side your company or your website. It should adapt, grow with you. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.
You should be on top of the changes in your company and adapt your strategy simultaneously. If your webshop starts selling new products, you should extend your list with more keywords. If you are aiming for new markets, your keywords should be aimed at these new markets as well.
It could be a strategy to start off trying to rank for long tail keywords and aiming at more general keywords afterwards. But you could also aim for more long tail keywords after focussing on general ones. You could deepen your focus (pursuing more niche activities) or broaden your focus, doing more different things. And you can do both at the same time.
At Yoast, we have deepened our focus in SEO. We started out with a general SEO plugin, but made special Local SEO, News SEO and Video SEO plugins (niches) afterwards. We first aimed to rank for SEO and later added local SEO, News SEO and Video SEO to our keyword list. We thus went from focussing on general products, to more niche products.
Your company or website will inevitably change. And thus will the keywords you should be aiming at. We therefore advise you to repeat your keyword research every now and then to stay on top of things!
Ad hoc keyword strategies
In an ideal world, you would do your keyword research, make a beau-tiful table and create landing pages. Your site structure would be flawless and you would blog and write every day making your site rank higher and higher in Google. Unfortunately, we live in the real world.
Of course, your keyword research will not always be as extensive. And some posts or articles aren’t written as part of an awesome strategy, but just because the topic was in the news or you had some inspiration. That’s just how these things work. But that doesn’t have to be a problem.
If you are writing something that does not fit your strategy (exactly), this doesn’t mean you should not aim at making that content rank. Perhaps you can use it to rank on something which remotely relates to the terms in the list of your keyword strategy. Use tools like Google Trends to choose for which keyword you would like to rank on. At least take some time to think about how to fit your article or blog in your strategy. After all, if you are writing valuable content, you might as well let it rank!
The importance of long tail keywords
We will specifically focus on the importance of long tail keywords in your keyword strategy. In a highly competitive market, long tail keywords are indispensable. We will explain what long tail keywords are, why they are that useful and how you can incorporate these in your keyword strategy.
Why should you aim to rank for long tail keywords?
Long tail keywords thus are more specific and less common. They focus more on a niche. In our view, there are two important reasons why one should focus on long tail keywords: easy ranking and higher conversions.
It is much easier to rank for long tail keywords than for more common keywords, because fewer websites will compete for high rankings in the result pages of Google. The longer (and more specific) search terms are, the easier it thus will be to rank on the term.
If you are starting a new company or website, it could be very bene-ficial to start ranking on specific long tail terms. As long as these terms are closely related to your mission, you are aiming at the right public. You could try to dominate a number of long tail markets first and then try to start ranking on more competitive markets (with a larger public).
In other cases, focussing on long tail terms could also be a great strategy. Because of the vastness of the internet, you will find your audience relatively easy for your specific niche. Focussing on a group of long tail keywords will result in a great deal of traffic altogether. Long tail keywords therefore could also be a part of your keyword strategy (next to focussing on more common keywords).
Another benefit of focussing on long tail keywords is that the visitor that finds your website is more likely to buy your service or product. The longer and more specific the search terms are, the higher the chances of conversion are. People who use a very specific term have a more clear idea of what they are looking for. And people who know what they are looking for are much more prone to buying! Long tail keywords thus focus on a small group of people, but also on a small group of motivated people. And that makes focussing on long tail keywords very profitable.
I will explain this using an example: I am currently looking for a cottage in France to spend our next summer vacation. I started my search with the term ‘vacation France’. I quickly discovered I wanted to go to the Dordogne, and preferred a house in the countryside. My search still continues, but now I use terms like ‘vacation house countryside Dordogne’. A long tail keyword. Using this keyword, I found new sites, which more closely resembled my vacation wishes. Chances for me to book my vacation largely increased.
The relativity of long and longer
Long tail is a relative term. For a large website, dominating in the field of sports for example, long tail search terms could be sport shoes or sport clothes. The major head keywords of such a website would then for example be sports. For smaller, more niche companies operating in the field of sports, long tail keywords could be ‘trendy women sport shoes’ and ‘colorful sport clothes’. The major keywords for this site would then for example be ‘trendy sport supplies’.
What is long tail for one website, thus does not have to be long tail for another. It all depends upon the position of your business and of your website in the field of your expertise.
How to choose the perfect focus keyword
If your keyword strategy has been crafted properly and your content is nicely optimized for the right keywords, adding content will increase your findability. Our WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin will guide you in the process of optimizing for the keyword of your choice. In this chapter, we will help you to choose your perfect focus keyword.
In the final phase of your keyword research, just before or while you are writing your text, you should do some last checks in order to make sure the focus keyword of your choice is the right one! In our opinion, there are at least three things you should do before publishing your amazing blog post:
1. Choose a focus keyword that is used to search
Your keyword strategy should have given you solid ideas for the keywords of your post and pages. For blog posts, you will usually aim for a long tail keyword (containing multiple words).
In our WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin you will find a drop down menu which completes your entry with suggestions. These suggestions are actually based on Google Suggest. This is exactly the same as what you’d see when you type the search term into a Google search box.
The terms you will find in the suggest drop down menu are thus terms and combinations of words that are logical and used by actual people searching the web. This tool can be very helpful in giving you some first ideas about the search behavior of people in the area you want to write about.
2. Discover some information about search volume
Once you have found a (long tail) search term you would like to start ranking for, you should put some effort in investigating whether the search volume of your focus keyword is high or not. We will be the first to admit, Google has made this really hard. The only way to know ‘for sure’ how often a search term is used, is by having an active and alive AdWords account and by bidding on the search term of your choice. We understand this is a bit too difficult and expensive for most of you (we honestly hardly ever do this ourselves).
Not to worry, using Google Trends should give at least some idea, in a creative way, about search volume. Google Trends allows you to compare the search volume of two search terms over time. This will give some insights in the volume of the search terms people use (always relative to another term).
You can use Google Trends in two ways. If you already have some (blog) posts that rank well for the right terms, you will know how many visitors these posts attract. Using Google Trends to compare the focus keywords of older posts (of which at least the number of visitors to your website is known) with the focus keyword you have in mind for your new post, could give you some idea about the potential of traffic this new focus keyword could potentially have. Make sure to choose older posts that are the most similar to the post you are planning to write: if you are planning to choose a long tail keyword, compare posts with long tail focus keywords as well.
As you can see the traffic is similar. We know the search traffic to our snippet preview post is reasonably good, so we know it’s worth optimizing for.
Using Google Trends to compare between your old focus keywords and the one you would like to use for your current post will give you some insights about the prospects for your focus keyword.
The second way to use Google Trends is when you are doubting between a number of (long tail) focus keywords. Google Trends will easily show you what search term will have the highest search volume (compared to another). Google Trends will help you decide which long tail keyword is most common in the search engines.
3 Google your proposed focus keyword!
Apart from knowing which search terms are actually used by people, you need to know whether or not your idea for your post or page fits the desires and expectations of the people who use the search terms. The best way to find out whether or not your content fits these desires is to search for your proposed (sets of) keywords on Google yourself.
Take the time to look at the first two result pages. Are the articles Google shows of the same character as your article will be? Does your website fit in with the results shown in these result pages? If you decide to write your blog post or page, while optimizing for this exact focus keyword, you’re aiming for a display of your page amongst these.
Make sure to use the content of the result pages as an inspiration for your blog post. Are there any useful ideas (we are NOT encouraging to copy content, merely to see whether you perhaps missed some infor-mation or arguments for your own blog post)? But more importantly: how can you make sure your post will stand out? In what way could your post be better, funnier, more original than the posts presently displayed in the result pages? Try to think of content that will make the audience click and share!
picking a focus keyword is not easy
Choosing a perfect focus keyword is not an exact science. You should aim for a combination of words that are actually used by a search audience. On top of that, aim for a focus keyword that is relatively high on volume.