Keyword research is only a small part of SEO, but it’s an important one. No SEO strategy is complete without this vital portion of research, and devil is in the detail.
This phase can often result in mammoth amounts of data that can leave SEOs feeling lost – unless, of course, you use my go-to methodology which keeps things simple, logical and, most importantly for your brand, highly relevant to your audience.
Building your first list
Keyword research is essentially market research, so it helps to listen to your audience first. Balance that with further knowledge of your own business and products, and you have a good place to start. There are also keyword combination tools such as Merge Words to quickly build out your initial list, and maybe a few variations such as your business name and city or country that can be added too. Get the basics down into a list then move on to the next step.
If you don’t already track internal search terms on your own site in Google Analytics then make a note to look into it later, as it’s a resource necessary to accurately tell what users are looking for while browsing. Once you’ve got tracking sorted, you can find the internal search data in Google Analytics by navigating to ‘Behaviour’ and then ‘Search Terms’. Don’t forget to set the time period as wide as possible to add all the terms to your original list.
Browsing the sites of your competitors is a great way to get ideas for synonyms or phrases which you may want to target. The easiest way to do this is to visit your competitors’ sites and pay attention to page titles, headlines and sub-headlines, jotting down your findings. Don’t forget to take a look at the navigation and footer and even the sitemap for an overview. If you’re looking to be thorough, crawling tools like Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider Tool can help you amass them all in one go, in addition to meta tags such as titles and descriptions. The keyword meta tag doesn’t hold any SEO value (except with some aggregators such as Google News), but if your competitors use it then it’s worth researching what terms they’re trying to target.
Keyword suggestion tools
Now that you have an idea of the themes you’d like to cover, third-party tools like Ubersuggest and Keyword Tool can help generate the bulk of your list. Don’t forget to also consider long-tail keywords, which are those that probably have less monthly search volume, but are more specific and therefore less competitive. Select your location and language, run a search for your terms and repeat as necessary.
Google search console
Google Search Console is great for showing which keywords or phrases are already generating traffic for your site. There are also paid tools that provide this with varying success, but go here first for free data from the last 90 days. You can find this data in Google Search Console, and then looking under ‘Search Traffic’ in the ‘Search Analytics’ tab.
In the salad days before 2011, marketers could see how individual keywords performed via Google Analytics. While we don’t see all this traffic data anymore, there’s often a residual amount that still gets tracked. Navigate to Google Analytics, go to the ‘Acquisition’ tab, then click on ‘Organic Keywords’. Widen the timeframe, ignore the ‘not provided’ and ‘not set’ entries, and save everything else.
Check your volumes and feed the funnel
Now that you have your big list of keywords and phrases, it’s time to get the volumes. Log into your Google AdWords account and then navigate to the ‘Keyword Planner’ area under the ‘Tools’ tab in the top navigation. Select ‘get search volume data and trends’, input your keywords (you may need to do this in batches), select your target country, and click ‘get search volume’ to get your data. To add a second batch, click ‘modify search’ and replace the keywords. Download your keywords to file or export to Google Docs, and select ‘segment statistics by month’ to see seasonal data. Once saved, sort by search volume and start picking the entries of interest. Don’t let superfluous entries overwhelm you; simply highlight what you need and move on. If this process sparks any new keyword ideas, add them to the list and research those terms.
Voice search is changing the keyword landscape. More search queries are becoming actual questions in the form of complete, interrogative sentences. Search volumes for these can be low and the terms often rely heavily on context, but query-based research can provide some interesting results, and likely more so in the future. A great place to start in order to find content ideas based on keywords is Answer The Public, which is a fantastic resource that no SEO should plan without. What you do with your keyword data depends on your requirements, but following this method is effectively the most reliable and logical way to develop sound keyword analysis. What’s essential is that you don’t forget to keep an eye on your lists, making sure to refresh them and update your keyword volumes every so often so they’re as timely and relevant as possible.
Damian Burke is senior SEO consultant at digital agency Greenlight.