In this digital age, marketers know that incorporating the right keywords into their content is an essential component of an effective content marketing strategy.
Of course, search engines have evolved immensely in recent years, which has had a huge impact on the methodology of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Gone are the days when content creators could hack search algorithms using cleverly placed keywords and backlinks. Instead, digital marketers now have to prove the expertise and relevance of their content if they want to rank highly on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). But that doesn’t mean that keywords are no longer relevant.
Strategic keyword placement still has an important role to play in digital marketing and choosing the right search terms to optimize for should be the foundation of your SEO strategy.
In this article, when talking about keywords, we’re really referring to keyphrases. Keyphrases are the terms people are actually searching for and are how you will be able to drive traffic to your content. Generating a large volume of visitors, however, is only half the battle. It is also important that you’re researching the kinds of keywords and phrases that will drive the right kind of traffic to your site.
Long-tail keyphrases are longer and more specific keyword phrases. They’re important to content marketers for two reasons: 1) Ranking highly on SERPs for single keywords is extremely difficult, putting you in competition with some of the biggest websites on the internet with thousands of daily visitors and a huge volume of backlinks. 2) Searchers are more likely to use longer more specific phrases when they are closer to actually making a purchase.
Let’s consider this second point. Someone searching for “screen sharing” might simply be interested to know what it is, or how it’s used. But if someone searches for the longer phrase “best screen sharing app with recording functionality” it is highly likely that they are in the market for exactly that. If you can rank highly for that search term, you’ll be generating a steady stream of traffic with a genuine need for such an app.
Choosing the best long-tail key phrases to optimize with will help you to connect with the customers actively shopping for a product or service that you can provide them with.
Generally speaking, the longer and more specific the keyphrase searches you target are, the higher quality leads they’ll generate. Someone simply searching “table” is unlikely to make a purchase from any of the results their search returns. But if someone searches for the phrase “antique mahogany coffee table in New York” they’re probably ready to part with their money.
Before you can start optimizing your content for the best long-tail key phrases that will help consumers find your business online, you first have to identify what these are. Follow these seven steps to find keywords and phrases that will drive high-quality traffic to your content.
1. Define your topic(s)
Begin keyword research by brainstorming the basic topics that your content covers. It’s advisable to not self-censor at this point as you will focus more closely on this research during the following steps.
For example, if you run a website that provides recipes for cakes and bread, your topic is baking. You could further expand this topic to include recipes, bread, and cakes as other topics that are relevant to your subsequent keyword research.
2. List common-sense keywords
Having identified at least one relevant topic, the next step is to list the basic words that are associated with this topic. Try to brainstorm with a group of people during this stage of research so as to get a wider range of perspectives and not to overlook important keywords that an individual might not think of.
Keep in mind that at this stage you’re only creating a preliminary list so you don’t have to be too specific. Longer keyphrases will come later so just focus on individual words and short phrases at present.
3. Use a keyword explorer to expand your list
Once you have compiled a preliminary list, a keyword explorer will help you to expand this list.
A keyword explorer is a tool with which you can input a word and it will generate a list of associated and extended search terms. The most basic form of keyword exploration is to use Google’s own suggested search feature. All you have to do is enter your common sense keywords into the search bar and note down all of the suggested terms which search engines calculate based on the most common searches people are making.
Some of the most popular paid-for keyword research tools include Answer the Public, Moz Keyword Explorer, and Semrush. There are many different explorers out there, each with different features and advantages. Try out a few and choose the tool that best suits your SEO requirements.
4. Research variations of your keywords
After using a keyword explorer tool, you should have a good list of popular search terms associated with your topic. Most tools will also help you identify all the possible variations of each keyword and phrase.
Keyword variations are important because it’s likely that you will end up using each keyword multiple times in your content. In order not to end up repeating yourself you should alternate the specific format of the keywords slightly.
Not only do variations make your content more readable, helping you to create website copy that converts visitors into leads, they will also help your content to appear in more SERPs. Different people will inevitably use slightly different phrasing, even if they’re searching for the same thing, so it’s important to optimize for all the different variations of a term.
5. Extend list with localized and niche variations
By the time you have researched variations on your initial keywords, your list should be pretty extensive. One last thing you will need to do in terms of amassing viable search terms is to add localized or niche variations to your list.
Niche variations can refer to the different versions of the product or service you provide. For example, if your website sells a certain item in different colors, at this stage of the process you would add all the colored variants of that item to your keyword list.
6. Gather monthly search volume
With your list of keywords ready, you can prepare to identify which keywords you will target in your SEO strategy by researching the monthly search volume of each term. This step helps you to know which keywords and phrases which people search for the most. With this information, you’ll be able to tailor your content in order to optimize it for the most popular search terms.
Keyword exploration tools such as Semrush and Moz Keyword Explorer have this function built-in, making it easy to rank your keyword list according to search volume.
Another option is to use Google’s Keyword Planner, which will generate a report that shows you the search volume and competitive metrics of each of the keywords you input.
Keep in mind that while Google dominates the market for web searching with 92% of all searches globally being made using its search engine, that figure goes down to around 5% for searches made from China, for example. This means that while Google’s Keyword Planner can be a useful tool if you’re targeting English language searches, for international SEO you should consider more platform-inclusive keyword tools.
7. Identify realistic target keywords and phrases
You finally have a list of relevant keywords ranked according to search volume. You might think that’s your research done and now all you need to do is start using those keywords beginning at the top of the list.
While that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad strategy, if you’ve followed the preceding steps correctly, your list will likely be a long one. What’s more, the terms that rank the highest by search volume may well be generic, single words, only loosely connected to your business, or too broad to be worthwhile optimizing for.
To narrow down your list, first disregard any terms that have little to do with the product or service you are selling. Having done that, locate those long-tail phrases that you think your potential customers would be searching for.
Next, carry out a web search for each of the terms you think are worth targeting. Note down the websites that appear at the top of the resulting SERPs. Do your direct competitors rank highly? Or will you have to compete with authoritative news websites and organizations with greater marketing resources than you?
A useful metric for comparing the authority of different websites is domain authority. Domain authority is a score developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank highly on SERPs. Domain Authority scores range from 1-100, with higher scores indicating a better ranking. Page Authority is a similarly calculated score given to individual pages.
Ideally, when selecting keywords to optimize for, you want to look for search terms where the top-ranking result has a domain or page authority you can realistically compete with.
Now you know how to do keyword research, it’s time to start implementing your findings. There’s no straightforward formula for how many keywords you should be optimizing for. Just make sure you set achievable targets and don’t sacrifice the quality of your content trying to cram in as many as possible.
Finally, keep in mind that keywords are not the be-all and end-all of successful SEO. A good backlink strategy will also help to drive traffic to your content. And don’t forget the importance of customer reviews for improving your site’s authority, and therefore the likelihood of achieving those coveted SERP top spots.