If you want to stand a chance of being seen in search results, you need to carry out keyword research.
Keyword research forms the beating heart of any organic SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) strategy. Put simply, if you don’t know what your audience are searching for, how can you possibly make yourself visible for those particular search terms? Nothing in SEO is down to chance or luck – thorough keyword research is a fundamental first step to unlocking your SEO success.
However, good keyword research provides much more than simply “the right words to use on your website”. Discovering the wording your audience uses to talk about your services can help you better appeal to your target consumer; inspire informative content marketing efforts; and generally close the gap between what you provide and what your audience need.
So let’s start from the top…
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is effectively establishing what search terms (or “keywords”) people are using to find organisations like yours in search. Armed with this information, you can use that language in your website copy and blog content, effectively increasing your chances of appearing in search results for those particular search terms.
However, choosing the right keywords goes much deeper than “I’m an architect, I’m based in Birmingham, I’ll target ‘birmingham architect’”. That’s a great place to start your keyword research, but you also need to assess the popularity of your target keywords; discover new keyword opportunities; investigate searcher intent, and find out how your competitors are using the same keywords.
Establishing what keywords are most popular within your niche should form the backbone of all future on-page SEO efforts, but it’s important to remember that keyword optimisation isn’t the be-all and end-all of SEO. Google looks at over 200 different ranking factors to decide where a site appears in search, including the age (“authority”) of a site’s domain; how quickly your pages load, the uniqueness and quality of the site’s content; interlinking and backlinking factors; average site usage; mobile friendliness; as well as factors like keyword density and placement.
No one element of SEO exists in a vacuum – Google establishes an overall picture of your site in order to decide ranking. However, on-page keyword optimisation is one of the most positive moves you can make for your organic search visibility. Let’s explore why.
6 Reasons Why Keyword Research is Absolutely Essential
1. You Need to Optimise for The Language Your Audience Uses
In order to optimise your site for maximum search effectiveness, you need to incorporate the kinds of keywords and phraseology that your target audience is using to find you in search. Tools like Google Keyword Planner (available through Google Ads) can help you establish how frequently people search for certain key phrases, and can also suggest similar keywords that may be useful. If your site has been around for a while, we also recommend that you head to your website’s analytics platform to find out what search queries people are already using to find your site.
2. Good Research Can Uncover Lucrative Long-Tail Keywords
The days of “easy Google domination” are well over. Though it may be tempting to optimise your site for terms that cast a wide net like “plumber shrewsbury” or “solicitors birmingham”, it’s actually quite ambitious to try and rank for them, especially if your site is new. When someone searches for these shorter keywords, Google is much more likely to recommend long-standing sites with high domain authority, burying smaller, newer contenders further down in the results.
But all is not lost for newer, smaller sites, there is a solution: long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are niche, targeted keywords that aren’t as frequently searched as “wide net” key phrases, but they can attract a much more targeted audience who know what they want and are ready to buy. For example, instead of “solicitors birmingham”, the company may want to look into optimising for terms like “family law solicitors digbeth” or “employment lawyers solihull”. These terms naturally won’t be searched anywhere near as much as “solicitors birmingham”, but they allow the firm to optimise their site for specific geographic areas and niche specialisms where people may need help straight away.
Being ambitious enough to want to rub shoulders with the big players on page one for shorter, punchier terms is commendable, but nothing happens overnight in SEO. A small, brand new hardware business website just isn’t going to command the same attention from Google as a B&Q or a Wickes. That’s something that needs to be worked up to and built over time. Ambition is great, but sometimes a pinch of self-awareness goes a long way.
Side note: We recognise that this isn’t particularly reassuring for organisations that need results now, not later. However, pay-per-click Google Ads can help you earn some instant visibility for both short and long-tail keywords, without having to wait for your site to build authority, grow backlinks, or increase your website’s content. But remember that your site will still need to have a professional look and feel to impress people once they click on your ad, even if it’s not technically totally optimised.
3. Keyword Research Establishes Your SEO Boundaries
Looking at the popularity of search terms within your niche can help you understand what to expect from your SEO efforts. If your target keywords get a lot of searches every month, there’s a chance that they may work well, but there’s also the chance that competitors are vying for them too. In this case, we’d advise that you put those terms into search to see how prominent your competitors are and work out some under-served long tail alternatives.
However if none of your intended keywords get a lot of attention, that can mean one of two things: you either need to keep looking for targeted, long-tail keywords until you strike gold, or you may need to temper your expectations of what you’re going to achieve with SEO. The latter isn’t something we say very often, but if your product or service is particularly niche then it’s an unfortunate possibility.
4. Search Engines are Getting Better at Understanding Us
It’s in Google’s best interests to get people to the information they need as quickly and efficiently as possible. A smooth, reliable searching experience means that people will continue to use the service and that Google retains its market share and popularity. It’s therefore essential that Google understands the language and intent behind every search.
One of the more significant Google algorithm changes in the past few years was 2019’s BERT update. In a vastly compressed nutshell, BERT enables the Google algorithm to better understand and gauge the importance, context, and sentiments inherent in search queries using machine learning.
Surprisingly, Google’s Liaison Officer Danny Sullivan states that there’s nothing new to optimise for with the BERT update. BERT’s impact is about Google understanding what searchers want and pairing them with that information. However, there is still some work that can be done on the keyword/on-page optimisation front.
If you don’t regularly look at the search terms people are using to find your site through Google Analytics (tut tut), then we recommend that you investigate whether any search trends have changed since BERT’s release (21st October 2019). You may find that you are now being found for slightly different search terms than before that date, possibly pointing you towards new keyword opportunities.
Another BERT-friendly change, as suggested by expert marketer Neil Patel, is to create hyper-specific pages and/or content around individual, commonly searched phrases or topics, as opposed to discussing umpteen different topics or services on a single page. Find highly searched questions in your niche and aim to answer them more succinctly than any of your competitors.
5. Good Keyword Research Can Inform Your Other Marketing Efforts
Though it’s chiefly associated with SEO, keyword research can be a valuable practice in other ways. If you’re in an industry where people use various different terms to describe the same things, it can be interesting to see which terms people use the most and which ones they use the least. This is useful to know for SEO, of course, but it’s also useful to know what language is most likely to resound with people across your other marketing and sales touchpoints.
Even if you feel your industry language is pretty set in stone, it can still be enlightening to look at what terms people are using to describe your products or services. They may not be quite what you expect!
Keyword research can also inform market research – what products/services of yours are people searching for most and which ones least? Could this imply that there is more or less demand for a specific offering than previously thought?
Knowing what keywords people use to look for information and answers about your industry can also inform your content marketing efforts. If there is evidence to show that people are searching for a given question, then a well-placed and well-written blog post answering that question may earn you some attention in search.
Brand-wide language use, market research, and content marketing are all important elements in their own right, but all have inextricable links to the very fabric of your search visibility too.
6. Your Competitors Are Already Using Keyword Research
Keyword research tools are now more accessible than ever. Whether you’re working with an external SEO agency or you’re tackling your keyword strategy in-house, it’s now incredibly simple to access keyword research tools and brainstorm new key phrases on the fly. The sheer accessibility of these tools means that your competition are likely to be doing some kind of keyword research – be it formal or informal – so why let them have that advantage?
Google Keyword Planner is the best of the bunch in our view, but Moz’s Keyword Explorer, KeywordTool.io, and Ubersuggest are all worth a look – and you can sample their service for free. Answer The Public is also useful for featured snippet optimisation and for choosing in-demand content topics.
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