And keyword research
Keywords are to SEO as pies are to champion pie eaters. We’re obsessed with them; we can’t get enough of them, and with good cause. Keywords are central to almost every aspect of digital marketing, but in SEO, keywords are our obsession.
A keyword is anything a punter types into a Google Search box when looking for something. It’s the seed, the spark. It’s everything.
The keener-eyed proofreaders among you will notice that when we talk about keywords we’re often referring to more than one word. Some people used to flip between using ‘keyword’ and ‘key phrase’ but it’s more usual to say ‘keywords’ regardless of the number of actual words at play. It’s grammatically troubling to good copywriters, but it is what it is.
Keyword research is probably the most essential part of any SEO project. Researching what search terms people use for can be a fantastically simple, or wonderfully nuanced process. We use many online paid tools like Semrush and free keyword research tools like the Google Ads keyword planner.
In addition to using cold, hard data, keyword research also requires a spark of creativity. Sometimes there’s an obvious starting point for keyword research, but it’s often the case that starting from an angle that competitors may not have considered could reveal keywords with high search volumes and low competition.
The days we find keywords that have high volume and are easy to rank for are the days we save the extra special chocolate biscuits for.
The end result of keyword research is objective data that can be used to pick which keywords you wish to optimise your website for. These are the facts, not subjective opinions or gut feelings. A good keyword research report will include numbers that show how many people a month search for specific keywords in the geographic areas you are targeting.
When you know what keywords you want to rank for then you can set about optimising your website for those keywords. Search engine optimisation can be a mammoth task, especially in a competitive niche. So getting the keyword research as close to perfect as possible is an essential starting point for your SEO adventure.
For example, if you own an online bagel bakery offering custom bagels for all occasions, then the keywords you optimise for could include: “bagel,” “custom bagel,” and “bagel shop,”.
Search engine crawlers like Googlebot rummage around your website like someone at a jumble sale looking for a bargain. The keywords they find form part of their opinion of your site (along with backlinks and hundreds of other factors. Get your keyword targets wrong, and you won’t be giving Google a clear picture of how fantastic your website is and how authoritative you are in your niche.
The keywords used on your site are only one part of the jigsaw puzzle of SEO, but they are a very large piece of the puzzle.
If you’re reading this page in our SEO Glossary and you are entirely new to SEO then we heartily recommend you go forth from this place and read as much as you can about keyword research. Understanding keywords will give you a firm foundation from which to build your SEO chops.
More about keywords and SEO
Knowing which keywords you will target with your SEO efforts will inform almost every other part of your SEO strategy. Explaining exactly how to optimise every aspect of your web presence for the keywords you are targeting goes beyond the scope of this simple page in our SEO Glossary. Still, there are a couple of aspects of keywords that are worth mentioning.
When doing keyword research, consider what intent might be behind the choice of some words. For example, if you are selling solid gold bidets then targeting ‘cheap bidets’ is unlikely to deliver punters to your website who are ready, willing and able to spend a ton of cash on your products.
The keyword research on Semrush does a nice job of breaking down keywords into the following intent types:
- Informational keywords
People who want answers
- Navigational keywords
People who are looking for a specific website or page on a website
- Commercial keywords
Punters who are looking for information about a brand or company
- Transactional keywords
The money folk, searchers using transactional keywords are more likely to be ready to part with their hard-earned money.
Looking at the intent types above, you might assume that all the keywords you choose to target should be ‘money keywords’ like transactional keywords. You’re wrong. Sort of, but we admire your enthusiasm. Targeting only transactional keywords would leave you with the SEO equivalent of that bloke you see at a market who is always yelling about the fruit and veg he’s selling.
As with everything in SEO it’s important that you don’t over-optimise. Be natural. Remember that creating content that is appealing and motivating to humans will always be more helpful commercially than focussing too closely on SEO. Search Engine Crawlers ain’t gonna by your solid gold bidets.
It’s natural that people might be searching for information about your company before they even consider getting their wallet warmed up. So use a broad mix of different keyword intents when planning your SEO strategy. Think about how you might have wanted your company to be represented before the Internet came along and ruined the world.
Long tail keywords
People don’t use a narrow group of keywords when searching the web. Even if your business is a simple proposition with just one product, then people will still search for that product using a broad range of keywords.
The keywords that surround your primary target keywords are your long tail keywords. Long tail keywords can open up angles of SEO attack that may not have been exploited by your competitors.
Quite often in competitive markets, all the big players will fight over a small set of keywords. Those keywords might have high search volumes, but because all the big knobs are trying to rank for them, you could stand no realistic chance of making any progress.
If you can identify keywords that your competitors appear to be ignoring then you can find an opportunity to soak up a lot of traffic and dominate a slightly different set of keywords to your rivals. It’s a bit like flying under the radar, with less chance of faceplanting into a tree. The search volumes might be lower, but the keywords will be easier to rank for, and the punters will be all yours.
Keywords – explain them to me like I’m five years old, please!
Keywords are words that people use when they are looking for something online.