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When a user searches on a search engine, they type in a query such as “calendar”, “pizza toppings”, “women running shoes”, or “best BBQ restaurant near me.” What is delivered by the search engine is a list of relevant webpages on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
These queries, whether a single word or a multi-word phrase, are called “keywords” and they act as magnets to attach you to webpages with content that is most relevant and authoritative to your keyword’s intent.
Your keyword’s intent is your search intent. In general, long-tailed keywords instruct search engines more clearly of a keyword’s intent than shorter single-word keywords.
For example, a long-tailed keyword such as “best BBQ restaurant near me” more clearly defines to search engines your search intent behind the keyword (i.e., to find a BBQ restaurant near you for purposes of eating BBQ). In contrast, a broad keyword such as “calendar” contains a myriad of different search intentions: to define calendar, to buy a calendar, to go to your Google calendar, to get a calendar app, to print a calendar, and so on.
For marketers and SEO analysts, keywords are incredibly important as they give powerful clues about searcher/consumer behavior to inform website content and content strategy.
Keywords can provide insight about:
In short, keywords can be thought of as “data-driven truth serums” in understanding your target audience and connecting your content with that target audience.
Not all keywords are the same and it is important to understand the most common types of keywords and how these keywords generate different search results on the SERP.
As mentioned before, keywords can be a single word or a multi-word phrase. A keyword with more than three words is called a long-tailed keyword and are descriptive phrases with a specific intent.
Long-tailed keywords generally have lower monthly search volumes than short-tailed keywords because of how specific they are, but long-tailed keywords also tend to drive more conversions than short-tailed keywords.
Content that is well-optimized to respond to long-tailed keywords has a better chance of meeting their target audience’s needs and ranking higher on SERP.
Some keywords carry with them local search intent – the intent to carry out a transaction locally. These keywords have specific local qualifiers such as “near me”, “where”, or a specific city name (i.e., “top veterinarian Seattle”).
Results for local keywords are always location-specific such as Google Map’s Local 3-Pack and their monthly search volumes will always be much smaller than global keywords (keywords without local search intent).
Branded keywords are keywords that includes an official brand name (i.e., “Nike shoes”, “Starbucks coffee”). While branded keywords generate the highest conversions of any type of traffic (as searchers using branded keywords are looking specifically for that brand), it is not ideal to optimize your content with only branded keywords.
This is particularly important if your company/site is not a part of the brand whose branded keywords you use or mention (i.e., a personal blog reviewing Nike running shoes). Your personal blog will never generate enough authority to overcome rankings and relevance of the actual Nike site that hold authority over “Nike running shoes” keywords. Your efforts are best used in competing with non-branded “running shoes” keywords with qualifiers such as “reviews” or “bad” or ”good.”
Choosing the right keywords to target and optimize your content can be laborious and confusing. Keyword Research is the process of discovering search terms used by people in a search engine to optimize content for maximum relevance and visibility and inform content strategy.
In general, there are 5 steps in a data-driven keyword research process:
1. Identify your business goals/intent. What goals are you trying to accomplish with your content strategy, such as driving more sales or leads, closing more conversions, or generating more visibility and engagement? Each goal has a specific type of search traffic and searchers with specific intents. Identifying the result you want will help you know what types of keywords you should be researching (i.e., long-tailed or short-tailed, local or global).
2. Analyze keyword competitors. There’s a famous quote about artists that “good artists copy but great artists steal”. The idea is that if you see someone else doing something that works, you should do exactly that too. This is the same with keywords and competitors: look at competitors who are ranking well for target keywords you want to rank well for and see how these competitors have optimized their content (i.e., on-page header tags and metadata) for which topics and how.
3. Create a seed list for keyword research. Once you have identified your goals and scoped your competitors, you should have a pretty good idea of which topics and keywords you want to research. For example, if you are a pet company and want to expand your blog content for better searcher engagement, you might have target keywords such as “dog health insurance”, “dog summer activities”, “healthy cat food”, “cat pet carriers”, etc.
These initial target keywords will be your seed list for your keyword research. Group similar keywords together (i.e., all the dog keywords together and all the cat keywords together) and use a keyword research tool, such as BrightEdge SEO Platform, to generate even more keyword ideas from your seed lists.
4. Categorize your raw keyword list to align to your business goals. After you have keyword researched your seed lists, you should end up with a long list of raw keywords that are related to keywords in your seed list. This is your raw topic landscape for a particular topic (i.e., “dog health insurance”).
The broader and more short-tailed your keywords in your seed list are (i.e., “dogs”), the wider the scope of your raw topic landscape (versus niche long-tailed keywords such as “health insurance for senior dog surgery”).
Now you must pare down this enormous list to keywords that only align with your business goals and some keywords may not be relevant to those. For example, if your business goal was to drive more conversions for your local line of women shoes, you will likely want to collect keywords that are long-tailed, branded, and/or containing local intent (i.e., “The Running Store womens blue jogging shoes”; “where to buy womens clog sandals near me”).
5. Determine content strategy for optimization efforts (i.e., Defend, Optimize, or Create). Put those keywords to work! With your pared-down, goal-oriented list of target keywords, you can now determine the best content strategy to optimize those keywords.
a. Defend – This is strategy where your content is already optimally optimized for the keywords and topics to best meet your business goals and you are “defending” your content’s rankings, relevance, and authority on SERP. Minor optimization changes to metadata (meta titles and descriptions) are action items in this strategy.
b. Optimize – This strategy is where you already have content targeting your target keywords and topics but the content is under/incorrectly optimized and not performing well. This strategy keenly analyzes what is working and what is not to improve and realign the content.
c. Create – This strategy means you currently do not have content targeting keywords and topics to help meet your business goals and new content must be created to do so. This might include creating a new blog post, category page, or landing page.
Keywords are essential in SEO and they’re not going away – in fact, search engines are continuously evolving to better understand the meaning and intent behind search terms (so a searcher seeking content about “race” will be delivered content about “marathons” rather than the Abolition) and become more intuitive to searcher needs (i.e., delivering local results to keywords with local search intent).
For searchers/consumers and marketers alike, it is beneficial to understand how your search queries/keywords are being understood when you type them into a search engine.
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