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This may come across as stating the obvious but thorough, well considered keyword research is the critical first foundation stone of any successful SEO or digital marketing campaign.
By that, I don’t mean making a list from pure guesswork either.
I mean actual in-depth research that finds search phrases that combine relevancy, good levels of traffic and most importantly, competition levels that you can jockey from the big guns.
It never ceases to amaze me just how many self-proclaimed SEO “experts” seem to gloss over this critical stage.
They choose keywords out of thin air without really delving deeper and understanding whether the phrases they’ve chosen (short tail or long), are in fact relevant, offer any real chance of ranking in and amongst the millions of other search results or have any decent traffic levels to offer their clients.
The first rule of keyword research is to never let your clients choose or dictate the final target keywords.
Of course, it’s important to understand their business, what it is they are essentially selling and to list those items but that should never form your final target keyword list… ever!
In most cases, your client will not have performed any kind of keyword research and at best, will have gotten their list of phrases from Google’s suggested results which tends to be very hit and miss.
In most instances however, their keywords will have been garnered via an internal brainstorm but nothing that shows any tangible metrics relating to traffic levels, competition, rank probability and who occupies the top organic spots.
Firstly, if you’re a small to medium sized business offering a product or service that is also sold by a large multinational organisation or high street brand, you need to know your place.
Sorry to burst your bubble but in the world of search, reality checks are the best medicine – even if at times hard to swallow.
If for instance, you sell “women’s shoes”, it’s totally and utterly pointless trying to rank for a popular short-tail keyword that returns 188 millions search results, with the top spots occupied by well-known high street retailers.
But if you own a boutique store locally in your town, altering that search phrase to a local phrase suddenly narrows that search and places your offering to your nearest immediate customer base.
The most important thing to realise is where to find opportunities and how.
Unless you have a bottomless pot of cash to throw at your digital marketing strategy, the best approach is to find the lower hanging fruit and exploit those phrases.
The only foolproof way of doing that is to research your keywords thoroughly. But how do you do that?
Unfortunately, long gone are the days when SEOs and alike could use Google’s Adwords keyword tool to discover phrases with fairly accurate search volumes.
Since that disappeared, we’ve had to use a little more ingenuity and diversity.
The first thing to do is brainstorm your offering and write down the key products of services that you offer.
Then combine those offering with any niche offerings or key selling points that make them unique to you.
Once you’ve done that, you have your foundation list of parent topics to start your research.
We use a number of tools to gather keyword data to give us the broadest and most thorough intel we can before compiling a final list of target phrases.
Here’s just a handful of some of the tools that we love to get stuck into:
Before you say your parent keyword list is fully complied, stop right there!
Übersuggest is a great tool that generates tons of suggested searches that directly relate to the keywords you enter.
You’ll be amazed how many phrases get returned that may not have occurred to you. Soon enough, you’ll find your initial parent search phrase list have expanded greatly.
With Google recently announcing they are scrapping “Instant Search”, their dynamic suggested keywords facility on all desktop searches to align with mobile, this tool is going to become gold dust.
Similar to Übersuggest, Soovie spits out all the related searches that Google would generate when you type in a search phrase, helping expand your parent phrase lists.
How long this one will last beyond Google’s cut off date is unknown as we suspect it gathers its results direct from a Google API, so only time will tell – but we really appreciate it whilst it’s still around!
Going beyond basic search phrases, WordStream will output the top related searches to the phrases you enter showing Google search volume competition levels, plus cost per click (useful for those creating an Adwords campaign) and their opportunity scores – in short, the likelihood of you being able to rank.
The free version of this tool just outputs suggested searches and Google traffic levels.
To see their full range of metrics, you need to sign up to a paid monthly plan which is a little pricey.
We think there’s some better options out there which we’ll come to shortly.
Put simply, we can’t live without this tool and it’s worth every penny.
The AHREFs “Keyword Explorer” is a goldmine of information and returns so much detail, you can be in there for days seeking and identifying search opportunities.
Just enter a search phrase and the system will return data including the parent topic (key to understanding what link anchors to build), search traffic volume, potential traffic, related searches and the keyword difficultly, estimating how many inbound links you would need to rank on page one for that search term.
One could argue that SEMRush is better but we much prefer the GUI of AHREFs and its ease of use.
Only recently discovered by us, the Mangools suite of tools has simply blown us away and has taken keyword research and rank tracking to the next level.
Their “KWFinder” is one of the best tools we’ve seen on the market because it goes beyond returning the basic metrics such as search volume and competition.
It also returns a whole ton of other related keyword suggestions whilst ranking how difficult each keyword would realistically be to rank based on competing sites domain authority metrics.
It does all the legwork in a few seconds and is simply awesome – we love these tools!
So by now, you should have complied a shortlist of keywords that combine ease of ranking, good levels of relevant inbound traffic and low to moderate levels of competition.
So you’re all set to start your inbound marketing to build good quality link signals from various sources.
So what’s left to do?
Checking your ranks and traffic level of course!
The only true way to measure the success of your choice of keywords is to see how their ranks improve and what levels of traffic get fed to your target pages as a result of the links you build over the life of your campaign.
Some simple checks under the “Acquisition” menu in Google Analytics will reveal all and whether all that hard work at the beginning is paying off and bringing in the audiences you’ve been craving.