How to do keyword research
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the process of finding and analyzing actual search terms that people enter into search engines. The insight you can get into these actual search terms can help inform content strategy, as well as your larger marketing strategy.
While Google keeps us on our toes with all the algorithm updates they keep rollin’ out, one thing has stayed pretty consistent for inbound marketers looking to optimize their websites for search: keyword research.
Well, the need to do keyword research has stayed the same. How you actually do it hasn’t.
Why is keyword research important?
More and more, we hear how much SEO has evolved over just the last 10 years, and how unimportant keywords themselves have become to our ability to rank well for the searches people make every day.
And to some extent, this is true; using keywords that exactly match a person’s search is no longer the most important ranking factor in the eyes of an SEO professional. Rather, it’s the intent behind that keyword, and whether or not a piece of content solves for that intent (we’ll talk more about intent in just a minute).
But that doesn’t mean keyword research is an outdated process. Let me explain:
Keyword research tells you what topics people care about and, assuming you use the right SEO tool, how popular those topics actually are among your audience. The operative term here is topics — by researching keywords that are getting a high volume of searches per month, you can identify and sort your content into topics that you want to create content on. Then, you can use these topics to dictate which keywords you look for and target.
By researching keywords for their popularity, search volume, and general intent, you can tackle the questions that the most people in your audience want answers to.
How does intent affect keyword research?
Like I said , user intent is now one of the most pivotal factors in your ability to rank well on search engines like Google. Today, it’s more important that your webpage addresses the problem a searcher intended to solve than simply carries the keyword the searcher used. So,
how does this affect the keywordr researchyou do?
It’s easy to take keywords for face value, and unfortunately, keywords can have many different meanings beneath the surface. Because the intent behind a search is so important to your ranking potential, you need to be extra-careful how you interpret the keywords you target.
Let’s say, for example, you’re researching the keyword “how to start a blog” for an article you want to create. “Blog” can mean a blog post or the blog website itself, and what a searcher’s intent is behind that keyword will influence the direction of your article. Does the searcher want to learn how to start an individual blog post? Or do they want to know how to actually launch a website domain for the purposes of blogging? If your content strategy is only targeting people interested in the latter, you’ll need to make sure of the keyword’s intent before committing to it.
To verify what a user’s intent is in a keyword, it’s a good idea to simply enter this keyword into a search engine yourself, and see what types of results come up.
I’m going to lay out a keyword research process you can follow to help you come up with and narrow down a list of terms you should be targeting. That way, you’ll be able to establish and execute a strong keyword strategy that helps you get found for the search terms you actually care about.
How to Research Keywords for Your SEO Strategy
- Step 1: Make a list of important, relevant topics based on what you know about your business.
To kick off this process, think about the topics you want to rank for in terms of generic buckets. You’ll come up with about 5-10 topic buckets you think are important to your business, and then you’ll use those topic buckets to help come up with some specific keywords later in the process.
If you’re a regular blogger, these are probably the topics you blog about most frequently. Or perhaps they’re the topics that come up the most in sales conversations. Put yourself in the shoes of your buyer personas — what types of topics would your target audience search that you’d want your business to get found for? If you were a company like HubSpot, for example — selling marketing software (which happens to have some awesome SEO tools … but I digress … you might have general topic buckets like:
“inbound marketing” (21K)
“email marketing” (30K)
“lead generation” (17K)
“social media marketing” (71K)
“marketing analytics” (6.2K)
“marketing automation” (8.5K)
See those numbers in parentheses to the right of each keyword? That’s their monthly search volume. This data allows you to gauge how important these topics are to your audience, and how many different sub-topics you might need to create content on to be successful with that keyword. To learn more about these sub-topics, we move onto step 2 …
Step 2: Fill in those topic buckets with keywords.
Now that you have a few topic buckets you want to focus on, it’s time to identify some keywords that fall into those buckets. These are keyword phrases you think are important to rank for in the SERPs (search engine results pages) because your target customer is probably conducting searches for those specific terms.
For instance, if I took that last topic bucket for an inbound marketing software company — “marketing automation” — I’d brainstorm some keyword phrases that I think people would type in related to that topic. Those might include:
marketing automation tools
how to use marketing automation software
what is marketing automation?
how to tell if I need marketing automation software
email marketing automation
top automation tools
And so on and so on. The point of this step isn’t to come up with your final list of keyword phrases. You just want to end up with a brain dump of phrases you think potential customers might use to search for content related to that particular topic bucket. We’ll narrow the lists down later in the process so you don’t have something too unwieldy. Once you have your final list, there are several data-driven tools available to you for finding out which keywords you’re most likely to rank well for.
(Note: If you’re a HubSpot customer, you’ll actually be able to spend a little less time cutting down your topics and keywords list with HubSpot Content Strategy. Content Strategy helps you identify and research topics to approach based on existing content.)
Although more and more keywords are getting encrypted by Google every day, another smart way to come up with keyword ideas is to figure out which keywords your website is already getting found for. To do this, you’ll need website
analytics software like Google Analytics or HubSpot’s Sources report, available in the Traffic Analytics tool. Drill down into your website’s traffic sources, and sift through your organic search traffic bucket to identify the keywords people are using to arrive at your site.
Repeat this exercise for as many topic buckets as you have. And remember, if you’re having trouble coming up with relevant search terms, you can always head on over to your customer-facing colleagues — those who are in Sales or Service — and ask them what types of terms their prospects and customers use, or common questions they have. Those are often great starting points for keyword research.
Step 3: Research related search terms.
This is a creative step you may have already thought of when doing keyword research. If not, it’s a great way to fill out those lists.
If you’re struggling to think of more keywords people might be searching about a specific topic, go to Google.com and take a look at the related search terms that appear when you plug in a keyword. When you type in your phrase and scroll to the bottom of Google’s results, you’ll notice some suggestions for searches related to your original input. These keywords can spark ideas for other keywords you may want to take into consideration.
Want a bonus? Type in some of those related search terms and look at their related search terms.
Want another bonus? HubSpot customers can get suggestions for keywords and topics to consider within the Content Strategy tool.