Search-engine optimization (SEO) is a main ingredient in website upkeep and an inescapable part of online marketing. The process of keyword research is vital to good SEO. Keyword-stuffing used to be the master card in terms of SEO, but those days are gone. Keyword research still carries weight, and website owners need to maintain keywords properly; they can’t be chosen arbitrarily. Choosing the most suitable and relevant keywords takes research.
Before getting into the details of keyword research, let’s be sure we understand “keywords” and how they’re important to search engines.
In the context of search engines, keywords are the words or phrases that a person types into the search box of a search engine (like Google) in order to find the information they’re looking for. The search engine identifies relevant websites on the basis of keywords, so the keywords identified by the website’s developer become the indicators of a website’s relevancy against users’ queries. Search engines have begun to pay attention to pages and keyword relationships, so choosing the right keywords is becoming increasingly important. From the perspective of a website’s back end, keywords are what a website talks about, and they are carried in its pages, meta tags, URLs and so on.
Now that it’s clear why keywords are so important, let’s dig into the field of keyword research.
Where to Begin?
Targeting just one or two keywords might not be enough; there can be a lot of competition. To broaden your website’s search relevancy, make a list of keywords and related keywords that are relevant to your website and its content. Put them in order from most to least important so you can see what the search engine ought to look for and rank. Many keyword research tools can be found online. Some are paid tools, but a few are available free of cost, and these tools can serve an important role. A few popular tools are Yahoo! Search Marketing, Microsoft adCenter Labs and the Google AdWords keyword tool. None are perfect, so try each and compare two or three such tools before choosing the one that suits your task best. Being familiar with these and similar tools will help you broaden your understanding of keywords.
The Google AdWords keyword tool has become very popular. It’s a free tool, provided by Google, that assesses the details of a given keyword: its search volume, its approximate value according to local monthly search and global monthly search. It also provides variants of keywords to help you assess the weight and worth of each.
Keyword research is not a one-step process, so prioritize well. Prioritizing the search volume of a keyword is essential, but don’t depend on that alone. Another important factor is the keyword’s level of competition. A general or basic search term might have a great search volume but will have major competition as well. In that case, your website probably won’t rank high.
Volume vs. Competition
Let’s pick a keyword and, with the help of the Google AdWords keyword tool, analyze the relationship between search volume and competition.
Suppose you are launching a website about mobile phones, and your goal is to provide users with “stylish mobile phones with updated features at the lowest rate.”The main keyword phrase, of course, will be “mobile phones”—but it gets about 278million search results within 0.16 seconds on Google. That’s huge competition. But a Google search doesn’t tell us the volume, so let’s check the Google AdWords keyword tool. With a broad search, “mobile phone” has a search volume of 16.6 million globally and five million locally. This keyword phrase has a high search volume and medium-level competition. It’s a general term, and mobile-phone companies will have ranked it high. It won’t serve you well to target that keyword phrase and nothing else, so move on to its variants. It’s clear that search volume cannot be the sole criterion when deciding whether to use a keyword.
Check the dialogue box that says” only show ideas closely related to my search terms” to see variants. Then choose keyword phrases like” best mobile phones,””mobile phones at lowest rate,””mobile phone features” and so on. Targeting these will draw the search engine to your website. The volume of keywords and phrases fluctuates, so conduct regular research. Don’t create Web pages or titles with untargeted keywords.
Using high-volume keywords is OK if you can beat the competition. You need to be a little strategic at times. Find less competitive keywords that have sufficient volume and target them to increase your chances of success.
When choosing keywords, learn to understand the two types: short keywords are the main search terms, but there are also “long-tail” keywords. These are multi-word keywords that can be more specific in meaning and have a narrow focus. But long-tail keywords shouldn’t be too long. Examples include “mobile phone at lowest rate,””stylish watches for women” and so on. Although long-tail keywords do not have high search volumes, they provide other benefits for your website; there is less competition for them, they address niche audiences, and they produce higher conversion rates. Higher conversion is a natural byproduct because focused keywords provide users with highly relevant information. And your conversion rate signifies the quality of your landing page. Over time, search engines will respond to that.
Also: make sure the keywords on your Web pages and in your meta descriptions are identical.
Decide whether to target the long-tail market, use broad keywords or both.
Now that we understand search volume and competition, let’s see to the other aspects of keyword research. A keyword can be any word or phrase that tells about a website and its content; it can be a noun, an adjective, a verb, etc. Word stemming is the process of using derivatives of root keywords.
Search engines use the concept of stemming to index pages; they understand the relationship between keywords and their derivatives. For example, if we search Google for “water-resistant watches,” the search results will show websites that offer waterproof watches as well because Google understands the similarity between the two terms. This is how word stemming works. Exact-match keywords definitely rank high, but Google also looks for stems and derivatives.
Long-tail keywords and phrases can also be created by using keyword modifiers. These are not word stems or derivatives; rather, they are words that modify keywords. There are different types of modifiers, such as general modifiers and money modifiers. General modifiers can be used for all kinds of websites, whereas money modifiers can be used for e-commerce websites. Adding modifiers to keywords gives them tints and shades of meaning. Modifiers can narrow the focus without removing the broad meaning of the keyword. They’re quite efficient.
General modifiers can be nouns, adjectives and verbs, but adjectives are most common—”basic,””best,””outstanding,””amazing,””fabulous,””pure” and so on. Here are a few examples of search terms that show the usage of these modifiers: “basic Photoshop tutorials,””best mobile-phone plans,” and “amazing WordPress themes.”
Examples of money modifiers include: “free,””discount,””quote,””cheap,””price,””lowest” and so on. The use of money modifiers can be seen in examples like: “free home tutoring,””cheap mobile phones,” and “men’s watch price.”
There is yet another kind of modifier, called a niche modifier. Niche modifiers, as their name indicates, have to do with the niche of a website; that is, they are purposefully specific. Searching for “tutoring,” for example, will bring certain types of results. These modifiers can sometimes be blended to create strong long-tail keywords, like “free home tutoring,””cheap car dealership” and so on. Such modifiers assist the page ranking and attract users. Terms like “amazing,””best,””free” and “discount” always attract users, and niche modifiers help users reach exact destinations.
Use root keywords to create keyword variants that are strengthened by synonyms and modifiers, and consider volume and competition. Search engines are getting smarter. Keyword stuffing doesn’t work; Web pages must make sense and serve quality content.
Using related keywords is another essential part of the process. They’re valuable because search engines understand the relationships between search terms and related keywords. Following are a few ways of figuring out what terms might be related to the keywords you’ve chosen.
The first one is to analyze the search-engine results page (SERP) for a given keyword. For example, search for “shoe,” and have a look at what the search engine provides. You’ll notice that certain words pop up:”footwear,””fashion,””sport shoes,””kids’ shoes,””apparel” and the like. These are the related keywords for “shoes.”
Another way to find related keywords is to look through the search engine’s suggestions and related searches. Begin to type “Jane Austen” and Google will suggest “Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice,””Jane Austen biography,””Jane Austen Emma” and so on. These are related keywords for “Jane Austen.”Take these suggestions further by adding letters and words to the main keyword in the search box. Also look for related keywords in the “related searches” area in the bottom section of the search engine’s page. One search leads to another; follow one search term and it will lead to related ones. This is possible on all the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!).
You can also use online tools to get keyword suggestions. Here’s a list of tools provided free of cost by Google for keyword search:
- Google AdWords keyword tool (which we’ve discussed);
- Google Sets, which provides sets of related searches;
- Google Trends, which lists the 100 most-used search queries of the day;
- Google Insights for Search, which provides geographical data (as does Google Trends).
AdWords is the most popular because of its filtering options. Enter either a main keyword or a URL from which you can take ideas about related keywords. The search-volume and competition results are additional benefits of this tool.
Microsoft offers the adCenter Labs Platform, which will help you find related keywords. One of its features, Keyword Group Detection, suggests related keywords in groups. Another, Keyword Mutation Detection, reminds you of misspellings and alternative spellings.
Know the Competition
After you make a list of targeted keywords, a question will arise in your mind: will they work? To answer that, think about your users’ needs. What are they looking for? Incorporate that into your website, and it will serve as a valuable online presence.
Research your competitors’ keywords as well as your own: which keywords are they targeting? How have they ranked their keywords? How do you compare? What are you lacking? Competitor analysis tells you about the quality of product you’re competing with and helps you understand the business around you. Tools like Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools will be helpful if your website has been around for a while, but the tough work of keyword research is necessary if you’re just starting out.
Speak to Your Audience
Beginners should target long-tail keywords, with which they’re most likely to find their niche. Everyone should understand their target audiences and use keywords that speak to them. For example, if you’re building a website for UK users, use British English instead of American English (“colour” instead of “color”, etc). If your website provides help with studies, then your target audience is definitely students. Use keywords like “chem help” along with “chemistry help” and “socio help” along with “sociology help” because these are the terms students use.
In addition to the tools I’ve mentioned, many companies provide specially designed keyword-research tools that are available online.
After you collect all keywords, related keywords, keywords variants, and broad and long-tail keywords, finalize your list (keeping in mind the search volume and the competition level). Use a search command to find pages and URLs that use these keywords. Now the first steps of keyword research are complete, and you can get on to the other SEO work. Come back to keyword research at regular intervals because the keywords of today might not be in use tomorrow. It’s an ongoing process. But you’ve taken the first steps!