Every year, there are an increasing number of blogs proclaiming the death of keywords as an SEO tool. We’ve made the point ourselves on occasion, when talking about the importance of quality content. But, while it’s true that search engine algorithms have evolved so that stuffing keywords into the text no longer works, that doesn’t make keywords obsolete.
In fact, the change has made keyword research even more important. As Google places more emphasis on the intention behind searches, it’s vital to find out what your audience are searching for. Targeting the topic of searches, and not just the words themselves, is the goal for SEO today.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the process of finding the words and phrases that people use in search engines within your field. It’s the way in which you discover the language that your potential audience is using. Once you discover it, you can optimise your site around capturing those searches.
Keyword research is the first step to a successful SEO strategy.
The first step in finding your keywords is to decide what your niche is. Who is your target audience? Keyword research is the process of exploring your niche, to find what the recurring themes and sub-topics are.
The first step is to brainstorm a list of potential topics that people in your audience would be interested in. If you put these into a keyword research tool, they’ll probably have a high search volume. These are your short-tale keywords – individual words or very short phrases of a couple of words that are broadly relevant to your site. They probably aren’t the keywords you’re looking for, however, as they’re too broad.
From these, you can start to get more specific to your audience. From each of these topics, think of related, more specific searches. Search these keywords in Google and see what comes up as suggested and related searches.
Entering these terms into a keyword research tool like Google Keyword Planner can also help you discover what people interested in these topics are searching for.
Finally, look at other blogs and forums related to your field to see what people are interested in.
Not all keywords are created equally. Which ones are worth optimising for?
There are three things worth considering when deciding which keywords to focus on: search volume, difficulty of ranking, and relevance to your site.
The importance of search volume for a keyword is self-evident – the more times a keyword is searched, the more potential people will see your listing. It can be checked through keyword research tools. The long-term trends and seasonality of the keyword should also be considered, through tools like Google Trends.
However, the difficulty of ranking for a keyword is also important. The keyword difficultly metric in keyword planner tools reflects the authority of sites currently ranking first in the search engine. Sites with high authority will be difficult to dislodge, especially if your site is relatively new. A ranking with many lower authority pages will be more worthwhile optimising for.
Another important factor is the relevance to your site.
While a keyword should have a high enough search volume to be worth optimising for, there are drawbacks to choosing keywords with search volume that’s too high. A generic short-tale keyword may have a huge search volume, but that traffic will be looking for a wide variety of things. Much of that search volume will be unrelated to you. A specific long-tale keyword may have a lower search volume, but that traffic will be more related to your content if you optimise for it, will be more likely to click on your link.
The perfect keyword, therefore, is one with a decent search volume, a lower difficultly ranking, and one likely to attract a relevant audience.
Once you’ve chosen keywords, how do you use them? As we stated earlier, stuffing keywords into the text no longer works for SEO.
Instead, it’s better to think of keywords as topics. Search engines now look beyond the words of the search and instead focus on the intention behind them. This means matching the exact words of the search is less important but delivering the content the searcher is looking for is even more important.