Let’s face it, keyword research is a topic that has been done to death so why cover this topic again? Well quite frankly I think many of the articles written thus far simply don’t cut the mustard! Don’t get me wrong we’ve done well to develop an army of “marketers” that can enter some searches into Google Keyword Planner! It seems the outcome of keyword research for most businesses is to spam keywords throughout their content or develop “thin” landing pages which add little value.
Firstly let’s talk about what keyword reasearch is not:
- It’s not to be confused with keyword spamming
- It’s not simply the process for ranking for a single high competition keyword.
- It’s not about ranking your home page for all your keyword terms
What is keyword research
Keyword research is the process of identifying relevant search terms that can be targeted with content to attract your ideal visitor or customer.
Keyword research forms the foundation of your website structure, on-going content marketing efforts, paid traffic campaigns and more. It’s the process of identifying what people search for in search engines, understanding the intent of those searches and deciding whether that keyword is relevant to your target customer or buying persona.
Defining your buying persona, or ideal customer, means you can define exactly what type of visitor you want to attract to your website. Doing this simple task allows you to define their features such as:
- What is their age?
- What is the income?
- What features do they need?
- What do they struggle with?
- What are their hobbies?
Now that you’re armed with your target buying personas you can align your keyword research with each identity to better understand whether each keyword will convert into your business goals. Remember that each buying persona is likely in one of three stages of the buying cycle, which we’ll discuss next, so this means you may target keywords with different intent at each stage of your sales funnel, for example:
- Explaining how your product helps a buying personas struggles
- Highlighting the products you have on offer that can help
- Explaining a unique product in detail with a buying call to action
Each keyword comes with it own level of competition. Keywords can be placed into three categories
- Fat Head – High Monthly Searches / High Competition
- Chunky Middle – Moderate Monthly Searches / Moderate Competition
- Long Tail – Low Monthly Searches / Potentially Lower Competition
This graph shows that 70% of all keywords searched for are in the long tail and only 18.5 of searches are in the high competition keywords. This means that people are using a very diverse range of search queries to find exactly what they need, for example the difference between “keyword research” vs “How do I rank my website for a keyword”. We need to develop a strategy that will allow us to target both fat head (long term goal) and long tail (short term goal) keywords using a variety of content.
As mentioned earlier our keyword research goal is to identify and rank for as many relevant terms. Consider this:
- 1 Fat Head keyword at 1000 visitors on average per month = 1000 visitors monthly
- 10 long tail keywords at 100 visitors on average per month = 1000 visitors monthly
With each keyword it’s your goal to understand the intent of the keyword and whether it matches with your buying personas. By understanding their intent we can identify whether it’s a keyword that has commercial value as well as whether it aligns with one of our buying personas. Let’s take a look at an example using web design.
- Web Design
- Responsive Web Design
- How To Create A Website
- Web Design Packages
As you can see above the keywords are all very similar in terms however the intent of the search can clearly define whether it’s a keyword we want to invest our time and money towards ranking highly for it.
- Web design – High monthly search volume, top of the funnel, starter search. i.e. search for web design services, courses or training.
- Response web design – Moderate search volume, middle of the funnel, informational and awareness search. i.e. what is responsive web design, do I need a responsive website
- How to Create a website – Moderate search volume, searching for training or self-help, educational search i.e. how do I create my first website
- Web Design Packages – Moderate search volume, searching for services, bottom of the funnel. i.e. I want to find out what it costs to build a website with someone.
What’s even better is that long tail keywords are identified as being closer towards the bottom of the sales funnel i.e. the customer is ready to purchase. We show an example of that in the image below.
TOFU, BOFU, MOFU
Have I gone mad? TOFU, MOFU BOFU?…..say again!
What this stands for is Top of the Funnel, Middle of the Funnel and Bottom of the Funnel and these are the stages of the sales funnel. Your keyword research and target keywords allow you to target customers at each stage of the purchasing life-cycle. Typically when we talk about the sales funnel the path a customer might take might be:
- Find high value content on product or service
- Visitor subscribes to newsletter
- Business increases trust through email marketing
- Customer purchases item.
However when discussing keywords we might be looking at something more like”
- Customer searches for “Nike Shoes”, Top of The Funnel – Could be set up as a product category of your online store i.e. domain.comshopshoesnike
- Customer searches for “Best Running Shoes 2015″, Middle of the Funnel – Could be set up as content i.e. ” Top 10 best running shoes of 2015″
- Customer searches for “Buy Nike Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit”, Bottom of the funnel – Could be setup as a product page i.e. domain.comnike-free-3-0-flyknit
Keyword Research Tools
So now we understand a little bit more about keywords and the importance of research in identifying relevant keywords that target our buying personas. The question you have now is what tools can we use to conduct the research and how can we leverage and use our competitors as a component of that research.
Google Keyword Planner
Firstly let’s touch on the obvious tool, Google Keyword Planner which I’m not going to write about in this article and instead point to some key reading.
Google Predictive Search
Google attempts to predict what you’re searching for based on what searches it’s seen previously. Try combing your fat head keywords such as “nike shoes” with words:
- Informational keywords – Middle of the funnel – what, why, which, how, compare i.e.
- Buying keywords – Bottom of the funnel – buy, best price, cheapest
Google Recommended Search
At the bottom of each set of search results Google will show a set of other “recommended searches” for similar search terms that relate to your original search. These searches provides suggestions on other relevant terms that may lead the searcher towards their desired content more quickly.
SEMRush in my opinion is the current king of keyword research and my tool of choice however it’s also a paid tool which requires a monthly subscription. SEMRush allows you to search for keywords or domain names, i.e. your competitors, and identify a whole range of valuable data most importantly being the terms your competitors sites currently rank against.
I’m not going to go into every feature that SEMRush can do but in general you’ll find things such keyword competition level, cost per click, related keywords and phrase matches all of which can be exported into an excel file for further analysis.
Reverse Engineering Competitors
Let’s take a look at our Nike shoes example again and conduct a search in Google. The first result I find is for a popular online clothing store in Australia called The Iconic. Let’s see how this looks in SEMRush.
SEMRush provides an overview of the domain name with a variety of information and most importantly (for this article) the section on top keywords which I’ve highlighted. Once you click on view full report in the bottom right hand corner you’ll see another screen detailing the majority of keywords that this website ranks for, the volume of that keyword and the percentage of traffic that keyword provides to the website.
Now you can simple export the report to an excel file.
Exporting Multiple Competitors
The power of this strategy comes when exporting multiple competitors and then combining each report into a single spreadsheet. This can then show trends between competitors and keywords that they consider to have the highest value between them. It can also provide you with a complete online marketing strategy for ranking for range of keywords within your industry or niche.
Finally I wanted to touch on an article written by John Romaine from Works Media. He delivers a key strategy he terms as “keyword grouping” which basically is a method for ranking one page for many terms. That article confirms the importance of using tools such as SEMRush to reverse engineer your competitors keywords for deeper analysis. By understanding a broad range of keywords that your competition is targeting you can develop single pages to rank for multiple keywords.
This prevents the need for creating thin doorway pages into your site and relieves you from any anxiety of google penalties that may target these approaches in the future. Basically the technique involves mashing keywords together and using them in areas such as your Page title and meta description as well as throughout your content. You can read more on this strategy in the article – Effective Keyword Research – How to Build One Page That Ranks for Dozens of Terms