SEO Keyword Deep Dive Part 1: Keyword Research 101
Keywords are the core of any good SEO strategy. But even the best marketers can struggle to get them right. The trick is to start at the beginning: finding the terms your audience is searching for.
This two-part series starts with an important caveat – there’s a lot more that goes into building a winning SEO strategy than keywords alone. But I believe that keywords are the foundation – the true core – of SEO. Without them, you’ve got nothing to build upon.
Why do I think this? Well, look at it this way: you’ve got a team of marketers who are all whipping up content and pushing it out to various platforms. Each piece is covering a different idea or theme, right? But what if your target audience doesn’t really care about that particular topic? You’ve wasted resources.
Keywords are the backbone of SEO because they tell us what our audience wants to see. And by creating content based on our audience’s needs, we’ve already got a massive head start in driving conversions.
However, one of the biggest challenges in building a keyword strategy for SEO will hit you at the very start of your efforts. This challenge is understanding what your audience is searching for and finding the keywords to suit.
That’s why you need to undertake strategic keyword research.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the first step in selecting the keywords you’ll use to shape your content marketing strategy. It’s about understanding what your audience is searching for. This is different to the why question – we’ll talk more about that in Part 2 of our Keyword Deep Dive series. The aim at this point is to attract and engage.
Knowing what your audience is searching for, and plucking keywords from their search terms, ensures your team is always creating content that’s relevant and interesting to the people you’re marketing to.
Ultimately, with keyword research you’re looking to find the golden trifecta:
Keywords that are relevant to your organisation Keywords that have a high search volume Keywords that have low competition
On the surface, it may seem impossible. But it can be done.
How to find keyword ideas
At this stage in the process, we’re not going to worry too much about finding keywords that meet all the criteria above. That comes later. Right now, we just want to see what our audience is searching for.
The first step? Determining your seed keywords. Seed keywords are just that; seeds. They’re the starting point from which other keywords can grow. These are some of the easiest to find: they’re the most basic terms associated with your business. For example, if you’re a coffee business, the obvious seed keyword would be ‘coffee’. You can then use this to generate more keywords using a few simple techniques.
1. Competitor analysis
Do a quick Google for your seed keywords. Who’s ranking up there at the top? Whoever they are, they must be doing something right. And if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Look at what’s working well for your direct competitors, and get in on the action. You can do this by using tools such as Ahrefsor Semrush.
These tools can reverse engineer a competitor page to highlight which keywords are driving traffic to the site. They can also perform a Content Gap Analysis. This shows the keywords your competitors are ranking for, but you’re not. You can easily see if there are any valuable keywords you’ve overlooked.
2. Google autocomplete
When you type a word into Google Search, the system attempts to autocomplete your query by suggesting the next terms. These terms aren’t random; they’re built from previous searches that other users have made. This is a fantastic place to figure out what your audience is really looking for.
You can also look at Google’s ‘People also ask’ section in the SERPs. For ‘coffee’, it gives us ideas such as, “Is coffee good for your health?” and “Which is the best coffee to drink?”, amongst others. There’s a similar tool you can use called Answer The Public for even more suggestions. The best topics are the ones being searched for!
3. Forum keywords
Google’s ranking algorithm is notoriously complex, and it’s almost impossible to fully understand all the ins and outs of it. But what we do know is that the ‘Google Bot’ values and prioritises quality, authority, and trustworthiness, so peer-generated content such as forum answers are rarely its first choice.
So when these forum answers do make it to the top of the SERPs, we know that Google hasn’t really had much of a choice in the matter. It’s had few – or maybe even no – high-quality alternatives. So why not provide it with one? This is an opportunity to dominate the SERPs for low-competition keywords.
4. Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a completely free tool you can use to see how your site is ranking for various keywords. Some of them you’ll probably already be targeting, but there’ll often be a good few on there that you’ve overlooked. This can be a quick, zero-cost way to get a little bit of keyword inspiration.
You can use Google Search Console to change how you approach certain keywords, too. One thing I always tell our clients is to focus on keywords where you’re ranking in positions from 11 – 30. These are keywords that you’re already doing pretty well for, but there’s still definite room for improvement.
5. Keyword tools
Tools like Google Keyword Planner are so simple to use. You type your seed keyword into the system, and it will automatically generate ideas from its huge database. You’ll need a Google Ads account to use it, but the basic tool is free to use. You’ll need to invest in Google Ads to make use of all features, however.
Whether or not an investment is right for you is something only you can answer. What I will say, though, is that tools like this can save you time, provide ideas that you may not find elsewhere, and ultimately, give you a competitive advantage. When used right, their return on investment can often be worth it.
6. Industry research
No one – and no tool – knows your industry and your business quite like you do. Tools, of course, are limited by the seed keyword you type in. You can get more creative and generate even more ideas by using your own insight. Doing your own research into topics that may be of interest to your target audience is a good move.
Browse through relevant Reddit subs to see what people are talking about. Check out online forums, or Facebook groups, or Q&A websites. Delve deeper into the real questions that real people are asking. Use your content as a way to answer these questions in a language your audience really understands.
Next up: Analysing keywords
These methods will help you answer the critical question: what is my audience searching for? But they don’t necessarily tell you which keywords you should use in your SEO strategy. That’s why it’s important to analyse your potential keywords to ensure you’re using the most valuable ones. Stay with me for part 2 of my Keyword Deep Dive, where I’ll be walking you through the basics of keyword analysis.