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Brian Clark, the founder of Copyblogger, always has the right words to write his definitions, and here is his understanding of keyword research:
Another opinion explains how “keywords” and “topics” are becoming more and more interchangeable in SEO terms – it’s from the Rachel Leist writing in the Hubspot blog:
This is the sum total of what keyword research is and why it is important … it’s because we bloggers must echo the language and vocabulary of our target audiences or we won’t get visibility.
What are seed keywords? Think of these as “ideas” or “broad topic categories” you want your blog to cover. For example, I am a Content Strategist, a Brand Specialist, and an SEO Copywriter. My blog categories broadly would be “blogging,” “branding,” “copywriting,” “content marketing,” “SEO,” …
You can split your business area into categories based on the products and services you offer, what you are an expert at, or how you think your market is divided.
If, for instance, you have a site dedicated to green tea, the best categories for you may be to divide the teas from different geographies if you are a green tea connoisseur. Or, if you’re a natural health practitioner, you may want to divide your green tea variations by the various health benefits. Or, if you are a tea production consultant, you may categorize the stages by which green tea is produced. You know what you want to sell to customers. Choose the right categorization of your niche into the broad categories that best help you sell.
Breaking up your blog categories is vital to how your business will sell online and get you the correct customers, right? That’s why the selection of these broad topic categories (also called seed keywords) is extremely vital as the first step of keyword research.
1. Start with a brainstorming session: Take some time to brainstorm a list of potential seed keywords relevant to your business or website. Consider the products or services you offer, your target audience, and any commonly used terms or phrases in your industry.
2. Consider your target audience: Consider the people most likely to be interested in your products or services. What terms and phrases might they use when searching for what you offer? Also, consider the benefits they may be searching for … these, too, may give seed keyword clues.
3. Think about the language your target audience uses: Pay attention to the words and phrases that your target audience uses when discussing your type of product or service. Monitor the chatter on social media (like Twitter posts or Instagram blogs), niche forums, and social groups. Or ask your audiences directly about the words they’d use to search for what you offer.
4. Look at your competitors: Look at their blog categories, websites, and online content. What words are they using? These could be good seed keywords for you to consider as well. Also, check what keywords your competitors are ranking for. This can give you some ideas for seed keyword gaps in the market.
5. Look for opportunities to use local keywords: If you have a physical location or serve a specific geographical area, consider incorporating local keywords into your seed list. Also, consider local “nicknames” for places that people usually use, as these, too, have the potential to become seed keywords.
6. Keep an eye on industry trends: Stay up-to-date on the latest trends in your industry and the language and words used to talk about those trends. New concepts are arriving on the horizon all the time. This can help ensure that you use the most current and relevant topics and words in your marketing efforts.
Did you know? There is a tool for collecting seed keywords called (you guessed it!) SeedKeywords.com. It’s a very simple yet powerful tool that lets you first set a search scenario and question, and then ask your friends to answer it as if they were using a search engine. For example, if you sell cars in Aberdeen, Scotland, you may set up a simple scenario such as, “You are thinking of changing your car. What would you search for?” Send out the URL of your scenario to potential customers and ask them to fill in all their inputs.
The tool is free to use, and there’s a great tutorial on how to set up your scenarios for the best results, so go ahead and test it out!
After you have a good collection of seed keywords, you need many blog post ideas related to those keywords. A rather easy way to get loads of variations of keyword ideas related to your seed keywords is to simply type the seed keyword into Google and see what it “auto-suggests”. (Whenever you enter any search term in Google, you’ll find a drop-down list of auto-suggested related keywords).
For example, if I just type into Google the seed keyword “blogging” here’s what all I get … “blogging for beginners”, “blogging for money”, “blogging business”, “blogging notes”, “types of blogging”, “blogging tutorial”, “how to start blogging” … but that’s not all.
If I plug one of these related keywords again into Google, I will get more detailed keyword ideas. For example, if I plug in “blogging business”, I get “blogging business ideas”, “business blog examples”, “blogging for small businesses”, and so on.
Now, what’s more, if I add a letter of the alphabet after the term “blogging business” I’ll get more keywords related to “blogging business” starting with that letter. For example “blogging business a” would get me “blogging business advantage“, “blog business analyst“, “blog business at home”, “blogging as business”, “business blog articles” …
I can do this by adding every letter of the alphabet after “blogging business” to get myself loads of related keyword ideas. (Psst … you can do this manually, or you can use a supersmart tool I use … described below).
1. Use the “People also ask” section: Key in the seed keyword and get to the Google Search Results Page. Scroll down to the “People Also Ask” section of the page. This section contains a list of related questions that other people have searched for. Click on each question to see more suggestions and to expand the list.
2. Check out the “Searches related to” section: On the Google search results page for your seed keyword, scroll to the bottom of the search results page to find the “Searches Related To” section. This section also contains a list of related keywords and phrases that people have searched for.
3. Use other keyword research tools: There are many tools available that can help you generate additional keyword ideas. Some popular options include Google’s Keyword Planner, SEMrush, and Ahrefs. These tools can provide you with a list of related keywords, as well as data on search volume and competition level.
4. Try different variations: Vary the wording of your seed keyword or phrase to see what other suggestions Google provides. For example, if you’re targeting “dog training,” you could also try “training a dog,” “how to train a dog,” or “dog obedience training.”
5. Include common modifiers: Modifiers are words that can be added to a keyword or phrase to make it more specific. For example, if you’re targeting the keyword “SEO courses,” you could try adding modifiers like “best,” “for beginners”, “top,” “cheap,” etc. You can generate more qualified keyword ideas.
6. Combine multiple seed keywords: Try combining multiple seed keywords to create more complex and specific keyword ideas. For example, you could combine a product type with a modifier to generate keywords like “best budget laptops” or “top luxury hotels.”
I chanced upon a rather less-known keyword tool that has now become my staple for keyword research. It’s Keyword Researcher Pro from CleverGizmos. It’s an incredible tool that lets me handle keyword research and much more. Watch the video below, where the tool creator explains it all. (There’s one thing you don’t get: keyword search data. But you could put the bulk keywords list you get into any other tool to get data – which, in any case, varies unreliably from tool to tool!
The product is free for download and trial … and even if you decide to buy, it’s a one-time cost that’s a fraction of what you may pay monthly for the most expensive keyword tools in the market!
You may have heard a lot from SEO experts about “long-tail” keywords. What are these? They are, in simple language, long keyword phrases that get more and more detailed as they get longer.
For example, “sports shoes” is a head-word – a broad and general keyword. Such head words usually have way too much competition for us to attempt writing about them. But “sports shoes for runners” is a more extended version with added detail. That would be a mid-length keyword.
But then, you may have a keyword like “sports shoes for women running a marathon.” Now, that’s a long-tail keyword because it is so long and, therefore, so detailed. It may have far less traffic potential than a head-word, but it would also be less competitive and easy to rank for.
When you are a beginner blogger using keyword research to get blog post ideas, you will do yourself no end of good aiming to write on as many long-tail keywords as possible. There will be no limit to the number of such long-tails you can find … and, who knows, you may start ranking high for many of them and get loads of that free traffic from Google that you covet.
1. Long-tail keywords are more specific: They are typically more specific and targeted than short-tail keywords, which means they are more likely to attract qualified traffic to your website. This can be especially useful for businesses that offer niche products or services.
2. Long-tail keywords have lower competition: Because long-tail keywords are more specific, they tend to have lower competition than short-tail keywords. This makes them easier to rank in search results, which can help drive more traffic to your website.
3. Long-tail keywords can drive qualified traffic: As mentioned above, long-tail keywords are more targeted, making them more likely to attract searchers interested in your products or services. This can lead to a higher conversion rate, as visitors are more likely to purchase or take other desired actions on your site.
4. Long-tail keywords can help with local SEO: If your business serves a geographic location, including many location-specific long-tail keywords in your content can help improve your local search rankings. For example, if you’re a restauranteur in New York, you could pick up a long-tail like “best pizza near 34th Street NY.”
5. Long-tail keywords can improve the user experience: Using long-tail keywords can help make your content more relevant and useful to readers, enhancing the overall user experience on your website. Target audiences will value your blog as the best go-to resource for blog posts dealing with essential details.
6. Long-tail keywords can improve your organic search visibility: By combining short-tail and long-tail keywords in your content, you can improve your organic search visibility and attract a broader range of searchers to your site. This can drive more traffic and increase your revenue.
Wordstream has a great article on long-tail keywords. Here’s what they say: “The “head” of the dragon, in reality accounts for a surprisingly small percentage of all searches, about ten to fifteen percent, depending on how you measure. Another fifteen to twenty percent of searches come from mid-length keywords, meaning that roughly seventy percent of page views are the direct result of – that’s right – long-tailed keywords. It’s a Chinese dragon: the tail goes on and on and on.”
They add: “Using long-tail keyword variations in your marketing campaigns is a win-win: better search rankings, more qualified search traffic, and lower costs per click.”
We’ve covered long-tail keywords as the best to target. But what’s even better than that? It’s Question Keywords!
Consider this: someone types into Google the long-tail keyword “sports shoes for women marathon runners.” What if, instead, they framed their search as a question? For example, “Which brand makes half sizes in sports shoes for women marathoners?” Even the tiny bit of generic stuff we would have to write about on “sports shoes for women marathon runners” disappears from our blog post outline.
When we are asked directly and clearly, we know the exact question to answer: “Which brand makes half sizes in sports shoes for women marathoners?” So all we need is to research all brands of women marathoners’ shoes and see if there are brands that make sizes 4.5 or 5.5 or 6.5 instead of just 4, 5, 6, and so on.
Then we have to list the brands that do offer half sizes. You get the drift? Question keywords are not only long-tail. They even tell us precisely what answer is looked for. So wherever possible, pick long-tails that are Question Keywords. There will be no two ways to answer questions, and you’ll always give the kind of high-value answer the searcher is seeking.
1. Identify the principal verb or action word in the question: This is often a good indicator of the focus of the question and can help you identify the keywords you need to pay attention to. For example, in the question keyword “How fast can I lose 30 kgs if I walk daily?” the verb “lose” is the crucial point to answer.
2. Look for words that specify a particular time frame: Look for terms like “when,” “before,” or “after.” These words can help you understand the context of the question and provide clues about what information is relevant. For example: “Should I do yoga after meditation or before?”
3. Pay attention to words that indicate comparison or contrast: These question keywords may include words like “similar,” “different,” “vs”, “versus”, or “compare.” Such words often indicate that the question is asking you to make a comparison or draw a contrast between two or more things.
4. Look for words that indicate a specific location: Question keywords may contain terms such as “where,” “here,” or “there.” These words can help you understand the context of the question and provide clues about what information is relevant. For example: “Where are EV chargers available in New Delhi?”
5. Identify any words that are in bold, italics, or all caps: These words may be emphasized for a reason and may be important to the question or the answer. For example, the answers to these two question keywords could be entirely different: “How do I save TIME and money?” versus “How do I save time and MONEY?”
6. Consider the overall structure of the question: Is it a yes/no question, or is it asking for more information? Understanding the type of question being asked can help you focus on the keywords and provide a more accurate and complete answer. Some may want brief answers, others may want elaborate answers.
On any Google Search Results Page for any seed keyword, you’ll find a small section called “People Also Ask,” which features some top-level question keywords people have searched for on Google for the related topic. But when you click any of those questions, you not only get short answers (which you can delve into), but you also open up the next level of questions… click one of those second-level questions, and another third level of questions pops up. It’s a concertina-like structure of questions that go deeper and deeper into the topic. Now happily, a tool called AlsoAsked gets all these questions mined for you!
Look at their introduction video below to understand this terrific tool’s features.
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When you look at the keyword ideas lists that most keyword tools throw up, these keywords will be accompanied by some data. There may be many extraneous columns you can ignore since we are on a quest to simplify this whole keyword research process.
The important columns to look at are just three. First, see the search volume per month for each keyword. You can decide if you want to pick keywords with at least some minimum volume of monthly searches that sounds good to you. Then see the CPC (Cost Per Click) bid amount. This is the highest bid amount someone is willing to pay for ad space on the Google Search Results page. Don’t think the bid amount should be low to signify low competition. If the bid amount is high, it shows the keyword has healthy traffic potential. No one throws money at a dud keyword.
The third column is the Keyword Difficulty column (sometimes the acronym used is “KD”). This Difficulty Score is usually computed by the tool based on how easy it may be to rank your blog post for that keyword. So the lower the KD score, the easier it will be to rank your blog post if you write for that keyword. Beginner bloggers, therefore, need to look for lower KD score keywords.
Here’s a massive caveat, though. Every tool will give you its data and claim it to be closest and most true to Google’s figures. But that’s a load of nonsense. There are such significant variations between one tool and another that it makes you wonder who is more accurate than who. So read the data, and get a general feel of the keywords search count, CPC bid, and KD score. Then if your intuition says the keyword is a reasonably healthy opportunity for you to go with, write that blog post for it.
1. Use any one keyword research tools you have some belief in: The more tools you compare for data, the more confused you’ll get. And don’t ask SEO experts to give you the name of one tool they like. They may all name a different tool. Many may name industry standard tools like Ahrefs and Semrush (they cost a bomb).
2. Consider the context of your business: When analyzing keywords data, it’s important to consider the context of your business and target audience. For example, a keyword with high search volume and a high CPC bid may not be as valuable to your business if it’s not relevant to your products or services.
3. Analyze the competition: Knowing who your competitors are and how they are ranking for specific keywords can be valuable information when choosing keywords for your own campaigns. Sometimes looking at data can be less valuable than looking at – and ethically pinching – your competitors keywords.
4. Look at the search intent behind a keyword: We’ll deal with search intent in more detail later in this article. But for now, just know that a keyword with high search volume and a low CPC bid may be less valuable if it’s being used by people who are just casually browsing, rather than actively looking to purchase a product or service.
5. Consider the difficulty score: Many keyword research tools will provide their own difficulty scores, as an estimation of how difficult it will be to rank for a specific keyword. Unfortunately, many long-tail keywords may have no difficulty score given at all – or they’ll show a zero. So it’s again back to your own intuition.
6. Remember, you can never go wrong in choosing long-tail question keywords relevant to your niche and your business: Long-tail question keywords with more specific and longer phrases may have low search volume. But forget the data. These types of keywords can be highly valuable for targeting specific audiences and are way easier to rank for.
You may have heard that Google also has a free-to-use tool called Google Trends. If you put in a keyword here (and its alternatives), it will show you the comparative popularity of these terms over time, so you know if a keyword has longevity or has just been a flash in the pan. Sam Oh from Ahrefs has an interesting video on how to use Google Trends to look for good keywords in many ways.
This is a great video if you want to use an additional tool to validate your keyword choices. So long as your head is clear, your thinking is kept simple, and you don’t get entangled easily in the endless strands of the “keyword research” web, you can watch as many videos as you like to learn more. When your head starts to spin, stop watching!
In SEO-land, experts ask you to examine the “search intent” behind any keyword to give the searcher a relevant blog post to answer what is being sought. Why do they think search intent is needed to be studied? Let’s take an example.
Say a person searches in Google for “content marketing courses.” Another searcher types in “content marketing agency.” Do they both have the same search intent? No! The first searcher wants to learn content marketing. The second searcher wants to outsource content marketing to an agency.
Not always is search intent so clearly different. Sometimes, you may get a search keyword like “cost of apples” when you don’t know whether the person meant the fruit or the computers. This leads to something called “fractured search intent” … it’s good to know how Google (and you) should handle such queries, so there’s more of it in the example video below.
SEO experts usually refer to 4 types of search intent – Informational (where people are seeking more knowledge); Commercial (where people are looking to buy something); Transactional (where people are looking to take some action); and Navigational (where people are looking for a destination).
But I have never had success looking at search intent this way. The simplest way for me is to ask myself, “If someone typed this search term, what is he looking to gain?” If someone’s intended gain seems clear, I will write to tell the person how to get the gain from that search. If someone’s intended gain seems unclear, I will still write to tell the person how to get a gain from that search. GAIN, for me, is the real intent behind any and all search intent!
1. Identify the searcher’s goal: One way to determine the searcher’s intent behind a keyword is to consider what they are trying to achieve through their search. Are they looking for information, trying to make a purchase, or seeking a specific service? Understanding the searcher’s goal can help you determine the most relevant and valuable content to provide.
2. Analyze the searcher’s language: Pay attention to the words and phrases that the searcher uses in their query. These can provide clues about their intentions and help you understand the context in which they are searching. There’s a subtle difference of intent between “cost of best sports shoes” versus “price ranges of best sports shoes.”
3. Consider the searcher’s location: The searcher’s location can also provide insight into their intent. For example, a searcher in a specific city or region may be more interested in finding local businesses or services. Or the searcher may be looking for financial data in a different currency.
4. During audience research, look at the searcher’s search history: If you have access to the search history on your best keywords, say during focus groups or audience research sessions, you can see the stages of their searches and what is the search pattern. This can help you tailor your content to their specific intent.
5. Use Google’s suggestions: When you start typing a search query into Google, the search engine will suggest additional keywords and phrases based on what it thinks you’re looking for. These suggestions can be a good source of information about searcher intent.
6. Test different approaches: Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques to see what works best for your audience. This can involve creating content that targets different levels of intent, such as informational, transactional, or navigational, and testing to see which approach generates the best results.
Sam Oh of Ahrefs has a good video of what fractured search intents are, how Google handles these, and how you can too. You must learn from this video if you want to know more about confused search intent signals from some keywords. Some search intent signals are mixed because search keywords are a bit vague (especially the short-length keywords). But sometimes, we marketers use intent-related jargon that may mix us up. This video shows you how to detangle yourself from all this.
In the final analysis, all this talk of fractured search intent is because we want to know if we can rank for the confusing keyword. Do we have a good opportunity to rank if search intent is undecipherable? Watch this video and find out!
Once you’ve done your keyword research, and decided on a particular keyword to write a blog post around, how do you determine what content is best to put together in your article? As we said earlier, knowing the search intent (or what a person wants to gain from reading that blog post) will give us some clues.
But that’s not enough because every blog post on Google that wants to write on that keyword is probably following the same reasoning. So how do we pip the other blog posts to bag the top rank on Google’s Search Results Page?
We can do ourselves a lot of good by analyzing the first Google SERP (Search Results Page) for the keyword we have chosen. We have to see what kinds of articles Google has already ranked on that page. Notably, we should see the first three to five blog posts on that page.
If we study what those articles have covered – what sub-topics and text, what questions and answers, what kinds of stats and charts, etc. – we’d get a fair idea of what Google thinks is the best way to fulfill the search intent of the searcher. But don’t stop with just seeing what others have written and write on the same structure or ideas. Look for gaps in their articles – areas they have thinly covered – so you can write a more valuable article than others have. The game here is what I call “From Gap To Goal.”
1. Start with a clear goal in mind: What do you want to achieve with your SERP analysis? Are you trying to understand the competition for a particular keyword, or are you looking for opportunities to improve your website’s visibility in the search results? Having a clear goal will help you focus your analysis and identify the most relevant data to track.
2. Use a variety of tools to gather data – or study the Google SERP manually: There are many tools available for analyzing SERPs, each with its strengths and limitations. A combination of tools can help you get a more comprehensive view of the search page landscape. But the best way often is to study Google SERPs manually directly.
3. Pay attention to the content of the search results: Look at the titles and descriptions of the websites ranking well for your target keywords. Are they using compelling headlines and descriptions to draw in clicks? What topics and formatting strategies are they using in their content? Understanding your competitors’ content strategies can help you identify ways to differentiate your website and improve its chances of ranking well.
4. Look for patterns in the search results: Are certain websites consistently ranking well for your target keywords? Are there any common themes or topics among the top-ranking websites? Identifying patterns in the search results can help you understand what Google values in the websites it ranks and how you can improve your website to meet those criteria better.
5. Use the insights from your analysis to inform your SEO strategy: Based on your findings, you can identify areas for improvement and develop a plan to optimize your website and improve its ranking in search results. This may include updating your website’s content, improving its technical SEO, or building high-quality backlinks to your site.
6. Monitor your rankings over time: SERP analysis must continue even after you’ve written your blog post for a keyword. It’s important to track your rankings over time to see how your blog post is performing and to identify any areas for improvement. Use a SERP tracker tool like the one in Ubersuggest.
You may have heard of the tool SERanking. Well, they have a tool inside their tool called the SERP Analyzer. I picked up their video tour of the SERP Analyzer for you to watch because it will not only tell you how their tool works … you can get insights on what factors it considers when it gives you the SERP analysis results.
Most tools have too many features packed into them, resulting in very confusing depth for the average blogger or content marketer. But it still helps to watch what they can do because it may give one or two key insights to take away.
Google has become smarter and smarter over time, so it now can group topics and keywords together based on similar search intent. How should we then use this power that Google has acquired for our own benefit? Keyword clustering is the answer. It’s like deploying a multi-barrel rocket launcher like the armies use.
Keyword clusters are groups of keywords that add up to near-similar purchase intent. For example, “satin gowns,” “satin wedding gowns,” and, “white gowns satin,” are different keyword phrases, but they all represent searchers who want to buy satin gowns. If your brand sells satin gowns, and you only try to rank for the first keyword, you end up with limited traffic and market share.
If you instead get your web page ranking for your primary keyword and those many long-tail variants and related subtopics, your page will often end up ranking for 10x-20x the number of keywords … and pick up all that lovely traffic. It helps if the cluster posts are built around a pillar post that serves as an index for the whole cluster.
Of course, building enough blog posts for all those keyword pillar-and-clusters combinations will take more time and effort. But the results will be worth it because with keyword clusters you get all these benefits: improved rankings for both long-tail and short-tail keywords, more organic traffic, quicker rank improvements, greater internal linking, and quicker authority status for your brand.
1. Identify the main topic or theme for your pillar post: This should be a broad topic you can break down into smaller subtopics or clusters. Usually, pillar posts are built around shorter-tail keywords, so a whole bevy of long-tail keyword posts can become related clusters.
2. Research your topic thoroughly to gather information and ideas: Use good keyword tools or Google Auto-Suggest to find related keywords for the clusters that can all have value for the central pillar keyword searchers. For example, somebody searching for “runners’ shoes” may also like to read about “runners’ smartwatches,” “running tips,” “running cross-country,” and so on.
3. Organize your information into clusters or subtopics: The most straightforward formation is to have one pillar post with some cluster posts around it. But pillar-and-cluster formation can be many levels deep too, depending on the topics you have for keywords. Each cluster post can later become a pillar with its clusters.
4. Use internal links to bind pillars to clusters and cluster posts to one another: Internal links can help readers navigate within your pillar-and-cluster formations, and also give Google the signal that the whole set is of value to the reader. It can show your brand’s total and measurable topic authority.
5. Optimize the pillar post and each cluster post with due care: Every blog post in a pillar-and-cluster formation needs its own search engine optimization as if it were an individual post. This will help your posts rank higher in search results separately and together to attract more traffic.
6. Provide a good user experience by following a standard visual layout and colors for all posts in a pillar-and-cluster formation: From the reader’s point of view, it would help immensely if you followed the same structure, layout and colors, and image types in all the cluster posts in a set. This gives readers a sense of harmony.
Search Engine Journal has developed the graphic below to show how a site with many categories in its blog may look if it adopts the pillar-and-cluster model of keyword-related blogging for business. They say: “Keyword clusters are a more advanced SEO strategy and can give you the edge you need to win in competitive verticals. This is because they respond to Google’s two biggest superpowers: Natural language processing and unmatched indexing. When you execute keyword clustering with your landing pages, you show Google that your website is an authority in your industry and demonstrates strong breadth and depth of content.”
Google now understands millions of keyword phrases and the nuanced differences between similar-sounding search queries. So, covering all bases with the pillar-and-cluster model yields excellent dividends.
1. Nobody, not even the most prolific expert blogger, ever gets everything right to succeed phenomenally in one stroke. You can learn keyword research from others, but eventually, you must discover what works for you.
2. Don’t try – or expect to succeed – in one go. It may take time to find your path, but once you do, there can be no stopping you. Use your common sense and intuition to see what your audiences may be looking for because you know your audience better than anyone else.
3. Feel free to use my list of eminently practical steps to fix your keyword research problem areas. These are ideas I have used to grow my own and my clients’ businesses, and they can help grow yours too.
The important takeaway from all this is that keyword research is not about trying to find individual blog topics. It has to be done with a larger strategy where all the keywords and their blog posts work harmoniously to build traffic to your business according to targets you set.
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