Where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is concerned, there is probably nothing more important than effective keyword research. The keywords you choose for your online business will define your SEO strategy and audience, but choosing the wrong keywords may result in lackluster results and poor return of investment (ROI).
Many companies make the mistake of trying to target a broad selection of keywords, but they do not target them effectively. In most situations, it is better to build from bottom up, by focusing efforts on a specific niche with low-competition keywords and gradually moving to more competitive ones.
If you want to attract the right audience and increase your revenue you have to look beyond search volume. Metrics such as competition level, CPC, relevancy, user intent and number of results on SERPS will make it easier for you to rank for profitable keywords.
There are two major schools of thought when it comes to keyword research:
- Optimize for TRAFFIC
- Optimize for CONVERSION
Many eCommerce owners fall victim to optimizing for traffic, when they should be optimizing for conversion, but this doesn’t mean that the first strategy is bad. It depends on your goals. If your revenue is heavily reliant on the number of page-views or visitors, you should focus on traffic. On the other hand, if your revenue is dictated by conversions, the latter metrics becomes relevant.
This guide will teach you how to uncover the best keywords for your campaign with the help of research tools, organize and implement them in your content development plan. Keep in mind that keyword research isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ process. It’s an ongoing effort.
Tools Used: Excel (or GoogleDocs), Google Keyword Planner (free), SemRush (paid), Ubersuggest, Google predictive search.
The Hidden Value of Long-Tail Keywords
The ubiquitous term ‘keyword’ is probably the biggest misnomer in the SEO industry. The better term would be ‘key-phrase’, which suggests more than one word. Very often marketers mess up the basic principles of keyword research. That’s because they think about the services they sell (example: ‘leather bag’), and target the roots of this phrase (‘leather’ and ‘bag’), despite the fact that neither of these words does a remotely good job at describing what they are trying to sell.
If you’re eager to rank for short-tail keywords you should know that, besides being extremely competitive, they represent only 30% of all searches performed online. The other 70% of searches consist of long-tail keywords (3 or more words in the key-phrase).
Here’s why it’s important to target long-tail keywords:
- They are generally easier to rank for and cheaper (low CPA and CPC).
- Optimizing your pages and content for long-tail keywords will automatically help you rank for their short-tail version.
- Click-through-rate (CTR) is higher. The reasoning behind this is that long-tails will enable you to offer more targeted information.
- They answer very specific queries, and potential buyers have very specific needs.
- Internet users are more likely to use long-tail keywords in their searches.
- They convert better.
The Initial Research
Create an excel file with two sheets: Adwords KWDs (columns: keywords, Search Volume, Competition, Suggested bid) and SemRush KWDs (columns: keywords, Search Volume, CPC, Competition, Keyword Difficulty).
For the purpose of this article I will use the “leather bags” example. The first thing you need to do is to write down the type of products and services that your website offers (in this case: duffle bags, tote bags, cross body bags, messenger bags, bag accessories, leather accessories etc.).
#1 Keyword Research with Google AdWords
Go to Google AdWords. Type in your main keyword, click search, and see what comes up. You can add filters before you start your search if you want more specific results. For example, if you’re targeting people from the United States make sure to check this with the ‘Location’ filter. Other filters include negative keywords (that you don’t want to rank for), language, and date range. Also check the ‘Only show ideas closely related to my search terms’ option, at first.
You can view your keywords from the ‘Ad group ideas’ or ‘Group ideas’ tabs. I suggest targeting low or medium competition phrases with low suggested bids. Even if the suggested bid is high, you should still focus on low or medium competition keywords. Export your data in the ‘Adword KWDs’ Excel sheet.
Once you’re done with the exact match keyword search you can include all the variations of your keywords to get the full scope of related phrases. Manually select relevant results. Export them to your Excel sheet.
Suggested Read: Advanced Keyword Research with Google Adwords
#2 Keyword Research with SemRush
I cannot praise SemRush enough. It’s one of the most advanced keyword research and competitive analysis tools on the market. Now that the software has doubled its US keyword database, you can extract even more useful keywords. Here’s how you can use SemRush for effective keyword research.
Conduct competitive analysis
One of the fastest way to find relevant keywords is by spying on your main competitors with SemRush. Find 3-5 competitors in your niche. Paste their domain name in the search box (make sure to delete the ‘http://’ otherwise it will extract information for the specific page), and click on the ‘Top Organic Keywords’. SemRush will pull-out a list of keywords for which the domain is ranking for in the top 100 positions.
You can add multiple filters such as Volume, competition, number of results, traffic percentage, number of words, costs, competition etc., to remove irrelevant results. Export your data in a separate Excel sheet and repeat the process.
If you already have a list of possible keywords you can simply write them down (one by one) into SemRush’s search box. The tool will pull-out two lists of keywords: Phrase match keywords and Related keywords. Add filters to clear through the clutter and export the remaining key-phrases into your Excel sheet.
Use the Keyword Difficulty Tool
I strongly suggest using the Keyword Difficulty Tool, which will automatically calculate your chances of ranking in Google’s top positions for a desired keyword. Difficulty is presented under the form of percentages (from 1% -very easy- to 100% – very difficult-). If your website is new you should aim for a keyword difficulty lower than 60%. Keywords with 60-80 keyword difficulty are difficult to rank for, but not impossible.
Copy and paste 100 keywords at a time in the Keyword Difficulty tool and extract your results in the “SemRush KWDs” Excel sheet. SemRush will automatically pull-out data like Volume, number of results, CPC, Trends and competition. Highlight the keywords with low Keyword difficulty.
#3 Alternative Strategies & Keyword Discovery Tools:
- Search Suggestions: Google’s suggested search will display ten popular keywords.
- Alphabet Soup keyword research.
- Word gathering from: support tickets, contact form submissions, reviews, social media within your vertical (Twitter conversations, Quora, LinkedIn groups and questions) etc.
- Google Trends: If you get a sense of seasonal volatility for keywords that you want to run, use Google Trends. If interest over time decreases, you might want to drop the keyword.
- Tools: WordStream (SEO & PPC keyword research), WordTracker, Ubersuggest (free), SERPWoo (Keyword finder).
Sort and Group your Keywords
By now you should have a sizeable list of keywords. You have to get rid of the weeds. Manually. Look over your lists again and remove anything that is irrelevant. Your keywords should be closely related to your niche.
The next step is to sort your keywords according to potential ROI. If you don’t have experience with this it might be difficult. Here’s what you can do:
- Separate keywords in ‘groups’. Let’s say you want your landing page to rank for ‘leather messenger bag’. This will be your focus keyword, but your list will also contain secondary keywords like ‘men’s leather messenger bag’, ‘leather messenger bags for men’ and other variations.
- Create a separate research sheet with phrase match and related keywords. Your secondary keywords should appear on your landing page, but they should also be used to create sub-pages (example: blog posts or product pages) that will support it.
- Always look at the competition, volume, intent and CPC of your keywords.
Research for User Intent
The beauty of long-tail keywords is that they are wonderfully revealing. A user who searches for ‘hair product with coconut oil’ or ‘iPhone 6S metallic case’ knows exactly what he/she wants. He is more likely to click on your link, buy, subscribe, or take action. Working with long-tails will make it easy to decipher your user’s intent.
You can take your mission for conversion optimization one step further by delving into the psychographics of your audience. By exploring demographics data and transactional queries you can segment keywords according to the user’s stage in the marketing funnel.
Very fine categorization of keywords can be helpful in ascertaining customer intent, organizing your efforts, and suggesting actual paid search campaigns you might run. – Source: SearchEngineLand (How to use Keyword Funnel to Understand Search Intent)
Optimize your Pages for Keywords
If you want to grow your traffic & revenue with effective keyword targeting, you must also optimize your pages correctly once the research phase is complete.
- Use unique words in your pages to rank for multiple keywords: Extract the unique words from your list of keywords and use as many of them as possible in your content. Thanks to Google’s new search features it is possible for a page to rank for a specific keyword (or multiple) if it contains all its unique words.
- Keyword placement and meta-data: Make sure your keyword appears in the first paragraph of the page, in the title, meta-description, and several times in the copy.
- Optimize your Images for Visual search engines: Fill-out the ‘Alt-text’, ‘Description’ and ‘Title’ attributes of your images with unique and relevant information. Include your keywords organically.
- Quality over quantity. A keyword that resulted in a sale (even if it has very low search volume), will most likely result in another sale. Evaluate that keyword and find similar ones. It is better to rank for several relevant keywords, than for many irrelevant ones.
Monitor your Keywords
This is an often-overlooked step. It’s impossible to determine the effectiveness of your keywords only by looking at metrics like CPC, volume, competition etc. You have to find out what works for your business. Create an excel sheet that you periodically update with your keywords’ performance (traffic-wise & conversion-wise). Shift your focus towards the best performing keywords and tweak your content strategy accordingly.