The Beginner’s Guide to SEO Keyword Research
Everyone knows keyword research is important for search engine optimization (SEO), especially if you’re a digital retailer. It’s one of the best ways to understand how people find your website. But where exactly can you start?
With an understanding of your audience.
One thing many retailers forget is that keyword research is only one facet of SEO. Equally important is a solid understanding of both your audience and your competitors. Not only is this essential to knowing how they search, but it’s also critical to determine what content they engage most readily with.
This is the knowledge that I would recommend gathering before you even begin looking for keywords.
Buyer personas and you
To effectively target your marketing messages and on-site content, you need to understand who’s buying from you. More importantly, you need to understand how they speak and think. Different groups of people use different languages, share different content, and purchase different products and services.
As noted on the Hootsuite Blog, one way to look at this is by thinking of how you already unconsciously craft messages in your personal and professional life. You speak differently depending on whether you’re connecting with friends, family, or colleagues. You use a different platform to reach out to a professional contact than you would your significant other.
Just as you subconsciously shape messages to your closest contacts, you need to shape the messages you send to your audience.
The best place to start is by looking at customer and sales data accessible through your point of sale system. Examine the demographics of the people who are already buying from you. If the information is available, pay particularly close attention to age, income bracket, hobbies/interests, and career/industry.
You might also consider offering email surveys or interviews to help supplement this data; offer discounts or freebies as motivation.
Beyond that, study social media. Dig into your social analytics through a tool like Facebook Audience Insights. Pay attention to both your own feed and that of your competitors, seeking out the most engaged fans and followers.
Who are they? How do they communicate? What sort of content do they most frequently share?
I’d also advise checking out blogs written by the competition, look at industry news, join communities related to your business. Stay informed and stay ahead of the news cycle. Together, these data sources should be everything you need to create buyer personas.
And armed with these personas, you can start researching your keywords in earnest.
Getting started with keyword research
Your first step is to brainstorm keywords your audience might use. Since you already know how they speak, it’s not a great leap to also determine how they search. Start with topics you know they’re interested in based on your buyer personas.
These topics will guide you in the development of specific keywords. For instance, let’s say you know your audience is interested in DIY home repair projects. That leaves you with a ton of wiggle room for topic generation, and consequently for keyword generation.
Mark down as many unique topics as you can come up with and feed them into a spreadsheet. If you want even more topics, browse sites like Reddit, Quora, or Answer the People to see what people are asking about and discussing on the web. Once you’re satisfied with your topic list, you can start brainstorming keywords related to each topic.
Useful tools for keyword research
You can further augment this brainstorming session with tools like the Google Search Console and Google Analytics. They’ll help you figure out what search terms people are using to find your site and how people interact with your content when they’re there. I’d also advise taking things one step further and investing in a paid tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs.
These powerful platforms allow you to audit the SEO on your own site, research your competition, track search traffic, and find the right keywords to maximize your visibility on the SERP. You can also use them to research related search terms based on your brainstorming. Augment them with the Google AdWords Keyword Planner to figure out which terms have the greatest search volume because ideally, you’ll want to target terms that are somewhere in the middle.
Pro tip: Extremely high-volume keywords are difficult to rank for if you aren’t a large, established brand, while low-volume keywords usually aren’t worth targeting. On the topic of keywords, that’s something else we should discuss. There are two different types of keywords (short-tail and long-tail) each with its own benefits.
1. Short-tail keywords
Short-tail keywords used to be the bread-and-butter of SEO, particularly in the early days of search. Today, however, search is much more about intent. It’s about serving someone what they’re actually looking for rather than returning a list based on a single word.
Generally, short-tail keywords lack the necessary context to determine intent. Instead, you should use them as a starting point, in much the same way as topics. You can figure out a list of long-tail keywords from your short-tail keywords, making things as specific and targeted as possible in the process.
2. Long-tail keywords
While short-tail keywords have an incredibly broad focus, long-tail keywords are much narrower. A long-tail keyword rarely leaves any doubts about a user’s intent. They are, in other words, precisely what you should target for your storefront.
In broad strokes, there are four types of intent you should be aware of.
These people want to know something. Going back to our earlier example of home repairs, an information search query could be “how to fix a broken toilet flush valve.”
This type of query is entered by users searching for a specific website. For example, “Drainage Dan’s Toilet Repairs.”
As you might expect, this is someone who wants to buy something. “Buy toilet flush valves online” is a transactional query.
This is closely related to a transactional search. Here, there’s purchase intent behind a commercial search, but it’s also investigative in nature—in other words, this is someone who is researching before they buy. “Best toilet flush valves” or “toilet flush valve reviews” are both examples of a commercial search.
Branded vs. non-branded keywords
In addition to short and long-tail keywords, there’s another keyword classification you should be aware of. Branded and non-branded. The former, as you might expect, include your brand name or a variation of it.
Generally, most of your SEO efforts should be focused on non-branded keywords.
While Google does place an emphasis on branded websites on the SERP, they aren’t necessarily something you should target. They’re more a function of your overall marketing. Promoting brand awareness through pay per click ad campaigns and social marketing can help you naturally rank higher on organic, branded search results.
Beyond that, I would recommend the following:
- Create entries on business listings like Google My Business.
- Ensure you have your business’s Name, Address, and Phone Number available on every page of your site.
- Choose a domain name and URL that includes your business’s brand name and (optionally) at least one core keyword that relates to your storefront.
Buyer personas and keywords: Two sides of the same coin
Although Google’s search algorithms are still relatively arcane for anyone who doesn’t work there (and probably for quite a few employees, as well), we do know a few things about them. We know that they now prioritize quality and value over everything else. Google is focused on whether or not a site provides a user with what they’re looking for instead of solely on whether or not it contains the “right” keywords.
Knowing all that, the importance of proper SEO keyword research should be clear. You cannot understand what a person values if you don’t know who they are. You cannot understand how to frame your products and services if you don’t know anything about your audience or your industry.
And if you do not understand all of the above, you cannot brainstorm effective keywords.