Google has indexed around 130 trillion web pages.
4 years later and the count continues to go up making that next blog post of yours a small drop in a very large ocean.
There is so much new content being written across the web that I don't blame you for wondering whether SEO still works, or whether SEO is even worth it.
Spoiler alert: it is.
With more content being created every day it's getting harder to rank for broad keywords out of the gate (read next to impossible), however it's never been more important to be strategic with the keywords you go after.
If you're brand new to SEO check out our introduction to SEO and head back here because we'll break down techniques and tools to do keyword research effectively, and find keywords you can actually rank for.
Keyword research is more than simply knowing how many searches a keyword gets per month.
It's about understanding the topics your audience cares about, the searches they perform around those topics, and which of those searches is worth creating content around.
Keyword research is the practice of finding queries you want your site to appear front and center for on Google. How you conduct keyword research is by understanding what queries your customers are using, and which ones you stand a chance at ranking for.
Keyword research is the foundation of any good content strategy. It informs you what is worth writing about, and provides direction to your end goal: ranking on Google.
It used to be that you could pick a few dozen keywords, write a 500-word post for each, and call it a day. Those days are gone. The web is more competitive and keyword research has become more nuanced.
We've got a way to find quality keywords you can rank for though. Before we dive into that, there are a couple things you need to do first.
Before you pull 1000 keywords out of Moz or Uber Suggest, do these two things first to save yourself a lot of wasted time and a huge migraine.
Before you even think about looking for keywords or creating content you need to have clear buyer personas in mind.
A buyer persona is a mini-biography or profile of type of customer for your business. They are extremely effective in ensuring that you are keeping your customers in mind in everything you do.
If you've never created a buyer persona check out our writeup on how we use buyer personas to enhance our site's growth.
If you have a clear understanding of who you are selling to and why they buy from you, you'll be able to know the topics related to your business that they care about.
Is this getting a bit too narrow with your content strategy?
Don't worry it's not.
Surprisingly, the more niche your messaging is the better it will perform. There's a temptation to be an expert on everything and market to everyone, but as the saying goes marketing to everyone is marketing to no one.
When you have a complete understanding of your target market and who you are selling to, if you cater your messaging to those personas it will resonate much stronger than if you keep it general.
Rather than dig into individual keywords, I like to start with broader topics.
Because Google favors content that demonstrates expertise and authority (also known as the EAT principle) and the best way to demonstrate expertise is to show you know what you are talking about. In order to do that, you need a lot of content that covers a topic from all angles and goes in depth.
What topics does your business overlap with what your personas care about? What problems are you solving? What do you want to be known as a better expert on over your competitors?
Starting broad allows you to get a high level view and drill down into individual keyword to build a more focused strategy.
Start with 3 topics, this should be plenty if you do not have a robust content strategy in place. Even if you do, 3 is a good number to stick with unless you have an especially large content team.
Using us as an example, we center our content around:
And that's it. Really just those 2, and you'll see that you can go deep to find a ton of high quality keywords to target from just one topic.
If you've got your topics set it is now time to find keywords - nice job!
Choosing your topics is the hardest part as it requires the most thought.
Finding keywords you can rank for doesn't need to require every fancy tool in the book. There are a few free strategies and tools you can use to build a robust content strategy.
Finding quality keywords is a lot easier than you might have thought.
To get started, take one of your topics and enter it into a Google search like we did below:
You'll note that Google has a series of keywords already queued up for you as well as the related searches at the bottom of the Google search results (same thing, 'search engine optimization':
Google pays very close attention to what people search for, and what they search for next.
That means that these suggestions could be extremely important if you want a deeper understanding of all the variations of keywords your customers are using when it comes to these topics you want to rank for.
You can easily turn one topic (like SEO) into a list of 50, 100, or even 500 keywords to research further and create content around.
We're going to choose one suggested keyword, 'search engine optimization techniques' and continue going through suggested searches:
And again with 'search engine optimization tutorial'
And again with 'seo tutorial step by step'
Suddenly we've got 40+ keywords after a few minutes of work.
These keywords we are pulling are called 'long tail keywords'. You can learn more about longtail keywords here, but for now all that matters is these are more narrow and niche keywords stemming off of a broad topic.
Another great free tool you can use to generate some ideas is Answer the Public.
Answer the Public allows you to enter any keyword and generate a list of questions being asked in Google for that keyword. It's an extremely easy way to turn one keyword into 50 in order to generate a solid list to target.
Once you have a good long list of keywords, it's time to compare them and see which ones are worth going after.
Not all keywords will generate the same return. Chances are good there are dozens, hundreds, or thousands of websites all trying to target the same keywords you are.
Don't sweat it though, we've got some strategies you can use to compare keywords and pick ones that will boost your rank.
In a perfect world any keyword you choose will generate a ton of traffic to your website.
In practice though? Not so much.
Some keywords just aren't searched for as much as others. Fortunately there are a couple free tools you can use to compare keywords and find ones that are just right.
There are two metrics that I like to focus on: search volume and competition. These dictate how popular your keywords are with your customers, and how valuable they are to your competitors.
Google Trends allows you to compare keywords to track relative popularity over time.
Meanwhile Google Keyword Planner gives you search volume and competition for ad buys, giving you an idea of how popular keywords are for searchers and advertisers.
Once you've whittled down your list of keywords a bit, it's time to see which ones you can actually rank for.
So you've got a long list of keywords - it's time to start creating content for all of them right?
It used to be that writing content was all you had to do in order to rank, but now with websites being easier than ever to create there is a ton of competition when it comes to ranking.
You don't need to pay $100/month to find the 'Domain Authority' for the top ranking websites to see if you stand a chance at ranking. All you need to do is run a simple Google search and make an honest judgement call as to whether you can create better content than the websites that are already ranking.
Congratulations, you just did a SERP analysis.
Supposing you've got your 50-100 or so keywords chosen for each of your topics, it's now a matter of seeing which ones are worth going after.
For each of your keywords there are already thousands, and sometimes millions, of search results already out there all vying for the top 10 results. How realistic do you think it is for you to rank there? Well, it depends on what is currently ranking.
Aftrer giving the to 10 results a review, if you think that you can create a piece of content that is more in depth, adds something new, or is more valuable than what is already ranking then by all means go for it.
It's important to be honest here, if you're just starting out and chasing huge competitors then you're not going to see the results you're hoping for. If you don't see a ranking opportunity for a given keyword though, it's best to pass and move on to the next one.
This will narrow down your list quite a bit - but don't worry that's okay!
This is where you refine your keywords down to the essentials and provide the fuel for your content strategy and blog topics. You may have refined things back down to 10 -20 keywords per topic, these will shape the blog posts that you create - depending on how often you blog this may last you a month, quarter, or even half the year.
There's no set time that you should commit to keyword research, though bear in mind this is not a one-off process.
SEO takes a while to see results, sometimes it can even take up to two years to actually rank! That doesn't mean keyword research is a once a year activity. Search volume ebbs and flows throughout the year, changes in your industry will pop up, and new competitors will join the market - this means that the keywords you target from month to month can and will change.
It's good to keep an eye on things month to month, and try to commit to reviewing your keywords each quarter to ensure they are still the right ones to be focusing on for your content strategy (as well as see if you're gaining any traction in rankings).
I hope this post has demystified keyword research a bit for you, and shown that it doesn't have to be as scary as it gets cracked up to be.
If you get overwhelmed remember: keyword research is about finding the right topics, and questions around those topics that you can answer better than your competition. It may take a bit of work to get started but you'll find that with practice you'll be a pro in no time.
February 16, 2020
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