SEO has evolved tremendously since its inception. However, targeting the right keywords has remained a central pillar to achieving SEO success. That’s perhaps why keyword research itself has also evolved almost as much as SEO. Keyword research is no longer limited to looking up suggestions in a tool and finding the keywords with the highest search volumes and lowest competition. So, what’s new about modern keyword research? Intent. Let’s find out more:
What Is Keyword Intent?
Keyword intent, as the name suggests, is the term used to understand the intent behind certain keywords. In other words, it refers to what the user wants or expects to find when they enter a certain keyword into the search engine. On the outside it may seem difficult to misinterpret the intent behind a keyword. However, in the case of SEO, understanding intent is all about how the search engine understands intent, and using that information to optimize your website. Let’s understand how Google and other search engines understand intent with a simple example. Here’s what you get when you search for email marketing: <IMage> As you can see, none of the top results are trying to lead you to a product page or make a sale. Instead, all of them are providing information about how you can achieve success with email marketing. This is evidence that in the case of ‘email marketing’ as keywords, Google thinks that the intent behind the keyword is informational. Keyword intent can be of the following types:
We just discussed this but just to recap, informational intent suggests a desire to learn and consume information within the user.
This type of intent suggests a high willingness of the user to make a purchase. A lot of the searches with commercial intent result in immediate sales. Keywords with terms like ‘buy now’ fall into this category.
Transactional intent also depicts a high willingness in the user to make a purchase but transactional keywords generally don’t result in immediate sales. These are usually used by middle-of-the-funnel prospects that are researching the best ways to address their pain points
Keywords that have brand names in them or simply search queries with brand names are categorized under navigational intent. These queries are usually entered by users that already recognize your brand. Now, all that is left for most brands is to understand what such users are looking for on their websites. As you may have noticed in the example shared earlier, there can be a number of cases where the intent behind keywords can be misunderstood. The simplest way to avoid such confusion is to simply enter the keyword in question into the search bar and conduct a search. Then, you can analyze the results to understand intent. Now that we have understood keyword intent and how you can reveal the hidden intent behind your target keywords, let’s jump right into the process of finding the right target keywords.
Step-By-Step Keyword Research
Just like any good marketing effort, even keyword research starts with audience research. Let’s understand the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ behind that:
Step 1: Audience Research
Understanding your audience better will benefit in three ways:
It will help you determine the right keywords that the people that are likely to purchase from you are actually using.
It will make it easier to understand the intent behind your target search queries.
It will enable you to create the right kind of content to engage website visitors and convert them into subscribers and ultimately, paying customers.
If you have been in business for some time, the best way to develop an in-depth understanding of your ideal buyers and their most pressing pain points is to ask your existing customers. You can do this with a friendly phone call or with a survey, or anything in between, depending on the number of clients you have and the nature of your relationship with them. If, however, you are new to the market, you will have to work with certain assumptions. Now, you can document you research or your hypothesis in a number of ways but the ultimate objective is to obtain the following information about your audience:
Demographics: Find answers to questions like ‘who they are’, ‘what is their job title’, ‘where do they live’ etc.
Audience pain points: What pain point in their lives is addressed by your product or service? If you are able to help them with multiple problems, which is the most pressing problem that you are solving?
Tried solutions: What other solutions are available to them (besides your product/service)? Which ones have they tried? Why didn’t they work?
Research methods: How do they research the products that they are thinking about purchasing?
Once you find answers to these questions, you will find yourself in a position to come up with ‘seed’ keywords. These are the keywords that you feed into a keyword research tool to obtain actual keyword suggestions that you can target on your website. For instance, for a digital marketing agency, seed keywords can be ‘how does digital marketing work’ or ‘how to find the right digital agency’ or ‘digital marketing tips’. If you are aware about the buyer’s journey, you can categorize your seed keywords into different stages of the buyer’s journey. This will allow you to obtain a larger number of keyword ideas in the subsequent steps. If you are not aware about the buyer’s journey, here’s an awesome guide.
Step 2: Understanding Keywords That Are Already Generating Traffic For Your Website
If your site has been active on the web for a while, and you have dabbled in search engine optimization before, there is a good chance that there are a few keywords that are already generating traffic for your website. Finding these keywords and developing more content for them, or optimizing your current content for these keywords can help you secure some quick boosts in your website’s organic traffic. In other words, targeting these keywords can result in some easy wins and that’s why they should be high on your list of priorities. You can find these keywords in two places:
Google Analytics: Many website owners overlook the keyword suggesting capabilities of Google Analytics, particularly because most of the keywords in the data provided by Google Analytics are “not provided”. However, you can reveal many of these keywords by using a special and free tool called Keyword Hero.
Keyword Hero performs one simple function, filling up the blanks in keyword data with accurate and meaningful data points. The tool uses machine learning and AI algorithms to deliver this information, which is highly accurate in most cases.
Google Search Console: Google Search Console is another SEO tool offered by Google that is not known for it’s keyword research capabilities. Simply go into the ‘Performance Report’ section and select ‘Queries” and the tool will display a list of the top 100 keywords that are driving organic traffic to your website. From there, you can download the data directly in the form of a spreadsheet.
Besides helping you secure some easy SEO wins, the keywords you discover in this step can further populate your lists of ‘seed’ keywords that you created in the previous step. This step is especially useful if you are offering SEO or digital marketing services to a client. You may not know a lot about their products and their current SEO services but executing this step right will give you all the insight you need into their keyword targeting strategy.
Step 3: Competitor Keyword Research
Researching competitors can reveal a variety of keywords that you may not have come across yet. Just like we mind our own (or our client’s) website for keywords in the previous step, we will be mining our competitors’ websites for keywords in this step. However, since we don’t have access to their Google Analytics or Search Console, this process will be a little different.
Create A List Of Keyword Competitors: Many brands have a definite list of their competitors long before they ever engage in SEO. However, your business competitors may not always be your search competitors. Since researching keywords is all about SEO, it is important to be able to differentiate the two. For instance, if you have a brand that sells sports shoes, you may identify other small sports shoes brands as your competitors, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
However, these brands may or may not be ranking high for keywords that are relevant to your online presence and your potential customers. At the same time, you may not consider Amazon one of your competitors but there is a good chance that Amazon is ranking at the top for most of the keywords that you want to target. Thankfully, finding search engine competitors is fairly simple. All you need to do is refer to the list of seed keywords that you have prepared in the previous steps and enter them into Google. Most of the resulting websites can be considered your search engine competitors because they are targeting the same keywords you want to target and are competing to attract the same organic traffic that you want to attract.
Use An SEO Tool To Mine Competitor Keywords: Once you have identified your organic search competitors, all that is left to do is to enter their URL into your preferred SEO tool. Most leading SEO tools will reveal all the top keywords that are delivering traffic to a website that you are researching.
Make a list of these keywords. These, along with your seed keywords are some of the first results of your keyword research. By doing this, you can identify keyword ‘gaps’. Meaning, you can identify keywords that you (or your clients) are not targeting but your competitors are. Pro Tip: If you are using a SEO tool you can use its backlink checker to further reveal whether targeting a keyword is truly worth your time. The backlink checker will tell you about all the backlinks pointing to a specific URL. When you enter the top ranking pages for your competitor or seed keywords into the tool, it will reveal the number of backlinks they have. If, say, one such search reveals that all the top ranking pages have a few thousand backlinks pointing at them, targeting that keyword may not be worth your time in the short term.
Step 3: Find Keywords Using A Keyword Tool And Segregate Them Into Topics
Now that you have identified keyword gaps and seed keywords, it is time to wrap up this process by using a tool to find even more keyword suggestions. The objective here is to find all keywords that relate to your brand and the products and/or services that you offer. You must also find keywords that may not directly be related to what you do but are relevant to your target audience and their pain points. Once you have a list of all such keywords, you can start segregating by different topics. For instance, all of the following long-tail keywords will fall under the topic ‘email marketing’:
What is email marketing
How to perfect cold email marketing
How to write sales emails
Marketing email subject lines best practices
Writing emails that convert
Best email marketing software
Mail merge software
As you can see, a ‘topic’ is a broad match keyword. While ranking for such keywords is impossibly difficult, producing the right content can improve your likeliness of the same drastically. A big benefit of grouping keywords into topics is that you can then strategically produce content on topics that cover multiple keywords. This way, your videos or blog posts can be ‘optimized’ for multiple keywords. Pair these with a few content pieces focused on specific keywords, and you get the recipe of a winning content cluster.
Before wrapping up, I would like to remind you about the importance of the intent behind keywords. Even if you build an excellent content resource and do aggressive backlinking, Google will not rank your content unless it matches the perceived keyword intent. To understand intent, it is important to understand your audience and their pain points. Not to forget, researching your audience will improve the results of almost every subsequent marketing effort you make. If you have any questions related to keyword research, feel free to ask them in the comment section below. If you’d like to share some secret keyword research tips that have worked well for you, you too can use the comment section to share.