So much hinges on the words typed into a search box. Ranking for the right keywords can make or break your business. By researching keywords and selecting appropriate ones to use in your content, you can attract hordes of potential customers to your site.
Taking keyword research one step further, observing how certain words and phrases in your particular industry rank on search engines can tell you much about your potential customers. What they search for and how frequently they search can be a crucial guide to the type and subject matter of content you produce, and the products and services you choose to offer.
Let’s dive into the basics of keyword research and some valuable tools you can use to help you in the process.

What is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is discovering everything possible about the actual search terms that people enter into search engines. Knowing all we can about these search terms can and should shape our content strategy and our overall marketing strategy.
Of course, a quick-and-dirty way to research keywords is to type key search terms about your subject into Google, then scroll to the bottom of the page and check out the related searches. There are usually six or eight terms, each with several words, that are popular searches related to the topic you entered. This is not an exact way to do keyword research, but in a hurry, it will do.

Step 1: List Topics Relevant to Your Business

Step 1: Make a list of topics that are relevant to your business. Think about the topics you want to rank for in terms of broad categories. Come up with about 5-10 broad categories you think are important to your industry. Use these later in the process to get more specific with keywords.
Don’t choose these topics at random. What topics do you blog about frequently? What topics come up the most in sales conversations? If you are using buyer personas, what topics would those people search for frequently?
If your business is digital marketing, you would have broad category topics like “blogging,” “email,” “SEO,” “social media,” and others.

Step 2: Brainstorm Keywords that Fit Each Topic

With 5-10 broad category topics in place, it’s time to identify some keywords that fall into those categories. These are keyword phrases you think are important to rank for on search engine results pages because your target customer is probably conducting searches for those specific terms.
For example, if I took a topic from your digital marketing company, “marketing automation,” I would come up with connected keyword phrases that people would search for related to that topic. Here are some suggestions:

  • what is marketing automation?
  • marketing automation tools
  • how to use marketing automation software
  • how to tell if I need marketing automation software
  • email marketing automation
  • top automation tools
  • lead nurturing

Think of as many as possible. This is just a brain dump of potential phrases people may type into a search box when looking for information about your broad category. Later in the process, you will narrow down the lists to popular and valuable keyword phrases.
Another way to get possible phrases for each category is to determine for which keywords your website is already getting found. Use website analytics software like Google Analytics or HubSpot’s Sources tool. Research your website’s traffic sources and organic search traffic to identify the keywords people are using to get to your site.

Step 3: Research Keywords Related to Your Topics

This was mentioned earlier, but it’s a valuable hack. Take a look at the related search terms at the bottom of a Google search page when you plug in your broad category topics and related keywords for each. This may spark other ideas for keywords to consider and add to your list.
Another valuable tool to use in researching keywords is Type in a broad category keyword and it returns hundreds, sometimes thousands, of possible combinations to use as keyword phrases. Give it a try and be amazed.

Step 4: Separate Keywords into Two Categories

Check for a mix of head terms and long-tail keywords in each of your category topics. Head terms are generally shorter and more generic keywords, one to three words in length. Long-tail keywordsare longer keyword phrases usually containing four or more words. A good balance of both types is key.
Head terms are searched more frequently, making them often much more competitive and harder to rank for than long-tail terms. Consider this: for which of the following terms do you think would be harder to rank?

  • blogging
  • how to write a great blog post

The more specific a search, the harder it is to get a good ranking. While head terms generally boast the most search volume, specific searches are generally more qualified leads. They are more specific, meaning they know exactly what they seek.

Step 5: Examine How Competitors Rank with Your Keywords

Understanding the keywords your competitors are ranking for is a great way to additional keywords for evaluation. If your competitor is ranking for certain keywords that are on your list, it makes sense to work on improving your ranking for those keywords, too. However, don’t ignore the ones your competitors don’t seem to care about. This could be a great opportunity for you to own market share on other important terms.
Aside from researching keywords and seeing what positions your competitors are in, SEMrush allows you to run a number of free reports that show you the top keywords any domain. This is a quick way to get an idea of the terms your competitors are focused on.

Step 6: Fine Tune Your Keywords List

Now it’s time to narrow down your lists with some more quantitative data, and that means more tools. You can use tools to get data on keyword visits, rank, historical performance, difficulty, and how other competing businesses are performing with their keywords. We suggest the following tools:

Use the Keyword Planner to flag any terms on your list that have way too little, or way too much, search volume. But before you delete anything, check out their trend history and projections in Google Trends. Some low-volume terms might actually be something you should invest in now and reap the benefits for later. Google Trends can also help you determine which terms are trending upward, and are therefore worth more focus.
With your research completed, you should have a list of keywords that’ll help you focus on the right topics for your business, and get you some short-term and long-term gains. You should also re-evaluate your keywords about once a quarter to see how they still rank and if any new terms are climbing the ranks.

Step 7: Optimize Your Website

Now that you have done the research it is time to optimize your website with the terms you have selected. Each page of your website should be optimized with a specific keyword or phrase.  Once you have completed this process it is time to submit your sitemap to Google.
Using Google Webmaster tools add your website and sitemap so that Google can index your site and store the data in its memory banks. This is the first step to getting your site to show up in search results. To keep improving your odds of climbing up the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) continue to write blog content using the keywords you have identified.
What is your process for keyword research? Have successful are your efforts with it? What lessons have you learned? Share them with our readers in the comment section below.

About the Author: Donna Amos

I believe you can achieve anything you truly want to achieve. “It might sound trite, but time and time again, I’ve seen it happen with my clients. They overcome the fear of exposing themselves to the possibility of failure to creating profitable exciting businesses. My clients do great work, and sometimes it only takes someone else believing in them to give them the confidence to step out and take the chance.”