If an SEO campaign was a building project, keyword research would be the foundation. Without it, you’re unlikely to ever be visible to people who are searching for whatever you offer, whether it’s goods sold online, services offered in person or information. This guide will take you from knowing nothing about keyword research to understand why it is important and how you can do it yourself.
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is one of the first steps you are likely to undertake if your aim is to appear for free when people use search engines, such as Google or Bing. You may also hear people refer to keywords as search terms, search phrases, key terms or key phrases.
As search engines are not human, they do not look at a website in a way you or I do. One of the areas they focus on when looking at a web page is the commonly used words (keywords) to understand the subject. Therefore, it is vital that you ensure that commonly used keywords are placed on each page of your website.
However, you do not want to simply place keywords on your website that you think people are search for. You want to be absolutely sure people are searching for your products or services. Sometimes there is a difference between what a business calls something and how a consumer would refer to it.
Therefore, it is important you take the time to research the keywords you want to use. It could mean you change the way you refer to a product or service on your website because more people are searching for an alternative name to what you would’ve first thought.
Types of Keywords & Their Value (Commercial & Informational)
Keywords can be categorised as being either commercial or informational. Commercial keywords are where you’d expect someone to be searching with the intent to make a purchase whereas informational keywords are characterised as being a search for knowledge.
It’s important to understand the simple difference between these keywords as they can have a profound impact on the type of traffic you get. If you’re a business who is looking to generate more sales, it makes sense to target commercial keywords first.
Targeting both types of keywords can be extremely valuable as both can lead to sales, it just may take longer for someone who starts with an informational keyword as opposed to a commercial keyword. In addition to this, search engines favour websites that are producing all forms of content, from product pages containing detailed descriptions through to a knowledgebase offering helpful information.
By having content that covers both types of keywords you are not only increasing your chances of appearing for more keywords, you are also proving to search engines that you are knowledgeable. This goes a long way in helping you increase your overall visibility.
How To: Keyword Research for Your Website
Now you’ve got a basic understanding of keyword research and the types of keywords you can target; the next step is to find relevant keywords for you to target. The most efficient way to do this (and to avoid creating a huge list of keywords for the sake of it) is to map out your website in a spreadsheet. If you’re going to change parts of your website, include those pages too.
We are doing this so you spend time looking for keywords relevant to each page. Here it isn’t about the sheer number of keywords you gather, it’s about finding keywords relevant to each page you have or want to have on your website. In the process, you’ll uncover keywords you don’t have a page for that you can target in the future.
Below is an example layout of a website for a nationwide provider of IT support:
Imagine this as a list of all the pages on the website. It may look like I’ve forgotten to update the resources section, but I’ve mimicked the services on-purpose.
Keyword Research Tools to Help You
Now that you’re aware of the different types of keywords and you have a layout of your website, you can move onto finding them. To help you do this, Google and other companies have created tools that let you see valuable information such as how many people are searching for a keyword or how popular it is in comparison to others. Without such tools, it would be 80% guesswork and 20% business acumen. Ok, so those percentages have been plucked out of thin air. But that’s exactly what you’d be doing without using a keyword research tool.
Here is a list of commonly used keyword research tools. We’ve not listed them in any particular order. Instead, we’ve provided our opinion why you may use each one. This is also by no means a definitive list. There are far more available.
- Google Keyword PlannerFirst on our list is Google’s own tool. Remember, these are in no particular order but there is an element of additional trust you can give to this tool. Why? Google is the biggest search engine in the world. The data it is giving you through this tool is coming straight from them.
Keyword Planner works best if you have advertised using Google Ads as you will be able to see near-exact search numbers month-by-month. If you don’t currently advertise on Google Ads, you’re likely to be given estimated search volumes. These can vary from 100 – 1,000 searches per month for a keyword through to 10,000 to 100,000. That’s a huge difference.
However, you can look at other metrics to determine the value of a keyword within this tool. For example, you can view an estimate of how much it costs if you were advertising and someone clicked on your advert. The higher the value, the more likely it is that it is a commercial keyword.
- Google Search ConsoleNote: You must have the setup before you have the intention of using it as it takes time to gather data about your website.
Google Search Console is a way for you to look at key information relating to your free/organic Google listings. The tool can tell you what keywords you’re appearing for and many of them are likely to be different to what you’d expect. For this reason, it’s an excellent tool for looking at keywords relevant to your business. But it only works for established websites that have had this tool setup for at least 2-3 months.
- KeywordTool.ioThis is a very powerful tool and if you have the budget available and the resource to write lots of articles targeting keywords, then this is a must-have.
In comparison to Google Keyword Planner, KeywordTool.io makes use of valuable data from Google’s search engine. It gathers all of the auto-complete suggestions you see when typing in Google’s search bar and provides you with how many people search for them in your targeted area. You cannot get that data from Google Keyword Planner. This will mean you end up with a much bigger list of keywords, but it is an excellent way to discover more keywords if you’re struggling with Google’s own tool.
- ahrefsThis is a different tool to the rest, as it has something all the others do not. It assigns a difficult score to every keyword based upon the “power” it believes each website already ranking has. It is able to do this because the main focus of the company is reviewing links between websites.
Links are seen by search engines as one of the most important ranking factors. They are essentially ‘votes’ and the more you have and the more relevant they are, the higher your chances of appearing for relevant keywords. With this functionality, it can help people who may not be well-versed in the art of SEO find keywords that they can appear for. Furthermore, it somewhat removes the next point in this document – prioritising keywords.
As you are building your list of keywords, you only want to include keywords that you have a fighting chance of appearing for. But how do you judge whether you have a chance at all? Ultimately, this comes down to years of practice and working across many websites. However, there are some clear signs to look out for:
- Who currently appears?
If a keyword you want to target is dominated by large organisations, you have little chance of appearing. Take ‘sweatshirts’ as an example. It will be very difficult to rank for such a keyword by simply having it on your website. These companies are investing a lot of money into their visibility.
- Is the keyword a commercial or informational term?
If you are intending on making sales or generating leads from a keyword, you want to be sure that searchers have the intent to buy. As you’re deciding on keywords, make sure you search for them yourself to see what types of websites are appearing. If it’s informational websites such as Wikipedia and other helpful websites, you may be targeting the wrong keyword.
- Check your existing rankingUsing Google Search Console or a tool such as AWR Cloud (both allow you to look at where you appear for the keywords you want to rank for), you can see whether you already appear for some of the keywords you want to target on Google (and other search engines in the case of AWR).
Choosing between one that you appear for versus one that you do not appear for is not a simple matter of which one has the most searches. The one that you appear for may be the best option because search engines, such as Google, have already decided that you’re relevant. Improving your position is generally much easier than ranking from nowhere.
Building Your Spreadsheet (Including a Template)
You are now at a stage where you can truly put into practice what you’ve learnt so far. To do this, below is a link to a template spreadsheet that you can populate with your own web-pages and relevant keywords.
Use the layout of your website to populate this spreadsheet and then use one of the keyword research tools to fill in the keywords section, including the average monthly search volume. You can do this before prioritising keywords if you wish, as we have provided space for three keywords per page. One or two is generally more than enough in practice.
This is a Google spreadsheet, so you must click ‘File’ > ‘Make a Copy’ before you are able to start editing.
Now that you’ve built a list of keywords and linked them to existing or future pages on your website, the next step is to start incorporating them into vital places on your pages. I say vital places because there are areas that search engines pay more attention to on a page than others.
You should start by ensuring the following mention your main target keyword for each page. Please don’t go overboard. You only need to mention it once in each of these places:
- Page Title
As you can see from the above screenshot, this is directly used by search engines whenever a webpage appears in their listings. Some search engines may choose to generate their own text, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t valuable. Include your keyword here but be careful you have a limit of roughly 60 characters; concise!
- Example (for this website on our services page for SEO):Search Engine Optimisation | 43 Clicks North
- Meta Description
A meta description is a paragraph of text that appears below the page title when your website appears on search engine results pages (as you can see in the screenshot above). There’s no true SEO value here, as Google has said that they don’t look at meta descriptions as a ranking factor, but it is essentially free advertising space.
Write a compelling description on why a user should visit your website. Also, don’t forget to include relevant keywords as they will appear bold for people who have searched for them. It may not help you rank better, but it may make you stand out more.
- H1 Heading Tag
These are the main title on a web-page. They help define the core subject of a page and for that reason alone, you should include your main keyword in it. It’s also beneficial to users, as it is likely the keyword you choose will describe the topic of the page.