In the same way we all have different needs online, not every online search is performed the same way. Some are phrased in the form of an informational query (using ‘who’,’where’, ‘when’ etc) to find out more about a subject. Some might be taking a navigational approach (seeking a specific URL) or performing a local search (using ‘near me’) to find a specific business or business type in the local area. Others might be looking to compare two options (using ‘vs’) or are looking to making a specific purchase. Regardless of the approach taken by the user, Google attempts to focus on the intent of the user; and their success at doing so depends in part in the use of keywords.
Keywords are a fundamental component of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). As part of a search query, they provide a means of understanding the user’s intent so that Google can seek out the most applicable content. Googles algorithms examine landing pages and blog posts featuring those keyword(s) and will add them to an index, where they will stand the best chance of ranking for that query, especially when they’re provided by a reputable source. This, of course, frames the burden shouldered by so many businesses, organizations and marketers…to be visible in the search results, you need high-quality content built around the keywords that people will be searching for.
But where to start? Like many elements of SEO, keyword strategies are nuanced and ever-evolving. Today, we’re going to introduce keywords at the ground level, framing them in an accessible way, so that you can explore for yourselves. It begins with a willingness to ask some questions of yourself.
What Should You Want to Rank For?
Keyword research can be a complicated part of an SEO strategy, but there are elements that are quite simple, requiring little more than simple introspection. Regardless of your business vertical or the nature of your site, you should start by asking yourself some simple questions.
- What might someone be searching for that brought them to you?
- What value does the page or product provide to the end user?
- What products and services do you offer?
- What geographic area do you service?
- What are some of the most frequently asked questions that you receive?
- What would you like people to know about that sets you apart from competitors?
Imagine a Chevy dealership in Cincinnati, OH. The dealership offers new, pre-owned and GM Certified pre-owned inventory as well as a sizable Parts Department, and a Service team staffed by factory-trained technicians. They offer extended service hours for the convenience of their customers, an array of courtesy services and have won several awards from General Motors as a result of their commitment to service. Right off the bat, we have an understanding of how to answer each of those questions – and an understanding of which keywords could be of value.
It may seem like a simple place to begin, but answering these questions could help you to form the foundation of your keyword strategy. By creating content built around your business, geography, and customer needs, you can establish yourself as a reputable local authority and begin to expand your online community. But there are still more questions to be answered…
What Do Your Competitors Rank For? And What Don’t They?
As with any component of a marketing strategy, keyword research should also take your competitors into consideration. If they’re local competitors, it’s likely that their answer for each of those five questions would be quite similar to yours. This means that, depending on the effectiveness of their digital marketing strategy, they’re likely to be trying to competing for ranking on the same keyword searches.
In the case of our hypothetical dealership pull up Google, and type in a pertinent search query (‘Chevy dealership in Cincinnati’, for example). Google currently shows pages in it’s index belonging to Cincinnati-based dealerships that sell Chevy vehicles. The results are likely to include our hypothetical dealership, their direct competitors within Cincinnati city limits and in nearby communities, as well as smaller, independent dealerships. This would give the dealership a means of identifying who their primary competitors are in a particular online search.
Take the time to audit your competitors’ landing pages and blog content, and find out what keywords they’re trying to rank for, or may be ranking for already. You should then take the time to see how well you rank for those keywords. It’s also important to identify what pertinent keywords they don’t rank for, that your might, and vice versa, called “Keyword Gap Analysis”. This provides your with additional opportunities to assert your value through content.
By identifying your competitors, as well as how you rank in comparison to one another you can prioritize which keywords you’ll need to place emphasis on. That said, don’t overdo it.
The Slippery Slope of Keyword Strategy
There was a time when SEO practices were more about ‘tricking search engines’ then ‘creating superior content to convey Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness. Things like “Keyword Frequency” were optimized for, with the amount of times a keyword appearing on the page believed to be a major ranking factor. The evolution of Google has made many of these ‘black hat SEO’ practices obsolete, requiring ‘white hat’ practices that support Google’s intent of offering the most satisfying experience for their users.
That said, be conservative and be purposeful in creation of your content. Just because you have a long list of keywords you’d like to rank competitively for doesn’t mean you should start generating a lot of low-value content, stuffed with those keywords. Focus on one keyword at a time. Create an authoritative piece of content around it, displaying your expertise and conveying your trustworthiness. By doing so in a consistent manner, you are more likely to attract traffic and to be ranked higher by Google.
By this point, you’ve probably figured out that keyword research is a time-consuming process. The act of listing out keywords, investigating competitors, assessing rankings and building high-quality content isn’t an overnight process. In addition, there are different types of keywords, each of which requires a unique approach and strategy. There is an equally wide variety of tools used by professionals like ourselves to identify the best possible keywords to build a strategy around (in other words, keyword research doesn’t have to be an exclusively manual process).
But when it comes to keyword strategy (as with SEO in general) you can expect to get out of it ‘what you put into it’. These are time-consuming, labor-intensive strategies and are not designed for immediate payoff. That alone is why so many businesses seek the help of a professional partner.