Keyword research forms the foundation of any inbound marketing campaign, and much like in construction, an unsteady foundation can result in a weak, crumbling campaign.
In this guide, I’ll run through the steps involved in conducting solid keyword research. I’ve also provided a handy keyword research template to help gain mastery. This guide aims to cut through all of the technicalities and offer practical guidance that’s easy to follow, condensed down into just three simple steps:
Just here for the promise of a free keyword research template? No worries! Click the button below to access our template and watch this video for a quick tutorial on how to use it.
First things first, what exactly is keyword research and why is it important?
Every day there are approximately 5.6 billion searches on Google alone, all from people looking for something. It could be the answer to a question, a product, a service, research papers, facts... and probably a fair amount of searches for pornography.
Keywords are the language of the internet in many ways.
It’s how search engines categorise content, all with the aim of serving up the searcher the best result for their search query. Our goal? To be there waiting for them with the best piece of content or a well placed PPC ad.
The anatomy of a keyword
A keyword is more than just a string of words, there’s loads of other data to take into consideration when analysing keywords. The first thing to understand is what each of the metrics associated with each keyword means.
Search volume - The amount of people who search for a keyword each month.
Keyword difficulty - A score from 1 to 100 that signals how difficult the keyword will be to rank for. See the SEMrush guide on keyword difficulty here.
CPC (Cost-per-click) - The average price an advertiser will pay for a click targeting that individual keyword.
Competitive density - The amount of competition between advertisers for any given keyword, scored on a scale of 0.00 to 1.00.
Results - The number of URLs currently displaying ranking for any given keyword.
Long tail vs short tail
Understanding the difference between long tail and short tail keywords is a key principle of keyword research.
Understandably, many people think long tail and short tail refers to the length of the phrase, which is closely correlated but not 100% accurate.
Short tail keywords - Typically, short tail keywords are general search queries that will often be around one to three words long. Something like ‘inbound marketing’ would be classified as a short tail keyword. The user is clearly looking for general information on the subject.
Long tail keywords - A long tail keyword is usually longer and much more defined where the searcher is looking for the solution to a very specific problem. Long tail keywords are usually much longer and consist of more words as the user requires more language to explain what they’re looking for. An example of a long tail keyword might be ‘what’s the difference between inbound marketing and outbound marketing’.
Each of these keyword types has a place in your overall marketing strategy, but how we approach targeting them will likely be different. We’ll discuss this in more detail in the section: ‘Selecting the ‘right’ keywords’.
Performing keyword analysis
The act of performing keyword analysis is subjective. Different people have different methods and there’s no singular right way to do it (although there are a lot of wrong ways). In this section, we’ll outline a fairly simple process that most people should be able to follow regardless of their skill level.
Thinking of seed phrases
Knowing where to start is half the battle with keyword research.
There are various ways to do this, but we’ll outline our own process, which starts with seed phrases. Seed phrases are basically ideas of keywords you *think* your personas *might* be searching when they’re looking for information related to your products and services.
Start with a list of keywords off the top of your head.
Ask other members of your team, particularly your customer and sales team what they think. We’ll test your theories later on.
Ask yourself the following questions to get started:
- What are my products and services? What am I selling?
- What keywords would I search for if I were looking for information related to my products/services?
- What keywords do I think I want to rank for?
- What keywords are my competitors targeting?
Write everything down, we’ll use them soon. There are a few other methods to help improve your list:
- Google the base keyword, but don’t search, note down Google auto suggest recommendations
- Use Google Trends to search for broad terms and see what the related topics and queries it offers are
- Check Google Search Console to see the types of keywords you already rank for are
- Use Answer the Public to generate other ideas
- If all else fails, there’s always good old fashioned research! Delve into the books, blogs, podcasts, magazines and articles on the subject you’re researching and note down any potential seed phrases.
Run them through a keyword tool
Now that you have a list of potential keywords (seed phrases), it’s time to test your theories.
You need to run your seed phrases through a keyword tool and start to refine them. Most tools will offer related search queries so if your seed phrase isn’t exactly on the money, there’s a good chance you’ll find a better one or generate other ideas.
There are various tools you might want to consider, including:
Most keyword tools will require a paid license, which can be fairly costly. Google’s Keyword Planner is free, but doesn’t offer the same level of insight as most paid tools.
Export to a spreadsheet
Although it’s not always necessary, it’s best practice to collect your keywords into a spreadsheet and format it in a way that’s easy to navigate. If you don’t have Microsoft Excel, you can use Google Sheets for free.
Exporting to a spreadsheet has a number of advantages, including:
- Maximum flexibility over the data
- The ability to format to suit your needs
- Conditional formatting
- Additional formulas
You can use spreadsheets to your advantage to help organise and store your keywords in a way that makes sense for your campaign. We recommend storing keywords separated out by the seed phrase or topic in individual tabs so you can revisit and find the keyword groups you want easily.
Use our free keyword research template
Save yourself the hassle of creating a template from scratch and make use of our free template with additional functionality and formatting. The very same one we use here at Digital 22. First, watch the video tutorial, then click the link to access our document and make a copy for yourself by clicking file > Make a copy.
Selecting the ‘right’ keywords
So, now you have a spreadsheet packed with great keywords, you’re probably wondering how to choose the right ones for your campaigns. Depending on the industry or subject you’re looking at, you may well find you have hundreds if not thousands of keywords.
The key here is to not spread yourself too thin, or to be overly ambitious in relation to your budget or time. We want to refine this list down to the keywords you’ll target specifically.
Now, there’s no hard and fast rule on which keywords are ‘right’.
If you have a large budget, bags of time and plenty of patience, any keyword could be right for your campaign. Depending on the objectives of your campaign, you might want to consider some of the following questions:
- How big is my budget?
- How long am I willing to wait to see results?
- Can I compete with the websites that are already ranking/advertising?
- Can I create content better than what is already ranking?
- Can I pay more than the average CPC?
Choosing keywords for content or SEO
If you’re choosing keywords with the aim of ranking pieces of content to drive organic sessions, then you’ve come to the right place.
When looking for keywords to rank content against, the main things you want to consider are keyword difficulty and number of results.
The holy grail here is to find keywords that have a level of volume you’re happy with combined with a low keyword difficulty and a low number of results. This will give you the best chance of creating a piece of content that will be moderately easy to rank for and start generating traffic quicker.
Long tail keywords often make for the best content choices as they present an opportunity to answer a specific query.
Choosing keywords for advertising (PPC)
When it comes to choosing keywords for PPC campaigns, be that in Google, Bing or other search engines, you’ll more than likely want to consider the avg. CPC and competitive density.
These metrics can be weighed up against the potential return on your investment and measured against your available budget.
A high value keyword may look attractive and have thousands of searches per month, but if the average cost per click is high and you don’t have the budget to match, it may not be worthwhile.
If this is the case, a more prudent strategy might be to look for keywords that have a lower CPC and competitive density, which will allow you to be more frugal with your ad spend and still generate results.
One final piece of advice to help you choose effective keywords, consider the intent of the keyword. There are three basic types of intent when it comes to keywords:
Navigational - E.g. ‘facebook log in’ or ‘Digital 22 website’
Informational - E.g. ‘what is inbound marketing?’ or ‘how to conduct keyword research’
Commercial - E.g. ‘best inbound marketing agency’ or ‘hubspot agency reviews’
Transactional - E.g. ‘how much does a hubspot partner agency cost’ or ‘hubspot agencies near me’
Understanding the intent of a keyword will impact the way you target that particular keyword.
As an example, if a user is looking for something informational, then more than likely a content piece of some sort will be the best course of action, whether that’s a blog, a web page or a pillar page.
However, if a user was searching for a product or service you offer in a transactional way, you might want to consider running a paid ad to lead them to your product/service page.
Finally, it’s easy to misinterpret what a searcher is looking for, or to try and twist the keyword to your own means. In this case, you’re only affecting your own results. The best course of action is to always try and satisfy the search query in the best possible way.
Now that you’ve got keyword research down cold, you’ll need to know how to make the most of them with an effective inbound strategy…
So, you’ve learned how to conduct keyword research and you’re armed with your very own D22 keyword research template, what’s next? Creating a killer inbound marketing strategy, and we’ve got just the place to start.
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