Steve Martin once said “A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.” But Google doesn’t think so. Search “a day without sunshine” and you won’t find anything about nighttime – you’ll only find the many webpages that have published Martin’s quote.
I habitually do keyword research before beginning any SEO project. I do it because the process of reviewing search trends gives me a good foundation for what follows: identifying content opportunities and creating a content plan that will make a website more relevant, interesting and engaging to a particular audience. But, SEO keyword research on its own only leads to more questions.
If you pull a list of keywords by search volume and use that list to prioritize subject matter on your website, for example, you’re skipping an important part of the analysis. The big question is: what do people searching these keywords actually want? Don’t be the girl or guy who follows the numbers only to overlook common sense. Use the process below to ensure your keyword planning is helping and not hurting your SEO strategy.
SEO keyword research
Here are my assumptions. Your keyword tool provides you with a list of keywords, plus search volume and competition level for each. If your tool asks for a URL, you will also get some indication of relevancy to the content on your site.
When you use a URL with Google AdWords Keyword Planner, for example, it ranks the potential keywords in terms of relevancy. Relevancy is only sort of important at this stage. You’re looking for new content opportunities, so you want topics related to what’s already on your website. But you don’t need exact relevance to the content you already have. Keep that in mind and you’re ready for some keyword analysis.
Go through your normal process to grab the list of keywords, then use common sense to filter them.
You are looking for keywords that have some volume but are not extremely competitive. If the site is new or has relatively small influence, focus on lower volume keywords first. The goal is to gain some visibility in niche searches and then expand from there.
Do a gut-check on the keyword relevancy.
As noted, stay within the scope of the website and avoid doubling up on content you already have. (If your existing content isn’t performing, that’s a different issue. I’ll have to cover that in a later post.)
Categorize your website as one of the following:
- B2B service
- B2B product
- B2C service
- B2C product
Open up a browser you rarely use.
Make sure you’re logged out and navigate to Google. Search your first potential keyword. If your website has only a local reach (e.g., like a storefront business), remember to change your location accordingly in the search settings.
Look at the listings on the first page of results.
Go back to your list of categories above. Do these sites fit the same category as your website? Here’s an easy example to demonstrate where I’m going with this. Speak digital marketing offers social media management as a service. We’d label this as a B2B service. But if I search “social media management” with my location set as St. Louis, the results are largely tools and software like Hootsuite. That’s something slightly different than hands-on management of social communities.
Based on this, Google has determined that people searching for “social media management” aren’t looking for an agency. And so, even if Speak could rank on the first page, we might not attract the type of web visitors we want.
If none of the sites look anything like yours, you have two options. Accept that this keyword may not do much for you in search, or look for more suitable keywords. For more keyword ideas, review Google’s related search terms and/or go back to your keyword tool.
If we stay with our example, I try searching for “social media agency.” Boom. My competitors show up. And the highest ranking of them have clearly optimized their site for “social media agency.”Before you go any further, make sure this new keyword actually is appropriate for your business. It’s common sense, I know. But people make this mistake. If this test shows results that are similar to your website, you are on the right track. Check Google’s related searches for other, more specific phrases there. Choose relevancy over volume.
Check all your keywords this way and you should have a nice list of relevant keywords and phrases. What follows is the hard part – take those keywords and use them as inspiration for your content plan.