Despite portentous messages from industry skeptics, in my experience, SEO is not dead and keyword research is still as important as ever. While I’d argue that the industry has adopted a topic-driven approach, keyword research still provides us with the ultimate insight into how audiences shop for products and conduct product research.
But keyword research is much more methodical than just exporting a CSV report to a spreadsheet. Choosing the right striking-distance keywords and long-tail variants with high volume could be the difference between thousands of unique monthly users and none at all.
On the advertising side, keywords drive bids and determine competition. So finding the right blend between sweet spot organic and PPC keywords can truly lift your digital marketing strategy to the next level.
For this reason, I’ve outlined five steps for proper keyword research that makes sense for your business and will drive results.
1. Use multiple sources for keyword discovery.
There are plenty of tools on the market available for keyword research, but you shouldn’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Google Ad’s Keyword Planner can provide great ideas for semantically related keywords and their relative competition in the market, but it’s void of any competitor tools for new keyword discovery around semantically linked topics. In the same vein, SEMrush provides great competitive analysis tools, but its related keyword ideas are not as in-depth as Google’s Keyword Planner.
My favorite tools include:
• Google Ad’s Keyword Planner
But only leveraging these tools will provide a pretty narrow focus. For example, a Google Ads search for “content marketing” limits your focus mainly to phrase match terms. The same goes for SEMrush. But if we use alternative sources, such as Answer the Public, we can expand our keyword discovery to even more search terms our audience is using, including prepositions by industry and location.
Other sources for keyword variety include:
• Google’s own search bar
• Page-level analysis in Google Search Console
• Google’s related searches
• Google Trends
• Your customers
• Social media groups, forums and comments
It’s important to vary your keyword strategy for organic search. In terms of paid media, these tools can give you ideas for keyword variants and also provide insight into cost-per-click (CPC) bids and keyword competition.
2. Leverage competitor research for fresh content.
Perhaps the best source for new keywords is your very own competitors. Use competitive analysis tools to uncover new keyword ideas and see how their website is best meeting user intent.
Some of my favorite tools include:
• Ahrefs’ Content Gap
• SEMrush’s gap analysis
Another great strategy is leveraging the top Google search results for a particular query or the top trending topics on BuzzSumo. Send those pages through any of these tools to discover what keywords they are ranking for.
SpyFu is especially helpful for spying on your competitors’ AdWords performance by showing what keywords they’re bidding on, which ones you share with them and how their landing page copy appears. Leverage these shared terms and outbid your competitors to steal their traffic.
3. Categorize keywords by topic and match type.
After doing all of this exhausting work, it’s time to organize your keywords by category, match type, brand and user intent:
1. Build out columns for individual topics.
2. Filter for match types for PPC bids, as well as to evaluate search volume for SEO.
3. Eliminate phrase match keywords that are irrelevant to either campaign.
4. Eliminate branded keywords for SEO campaigns (you’re going to rank for your brand).
5. Scroll through and evaluate keywords by search volume and competition.
6. Highlight keywords in different colors for types of different intent that provide easy wins (e.g., shopping vs. informative).
For organic search, this strategy will provide insights into keywords that are within striking distance, pages that can be optimized for higher rank, or fresh keywords that can be targeted through new content.
On the PPC side, evaluating CPC columns and competition level should provide some insight into search terms that could serve as easy wins for your campaign.
4. Create goals around keywords for combined campaigns.
Now that you have selected which keywords to implement in your paid and organic strategy, it’s time to create page-level goals and key performance indicators to track performance.
In AdWords, tracking CPC, quality score and conversion rates will give you an idea of any optimizations that can be implemented to improve campaign performance. For organic search performance, evaluating clicks, traffic and session time will show you where page-level performance can be improved to increase lead counts and nurture conversions.
5. Share keywords between both campaigns.
Finally, to magnify the efforts of your digital marketing performance, consider targeting the same keywords and implementing cross-platform campaigns to maximize your real estate.
Not only can you significantly increase brand visibility and organic CTR, you can also get a direct view of how well keywords are aiding in clicks and conversions in AdWords.
Keyword research is only the first step in helping your website earn more traffic and leads. The rest relies on your landing page optimization tactics and content marketing prowess to capitalize on opportunities in the market for scale.