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Keyword Research: The First Step in SEO

By Mark Miller

Search Specialist

Keyword Research: The First Step in SEO

Ranking for the right keyword is paramount to the success of any website. You can build an attractive site with a great user experience but if you don’t appear in a search for a term you deem valuable to your business, you might as well be invisible.

But how does one know what terms are valuable? Research – lots of research. Keyword research is the backbone of search marketing and one of the most valuable activities in the field. When done correctly, keyword research will not only determine which terms and phrases to target with SEO, it will help you learn about your customers and business as a whole.

There are a number of ways to perform keyword research – but this is our strategy here at Swell.

1. Determine what topics are important to your business

  • What is your mission/vision?
  • What type of solution do you provide?
  • Who is your target audience? What would they search for

These topics are constantly changing based on the nature and maturity of your business. A business who just opened may want to focus on branding/awareness whereas someone who has been around for awhile may be more focused on targeting customers in a specific stage of the buyer’s journey - or maybe your business only serves customers in a certain location and you want to focus on geo-targeted keywords. Every business is different and that should be highlighted in the keywords you chose to optimize for.

2. Align the topics determined to be important with relevant content present on your site

Quality and depth of content surrounding your selected topic is essential to obtaining any sort of rank for a keyword and among the top three weighted elements in Google’s ranking algorithm. You will not rank for a term if there is no content related to it on your site, so to choose realistically.

3. Analyze search and engagement metrics for your site.

The information that the user/customer is seeking is often important to the business and would benefit from elevation in search via optimization.

Look in Google Search Console to see which terms were used in the queries with the most clicks, keeping an eye out for any terms that appear in multiple queries. These are the terms you should base your strategy on.

What section of your site receives the most traffic? Those sections or pages are valuable to your site and deserve further keyword research, optimization, and content development.

4. Perform competitor research

Target successful businesses in your space to evaluate what keywords they use in their title tags and meta descriptions.

For example, if you were a university offering a digital marketing degree you may do a search similar to the one shown below. After performing a search on google for “digital marketing degree” you would be able to determine that “online degree in digital marketing”, “digital marketing degree online” and “masters in digital marketing” are term variations that you may want to research because they are in the first position of competitor’s title tags.

5. Generate your list of keywords

Choose terms that satisfy the above stipulations and use this to research variations that may have higher search volume or you may already have decent rankings for.

There are a number of tools you can use to accomplish this.

For some additional inspiration, I typically start with Google’s ‘Related Searches’ to get an idea of what topics Google considers to be related to my query. In the picture below, when I search “the patriots” the top related searches are “new england patriots roster” and “new england patriots schedule 2016”. From these results, I am able to conclude that it may be valuable to include “new england” in my term and I might want to look at other terms related to roster, schedule and tickets.

If I’m not satisfied with the related searches that were generated above for “the patriots” I may use Google Trends to check out the most popular related queries. With the results below I would be able to confirm that my theory suggesting schedule-related terms were important was indeed true but not much else was confirmed. If you are lucky, there will be a “breakout” term that is closely aligned with your slowly forming list that can be incorporated.

When I have a solid idea of what term variations I want to use I will plug them into Google Keyword planner to see which have good volume. I typically try to focus on keywords that have at least 100 searches per month unless a niche term has been determined to be highly valuable to the business, in which case a lower volume is acceptable. Based on the results I may choose “patriots schedule” because I have already determined it's important, it has a large monthly search volume, and a low amount of competition.

Finally, I will use Web CEO to get an idea of how my site currently ranks for the selected terms and what pages they may already be ranking on. In the example below, you may decide that since the term “greatest football team of all time” does not rank within the first 5 pages or 50 results that you would like to focus your efforts on another term that already has some traction. You would also learn that when doing any optimizations around your selected term “patriots schedule,” they should be on the page “/schedule-and-stats” because that is the one google recognizes as the most relevant by rewarding it with the highest rank.

6. Generate long tail versions of your selected keywords

Create descriptive phrases that apply to a more specific audience or product to be used in conjunction with your primary terms. These will often have lower search volume because they target a smaller but more qualified audience.

For example, if you had chosen “patriots schedule” a long tail term to accompany it may be something like “patriots home game schedule 2016”

After the above research is completed you will be able to build out a keyword library to be used in your SEO efforts on your site as well as all across other content initiatives like blog posts, white papers, press releases and across social media channels.

Q1: I own a small business, and I’ve built a website but I’m not seeing my business in search engine results when I search for locations to purchase my product near my business. How does a search engine decide what results are first in a search like this?

This is a great question, and it’s where many people with a small business start. Google recently revealed that local results are determined by 3 factors:

  • relevance
  • distance
  • prominence

Relevance is the extent to which a local listing matches the query. This can be improved by providing accurate and complete business information on your site as well as in listings like Google My Business. This helps Google correctly match your listing to a search.

Distance is defined by how far the possible search result is from the location-specific term in the query.

Prominence is determined by how well a business is recognized in the physical and digital world. A business with high prominence in the physical world would be a well-respected brand or famous establishment, like Starbucks In the digital world a business with high prominence uses SEO best practice, has exceptional rankings, trusted backlinks, reputable citations, positive reviews, and quality content.

In other words:
Accurate Google My Business Content + Correct Location Data + Positive Reviews + SEO = Good Local Rankings

Q2: What are some basic tactics I can use to increase my local presence in search?

The easiest and most effective place to start would be with the creation of a Google My Business (GMB) page. Without the implementation of GMB your business won’t benefit from Google’s local map listings in search engine result pages that are displayed for most Google queries. When creating your profile use high-quality images, fill out as much of the requested information as possible and try to use location-specific keywords with decent search volume. Proceed to create the listing for each of your business locations and be consistent with your name, address and phone number. Once your GMB page and listings are up and running start collecting reviews and testimonials from customers.

Q3: Is Google the only search engine I should be paying attention to? Are there other sites I can use to help my local search optimization?

As the leader in US search engine market share, Google has earned the right to be your main focus. However, with Bing in second place they definitely warrant some attention, and Bing’s Places For Business would be my recommendation for the next place to put some time in. The best part is you can employ a nearly identical strategy as used in GMB.

Utilizing sites that allow you to list your business information can drastically improve your local search rankings. An instance of your business name and address is defined as a citation and is an important factor in the ranking algorithms for both Google and Bing. Businesses with a greater number of citations are far more likely to have a higher rank than a business with fewer citations. When obtaining citations try to focus on reputable sites but don’t shell out any cash. Some examples of places yoSaveu can do this for free are Yelp, Apple Maps, Facebook, LinkedIn, Superpages, Yellow Pages, Factual, and Foursquare. If you have some money burning a hole in your pocket and feel strongly about investing in citations then the Local Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau and industry-related associations are places to look into. A great resource for getting started with this is Moz Local.

Q4: Ok, so I’m seeing some local search results but I really think I can do more. What are some more advanced tactics I can use to increase my local presence in search?

If you really want to step up your game in the local search department then start focusing on your site’s written content. Frequently creating content that is both high quality and unique can have a tremendous impact on your local search rankings. Make sure to do your due diligence with keyword research before your start writing. Pick a primary and secondary keyword that are both valuable to your business and relevant to the page to use near the beginning of the content.

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Mark Miller

Search Specialist