The phrase “keyword research” comes with a lot of baggage.

From the advent of search engines, people have been trying to get to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) for specific keywords. But over the years, the path to getting a page ranked at the top has changed. First there was keyword bombing, then there was a synonym frenzy and a rush to rank long-tail keywords.

Effective Keyword Research

But what does effective keyword research look like today?

The short answer is that keyword research is more nuanced these days. But it’s not a mystery. And it should be part of your foundation in putting together a customized SEO plan.

In this blog, I’m going to walk you through how you can do keyword research that will make a difference in your business’s bottom line.

Step 1: Figure out where you want keyword traffic to support your sales funnel

The first step in keyword research is to determine how you want keywords (or more specifically, the traffic keywords bring to your pages) to help your business achieve its goals. A really helpful exercise is to figure out where these leads will fall in your sales funnel.

Why is this important? Because you don’t want to mislead your leads (or waste your time) by cultivating the wrong type of keywords.

For example, if you have a more specific niche like a cupcake catering business that doesn’t have a storefront and specializes in preparing for events ahead of time, you are probably going to want leads for customers at the top of the sales funnel.

Your audience or website visitor is more specific and targeted. You want brides deciding on vendors for their wedding receptions or event coordinators who want to know their options for different client preferences. You do not want people at the bottom of the sales funnel, who are walking down Main Street and have a cupcake craving that will need to be alleviated in the next 15 minutes! (Because you can’t help them with that.)

The structure of your business model means you do want more targeted traffic from keyword phrases like “cupcake caterer for weddings in Portland, Oregon” or “cupcakes for events in Portland, OR” - but you don’t need traffic from “cupcake shop near me.”

So the first step in keyword research is figuring out who is your audience and what exactly you want to do with the traffic you may acquire from keywords you ranking for.

Step 2: Know where search engines are coming from (they’re looking for authority)

While keyword research has always been, and continues to be, the foundation of a customized SEO strategy, the way that search engines rank or ‘position’ them has changed.

In the past, you could strive to the top of a SERPs for your targeted keyword phrases by using the basic elements of best practice SEO. But the search engine ‘canvas’ has changed… and will continue to change.

It’s not as straightforward, as it was in the past. But that’s because search engines are getting better at their ultimate goal: providing their customers (the searchers) with relevant content that helps them fix their problem, answer their question, or meet their need.

In theory, the results the engines provide are more based on having a better way of figuring out what content is relevant for searchers – and one of the ways is by determining a site’s (and its author’s) authority.

Ultimately, this is a good thing. However, it makes it more difficult for businesses and/or site owners to stay on top of all the many ‘canvas factors’ that go into ranking or positioning for their targeted keyword phrases.

So, one important part of the process when doing keyword research is analyzing the actual search results when you enter your phrases in search. Look through the results and notice things like:

  • the featured snippet – what is defined, or question does it answer?
  • the ‘People also ask’ section – this provides a plethora of long-tail semantic search keyword phrases you could build your content development strategy
  • relevant related phrases that you hadn’t even considered and can now add to your targeted keyword list. Long-tail keywords usually have less competition, allow your specific strengths to shine, and provide warmer leads into your sales funnel.
  • local results. If your business’ target audience is local, then review those results – which may change how you use or optimize for your targeted keyword phrases
  • your competitors. Cyber-stalk your competitors to see the keyword phrases they are using and ranking for.
  • trends. Explore Google Trends to see if there are any opportunities in your industry to capitalize on.

After you’ve done this research, create content around these different topics. You don’t have to focus exclusively on the keywords, but show your knowledge of the topic that keyword points to, and answer the questions that surround keyword phrases.

Step 3: Focus on building authority

Full disclosure: Reinforcing your website’s authority is not as straightforward in ranking for keywords as strategically inserting keywords and phrases into pieces of content. But there are still some basic best practices to follow:

  • Show you are an expert in a general area by showing you are an expert in specific sub-areas. For example, an exterminator may have a blog that focuses on three areas: eliminating bed bugs, eliminating mice, and eliminating ants. By demonstrating her authority in those three areas, she shows that she is an expert in pest extermination in general. This makes her more likely to rank for keywords about pest extermination.
  • Cultivate valuable internal and external links. Utilize cornerstone or pillar page strategies for internal linking to build authority within your website – and utilize relevant external links to build authority from outside your website. For example, if a local mechanic gets a back link from a AAA directory of trusted mechanics and Car Talk’s directory of mechanics files, it goes a long way in showing that the mechanic is a good place to get your car fixed. Why? Because AAA and Car Talk know cars. They would only point to someone with a decent reputation.
  • Create content that answers your visitor’s questions. Content is a key way to show that you know your subject matter (aka show that you have authority to talk about this stuff). So, creating content that benefits your audience by answering their questions, and providing them guides, tips, how-to’s, tutorials, etc. will not only gain user confidence, but will potentially gain you that coveted search engine ‘authority’.

Step 4: Remember your landscape

As you find your keywords and create content around those keywords, remember some of the ways search engines are innovating.

  • Location is key. If your business is brick and mortar or has a strong tie to a geographic location, make sure to explore this in your keyword research.
  • Google structures many results in rich snippets (the quick answers pulled at the top of the search page) and the answers to questions around the keywords. Consider structuring your content to provide these quick bits of information searchers are looking for.
  • Searches are personalized. Google will provide different results to different people based on their demonstrated searching behavior. There’s not much you can do about this, but it is good to be aware that it’s a factor.
  • Mobile is king. You could have the greatest content supporting great keywords, but it would all be for naught if it’s not mobile friendly.
  • Voice search is expanding. This often means that searches will be longer and more complex.

At the end of the day, keywords play a different role than they did in the past. But they still play an important role. By keeping the audience in mind, you can be the first “answer” to the questions and queries they ask their search engine.

If you’d like to delve into an in-depth keyword strategy, contact me for a free consultation.

Valerie DiCarlo

Valerie DiCarlo

Valerie is principal and owner of SEO Web Consulting successfully serving clients since 2005 with ethical, holistic, most up-to-date, best practice SEO and online marketing solutions. As a respected boutique SEO consulting firm, our mission is to demystify SEO and provide measured results. All services are customized to meet your specific business need.