Every few months we hear of a new hurdle that Google throws in the way of SEO practitioners. A challenge, a catch-me-if-you-can of sorts. Yes, I refer to the inevitable “updates” to Google’s algorithm that every online marketer lives in dread of.
With each new update you can be assured that there will be the possibility of tumultuous changes to your search traffic, your conversion predictions (revenue estimates) might go for a toss, and in the worst case, and your site may be hit with some new-fangled penalty Google dreamt up.
However, in spite of all the search engine-related changes that rock an online business’ boat, there’s one constant that hasn’t changed in the last 20 years. And that is keyword research. Whether you run a million-product eCommerce site or started with a blog and had the bright idea of monetizing it, there’s no getting rid of keyword research from an SEO and content marketing perspective.
While you as a business owner or CMO might be involved (I hope) in keyword research you’re your frontline SEO marketers, we can all use some extra help every now and then. Here are some results-oriented ways of improving your keyword research strategy.
Know what Google is trying to accomplish
Google has repeatedly tried to put businesses and marketers off track by telling them to lay off their search algorithm.
“Don’t chase after Google’s algorithm, chase after your best interpretation of what users want because that is what Google’s chasing after.”
– Matt Cutts (Head of Web Spam at the time)
I submit the humble argument that since Google has 2,000 PhDs trying to interpret what users want (and keep their 80% market share in the process), their chances of shooting the moon are far greater than those of the average business. For us lesser mortals, it is simpler to chase the Google algorithm, albeit with caution.
As I see it, Google wants to do a couple of things really well:
1. Google wants to present its users with content that is perfectly aligned with the “why” of their queries.
So if you search for how to get rid of bugs from code, it wants to refrain from showing you the results that talk about pest control. As you can see from the screenshot below, there is still a long way to go before we reach this idyllic scenario.
2. Google wants to return only sites (and now, apps) that are bona fide authorities in the niche of interest.
Sites that have a consistently good click through rate and low bounce instances. Sites that have the right information and are easy to navigate deeper.
So how do we satisfy Google’s wants?
Go beyond the keyword
One of the biggest mistakes any marketer can make is targeting long lists of keywords generated by the keyword tool of their choice. Google has been muddying keywords in Google Analytics for the last few years, making their AdWords Keyword Planner, modelled for revenue-generating PPC campaigns, the de facto place to look for them.
There are more efficient and elegant ways of arriving at keywords – or rather, keyword phrases – that are relevant to your business. Listening to conversations about your brand, competition, or even your product category all over the internet will give you a clear picture of what your target audience cares about and what type of content will work for them.
Questions on Quora, LinkedIn groups, and forums related to your industry niche are great starting points for this pursuit. Keywordtool.io is a great tool for identifying questions around your keywords or brand. It has a Questions tab especially for this purpose.
Another important way to discover keywords is to talk to customer care representatives and sales teams that interact with customers on a daily basis. Understand from them what your customers’ pain areas are, what kind of data they look for online, and what they don’t understand about your product.
If all else fails, turn to Google for keyword research.
See what content works, irrespective of keywords
Yes, you read that right. Sometimes, the future is best estimated by looking at the past.
If you’ve been creating content to optimize your site for search engines for a while, dig into your analytics to discover which pieces of content have worked best for you so far. Now you have an idea of the types of content and the related keyword phrases that might work in the future.
Don’t stop there. Match popular content themes with Google Trends to arrive at ones that are supposed to grow in popularity in the future.
I like using BuzzSumo to see which pieces of content are working exceptionally well for in my industry niche. It gives me a good indicator of what direction to head in, with specific insights into what publishers to target for guest posts and which influencers to reach out to with my new content.
Focus on long tail keywords
We keep hearing this advice from all the best SEO practitioners, and yet we obsess over our “head” keywords which every other competitor is focusing on. The result? Measly organic rankings and intense competition for the same set of keywords from a PPC perspective.
According to Moz, 70% of searches made online reflect long tail keywords and not the commercially successful PPC keywords. If so, doesn’t it make you feel a little silly wasting all your time on the 30% of searches that happen?
Many SEO marketers avoid spending too much time on long tail keywords because (a) there are simply too many and (b) there’s too little time to do justice to them all.
But while these long tail keywords may not bring in loads of traffic, their conversion rates are exponentially better than mainstream keywords. The reason for this is simple. By the time a user searches with specific details to create long tail keywords, they have already moved towards the end of the sales funnel and are closer to making a purchase decision.
Spare a thought for semantic search queries
The average business will have hundreds of keywords that are relevant to it and thousands more that similar to these keywords. It would be a huge waste of resources to create content and run PPC campaigns for every single keyword that your keyword tool throws out.
Thanks to Google’s Hummingbird algorithm and use of LSI, similar keywords, synonyms, and phrases that replace keywords are all measured with the same yardstick. Searches for closely matching keywords end up showing the same results, which means that if you optimize for Keyword xyz as well as xyz1, your money is completely wasted in the second instance.
In such a scenario, it makes sense to group similar keywords into buckets. Let each keyword bucket be driven by the intent of the user persona searching for them and your business objective for targeting it – acquisition, engagement, newsletter signups, repeat purchases, and so on.
Besides the objective of the keyword, it helps to consider natural language queries that arise related to the keywords in question. Not only are these not limited to keywords, the user’s intent drives what the search results will be. So when you want to bake an apple pie, you don’t simply search for apple pie on Google – you’d search for something like easy apple pie recipes or master chef apple pie recipes.
This strategy helps conserve typically limited resources by targeting keywords for different contexts. With result oriented keyword buckets, you create content that is relevant and not repetitive. This means waving good bye to “thin” content and the associated risk of earning a Google penalty.
These were some of the better strategies and tips that have worked for me in the past. What tactics do you and your team love? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. We’re all ears!