Tuning-up your web copy with high-quality keywords is vitally important to make sure your site attracts the right traffic, and thorough keyword research should form the basis of all SEO content writing. A crucial step in keyword research is to understand the audience which is potentially searching for the phrases you’re using, so that you can determine who you’re reaching out to: are you making yourself visible to hundreds of thousands of people, or just a select few? What will they be expecting to see when they visit your site, and does your content address their query effectively?
We can get an idea of how frequently different phrases are being searched for by using Google’s AdWords: Keyword Planner Tool, allowing us to get insight on the potential size of our audience, and to use this data to plan an effective strategy. In this article we’ll cover the importance of search volumes, how to generate keyword suggestions with Keyword Planner and how to estimate the competitiveness and possible search traffic for different queries.
Search Volumes – What are we looking for?
The keyphrases you choose to include within your content will determine what search queries Google decides to see your website as relevant for – if you use the words “content marketing” throughout your web copy, Google will understand that if somebody searches for queries related to “content” or “marketing” and especially “content marketing””, then your site’s pages are likely to make a good match.
The trouble is, if your key word is as generic as this, then you’ll be competing with hundreds, if not thousands, of other websites. Remember that while there may be tens of thousands of people searching for a keyphrase, you’re competing for a page 1 position with every other website which Google sees as relevant for that term. Needless to say, this can be extremely difficult.
Not only is it harder to rank for generic key words, but focusing exclusively on them is potentially overlooking an extremely lucrative market segment. Think back to the last time you shopped online; did you enter in a generic search term and buy the first thing that came up? Or did you gradually refine what you were looking for until “copywriting” became “specialist digital copywriting agency in Bristol”? When selecting your target phrases, keep in mind that as people get closer to making their purchase decision, they tend to make more and more specific searches. Though there are fewer people searching for these longer tail terms, they are closer to conversion and so are well worth your attention.
Detailed multi-word search terms are said to belong to the “long tail” and although the number of searches for short tail terms is much higher, many searches are still conducted within the longer terms. As length of the search query grows the volume of search tails off gradually, thus it’s said to have a “long tail”, but the focus and intent of the search query is increasingly defined.
What we’re going to do now is find out where our keywords fit; in the “head”, “middle” or “tail” of this graph, and for this we’ll need Google’s Keyword Planner Tool.
1) Getting Started with Keyword Planner
Google makes an enormous amount of money from AdWords pay-per-click marketing, and Keyword Planner is part of the suite of tools available to PPC advertisers. Though we’re not going to spend any money on PPC, we can still use the planner tool to get an idea of how many people are looking for different words and phrases, and how competitive each is.
First things first, you’ll need to sign up for a free AdWords account on Google, then direct yourself to the AdWords Keyword Planner page and sign in. Here you’ll be presented with three options:
Before we do anything else, we’re going to generate a list of keywords and phrases which we’re interested in using for our website. When you’re doing this for real, you’ll want to do a lot more in depth research and not just rely on one source of inspiration (to get some great ideas read our guide to keyword research), but this tool can give us some useful suggestions to start with.
As a digital marketing agency we’re going to try and improve the rankings of our content marketing services, so our keywords will all be focused around this topic.
Fill out the form with some information about yourself; for now, we’ll leave the targeting and customisation areas blank.
Press the “Get ideas” buttons and you’ll be shown a list of search terms which match the phrase “content marketing”:
Google suggests several hundred keywords in response to our query; this is only a small portion of the results. Of course we don’t want this many keywords, we’re only after a few high-quality ones, so let’s go back a page and customise the search a little.
2) Refine Your Keywords
On the “Get keyword ideas” page we find the “Targeting” section, which is where we can restrict the suggestions which Google provides to us. Firstly, as we’re a Bristol based business, we want to find out what people near us are searching for, so we’ve told Google to draw suggestions from searches made in Bristol.
Secondly, we’ve also chosen “only show closely related ideas” from the keyword options. This forces Google to refine the results and only return keyphrases that have been searched for exactly; if it tells us there was a search for “content marketing conference” then we know this was the exact search query. Otherwise, Google will include any searches which included a combination of these terms, which can skew the data we receive.
We’ve also excluded searches for “email marketing”, as we don’t do this – this helps to ensure that the traffic we draw in is relevant to the services we provide.
With this new targeted search we receive these results:
Note that the monthly search for each term has gone way down – this is because we’re now looking at searches in just one area, and with a much tighter focus. This gives us some useful data; all of the keyword suggestions returned are now exact matches of searches being made by people in our local area.
So, we’ve got a long list of the search terms which people in Bristol use when looking for web pages related to content marketing. Unfortunately, because we haven’t got an active, spending AdWords account we can’t see any data beyond this very vague set of ranges. Since the total volume of searches made in Bristol is fairly low, every single keyphrase falls into the same category – somewhere between 10 and 100 searches per month.
Of course, it’d be good to get a little more insight than this, as we don’t know whether each keyword has 15, 50 or 99 searches per month. Let’s find out how people search for these terms on a wider scale, and see how this affects their search volumes.
3) Exploring Search Volumes
So far, we’ve discovered a pool of useful keyword suggestions for our website, which we can use to optimise our organic Google ranking. However, it’s tough to work out how many people are searching for each term; since all our results sit between 10-100, how do we know which ones are the most popular?
We can get some insight into their relative popularity by seeing how they rank nationwide. Assuming that national trends are broadly similar to our local ones, we can find out which ones are likely to have the most searches.
We can’t simply turn off the “Bristol” filter on our initial search, because we’ll then see additional suggestions for what people search worldwide, rather than just matches for our local search results. Instead, we’re going to download the whole set of keywords as a .csv file which can be opened in Excel.
Once you’ve downloaded the file and opened the spreadsheet, copy and paste the “Keyword” column (avoiding the “seed keyword”) into a new Keyword Planner Tool search which is targeted to “United Kingdom” rather than just “Bristol”.
We’ll then be presented with results which look like this:
Again, these search results show the same volume data, but as we scroll down we can see that certain terms fall into a lower category:
So from these results, we can gauge the relative popularity of the search terms we know are being used in Bristol. For example, the terms “content marketing advertising” and “b2b marketing content” both remain in the 10-100 search group, while “content marketing strategy” has jumped into the 100-1K bracket.
We can infer from this that even within our local area, “content marketing strategy” is likely to have a higher search volume than any of the keywords which remained in the 10-100 bracket. Since we don’t have access to the actual number of searches made for each term, it’s hard to establish exactly what the search volume for these keywords is likely to be, but some insight is better than none at all.
Clearly this isn’t a very precise tool, but what it does allow us to do is estimate which terms are the most popular within our geographical region of interest, which the local search data alone didn’t provide us.
4) Sorting Keywords
Now that you have a long list of potential keywords, it’s time to dig in and start sorting out which ones will be most relevant to your business. As I mentioned earlier, long-tail keywords are very valuable for attracting traffic from customers who are close to buying, and are a crucial ingredient in any site’s keyphrase mix.
You’ll also need to account for the different variations of phrases which can occur; “content marketing ideas” and “ideas for content marketing”, for example – although Google is smart enough to know that these two are closely related, they aren’t completely interchangeable for SEO purposes. If you’re trying to capture traffic for a specific phrase, then an exact match for that query should be found at least once within your content.
An exact match isn’t the be-all and end-all, though, and it’s perfectly possible to rank #1 for partial matches and variants. Since it’s impractical to create exact matches for every single way of phrasing a query, it’s best to choose a single core phrase to receive prime SEO placement and incorporate a few likely variations throughout your content.
To help establish some keyword variations, go through your spreadsheet and divide up your keywords into groups of related terms. Once we’ve established several categories of keyword we can assign these to the various pages within our website. This ensures that we’re providing Google with multiple variations of the primary keyword for which our page is designed to rank – exactly what Google is looking for.
5) Head or Tail – which is better?
Short, generic keywords which sit in the “head” of search volumes are generally hard to rank for, but it would be peculiar if a webpage which included a long tail phrase like “digital content marketing strategy ” didn’t also include some references to “SEO” or “content writing”, since these phrases are so often seen together. Even if we aren’t specifically going to try and rank for them, it’s good practise to include some short tail keywords, which are relevant to the subject matter, within our content.
The more common a word is, the less heavily it’s weighted by Google’s keyword analysis. Their algorithms compare how often words are used in your document against how often they’re used in every other page they have access to (this is based on a common analytical technique known as “term frequency – inverse document frequency”).
This means that Google can recognise when words appear more often than they would be expected to in the average document, giving a good indication of the article’s subject matter. Common words like “and”, “if”, “the” and “it” are filtered out, and less frequently used terms like “content marketing” assume a greater importance.
For keyword research, this means that you don’t need to use long-tail phrases as often as you do short ones: uncommon long-tail keywords will carry more importance than common short-tail ones, so you can afford to mention them fewer times.
Wrapping Up Keyword Planning
Through this guide, we’ve generated many hundreds of possible keywords which could be incorporated into our site’s content. By using the Google Keyword Planner we’ve been able to refine these keywords into those that have local relevance, and infer their relative popularity by comparing them against wider results.
What this has given us is an insight into the key phrases which are most likely to generate queries, and shown us exactly what people are looking for. However, it’s important not to rely on any single tool when conducting keyword research, and not to take Google’s suggestions without a pinch of salt; these suggestions should be cross-checked against other tools, such as Answer The Public, as well as your own research.
As with many things in life, it’s not what you say but how you say it. Conducting keyword research gives you a great insight into user behaviour which can help you form a winning content marketing strategy, but the key to success is to produce high-quality content that is written for you audience, not just the search engines. Many marketers fall flat at this hurdle, but if you find the right balance you’ll reap the rewards with higher search volumes, increased traffic and more conversions.
If you’d like to discuss your keyword research strategy and get some help defining the best phrases to target, please contact us today.
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