Gavin Hirst - Tuesday 12th February 2013


Keyword research – critical to any SEO strategy

In the last blog post, we looked at the importance of good content when planning any SEO strategy. Critical to any search engine optimisation strategy and the first thing you should do is carry out keyword research. It is impossible to build a SEO strategy without knowing what keywords you are going to target. The competition for those keywords you have identified will influence the approach you take in your strategy and it is important to get this stage right.

Keyword research and great content

As discussed in the last post on content marketing, great content relies on good copywriting in order for people to find the things you are writing about. In order to help people find that great content, good copywriting starts with keyword research. Ranking for the right keywords can make or break your website so the importance of carrying out research cannot be understated.

Keyword research ensures that you not only get more people to your site, but you also get the right people to your site; those people who want to engage with you and ultimately the consumers you want to convert.

Understanding the importance of keywords

It is important to understand the value of ranking well for keywords that relate directly to your business. The first thing to do is ask yourself whether the keyword is relevant to the content on your website. This is critical in attracting the right kind of traffic to your site as people need to be able to find what they are looking for on your site when they get there. You must also ask yourself whether there is a financial or organisational benefit for ranking for that keyword. If the answer is yes, then you have a keyword that your organisation needs to rank well in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Carrying out keyword research

Although it would be nice to rank for some of the critical words associated with your business, you must also be realistic about your own position on the market, your company history, your competitors and your brand perception. These are all factors which could affect how well you rank for specific keywords. If you are a Dentist, ideally it would be great if you ranked number one for the word ‘Dentists’. The chances are, this is not going to be you (unless you are Lumino, in which case, congrats on being the top ranking NZ company for the word ‘dentists’ on Google NZ – but we knew that, because Digital Hothouse got you there!). So, you need to be tactical about the words you are likely to rank well for. A great starting point for your research is to come up with a list of keywords and see who is already ranking for these words (they will more than likely be your competitors). If you also see a high number of ads popping up, then it is likely that competition will be high for those words making is more difficult to break into the top of the rankings. In our SEO projects, Digital Hothouse uses tools to generate this information which enables us to see exactly what competition each keyword has and therefore the difficulty to rank for those keywords.

Google’s AdWords keyword tool

The most common way for people to start with keyword research is to use Google’s AdWords keyword tool. This is a free resource to anyone and can be extremely useful in providing you with information on the keywords you wish to rank well for. It allows you to see the number of monthly searches both globally and locally for a particular word or phrase and also shows you the competition for that particular word or phrase. It is important to differentiate between broad, phrase and exact match, plus the locations that you are targeting and Digital Hothouse can definitely help you with this.

The tool also suggests related keywords and allows you to see how much a paid campaign for certain terms may cost. This is a great resource although it should be noted that this is only a guideline and is for a very large market i.e. Google. Optimising for a single search engine is not wise. Although the majority of searches are carried out through Google (86.93% of searches in NZ are carried out through Google.co.nz, Source: Experian Hitwise), concentrating solely on Google can potentially negatively affect your ranking in other search engine results pages. You need to ensure that you carry out your research across the board and balance your keywords if you wish to rank well in all search engines.

This is why research of your market and competitors is so important before you begin with any SEO work. Your preliminary research should be your focus as without this, many SEO strategies are doomed to failure and a lot of your work can be in vein.

Searching for the long tail

Ranking well for the single word (e.g. dentists) that is the most relevant to your industry is obviously the ideal scenario, however as we have discussed already, this is also extremely tricky. That is when long tail searches become increasingly valuable to your organisation. ‘Long tail’ refers to the number of words included in a particular search term and are often indicative of a searchers stage in the buying cycle.

If a searcher is at the ‘browsing’ stage of the cycle, they are likely to search for single words such as ‘watches’. However, as a searcher becomes more motivated to purchase and has carried out their initial research, they are more likely to refine that search and add more terms to their search e.g blue ice men’s chronograph watch. This type of searching is referred to as the long tail and makes up 70% of all searches performed on the web.

Sometimes this sort of searching behaviour is referred to as explorers, hunters and trackers where explorers are the people who are not too sure what they want, hunters may have an idea about the type of product or brand they are interested and trackers know the exact product/service they desire and are motivated to purchase. The chart below displays some examples of the difference between the short and the long tail and how this fits in with the search behaviour of consumers:

Image showing examples of short tail and long tail searches for SEO

*Stats from Google’s AdWords Keyword tool: range reflects broad to exact match searches

What it is important to understand is that the long tail produces more conversions. Searchers are motivated at this stage to purchase so ranking well for these long tail search terms can often lead to a sale.

This search value pyramid demonstrates the use of keywords and where it is important to use short tail and when it is important to use long tail keywords and phrases.

Image of a value pyramid showing how and where keywords should be used for SEO

To help understand the long tail and the demand curve, check out this graph showing the demand curve from SEOMoz:

 

Image of the search demand curve from MOZ showing the SEO value of short and long tail keywords

 

There’s more to keyword research than this, but hopefully this shows you the importance of keyword research and getting your strategy right before you go changing all the content on your website. To find out more and to get our expert advice, get in touch with Digital Hothouse today!

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