Keyword research and targeting have been around as long as SEO. We all do it at some level.
While context and quality of content are what really matter, we have to at some level determine what keywords or topics we want to be well-positioned for.
But no matter how good the keyword research process is, there’s always a risk of choosing to target keywords and topics that require a lot of effort and don’t produce the results we want.
Ultimately, we need to be careful to choose the right keywords to optimize for.
We can do so by taking an approach that includes specific principals to keep us on track for the right targeting for our organizations.
1. Identify Goals
It might seem like it goes without saying, but we have to start with goals for any organic or paid search effort.
Knowing ultimately what we want to accomplish at a business or organizational level and working backward to determine how search influences it is our starting point.
If we want to grow our leads, sales, engagement, or other metrics, by a certain amount, we can determine how many search conversions and traffic we need.
To get the traffic, we have to be found for specific keywords and topics.
2. Ask Stakeholders
With goals in place, we’re ready to start finding the right keywords.
To generate a seed list, we can gather insights and ideas from stakeholders like salespeople, other parts of the marketing team, the C-suite, customers, and prospects.
Get input from stakeholders of what they would search for to find your business, your products, your services, or your content.
At this point, take anything they give you. We’re not yet at the step of filtering or judging the validity or accuracy of what they’re telling you.
Capture and build out a list of what you’re hearing and learning.
3. Analyze Competitors
We never want to assume that our competitors are doing it right or well.
However, we have to take a look at what they are targeting and doing.
- Are your traditional competitors outranking you?
- Do they offer the same products, services, or content?
Then, chances are there is something to learn from them.
- Their title and meta description tags.
- The topics of the pages on their site.
- What they are talking about and are positioned for prominently in search results, social media, PR, and beyond.
Create a list of what topics, terms, and phrases you’re finding competitors focusing on that align in any way with your organization and content.
4. Perform Keyword Research
There are a lot of great resources that talk about the tools and processes for doing keyword research for both organic and paid search.
I’m not going to detail that here, but do want to note that you need to take care in ensuring you’re looking at match types and using the right tools for paid versus organic search.
Know the mistakes to avoid and don’t use Google Keyword Planner for SEO.
As you research, you’ll want to use the seed keywords and terms you identified through stakeholder and competitor review.
Work to further expand these lists by finding related keywords.
5. Identify Topics
Chances are, you’ve got a ton of individual words and phrases after you performed your keyword research.
The good news is that topics matter more than keywords.
You won’t be building out pages for every single keyword and you don’t need to. If you haven’t, you need to translate from keywords to topics.
To help get started on that, you can use the content on your site (unless you’re launching a new organization from scratch).
At some point, decisions were made on how to group content on the website into product, service, or topical structures.
You can use those topics as a starting point if you feel confident in them.
Regardless, if you looked through your full keyword research data, specific themes or topics have probably emerged naturally.
From your keyword list, ensure that you’ve found meaningful groups of topics.
These will likely be your ad groups for paid search or your content clusters or sections on the site for SEO focus.
6. Ensure Topical Relevance & Alignment
With keyword research distilled down to specific topics and themes, you can then validate the keywords to make sure they are the right terms.
While it might seem like a great idea to want to rank for “cars” as a local car dealership – that might not be the best use of paid search budget or SEO investment.
Yes, technically, we are all about cars at the car dealership. But, we’re about a whole bunch of layers deeper and more specific in what we are really about.
If the person searching is looking for a brand I don’t carry new inventory for, I have wasted that effort or budget for that click.
Find the balance of your topics and keywords to ensure it is as closely tied as possible to your products, services, or content offerings.
7. Review the SERPs
It might feel like we’ve used all of the filters and ways to validate our keywords we can.
However, with the ever-changing layout of the search engine results pages, we have to dedicate some time to manually looking at them.
Take some of your top keywords and topics and literally search for them on the search engines.
- What comes up?
- Do you see the competitors you expect?
- Where do the organic and paid listings appear on the page?
- Is there a lot of noise?
If you’re finding that the search results aren’t where you want to be or where your target audience is searching, then you might want to rethink the importance of those keywords or that topic in your strategy.
This is especially true for organic results. They can be pushed so far below the fold on desktop and phone browsers that even with the right keyword ranked number one, you still might not get the traffic to drive the conversions and end goals that you need.
8. Monitor Performance
It’s only when your paid search and SEO plans are put into action that you’ll get the real data you need – and find out if you’ve picked the “right” keywords.
Certain keywords may perform better than others. There can be a large number of reasons why.
However, when you have data you can adjust the priority you put on specific topics and keywords. Or, you can identify other areas to optimize in your marketing or website.
Things to watch for:
- Keywords that you can’t rank for organically.
- Keywords that produce a lot of impressions but few clicks.
- Keywords that produce a lot of traffic, but not a lot of conversions.
All of these are indicators to dig deeper and go back through the principles outlined.
I’d start by looking at the SERPs and then dig into analytics to see if there’s a conversion rate optimization need, a UX issue, or something deeper.
The nature of search marketing and ever-changing landscape makes the word “right” feel subjective.
Technically, it is when choosing keywords for paid and organic search.
However, you have to start somewhere.
Make sure you have a way to ensure that the work that is being put into keyword research and optimization matters.
By knowing end goals, creating topics, and validating the keywords we’re choosing, we can put forth our best effort initially.
From there, the ongoing monitoring and validation doesn’t end.
We have to cycle through the principals to ensure that we did pick the right terms and that we continue to refine our campaigns and efforts with a focus on quality and performance.