First Steps to a SEO Success – Keyword Research
First, let me start by saying if anyone tells you that keywords are not an important part of SEO anymore you should automatically assume that person does not know the first thing about SEO. Keyword research is literally one of the very first steps to a successful SEO strategy.
Some SEOs will tell you that you will never reach the top spot on Google with generic one-word keywords like “Lawyer”. What if I told you there were wrong? What if I proved it?
Lawyer is one of the highest valued keywords in the Google world. Try running ads using the keyword Lawyer and you will see what I mean. Now try to search Lawyer from Google and see what your results are. While you and I will have different results, you might notice that a local attorney or two shows up near the top of the organic results.
To understand why keywords are still relevant and very important you need to understand how Google Search is intended to work. When someone wants to gather information, they open a browser and type in what it is they’re looking for. A quick check on Google Trends reveals that the term “Lawyer” is a popular search term.
What Google has learned over the years is that often when people are searching for lawyers they’re probably searching for a specific type of lawyer. For example, they may be searching for a personal injury attorney. Where it becomes even more challenging is while I might search for personal injury attorney you might search for car accident lawyer. Google over time has attempted with some degree of success to learn searchers intent, what the searcher REALLY looking for.
Google averages approximately 650 changes to their search algorithm in a given year. This works out to almost 2 changes per day. Most changes are minor but throughout the year there can be multiple major updates. Google usually does this without telling anyone or maybe sharing some of the details. The Google Search Algorithm is clouded in mystery and always has been. Google uses machine learning (RankBrain), artificial intelligence, and real people to help evolve the Google Search Engine. The Google SERP has become very intelligent. Its goal is to deliver what the users (searchers) want on the first query.
With the explosion of mobile search as well as the increase in voice search (which will eventually catch on with the masses), Google is constantly trying to improve their search results page to accommodate its users.
What does all this mean? It means that keyword phrases (also known as long-tail keywords) are still very relevant but you need to be smart about their usage. That’s where the research comes in. You will need to determine how your ideal client will search and find your business. As someone who has performed this research for numerous clients I can tell you that very often the business is surprised to learn how their ideal client is searching for their product or service. They may not be using the type of device or search phrase the business owner thought they would use. They may not even be using Google to get the information they want. Therefore it is very important to start with a client profile to understand who your client is and their purchase process.
Using our lawyer example, most law firms that deal with car accident claims start out thinking that people are looking for Personal Injury Attorney, and they might be right. Without doing the research I would tend to believe that someone who is looking for a personal injury attorney after a car accident might search “What Should I Do After a Car Accident” or “Car Accident Lawyer”. Don’t worry, I am going to do the research to show you how Keyword Research works.
It’s time to roll up our sleeves, throw on some music and get dirty. Let’s do some keyword research. I am going to go through some of the tools I use to perform keyword research. The tools I use are very popular choices for SEOs. This is not by any means an all-inclusive list of SEO tools nor an endorsement of any specific tool.
Google Keyword Planner
For this, you will need to have a Google AdWords account. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to run ads. Go to http://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner to get started. Either log in or create an account to begin your keyword research.
As of this writing, Google’s Keyword Research tool is in the process of a makeover. Some features do not work in the new version, so screenshots are from both the new and legacy version.
Let’s jump in. Start by searching some of the keyword phrases you think your ideal client is using to search for your business. Take note of how many searches are conducted. In the example I am using Car Accident Lawyer does get more searches than Personal Injury Attorney.
Narrowing it down to one state (Connecticut) shows how many searches there are locally and further confirms that more people search for Car Accident Lawyer.
Let’s dig in a little more. For this, we’re going to switch to the legacy version of Google’s Keyword Planner. We’re going to perform two more queries but feel free to play around with it even more.
First, we are going to do a competitive search. Find a competitor that ranks high on the Google Search Results Page (SERP). Enter their website in the landing page section. Make sure you adjust the location to your area (state or a large city near you). Run the query. What you will get back are the keywords from the competitor’s website and the search frequency for them. Some won’t be relevant, but some will. This will help shape your SEO strategy. If you want to overtake their position, then you must know how people are finding them.
Now let’s try category search. For this you will select the category that closest matches your business category. I would also suggest narrowing it down to your location as we did in previous queries. We are talking about Local SEO, right? As you can see from the screenshot we get quite a bit of information. Some of it does not seem relevant. We’ll just skip those for now. Notice that Whiplash gets 1600 searches per month in Connecticut. That’s a lot more searches than Car Accident Lawyer (170) or Personal Injury Attorney (110). This is something we will want to pay attention to. Look at some of the other query results we get.
|Keyword||Avg. Monthly Searches (exact match only)|
|car accident ct||880|
|class action lawsuit||720|
There were over 700 results. This is just the top few. The two that have been redacted are because they are actual law firms but look at the search volume. That could be used in a different kind of campaign, but we’ll discuss that in another blog post.
This information can be used for the content of your web pages but also for blog posts. Even if your law firm doesn’t handle class action lawsuits who’s to say you can’t write a blog post on a recent class-action lawsuit verdict? There are lots of opportunities for just these keywords. Your Local SEO Strategy should evolve from this research. A lot of these keywords can be used for multiple blog posts, a series of blog posts, page content, white papers, video blogs, and eBooks. You should combine these strategies for the biggest impact.
Using the legacy version of the keyword planner I would also try other keyword phrases to see what Google suggests as alternatives.
Just using the Keyword Planner, we have a perfect example of what I mean by the business does not always know how people are looking for their business. We also need to consider the mobile results displayed in the screenshots. Some businesses have a much higher rate of mobile search, while others are much lower. The continued growth of voice search will also impact how people search. Many people have a different voice when typing a search query than they do when using voice search. There are numerous other factors that play into the results when people use Google to search. Google’s Machine Learning (RankBrain) also tries to determine the searchers intent. Therefore, it’s important to not put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to keyword research.
We now have enough information to continue to the next step in our keyword research. Before I continue to that next step let me first tell you that there are lots of tools out there to accomplish what we’re going to accomplish. I am not going to go through all the tools, just the ones I prefer to use. The tools that I use are either free or free to a point.
Google Trends is a great tool for keyword research. It’s a free tool that displays how a search phrase has trended over a period. Go to google.com/trends in your browser to get started.
As you can see from the screenshot Google will tell you what is trending on its search engine in real time. It’s the middle of March as I am writing this blog post which means it’s March Madness. For those that don’t know, March Madness is the NCAA College Basketball Tournament, and the name is very appropriate. Of course, President Trump and other political news are hot topics right now. You can see the other subjects that are also trending.
I mention this because depending on what category your business is in, one of these trending topics might be a good blog topic. Keep in mind however that what is trending today may not be trending tomorrow. March Madness will be over in 2 weeks. If your blog calendar can’t accommodate the rapidly changing list of trending topics, then it’s probably not in your best interest to utilize this SEO tactic. Personally, if I know enough about a topic and I am in the right (write) frame of mind to write I can put together a decent blog post quickly.
What does the data in Google Trends mean? Google Trends measures interest in a topic for a given period. Google can measure real-time and non-real-time data to display how hot a topic is or was. It does not measure the number of times something is searched but rather how hot a topic is. If something that was getting 100 searches a day suddenly gets 100,000 searches, then that topic is trending. If something was getting 100 searches a day and continues to get 100 searches per day, then it will not be trending. The numbers I use in this example are not representative of what makes a trending topic. I just use them to make an example.
We’re going to continue using the Personal Injury Lawyer as an example, or should I say Whiplash Attorney?
First, we compared Car Accident, Personal Injury, and Whiplash without using any other filters. This shows that Car Accident always seems to trend much higher than Personal Injury or Whiplash. Scrolling down this page shows that a lot of people talked about a car accident involving Venus Williams within the last year, and most topics weren’t exactly relevant to a personal injury attorney. Does that mean this information is useless? Not necessarily. What if you were to write a blog post about the car accident Venus Williams was in. It’s still listed as a trending topic but a new post about it could send traffic your way since it might be the most up to date (relevant) blog on the topic.
You will also see that there are maps of where the search terms are trending around the world and related trends next to the maps. There are some trends for specific personal injury attorneys (this may be a cause for concern and should be investigated if your business name is trending. Is it negative or positive items causing your brand to trend? This is where Online Reputation Management ORM comes in). Notice that Child Personal Injury Claims is one of the trending topics related to personal injury. Is this a possible blog post? Can your content team come up with something regarding Personal Injury Law for Children?
Let’s make this query a little more relevant to what our business is about. We’re going to filter results to show results in Connecticut for the last month related to Law & Government. As you can see Car Accidents and Personal Injury have peaks and valleys throughout the 30-day period. This might correlate with major accidents or extreme weather during this time. You will also note the Whiplash has remained flat during the last 30 days. Given the information we have from the Google Keyword Planner, this would seem to indicate that while Whiplash receives many searches monthly it does not become a trending topic at any time.
Take some time and play around on Google Trends using search terms related to your business to see what you can come up with. Make sure you use the filters to get the most accurate information for your business.
Now that you have two pieces of information regarding keyword research we’re going to look at a few other tools that will help in your keyword research and overall SEO strategy development. Remember, SEO is not a set it and forget it process. It’s an ongoing process that requires constant analysis and research. What is relevant today might be old news tomorrow. The process that works right now could be considered black hat next month although the methods I am listing have always been considered ethical for SEO.
As an example, at one time it was perfectly acceptable to stuff keywords that were irrelevant and did not contribute to the overall quality of the content on a webpage. We have all seen the service website that lists the service and every town in the area at the bottom of the webpage.
If you’re looking at RandomComputerRepair.com at the bottom of the home page you might see something like –Anytown Computer Repair | Anycity Computer Repair | Yourtown Computer Repair | Histown Computer Repair | Hertown Computer Repair and on and on and on. This does not contribute to the quality of content on the website, but it was acceptable at one time. Web Designers and SEOs used to stuff related and unrelated keywords into the Meta Keywords tag in the website code. This helped websites reach the first page of Google for keywords that might have nothing to do with the website.
Google eventually started cracking down on these techniques. Today Google frowns upon keyword stuffing into the text of a webpage. If the content of the webpage is not relevant and legible to the humans who read it then Google will not rank it as well as a competitor who does create relevant content that people find value in. Google determines the quality of content by how often it is shared, how long readers spend reading it, the length of the content (how many words) and relevancy to the website it is part of. There are probably other items Google looks at to determine quality, but these are the items that are known.
Meta Keyword tags are now deprecated. It’s pointless to use it if you still are. Google does not look at this, so it will not help your website ranking in any way.
SpyFu and SEMRush for Keyword Research
SpyFu and SEMRush are very powerful tools and at least one of them should be a part of any SEOs repertoire. Both tools are similar in nature and have a lot of features that SEOs and anyone running PPC campaigns will appreciate having.
For this blog post, we’re going to focus on the keyword research component of SpyFu and SEMRush. The keyword research for both platforms is similar. The primary difference is the aesthetics of the platforms. I am going to focus on SpyFu for this post.
Both applications have a landing page on their home page. Once you arrive you are prompted to enter a domain name for research purposes. After you enter a domain name you will receive a bunch of information as it relates to the domain name you entered.
There is a lot of information available to help you with your SEO strategy. You can tell what the focus of the business and website are. You can determine how much the business is focused on by reviewing the organic results versus paid results. You can see who their closest competitors (for SEO & AdWords purposes) are.
If you scroll further down, you can view the top 5 keywords for organic and paid results. You can determine what’s important to the business based on the paid results. The organic results help you understand how you can move your website up in the organic search results. SpyFu places ranking and number of clicks per month for organic and a dollar value on paid keywords. These statistics are very helpful in determining what keywords are best to focus on.
You can also use the related keywords tab to find related keywords based on a keyword you have already researched. For example, if you research car accident lawyer further using the related keywords tab you are returned with 5 (because we’re using a free account) keyword phrases including these 3:
- Car Accident Lawyers
- Car Accident Attorneys
- Car Collision Lawyer
The other two are related to specific geographies. The results include a lot of valuable information regarding the keyword phrases including keyword value, SEO difficulty and number of searches. This can help you work in various adaptations of the keyword phrase in your content. Doing so makes it more likely you will be found when Google uses searcher’s intent, and when the searcher uses variations of the keyword phrase(s). Just because a keyword phrase is one of the higher searched keyword phrases does not mean that searchers won’t use a different variation of it, such as the keyword phrases above.
You should use this tool with all keyword phrases to find relevant alternatives that have some value to them. This will help you develop content that is keyword rich and does not appear to be spammy. This means your website now has quality content with valuable, relevant keywords and a high word count. Your site visitors will spend more time reading the content and find greater value in it which means they are more likely to share it and/or comment on it. All these signals tell Google that your content is authoritative and should be ranked higher. More visitors spending more time reading, commenting and sharing your content means it moves up the Google SERP.
One final note on SpyFu and SEMRush. I talk about using the free version because most businesses will not be ready to commit to a subscription. There are obviously more features and options with a paid account. Tools like SpyFu and SEMRush are typically focused on SEO professionals as clients. A paid subscription to either might be overkill for a business not in the marketing world but don’t let me discourage you.
If you’re in business, you are probably at least aware of Google Analytics. Google Analytics is Google’s website analysis suite. Google Analytics is free and is a very powerful tool for businesses to measure, analyze and track results of efforts. Google Analytics provides a ton of information regarding website visitors such as geolocation, time of day, traffic source, real-time analytics, the technology used to arrive at your website and conversion tracking. You can compare different time frames to see what efforts are paying dividends and which efforts have opportunities or should be scrapped.
Using UTM codes you can further analyze your business’ efforts regarding sharing content. This allows you to further analyze traffic sources to determine best efforts.
If your website is a new website, then Google Analytics is not going to help you with keyword research initially. If your website has some tracking history with Google Analytics, then you can use Google Analytics to further shape your keyword research efforts. Remember, I said earlier that SEO is an ongoing effort, not a one and done effort. Constant analysis and modifying of your SEO strategy is a necessary part of a successful SEO plan.
In 2011 Google stopped displaying keywords (for the most part) in Google Analytics. This was done to protect user’s privacy. However, you can at least get a good idea of your searchers intent when arriving at your website. There are several ways to get an idea of how people are searching for your website. It’s important to point out that you should be looking at Google / Organic. When looking at the keyword data you will see most of the traffic says, “Not Set”. There will be a few keyword results but not enough to do an in-depth analysis.
How Do You Determine Keywords Used for Your Site?
Really the best way to do this is with the Google Search Console. The Google Search Console (formerly named Google Webmaster Tools) can now be connected to Google Analytics. If you do this, you can see the keyword queries in your Google Analytics account. If not, you will have to go to the Google Search Console to see the keyword queries. This does have to be set up ahead of time to work inside of Google Analytics and your website. The nice thing about the Google Search Console is you are also able to see your click-through rate for keywords. With this information, you can deduce not only what keywords are bringing people to your website but also what keywords are performing well.
Wordtracker is a little bit more streamlined and serves primarily one purpose, to display relevant keyword phrases based on a long tail keyword you enter. This information helps solidify the research you have already performed using the tools listed above. Wordtracker is free for 5 queries. If you want to expand beyond 5 queries or save keyword lists you will need to purchase a plan.
Moz Keyword Explorer
Believe it or not, there are rock stars in the SEO world too! One of those rock stars is Rand Fishkin. Rand Fishkin created Moz to help other SEOs and business owners with their SEO efforts. Moz is a very powerful tool for SEO. Rand Fishkin is considered one of the top SEO experts in the world. He has recently stepped down from Moz to launch another startup. Moz continues and still provides an amazing suite of tools.
Moz offers a keyword research tool for free (up to 10 queries per month). You do have to create an account to be able to use Keyword Explorer. The results returned include search volume, keyword suggestions, and pages that rank high with the keyword. It also displays SEO difficulty and Click-Through Rate.
Again, this information helps supplement the research you have already completed with the tools mentioned earlier. The results returned will assist you in developing content for your blog post or web page that will get people engaged. Getting people engaged means Google will view your post or page as the authority on the subject. Over time your page will move up in ranking, increasing traffic and driving results.
I have said it before and I will say it again. SEO is an ongoing process. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. Whether you’re just starting out or your site has been online for 10 years you will need to analyze, assess and plan your SEO continually. In fact, if your site is 10 years old you probably have an even bigger challenge than that of a new website. As technology evolves so should your website. As an example, if your site is 10 years old, then it’s probably not mobile friendly. If it’s not mobile friendly, then Google may not display your site at all for mobile searches. You may be missing out on 50% or more of the search traffic for your website.
Next, we will talk about choosing the right domain based on the research in this blog post.