Starting with the implementation of semantic search, Google's been changing its search algorithms to shift focus from keyword matching to topic recognition and satisfying search intent to the fullest extent possible.
It, however, doesn't mean that we should forget about keywords when building an SEO strategy. Keyword research is as relevant as ever, and it makes the foundation for all further SEO activities, including content planning, optimization, and structuring, website's on-page, etc.
But as the concept of search has changed, the approach to keyword research should also change. Let's drill into making the most of keyword research in 2020.
What to go by to assess keywords' effectiveness?
In terms of SEO, an effective keyword is the one that you can rank for, and that can drive a sufficient amount of organic traffic to your website.
So before you set to keyword research, you need to define criteria that would help you evaluate the effectiveness of keywords. Thus, you'll ensure that your target keywords bring you relevant traffic and that you'll be able to convert this traffic later on.
Here are some criteria that should help you suggest whether keywords fit the bill.
- Keyword's relevance
If a keyword has a relation to what you offer, then it's relevant. Bear in mind that not only keywords that describe your product or service directly fit into this category. You also need those that characterize different problems and needs that your service can help to solve and satisfy.
- Keyword's potential organic traffic
If you strive to drive traffic to your website, you need to ensure that a keyword can do it. However, what to consider a sufficient amount of traffic highly depends on the industry. For example, if you work in a broad niche, like touristic services, keywords may have 10K — 100K searches a month, while in some field-specific niche like parachuting gear, search volumes might be much lower.
To understand whether potential traffic is enough, you need to examine your competitive environment. Knowing the volumes of traffic that your topic can produce, you'll be more or less sure about which keywords to choose or leave behind.
- Keyword's competition
Knowing keyword's competition is important to understand whether you have any chances to rank for a keyword. Usually, various SEO tools provide you with two metrics that you need to consider — keyword competition and keyword difficulty.
Keyword difficulty is much more informative, as it takes into account not only the number of competitors for the keyword but also their strength (including backlink profiles, etc.). It's possible to predict the difficulty of ranking for a keyword without using tools. Google this keyword and look at websites that occupy the top-3 positions. If you see there any greats like, for example, Wikipedia or Amazon, there's probably a low chance of ranking.
- Search intent behind a keyword
People search for different things and different purposes, and search intent indicates the purpose of the search. To rank today, you absolutely need to satisfy users' search intent (remember, Google sets much on it ranking search results). So looking at a keyword, you need to ask yourself what is the search intent behind it, and will you be able to satisfy it.
The types of search intent include informational (what is..., how to..., etc.); navigational (usually there are branded terms); commercial investigation (like 'best coffee machines' or 'black leather men's backpacks'); and transactional (buy smth, subscribe, download, etc.). The best way to understand the intent behind keywords is to examine the SERPs to see what kind of content Google serves as top search results for them.
With all this at hand, let's get to the keyword research workflow.
Keyword research workflow
There are different keyword research tactics. In my opinion, the best way to find relevant keywords that can potentially bring you traffic is to go and explore the competitive environment for your topic. Look at the keywords that drive traffic to the top-ranking websites in your niche. It's a great source of keyword ideas (they already work!).
The process can be divided into several steps, such as:
- Defining your competitors;
- Looking for the keywords that your competitors rank for;
- Selecting target keywords;
- Identifying search intent;
- Mapping keywords to content/pages.
Define your competitors.
Well, you know your niche and already have in mind a couple of keywords describing different services or products that you provide. Thus, you have a list of your topics. So you can use them to start your hunt for keywords, discovering your competitors for each topic.
You can bring these keywords to Google and see what websites take the top positions. Those would be your competitors. But as using SEO tools makes the whole keyword research process much faster and easier, let's go this way.
If your website is totally new
- Create or open your project in Rank Tracker and go to Competitor Research > Topic Competitors. Enter your topic seed keyword in the search bar, set the search engine, narrow your search to the top-10, and choose Domain and subdomains as search results.
As you can see, there are several giants, like big resellers, on the list, which I would not dare to compete with yet. However, there are websites of smaller providers, just like yours. So let's consider them your competitors.
The Organic Traffic and Competitor total KWs columns show you the number of keywords that each competitor ranks for and the amount of organic traffic that these keywords bring.
- Click a small arrow near the competitor's domain name to see the website or a small person button to add a website to your competitor's list.
If you have an older website
You can do another way if your website already ranks for a bunch of keywords, and you want to find more to increase the amount of traffic that you get from search.
- Go to Competitor Research > Domain Competitors. Enter your domain in the search bar and start searching.
You'll get a list of your SEO competitors with the total numbers of keywords that they rank for, intersecting keywords (that both you and a competitor's website rank for), and the number of competitors' unique keywords (those they rank for and you don't). Here's where your keyword ideas hide.
- Click a small person button to add a website to your competitor's list.
Looking for the keywords that your competitors rank for
Now, let's have a closer look at the competitor's keywords. It will give you plenty of ideas about how people find websites that work in the same niche as you do and providing the same services. You'll also find out which keywords bring them most of the traffic.
- Go to Keyword Research > Ranking keywords, enter your competitor's domain in the search bar, set the search engine, and choose Domain and subdomains as the type of results.
Sort the results by the Organic Traffic column to see what keywords bring the most traffic to your competitor's website.
Excluding the branded terms, you'll have plenty of relevant keywords that can potentially bring you a sufficient amount of traffic.
There's another option that you can use as well:
- Go to the Keyword Research module and choose the Keyword Gap option. Enter your domain and your competitors (one of them or several) and select the Competitor keywords (any competitor but not your site) as the comparison mode.
You'll have a neat list of your industry-related keywords that your competitors rank for, but you don't, along with their positions on SERPs, keyword difficulty scores, the number of searches, competition level, etc.
Selecting target keywords
Now, you see a plethora of keyword ideas. So you need to pick up those for which you are likely to outrank your competitors. Here, keyword difficulty comes to play, helping you to make the right decision.
In the Ranking Keywords and Keyword Gap sections, pay attention to the Keyword Difficulty column. The values there show how likely you can outperform your competitors. Everything is quite logical here — the bigger the value is, the more effort you'll need to put into ranking for the keyword.
But that's not it. To make sure that you can rank for a keyword, you need to see who else are the top players in the SERP for it.
In the Ranking Keywords section, point the cursor to your competitor's rank in the Rank column, and click the hamburger icon that appears there.
The tool will show you the search results for the keyword, so you'll be able to see who occupies the top positions and what kind of content ranks for it (so you'll already get an idea of the search intent behind the keyword)
In the Keyword Gap section, the competitor's rank for the keyword is shown in the column bearing the competitor's name.
Having decided on which keywords you want to target, add them to your keyword list.
Highlight the keywords that you want to target, right-click the selection, and choose Move Selected Keyword(s) to Rank Tracking.
Well, your initial keyword list is ready. But you still need to decide on how to make the most of it.
Identifying search intent
Just to recall, you do keyword research to build (or optimize) your website's content around the found keywords, later on. To ensure that your pages will rank for the target keywords and bring you traffic that you'll be able to convert, you need to identify what content people usually expect to find when entering this or that keyword in the search bar. In other words, you need to identify the search intent behind your keywords.
To do this, you need to take your selected keywords and check the SERPs for them.
You definitely can Google your keywords, one-by-one, and look at the search results to see whether the keyword covers users' need for information or they utilize a certain search term to compare products or buy them.
I have already mentioned the one way you can identify search intent. There's another one.
Take one of your target keywords (you may find all of them safely stored in Target Keywords > Keyword Map) and go to Competitor Research > Topic Competitors. This time you need to choose Exact URL as search results type.
You'll get a list of pages that rank for this keyword.
- Click a small arrow sign that appears near the URL and examine the page that will open a browser. Check all the pages to identify the type of content the majority of them contain. Thus you'll be able to get the idea about what search intent Google recognizes behind the keyword.
- At the same time, you can already get a clue on which actions to take to outrank the competitors.
Examine the Sites Linking to Page column to see the number of backlinks to competitors' pages. Thus, you can presume whether writing better content than that of your competitor would be enough. Or you'll need to promote the content to acquire some good backlinks.
In Rank Tracker, you can add tags to your target keywords. And I recommend you to add tags pointing at the search intent behind the keyword. Late on, it will help you in mapping keywords to pages, as you'll already know what type of content to build around what keywords.
Go to Target Keywords > Keyword Map, right-click the keyword, and choose Add tags to selected record(s) in the menu that appears.
Mapping keywords to content/pages
Now, you need to decide on how to use the keywords that you've gathered: decide on what pages to create around them or what pages to optimize with them. Mapping keywords to pages can help you track their performance, later on, detect if other pages rank for the wrong keywords, and keep control over your SEO.
The Keyword Map option in Rank Tracker and WebSite Auditor is meant to help you do this. There, you can easily split your keywords into thematic keyword groups and assign groups of keywords to your website pages.
Let's create keyword groups in Rank Tracker.
- Go to Keyword Research > Keyword Map, and right-click the folder named All keywords. Then select Regroup in the menu and set the necessary level of the semantic similarity: Low, Medium, or High.
Now, let's move to WebSite Auditor to map your keywords to certain pages. (You can do it in Rank Tracker as well but the process would be more convenient in WebSite Auditor)
- Create or open your project and go to Content Analysis > Keyword Map and click Import from Rank Tracker to import your keyword groups.
In case you need to move a keyword from one group to another (for example, if you realize that the word fits better there), you can easily do it.
- Click a button next to the keyword that you want to move and select a group from the list that appears. You can also create a new group for the keyword, clicking Create a new keyword group below the list.
When you click on a keyword (or a group of keywords) on the left, WebSite Auditor suggests top-5 relevant pages for it in the middle column.
Point the cursor to the page to which you want to assign your keywords and click the Map button.
As keyword research is over, you can set to creating your website content.
You need to ensure it targets the right audience and satisfies users' search intent. Recently, we've made a comprehensive guide on how to create an effective content plan that your business can benefit from. There you'll find how to set goals for your content, your audiences, and building content around the right keywords.
Keyword research remains one of the most important stages of an SEO strategy. In fact, it helps to build it and determines many further SEO activities. Be it on-page optimization, writing and promoting content for link-building, and many more.
What you need to keep in mind is that you can't separate keyword research from the SEO goals you want to reach and approach this step accordingly.