Keyword research is the foundation of any effective search marketing program. No matter your program’s goal, keyword research is the first step in creating an organized and efficient plan of attack. And without a well-thought-out, comprehensive approach to this research process, your team is far more likely to lose revenue to inefficient pay-per-click (PPC) spend or wasted organic search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.
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Why Keyword Research is Important
When it comes to aligning resources and maximizing return on marketing spend, keyword research is crucial. An effective keyword research process allows marketing teams to focus on terms that matter to the business without wasting valuable time and resources on irrelevant searches. Whether you are concerned with maximizing your return on ad spend or increasing your non-branded page one rankings, it starts with identifying the search terms your audience is using and when they’re using them. From there, you’ll be equipped to make your business part of that conversation.
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is the process of identifying the terms and phrases your audience is entering into a search engine to find your business. Keywords can be categorized in many different ways, but some of the most valuable attributes to pay attention to are:
- Search Volume: How many people are searching for a query in a given month?
- Intent: At what stage of the buyer’s journey or research process are people searching for this term?
- Competitiveness: How difficult is it to achieve a page one ranking for this term organically, or how expensive would it be to bid for this term in PPC?
When creating a holistic, well-rounded search marketing program, it’s crucial to assemble a mix of both high-volume, broad keywords and more specific long-tail keywords across varying stages of intent and competitiveness. But with the rapidly evolving search marketing landscape, the keyword research process looks a lot different than it used to.
The Keyword Research Process
There are many different ways to assemble a list of target keywords, but an excellent general process is as follows:
- Create a seed list with branded and generic terms. These could be search terms that include your company’s name or product and broad categories and themes that align with your offering. A good starting point is looking at your website’s main navigation and ensuring that you’re covering all major categories.
- Expand the initial seed list with more specific long-tail keywords. There are many different methods available for sourcing keyword ideas. Google’s Keyword Planner is still handy, as are the keyword components of tools like Moz, Ahrefs, and SEMrush. Simply entering a broad term into Google and making a note of the related search suggestions is also a great way to develop ideas.
- Research your competitors to see what terms they are targeting. Scan their websites for any topics or themes that are not already on your master list. The tools mentioned above also have functional competitive research components to help fill in any gaps.
- Categorize your keywords into groups of related terms. You can group your list by product or solution or create buckets of more broadly associated themes. But the point is to break your list into easily digestible categories that make sense for your business.
It’s important to note that it’s less critical to keeping track of every single long-tail keyword variation and more essential to make sure you’re covering the major relevant topics and themes for a modern SEO or PPC program for your business. Search engines are becoming more and more sophisticated when it comes to determining the relationships between various keywords and the true intent behind each search, so try not to become too bogged down in the minutiae of the research process.
Long-Tail vs. Generic Keywords
For most search campaigns, it’s essential to focus on a mix of generic, high volume keywords and more detailed, long-tail keywords. For many people newer to search marketing, it’s tempting to focus exclusively on high-volume, broad keywords. More search volume means more traffic.
While this is true to a certain degree, it’s important to keep your program’s goals in mind during every step of this process. If generating traffic or awareness is the primary driver of a campaign, then targeting generic keywords with paid search or SEO tactics is an effective strategy. But if driving leads and revenue is your main goal, it’s important to include the long-tail keywords your unique customers include in searches. Those terms might not receive much monthly search volume, but they’re more likely to reach your buyers at critical stages during their journey. This distinction is crucial for B2B organizations with complex technology and involved sales processes.
The Stages of Intent
Search intent is one of the most important factors to consider when creating a target keyword list. Whether it’s for a PPC campaign or an organic content buildout, if you’re not considering search intent, you’re likely wasting marketing dollars.
Search intent can be broken down into three main categories:
- Educational: A search to begin research on a broad topic. Example: Blenders
- Commercial: A keyword search to perform research and compare different products. Example: Best quiet blenders
- Transactional: A query the user performs with the intent to take action or make a purchase. Example: Buy Cuisinart compact blender
Again, you ideally want to include a mix of educational, commercial, and transactional target keywords for a well-rounded search campaign. Educational terms are likely to bring a large amount of traffic but fewer direct conversions. Commercial and transactional terms are likely to receive less search volume but equate to users further along in the buyer’s journey that is more likely to perform your desired action. As search results become more and more personalized, the same keyword might have entirely different results depending on what Google perceives as the user’s true intent. It’s essential to keep this evolution in mind when thinking about content for an organic or paid search program.
Competitiveness is the third critical attribute to watch when determining if a keyword is appropriate for your target list.
For an SEO program, gauging search competition means determining how much effort will be required to achieve a page one ranking for a given keyword. Start by looking at the current Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for a query, and compare the websites ranking on page one to your own. The Moz toolbar extension is a helpful tool for this process. Moz will give you a rough “Domain Authority” score from 1 to 100 for each website, which you can then compare to the score given to your site. For example, if your site is a 40 and the sites ranking on page one score in the 70s, it will take a significant amount of bandwidth to achieve a page one ranking for that term.
For a PPC program, more competitive terms will require a higher average bid to achieve visibility. Google’s Keyword Planner will provide you with both a rough competitiveness grade of “low,” “medium,” or “high,” and will also provide you with an average cost-per-click (CPC) for each term. If your PPC strategy includes many target keywords with high CPCs, you will need to plan your budget accordingly.
Keyword Research Challenges
For many organizations performing keyword research, the biggest challenge is getting everyone to agree on a target search term list.
Securing buy-in for the keyword research process can be difficult, especially for large B2B organizations with many different products or services. The product team might have a different view of important keywords than the demand generation or digital marketing team.
At Convertiv, we include a voting process during the keyword research phase whenever possible. We’ll start by assembling a comprehensive list of several hundred (or more) search terms and asking 5-10 team members across the organization to assign a relevancy score to each keyword independently. By analyzing the average relevancy score for each keyword, we have a good idea of which terms are core to the business, which terms are tangentially related, and which terms are not relevant. While it takes a bit of effort, we’ve found through years of experience that thoroughly completing this process maximizes the chances of a successful long-term search marketing program.