Keyword research: the ultimate guide

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Before writing content, you’ll have to decide what terms you want to be found for. You’ll have to get inside people’s heads and find out what words they use while searching. Eventually, you can use exactly these terms in your content and make sure you start ranking for them. Keyword research is the first step in SEO copywriting and an essential part of any SEO strategy. In this ultimate guide, I’ll guide you through the many steps in keyword research.

What is keyword research?

Before we start explaining the process of keyword research, we’ll explain the most important concepts of keyword research.

Keyword research can be defined as the activity you undertake in order to come up with an extensive list of keywords you would like to rank for.

Keyword strategy can be defined as all the decisions you make on the basis of that keyword research.

Key phrases are keywords consisting of multiple words. We tend to use the word keyword all the time, but we don’t necessarily mean it’s only one word. ‘WordPress SEO’ is a keyword, as is ‘Google Analytics plugin’. Keywords can contain multiple words! We will refer to these key phrases as keywords throughout this guide.

Long tail keywords are more specific and less common. They focus more on a niche. The longer (and more specific) search terms are, the easier it will be to rank for the term. Keywords that are more specific (and often longer) are usually referred to as long tail keywords.

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Focus keyword is the keyword or the key phrase you would like your page to be found for. You insert a focus keyword in the metabox of the Yoast SEO plugin.

Why is keyword research important?

Proper keyword research will make clear what search terms are used by your audience. And this is of great importance. At Yoast, we regularly encounter clients that have a specific set of words they use when referencing their products, while their target group uses a completely different set of words. These clients’ sites aren’t found because of a mismatch in word use.

Optimizing for words that people don’t use doesn’t make any sense. Doing good keyword research makes sure that you use the words your target audience uses and therefore makes the whole effort of optimizing your website worthwhile.

Read more: ‘The basis of keyword research’ »

Executing keyword research

In our view, keyword research has three steps. First, you write down the mission of your business. Next, you make a list of all the keywords you want to be found for. Finally, you create landing pages for all keywords. In this ultimate guide, we will take you through these three steps in much more detail.

We’ll guide you through the entire process of executing keyword research step by step. We’ll give practical tips to easily start your own keyword research.

Step 1: what is your mission?

Before starting anything, you’ll have to think about your mission. You have to think about questions like: who are you? What is your website about? What makes it special? And what promise do you make on your website?

Keep reading: ‘ What is the mission of your website’ »

A lot of people can’t answer these questions effectively at first. You have to figure out what makes you stand out from the rest. So take your time and literally write down your mission on a piece of paper. A computer or an iPad will do as well of course. Once you’re able to answer these questions in detail, you have taken the first and most important step in your keyword strategy.

To consider: the competitiveness of the market

Whether your mission will prove to be genius enough to sell your products to people, largely depends on the market you’re in. Some markets are highly competitive, with large companies dominating the search results. These companies have a very large budget to spend on marketing in general and SEO specifically. Competing in these markets is hard, therefore ranking in these markets is also hard.

Perhaps you sell cruises to Hawaii. You offer great facilities for children, making the cruises especially suitable for young or single parents. Offering great cruises to Hawaii for young parents could very well be the uniqueness of your service. Look for the thing that makes your product stand out from the competition. This should be your mission, your niche; this is what you have to offer your audience!

Starting in a competitive market, probably means that you should start out small. Once you ‘own’ a small part of that niche and become a big name in the business of cruises to Hawaii, you could try to go one level up and sell your cruises to a larger (more general) audience. Your mission will then become much more general as well.

Step 2: make a list of keywords

The second step of executing your keyword research is creating a list of keywords. With your mission in mind, you should try to get into the heads of your potential buyers. What will these people be looking for? What kind of search terms could they be using while looking for your amazing service or product? Ask yourself these questions and write down as many answers as you possibly can.

If your mission is clear, you will have a rather clear image of your niche and your unique selling points (the things that set your business apart from others). These will be the terms you want to be found for.

To consider: make sure keywords fit your site

Be aware that you should be found for terms that fit your site. If we get crazy and do our very best to let yoast.com rank for ballet shoes, people would be rather disappointed to find our site. They will probably instantly go back to Google. Ranking for ballet shoes will, in our case, lead to a massive bounce rate. And a high bounce rate tells Google that people do not find what they are looking for based on that search term. This will inevitably lead to a lower ranking on ballet shoes for our site (and totally justified, we know nothing about ballet or about shoes for that matter).

Tools you can use

Making a list of possible search terms remains hard. And up until a few years ago, doing your keyword research was much easier. You could simply check Google Analytics to see with which terms people found your website. Unfortunately, that is no longer possible. So you’re pretty much left in the dark about the terms people use in search engines to end up at your website. Luckily, there are still some other tools which make your keyword research a bit easier. Read our post about tools you can use in your keyword research for more tips and tricks. 

 

Step 3: construct landing pages

The third step towards a long term keyword strategy is to create awesome landing pages for all the keywords you want to be found for. We would advise you to do that in a well structured manner. Start by putting the list of keywords you have made in a table. A table (use for instance Excel or Google Docs /Sheets to set one up) forces you to set up a structure and to make a landing page for all the search terms you came up with. Put the search terms in the first column and add columns in which you put the different levels of your site’s structure.

Construct a landing page for every search term you came up with. You do not have to create all these pages immediately. This could very well be a long term thing. The more specific your search term is, the further down into your site structure this term’s landing page belongs.

Read on: ‘ How to clean up your site structure’ »

After completing your keyword research, you should have a clear overview of the terms people use and the terms you want the pages on your site to be found for. This overview should function as a guidance for writing content on your website.

Long term keyword strategy

No website should rely on one single keyword or one keyphrase for its traffic. You should use your mission as a starting point, take our three steps in doing proper keyword research and work towards a solid base: a keyword strategy. In this section of our ultimate guide, we will explain why it’s important to have a long term keyword strategy.

How many keywords?

It is very hard to give an exact number of keywords you should focus on. And then again, it’s very simple. You just have to have a large number, as large a number that is feasible for you. More than a 1000 keywords is probably more than you can chew off.

Even if you’re a reasonably small business, you’ll probably end up with a couple hundred keywords. But you don’t have to have pages for all of these immediately. The great thing about having a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress is that you can incrementally add content. Think about what keywords you would like to rank for now, and which ones aren’t that important (yet). Make some kind of priority and plan the creation of your content.

Read more: ‘ How to clean up your site structure’ »

Ad hoc keyword research strategies

In an ideal world, you would do your keyword research, make a beautiful table and create landing pages. Your site structure would be flawless and you would blog and write every day making your site rank higher and higher in Google. Unfortunately, we live in the real world.

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Of course, your keyword research will not always be as extensive. And some posts or articles aren’t written as part of an awesome strategy, but just because the topic was in the news or you had some inspiration. That’s just how these things work. But that doesn’t have to be a problem.

If you’re writing something that does not fit your strategy (exactly), this doesn’t mean you should not aim at making that content rank. Perhaps you can use it to rank on something which remotely relates to the terms in the list of your keyword strategy. Use tools like Google Trends to choose which keyword you’d like to rank for. At least take some time to think about how to fit your article or blog in your strategy. After all, if you are writing valuable content, you might as well make it rank!

The importance of long tail keyword strategy

Focusing on long tail keywords should be an important part of a long term keyword research strategy. Long tail keywords are keywords or key phrases that are more specific (and usually longer) than more common “head” keywords. Long tail keywords get less search traffic, but will usually have a higher conversion value, as they focus on a more specific product or topic. Read our post about the importance of long tail keywords if you want to know why you should focus on long tail keywords when optimizing your site.

Keep reading: ‘Befriend the long tail’ »

Multiple focus keywords

In Yoast SEO Premium you’re able to focus on multiple keywords. If you use our tool correctly, your text can be optimized for up to five keywords. In our post about multiple focus keywords , we explain to you why it’s important to use the multiple focus keyword functionality while optimizing your text.

Read on: ‘How to choose the perfect focus keyword’ »

Conclusion on keyword research

Doing keyword research should be the start of any sustainable SEO strategy. The result of keyword research will be an extensive list of keywords for which you’d like to be found. The hardest part is yet to begin: the content writing. You should write articles and blogpost on every single keyword you would like to be found for. That’ll be quite a challenge!

Read more: ‘SEO copywriting: the ultimate guide’ »

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