Keyword research - it's not just for SEO

Keyword research - it's not just for SEO

You'll be forgiven for thinking that keyword research is conducted only for search engine optimisation (SEO) purposes. Most people think that's what it's all about. But it's more important than that. It tells us a great deal about how we can connect with those who want our businesses to solve their problems.

Google processes a mind-boggling 5.5 billion search queries per day.  That's 2 trillion searches a year!  Keyword research is not something that any business should ignore.  If you want to do business on the internet, you'll need to know your keywords.  Think of keyword research as digging deeper into the minds of your future customers.  You're going to discover what they are typing into Google, and what their intent is.

Without keyword research, we are unable to keep our ears to the ground to discover what our target market is actually looking for.  That's such an important - and fundamental - requirement of online marketing. It gives us an insight into 'user intent'.

Those keywords are the starting point to understanding the journey that your customers take to solve their problems.

User intent

This sounds complex, but it's actually a lot simpler than you think.  User intent refers to exactly what the user intends to do once they've typed a search query into a search engine.  It means understanding what it is the user wants to achieve.  User intent can be anything at all, but here are some examples:

  • Buy new shoes
  • What is psychology?
  • Where can I find information about hair loss?
  • Doctor surgery near me


It's very easy to understand the user intent behind those keyword phrases.  Queries like these make up the vast majority of all types of search queries on Google, Bing and Yahoo. 

Getting to grips with the types of keywords that our users will probably be searching for gives us an idea of how we can formulate our digital strategy.  It tells us what content we need to focus on when it comes to putting together web pages. 

Why is user intent important in online marketing?

Understanding user intent is one of the best ways to produce content for a marketing strategy that satisfies the needs of our customers.

Just because you're selling shoes online, it doesn't mean that you automatically know the problem your users are trying to solve.  You might just assume that people come to your website after searching for buy new shoes, but it often runs much, much deeper than this.

The biggest question you need to ask yourself is WHY?

Why does that customer need to buy new shoes?  As soon as you begin asking yourself those kind of questions, a whole new world of content marketing suddenly opens up to you:

  • Do your customers need new shoes because the soles of their favourite pair have worn out?  For every person that Googles buy new shoes there's probably many more people who are trying to find ways to stop soles from falling off.  Perhaps your company specialises in high-quality soles.  Yes?  There's something to focus on.
  • Do your customers need new shoes because fashions have changed?  Maybe.  Could you produce content that helps users discover the latest fashion trends?
  • Do your customers need new shoes for their children because they've outgrown them?  Would it be an idea to produce a guide to choosing shoes for children?  
  • Do your customers need new shoes because they've become, erm, 'a bit smelly'?  You could create some content that shows customers how to keep shoes as fresh as the day they were bought.

Do you see where I'm going with this?  When you undertake keyword research, you'll discover the types of queries that your potential customers are using.  By digging deeper into the user intent, you can discover a whole manner of potential content to help your business connect with the needs of the user.

Keyword research will shape your...

Content marketing strategy

Here's what Nate Dame, columnist for Search Engine Land says about content shaped from keyword research:

Effective content strategies start with keyword research, because modern keyword research provides significant insight into what audiences want and need. The process enables marketers to identify user needs, brainstorm content ideas that satisfy those needs, and create the right content the first time. It also helps generate ample content ideas for filling editorial calendars.

Since the early days of the internet, SEO and digital content have gone together like a horse and carriage.  Whilst keyword spamming is no longer a viable technique to ranking pages, you'll find it absolutely impossible to sell to your target market without producing content to sit alongside your primary keywords.

Your whole website is built around those chosen keywords, no matter if you're putting together a short blog post, or a 10,000 word white paper.  Everything you produce and publish on your website needs to have some relationship with your keywords.

Search marketing campaigns

Later on in this course I will be introducing you to search engine marketing (SEM).  Whilst it is a broad subject, SEM includes both organic and paid marketing campaigns that will be designed to get people along to your website where you can do the job of selling your products and services to them.

By researching your primary keywords, you are one step ahead when the time comes to producing a strategy to reach people who are likely to need your services.  If you get your keywords wrong then you won't get the right kind of traffic to your website.  They won't turn into customers.  Without any interest in your keywords (i.e. your content), prospective customers won't find you.

Additionally, choose keywords that are far too generic or competitive, and you will have a hard time ranking in the search engines for those phrases, and you may end up paying a fortune just to get the wrong type of visitor. 

Since a huge percentage of your future customers may come via one of the search engines, we want to ensure our keywords are spot on.

(www.traffic-update.co.uk - GA Acquisition Overview, February 2019)

Competitor research

There's one other thing that knowing your keywords will tell you - who your direct competitors are.  If you run a 'bricks-and-mortar business' then you may already know who your competitors are, but online there may be many others trying to tap into your target audience too. 

Just because you're the only shoe shop in Oxford (highly unlikely, I know), it doesn't mean you don't have any competition online.  There may be dozens or hundreds of different online retailers all focusing on shoe shops in Oxford too.  You'll be up against them too.

Knowing who your digital competitors are will enable you to keep one eye on what they're doing online.  

Getting started

Now you can see how important your keywords are, it's time to sit down and work out exactly what they are for your business.

Whilst the keywords you choose may not be unique to just you, knowing them will help you to determine how to shape your digital content, and what to focus on.   As I mentioned in the previous chapter, they'll help you keep a close watch on what your competitor's strategy is, enabling you to keep up with them - and overtake them.

Whilst pinpointing those elusive keywords is simple for some basic businesses with just one primary product, it can be much more daunting for other more complex businesses.  

But essentially, all you need to know is this: where do people go to find solutions to their problems?  Google/Bing.  What do they use to find businesses that can solve those problems?  Keywords!

So, let's go through the process of compiling a list of your primary keywords.

1. Brainstorm broad topics

First, consider all the different categories that your business and products belong to.  Let's take the shoe shop as a good example.

Obviously, you'd choose 'shoes' as your top-level keyword.  However, just relying on that word alone isn't good enough.  There's very little chance that you can compete with the high street retailers on that level alone.  You'll need to go deeper.

Get yourself a piece of paper and write your primary keyword in the middle (in our case 'shoes').

Next, produce a brainstorm graph to show the different sub-categories.  Here's an example for 'shoes':

2. Discover specific keywords/phrases

It's time to think outside of the box for a while.  This bit is a fun exercise, and it's good to put yourself in the shoes (pun not intended) of your customers.

Imagine you're the customer.  You need a new pair of dress shoes because your old pair have worn out.  You've got a dinner party in a couple of weeks and you want to look your best. 

Now, think about all the different keyword phrases that you are likely to search for in Google (or Bing!).  Some examples may be:

New dress shoes.

Or your phrase might be a little more specific:

Buy women's black high heel shoes.

Carrying on the theme, it might even be something like this:

Buy Clarks Ellis Rose high heel dress shoes size 5 best price.

That last example uses a massive 12 words.  Phrases like these are called 'long-tail keyword phrases', and they are usually the most profitable.  Why?  Because they're very specific.  They show intent to purchase.  And when someone uses a specific keyword phrase there's much more chance that they are further down the buying cycle.  They know what they want and they're ready to buy.  The vast majority of visitors to my network of websites come from the search engines having using long-tail phrases.  That's worth bearing in mind.

Now, do the same with your own keyword phrases.  Pick one that you are really familiar with, and imagine that you are your business' potential customer who is yet to discover you.  Close your eyes and pretend for a moment that you are the Customer Persona that you already created.

What problem are they trying to solve?  What words do they type into Google that will send them in the right direction?

If it helps, use a spreadsheet to keep track of your keywords, rather than writing them out manually:


Of course, remember to only include keyword phrases that your business caters for.  There's no point in driving traffic to your website what won't convert!

Can you see your keyword strategy starting to take shape?

Just for shoes alone, there may be hundreds, if not thousands of keyword phrases that your customers may be looking for.  But as you're adding more and more phrases to your spreadsheet you'll no doubt start to think of some really good ideas for content, too.  

Once you've got a short list of the most obvious phrases, stop.  This is more of an exercise to get you thinking about how a customer searches for solutions to their problems.  There may be many extremely valuable keyword phrases that you missed.  Nobody said it would be easy!

But what if I told you there were tools out there that did the hard work for you?  Sounds like a dream come true, but it's a reality.  There are many free and paid services that can help you conduct keyword research.

I'll give you a list of several of the best keyword planners at the end of this chapter, but for now let's use one by Google.  If you have an account with Google, go ahead and open the Google Keyword Planner.

Staying with the shoes theme, let's enter one of your keywords into the space provided:  


Once you've done that, the Keyword Planner will give you a list of all the related keyword phrases that are related to the phrase you entered.  There may be many thousands!

As well as giving you a list of searched phrases, you're also able to do a whole bunch of different things to refine your keyword phrases.  You can filter it deeper, choose the country location, add competition, organic average impression, the cost of bidding (for that phrase), and much much more.  Look out for the Download Keyword Ideas link, too, which is handy to import into a spreadsheet.

Alternative tools for keyword research

As I mentioned, there are plenty of alternative tools that enable you to research keyword phrases.  Here are some of my favourites:

Whichever tool you use, you'll end up with a (rather large) list of keywords for your business.

Don't be too overwhelmed with your list if it seems big and unwieldy.  As you get better with digital marketing you'll be referring back to it from time to time to see whether you're covering all your bases.

What next?

Now you've got your (large) list of keywords, it's time to see what you can do with it.

Most marketers will look at their keywords and think that they're only good for one thing: SEO.  But there's far more you can do with them - they'll shape the whole of your digital marketing strategy if you use them wisely.

Discover ranking priorities

By looking at the types of pages already ranking in the search engines for your keyword phrases, you can discover which factors are your customer's priorities.  You won't be the first to have analysed and worked on your keywords, and other businesses will have beaten you to it.  By taking your keywords and looking at what other pages exist in the search engines for those phrases, you'll get an idea what sort of content is being produced that satisfy the searcher's intent.

Go ahead and look at some of the pages that rank highly for your keywords.  Use Google or Bing; whichever you're most comfortable with.

On the search results page, take a sample of the content.  

  • If search results are full of videos, infographics, and visual content then you'll know that people are most likely to prefer content that's very visual in nature.
  • If results are full of text-based pages with long sections of words, this tells you that people are looking to read and learn about something.
  • And if most of the pages are video content, this will tell you that users prefer to watch videos.

Understanding the type of content that's already ranking for your phrases will help you to create similar content that suit your user's intent.

Improving existing pages

If you've already got a website full of content, then don't be tempted to skip this part.  It's just as important to go through your website to see if the keyword phrases are aligned with the expectations of your users.

You can use those keywords to see if the content on your website matches those keywords.  If not then you're missing out on valuable customers.  There's two things you can do if your website content doesn't match your most important keyword phrases:

  1. Update your page content so that it includes information pertaining to those keyword phrases, or
  2. Create new pages for those keyword phrases

It's also a good idea to dig out your Customer Persona.  Do your keywords match with their buying cycle AND your content?  If so, you have an exact match likely to transform a visitor into a customer.  If not, then you know you have some work to do to align all three with each other.

Determine new content strategies

No matter how small your industry or niche is, there is so much new content that you can produce that aligns with your customer's buying cycle.

Let's refresh ourselves with the types of visitor you'll be getting to your website:

  • Tyre-kickers
  • Browsers
  • Shoppers
  • Buyers

All four types of visitor will need different content that matches their needs.  Although we can pretty much ignore the 'tyre-kickers' because they accidentally landed on our website, this leaves three types that we can engage as they make their way through their own buying cycle.

Browsers will need content that is educational and informational in nature, such as guides, background analysis etc; content that will help them understand that there are resolutions to their needs and requirements.

Shoppers will need content that helps them make more informed decisions.  Comparisons, data, features and prices.  Remember, there's a good chance that your website is one of several they're considering, so you need to be thorough.

Finally, we have buyers.  They're the visitors who are going to be putting their hands in their pockets.  But don't just assume they'll buy from you there and then.  They'll be requiring content such as instructions, how-to videos, details of deliveries, offers and deals, incentives etc.

If you think about the type of content that you could produce for your website, you've got a never-ending stream of information that's waiting to be created and published.  

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Old school SEO experts used to rely on keyword research to drive their search engine strategies.  But it's much more comprehensive than it used to be.  Understanding how your future customers search for solutions to their problems using keywords will enable you to produce a content delivery strategy that matches the customer's needs - and intent.

Those that approach keyword research in this modern, strategy-led way will ultimately become the victors.


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