Keyword research forms the key basis of your content strategy, helping you to create and optimize content to achieve good rankings in search engines.
In this article, you will gain insights into the essential aspects of keyword research and analysis and practical tips how to successfully design your keyword marketing.
A keyword is a search term entered into a search engine. It is valuable because it shows the user’s intentions in the user’s own words. Many forms of targeting differentiate and segment user groups with externally identified characteristics, but the keyword is more authentic as it gives an accurate picture of the user intention. If a user enters “current account comparison” in the search engine, they are very clearly showing interest in such a comparison.
The link between the keywords and the user’s intention expressed in them is the reason why search engine optimization and search engine marketing are effective. If you create content without aligning it to a keyword, the content is less likely to rank well, which could lead to negative consequences for your revenue and business.
Keyword research describes the process of identifying keywords suitable for a marketing goal or campaign. The aim is to find keywords or search terms that will take your target group to your offer or landing page.
With the establishment of Google as the leading search engine, keyword marketing became established as a sub-discipline of online marketing. The basic idea of keyword marketing is that individual segments of target groups are represented by keywords that the people in those corresponding target group segments use in their searches. The crucial requirement for keyword marketing is that Google, and also other providers, create and make databases available that contain information about the keywords used.
The be-all and end-all of keyword research is user intention. The user’s intention is the purpose or reason why they are using the search engine. With the sheer number of search queries that are made with Google (there are over 3.5 billion searches on google every day), this results in an incredibly large number of different search queries. Not all are relevant for keyword marketing, but all of them are collected and stored by Google and made available to AdWords customers in the Keyword Planner.
Before you start your keyword research, you should firstly determine the user intent so that you can look for a keyword that suits your content or campaign. To capture keywords, categories have been established. These cover three central areas: Navigation, transaction and information.
1. Navigation describes situations where the user already knows what they are looking for, but does not know an exact URL. For example, the user is looking for white sneakers from Nike, but does not know the URL and therefore enters “white sneakers Nike” in the search bar. Google will reliably provide them with the appropriate URL and the user can navigate to their destination through the search result.
2. Keywords used for transaction represent the intention to make a purchase, registration or reservation. These keywords are also called “Money Keywords” or more technically “Commercial Intent Keywords”. Examples include “buy sneakers” or “Macbook Pro price”. These commercial intent keywords are naturally most effective in a marketing process, since the user has already shown an intent to make a purchase. In campaigns, advertisements and call-to-actions, one tries to reinforce this buying intention of the customer by making use of signal words like: Free shipping, discount, sale, buy, etc. In addition, products or brands can be included in the keyword to increase the incentive to buy. Naturally, the competition for money keywords is the most intense.
3. There are also keywords that are used purely for finding information. Without a doubt, these keywords are the most common, because the search for information and answers to unsolved questions are the most common uses of search engines. Users are looking to expand their knowledge or to find a solution to a problem. The character of a search term (if it is not unique) can be easily looked up on Google. The search results indicate whether the majority of users have a commercial or informative interest.
After user intention, the search volume of a keyword is an important factor and therefore an indispensable part of your keyword research. The search volume specifies how often a keyword was searched for within a given month. Using this value, you can weigh how relevant the keyword is in the overall market. However, a high search volume does not always mean that this keyword is the best way to reach your marketing goal as quickly as possible. Wherever there is a high search volume, there is most likely a high level of competition.
Many content providers focus on the keyword. In addition, a high search volume indicates that a term is more general. The user intention can therefore be very vague, as with the search term “Cheap flights”, for example. Although this has a high search volume in the United States with over 4 million average monthly searches, it is by no means clear which flights are sought.
Figure 1: "Cheap flights" - high search volume, but unspecific.
As is so often the case in online marketing, it is a matter of balancing relevance and reach. In my experience, it makes more sense to favor the relevance over the reach, at least up to a point. This strengthens user satisfaction and therefore the effectiveness and sustainability of your online marketing measures.
In keyword research, the scale of the keywords, measured by the number of words used, also plays a role. With the increasing “intelligence” of search engines, which now understand ever longer inputs and voice commands, the use and significance of longer keywords or phrases, so-called long tail keywords, also increases.
The”long tail” is a model introduced by Chris Anderson and portrays niche themes and products on the internet. The internet is expanding markets and making it lucrative to take up existing niche themes and utilize them for business activities. Long tail keywords are those that concern niche topics that go beyond the mass markets. However, there is less competition, so a site can be optimized and a good ranking can be achieved.
Short tail, on the other hand, describes a keyword that consists of just one word or a general search term. It can either be a word or a combination of words, for example “England football team”. This means that you can expect a high search volume, but you do not know exactly what the user is looking for. The high search volume also increases the intensity of competition, making good rankings for short tail keywords difficult to achieve.
When the user enters a long tail keyword, however, you get much more information. Although the reach is more limited as the search volume is not as high, the user can be addressed more directly. It is therefore better to target more long tail keywords than short tail keywords. This means there is more effort required in creating and optimizing the content because the more words that are used within the search query, the lower the linguistic and grammatical degrees of freedom. However, online marketers must become increasingly flexible. Meanwhile, 60% of all search queries consist of at least 3 words, less than 3% use only one word.
Before you select a specific keyword, you should define a strategy. The starting point of the strategy should be your objective. A blog generally is about reach, while an online shop is about sales or contribution margins.
As the next step, you should describe the target group or, even better, the target group segments. This is best done by describing different user groups with the help of personas. These models also help to design the keyword selection. Demographic characteristics such as education, age, gender and the native language should play a role. However, the context of the keyword selection can also be decisive. Is the search query done when out and about, or at home? All of that will have an influence on how the keywords will be formulated. The time context, such as vacation time, also plays a role.
Once the strategy has been defined, it is just a matter of selecting one or more keywords. For this, you will need access to a keyword database. The most extensive source for keyword analysis is Google’s keyword database, which can be accessed in various ways.
If you only want to know which keywords exist for a topic, you can type a generic term into Google’s search bar. Google Suggest is an auto-complete function that then shows which search queries might exist for the term. In addition, the lower part of the search results page shows which related search queries from the so-called Latent Semantic Index exist for a particular topic. To get information about keywords, you can also use Google Trends. With the help of trends, you can compare different keywords and see which ones are more relevant because they are used more often. Furthermore, with the help of Google Trends, you can better schedule your content, because some keywords work better at certain times of day or seasons.
The best insight into keywords is offered by the Keyword Planner from Google. To use this, you need an Adwords account, and have to activate Adwords ads and spend advertising budgets. In the Keyword Planner, after entering a so-called seed keyword, you get the keyword suggestions for potential use in Adwords campaigns. For each keyword, the Keyword Planner provides the search volume, the competition for this keyword, and the probable CPC for the Adwords account.
Figure 2: Insights into the keyword market with the Keyword Planner.
The number of keywords and the amount of information about those keywords is quite extensive. Therefore, you should download the keyword suggestions as an Excel table and filter them further from there.
I use a small formula that helps me to consider the search volume and competition at the same time. The “free market share” indicates which share of a keyword search volume or market is not covered by the competition. With the formula:
Free market share = (1 - competitive factor) x search volume
you can calculate another characteristic for keywords and use it to further sort through the selection of keywords.
Keywords with a high free market share have either a high search volume or little competition. You can also use number filters to select additional keywords in the table for which the competition does not exceed a certain threshold value.
Once you have decided on your keywords and created the corresponding content on landing pages, the next step is regular monitoring of the keywords while taking the competition into account. This means you should know which keywords the competition is using and how successful they are with them.
While a tool provides a general overview, a keyword analysis is important to further evaluate the competition for a single keyword. Once you have shortlisted a keyword, you should do a Google search to identify the competitors. Make sure you’re not signed in to Google, and search both on desktop and mobile. The mobile search result should have priority in the analysis.
In the search results, you can quickly identify which competitors rank for a particular keyword. A review of the URL, titles and meta descriptions quickly shows whether the competitors have consistently optimized for a keyword or whether a related keyword is the focus. Then there is a chance to successfully place new content with the selected keyword. Finally, you should at least look at the page that ranks number 1 in the search results. Ask critically if this site actually fulfills the user’s intention. If this is not the case, or only to a limited extent, then you have a chance to do better and dominate the ranking for this keyword.
Analyzing how your keyword rankings are distributed across Google search results is a great way to measure your optimization progress. Ryte Search Success is suitable for this. In the extensive reports, you can easily find out how many keywords rank on which page of the search results and analyze the distribution over time to see if you are on the right track.
Figure 3: Ranking distribution via Google SERPs.
More information about using Ryte Search Success can be found in Ryte’s Product Insights Blog.
Keyword research and analysis helps you to create effective content that has a good chance of ranking well in Google. Your goal should not be “more of the same”, but to create new, highly attractive content that better fulfills the user’s intention for a keyword than the competition’s content.
Keyword research and analysis are developing constantly as new opportunities are arising. For example, the now established priority of the mobile search and the increasing relevance of voice search are developments that require new ways to analyze and research keywords. With these developments, the top ranking positions are reallocated – with targeted keyword research and analysis you will celebrate new successes.
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Published on 06/15/2018 by Dominik Große Holtforth.
Prof. Dr. Dominik Große Holtforth teaches business studies and media management at Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Cologne. He is also head of the e-Commerce department which deals with strategy-related questions, the controlling of key performance indicators as well as competition strategies in online marketing and e-Commerce. Prof. Große Holtforth is co-founder of the e-Commerce agency Warenkorb.com and founder of the online plant shop “Meine Orangerie.” This is how he combines scientific expertise and practical experience.