Keywords are the words that people use at search engines such as Google, when they want to find something. It can be a single word, or a long phrase.
I’m a little bit old school.
I still do keyword research before starting a new site, and work out ways to incorporate those keywords in the URLs and content. Which then automatically adds them to the meta tags on the site for SEO.
Not everybody does this. Often they rely on other ways for their pages to be discovered, such as sharing on social media, paid advertising, or links from other sites. Or they don’t realise that keywords do still work.
In the olden days of SEO, people would unnaturally stuff their keywords in the link text – the keyword phrase used to describe the link to another site. This made Google-bombs possible – where you could manipulate search results by getting large numbers of people to link to the same site with the same words. The most famous Google-bombs are when a search for “miserable failure” would produce George W Bush’s page at the WhiteHouse. Or “click here” would come up with the Adobe PDF download page – because that’s what large numbers of sites were using as link text to Adobe.
It was all about the Google algorithm. So Google adjusted their algorithm to lessen the importance of link text and to weight other factors higher. Keyword link text still works, but it’s only part of the story.
Keyword research is now all about planning the content for your site, and how you’ll arrange it.
To start your keyword research, you’ll need a few tools. These are my current favourites:
- Google Search
- Google Ads
- Google Trends
Start your keyword research by doing a Google search for a keyword (phrase). Eg “work from home”.
Have a look at the websites that come up.
There will be a mix of government, Wiki, educational, employment, information and promotional sites.
Go through those sites and work out which ones are your real competitors. Obviously you can’t realistically compete with government sites and Wikipedia – they are too authoritative, and aren’t aimed at the same audience as you. Some sites may offer services that are too different to yours, or too labour-intensive for you to be able to compete with. They may have an active forum or blog, which can take hours every day to monitor, respond, delete spam and create new content for. They probably have a complete team of workers doing this for them. In a dark cave, living on mushrooms.
Go through the top sites in the keyword search results, and take notes on the functions and features they offer, the navigation, the use of social media, any email signups, blog categories and post frequency.Get ideas for your site, with the objective of becoming even better than they are.
Do a SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats – to work out what you can do better, and what you possibly can’t.
When you’ve identified your competitors, it’s time to use SEMRush to look at the keywords they are currently getting their traffic from.
This is an excellent paid tool with outstanding keyword research capabilities for your competitors. There is a free version that lets you see the top 10 keywords for each of paid and organic keywords.
The paid version of SEMRush will let you see the complete list of keywords (as determined by SEMRush’s technology, which includes scraping Google results to build their own platform).
Start by using the Domain Research tool to see both the paid and organic keywords that your competitors receive traffic from.
Paid keywords are when people pay Google Ads to get their ad shownfor a search. It can get expensive, eg to get one click on “work from home australia” can cost $5, and they may not like your site, and leave straight away. So you need to be sure that your site will actually convert for this keyword before spending large amounts of traffic on it. But if your competitor is willing to pay for it, then it’s a good indication that it could be worthwhile for your site too.
Organic keywords are when your site appears on Google search results for free.
The competition is intense, and there is a whole SEO industry focused on helping your site to rank for free for your chosen (target) keywords. See the Technical SEO section for more information on this.
Export both lists of keywords – both organic and paid. Now you’ll have a couple of spreadsheets of keywords that your competitors get traffic for.
Analyse the keywords. The first bunch of keywords will be brand-related – based around their brand name (eg workathomemums), before you get to the generic non-brand keywords (eg how to work from home).
The generic ones are what you are interested in.
Now it’s time to do some Google Ads research.
Google Ads Keyword Tool
The Google Ads Keyword Tool is part of the Google Ads platform. These days you need to sign up for a Google Ads account first, to be able to use their tool.
It has also changed a bit. You used to be able to paste your entire spreadsheet from SEMRush into the Google Keyword Tool, and it would come back with a much larger list (about 800) of related keyword search variations. Recently Google has restricted it to a small list of starting keywords.
This is priceless information – it includes how many people are searching for each keyword each month, the level of competition, how many search results are returned at Google, and the estimated cost per click if you chose to pay for this keyword.
So you can now decide which keywords can potentially give you lots of traffic, and what people are actually looking for.
It may be a particular variation “work from home sydney” or “work from home proofreading” that you hadn’t previously thought of.
Or you may find a cheap keyword you’d like to pay for.
Or you may find an expensive but high volume search, with low competition that you’d like to dedicate your efforts towards achieving free traffic through search engine optimisation. The holy grail.
This is another free tool from Google that shows the trend in search over time as a graph.
It’s not a bulk tool, so it’s best for comparing a few variations when you’re not sure which one to focus on.
For example you might compare “work from home” against “home business” to see how the trend in search has changed in Australia over the last 5 years. That could affect which word you choose to optimise for.
Now that you have your keyword research complete, you can plan the IA – Information Architecture – for your site, and how you will use your keywords on each page, explained further on the Technical SEO page.