Over the years, a lot has changed in the SEO scene. Mobile-first indexing made waves across the industry increasing the importance of being mobile-friendly. And the constant algorithm changes from Google made it difficult for inbound marketers to optimize their websites for search. But one thing – keyword research – remains an old trustee amongst SEO professionals. However, the way it’s done now has changed as well. So how do you build a keyword list that your target audience cares about?
Step 1: Identify the most relevant topics to your business
Before narrowing things down, you need to start generic. Since you’re working on a strategy for keywords that you expect your target audience to be using, you need to put yourself in their shoes. Consider what types of topics they would search that you’d want your business to get found for? Think of 5-10 topics that your business is related to or that might be important to it. For instance, if you’re a company selling sales software, maybe your general topics might be:
Using tools like Ahrefs, you can further research those topics to see how important they’re to your target audience. It can give you a clearer understanding of how many different sub-topics you’ll have to create to succeed with a particular keyword.
Step 2: Come up with keywords for your topics
Now it’s time to brainstorm keyword phrases! And here again you’ll have to think about your target audience, so you could come up with specific terms that you think are important to rank in the SERPs (search engine results pages). If you would take one of our topics from above, let’s say “sales automation”, your brainstorm would look something like this:
Sales automation tools
Best sales automation tools
How to use sales automation
How sales automation can help
What is sales automation software
This is a pretty basic example, but this is what this process should look like. At this stage, you shouldn’t focus on creating a perfect final list of keyword phrases. It’s all about coming up with something that you think your target audience might use.
If you’re a bit stuck, don’t worry – there are ways to keep you going. You can use Google Analytics for figuring out which are the keywords your website is already getting found for. Check out your website’s traffic sources and look through organic search traffic to see what people are typing to find your business.
Another creative way to come up with various phrases is to simply go to Google.com, type in a keyword and see what kind of suggestions do you get. These suggestions also help to think of more keywords that you could use in your strategy.
Step 3: Mix head terms and long-tail keywords
To build a strong and effective strategy, your keywords need to have variety as well. And this is where head terms and long-tail keywords come in. Head terms are shorter and more generic keyword phrases. Long-tail keywords are the opposite. They’re longer, with three or more words and typically are more specific. Why is it important to have a balanced mix of them? Well, because that way you’ll have a strategy that covers long-term goals and still brings you short-term wins. Since head terms are searched more often, it makes them more competitive and much harder to rank for, compared to long-tail terms.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should be discouraged to include long-tail keywords in your strategy. As we said, it’s all about balancing long-term and short-term goals. Though long-tail keywords may seem less attractive due to how specific the search is, this is actually to your advantage. Think about it – a person who’s searching that specifically is more likely to be in your target audience than someone just typing in various head terms.
So aim to have a mix that allows you to complete your long-term goals and still brings you short-term wins. Though long-tail keywords might bring you satisfaction and good results, you shouldn’t shy away from trying to tame the more difficult head terms.
Step 4: Watch your competitors and what they’re doing
This doesn’t mean that you should blindly copy them and do what they’re doing. But looking at what kind of keywords your competitors are trying to rank, you can evaluate your list of keywords. Maybe your competitors are ranking for the same keywords as you are, so you could work on your ranking as well. Or maybe you notice that they’re missing out on some – this could be an opportunity for you to own a niche market. However, here you also need to maintain the balance by assessing which keywords are too competitive to rank for and which ones are more realistic in achieving your goals.
How do you do that? There are loads of different tools online, like SEMrush that allow you to run a certain number of free reports. You can quickly see what your competitors are doing by simply entering their domain and get useful insights for yourself.
Step 5: Cut down and finalize your keyword list
It all comes down to this – cutting down and coming up with a final keyword list. By now you should have a pretty decent list of keywords that you researched, so how do you narrow it down?
The most popular method is to use some sort of keyword planner. You can either use paid tools like Ahrefs or free ones such as Google Ads Keyword Planner. The latter one requires you set up a Google Ads account, but you can use this tool without running any ads. However, both of them are great for estimating search volume and traffic for your keywords. You can instantly see which keywords are better for you and which ones you maybe shouldn’t use.
The previously mentioned Ahrefs and free tools like Google Trends (though this one is more limited) are also useful when considering which keywords are worth keeping. Maybe in some foreign markets you’re trying to target, some keywords might work better than the others? Or you could just check the trends and projections to see how you could strengthen your strategy. Some low-volume terms might bring you more benefit in the future if you invest in them now. Others might have too much search volume to be worth investing in. Use these tools to fill in some blanks for your strategy.
With all these tips in mind, the key thing to remember is a balance. To have a strong and effective strategy you need to include keywords that bring you short-term wins and help you to achieve long-term goals. When you have a strategy that ticks all the boxes, you’ll know that it’s strong, efficient and you’re not wasting any money. And an extra tip if you want to be on top of your game – don’t forget to re-evaluate your list every few months!