As I mentioned in my recent post, A Simplified Explanation of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), keyword research should still be a prerequisite or component of any search optimization (SEO) planning or website design and development project. Then why, you might ask, have I read so many headlines like:
“keywords are dead” or
“keywords are no longer relevant to SEO”
Well, basically, people are misinterpreting or exaggerating changes that Google has made to their search algorithm over the past few years and the impact those changes have made to search engine ranking factors. We agree that Google updates have certainly been impactful, altering their algorithm to focus more on authoritative, value-added and relevant content, broader ideas and searcher intent. But that doesn’t mean keywords aren’t important. It just means that poor quality content and outdated practices like keyword stuffing won’t have the same positive results they may have had a year or two ago. It also means that keyword usage (or best practices for keyword usage) has evolved and that the knowledge you gain from your keyword research should also be used differently. If you still don’t believe me, check out the Content Marketing Institutes article, 7 Reasons Why Keyword Phrases Aren’t Dead for SEO and Content Marketing, for more information on this topic.
OK, hopefully if you are still reading you’re at least open to the idea that keywords are not completely useless. But why exactly is keyword research so important to website and digital marketing effectiveness? Below are six (6) reasons to start with.
Before you worry about how to market your product or service, or how you might attract visitors to your website, wouldn’t it be helpful to first understand how your target audience searches for or researches your products or services?
At Marketpath, we specialize in providing website marketing and content management systems for small and medium-sized businesses. To maximize our ability to sell and service our software, it is useful to understand as much as we possibly can about our product category and how different audiences think about that software. In this case keyword research can help us understand whether prospective clients think of (and search for) our product as “content management systems”, “CMS”, “website maintenance software”, “website software”, etc. That research can also help us understand if and how people are looking for solutions for specific industries: “school CMS”, “content management for small business”, or software for different user types: “easy to use CMS”, “developer focused content solutions” or specific use cases: “SaaS CMS”, “mobile CMS”, etc. Keyword research isn’t the only way to better understand your market, but it certainly can shed light on your audience, how they understand and think about your product or service, what things are important to them, and how often they search for keywords or phrases that relate to your business.
If you want to increase the visibility of your website and want your site to be optimized, you first need to know what you’d like it to be optimized for. To do that you need to research how your target audience searches for your products or services (which keywords or phrases), and how frequently (monthly or annual searches) they make various searches. Once you have that information, you can then prioritize the keywords or phrases you hope to rank for in search engine results. How you prioritize your targets should be based first on how relevant the keyword is to your business or a specific service/product offering, but should also consider how often the term and related terms are searched for, and its attainability (considering how competitive the term is). Once you’ve completed your research and prioritization, then you can start to worry about how to optimize your site for those terms/phrases – and that is really where you need to treat keywords differently from a few years ago. Check out this recent article, 205 Google Ranking Factors – The Ultimate SEO Checklist, for more details about website optimization, how keywords are still important, and how you should leverage keywords in your website execution.
Keyword research provides rich data about what people (prospects) want to know about your industry, products, and services. If you know what information your prospects are looking for you can more easily develop content on your website to meet their needs. As I mentioned above, keywords are still very important, but it is the execution or use of keywords within your website that has changed – and that execution directly ties to your content marketing strategy and on-page content.
In the past, you might have had success with somewhat basic or generic content, if you utilized keywords within your content and within critical areas such as the page title tag and the page header (H1). Nowadays, that will only get you so far. Relevant, engaging content about those keywords or phrases that helps to match the intent of the user is now very important, as rich content helps to improve engagement and conversions, which Google weighs heavily. That longer, richer content can satisfy the needs of the searcher, especially for a variety of long-tail keywords, as your content answers or addresses broader topics of interest. Proper keyword research can help you better understand what content (topics, details, etc.) to focus on.
As an example, imagine how a physician might utilize keyword research for their practice website. Last year a client of ours, who is a spine surgeon, had a fairly basic website with biographical information and high level information about some of the practice’s main treatments. They weren’t getting very much traffic to their website and ranked very poorly compared with competitive practices, which they were much larger than, for the few high level keywords they targeted like “spine surgeon” and “back pain”. We performed keyword research for the client and determined that potential patients were searching for high level terms such as “spine specialist” and “back doctor,” which was to be expected, but they were also searching for an abundance of lower volume, long-tail keywords associated in three categories: 1) symptoms (like lower back pain), 2) medical conditions (like degenerative scoliosis), and 3) treatment options (like minimally invasive surgery).
Based on that research, we organized the client’s new website (and sitemap) around those same three categories, so that patients would be able to find valuable content, regardless of their perspective into the particular medical issue, whether they were somewhat knowledgeable about the issue (understood the condition/treatments) or just trying to research symptoms. Since the new site launched, the physician’s site significantly improved in search rankings for both the broad search terms and long-tail terms. A very important and related benefit, is that the site, which now includes useful, detailed content, also provides much more credibility for the practice, with information about their expertise and experience. This supports the practice’s perception in their community.
In addition to the content plan for the website redesign, our keyword research also provided ideas for ongoing content marketing on the website. There were many people searching for information related to conditions, symptoms, and treatments in the form of questions such as:
Answering those questions (keyword phrases) via the medical practice blog is a great way to provide value to prospective patients while also supporting site optimization. Additionally, the site now includes a “Success Stories” section that features stories of real patients that directly connects to many of the questions and information prospective patients are looking for. In summary, keyword research can provide valuable insights into the both the structure of your website and your site content marketing plan.
For some local businesses or organizations in less competitive industries, implementing best practices for onsite (or on-page) optimization of your website might be enough to significantly increase your search rankings and visibility. For most organizations, however, you’ll also need to implement other SEO friendly strategies like developing your social presence and influencing the creation of external links to important pages on your site from authoritative sources that are relevant to your industry, product or service. The same knowledge you gained from keyword research and the same keywords (short and long-tail) you prioritized for your website, should also be used to create relevant, rich content on your social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Instagram, etc.), as well as review sites like Yelp, and any other sites (industry directories, etc.) with information about your business. Richer content and consistent use of the same targeted keywords, as well as links back to your website will positively impact your optimization goals.
If you want someone to find your website via organic search for particular keywords or phrases, then it is likely that you could use the same or similar keywords as part of your pay-per-click (PPC) campaign. To improve user engagement and conversion, the keywords people click on while doing a Google or Bing search should be very specific and relevant to your business or services – that should be true whether the link they click on is a paid or natural link. So, if you are participating in any PPC or online advertising, you should be able to leverage your keyword research for multiple purposes.
No matter your digital marketing strategy, it is always important to measure your success. One way to measure the impact of your website, content marketing, and SEO initiatives is to track where your website ranks for your prioritized, targeted keywords on search engine results pages (SERPs). This can be more difficult if you are tracking significant long-tail terms, but is still very useful, as improvements can have significant impact on site traffic, visibility, and leads. If you are about to begin a website redesign project, I’d recommend measuring where the old site ranks for your targeted keywords and using that as a baseline moving forward. If you aren’t currently measuring where your site ranks in search results, visit the Marketing Tech Blog for a list of Online SEO Tools for Link, Keyword and Rank Tracking.