How to research keywords to improve your Google ranking

By researching your market's keyword demand you can not only learn which terms and phrases to target, but also learn more about your audience and their user experience. Your primary objective shouldn’t be ranking for just one single keyword but increasing your site's total domain authority through content quality and relevancy to your target audience.

Keywords have long been a useful web design tool as they play a central role in SEO and in driving traffic to websites. Originally the mechanics were straightforward, although today the use of keywords is much more complicated. Google’s algorithms have become much more complex (Rank Brain AI, in particular), and they now evaluate the intention behind your query and then search for a 'best fit' candidate in its network of indexed sites.

Clarifying the intentions and purpose of your business to Google is therefore paramount in achieving good quality traffic. The modern customer journey is also complex, so it’s important to focus on the key moments that can help inspire people to interact and engage with your business.

With the evolution of SERP features and a more personalised approach to search results, you cannot solely rely on a page one keyword ranking to get you as much traffic as possible. 

A smooth-running site will help generate traffic, too. A site created with a decent website builder and the perfect web hosting service will do wonders here. Or read on for how you can master keyword research…

01. Understand short and long tail

Researching the terminology that inspires your audience and encourages them to convert is crucial. These high intent keywords are an excellent opportunity to connect with qualified, conversion-ready audiences. These keywords can be broken down into:

  • Short tail (shorter, more generalised with greater search volume).
  • Long tail (longer, more specific with less search volume, which also has an impact with voice search). These variants will have an impact on impressions, click through rates and competition.

02. Start with ideation and research

Idea brainstorm

Ideation is a great way to identify your niche

A good place to start is with ideation. Brainstorm your ideal customer's keyword search terms and establish a baseline list (save this in secure cloud storage, accessible to your team). These seed keywords define your niche and describe your service. Get into the mindset of your audience: who they are and what are their pain points; get to know them better by studying their terminology.

If you can, utilise your ‘search box’ result terminology to outline what your target customer is thinking during their buyer journey. Brainstorm their Awareness stages (inspiration-pain points), Consideration stages (research-comparison) and Decision stages (purchase-advocacy).

03. Google your initial ideas

Google related keywords search

Google itself can help you identify useful phrases

The next step is to understand what keyword terminology, in line with your ideation list, is used by your audiences in the search engines. Investigate the SERP and review what Google believes is the most relevant to your keyword.

There is also an opportunity to review the ‘searches related to’ field in Google (bottom of the page). This will showcase a wealth of related keyword searches aligned with your initial thoughts. You can also head over to Google Trends and review how your keywords have evolved. This will give you a good indication of interest and related topics due to seasonality, geography/location and media coverage to add further weight and terms to your list.

04. Don't forget about Bing

Google asked questions

Google isn't the only search engine you need to keep in mind

Bing is increasing its share of the search engine market, with the mass release and rollout of Windows 10. The savvy marketers will capitalise on this and understand that Bing may have a certain demographic to target.

Keyword terminology will therefore be a key factor with this channel and nuisances between this and Google will be evident. Research keyword terminology around this older demographic and the opportunities that come from it.

05. Analyse your competitors' organic keywords

Keywords analytics tool

One way to beat the competition is to study them

Having an insight into what your competition is doing well – and what keywords they rank for – can give you a huge advantage.

Review the websites appearing on the first page naturally alongside your ideation list. Dig deeper into these websites, understanding the keyword terminology used within their URLs, header hierarchy, meta titles and descriptions.

Site Explorer in AHRefs enables you to browse the keywords your competitors rank for, closing the gap between those terms you are not taking advantage of and ultimately increasing traffic to your own domain. The Content Gap Tool also highlights keywords that all your competitors rank for, but you don’t.

06. Analyse your competitors' PPC keywords

SpyFu screenshot

SpyFu can help you study competitors

Look at what keyword terms the competition is bidding on. You can do this as per your initial research process utilising your ideation list within the search engines. As well as utilising third-party tools to save time, a useful tool that can help with this is SpyFu. Simply enter the competitor’s website domain and press enter.

07. Understand what you already rank for

Google Search console

Make the most of your existing rankings with Google Search Console

As well as building your keyword list, knowing what you already rank for can increase opportunities to target keyword placements outside of page 1 positioning. This can highlight ‘easy wins’ with page 2 positions that need a simple push!

Go to Google Search Console, click Search Traffic > Search Analytics, filter by Queries and click ‘Clicks/ Impressions/CTR/Position’. Then select Dates and Filter by Position to view the positioning and terminology.

08. Set primary and secondary keywords

Now you have a list, select a primary keyword and a set of related secondary keywords that share your searcher's intent (understanding what their motivation is crucial). The intent behind these keyword terms and phrases should be the same, so the same landing page content can ultimately serve it. Employ these primary, secondary and related keywords in the page's content, metas and links.

09. Gain some metrics

Google Keyword Tool screenshot

Get greater insight into your rankings with Google Keyword Planner

Use your keyword list inside the free Google Keyword Planner. Here you can review these metrics:

  • Search Volume: understand the search demand for a keyword and utilise this alongside Google Trends for insights on seasonality.
  • Keyword Difficulty: a balance between the business value of the keyword and its ranking difficulty. Invest in where you will receive the best return and be patient for the results.
  • Clicks: Having volume is great, but pay-per-click (PPC) adverts, localised map listings and rich snippets can immediately answer or steal clicks. Be mindful of this metric when selecting keywords.

10. Structure your keyword list

Having generated a list and used the metrics to identify the very best keywords, it’s now time to add some structure to your list. Ideally this process is whatever makes the most sense to you. For example, group by keyword topic and landing page, or group by user intent, or group by business value.

This article was originally published in issue 280 of creative web design magazine Web Designer. Buy issue 280 here or subscribe to Web Designer here.

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Paul has 15 years’ experience in leading digital organisations across a plethora of competitive markets.