How to do key term research – The basics

Key term research still baffles an awful lot of people. Here are the bare bones basics about how to do key term research… and why it matters.

Why do you need keyterm research?

Search engines use words to explore, classify, rank and rate web pages. I’ve talked about it before. But forget what search engines want. Step one to intelligent key term research is this: put the visitor first.
You want to make it easy for people who need your products or services to find what they want. People search Google using phrases. When you use the phrases that people already habitually use to find stuff like yours, you help them realise their intentions. Which, in this context, means you fulfil their desire to buy something. Everyone’s happy, including search engines because it helps them do an even better job of giving people exactly what they’re searching for.
So how do you find out which words and phrases people are already using to find products and services like yours?

Where do I start with key term research?

Your first step is to apply common sense and make a list. Say you sell red wellies. You could focus the content of your landing page around the key term ‘red wellies’. Fair enough. But you can be much cleverer than that.
When people type the term ‘red wellies’ into Google, it  could mean anything. They might want photos of red wellies, or just want to learn about the origin of wellies. The term doesn’t signify an intention to buy, just a broad interest in the subject. And while it’s good to attract interest from all types of wellie-obsessed punters, your first priority is to be there for people who actually want to buy red wellies.
You want to capture searchers at the buying end of the sales funnel. Bearing this in mind, your key terms might be things like ‘buy women’s red wellies’ and ‘buy a pair of cheap red wellies for men’. Get as creative as you can. Ask friends and family. List ten of the phrases you think people are most likely to use to find and buy products or services like yours. 
Next, it’s time to test your assumptions. Sign into your Google account, head for the AdWords Key Term Research Tool and take these simple steps:

  1. Go to tools/keyword planner
  2. Under ‘What would you like to do?’, choose the ‘search for new keyword and ad group ideas’ option
  3. Put the first of your ten key phrases in the ‘Your product or service’ box
  4. Ignore everything else and just press the ‘get ideas’ button
  5. Click the ‘keyword ideas’ tab at the top
  6. Pick ten of the best
  7. Move on to your next key term
  8. The result: a list of 100 key terms to map to various web pages, blog posts and digital marketing content

Your best bet is to choose key terms with high search volumes and low competition. That way you get a decent chance of appearing in front of the people who want to find you. The more popular a key phrase is with punters, the more challenging it is to get your content in front of them.
Back to red wellies. Here are some examples:

  • The term ‘red wellies’ might be very popular and not particularly competitive. There’s not much point focusing your content on it because it doesn’t signal an intent to buy.
  • The term ‘buy long red welly boots’ might only get a few hundred UK searches per month, or tens, but because it signals such a strong intent to buy it might be worth using. On the other hand if it’s highly competitive, you’ll have to work very hard to create better content than anyone else who’s focusing on it.
  • Welly and wellie, wellys and wellies. Check the search volumes for singulars and plurals, and for the different spellings if there are alternatives. Never assume – you might be surprised what most people use.
  • If there’s a very low search volume and low competition, very few people use the term so don’t bother focusing on it

Don’t just stick to the high performers. Make a list of less popular search terms and sprinkle them throughout your site too, using them where it makes logical sense. Because Google and co pick up on context, it’ll help you fulfil visitors’ expectations more closely.

Why use the Google AdWords key term research tool?

While the Google AdWords key term research tool collates paid search volumes, there’s no real reason why natural search shouldn’t behave in much the same way.

Basic key term mapping – allocating key terms to web pages

It’s no good trying to stuff all your key terms into your home page. Or any page. Certain pages will cry out for certain key terms, and it should be obvious which will be the most help to visitors, used where. Exercise common sense and logic. And remember to put visitors first: use the key terms you’ve identified as popular with people to help them find the exact information they need.

How to avoid over-cooking it

It isn’t all about using the most advantageous key terms for your target audience’s benefit. You can’t just write a page of rubbish, include key terms and hope you get loads of traffic. Let alone any sales. You also need to create the best, most interesting and valuable content possible. But that’s another story. 

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