We know it can be hard to keep up with all the changes to search engine optimization (SEO), and creating a solid SEO keyword research strategy is no exception. With all the advances in Google’s artificial intelligence and constant updates to its underlying algorithms, the keyword research techniques you’ve been using are obsolete.
As you begin to craft a stellar keyword strategy for 2017 and beyond, you’ll need to take all of these changes into account. That means it’s time to level up your strategy, so strap on your rocket boots, and get ready to take a giant leap into the future of search.
Semantic Search Is the Future
Before Google’s RankBrain update landed in 2015, padding your content with keywords was still a winning strategy. With the advent of RankBrain, it’s all about context and search intent. It doesn’t matter how many different forms of keywords you target if your content doesn’t serve the goal of your users, it simply won’t rank.
But no matter how good of a clickbait title it makes, keywords aren’t dead. Google still needs to capture meaning through the keywords you choose and how you prioritize them in your content, they just don’t have a one-to-one relationship like they did in the past.
Semantic search – Wikipedia
The keyword strategy of the future is to “cluster” or group your keywords together based on semantic meaning. Utilizing this strategy will help you focus on topics, not just keywords, enabling you to write content that closely matches the search intent. It will also help you cover the overall topic and write in a more conversational way, which is becoming more and more important due to the unprecedented growth of voice search. The key to making this strategy work is first understanding how people are searching for your topic and then identifying all of the words and phrases semantically related to your primary keywords.
The Keyword Research Process
Step 1: Identify your website’s core pages
Most commonly, keyword research is performed from an industry perspective. You enter all the terms you can think of that related to your business into your keyword tool and then sort through the results. However, that isn’t very efficient or effective. Instead, we’ll begin by identifying your website’s core pages and their primary keywords.
For example, if you were doing keyword research for a Las Vegas based web presence marketing company, your core pages may look something like this:
Home page: Your homepage should be optimized for your main keyword. This keyword is typically broad, the most profitable and the most difficult to rank. This keyword should also explain what your business is or does. For our example, this keyword would simply be “Web Presence Marketing Company.” Some other examples include “Cosmetic Dentist,” “Medical Marijuana Dispensary,” and “Moving Company.”
Service and product pages: These are your individual service or product pages, and the keywords you choose should focus on the primary topic of the page. In our example, these might include:
- Search Engine Optimization
- Email Marketing
- Content Marketing
- Social Media Management
Step 2: Perform keyword research for each page
Now that we’ve identified your core pages and the main keyword associated with each one, it’s time find the semantically related keywords for each page. Any keyword tool will do the job, but for this article, we’ll use both SEMrush and Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner.
We’re using the paid version of SEMrush, and if you’re serious about SEO, you should be, too. They do offer a free version, but you’ll be limited to 10 results per search.
- Start by entering the primary keyword for your page into the SEMrush search bar and click the search button.
- After the search is complete, click the “view report” button in the phrase match keywords section.
- Finally, click the export button and download your results as an Excel spreadsheet.
AdWords Keyword Planner
Keyword Planner is a free option, but Google has recently made the search volume metrics available only to those with paid AdWords campaigns. Nevertheless, it’s still a great tool for identifying keywords.
Begin by visiting Keyword Planner and clicking on the “Search for new keywords using a phrase” option.
Next, enter your keyword, turn on the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” option in the keyword options section and click the “Get ideas” button.
Finally, click the download button and save the file as an Excel CSV.
Step 3: Group keywords semantically
Now that you’ve identified keywords related to your page’s primary keyword, it’s time to organize them into semantically related groups in a process referred to as “keyword clustering.”
Keyword clustering – Wikipedia
Manually performing keyword clustering is difficult, but several free and paid tools will make this process a lot easier.
- Moz Keyword Explorer (Freemium)
- Keyword Studio
All of these tools perform the same task, but the paid tools offer additional features and more advanced grouping algorithms. Which tool you decide to use is up to you.
Step 4: Group keywords by intent
Once you’ve used one of the tools above and organize your keywords into semantic groups, you’ll need to divide them even further based on intent. But how do I determine the intent of the keyword, you ask? You can accomplish this by answering one simple question: Why are people searching for this term?
Are they looking to purchase a product or service?
Are they looking for an answer to a question?
Are they trying to navigate to a specific website?
Keywords can be broken down into three main categories of intent:
- Commercial/Transactional: Search terms people use when they are looking to buy product or service or perform another type of action, like signing up for a newsletter. Some examples are “SEO company Las Vegas,” “oral surgeon Las Vegas,” “moving company near me.”
- Informational: Search terms people use when searching for information about a topic or answer a question, such as “how much does SEO cost,” “how tall is the statue of liberty,” “things to do in las vegas.”
- Navigational: These are search terms people use when searching for a particular website, such as “Post Launch Las Vegas,” “PayPal site,” “Amazon shoes.”
If you still aren’t sure of a keywords intent, you can perform a search in Google. Does Google show you results that are mostly businesses trying to sell a product service? Are the results information and attempting to answer a question? For some search queries, you may even get a knowledge graph or “rich answer” result, which is a dead giveaway that Google sees this as an informational search.
Step 5: Choose your keywords
The final step of our keyword research process is choosing which semantically related keywords you will use on your page. You can determine the best keywords based on three metrics:
Search volume: How many people are searching for the term?
Ideally, the keywords you select should have a high search volume and little competition. However, this isn’t always possible, as keywords that fit this profile are becoming harder to find every day. Higher search volume keywords are typically harder to rank for, so you should only begin to target these once you’ve established website authority.
Competition: Is my website authoritative enough to rank?
If you’re researching keywords for a new with little to no authority, it’s important to begin by targeting only low and medium competition keywords. Similar to the high volume search terms, you should only start targeting higher competition keywords once you’ve established more authority.
Tools you can use to survey the competition include:
SEMrush Keyword Difficulty Tool
The keyword difficulty tool allows you to enter up to 10 keywords and checks difficulty, search volume, number of results, whether or not Google shows any SERP features and a small graph of the term’s search trend over the past 12 months.
MozBar extension for Google Chrome
You can use the MozBar extension to determine how authoritative the websites are for a particular SERP by comparing the page authority (PA) and domain authority (DA) of the site’s ranking in search results to your website. If the competition’s PA and DA are too high, it will be difficult to rank for these terms.
Relevancy: Is this term relevant to your business and the core page?
When selecting keywords, it’s important that each keyword is relevant to your business as well as the core page you are optimizing.
Wrapping SEO Keyword Research Strategy
That’s it! Now you’re well on your way to optimizing your website in the era of artificial intelligence. Of course, if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, you can always give us a ring here at Post Launch, and we can take care of all that keyword research for you, in addition to optimizing your website, managing your social media and much more.
Is Google’s RankBrain algorithm a precursor to Terminator’s Judgment Day or is it just the next evolution of search? Leave us a comment below, and let us know what you think.