Five clever ways to do keyword research

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Keyword research is the strategic foundation of your SEO and PPC strategies, helping you find opportunities to connect with your target audiences through search. We all know how important keyword research is, but you may have noticed it’s getting harder to unearth new opportunities as time goes by.

The competition is always getting stronger and the available space for visibility continues to get smaller.

Search for 'what is a keyword in SEO' showing large result taking up a lot of space in search results
We often find ourselves competing for one spot in organic search these days.

Basic keyword research isn’t enough to get you ranking high and winning ad auctions anymore. So, in this article, we’ve got five smarter ways to go about keyword research that will help you find new opportunities and become more competitive in search.

#1: Target keywords by intent, not volume

The natural instinct in keyword research is to assume that queries generating the highest search volumes are the most valuable. This isn’t always the case though. Yes, they might generate a lot of traffic but they’re also going to be the most competitive and, more importantly, they often result in fewer conversions.

“Don’t underestimate less popular keywords. Long tail keywords with lower search volume often convert better, because searchers are more specific and intentional in their searches. For example, a person searching for “shoes” is probably just browsing. On the other hand, someone searching for “best price red womens size 7 running shoe” practically has their wallet out!”Moz Keyword Research guide

As you can see in the graphic below, conversion rates generally increase as keywords become more specific, whereas the most competitive keywords rarely convert.

Graph showing search volume competition against conversion rates


Now, we’re not saying conversions are your only goal in search marketing, but the point here is that the most competitive keywords aren’t necessarily the most valuable. Instead, what you should be looking at is the intent of search terms and understanding what users typing these into search engines are really after.

Are they looking to buy a product, learn about a topic, find stats for a paper they’re writing or something else entirely?

Yes, you want to know the keywords you’re targeting are going to bring in enough traffic but there’s not much point in attracting visitors that aren’t going to complete the actions you want. So start by mapping out which search intentions you want to target (purchases, product research, comparisons, informational etc) and then assign keywords to them.

This will allow you to target the most effective keywords for your marketing objectives and avoid the trap of simply targeting the most competitive keywords.

#2: Target keywords for different goals

Search intent is vital for bringing the most valuable users to your website but it’s not your only goal in search marketing. This is especially true for SEO where you want to build your online presence and get your pages ranking high in the organic SERPs.

Different types of keywords will help you achieve different objectives. It’s important to understand the roles they play in a comprehensive search strategy. Here are some examples.

  • Industry terms: These are generally the broadest, most competitive search terms in your industry that can yield the highest search volumes – not great for conversions but powerful for building brand awareness and authority.
  • Categorical terms: The most important of these will be your services, products or product categories and you’ll need these to get your pages ranking in search.
  • Conversational queries: These are increasingly triggering featured snippets in organic search – highly competitive but excellent for building brand awareness, authority and visibility.
  • Niche and longtail keywords: Less competitive but great for generating leads and targeting specific user intents.

So it’s important to define your search marketing objectives and understand which keywords are going to help you achieve each of them. You’ll hear buzz terms like featured snippets and longtail keywords mentioned all the time but these are no good to you unless you understand their strengths, weaknesses and the role they play in your search marketing strategy.

#3: Find emerging keywords with Google Trends

The most successful brands seize opportunities before they become mainstream and the same thing applies to keyword research. If you’re only finding the opportunities that already exist, you’re limiting your ability to get ahead of the competition. Every time your rivals get there first, it becomes increasingly difficult to knock them off the top spot.

So how do you find keyword opportunities before everyone else knows about them?

While you can hunt around for low-competition keywords that nobody has discovered yet, the return on these is generally low as well. What you want to do is find keyword opportunities before they even become opportunities and Google Trends is the keyword tool you want for this.

Example search in google trends

With Google Trends, you can see how the interest in topics and search terms evolve over time and segment this data by location. You can even use the tool to predict which search terms will become more or less valuable over time, allowing you to optimise for keyword opportunities ahead of everyone else.

Likewise, you can use this data to spot downward trends and see which of your existing keywords are presenting less of an opportunity. Another key task Google Trends can help with is seeing how interest in search terms changes over short time periods, allowing you to see which keywords are more seasonal and might be better suited to PPC campaigns than organic search.

You’ll find a bunch more strategies and tricks you can do with Google Trends in these articles:

One of the best features in Google Trends is its API, which allows you to export its data into your own applications. We import data into our software, Apollo Insights, which combines these insights with datasets from hundreds of other sources to find new keyword opportunities.

Apollo insights dashboard

The sooner you start optimising for emerging keyword opportunities, the more difficult it will be for your rivals to jump ahead of you in the future.

#4: Answer questions, not keywords

The phrase “keywords” is sometimes problematic in the age of conversational search. People are increasingly talking to search engines as they would a real person and queries today are more like conversational questions than ever before.

In 2018, Google addressed this (not for the first time) in a post entitled How conversational searches change your search strategy. In the article, Sara Kleinberg, who is Head of Ads Research and Insights at Google, showed how Google had seen an increase in conversational queries on mobile in previous years:

  1. Mobile searches for “do I need” have grown over 65%. For example, “how much do I need to retire,” “what size generator do I need,” and “how much paint do I need.”
  2. Mobile searches for “should I” have grown over 65%. For example, “what laptop should I buy,” “should I buy a house,” “what SPF should I use,” and “what should I have for dinner.”
  3. Mobile searches starting with “can I” have grown over 85%. For example, “can I use paypal on amazon,” “can I buy stamps at walmart,” and “can I buy a seat for my dog on an airplane.”

Dive into your search analytics and you’ll see that the vast majority of organic traffic comes from informational queries. These users are looking for information. In other words, they’ve got a question on their mind and they’re looking for the answer that pleases them most.

In this case, your keywords are the question and your content should be the answer – but how do you find these keywords?

Keyword research tools like Google’s Keyword Planner will help you find search queries but they don’t necessarily find the questions your target audiences are asking. One of the best tools for this is the “People also ask” feature in Google Search, which provides you with a list of related questions to whatever you type into Google.

Results showing 'people also ask' in google search results

Every time you click on a question, the list expands and you can quickly unravel dozens of conversational keyword opportunities.

Example of the 'people also ask' section in google results

You’ll also see a preview of which featured snippet is currently ranking for each question and you can click on the Search for link at the bottom of any question to see what the full SERP looks like.

Related content: How to get featured snippets in Google Search

#5: Attack your competitors on two fronts

Earlier, we looked at how competitive keywords are generally more effective for brand awareness and authority, while longtail keywords tend to be stronger for targeting specific user intents and conversions.

You want to use both of these strategies to beat your competitors.

For the most competitive keywords in organic search, you have to be producing better content than the brands ranking higher than you. Better content means attracting (not buying) more links from trusted sites and achieving better engagement metrics when users land on your page – time on page, pages visited, lower bounce rates, etc.

Related content: How UX complements SEO to improve conversion strategy

There’s no shortcut for achieving this. You have to answer the questions users are asking in a more convincing and engaging way to get ahead of the top-ranking brands for competitive keywords.

This is a long-term strategy.

In the meantime, you can use the strategies we’ve already looked at to find low-competition and emerging keyword opportunities that your rivals aren’t yet using. Use competitor research tools like Apollo Insights to see which keywords your rivals are missing and use them to build your overall search ranking while you gradually work on the more competitive keywords.

For brands that are beating you in paid search auctions, start by analysing their ads and landing pages. Aim to beat them with more tempting, relevant messages and optimise for conversions. Not only will this maximise your ROI but it will improve your Quality Score, enabling you to beat rivals bidding more than you in the auction.

Also, pay attention to your rivals’ loading times – especially on mobile – as this could give you the edge in Google’s search algorithm and auctions.

Once again, you can find longtail and low-competition keywords to make a more immediate impact while you optimise your PPC campaigns for more competitive queries. Make sure you’re also using negative keywords, ad scheduling and bidding strategies to give yourself the best advantage against your rivals.

Need help with your keyword research?

If you’re struggling to find the right search opportunities, you can reach out to us on Twitter @VerticalLeap with any questions or call us on 02392 830281 to speak to our search marketing experts.

Dave Colgate profile picture
Dave Colgate

Dave is head of SEO at Vertical Leap. He joined in 2010 as an SEO specialist and prior to that worked with international companies delivering successful search marketing campaigns. Dave works with many of our largest customers spanning many household names and global brands such as P&O Cruises and Harvester. Outside of work, Dave previously spent many years providing charity work as a Sergeant under the Royal Air Force Reserves in the Air Cadets sharing his passion for aviation with young minds. He can often be found in the skies above the south coast enjoying his private pilot licence.

More articles by Dave
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