Keyword research sounds like some marketing voodoo, but every blogger needs to know at least the basics of this process to create content that your target audience can find through search engines. I’ll briefly touch on what keyword research is, why it’s important, and give a step-by-step guide on how to do keyword research for blog posts.
Every search begins with a keyword.
Before you even begin to optimize your content, you have to know first what to optimize for. You have to know what words and phrases you want to rank for in search engines. You have to know what words and phrases your target audience will search for so they’ll find your content.
In today’s article, I’ll go over what keyword research is, why it’s important, and how to do keyword research for blog posts. I’ll close out with some things to keep in mind when doing keyword research.
First off, what is keyword research?
Keyword research involves finding the words and phrases that a target audience will likely input in their search query to find information about a topic.
In the early days of internet marketing, keyword research meant researching one keyword at a time; that is, literally one word.
Content creators then took this single word and would pepper their content with this word: body text, URL, title, image alt text, and everywhere else.
This changed when Google changed its algorithm to focus on searcher intent; that is, the meaning behind what users were typing in. This updated weakened the link between the words in a search query and the words that are actually on a webpage.
Users then began to go from searching short-tail keywords and moving toward long-tail keywords (i.e., phrases) to get exactly what they were looking for. Content creators and marketers then began to move away from creating hundreds of articles that were keyword-rich but low-quality, to fewer articles but higher quality ones, with more natural phrases and topics.
Currently, keyword research is used not to merely stuff articles with, but to be a guide to making high-quality content that users are actually searching for.
Ranking for the right keywords in your niche can make the difference between the success and failure of your blog.
Researching the demand for a particular keyword shows you which words and phrases your target audience is searching for. Plus, it reveals how your target audience thinks about those topics and how they phrase it in their head before they type it out.
If you do your keyword research the right way, you’ll know your audience so well that you learn which words will grab their attention and which ones will turn them off. You’ll know how to gain their trust and ultimately to persuade them to take action.
The value of this information cannot be emphasized, but information alone is no good. It’s up to you to use this knowledge wisely. The point of knowing all this is to learn how to speak to your target audience through your content in a way that they’re likely to respond.
It’s about attracting the right kind of visitors to your blog; consuming your content, benefitting from it, and coming back for more of it. That kind of returning traffic is what you want to achieve.
Now that you know what keyword research is and what it’s good for, here’s how to do keyword research for your blog posts. Note that doing keyword research for your blog posts is a bit different from doing keyword research for your overall content strategy. For now, we’ll focus on doing keyword research for a single blog post or a series of blog posts.
Write down around 5 to 6 keywords that are relevant to your niche. Remember that when I say keywords, this covers words and phrases, so don’t hesitate to list down long-tail keywords; that is, search phrases with three or more words.
Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re stumped:
Still stumped? Use Google’s free tool, the Google Keyword Planner, to expand your list of keywords. If you don’t already have one, you’ll need to create a Google AdWords account to use the Keyword Planner. You won’t need to create your campaign, but you do have to answer some questions first.
Google originally designed this tool with AdWords in mind; that is, so that advertisers can find keywords to target their ads. Nowadays, however, it’s being used by bloggers and marketers alike for keyword research for content strategy purposes as well.
For this particular step, the option to select would be “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category” and then input your main keyword into the “Your product or service” field. The tool will then come up with a list of related keywords that can help you brainstorm. Keep a list of keywords that look promising.
It’s easier to rank for specific keywords than it is for more general terms.
At this point, instead of focusing on the words, focus on their intent. Put yourself in your target audience’s shoes and try to anticipate their needs. Why do you think they’re searching for that topic? What specifically are they interested in?
Here are some examples of modifiers you can use to make your keyword be more specific. Note that some of these modifiers may not apply to your niche, so select the ones that are
Google displays a “Related Searches” field in the search results page. Its search algorithm determines which concepts are related to the keywords you typed in the search field. See the image below to see what this section looks like for Google.
As you can see, the related searches are long-tail keywords that you can click and then get related searches from. Repeating this process can yield a lot of new long-tail keywords that you can take note of.
By this time, you should already have a sizable list of keywords from repeatedly doing steps 2 and 3. Now you can determine how common the keywords are by looking at their search volume on Google Keyword Planner.
There are other tools out there, free and paid, that can give you the search volumes of your keywords, but of the free tools, Google Keyword Planner is considered the best tool for this, because who better to tell you how often a keyword is searched than the search engine itself?
In this step, the option to click is “Get search volume data and trends” and then input your keyword/s in the “Enter keywords” field. Yes, you can check search volume for more than one keyword at a time.
The ONLY column you need to be concerned about at this point is the “Avg. monthly searches” column. In our example, the keyword we’re assessing (“hostess gifts”) gets searched 10,000 to 100,000 times a month on average.
This type of search volume is expected for such a general keyword, but this was only to illustrate how the results would look like when you use Google Keyword Planner. In actual practice, what you want is a search volume of 30 to 100 average monthly searches.
The column beside “Avg. monthly searches” is “Competition,” but this is not the data you want. Note that this refers to the bid competition on paid search terms in Google AdWords, NOT competition from other websites in organic search. We’ll go over that in the next step.
Checking out the competition is important to know if you actually have a chance to actually rank for your candidate keywords.
Again, there are automated tools, both free and paid, that can help you weigh your chances to rank in search engines. However, you can actually examine the search engine result page yourself to gauge it. Here’s how.
First, run a search query for your selected keyword. Make sure it’s a non-personalized search (you can read about it how to set it up here).
Then, when the search results page comes up, go through the following checklist:
It’s important to remember that this point that you don’t need to be rank #1 to get traffic; at the very least, aim to get in the first page of the search results.
Do this assessment for all the keywords in your list. If you think you have a chance to rank for a keyword, keep it on your list. If not, cross it out or save them somewhere else. Maybe they have a chance in the future when trends change.
If you have a single keyword left, then it’s time to write a blog post optimized for that keyword (I discuss the basics of how to do that in this article).
If you’re lucky to have more than one, then you can write a blog post about each one, which saves you time because you don’t need to do keyword research until you run out of keywords to write content around.
To sum up, here are the steps on how to do keyword research for blog posts.
And here are the characteristics that you want your keyword to have:
Before you go forth and do your keyword research for your next blog post, here are some more pointers to keep in mind when doing keyword research.
Keyword research is crucial to your content creation, but when you create content around the keyword, it’s not just about plugging the keyword in the content as many times as you can, then publishing and calling it a day.
It’s about creating the highest quality content you can around the topic, because the idea is when you create high-quality content around a certain keyword, you’re naturally going to have phrases in your content that may not match your keyword exactly, but are related enough for Google to understand that your topic is highly relevant to the keyword you’re trying to rank for.
Those phrases don’t even have to be synonyms, just contextually related. For example, if you were writing about “best travel destinations 2017,” you’ll naturally have words like “vacation,” “flights,” “hotels,” “tourist,” in your content.
But more importantly, these keywords would NOT dominate your content. They’ll be more of sprinkled in the article instead of poured liberally. There’s almost no way you can write high-quality content that is stuffed with keywords. If you overuse your keyword as well as related words, Google will know that it’s not natural usage and they’ll penalize you for that.
More importantly, your readers will know. Nothing will turn off visitors to your blog more than crappy content.
Higher quality content will trump keyword-dense but lower quality content.
When your target audience types words into a search box, they’re actually asking a question. Doing keyword research right will help you discover those questions they’re asking.
For example, when they type in “best productivity apps,” they’re asking “Is there a solution that can help me work efficiently?”
Google knows this and that’s why they’re constantly improving their algorithms to take this into consideration to deliver search results that are actually helpful to their users.
When you do keyword research, always remember that there is an underlying purpose to that search, and your goal is to create the best content out there that meets the purpose of that search query.
Keyword research is vital, but it’s just a part of the big picture that is your long-term blogging strategy.
It’s a great tool, but at the end of the day, all the keyword research and search engine optimization can’t help you if you’re producing shoddy content.
Instead of viewing it as a magic bullet, consider keyword research as a means for you to provide valuable content, which should be your ultimate goal.
JoAnne is your average, everyday, sane stay-at-home mom who believes in the power of the internet to make dreams come true. She has an insatiable appetite for chocolate, as well as all things internet marketing. She keeps up with the latest trends in blogging, affiliate marketing, e-commerce, and more.