SEO basics: What is keyword research?
Keyword research is your first step in optimizing your website for certain keywords. Without keyword research, you might find yourself lost in your own lingo and battling giants in your industry that can’t be beaten in the search result pages just like that. There is a variety of factors you have to take into account when doing keyword research and setting up your keyword strategy. In this article, we’ll discuss your mission, your audience and your competition.
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What makes your company unique?
Before you do anything, and this is key, you need to know what makes your company unique. You need to have a clear concept of the mission of your company. You need to determine exactly what you have to offer. Because that’s what’s going to make you rank. It’s that simple. SEO is just like regular business. If you’re doing everything on the same or inferior level as your competition, you’re not going to stand out. If you’re not the best result, why should people want to find you? Why should Google rank you? This seems simple, but this factor is often forgotten.
We often hear people say: we can’t come up with meaningful keywords. If you struggle with that too, take a step back and look at your business at large:
- What do you have to offer?
- What is your mission?
- What are your core values and strengths?
- How can you branch out from your core selling points to very specific bits of information or service? Use these to stand out from the crowd.
You don’t have to be better than your competition at everything, as long as you identify enough things to build a keyword strategy around. For smaller companies, this means that you probably have to be better at the things bigger fish haven’t thought of. Or at the things, these companies aren’t actively looking to do. If you can’t come up with anything, you have a bigger problem than just coming up with keywords…
The role of your audience in your keyword research
Once you’ve determined what you have to offer, it’s time to consider your audience. In the end, SEO is all about making sure your users are able to find you. So the first thing you have to do is find out what words your potential audience uses to find the information they’re looking for.
Let’s consider an example. At Yoast, we think of our courses platform as “Yoast Academy”. So at first sight, it seems very logical for us to optimize for the keyword “Yoast Academy”. However, when we analyze traffic data, it turns out that our audience uses “Yoast courses” way more. So it makes much more sense to optimize for that term instead. Every company has its own internal vocabulary, which often doesn’t match the vocabulary of its audience. Therefore, you should always choose your keywords from the perspective of your audience. You can use Google Trends to research how often search terms are used compared to other terms.
What about your competition?
Lastly, you simply can’t devise a proper keyword research strategy without taking your competition into account. Too often, websites optimize for terms they have absolutely no chance ranking for. So you need to research your competition.
You can go all overboard and make a thorough analysis of all the competitors in your field, and that can certainly be worthwhile. But let’s stick to the basics for now. It’s actually quite easy to get a general idea of your SEO competition. Just google some search terms you would like to rank for! See what companies show up and where you rank. How big are the companies you are competing with for top three rankings? Would your company fit between these results? This is all quite easy to determine using just the Google search results.
But be wary! You can’t just trust the search results because Google tailors them to your search history. So logically, your site is going to come up higher for you than for others that perform the same search. You can use an incognito screen to circumvent this, although there’s still a local search component even in an incognito screen. If that is a problem for you, you should consider using VPNs to mask your location.
Expanding your strategy step-by-step
Big sites can rank for the most general terms. Smaller sites within a very specific niche can do the same. Of course, it’s also easier if you’re writing in a language that is not spoken all over the world. For most smaller sites that are writing in English, however, the general rule of thumb is this: start with a big set of long tail keywords which have little traffic but you can rank for more easily. Then, work yourself up the rankings step-by-step. Once you’ve gained some SEO authority, start optimizing for more general keywords. And in the end, maybe you will even be able to rank for your head keywords!
Read more: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »
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