If your company has any sort of marketing strategy, it’s likely you’ve done basic keyword research at some point. With the pervasiveness of the internet, most companies understand the need to reach people online. Incorporating keywords relevant to your business within your website content helps them find you.
However, Jennasis and Associates’ resident SEO expert Jason Fisher says companies often underestimate the importance of fresh keyword research to attracting organic search traffic. Whether it’s because they’re sticking to an established keyword list or think SEO is just too complicated, he sees many taking a “one-and-done” approach – if they’ve done keyword research at all.
But if that sounds like your business, you’re likely missing out on significant organic traffic.
“We know from Google that 15 percent of searches are new, they’ve never been seen before by Google, and Google processes trillions of searches every year. So you can imagine over the course of the year how many different, new keyword opportunities come up in your space,” Jason says. “That’s why keyword research should be done every year, no matter what. The process needs to be ongoing, not a one-off thing.”
What is organic traffic?
If you’re not familiar with SEO, you may be wondering what organic traffic is and why you need it.
Simply put, organic traffic is anyone who finds your website by clicking on an unpaid search engine link. (Think those blue links that show up on Google when you do a search, underneath the ads.)
Just how important are those clicks to your business?
Very – because a significant chunk of your online audience is finding you this way. In fact, 51 percent of traffic on average still comes from organic search, according to a 2017 BrightEdge study. And most of those users are searching through Google.
“A lot of people go online to research product and services on Google,” Fisher says. “They have a lot of different questions, depending on what buying stage they’re in. You want the visibility to ensure you’re the one getting them the answers, to act as the authority in the space – which is why keywords are so important. If you’re not talking about what’s going on in the space and answering those questions, someone else is.”
How do I attract more organic traffic?
To obtain that visibility, Fisher says you need to communicate to search engines who you are and what your business is about, so that your website can be matched against relevant search queries. Keywords can help you do that – along with three important factors Fisher says must be factored into any SEO strategy.
1. Link building
Link building is the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites to your own. Search engines use these links to crawl the web and make associations between pages and websites. According to Moz, this ultimately helps them do two things:
Discover new webpages
Help determine how well a page should link in results
Therefore, the more high-quality websites that link to you, the higher your chances are of being found and ranking well in search results.
What’s the best way to get backlinks? Through useful content, found via relevant keywords.
“When we publish blog posts, for example – sometimes it’s resource material, sometimes it’s informational, sometimes it’s a how-to – what’s happening is, it’s useful content that answers a question or solves a problem,” Jason says. “It’s relevant to your business and it’s a useful piece of material, so it attracts backlinks from others in your space. That increases the value and authority of your pages.”
Publishing fresh, useful content does more than attract backlinks, however. Content is also key to attracting search engines back to your website frequently, keeping you top of mind and ensuring any new keywords you’ve added get factored into your rankings.
On the flip side, search engines may think your website is inactive or “dead” if you aren’t making any updates, which will likely hurt your rankings.
“When someone acts like an authority and publishes good content about what they do, humans notice – and machines notice, too,” Fisher says. “But if you have a site sitting there with content that hasn’t been updated in two years, how do you think Google is going to look at it? It’s just old news.”
3. RankBrain algorithm
While keywords within your content help search engines match relevant queries to that content, how do search engines match results for the 15 percent of search queries that are completely new?
For Google, the answer is RankBrain. An artificial intelligence algorithm introduced in 2015, RankBrain helps Google return the best match to a query, even when it hasn’t been seen before – so it isn’t sure what exactly that query means.
It uses machine learning to infer what an unknown query is asking – what their intent is, if not their actual wording – and match against what it determines are related keywords.
“It makes sure search queries are attached to pages that match the user’s intent,” Fisher says. “So by focusing on the intent of the search in your keyword strategy, you’re able to better identify what type of material needs to be produced to meet that need and expectation – and get found.”
How do I create a keyword list?
With these factors in mind, you’re ready to conduct keyword research. But what exactly does that entail?
Keyword research is a data-driven discovery process. You must identify what keywords are being used in queries to find your business’ products and services, and to find information related to those products and services. And then apply those relevant keywords to your content strategy.
This is the key to driving future organic traffic to your website.
Where to look
To start building your keyword list, Fisher recommends looking at a very diverse source of keyword data to get the best picture. You can use popular search engines, such as Google and Bing, to look up:
Evaluating keyword data
When looking at the returned results, Fisher then recommends evaluating potential keywords against 5 important factors to aid you in selecting the best ones to include on your list. Look for:
How do I use my keyword list?
OK, so you’ve created a list of keywords to work with.
The next step is to determine how your list can improve your existing content marketing efforts, and inform future content to boost organic traffic. To do so, Fisher recommends a three-step approach:
1. Understand and segment by user intent
With the sheer volume of new queries being made, Fisher says it’s crucial to first understand the user intent of your keywords. He recommends categorizing each keyword (or group of keywords with a central theme) as either transactional or informational, to better understand and cater to that intent.
Transactional keywords are searches that indicate a user has the intent to buy something. For example, someone may search “where to buy a black SUV,” or perhaps more specifically, a “Ford Explorer.”
“Transactional keywords will drive on-page optimization,” Fisher says. “They inform your content marketing team to help them understand what needs to be marketed on your website, and how.”
Informational keywords, meanwhile, indicate a user is looking for more information about a topic, product, or service. This type of keyword should inform your editorial calendar, driving the topics of articles, blogs, and other source material posted to your website, Fisher says.
“Informational keywords are absolutely the blueprint for your online marketing efforts, and should be driving a lot of the decisions that you make,” he says. “You’re just lost wandering around the wilderness if you don’t do it, you’re playing a guessing game.”
The best keyword strategy incorporates a balance of both transactional and informational.
“You don’t just want transactional resources that drive revenue directly, you also want keywords that are relevant to the business, that are questions people have, research they may be doing around a product or service to understand it better,” Fisher says.
2. Identify the opportunities
By evaluating the intent of transactional and informational keywords, you can then compare against your website as it stands to identify what content you already have, what can be optimized, and what you might be missing.
Fisher advises you start by looking at the listings Google returns for each keyword or keyword grouping, and reviewing the results it thinks meets a searcher’s intent. Then, compare against what your business has to offer – or could create – to match that intent.
“What do you see? Where are the gaps? How can the information in those other articles be improved? What type of digital assets can you create to make a more intuitive or better-looking article that would be more useful than what’s out there? It’s about beating out those other blue links.”
3. Fill the gaps
Identifying and filling gaps is arguably where the greatest potential is – each serving as an opportunity to expand your business’ online reach and authority. And when the gap exists on your website as well as within current search results, you can do so without much, if any, competition.
“When new keyword groups come up, you may look and realize you don’t have content that aligns with that keyword group within your product and services pages, or in your resource or category pages,” Fisher says. “And by refreshing your keyword research every year, it helps you continue to identify what those content gaps are on your website as new queries pop up to stay ahead.”
Once you identify a gap, how do you leverage content to fix it?
That’s where content mapping comes in.
Content mapping is the process of identify existing pages within your website, and mapping which keywords are relevant to those pages. Then, you need to evaluate if the pages rank well or not for those keywords as they stand. (Which means, according to Fisher, they show up within the top 5 results when inputting those keywords into a search engine.)
If they don’t rank well, flag them for optimization. If you don’t have a page or article to map a keyword or keyword grouping to – create one to fill the gap.
Don’t waste the leftovers
You may find that you have keyword opportunities that don’t map to an existing webpage or blog, but they don’t provide much of an opportunity to create a wealth of content to fill a new one.
Fisher’s pro tip?
Don’t throw out these “leftovers.” Leverage them to drive a Q&A page.
“I’ve found a bunch of keyword opportunities that have really quick answers and don’t warrant writing an article,” he says. “So I take all of those short Q&As and write a Q&A page that answers all of those questions. Now, I have an opportunity to create a highly-informative and highly-useful resource that is highly relevant to my business, and rank for it.”
Give your business’ SEO strategy a boost
Keyword research is fundamental to driving any business’ content marketing efforts – which in turn, drives organic traffic. And if it’s not done right, your content’s not done right, Fisher says.
“Ongoing keyword research provides a constant, fresh source of data-driven business intelligence,” he says. “It tells you what users are doing and thinking, what they’re looking for, and what they need. It’s extremely informative to a business owner – and with the Internet of Things, we’re only seeing more and more opportunities for people to be inputting this data moving forward.”
If you’re worried your keyword research is out of date, or that you don’t have an effective keyword strategy to drive traffic to your website at all, Jennasis can help. Get in touch with an SEO expert about giving your strategy a boost by emailing our team at email@example.com.
Jessica Shaffalo is a content writer with experience rooted in marketing and journalism. In addition to writing, she loves reading, traveling, witty one-liners and every cheesecake she’s ever met. She lives in the Cleveland area with her husband, Rob, and their spoiled rescue dog, Georgia.