It’s all but impossible to launch an effective search marketing strategy without incorporating keyword research. Keyword research gives you the assurance of knowing what terms your target audience is using, not just going on a hunch. And the earlier you do keyword research — building that knowledge into your website’s architecture and advertising campaign structure, rather than patching the right keywords on after the fact — the better off you’ll be.
Instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to keyword research, it’s best to use tactics and tools suited to the type of campaign you’re executing, be it search engine optimization (SEO), paid search marketing, or a social media campaign. Even then, the keywords that work best for the job will depend on your specific goals (do you want traffic? links? conversions?). But to get started, let’s talk about the basic tools needed to find keywords to use in each of these three types of marketing efforts.
1. Keyword Research For SEO
Keyword research for organic search involves looking for terms to target with web pages (either informative or sales-related), blog posts, video, and other searchable content. The goal is to bring in a steady stream of visitors already looking for the kind of products, services, or expertise you offer – what’s also known as inbound marketing. To successfully do this, you need to be able to anticipate the terms visitors will use to try to find you.
Three types of keyword-related tools and reports can help.
Since it’s very difficult to sit down and brainstorm your way to a complete keyword list, the task is best accomplished with the help of keyword suggestion tools. These tools are very straightforward. Type in related terms or topics, and the tool returns a list of keywords relevant to that topic, as well as estimates of monthly search volumes. The goal is the sweet spot where a keyword is not so competitive as to be impossible to rank for, but still has the potential to drive good traffic.
A second type of keyword tool allows you to spy on a competitor’s keyword strategies by analyzing their websites. Popular tools in this category include SpyFu, Compete.com, and SEMRush.
Finally, the keyword reports from your own website’s analytics can be a great source of keywords for SEO. Since these are terms that people have used in the past to find your site, they’re a good indication of what will drive traffic to it in the future. In addition to brand keywords and terms you are already targeting, you’ll likely find missed opportunities in these reports (e.g., keywords that do show up somewhere on your site but are not optimized well). As a bonus, only you have access to these proprietary keywords.
Once you have put together a strong keyword list, put those keywords to work on your site to start drawing in visitors. Some of the best places to make use of keywords for SEO value include:
- Website’s structure and information architecture — Conduct some keyword research before you even start building your website, and incorporate keywords into your site’s organizational structure.
- Optimized, search-friendly web pages and blog posts — Each page should focus on a specific keyword, and that keyword should appear in the title, the URL (if possible), and in the body copy. Also incorporate them in other key fields, such as subheads, breadcrumbs, and image paths.
- Social media campaigns — Use keywords on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media platforms, as these updates are searchable. (For more information on keywords and social media, see the last section of this article.)
- Anchor text and internal linking campaigns — Make sure that visitors can navigate easily within your website. Include keywords where appropriate.
- Metadata fields — Meta keywords have been largely devalued by search engines, but meta descriptions are still important for organic clickthrough rates.
- Other marketing collateral — Keywords can be used in newsletters, brochures, and other materials that don’t strictly need SEO, in order to maintain a consistent brand message and to best speak to customer needs and expectations.
Keyword research will play a huge role in your on-site content strategy, but remember that link building strategies that increase the number of inbound links to your site are also a large part of SEO. One way to build links is to look for blogs ranking for the same keywords you’re targeting. Comment on those blogs and offer to write guest articles that include a link back to your site, which ensures that the links are relevant to your market and audience.
2. Keyword Research For Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Marketing
Keyword research for PPC marketing is not wildly different from keyword research for SEO purposes. In fact, it would be silly not to repurpose SEO keywords for PPC and vice versa. However, there are some different considerations to keep in mind when researching keywords to use in your PPC campaigns. The goal is similar, but the method is different.
In PPC, you need to bid explicitly on the keywords that you want to trigger your content, and you need to create a text ad to display in the results. When a user clicks on your ad, they’ll be taken to a related page on your site, and your campaign will be charged the amount you bid for the relevant keyword in the ad.
Some ways that your approach will differ when doing keyword research for purposes of PPC marketing include:
- Keyword competitiveness — The competition for a particular keyword may be more of a concern since more competitive keywords will demand a much higher cost per click (CPC).
- Organization — To keep campaigns manageable and to control costs, you’ll need to organize your PPC keywords into a logical structure of groups and subgroups. Organization is also very helpful for SEO purposes, but absolutely crucial to succeed in PPC.
- Negative keyword research — With PPC, you’ll also want to develop a list of keywords that you don’t want your ads to be shown for. Unlike irrelevant, untargeted, or low-quality organic traffic, irrelevant traffic from PPC will actually cost you money — and it really does add up.
3. Keyword Research For Social Media
The same basic principle applies when conducting keyword research for social media purposes, that is, to find the keywords your audience is using on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and other social sites. Your goals will include tracking popular and trending topics, gauging market interest for products or services, gaining a better understanding of user intent, and discovering relevant points of engagement.
However, you’ll want to take a slightly different approach and incorporate different tools. People don’t necessarily use the same keywords in social sites that they do in a regular web search engine. They also tend to approach social sites with different goals and accordingly, their behavior is different. Search engine users are looking for an answer to a question, or a product to meet some need, whereas social media users want to engage in a conversation and share ideas, or they may be looking for entertainment. This affects the keywords they use.
Taking The Next Step
By tweaking your methodology to fit the kind of search marketing and optimization you’re undertaking, you’ll be starting out with an advantage over those who use the same keyword list across all their marketing channels. Explore the tools discussed below — many of which are free! — and you will be ready to start digging into the keyword discovery process.
SEO Keyword Tools
- Google’s External Keyword Tool — intended for use with AdWords, but provides good insights for SEO as well.
- Google Insights for Search — a good option for seeing trends and changes in keyword use over time.
- WordStream — offers several free keyword tools, including a basic keyword suggestion tool that draws from a huge database, as well as a subscription version providing more exclusive data and more extensive results and capabilities.
- Wordtracker — long a standard in the keyword tool business, with free and paid versions.
PPC Keyword Tools
- Keyword Difficulty Tool from SEOmoz — most general keyword suggestion tools will give you some idea of a keyword’s competitiveness or cost, but this tool provides a little more data in this direction.
- Free Keyword Grouper — can help you organize your keyword research into an actionable structure that makes sense for PPC.
- WordStream’s Negative Keyword Tool — helps identify potential negative keywords. You can also find and set negative keywords manually by mining your search query reports in AdWords.
Social Media Keyword Tools
- YouTube — has its own keyword tool and the YouTube Suggest feature functions much like Google Suggest.
- Twitter — popular tools for Twitter keyword research and trend data include Hashtags.org, TwitScoop, Trendistic, TweetScan, and TweetBeep, as well as Twitter’s own search feature.
- Image Search — located within Google Insights for Search, it can help you find the keywords people are using to find pictures.
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