Define your audience and intent with keyword research

Contrary to what you might read on internet forums or from marketing experts’, keyword research is still relevant within Google’s algorithms, it’s landscape, and online marketing in general, so make sure your pages have the best chance of being understood by conducting research into what both search engines and your customers expect.

Every solution starts with a question and a search term, and it’s in your interest to formulate a strategy so that you become a go-to resource by providing the solution to every problem within your niche.

However, this might sound controversial to many within the SEO industry, but as an SEO consultant, I do carry out detailed keyword research, but I don’t get too carried away with it. I do look at estimated organic traffic volumes in SEMRush and Ahrefs, but I only use it as a guide for my content.

For me, doing keyword research for an SEO content strategy is to let me know if and how people are searching for the article I’m thinking of writing, and to gain the vision, knowledge, and insight of what the consumer is really after. It’s analysis that will get your content strategy started on the right foot and will lead to awareness for your brand.

Good marketing campaigns strike the balance of relevance and usefulness and position you as the expert within your niche. Your content marketing should lead to greater exposure and visibility to your target market as they discover you through a carefully thought out and targeted strategy, starting with keyword research.

I study keyword phrases that surround a topic and are a good fit for the article, choose a main target keyword phrase to use in the page title and URL (please don’t add years into URLs of the pages that you’re planning to write, especially if you’re writing evergreen content), then the main phrase and the other relevant keyword phrases naturally throughout my article.

But remember, they must fit the intent of the audience you’re targeting. If your content is well written and includes the right entities and uses NLP (natural language processing), Google will figure it out and show it to the relevant audience.

You will need to be careful to align your content to what Google is actually showing you. I detail this further down the article.

For example, if lots of videos are being shown then that’s because Google understands that the majority of people who use a target search term would rather see videos. If it’s heavily ad-laden then I might consider moving on to another phrase, too, because there’s clearly a heavy commercial intent behind the query.

But when I have settled on a phrase I then move on to focus on entities that surround that phrase and build out a clear picture for the search engines of what my topic is all about.

By doing this you remove any ambiguity surrounding the phrase. This is especially important when your keywords mean different things i.e. apple (fruit or tech company).

But first things first…

How to choose target keyword phrases

First and foremost your target keyword phrase should ultimately come down to one thing, intent. You must study the intent of the phrase you want to use to make sure it lines up with the intent of the visitors you’re trying to attract because if it doesn’t then those visitors will be almost worthless. For example, if you have a Website that sells products online and you’re carrying out keyword research for a category page then your intent will be transactional and not directional.

Choosing the correct keyword phrase

When thinking about how to approach this article, the overwhelming feeling I had was to keep it simple because ultimately it should be. We’re all busy and some things can end up swallowing up more time than they should and consider keyword research to be one of them.

So these two techniques will allow you to easily settle on using the right keywords to center your content around. It’s really not as difficult as you might first think it is. Or at least it’s not as difficult or time-consuming as some SEO ‘gurus’ might have you believe!

I’m also a great believer in targeting keyword phrases that narrow down the buyer based on where they are on their search/buying journey, i.e. phrases that have three or more words in them, and I do it for 3 very good reasons:

  1. Although they have lower monthly search volumes the conversions they generate are nearly always much higher. This is because the searchers have already conducted their research on the main keyword phrase that usually only contains 1 or 2 words (and often very generic in meaning) and are now at, or very close to the decision making stage of their journey because they have a much better understanding of what exactly it is they want.
  2. By targeting longer keyword phrases you’re much more likely to see faster organic results because the competition is generally much lower. This is because the big volume keywords are dominated by large organisations in each niche who have either massive levels of inventory or are monetising the content they create via affiliate links and/or advertising. The competition here is often fierce between companies that have large teams and even bigger budgets behind them.
  3. Ranking for high-volume search terms starts with lower-volume phrases. You need to prove to the search engines that your content is good and people are satisfied with it. When this happens and you start building links mixed with good engagement signals your content will get shown to a larger audience.

Starting the keyword process for new sites or pages

Firstly, when creating a new page or an entire site, step one should be to actually lay your ideas out before you in an Excel or Google spreadsheet with the main topics you want to write about. One main search phrase for each page, for example:

  • Running with a weighted vest
  • CrossFit workouts with a weighted vest
  • Home kettlebell workouts
  • Turkish getup technique
  • etcetera

By doing this you create a form of mind map that allows you to plan out the type of content you need, how they can support your service or product pages, and bring in more traffic at different points of their journey. In this instance they would support:

  • Weighted vest product or category page(s)
  • Kettlebell product or category page(s)

Your product or service pages are obviously going to be your most important pages, however, sometimes they need some supporting pages around them, firstly to create some topical authority around your product or service, and secondly to act as internal link targets, meaning you can build links to the supporting pages which then link through to your product or service pages and give them a boost.

This is a tried and tested technique that works very well when executed correctly.

Simply head over to your chosen tool, of which my favorite is Ahrefs (more on Ahrefs in a minute), enter your search term, and study the search terms that are closely related to your main search term.

Secondly, it’s best to use a number of secondary keywords that are closely related to the primary phrase because this helps remove ambiguity. You need to assist the web crawlers by removing any confusion as to what the topic is about.

So under each main search term create a list of secondary search terms that are closely related to the target search term.

For this task, as in step one, it’s best to use a keyword tool to help you, because it’s only with their data that you can really understand what your potential customers are searching for, and believe me, the search terms used that will lead to your site will surprise you, and I guarantee that there will be at least a dozen search terms you won’t have considered from searchers looking for the same information.

But remember, they MUST be closely related to your primary search term or you will confuse the algorithms and not rank very well in the SERPs. A quick way to check this is to head over to Ahrefs and enter the search term you’re targeting. For this example, I’ll use the search term ‘keyword research’.

ahrefs keyword explorer imageNext, scroll down to the “SERP Overview” section

ahrefs SERP overview image

Here you’ll see all of the keywords that Google is ranking for the pages on the first page of it’s results.

ahrefs secondary keywords image

Simply download them into an Excel sheet, remove any duplicates and see if you can work them into your own content.

Thirdly, and with some hesitancy, I advise you to broadly ignore search volume some of the time…

I’m not saying you should ignore it completely (and yes I’m aware I’ve already stated I look at search volumes), but your number one aim should be to become a trusted source within your niche, and that comes when you write closely related content that shows both your users and Google that you focus on a niche and you have lots of well-written copy to prove it.

By doing this Google will slowly but surely start showing your content to a much broader range of people.

However, I did say it shouldn’t be completely ignored because ultimately there needs to be some form of quantifiable evidence of demand for your service or product, and if you want a cheap and quick way to track search volume, I suggest you either install the Surfer SEO keyword extension for Chrome or subscribe to a low-cost keyword tool such as KWFinder.

Keyword phrase selection using Ahrefs

Now, assuming you’ve started on the steps above and want to dig deeper into your keywords, as mentioned above, I suggest you use a more powerful tool that provides countless data points and competitor insights at the click of a button (along with other important metrics such as backlinks).

Step 1: Open up Ahrefs and navigate to Keyword Explorer and enter a keyword phrase you’re considering (non-branded search terms).

Step 2: After you’ve hit go you’ll be presented with 4 different data points, including:

  1. Keyword difficulty, which is simply their understanding of how hard it’ll be for you to rank in Google (this is based broadly on backlink quality above anything else)
  2. The average monthly search volume per country
  3. The percentage of clicks that go to organic results vs paid results
  4. The global monthly search volume, although this won’t be needed in most instances

keyword phrase ideas

You’ll also see something called the ‘Parent Topic’. This allows you to decide whether or not you can rank for your target keyword whilst targeting a more general topic on your page.

By using Ahrefs you also get some fantastic data on other aspects of the phrase you want to target, such as:

  1. The SERP overview, which gives you the top 10 organic pages for your keyword phrase
  2. The number of backlinks each page has and roughly how many you’ll need to build (I know this is slightly off-topic, but it’s still ultra helpful)
  3. The amount of organic traffic each page receives per month, which is a super helpful guide as to what you can expect if you get your page on to page 1, therefore what it might do for your revenue
  4. The total number of keywords an individual page ranks for (it’s worth cross-referencing this information with your Google Search Console if your page already has a history)

From the dashboard, you can then head over to Phrase Match (under keyword ideas) which will give you a ton of ideas and information about other search terms and monthly traffic volumes, etc that all contain your keyword.

I then filter the KD (Keyword Difficulty) to something I know will be worth the time and effort because the last thing I want to do is spend days on a hyper-competitive search term when there are profitable search terms I could rank for quickly. This is especially important if you’re just starting out I suggest setting the KD maximum to around the 20 mark if you’re looking for easy and quick wins, moving on to the 50-60 range when you have more authority within your niche.

You can also filter down the monthly search volume, so if you want keyword phrase ideas that have at least 1500 monthly searches you can eliminate any phrases that don’t reach that monthly figure. However, this must depend on what the search term will do for your revenue.

  1. Never discount it if it’s a moneymaker!
  2. Search volumes are often inaccurate and don’t always paint a true picture

Keyword research for existing pages

When looking at keywords for an existing page, unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all approach, and in all honesty, you should really be following the process outlined above to make sure that your intent is in line with the searcher and the results page, and that you’re not diluting your content with search terms that shouldn’t be on the page.

The one advantage you do have though is data. And assuming you have basic info that free tools like Search Console provide, you have something quick and easy to work with.

So head over to GSC > Performance > Pages. Click on the page you want to study, then click Quires.

Here you’ll see two important things:

  1. All of the quires that have generated clicks that page and what Google see’s the page as relevant to (how well you’ve optimised your content for your main search term)
  2. The number of quires that the page is being shown in the SERPs

GSC screenshot keyword research

As you can see, this product page is showing up for 856 quires.

However, there are two things to note. Firstly, this isn’t because I’ve added an enormous amount of relevant search terms to the page. It’s because it’s written so that Google can understand what the page is about, which means it understands the intent of the page and will show it to searchers that match it’s intent.

And secondly, just because there are 856 quires showing, it doesn’t mean they all result in a click. Far from it, the vast majority of clicks will come from the top 10 quires, with the number of clicks dropping off quickly after that.

This is where you can quickly see if the search phrase you’re targeting is:

  1. Resulting in many clicks
  2. On the right path with regards to being found for your target search term

If it’s not on track, this is where you’ll see where you’re going wrong.

Utilising PPC & Google Ads data

If you have been running PPC campaigns and Google Ads, then there’s every chance you have some very helpful data surrounding which keywords are resulting in sales. And if you do have solid information surrounding your sales then, in all honesty, your keyword strategy should be based around this, and nothing else. But you do need to have let your campaigns run for a decent period of time so that you’re able to factor in the unknown such as sales spikes that are potentially 1 off’s.

You could argue that before you start any SEO marketing campaign you should run a trial PPC campaign to gain insights into what keywords are actually resulting in sales. But a lot of the time the cost and budget analysis don’t allow for both SEO and Ads.

And as SEO is the gift that keeps on giving, even when you’re not paying for it, I’m obviously going to recommend going with SEO as your first port of call for online marketing.

Make Sure the content you’re about to write is in line with what Google is showing you

By this I mean you must make sure that Google is showing the same type of content that you’re planning to write. For example, are you writing a long-form technical piece that details a step-by-step guide into something? Because if you are then the first thing you need to do is actually Google your chosen search term and make sure that the results page is returning long-form articles and not product pages.

I can honestly say that if you get this wrong, you will be wasting your time almost 100% of the time.

However, this can be a time soak if ever there was one, so apart from physically looking at the SERPs for each search term, a quick and cheap way you can stay on top of this is to use one of the most helpful tools on the market with regards to showing you the searchers’ intent in each SERP, and that’s Keyword Insights.

Keyword Insights will quickly give you the complete picture with regards to what type of content is ranking on the first page of the SERPs and save you a ton of time, which is important.

Remove all doubt with NLP, entities, and context

Google uses an NLP system called BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Encoders) that’s able to look at the text on a page (or at least chunks at a time) and understand what it all means. Therefore I strongly, STRONGLY recommend you look at three things very carefully.

NLP & Entities

NLP and entities are critical to your success in the SERPs, and without going into too much detail in this article, simply put it’s how search engines like Google understand your content.

There are a few decent tools on the market to assist you with NLP and entity recognition, however, I recommend inLinks above all others as it’s the closest to how Google understands a page that I’ve used.

Entities are basically things that have meaning. They should surround your target keyword phrase and enhance your chosen phrase, and inLinks will provide you with all of the relevant information based on what’s already ranking at the top of the SERPs.

This will remove any ambiguity that might occur around your page(s). For example, if your page is about keyword research you might include keyword research tools such as SEMRush or Ahrefs.

For more on this, check out our article on entities and topic modeling.

When you write anything for the Web it’s important to get the context of your article straight, and what I mean by straight is to make the topic of your content crystal clear to both reader and Google (who’s also a reader…), because ultimately Google can now understand what it is you’re talking about. So write naturally and don’t stuff your page full of keywords, unless the context demands it.

Now whilst you can’t optimise your content for BERT, it has in my opinion made life a little easier because you get to write your content how it should be written, i.e. for humans. Just make sure you build up your entities and context around your target keyword phrase because by doing so you’ll build contextual meaning around your whole article.

Context

When you write anything for the Web it’s important to get the context of your article straight, and what I mean by straight is to make the topic of your content crystal clear to both reader and Google (who’s also a reader…), because ultimately Google can now understand what it is you’re talking about. So write naturally and don’t stuff your page full of keywords, unless the context demands it.

Now whilst you can’t optimise your content for BERT, it has in my opinion made life a little easier because you get to write your content how it should be written, i.e. for humans. Just make sure you build up your entities and context around your target keyword phrase because by doing so you’ll build contextual meaning around your whole article.

Expanding Your organic footprint on each page

One of the best and most welcome byproducts to carrying out keyword research and covering your topic by building out entities and using closely related secondary keywords is that search engines will associate your pages with multiple similar search terms, meaning you will show up in more search terms, meaning more traffic.

And to give you an example of what I mean, on average the main keyword phrase you use will only account for between 5-20% of the organic traffic each page receives, with the rest of the organic traffic coming from other closely associated search terms.

This is why it’s so important to understand what the searcher is looking for and answer any potential questions they might have, without writing too much, or diluting the page by drifting off-topic.

Conclusion

So there you have it, intent-based keyword research and content creation surrounding those keywords really isn’t a dark art and shouldn’t be daunting because at the end of the day you’re creating it to be read, commented on, and shared. So don’t spend countless hours analysing keywords or calculating keyword density that will amount to very little, just use common sense, use keywords your target audience will use that matches the intent of the search, and make sure those keywords are in the page title, and H1 of the page.

Searchers’ will expect to see keywords that match their search terms when they scan the SERPs so make sure they’re in the main areas of your page such as the page title and H1.

Your time is important though, and I fully appreciate that every individual need is different and quite often your time is a more important factor than cost or budget. And if that’s the case and you’d prefer your content strategy to be outsourced, I would be more than happy to become your specialist and deliver greater visibility and awareness with my expert knowledge to give you the competitive advantage.


NB: I’d like to point out that in my opinion there will come a time when Google will be able to separate a page based on the search performed if a word has a dual meaning and is written with dual meaning on the page, and show it to you on the SERPS, accordingly. For example, if you were to write about an apple, the fruit, and Apple, the tech company on the same page (yeah yeah I know it’s an extreme example) then they’ll be able to understand the two different sections and the page as a whole.

And whilst I believe this is still some way off, the reason behind my thinking is because BERT (or whatever is being used at the time) will become better and better at understanding the context and meaning behind your pages and the search intent.

Last updated on 21st March 2022 at 19:55