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Search engine optimization has undergone a great deal of change in recent years, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that keywords are still a core element. Although keyword optimization is neither as important nor effective as it once was, keyword research remains essential for increasing your visibility in the search engines.
Although relevant, high-quality content will market itself to a degree, targeting the right keywords can help boost relevancy and reach out to the right people. In fact, keyword research is all about relevancy, and not at all about trying to hijack a term you think is popular just to drive any old traffic to your website.
For the most part, you should be targeting long-tail key phrases, which are typically between three and five words. By their very nature, these phrases are more specific and relevant to your target audience. Sure, they might bring less traffic than a broader term, at least in theory, but that traffic will be the type that yields results.
It starts with brainstorming
The first step in keyword research is to make a list of relevant terms that describe your brand and its niche. If you’re a local business, you’ll also want to think about your physical location as well as that of any other service areas you might have. At this point, all you really need is a few broad terms to get started.
Once you’ve written a list of ideas, it’s time to start brainstorming. When narrowing down your focus, you’ll want to home in on a few keywords where your competitors show up when you enter those words in Google. Now try pairing those words with more specific descriptions or questions to help identify a gap in the market.
Put yourself in the shoes of your potential visitors
Google prizes relevancy. Its goal is to deliver results based on intent, rather than just keywords alone. As such, you can and should use multiple variations of your key phrase. You’ll also want to get into the habit of thinking like your potential customers. What do you think you would type into Google to find a business like yours?
Natural-language search queries are becoming increasingly popular, thanks in part to the rise of speech-recognition systems. A lot of these queries are questions, so it often makes sense to use an entire question phrase as a keyword for an article or blog post. Ideally, each piece of content should target a distinct key phrase.
Use a keyword tool
There’s no shortage of keyword research tools out there that you can use for suggestions. Among the most popular is the Google AdWords Keyword Planner which, while intended for AdWords advertisers, can also be useful for getting some valuable insights into keyword competitiveness and search volumes. It’s also free.
Paid keyword research tools, such as SEMRush or Moz Explorer, provide far more features and useful insights than Google’s free tool, and are often worth the money for growing businesses. Another free tool, however, is Answer the Public, which is a visual keyword research tool that focuses on the questions people enter in Google.
Narrow your focus
Even if your business has a broad focus, you’ll find it extremely difficult to rank for more competitive phrases, even in the case of location-relevant SEO. If, for example, you want to rank for the key phrase “wedding photographer in New York,” it will take a great deal of time and effort to get on the first page. It’s simply not worth it.
By being more specific and narrowing down your niche, you’ll be in a better position to set yourself apart from the competition. For example, you might want to try to target a key phrase such as “black and white wedding photography in New York” or “traditional wedding photography in New York,” both of which are far less competitive.
It’s worth spending a bit of time on keyword research every time you’re working on a new piece of content for your website, whether it’s a blog post or your homepage itself. Just be sure to always go for quality over quantity, since the highest number of monthly searches doesn’t necessarily translate into paying customers.
–Dan Natividad, a Stockton native, is a partner at Port City Marketing Solutions. Dan can be reached at email@example.com