Keyword research is one of the most critical elements of Search Engine Optimisation. It gives your SEO efforts a direction, drawing attention to those topics that are most popular amongst modern users.
When digital marketing was first growing in popularity, the concept of keywords and SEO was very straightforward. Google would run analytics to spit out a list of the most-searched keywords, and those websites that used these terms the most and more closely imitated a user’s search query would rank higher.
However, in today’s terms, the concept of keywords has gotten a lot more complex. The focus isn’t on the quantity of buzzwords you use anymore, but how you use them (after all, you want to avoid Keyword Stuffing). With that in mind, let’s delve into what keyword research really is, and how it links to your B2B inbound marketing efforts.
What is a Keyword?
Keywords are words or short phrases that sum up the content of your webpage, giving search engines a better idea of what your brand and products are about.
To put it generally, your website is scored by a variety of factors, combining the keywords you’ve used in your text and the overall popularity of your page. The more visited your site is, the greater effect a keyword will have on your ranking.
Now you might still be asking yourself: Why is any of this important? To be more concrete, let’s look at some hard facts that suggest the benefits of keyword research.
Why Perform Keyword Research?
Even though the quality of the keywords is now more important than the amount, tailoring your content to match your target keywords is still a critical step in attracting more potential leads.
While keyword research goes hand-in-hand with SEO, its main function is not only to increase your visibility but also to keep up to date with the trends that your clients and potential leads are following.
This fits seamlessly with inbound marketing, as the whole focus is making yourself more visible and attracting visitors to you, rather than employing overly aggressive marketing techniques.
Ultimately, you want your buyer persona to know that you truly care about resolving their pain points. Finding what they’re most frequently searching for online will give you a great angle from which to approach them.
Keyword research should thus remain a cornerstone of your inbound marketing strategy.
Start by Asking Questions
Now that you know why you should engage in keyword research, it’s time to explain how to actually do it. Whilst the research process itself is highly dynamic and new search terms are popping up constantly, there are a few quintessential steps you should always keep in mind.
Before you start embedding catchy words and phrases into your content left and right, you have to ask the right questions to pinpoint exactly what those terms are. Gathering lots of data on the current interests of your target audience can help narrow down your preliminary list of keywords and even reveal some new ones you hadn’t thought about.
That means you first have to establish your buyer persona. What kinds of prospects are you targeting as a B2B marketer? Only once you know exactly who you’re aiming for can you start picking out keywords that match their interests and pain points.
Now, keeping this buyer persona in mind, one easy way to gather a lot of data about the subject areas they care about is to speak to your Sales department, as they deal directly with clients on the daily and will have additional knowledge about the things they’re searching for.
Other opportunities are surveys and questionnaires. While you can’t ask your prospects directly what keywords they’re looking for, you can ask more general questions about the types of services they’re looking for and what content they care about, for example as part of recurring customer satisfactions surveys.
These features will highlight general topics that are currently relevant among your audience.
So the outcome of this initial step can already indicate what, when, why, how, and from where your buyer personas are searching.
Find Out What’s Popular
The previous step will tell you which general topics your buyer persona cares about, but this next step takes it one step further by revealing exactly which keywords are popular right now.
The main idea is that you should keep updating yourself on trends in your target audience’s behavior. What are the inbound marketing keywords with the biggest search volume, and how have these changed in the past year?
Google no longer looks for keywords that match one-to-one what your buyer persona has searched for. Rather, it cares about whether the overall concept of your webpage matches a search query. So instead of treating each keyword that you come across individually, draw connections between each one to uncover your buyer persona’s most popular search intents.
In the end, you want to know what resonates with your audience, so pinpointing their underlying needs is key.
As you continue your search for keywords, there are three aspects of a search term to consider: head, body, and long tail words.
The head focuses on broader terms, such as “SEO”. Your buyer persona could be searching for a number of things – what is SEO? How can I improve my SEO? What are the best SEO tools?
Because of this, head keywords have a high search volume, and it’s significantly more difficult to rank for these.
Body keywords drift more into phrases, often including around two to three words that give more detail on what the user is actually looking for. As these are more specific, they tend to have a reduced search volume.
Lastly, long tail keywords are four or more word phrases that really summarize what a person needs, such as “Tips for improving my Inbound Marketing strategy”.
While it might seem intuitive to care most about the keyword’s head, the easiest way to start branching out and increasing your reach with new buzzwords is concentrating on the long tail. This is because they have the lowest search volume, making them your best shot at ranking high and converting more website visitors.
Once you’ve laid out your targets, it’s easy to lose track of which keywords you want to keep and how well your company is performing for each one. Hence the next step is to get yourself organized, most easily with a good spreadsheet.
Try out different keywords and monitor the response from each one – your ranking for that search term, quantitative data such as click-through rate (CTR) and number of shares, and your overall growth.
Write down the results from these various analytics tests in a spreadsheet to keep an easy overview of which buzzwords are worth your energy and which are better erased off of your digital vocab list.
Something Important to Keep in Mind
Yes, being organized is super critical. But don’t forget what you’re trying to achieve with each keyword!
Rather than just filling a spreadsheet with arbitrary keywords, keep thinking about which stage of the buyer’s journey (awareness, consideration, or decision) each term best complements. A prospect searching for keywords in the awareness stage, ones that are asking more general questions (“can you help me with x problem?”), are seeking different support than someone already entering the decision phase.
What this means is that you can specifically have your content cater towards leads in different levels of commitment to you, optimising the overall effectiveness of your work.
Moreover, as a B2B marketer yourself, this will enable you to most effectively uncover what the other businesses you’re trying to market to are urgently seeking a solution for, and where in the buyer’s journey they’re struggling most.
Now that you’ve figured out what your buyer persona wants, chosen the keywords that you want to build into your content and tracked their progress. But what next?
While it’s good to stick with some classic terms that users will always want to know about, the world of digital marketing is extremely dynamic. So if you aren’t keeping up with the ever-changing trends, you’ll inevitably get left behind.
To change things up, keep discovering new keywords to integrate into your work. And how to find those? By looking for related terms.
A simple way to come up with new keywords is to look at Search Engine Results Pages. There are two techniques linked to Google’s results page: Google Suggest, and the bottom of SERPs.
These are the suggestions that pop up as type in a search query. For example, when writing “Keywords”, you might find recommended searches such as “Keyword Planner”, “Keyword Research”, or “Keyword Tool”. So while you can find several new head words this way, this method is particularly beneficial for pinpointing some body and long tail terms.
Secondly, the bottom of Google results pages includes helpful hints for connecting your keyword to other topics. Similar to Google Suggest, the “Searches related to…” at the base of SERPs offer some inspiration for new angles to explore a buzzword or link it to other ideas.
The last and arguably the most efficient way to come up with some valuable keywords is by using research tools that highlight the current most influential terms and calculate your potential rankability for you.
Depending on the service you choose, these tools can offer you with keywords, evaluate your existing content for rankability, compare your popularity for a search time with other competitors, and more. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the best keyword research tools out there.
The Ideal Keyword Research Tool Set
1. Google Keyword Planner
Although the simplest of the five tools, Google Keyword Planner is also the most straightforward, and most importantly, often seen as the most reliable because all of its data comes straight from Google itself.
That means that it’s not necessarily going to be the most detailed SEO tool, but it is a good starting place for managing keywords.
Verdict: As a free tool, Google Keyword Planner is a great place to start for those familiarizing themselves with SEO-driven inbound marketing.
SEMrush is a paid service, but this tool is well worth the monthly fee. Whilst it can generate a list of keywords just the Google Keyword Planner can, it also has the unique feature of being able to pull up a list of keywords that specific competitors already rank for.
Among other cool benefits, these are some of the main functions of this research tool:
- Discover new organic competitors
- Observe position changes of domains
- Find the right keywords for SEO and PPC campaigns
- Gather phrase matches and related keywords
- Get long-tail keywords
You can adapt the tool to the region and the market you’re focusing on, whether this is within the US, the UK, or elsewhere. And more, SEMrush even takes care of all of the little details, including a SEO Writing Assistant that can guide your content and maximise your SEO efforts.
Verdict: SEMrush is the most popular all-rounder tool for more advanced marketers, and for good reason. It’s your best bet for really boosting your rankings while simultaneously keeping an eye on your competitors. However, it does come with a price tag – users can choose between three memberships, ranging from $99 – $399,95 – so bear that in mind.
3. Answer the Public
For those with an affinity for visuals over spreadsheets, this last research tool includes something called a “Search Cloud” which visualizes users’ search questions and suggested autocomplete searches, such as those suggested by Google Suggest.
The main function of Answer the Public, however, is generating new keyword ideas. If you enter a phrase, such as “B2B Marketing”, this resource will spit out user queries that feature the prepositions “can”, “for”, “is”, “near”, “to”, “with” and “without” to combine your topic of choice with relevant searches.
The tool takes things one step further by then generating an alphabetical list of all relevant keywords and suggests related categories to take your search further. Moreover, you can then take a look behind the scenes and find out valuable quantitative data, such as search volume and clicks.
Like many others, Answer the Public offers a free Starter account, but for access to Answer the Public’s unique features you’ll encounter monthly fee of 99$ .
Verdict: This research service is the solution for you if you’ve got a starting base and are looking to come up with some new keywords to expand your reach.
The Future of Keyword Research?
Overall, there are a multitude of ways to perform keyword research and optimise your keyword use. That being said, there are a few standard methods that are sure to help you boost your growth and climb those SERPs.
When considering where keyword research will be headed in the future, one factor is essential to consider: users are increasingly using vocal recognition to perform searches (through tools such as Siri and Alexa). So, with more people looking to the microphone instead of the keyboard when a burning question pops up, the businesses you’re targeting will undeniably shift their sales and marketing strategies to suit the new keywords that will be growing popular amongst their target audience.
That also means their own search preferences will change, thus transforming the pain points of your buyer persona.
However, no matter where SEO and keyword research is headed; following the steps above and placing your trust in a strong keyword research tool will be your best friend for staying up to date.