Over the last 8 years I have been in SEO and search marketing I have seen a huge change in professional opinion in keyword research and I think it is only coming around in a full circle just now.

Back in 2005 when I started in search marketing the keyword research we did for clients, both for PPC and SEO, was absolutely invaluable for a successful and long term search marketing campaign.

It involved picking the right keywords for each pages, looking at the search volumes, and picking the keywords with the most search volume that were relevant to the products being searched for and invariably rankings would come in.

All that was involved was an update in the meta keywords, the title tag and the description of the page and 250 words content centred around these top 5 keywords and it would make a massive difference. I remember doing this with a  client over 200 pages over the course of 12 months and traffic increased over 100%.

But it isn’t that easy any more. Google have particularly noticed poor quality, thin content that is clearly designed to manipulate search engine results. Gone are the days of writing 250 words of content to achieve a 2% density.

More needs to be done by agencies and businesses to maximise performance of the on-page and it all centres around quality keyword research.

Here are my top 10 tips for improving keyword research to act as a foundation for improving content, and off-page targeting of keywords to landing pages.

  1. Customer segmentation by product type – it’s important to understand the search terms that consumers are making when searching for a particular product. That’s obvious, I would think, so make sure that your website is structured around product groups as you would do with Adwords adgroups. This makes it easier to categorise keywords and do some really deep keyword and analysis. From this analysis you are very likely to find a number of product variations which you would benefit from breaking out further into their own dedicated landing page, both for use on SEO and PPC.
  2. Types of consumer searches – so for example, consumers may be searching for products in application but also products by material. This probably doesn’t make sense without using a proper example. So, recently I have been doing some data mining for a client in the packaging industry and many of their products are not distinguishable by a brand name, but searched for to do with the material they are made from or what they are used for (application). For example, they have a product that is used to protect corners of tables when being transported. The data showed the consumers were looking for “foam edge protection” (search term centred on its material) and “corner protectors” (the application of the product).
  3. Your search terms aren’t necessarily the same as a customer’s search term – To build on the example in the last point, the brand name for the product mentioned is “nomafoam” and internally the company refer to the products as “u profile foam channel”. These are completely different search terms to what the consumer may use. In some cases the terms used for products within the company or within an industry yield almost none existent search volume because those are terms that consumers aren’t using to find the products in question. It is important to understand what your target market are actually searching for; as they say “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”.
  4. Understand search Intent – I was doing further data mining today and doing some keyword research for “soap labels” but majority of the search variations for this term were around homemade labels or DIY labels. These indicator there is a low purchase intent for this search term where searches are looking for ideas or free templates to make their own label and not to approach a company to pay for a service. It is important to understand the intent of the consumer for each of the keywords searched. Once identified, do not eliminate all keywords that show low purchasing intent – if the keywords are still relevant to the content they are worth having as target keywords for the page. I will build on this point in point 8.
  5. Mobile Keywords – Whilst intent varies by keyword, intent also varies by device. People searching on mobile have high local intent (40% are looking for local products or services). It is also important to understand how these consumers are willing to engage with you – are they looking for information, are they looking for an address to then come and find you or a phone number to make a call, or are they actually looking to transact. This is important to ensure that content is created to suit the intent of the consumer, and in turn provide a better user experience.
  6. Competition of keywords – Select a range of keywords from really competitive to really niche. Keywords shouldn’t be selective purely because they are easier to attain rankings for, that’s very obviously a tactic for manipulating Google SERPs. So long as the keywords are relevant to the product or service then there should be a range in the competitiveness of terms selected.
  7. Number of target keywords – don’t just pick five. That’s old school. How can someone possibly narrow down the number of relevant keywords to just five terms? Alright, if your product is very niche it may be possible, but in the case where there are multiple variations in terms being used to describe a product or service like the foam edging described above there are invariably a good 10 to 15 variations of search terms being used. Google looks at the latent semantic indexing of keywords, it wants to see that you have used variations of product names and expects good content to include variations. It also makes content look more natural.
  8. Modifiers – in turn, if you have successful and thoroughly researched all of your keyword variations for your product you will find a number of modifiers (As I call them). For example, you may notice the following keywords keep cropping up in the keyword variations – “sale, UK, cheap, discount, custom, online”. These are all invaluable keywords to add into your content. When Google then reads the content it can see that you really have understood what your customers are searching for because these too are the variations that Google sees through the search terms used. Gold stars for your content, and higher rankings in return! Another good thing to do is to use these keywords in your description tags – extra brownie points, it helps make the description look more targeted and less like general sales waffle, and because consumers are searching for them it can increase rankings and CTR because they are bolded.
  9. Keyword density – gone are the days where 2% is the target density for 5 main keywords. If you have 15 variation keywords and a number of modifiers then these are the terms that should be naturally laced throughout the content. Google will then get an overall feeling of what the content is targeting and match it against the search terms. There is no set density these days, just make sure the content is natural, flows, easy to read and useful to consumers whilst utilising all search variations that have been identified.
  10. Length of content on the page – there is no hard and fast rule. Make sure it is geared towards to the user, so if you have lots of keywords that you want to get into your content then make sure it is of suitable length to get a few mentions of each of the keywords in the copy. This will probably involve 750 to 1000 words. If you have a few variations for a niche page with one or two variations then go for 250 but do not then use high recurrences of the keywords – this ends up looking like spam. If you find you have nothing further to say about the product or service without it looking like you are repeating the keyword for fun then you have said enough.

From these top 10 tips these will act as a solid foundation for understanding your target market. It can act as the foundations for the content on website and how to categorise products and services into page and navigation menu structures. From this, you have the best possible chance of building a successful content strategy which takes the pressure off over-optimising the offpage. And lastly, the main benefit is it helps the consumer – understanding what they are searching for and what their position in the buying cycle is will help you improve the customer journey when they reach the website.