It’s not sexy. That’s the first thing I need to get out of the way before I tell you more about keyword research. Smart use of keywords, however, is a highly effective way to help readers find your content. Before I jump into some simple strategies for choosing the right keywords, let’s back up and define exactly what they are and how they function.
What is a Keyword?
First off, you may be surprised to find that when most experts say “keyword” they often actually mean “keyword phrase.” Keywords (or keyword phrases, when discussing multiple words) help search engines figure out what your content is about and whether it’s the right content to share given a certain search. For instance, say I’m looking for a plumber to fix my sink. Being an Orlando resident, I might pop into Google with a search query like “best Orlando plumber.”
Turning the tables on this example, if I’m Johnny the Plumber and serve the Orlando area, I’d be wise to craft content that includes the keyword phrase “best Orlando plumber.” This will increase the chances that I’m found when Orlandoans search for plumbing services.
How Does it Work?
Google and other search engines are notoriously tight-lipped as to exactly how their algorithms work. However, we do have some idea about how keywords help your content. Google does something rather remarkable: It takes all content published to the internet and has bots review and test its relevancy and reputability. These bots can often sniff out copy/pasted content, spam and other less valuable resources, throwing them to the bottom of search results.
It’s in Google’s (and any other search engines’) best interest to deliver only the most relevant, most helpful results to any search query. Keywords come into play because these bots are also looking for recurring phrases that users often search for in part or even verbatim. If a Google bot notices your content mentioning the user’s search terms (keywords), it may deliver your content above others.
What’s the Catch?
So, what’s keeping content creators from stuffing their content with keywords? In the early days of search engines, nothing. But Google has pulled the curtain back on their algorithm enough to tell us that simply stuffing content with keywords isn’t going to get you far – in fact, doing so will be counted against you. If a keyword is obviously thrown into your blog or webcopy in an attempt to game the system, Google will spot it and flag it as less-than-quality content.
Picking the Right Keywords
Keyword research is invaluable to finding the right phrases for your content. You may think that you need expensive apps and years of training to conduct such research but I promise it’s not as intimidating or complex as it sounds – at least when it comes to understanding the fundamentals.
At its core, keyword research is driven simply by understanding who your audience is, what they want and how they will ask for your product or service. By putting yourself in your audience’s shoes, you can more accurately assume what they’re searching for and, thus, what keyword phrase to use in your content. After all, it’s not you, as CEO or brand manager, who will be searching for your product or service – it’s your audience.
Still not confident in your keyword research skills? As a common blind spot for many marketing and brand managers’ content strategies, there are plenty of keyword research tools available, some including free versions or free trials. Though helpful, it’s important to think of these tools as supplementary as opposed to a singular solution. The most powerful keyword research tool at your disposal is your deep understanding of your audience.
Boiling it Down
Though all of this information is good to know, you may be asking yourself what takeaways you can bring to your company’s content strategy. Here are some key questions you need to ask when trying to choose the right keywords.
- What is my content about? Remember, the main job of search engines is to connect people with the content they’re looking for. If your keywords don’t match your content, the search engine gives you a big thumbs down and throws your content lower on the results list. Ensure the keyword is indicative of the content itself, and not just a poor attempt at gaming the system.
- Who is my audience? As stated earlier in this post, knowing who is asking the question will help you better guess how they’re going to ask it. If you know how your audience will search for your services, you can choose a more effective keyword.
- How vague or specific is my keyword? Something else to consider is the vagueness or specificity of your keyword. Though you may assume selecting a keyword like “plumber” would net you into more searches, it might be too vague to make an impact. Why? Well, the person searching for “plumber” could be looking for anything from a stock photo of a plumber to the definition of plumber. Something more specific, like “best Orlando plumbers,” would be more effective.
At the end of the day, SEO and keyword research are far from exact sciences and, no, they’re not the sexiest of content marketing topics. However, producing original content that includes well-strategized keywords is, and will remain, a vital best practice. As long as search engines prioritize quality content that best serves users’ queries, keywords are a component of content strategy you can’t afford to ignore.