How important is keyword research to SEO and how you rank on Google? Very important! Some people have discounted the importance of “keywords” because Google looks at so many more factors than just keywords when analyzing pages to rank. But all searches start with a word/phrase – even voice search!

It’s true that you no longer can rank high on Google by just stuffing your page with keywords, but if you research and find the right keywords you can attain high rankings – especially locally. Here are some tips to help you research the best keywords.

1. Know Your Customers

Before you create a list of keywords to target, you must know who your customers are and what they’re looking for when searching online for your products or services. If you haven’t created buyer personas for your customers, now is the time to create at least two buyer personas for your main target audience.

After you’ve identified the personal traits of your ideal customers, think about the different ways that they are searching for what you offer. Map out their research process and buying decision and make sure that you have something to offer them at every stage of their buying process.

Pay attention to keywords that are have commercial or buyer intent. Think of words in your niche that are “act-now” keywords. An example would be “features of sony camera w710.” If a person is searching for features of a specific camera model, you know that they’re close to buying. These are the types of research keywords you should be targeting.

Think about YOUR products or services and brainstorm the keywords that buyers are using to find what you offer.

2. Analyze the Keywords You’re Targeting

Once you have a clear idea of exactly who your customers are, it’s time to do keyword research and find keyword phrases that will be of interest to searchers. There are many SEO tools that can help with your keyword research.

Google even shows you the most frequently searched terms when you start typing in search keywords in the query box:

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Google Shows You Search Terms

No matter which tool you use, chances are the tool has a way for you to not only find keyword ideas and variations to target but also allow you to analyze the competitiveness of the keywords you’re trying to rank for.

Your goal is to identify keywords that have a relatively high search volume but are less competitive.

Google Planner makes it easy to see whether a keyword you’re evaluating has a lot of competition (High) or if it’s going to be a little easier for you to rank for because the competition is less (Medium and Low).

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Google Keyword Planner Shows Competitiveness

Search volume is also a crucial piece of data to look at when selecting keywords. Sure. You could rank on page one of Google for a keyword, but if only 10 people search for that keyword each month, you probably won’t have much success. Instead, look for search volumes that are at least high enough to make the keyword optimization effort worth it.

Your job is to go through the keywords on your list, and select the ones that have a decent monthly search volume and a big Cost Per Click (CPC) value.

Also, when selecting keywords, think “semantically.” Google’s Rank Brain learning technology is smart enough to recognize synonyms and other ways of saying certain words or phrases. This makes it easier for you to write using variations of the keywords you’re targeting and avoid the need to repeat the main keywords over and over on a page. (NOTE: You typically only want to use your targeted keyword two or three times on a page.)

Long-tail keywords (e.g. “tips for small business blog topic ideas”) are sometimes better to use than broad keywords (e.g. “blog topics”). However, long-tail keywords can sometimes be too long. According to Google, compared to shorter keywords (those with two to four words), keywords that contain five words or more drive less than half the volume of clicks and impressions on average.

3. Analyze Your Competitor’s Winning Keywords

The whole point of SEO is to outrank your competitors on search engine results. But before you can create a plan to outrank your competition, you need to find out who your competitors are and how they rank for the keywords you’re targeting.

With SEMrush’s Position Tracker, you can enter your competitors’ URLs and SEMrush will analyze your rankings for particular keywords vs. your competition.

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SEMrush Competition Ranking Feature

Many tools will show you not only organic keyword results but also the Google AdWords ads themselves, so you can see which keywords are working in your competitors’ ads, too.

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Competitor Information

Pick your top four competitors and analyze what they’re doing on-site and off-site to rank high. Take a look at their title and description tags. What sites are linking back to them? Look at the schema code they have on their page. How is their site navigation and pages structured? Often you can reverse engineer a competitor’s success by looking at these factors.

4. Can You Rank for Special Features?

Google has added some fun and helpful features to the top of their Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Instant answers/answer box, featured snippets, reviews and videos often show up at the top of search pages on Google.

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Google Instant Answer/Answer Box

The Answer Box is a unique SERP result that is powered by Google’s knowledge graph or scraped from a site that provides an answer to a question. (Wikipedia often dominates the answer boxes.) The answer box is typically displayed at the top of the results page, right below the ads. Typically, these instant answers are a box with a text answer and a source URL. Over 65% of queries that display answer boxes contain between 3-5 words.

Getting a page listed in Google’s answer box should be a main goal of your SEO and keyword efforts.

5. Put Keywords in the Right Places

Your keywords, including phrases, must be placed the meta titles, descriptions, headings on your page and used in the written content of a web page. When using keywords, try to put them towards the front of the copy.

Every page on your website is an optimization opportunity. Don’t just optimize your home page.

Optimize each page of your site for search. Typically, you want to target 2-3 specific keywords for each page. This means you must methodically plan out on which pages you will put specific keyword phrases.

Writing content around your keywords is an art. Carefully think about what words and how you use the words on your page for maximum readability – and searchability!

What Tips Do You Have For Selecting Keywords?

What keyword research tips do you have? What are your favorite keyword research tools? We’d love to know!