How to conduct keyword research in 2015

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In years gone past keyword research was a relatively simple proposition, simply visit Google’s keyword tool (now replaced with the Keyword planner) and type in a few guideline search terms.  The keyword tool would then do most of the work by providing suggested keywords and fairly reliable data on search volume.  Whilst this was not the most comprehensive form of keyword research, for many it sufficed.  In 2015, the story is slightly different.

Keyword Planner and ‘not provided’

In 2013 Google officially replaced the much loved ‘Keyword Tool’ with a system that did not garner the same amount of affection…..the dreaded ‘Keyword Planner’.  In the first phase of release, the Keyword Planner appeared to be less intuitive, did not provide ‘exact’ and ‘broad’ matches (only exact), and lacked the ‘related search terms’ functionality (amongst other things).  Whilst some of this functionality has now returned to the Keyword Planner, many SEOs would prefer the old Keyword Tool to have remained and for Google to have added functionality to it.  Either way, it seems that the Keyword Planner is here to stay.  For a detailed breakdown of the differences between the two, see Search Engine Watch’s synopsis.

 More worryingly, since 2011 SEOs have been working on less and less data provided by Google in regards to keyword search volume.  This trend does not appear to have abated much, which is making our job as researchers much harder and due to ever increasing concerns over internet security and privacy we predict that it will only continue.  The repercussions will be that search marketers will be forced to look elsewhere in order to gather their all important data.  A brief synopsis of the growth in ‘not provided’:

 2011 – Google announce that all those signed in to a Google account will have their searches redirected through a secure page, thus not allowing this data to be shown to the general public through the keyword tool.  Google claimed that the ‘not provided’ portion of data would be around the 10% mark but this quickly climbed above 10%!

 2012 – Firefox 14 encrypts all Google searches by default.  Safari follow suit.

 2013 – Google chrome’s omnibox uses secure search, regardless of whether the user is signed in to a Google account.

 2015 – In a talk by Rand Fishkin, ‘not provided’ is now displayed for 87.5% of keyword data.

 We have always felt that the keyword planner data should be used as an indicative resource rather than exact, through experience we have learnt that the numbers rarely add up.  It is still useful, but not as a stand alone entity.  Furthermore, this increase in ‘not provided’ data means that reactive analytics from sources like GA and GWMT become less reliable.  As a result, search marketers have been forced to look elsewhere when formulating their keyword research.

Old Fashioned Brainstorming

 We always start our research with an old fashioned brainstorm.  We will use a brief from the client as guidance, but not a pre-existing keyword sheet.  This is because you don’t want to be anchored to certain keywords which will constrict your ability to think of other avenues that may be beneficial for the client.  Brainstorming will allow for a reasonably unbiased session during which you may well think of keywords that have been missed by previous research.  This session should be approached with an open mind – the results must be checked using other tools and may well be discounted, but they can often produce a group of keywords that might not have been considered otherwise.

Google Suggest, Ubersuggest and Keywordtool.io

 Also known as Google’s auto-complete function, it is the box underneath the main search box where Google….you guessed it….suggests search terms that are applicable.  You can see it here in the red box:

Google auto-complete

The general consensus is that this auto-complete function shows popular search terms and as a result is a very useful tool for either checking a search term or as a ‘related’ search term style function.

 Typing a portion of every single search term you want to check into Google in order to check it might seem a little laborious to you, and indeed it is.  However, there are other tools that have been created to help speed up the process.  Ubersuggest and Keywordtool.io collaborate data, making the process much faster.  Keywordtool.io also allows you to add potential keywords to a clipboard which can then be easily pasted into Google’s Keyword Planner to check search volumes (*albeit indicative):

Keywordtool.io

Let social media guide you

The advent of Web 2.0 and the stellar growth of social media over the last decade means that search marketers now have data from ‘the masses’.  Typing search terms, categories or products into social media platforms will quickly show whether people in the real world are talking about it.  Whilst this might not give you exact numbers to work with, you can be a little more creative by playing off certain keywords against each other in order to gauge their popularity.  It fully depends on the industry and type of search terms that you might be looking to target, but Twitter is often the best place to start.  This social research can be beneficial for confirming keywords to target, opening new trains of thought in regards to products or services (with their related search terms) or even highlight areas in which your content marketing strategy should be headed as mentioned by Rand Fishkin in last week’s Whiteboard Friday.

 In another moz blog on keyword research by Jeremy Gottlieb and backed up by Rand himself in another post, forums are also useful resources for seeing what terminology people are using (more on this later).

 

Competitor Research

 Those who neglect competitor research do so at their own risk.  Yes, your competitors might not have a perfect marketing strategy and may have made some glaring mistakes, but on the other hand they can often be a gold mine of information and save you a hell of a lot of time!

 Looking at your online competitors and analysing their activities can:

     -    Help identify keywords that they are targeting.  In turn, this may identify keywords that you have missed, or rule out keywords that due to their competitiveness vs search volume (and therefore ROI).

    -    Identify terminology or industry language which may have been missed.

    -    Speed up the process of structuring your website and/or grouping synonyms.

 In addition to this, competitor research can also help you with quick link building destinations and/or content creation ideas.  In effect you should be utilising the investment that your competitors have made in their digital marketing to your advantage, thus saving you time and money!

 

Grouping Synonyms together

Google’s semantic map is growing by the second, and with this growth comes increased complexity and the ability to draw connections between words and phrases.  In fact, Google’s knowledge graph team claim that they are now able to identify the meaning of a phrase rather than simply focussing on matching the keywords.  If this seems a little complex for your liking, think of it as Google’s thesaurus becoming ever more accurate.  This has a direct effect on how SEOs structure webpages in order to target the search terms that they have so painstakingly identified.  No longer do separate webpages have to be created for search terms that would appear to be relatively similar.  Google can now identify the intent behind a search and therefore return results that do not necessarily include that exact keyword. Therefore, SEOs should group synonyms and related terms together during their research so that they can then structure sites to be as user friendly as possible, without detracting from their ability to rank for multiple queries.

 

Make notes of long tail opportunities

This type of keyword research will inevitably produce other opportunities that might not be immediately applicable to traditional keyword research or onsite optimisation.  One of these areas is content creation.  You should constantly be keeping an eye out during your keyword research for content creation opportunities.  If an industry forum is has a thread discussing a particular topic, make a note of it so that you can explore opportunities for content creation that have real and contemporary value for the user.  These notes will save you having to backtrack your research once you start thinking about content creation.  The keyword research will expose you to a considerable amount of industry and consumer data which can then be used in other facets of your SEO campaign – more on this in a later post.

 

Judgement Calls

As has been well documented, the job of an SEO has become much more than just assigning keywords to pages, content and link building.  It has now come to include other facets of marketing and analytics – this has translated into keyword research.  In order to progress and provide results in an ever more competitive digital landscape we have no doubt that thorough keyword research would have had to include the points above regardless of whether Google had restricted search data or not.  The fact that Google and major web browsers have been so vigilant in protecting searcher’s data has meant that these techniques are now no longer an added bonus but instead have become an absolute necessity.  Relying on one tool to provide the majority of the information for research is now a defunct technique.  In fact, no one tool will hold all the answers and SEOs are having to make judgement calls as to the types of search terms they will target using multiple pieces of data.  Experienced SEOs will be rubbing their hands with glee because inevitably this means that experience will pay dividends and the barriers to entry are becoming larger, but we hope that this article is useful for anyone who is struggling to make sense of the every increasingly complex task of identifying and choosing keywords to target.

If there are any other methods that we have missed out please feel free to comment below!

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