Why are keywords important?

The most crucial goal of any SEO strategy is to be where search happens, in other words, making sure you are visible wherever your targets are looking. The basis of search are keywords, which are search terms that are relevant to your topic of interest. Choosing the right keywords makes you visible to the right people at different customer journey stages. Before you can jump into any other aspect of SEO, creating a good keyword strategy is essential in guiding all of your future actions.

What is a keyword?

A keyword is simply a search query relevant to your SEO goals. They can be as simple as a single word to as complex as genuine questions, which may be confusing because those questions are considered a single keyword (as opposed to paid search, where each word in a search term is regarded as a keyword). These search queries that include questions and other terms over three words are known as long-tail keywords. Branded keywords include your or a relevant company’s brand name, while generic keywords are not about any particular company or person, but they can still be specific. A good keyword strategy consists of branded and generic keywords of all sizes.

A person using google on mobile.
Google’s home page on mobile.

How do you conduct keyword research?

Keyword theory can seem as easy as picking words that you feel are relevant to your industry, but that won’t cover all of your bases. A strong keyword strategy focuses on many different search terms and phrases that revolve around the customer journey, so getting into the customer’s head by studying their behavior is an excellent place to start.

Empathy Mapping

There are many different ways to find out what resonates with your target, but one of the most tried and true methods is to develop an empathy map. An empathy map lays out what the target says, thinks, does, and feels throughout the customer journey. Getting as many people in your organization involved in this exercise is essential. While you could probably do an empathy map by yourself, your insights will be so much deeper with a multi-departmental view. The most valuable insights will undoubtedly come from the sales and support staff since they are most exposed to customer pain points and can offer many great keyword opportunities.  

Experience Mapping

With your empathy map in hand, you can now develop an experience map, which essentially maps a customer’s journey. This journey starts before customers even discover your offerings; it begins with finding an unmet objective. From there, you need to map out the different phases your customers will go through; a good template is segmenting the journey into awareness, consideration, acquisition, service, and loyalty phases. However, these phases can vary from task to task; for example, a customer shopping for a new car may have a journey that includes more research phases like consideration, exploring, and testing, without a loyalty phase (since customer loyalty is not as significant in the car market). However you divide the journey, each step will have different touchpoints where your organization interacts with that customer; using the empathy map, you can shine some insight into whether each point is painful or joyful.

Persona Development

Once you have completed your experience map, you have a deeper understanding of your customer and what they go through. Now to get you to relate more deeply with your potential reader, creating a persona will significantly help. By putting a face to who your readers are, you can imagine yourself presenting the information to them; this will help determine if the content will resonate with them. In your persona, you should include demographic information you feel is relevant, like age, income, and gender, but don’t let these limit you. Your persona should also focus on how the customer feels during the pain and joy you discovered; doing this will help you understand what deeply resonates with your audience.

Interpreting your findings

After you have your persona developed and the customer journey written out in the experience map, you can start discovering opportunities for keywords. Use the pain points you found in your experience map, and realize that each of these hints at problems people will be trying to solve using search. Think of the frustrations you discovered in the empathy map; each has related keywords that users will be entering into search. While creating an experience map and persona, you should always write down any keywords you might reveal throughout the process. As mentioned before, keyword strategy can be as simple as picking words you feel are relevant, so keep track of anything you think will hit while going through the process.

How do you pick the best keywords?

Not all keywords are equal; some can be more competitive, while others may be neglected. Now that you have a list of keywords that you know resonate deeply with your audience, it is time to evaluate whether those keywords present an opportunity. When thinking about keyword opportunities, one should focus on two areas: the number of people searching for that keyword and solid authority in the search results. There are various tools that one can use to gauge the popularity of a keyword; one free tool is Google Trends (pictured below) which has a 100 point scale that represents search volume through an interest in that keyword. Figuring out the competitiveness of a keyword requires a more holistic approach; first, you need to figure out who the authorities are on the topic of your website. Once you have a decent list of about ten to twenty, enter your search term into Google and see how many of those authorities are in the first few results; if you see too many, then it’s safe to assume that it’s a competitive keyword. The goal is to find relevant keywords with decent search volumes and low competition.

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Interest over time for the search term “SEO” displayed on google trends.

How do I keep up with keywords in the long run?

Once your fully comprehensive keyword list is complete, always keep in mind that this list can and constantly should be updated. What resonates with your audience today can be the complete opposite tomorrow. That is why you should save time periodically to assess your understanding of the audience and adjust your data accordingly, then update your keyword strategy if necessary.