Taking Keyword Research to the Next Level

If you’re familiar with SEO, you probably also know something about the concept of keyword research, the process of determining which keywords to “go after” through your search engine optimization efforts. Traditionally, keyword research revolved around search volume and competition metrics. You’d access your keyword tools and determine which keywords could get the most visitors to your site in the easiest way possible. That worked fine in the good old days, but things have changed in recent years, and smart SEOs have adapted to make their keyword research tactics even more effective.

To stand out in today’s ever-changing search results, you’ll have to look beyond search volume and competition before you pin down any target terms. When you’re conducting research, keep the following in mind to gain a competitive edge:

Searcher Intent

We all know that the keywords you target should be relevant to the content on your site. It’s also important to remember, though, that for effective keyword targeting, you also need to understand the searcher intent behind a given query. In search engine terms, there are three primary types of queries a user can perform:

  • Transactional queries – These searches involve an action. It could be anything from purchasing an item to playing a video.
  • Informational queries – These are exactly what you think they are. The searcher is seeking additional information about something.
  • Navigational queries – Searchers use this type of queries when they want to navigate to a particular website.

Thinking about keywords with query type in mind will help you determine whether or not your site can offer the kind of content necessary to satisfy the searchers’ needs. Of course, this can also help guide your content creation efforts after you’ve selected your target terms.

Before you settle on a keyword, ask yourself this question: “Is there any other reason a searcher might be typing this into Google?” For example, if someone types “waterfalls” into a search engine, are they looking for facts about beautiful natural wonders or do they want to play the TLC song?

Which leads me directly into my next point…

The Search Engine Results’

During the keyword research process, it’s particularly important to manually perform searches for the keywords you’re interested in. Performing searches yourself will let you see what types of results the engines are returning for a given query. Are they ecommerce sites? Are they high-authority domains like Wikipedia? This is an incredibly effective way of sizing up your competition for a given search and determining your site’s odds of actually appearing on the first page of results.

When you examine the search engine results pages, you should also look for things like paid ads, local pack results, and even instant answers. All of these can help you gauge the level of competition for placement on the first page of results. If you see a bunch of paid ads and an instant answers box, it might be time to search for another keyword.

Links to Competing Sites

This one requires a little bit of insider knowledge and some industry tools, mainly Moz’s Open Site Explorer and MozBar. If you’re using the toolbar, you’ll be able to see some crucial metrics displayed within the search results pages. It’s no secret that links are important in ranking, so it’s a smart idea to take a look at the link metrics of the sites that are ranking highly for your target terms. The MozBar will allow you to see the number of links pointing to a given page, and it will even give you a keyword difficulty score to help you determine your site’s ability (or inability) to rank.

Look Beyond the Basics

Today’s SEO game is entirely different than it was just a few years ago. The way we optimize sites has evolved, and we have to make sure our research practices keep up. It’s time to look at more than just search volume when selecting keywords!

Have any keyword research tips you’d like to share? Add yours in the comments!