Competing for popular keywords to win search engine rankings and attract clicks from searchers is a difficult, time-intensive process.
Too often, that type of SEO is a losing proposition.
But you don’t need to give up. Instead, develop a keyword strategy that gives your brand a better chance of ranking on search engine result pages that attract your target audience. Explore keyword search volume, competition level, relevancy, etc., to find the right balance of elements, so your content earns higher rankings.
Here are five actions to develop a keyword research process that delivers better results:
1. Prioritize potential keywords based on preferred factors
Many factors come into consideration when you contemplate whether to target a keyword. Some might weigh more heavily than others based on your site’s current conditions.
First, create a spreadsheet to list all potential keywords you want to rank for. Then, add columns for evaluation factors, including search volume, difficulty, and intent to understand the competitive landscape.
Several SEO tools can help you assess difficulty. This example comes from Ahrefs. It estimates how many backlinks your site would need to rank for your proposed keyword. It ranges from easy (fewer than 10 domains publishing a backlink) to super hard (over 200 domains backlinking to your site).
TIP: If geography is important to your brand, consider evaluating keywords based on country-specific data.
A spreadsheet gives you the flexibility to sort the data to weigh one factor over another. For example, you might sort the keywords by difficulty score rather than search volume. From there, you can prioritize your targeted keywords.
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2. Consider the potential of long-tail keywords
Many content marketers ignore long-tail keywords because searchers don’t use them frequently. Ahrefs illustrates this conundrum in its Search Demand Curve chart, going from The Fat Head (small number of insanely popular search queries) to The Chunky Middle (millions of searches with decent monthly volumes) to Long Tail (billions of search queries with a small number of searchers).
That lack of interest in competing for long-tail keywords is just one of the benefits. These words also better indicate search intent, making those who click more likely to convert. You also can spend less time creating content because you’re targeting a narrower topic rather than attempting to be a comprehensive source.
3. Listen to the searchers
The People Also Ask and related search sections in search engines indicate topics related to the query. Use those results to identify alternative keywords that your search target audience might use.
In this tasty example, you can see the broad query – how to make a fettuccine sauce – becomes more specific in the People Also Ask section:
- How do you make a fettuccine sauce thicker?
- How do you make a creamy sauce for pasta?
- What is the real alfredo sauce made of?
- What is fettuccine sauce called?
In looking at these results, each searcher’s intent becomes clearer. The first topic – make fettuccine sauce thicker – likely would be an inquiry of someone who is cooking the dish. But the last – what is fettuccine sauce called – is more likely the search of someone who couldn’t remember the name Alfredo. The first listing’s keywords would be better targeted by a brand looking to help people cook.
The same process works for the related searches section. In this case, you can see searchers who are looking for cooking-related tips (how to make alfredo sauce without cream) vs. those looking for products (best alfredo sauce in a jar).
While these sections can be helpful in understanding similar alternative keywords, they also can assist when developing your content. You can use some of those related search topics as subheadings in your content.
4. Examine your competitors’ place on SERPs
Do a search for your proposed keyword and see which sites own the top rankings. If you find popular websites ranking at the top, you might think the keyword competition is too high and cross it off your list.
However, before you do, check if the content really answers the targeted keyword. If the high-ranking content answers only part of the keyword phrase, you may have an opportunity to rank by creating quality content that tackles all or almost all of it.
For example, let’s say you want to target the “best 14-inch gaming laptop” keyword. Analyzing its competition on the SERP, you see popular websites (The Verge and PC Mag) are the top rankings.
You take a closer look at their content and realize they don’t satisfyingly answer the keyword search intent. Their content is about the best gaming laptops in general, not just about the 14-inch size. It might present an opportunity for your site to rank high by publishing content narrowly focused on the 14-inch aspect of the keyword phrase intent.
5. Take note of ‘out-of-reach’ keywords
A website’s authority likely influences search ranking results in some capacity. If your site doesn’t have a high authority now, it will be difficult to compete for some keywords.
Backlinko’s research, which uses Ahrefs authority ranking, illustrates this. Ranking positions closely correlate to the site’s domain rating. At least 75% of the top 10 ranking positions came from sites with domain ratings of 50 or higher.
While your site likely can’t compete now, you might be able to in the future. If you continuously implement an SEO strategy for your website, its authority should grow and become more prominent.
Thus, take note of the keywords for which you want to rank but would find too difficult now. As your domain authority grows, revisit this list of out-of-reach keywords to assess whether they’re within reach given your higher domain authority.
Look outside the box for SEO potential
Keyword research is essential for SEO. But you don’t always have to use the most popular or most often used keywords.
By looking outside the search box for related but less-tapped potential keywords, your site will be more likely to inch itself up in the rankings and be tops for your target audience.
All tools noted in this article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to share, please add in the comments.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute