What’s New in Keyword Research?

If there’s one thing we know for sure about the Internet, it’s that nothing is ever permanent. Each day the techniques used for SEO become more nuanced and advanced, and Google itself continues to change and evolve as it tries to meet the changing needs of the audiences. Of course, change doesn’t always mean ‘the end of’, and keywords are part of every aspect of SEO – from searches, to optimising content. Rest assured that keywords as an SEO strategy are not dead – they’re just slightly different, and it’s important to keep up to date with the changes when conducting keyword research.

As keywords become a more popular strategy, it’s necessary to get a little more creative in order to stand out from the crowd. So once you’ve made sure that your keywords are relevant to your site and your business, it’s time to take it a step further.

First, keyword volume – a traditional indicator of how successful you could be with your keyword – is no longer the be-all end-all. While knowing the data about these keywords and how often they could bring someone to your site is still important (using tools such as Google Keywords Planner or Moz Keyword Explorer) a poor strategy of keyword research is to automatically use the five keywords with the greatest volume. Rather, it’s important to look at and consider this data, and then to match the keywords with the context of the site and what the business wants to achieve. For example, ‘plumber Sydney’ is likely to have a greater search volume than ‘plumber Perth’, simply based on the difference in population between the two cities. However, there’s little point in choosing the former if your plumbing business operates out of Western Australia. In another example, it is likely to be a waste of time to choose the keyword ‘painter’ if you’re a housepainter, simply because at significant proportion of those users are likely to be searching for something in fine arts.

As a part of this, an essential aspect of discovering a keyword’s relevance lies in its difficulty. Is there any point in using resources to chase after a high ranking in a difficult keyword when the possibility of success is very low? The two main aspects of difficulty when it comes to keyword research are generality and big businesses. Keywords that are more general will simply have a greater amount of competition, meaning that your SEO strategy needs to outrank and much greater number of sites – not only locally, but also from around the world. ‘Books’ is about as general as you can get. Adding something such as a location (‘books Camberwell’) or an adjective (‘second hand bookshop’) can greatly improve your chances of success. The second aspect that increases the difficulty to rank highly is the similarity to large businesses and government agencies. Regardless if your business has little to do with books or online shopping, if your keyword has any form of the word ‘Amazon’ in it, the likelihood of ranking highly drops significantly.

A good way to look at a keyword strategy for small businesses is to consider the keyword demand curve, as shown here by Moz:

SEO Sydney Keyword Research Tail

The most generic and higher volume keywords lie to the left of the X-axis. These are the ones that small businesses simply don’t have the ability to rank highly for, because of the degree of competition and market power of the bigger companies. Smaller businesses should turn their attention to the other end of the X-axis, where the long-tail keywords lie. These are keywords that are longer, with more specific qualifiers on the end, such as a location or time period. This subject is covered in more detail in this post by SEO Melbourne. Clearly, it is easier to rank for a more specific keyword, given the lack of competition. It seems to fly in the face of much of what we used to know about keyword research – doesn’t a long-tailed keyword mean that there will be less traffic, fewer searches and fewer conversions? There may be a smaller search volume, but the key to remember is that data isn’t everything in the new keyword normal. Although there’s less traffic, the users who do search for these keywords are looking for something specific, meaning that they are closer to making a decision and are more likely to be converted by your site. In short, what long-tail keywords do is to favour quality customers over a quantity of customers. Given that SEO and an associated keyword strategy are tools for overall business development, more conversions and a better ROI is the end game, not simply achieving a high ranking on Google.