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Why Do Keyword Research? A Beginner's Guide

December 10, 2020.
Angle view of a black and grey laptop keyboard to illustrate keyword research for websites

Data is incredibly valuable, and in particular, the data that informs and influences the content creation process. Over 3.5 billion searches are made on Google every day. This adds up to around 1.2 trillion searches per year globally. This provides an opportunity for internet users to arrive at your website, but equally there is competition. Through meticulous, structured keyword research, high quality content can generate leads, particularly when combined with social media sharing.

We take you through some of our essential steps for starting keyword research for websites, from exploring search intent through to compiling and refining your list of target keywords.

Notepad and pencils with balled up pieces of paper to illustrate the process of keyword research for websites

Why is keyword research important?

All good content starts with a topic idea. With over 1.94 billion websites on the internet today, creating distinctive content that stands out to users has become more challenging. Being recognised as a useful and authoritative source of content is the gold standard for many websites, but with so many competitors promoting similar topics, where do you begin?

Offering a unique or different angle on existing ideas that engages your target audience is incredibly difficult without a defined process. Creating content just to make your website look up-to-date or going in blind makes it more of a challenge to establish a credible presence within your industry. Similarly, although picking topics that you feel are relevant or that you like the sound of can be beneficial for specific circumstances, having a method for keyword research is best practice and will boost your search engine optimisation.

Understanding search intent

What is search intent? When somebody Googles a question, the results that are displayed are based on what the search engine interprets as the searcher's intent, or the meaning behind the search. In Google's Quality Rater Guidelines, Google explains the 4 major intents that searchers have:

  1. A 'Know' query, some of which are 'Know Simple' queries. 'Know Simple' queries seek a very specific answer, like a fact, and can usually be answered within a few sentences.
  2. A 'Do' query, some of which are 'Device Action' queries. 'Device Action' queries are where users have asked their phone or smart assistant to do something for them.
  3. A 'Website' query, where a user is looking for a specific website or webpage.
  4. A 'Visit-in-person' query, some of which are looking for a specific business or organisation, and some of which are looking for a category of businesses.

In essence, these can be divided into 'informational', 'transactional', 'navigational', and 'local'. As you begin to accumulate a list of keywords, by testing them in Google, you can work out what Google has decided the intent of that phrase is.

For example, if you search for 'stilettos', you'll see a search engine results page that displays mixed search intent. There will be a shopping carousel of stilettos being promoted at the top of the page, and then a knowledge panel in case you were looking for a definition, and finally a local map to cater for users who wanted to buy stilettos near their location. This shows that Google has determined the user has a transactional search intent. However, it cannot work out if they want to buy online or at a local shop. It therefore shows all possible options in the hope that one of them is the best fit for that query.

What questions can you ask yourself to start your keyword research?

When starting your keyword research, consider the following questions:

  • What topics are currently trending, both in general and within your industry?
  • Are there any recent developments in your sector that provide insight for readers?
  • Are there any seasonal events to cover?
  • What topics are your competitors focusing their content on?
  • Do your customer segments experience particular roadblocks or pain points on the path to purchase?
  • Can you provide solutions to any issues encountered in your industry?
Person holding a mobile phone with Google Chrome browser to illustrate Googling

Build up your keyword list

Start compiling relevant keywords

You are now ready to begin the essential part of keyword research for websites - the list. Taking what you have reflected on from the previous sections, begin by writing out the topics that are most important to your business. These include what your own priorities are, as well as what your customers will be looking for.

Then, group these by theme and priority. For example, are prospects more likely to search for certain terms to find out more information, or will they have a transactional intent instead? List anything that springs to mind, because you can trim down the list later on. For now, focus on coming up with as many relevant keywords as possible.

Top Tip: It is important to check which phrases your business's website already ranks highly for. This can be achieved using Google Search Console or Google Analytics, in addition to any other software you already use to track your website's rankings. Don't forget to check what your competitors rank for, too. This is particularly helpful if they have already been doing search engine optimisation of their own, as you know that those keywords work well.

Refine and prioritise your keywords

Once you have your basic list, go through it again and work out if there are any variations that can be taken advantage of. The 'People Also Ask' widget in Google suggests alternative questions based on similar searches, and provides another free method of adding to your keyword research.

Then, organise your keyword list by the type of keyword. There are two types of keyword: 'fat head' and 'long tail'. Fat head terms are shorter phrases that receive a high monthly search volume. Long tail terms are at the opposite end of the spectrum. They receive a lower search volume, but offer more variety, and less competition. Your keyphrase research must strike a balance between hitting these high volume terms and the long tail phrases. There is a great deal of potential in the long tail terms, particularly as people increasingly rely on voice search to find out information from search engines.

An example of a fat head term versus a long tail term is somebody looking for neckties. If they simply search for 'tie', they are likely to be looking for general inspiration. However, if they search for 'silk tie stockists near me', they have narrowed down their search and therefore display an intent to purchase in the near future. You can select where in the path to purchase you want your website to appear and target keyphrases accordingly.

Assess which keywords to target

Working out which keywords to target is largely determined by their difficulty. This is simply how straightforward it is to rank for a particular keyword or phrase. You then need to compare how much work it will take to rank highly for a phrase that is particularly relevant to your business and your customers' search intent. It will be more labour intensive to rank for difficult phrases with a lot of competition, but if targeting a few of those terms will contribute towards your site traffic and increase the odds of customer conversion, then it may pay off.

Once you have sifted through your list to decide which phrases you're going to target, your keyword research is complete. Those core phrases form the basis of your optimisation strategy. You are now ready to begin inserting these keywords and phrases into your website's copy, and measuring the results.

Pencil and eraser with a hand drawn lightbulb and question mark

Write and amend your website's copy

It is important to stress that it is not necessary to create an entirely new page for every keyword. As the Google algorithm is continually being refined and developed, it can group similar concepts by how they are related. It therefore recognises synonyms and related terms.

On your higher level pages, you are going to want a page for every key concept you want your website to rank for. These lead through to pages that are more detailed and use specific long tail keywords. The content that you incorporate keywords into does not need to necessarily be written. Vary your content with a mixture of video, graphics and images to maximise engagement, depending on what your audience is looking for.

Once you have crafted your content with your specific keywords and phrases, the key to successful keyword research for websites is to monitor your success. Regularly check your analytics data and rank metrics to see if certain content is performing better than others. Remember that you may not see instantaneous results depending on the terms you have selected.

Then, act on what the data is telling you: optimise everything from title tags to image alt text. In addition, make sure you are working up your old content as well as producing new content. Consistent, sustained chipping away at keyword research is essential in order to see results.

What next?

Do you have questions about creating an implementing a keyword research strategy for growth? Or are you struggling to apply your keywords to your website? Read some of our content related articles below:

Alternatively, email customerservice@mackmangroup.co.uk to speak to one of our experts and get started on your keyword research.

James Royce

James Royce

Technical Director

James is the Technical and Operations Director at Mackman and has overall responsibility for the delivery of both client and internal projects, as well as overseeing the development, support and hosting of digital projects.

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