The Case for Keywords: Creating an Effective Keyword Strategy
Welcome to the second installment in our two-part series on the importance of keywords and creating an effective keyword strategy. If you haven’t already, we’d suggest beginning with the first part of this series to get a real feel for why keywords are still very relevant in SEO.
With that understanding, now it’s time to create a keyword strategy that serves as a valuable tool in your overall SEO efforts. Though keywords don’t necessarily hold the power over SEO that they once did, here at Lessing-Flynn we believe having a strong keyword strategy is still a critical part of everything from optimization efforts to content creation. But how do you go about creating a strategy in the first place?
How to Develop a Keyword Strategy
There are thousands of different processes out there for developing an effective keyword strategy. In an industry like SEO that is constantly evolving, the processes are as varied as the SEO and keyword strategies themselves. My best advice? Do some research on various methods and find what works best for you. To get you started, here’s a little insight into my personal strategy development process.
Research, Research, Research
Get ready to go back to your college days. I begin my process with the simplest of tools: a notebook, pen, and some hardcore study time. To create an effective keyword strategy, you must first know what you’re talking about inside and out.
I set aside several hours and just research the company, industry, or topic for which I’m developing keywords. I look at research papers, news articles, company pages, competitors, and anything else that may be useful. As I see recurring words, phrases or trends, I jot them down.
During this step in the process, not only am I identifying potential keywords, but I’m also developing a firm understanding of my client’s work in the process, which will only help to understand what’s important and how to best achieve their goals.
Narrowing the Field
Now that I have some base understanding and a list of, in most cases, hundreds of potential keywords and phrases, it’s time to narrow the field. I usually start by taking the first pass at my list and crossing out anything that, on second thought, may not be effective or important. I also remove anything that isn’t remotely conversational or that I’m positive nobody would be searching for.
For subsequent passes over the list, I let data help make my decision. I turn to several tools (outlined in more detail below) to help with the process. I focus on metrics like search volume, keyword difficulty, popularity trends, and relevance to the client’s industry or goals. Anything that isn’t relevant, doesn’t see a lot of traffic, or appears to be on a downward trend, will probably be eliminated. I repeat this process as needed, upping my data thresholds until I have a solid list of about 25 to 40 keywords.
Don’t be afraid to get the client involved at this point either. After all, who knows the company and industry better than the client themselves? They are a great resource and can help weed out any possible keywords that don’t align with the company, goals, or audience. Integrating them into the process also helps with understanding and buy-in down the road. Being transparent during this keyword strategy development only furthers SEO efforts throughout the entire process.
The Match Game
Now it’s time to match that keyword list up with relevant pages and content. For an existing site, I will do a quick crawl of the site, parse out the URLs, page titles, meta information, and headings. I then match up keywords with the pages and content that make the most sense. For new sites or even new pages, I will create a sitemap content document laying out pages, content, and keywords. For new and existing sites, I will also use the keyword strategy as a base for any future content creation efforts, planning new content around focus keywords and topics.
In theory, an SEO’s work is never done. SEO isn’t a one-time thing. It shouldn’t even be an every six months thing. You should always be considering SEO in order to stay ahead of the competition and maintain progress.
That said, after I’ve developed a keyword strategy, aligned it with the site, and optimized content, I track progress in relation to specific goals outlined in the SEO strategy. A keyword strategy isn’t set in stone, nor should it ever be anywhere near permanent. As metrics come in, I take time to revisit my keyword strategy and tweak any keywords based on data and performance. Don’t be afraid to throw out and replace keywords that aren’t actively pushing your content toward your goals.
Tools for Keyword Research
As I mentioned above, we use a number of free and paid tools for keyword research here at LF. When creating a keyword list, I like to build the most comprehensive research document possible in order to help let data (along with a little intuition and knowledge) drive my decisions. Here are a few tools we turn to quite a bit:
Google’s Trends web tool is great for exploring and analyzing possible keywords. It provides insight on keyword performance trends, search volume, and even has a nifty keyword comparison functionality.
Moz is the name in SEO. So naturally, it has a number of go-to tools for all your SEO and keyword needs. Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool helps me narrow my keyword list by giving valuable data like keyword difficulty, search volume, and an opportunity score. Once in the optimization and data collection phases, Moz Pro’s campaign tracker gives insight into keyword performance and suggestions for improvement.
Though technically more for Google’s paid search purposes, Keyword Planner can also be a handy tool for those focusing on organic results by providing search volume and difficulty metrics while also suggesting related keywords.
Why not turn to search engines themselves? Some of the tools above give you search volume or difficulty score, but I also like to see what comes up for possible keywords right from the source. When typing in a search term (usually in an incognito window to help strip user bias), at a minimum I take note of the number of results and the sites being displayed on the first results page. If the results are vastly different from what my content will be about, maybe I need to amend my keyword to better reflect my content.
Once your site is up and running, you should always install Google Analytics and create a property listing in Google Search Console. Both are free and are essentially the go-to players in website metrics and data tracking. Both give valuable insight into how your site is performing while also giving a glimpse into what keywords people are using to find your site and what they do once they get there. This information is perfect for refining your keyword strategy down the road.
When I need to do a quick audit of a site or scrape site data, I like to use Screaming Frog. Yes, it’s a weird name, but it’s one of the better, free spider and crawler software tools out there. It can quickly scan a site and deliver a spreadsheet of all relevant information like headings, word count, URLs, alt tags, meta information, and more.
As we mentioned above, this is how we go about doing our keyword research here at LF. We’ve developed this process having looked at how many other agencies and SEO experts go about their research. Many of the tools we use were suggested by industry authorities. When developing your own strategy, we would highly recommend doing some research and finding what works best for you (though obviously, we’re a little biased toward our own advice above). There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to anything involving SEO, so feel free to experiment.
We hope you enjoyed our A Case for Keywords mini-series. Since the industry is constantly evolving, we’re planning to add more in the future. If you have any insight on the subject, be sure to let us know in the comments below!
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