As the owner of a startup, it is understandable that cash flow will be among your biggest challenges. And perhaps the best solution to this particular challenge is to establish a strong online presence and start generating revenue through your website as quickly as you can. Now, this is where it gets interesting…
To build online presence, you’ll need to create a website and optimize it for search. To effectively optimize your website, you’ll need the services of an SEO professional. But didn’t we just establish the fact that cash flow is a huge challenge for you? That means you cannot afford to hire a professional to handle SEO for your business. What, then, should you do?
To begin with, DON’T WORRY. It may be a bit difficult to believe right now, but there is a way for you to start an SEO campaign on your own. If you know even the basics of SEO, then you know that the foundation of a successful SEO campaign is proper keyword research. The problem is that it is often difficult to determine what the right keywords are, especially if you are venturing into SEO for the first time. But don’t fret. The very reason this post was created is to let you in on some of the biggest secrets of professionals for conducting keyword research. And they’re not that difficult to apply!
Why Keyword Research Matters
After Google launched a series of algorithm updates, keyword research started getting a bad rap. There are those who claimed that keyword research is now useless because you’ll now get flagged if you use keywords. The truth is that only old school SEO strategies, which have come to be known as black-hat tactics, died as a result of Google’s updates. Keyword stuffing will most definitely get you flagged these days, but keywords are still very useful.
Keyword research isn’t about gaming the search engines. Rather, it is about understanding the kind of language your target market uses when conducting online search and then using the same language. This helps you ensure that the content you create directly addresses the information needs of the people you want to provide information to. Keyword research also helps you determine which keywords are most relevant to your business and your target market. If your content isn’t relevant to your target audience, your efforts and monetary investment will be completely wasted.
To put it simply, the ideal keywords are those that your target customers use when they conduct online searches related to the products/services you offer. Those keywords should be popular enough to assure you that you’ll generate a steady stream of organic traffic to your site. The competition for the keywords shouldn’t be too stiff (there shouldn’t be too many businesses ranking for the same keywords). Now, here’s how you can find keywords that meet these criteria:
The first step towards finding the right keywords is to brainstorm keyword ideas. What words do you think your target customers will use when they conduct relevant online searches? List down as many words as you can think of. To get a better idea as to what could be relevant keywords, ask yourself the following questions:
- What questions could my target market be asking online?
- What problems could my target customers want to solve?
- What products/services do I offer?
- What words will my target customers likely use when they search for these products/services online?
Read through the keywords on your list and then think about possible variations; list those down as well. Note that you can use questions as key phrases, or what is known as long-tail keywords (key phrases comprised of more than two words; more specific than one- or two-word keywords).
There are several tools you can use to determine which of the keywords you’ve identified during brainstorming actually fit the requirements mentioned earlier. These tools will show you, among other things, the average search volume and the level of competition each of your identified keywords has. You may want to start out with the Google Keyword Planner.
The Planner asks you to choose from three possible ways to analyze keywords. You could search for keyword.ad group ideas, enter keywords to check estimates, or multiply your keyword list and then get estimates. Let’s say you chose the first path. You’ll have the option of checking keywords by entering a keyword in the search box, entering a landing page URL, or choosing from a list of pre-defined categories.
You can even use the tool to find more keyword suggestions that have relatively high monthly search volume and not too much competition. As you go through the keyword evaluation, scratch unqualified keywords from your original list and then create a new list for the qualified keywords as well as the new keywords you’ve identified via the Keyword Planner. It may be a good idea to make separate lists for your short keywords and long-tail keywords.
When Google launched the Panda update, it became necessary for online marketers to focus more on themes, rather than individual keywords, which is why you need long-tail keywords to support the shorter phrases. A tool like Ubersuggest and Keyword Tool.io can help you find longer and more specific phrases you can use alongside your shorter keywords.
3. Competitive Analysis
Your goal at this point is to gauge just how difficult it is likely to be for you to rank for a particular keyword or phrase. You’ll have to do a bit of investigation and once again use keyword research tools. You can start by entering a keyword into Google’s search box and then taking a look at which sites get top rankings. Focus on the top 5, for starters, as these are most probably the sites that get the most amount of traffic for the term.
You’ll need to find out how those sites achieved their top rankings and then devise a plan on how to outrank them. Towards this end, you’ll have to examine the following factors:
- Domain age (Older domains typically rank well, primarily because they’ve had ample time to gain a good number of high-quality inbound links.)
- Alexa Ranking
- Quantity and quality of inbound links (The more links and the better quality of links to the page/domain, the better the chance of ranking high on search results.)
- Social media presence (It is still being debated whether social signals indeed have a direct impact on search rankings. But sites that have a large social media following and get its content frequently shared on social media usually have more traffic and better rankings.)
There are many tools that can make competitive analysis easier for you. You may want to start out with these two:
- SEM Rush – This tool provides you with such insights as top competitors, number of backlinks, organic vs. paid traffic, and anchor text. One of the most useful tools offered by SEM Rush is the Keyword Difficulty Tool, which provides you with comprehensive information regarding your chosen keywords. These pieces of information include search volume, top-ranking sites, trends, and of course, level of difficulty.
- SEO Toolbar for Firefox – This tool is ideal if you want access to such metrics as Alexa, PageRank, and keyword difficulty, among others. Perhaps the best thing about this tool is that it allows you to visit top-ranking sites and view key metrics at a glance. This can be very useful for times when you need to do a quick competitive research.
Structuring Your Site and Content
After going through the steps discussed above, you should now have a good number of keywords and phrases that can effectively get your site and individual web pages to rank well on search results and reel in more organic traffic. The next step is for you to use those keywords properly in your content and on your site. As a general rule, you’d want to use top-level keywords on your Home page, website navigational structure, and category pages. Your other keywords may then be incorporated into your blog posts.
Competitive phrases with high search volume may be used as top-level keywords, as they typically bring in a good number of high-quality inbound links. They also typically make your website more user-friendly and your site content more relevant. Longer and more specific key phrases are known as “quick wins” and best used not only in blog posts, but also in informational pages. They’re often much easier to rank for. Remember to use your keywords such that they fit naturally into the narrative of your content.
The effort you make in keyword research will serve as the foundation for the rest of your online marketing strategies. It will allow you to structure your site and create content such that you increase the volume of organic traffic to your site, promote user engagement, improve user experience, extend users’ time on your site, and ultimately, increase your conversion rates. Now, what’s not to like about that?