13 uses for keyword research to help you win in the search engines

Google may have shifted its focus from keywords to "entities" in recent years, but columnist Stoney deGeyter reminds us that keyword research is still an important and useful part of the SEO process.

Ever since Google rolled out Hummingbird in 2013, there has been some question about the value of keyword research. Moving from a keyword-focused process to a topic-focused process has led some to devalue the long, arduous process of keyword research. Many wonder if it’s even worth the time.

After all, if Google no longer looks at keywords (Hummingbird), and people no longer search with keywords (voice search), we don’t need to research keywords, right?

Wrong!

As with most predictions of the death of anything related to web marketing — how’s that fork in guest blogging going? — more often than not, they turn out to be false. And in the case of keyword research, it turns out that it’s just as important today as it was in 2012. Maybe more so.

No, I don’t have a keyword research tool to sell you. But I do want to make sure that you don’t take a pass on keyword research because you think it’s no longer relevant to today’s SEO.

I could give you a dozen reasons why keyword research is still important. Oh look, I have! Plus one more for good measure. :)

1. Topical niche domination

There is no better way to get a full handle on any topic you want to dominate than to perform keyword research on that topic. Whether you want to write one exhaustive article or a series of articles, keyword research will show you every possible nuance of information that searchers are interested in.

Not only will keyword research help you write content for your products or services, but it will also give you plenty of ammunition for all your other content, such as blog posts, e-books, white papers, infographics and more.

2. Answering burning questions

Part of dominating a topical niche is answering questions that searchers have. There are great sites such as Quora and Clarity, where people ask questions that need answers, and social media is also a good place to monitor. But people still ask questions to search engines, and that presents an opportunity for you to provide the answer.

Due to low search volume, keyword phrases that are questions tend to get ignored. After all, you want to optimize where the money is! But don’t disregard these questions altogether. They can be the backbone of your blog content.

3. Making existing content more robust

You can always improve your content, am I write? (See what I did there?) Using your keywords provides ample opportunity to improve existing content, whether it is optimized text, a blog post or something else.

I’m not suggesting you rework your content just to add in more keywords for rankings. Instead, I’m saying you can use keywords to expand the depth and breadth of your content. Keywords can help you add in new information to keep content current or fill in some missing pieces that were not included and should be.

Remember, frequently searched keywords change frequently. Words that didn’t show up in research a year ago might be popular today. Continuing to perform keyword research to update your content keeps you current and allows you not only to make your content more robust but also to keep it evergreen.

4. Learning your customers’ “language”

Almost every business has a handle on the industry lingo. They know what their products and services are called, as well as the language used to refer to what they do. But what many businesses don’t have a handle on is the language used by those who are less familiar with the product or those outside the industry.

Keyword research uncovers the nuances of product descriptions, and even the problems that are in need of a solution. When you only use your known industry lingo, you miss the opportunity to meet the needs (let alone get the attention of) the rest of the world that is in need of your solutions. Why? Because they are looking based on their understanding, not yours.

Keyword research will let you see how potential customers view your product or service and write content that speaks the same language as them. This lessens the learning curve and keeps visitors more engaged with your solutions.

5. Improving your website’s navigation

One of the first orders of business for many of the sites we work on is using keyword research to improve the site’s navigation. Not only do we use keywords to establish new pages of content based on what searchers need, but those very same keywords become the link text for the navigation options.

This is just another step to learning — and using — your customer’s language to meet their needs. When visitors land on your site, having a navigation that uses the terms they searched helps them find the content they want.

When they don’t see familiar words, you increase the amount of time it takes for visitors to get the information they are looking for, which can lead to site fatigue. Too much of that and visitors leave in search for easier grounds.

6. New product or service research

When performing keyword research, it’s important you don’t stay so narrow that you only find keywords that are relevant for you today. By broadening your search a bit, you can uncover information that can help you expand your product or service offerings for a more robust business tomorrow.

Years ago, I had a client that sold bags of all kinds. Our keyword research indicated that many searchers were also interested in laptop bags. This opened up a huge opportunity for new business that they were not already targeting (or at least targeting effectively).

Keyword research can show you valuable new opportunities to offer products and services that you currently don’t have. That doesn’t mean you jump on those right away, but you can keep them in the back of your mind for when you’re ready to expand.

7. Finding high-volume opportunities

When it comes to delivering traffic to your website, there is nothing more compelling than optimizing for frequently searched keywords. This is one of the metrics that gives keywords value. No sense optimizing for keywords no one is searching for, right?

Optimizing for high-volume keywords gives you an opportunity to get a lot of traffic to your site, which can be a boon for business. Word of caution, though: Volume alone isn’t worth justifying the optimization of a phrase. You also have to look at the quality of traffic a keyword will deliver, among other things. But when the stars align, volume can be good. Really good!

8. Finding non-competitive long-tail opportunities

On the flip side of that, sometimes there are some highly profitable opportunities with the less competitive (and usually lower-volume) phrases. I’m talking low rather than no volume here. As long as a phrase has a potential to deliver traffic, it’s worth considering for inclusion in your optimization campaign.

Many times, these low-volume phrases are also very low on the competition scale, which can signal a big opportunity to create content where no one else has it. And that content can deliver rankings for which no one is currently competing.

Optimize for enough of these low-competition phrases, and you may find that collectively, they deliver more traffic more quickly than the high-volume phrases.

9. Increasing click-throughs from SERPs

Because keyword optimization is really all about creating content that uses the same language as your visitors, it’s important for you to use your keywords in a way that will entice visitors to click from the search results to your website.

This is where title tag and meta description optimization comes in. Don’t optimize just for search engine rankings. Additionally, write enticing title and meta description tags that compel searchers to click your result over competitors who are also ranked on the same page of the search results.

10. Understanding the searcher’s needs

Aside from getting the click from search results to your page, you also need to deliver searchers to the page that best fits the intent of their search. Keyword research can help with this.

We often think of keyword research as the process of uncovering phrases, but it is also the process of understanding them. It can often prove useful to perform a search for your keywords and assess the results. Follow a few links and look at the content. If all the results show similar content, this gives you a good idea of what searchers are looking for. If the content varies significantly, then perhaps even Google doesn’t know what searchers want.

When you can determine what information a specific searcher is looking for, you then have an opportunity to drive them to the… well, that’s my next point:

11. Delivering searchers to the most relevant pages

Only when you know the searcher’s needs will you be able to send them to a page that meets it. Not every search for a similar keyword wants the same thing, so you have to make sure to have content based on the need for a particular phrase.

Some searchers will be researching, some buying, some shopping and some just looking for how-tos. Each of these needs requires different content. By delivering the right content for the searcher, you will keep them engaged with your site and have the best chance of turning them into a customer.

12. Assessing your competition

While keyword research itself doesn’t often give you any information on your competition, you can take your keywords and use them for competitive research.

Use your keywords to find out what keywords your competitors are optimizing for or bidding on. There are plenty of third-party tools that will let you do that, or you can just plug them into the search results and see what you find. While knowledge itself doesn’t help you overcome the competition, it can be used to produce a strategy that will.

13. Establishing expectations of success

One of the most important factors in creating an effective digital marketing strategy is setting the right expectations. Without knowing what to expect, in terms of what success looks like and when it will be achieved, there is simply no way to “win” at web marketing.

Armed with the keyword knowledge that you get above, you can set some expectations and metrics for success. This can be important for keeping the right people happy and feeling good about how the campaign is going.

So I hope I have wiped away all doubt you have had about the value of keyword research. By taking the time to invest in keyword research, you not only get a list of keywords to optimize, but you can get the information necessary to ensure a successful web marketing campaign.