Keyword research: a wise investment of time

Keyword research. It should be the beginning of every content-related project you work on.  From search to social and from paid search through building your website’s navigation, keyword research will provide insights that can set you up for success.  In this blog post we’ll examine why you should perform the research and what the data is telling you.  We’ll also look at one internal Microsoft tool, and help you understand how to use the data shown in any tool to best effect.

What the data is telling you

In the most basic view, keyword research is telling you how many people searched for a given keyword or phrase, over a set period of time.  With experience you’ll be able to understand subtle shifts in searcher behavior, and tailor your efforts to maximize returns.  By performing this research, you will much more clearly see how searchers perform searches.  Some patterns you may see emerge as you study the data are:

  • The use the plural v. singular versions of a word.
  • The use of a single word v. multi-word phrases. 
  • Whether brand names factor into the searches.
  • Patterns based on time of year, month or week.
  • New, related keywords or phrases you may not have thought of.

By doing this research, you will uncover some subtle and startling differences in seacher behavior.  While your editorial team may say the proper use of an object’s name is the way to go, your keyword research may prove that’s not how people search.  And aligning with what searchers are looking for is a key step in establishing relevancy in search.  Go take a look at data around the phrases sport utility vehicle and SUV.  Editors citing the AP Style Guide will tell you sport utility vehicle is the way to go.  Your keyword research will explain a different story, clearly showing how many more people search on SUV.

Where to use the data

The data you uncover through your research has many uses.  From planning what content to produce, to helping guide your social program, this data is a pointer in the direction of a searcher’s mindset.  By knowing what to align your efforts with, you produce a better product.  A product that is more closely matched with what the searcher was looking for and one that is more relevant.  Before you perform any work to an existing website involving content, structural or navigational changes, and before you start any coding on a brand new website, do your keyword research.  Let’s take a deeper look at using this data:

Content planning

As you plan the content you want to produce, consult your keyword research.  You may think you have a great idea, but does the keyword research back you up? It’s expensive to product unique content, so be sure, before you invest your time into building content, that you are building content that matches what users are searching for.

Content production

When actually producing the content, be sure to utilize the targeted keyword or phrase a few times from beginning to end within the content.  Don’t over use the term, though.  A good rule of thumb is to read the content out loud.  If it sounds good, it’ll be fine.  If it sounds like the word is repeated too many times, you’ll need to do some editing.

Years ago there was the concept of “keyword density”.  The idea being there was an ideal number of times for the keyword to appear within a page of content – a sweet spot, that the engines liked to see.  Don’t focus any time on this tactic.  It was marginal then and is a waste of time today.  Focus on producing quality, unique content that’s aligned with what people search for.

Website layout and navigation

If you’re just building your site, or redesigning an old one, referencing keyword research can help you understand how to build your site structure.  It can help you see which topics should be main pages, and which should be lower-level pages. It will also help when it comes to labeling your website navigation.

Link building

Encourage visitors to share links from your website.  Including easy copy-and-paste code with the anchor text embedded can make it much easier for visitors to share your site with others.  Make sure you integrate the usual social program enablers as well, making it easy for a visitor to tweet out or post about your content on their Facebook page.  While you can’t do much to force a targeted keyword into any anchor text shared socially, it can still help build links.  And while guest blogging or asking a website to post a link to you isn’t strickly organic link building in the truest sense, if you take this path, be sure to manage that anchor text properly. Just make sure you don’t buy links.  If you’re thinking “They’ll never figure it out…” ask yourself this question: If they do find out, and my domain is banned, what happens to my business then?

In your social program

By creating content aligned to targeted phrases in the first place, anything you share socially will inherently be better focused.  This will pay off as readers tune into what you say and your authority increases. Just dropping a targeted keyword into your tweet might not add much value, but bringing forward useful content that’s consistently focused will increase your value in the eyes of those following you.

In your paid search program

I’m pretty sure this is where keyword research first started way back in the day.  Clearly one of the best uses today for doing keyword research remains in helping to manage and focus your paid search program.  With each click costing you money, and quality standards higher than ever, it pays to plan ahead.  By following indepth keyword research, you can also uncover those hidden gems.  The phrases with good amounts of traffic, yet which have low bid prices.  Focusing in on them can increase revenues much more than chasing the most popular phrases.

How to gather the data

There are a lot of tools available to perform keyword research today.  By far the best originate from the search engines themselves.  The reason why they are better is simple: the data comes from the source. Most other tools are not free, or their free versions have limitations which make them unsuitable for long-term, indepth work.  Some are limited by a short window of time, meaning you must track monthly reports to compile a view that shows you query volume data over a whole year.  Others simply get too deep for most people’s needs.  Graphs are great, but you really need the data on phrases and query volumes – not a flashy interface.  Which leads us back to search engine-sourced data.  Not data culled from toolbars and other third-party sources.

Our own internal keyword research tool is a plugin for Excel, which should be great for most folks as that’s where most end up doing their research work anyway.  This plugin takes your input and brings back data direct from Bing.  It provides keyword expansion, research, pricing and KPI data, allowing you to maximize marketing ROI for your paid search and content ad campaigns. The Microsoft Advertising Intelligence tool lets you:

  • Quickly and easily build out lists of suggested keywords and develop informed keyword strategies based on actual Bing and MSN query data, including: relevance, volume, cost history, demographic and geographic.
  • Leverage actual historic and forecasted monthly query and content data to optimize your keyword campaigns based on what potential customers are actually doing, and spend more on what works and less on what doesn’t.
  • Tailor your bidding strategy based on pricing data for keyword-specific metrics such as clicks, impressions, position, click-through rate and cost per click.
  • Gather pricing KPIs for specific businesses to determine the monetization potential of a vertical and how well it is performing.

For those new to this tool, we have a series of tutorial videos to help you get started and get the most out of the tool.

Wrapping up, it’s clear that keyword research is a wise investment of your time.  The uses the data can be put to, and the insights it can provide, can easily have a huge positive impact on many websites.  It might not be as sexy as the next cool app, but keyword research is fundamental to the success of almost every website.  It remains one of the single best ways to get closer to the mindset of the searcher.