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How To Conduct Smart Keyword Research

There are tons of articles online on how to conduct effective keyword research.

But these days most traditional means of finding keywords for your business aren’t enough to give you an edge over your competition. In order to excel, you need to use unique and little-known tactics for finding keywords that your competition has never thought of, and that’s exactly what this article is about.

We’re going to take a look at a more effective way of doing your keyword research by focusing more on targeting your audience’s interest and intent. In today’s marketing world, it’s vital for you to hone your keyword research skills if you are to succeed as a digital marketer.

You need to know how to develop good keyword lists for your SEO and PPC campaigns, as well as using keyword research in your content marketing to determine the topics that your audience will want to read more about and the phrases you need to use while creating content.

I’m going to assume that if you are reading this post, then you already understand the importance of keyword research in your business, and you are just here to learn how to do it better and more effectively.

And so, without further ado, let’s get right to it!

The Traditional Process For Keyword Research

Most guides that you’ll find online tell you to conduct your keyword research as follows:
  • Come up with a seed list made up of a few starting terms
  • Expand on that list using competitive research
  • Finally, use competitive research to refine your list

That process definitely works, but the reason I’m adding one more post to the already massive stack of keyword research articles online is that I want to talk about a framework that you can use to categorize keywords.

How To Target The Right Keywords

Targeting the correct keywords for your business comes down to the different levels of audience intent and interest.

It’s the reason why some keywords work much better than others. During your research, you can actually group keywords together according to how close each of them is to conversions.

In the example below, the lower the number for the keyword, the better it typically converts. Take a look at the list, and use the categories in your keyword brainstorming sessions.

This will help you to develop a full universe of keywords, and understand which ones are more effective (for this example, let’s imagine your business sells natural, extra-crunchy peanut butter that we’ll call Brand ‘X’).

Keyword Targeting Model

1. Brand Terms (eg. Brand X peanut butter)

The people searching for these terms have actually done their research, and they are familiar with your brand.

They are the easiest to convert, and while you may not have a lot of brand terms in your library, and even though you probably won’t get many impressions and page views, your click-through and conversion rates will be through the roof in terms of both organic and paid search.

2. Product Terms (eg. Crunchy peanut butter, natural spread)

This is what your particular product is or what it does (the problem that it solves).

The people who search for these words might be in the process of educating themselves about what it is that they want, and they may find what they’re searching for with your product.

Your list of product terms could be massive depending on the diversity of your offerings.

Because the customers searching for product terms aren’t as further along the decision cycle, it means that your CPA (cost per action) on those terms is going to be slightly higher than your CPA on brand terms.

However, since you can only squeeze so much volume from them, you will eventually want to start getting wins on the product terms as well.

3. Competitor Terms (eg. Brand ‘Y’ peanut butter, or Brand ‘Z’ peanut butter)

The people who are searching those terms know enough about that market to be interested in a particular brand, and there’s a possibility that you might be able to make them look at your product instead.

In the earlier days of paid search marketing, competitor terms were considered second only to the brand terms with regards to conversion rates and CPA efficiency.

But these days it’s nearly impossible to get a reasonable CPC (cost per click) on competitor terms thanks to Google tightening up their requirements for quality score.

These terms could prove great for you if you’re trying to make inroads into a strong competitor’s market share (and you’ve got some money to spend).

4. Substitute Product Terms (eg. Honey, jam, jelly, etc.)

The people searching for these terms want something that is similar to your own product, and they might be willing to try what you’re selling instead.

This means that if you’re selling peanut butter, you also want to consider optimizing for or bidding on jam, jelly, honey, and so on.

As with the competitor terms, you won’t get a lot of credit from Google for relevance on those terms, which means that they’re going to be significantly more expensive for you to bid on for PPC (pay per click) and a whole lot harder to win for SEO (search engine optimization).

But, if you are getting as much volume as you can out of the previously mentioned categories of keywords, then these are certainly worth considering.

5. Complementary Product Terms (eg. Tea, Jam, etc.)

These people are looking for products that go with your product. While they are not directly searching for what you sell, you may be able to remind them that they need that, too.

If you sell TVs, then you can also target ‘TV stands’, and if you’re selling flowers, then you can target ‘vases’, and so on. These are basically somebody else’s product terms, but they may give you some marginal conversions.

6. Audience Terms (eg. All-natural products, quick lunches for kids, etc.)

This is a list of words that are not covered in any of the other categories below, but that could be typical of your target audience.

So this list will have all sorts of terms that the people in your target audience might search for.

The impression volume on these terms is typically so vast that it can be a very tempting category to try.

And since it’s more aligned with traditional display targeting which focuses on the audience’s interests and pastimes, it’s definitely worth a try.

Why This Model Works

The main concept behind this type of model is that each of the different keywords represents the various levels of intent and interest that your audience has.

Some of the search terms are used by those who are close to converting, while others are searched by those who are still in the early research stages.

The conversion event that you desire is at the top of this model, and the keywords are arranged by type as well as how effectively they convert.

As a general rule, it’s better to invest most of your time, money, and effort into the keywords that are closer to the top of the list. After you’ve maximized the volume fully, only then can you move to the next group of keywords.

How To Use This Targeting Model In Your Keyword Research

This model is extremely helpful because it helps you understand when there isn’t much intent to discover your product on the searcher’s part.

This means that you will not be surprised to see those terms acting like display ads and generating the highest CPA and the lowest conversion of all your keywords.

Now that you’re familiar with this targeting method, here’s how to implement it into your keyword research process:

Step #1: Create Your Seed List

This is your initial list of keyword ideas.

What you need to do is to write down the categories outlined above, and then brainstorm and investigate them.

Use the process outlined below to fill out your list with keywords, and put most of your focus on brand terms and product terms.

This list needs to be thorough, and it needs to capture all of the things that your product does, as well as every problem that it solves.

Just don’t feel that you need to be exhaustive in coming up with the synonyms as that will happen naturally in the next step:
  1. Research your audience and the terms that they use to describe your product as well as other relative terms that they use in their daily lives. Sift through blog posts, blog comments, forums, social media groups, and so on.
  2. Use your weblogs, Google Webmaster tools, and your analytics tool, to find the search terms that are in use now and which terms people use to reach you. Also, take a look at your internal site search data to see what your readers search for.
  3. Get Suggestions from tools like where you simply enter a keyword to see the top autocompletes for all the different search engines. You don’t have to run each and every keyword through it, but it’s worth trying a couple just to see if you’ve missed anything.
  4. Check out your competition using SEMRush or SpyFu to see what they are bidding on.Don’t spend hours on this. Simply enter a few competitor names or some key terms and see if something pops up that you did not think of.
Step #2: Build Your Keyword List

Time to expand on your list. Open your favorite keyword research tool and start entering keywords (if you don’t have one, I suggest trying Jaaxy – it’s very newbie-friendly).

Group your words by topic to save time.

For example, if you sell both peanut butter and jam, you might want to put ‘peanut butter’ and ‘crunchy peanut butter’ together, but put jam separately.

The keyword tool will give you the number of searches for each term each month.

You can use the filter options to select any language or location that you’re interested in. You can then check off the keywords that look promising, and download your keyword ideas onto a spreadsheet.

Step #3: Refine Your Keyword List

Now you can zero in and find the absolute best keywords.

This is vital, particularly if you are developing a keyword list for search engine optimization where you’ve got a limit as to how many words you’re able to reasonably optimize for.

Eliminate the words that are less interesting by using the factors below to hone your list:
  • Keyword Category

If you’ve got 500 audience keywords, but only 20 product keywords, then you can drop some of the audience terms that seem less interesting.

Focus on the categories that are closest to the top of the target model.

  • Competition

Keyword research tools rate keyword competition level from low to high, which means you can use the tools to find the words that you’re more likely to win with.

Don’t spend too much time fretting over this, and you shouldn’t avoid going after the more competitive ones – just know that it may prove harder, that’s all.

  • Search Landscape

Use Google or any other search engine to check out what comes up when you enter some of the most important terms on your list. Drop marginal terms of ambiguous meaning.

For instance, say you’re running a campaign for a bath-and-body brand called ‘The Body Shop’, you may not actually realize that ‘body shop’ also refers to cars until you search it on Google.

Take such terms off your list, and start making a separate list of negative keywords for all of the off-topic results that you see. This will be a list of all the keywords that you do NOT want your ads appearing for.

In Conclusion

A lot of marketers want to know just how big their keyword list needs to be, and the answer to that question depends on how big and complex your product or service is.

But in truth, it doesn’t have to be massive unless you have a huge enterprise.

So think dozens or hundreds as opposed to thousands. But make sure that you always consider the intent and interests of your audience if you want to pick the best keywords for your business.

Feel free to post your comment below.  An email address is required but it will not be shared with anyone, put on any list, or used for any kind of marketing, just to alert you if there are any replies. Thanks and happy hunting!


Updated: Originally published December 16th 2018

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