One of the most important often overlooked parts of SEO is keyword research. What exactly is it and why is it important?

Keyword research is the process of finding the right keywords for your site. It’s super important, because if you don’t know what people are searching for, you might be targeting the wrong term. Or you might be targeting a word that’s too hard to get. Or you might be choosing something that nobody is even looking for.

I have an example for my own site I can share. We have a lovely portfolio of our work, and since we have so many sites to display (12 years of work!) we have broken it into categories to help users find appropriate sites. One of those categories is a portfolio for writers. For years I was trying to target the keyword “websites for writers” on that page with no luck. I recently did a Google search for the term “websites for writers” and guess what? The search results for that phrases don’t give me web designers websites. The search results give me websites writers use for their work. Which is not at all what my page does.

So here, Google thinks that phrases is related to tools for writers, and not web designers for writers, so that’s the kind of results we see, which would explain why we’re not breaking into that rank. Our site doesn’t fit what Google thinks people using that phrase are looking for. After doing proper keyword research, we found that a better search phrase for that page would be author website design.

This is, in a nutshell, why keyword research is important.

Free and Paid Tools for Keyword Research

The truth is, if you are doing keyword research, you need tools. There are tons of options available, here are a few.

  • MOZ – I really like MOZ and use it daily. It has a lot of great tools in addition to the keyword tool, but it’s not free. The basic plan will set you back $99 a month.
  • KWfinder – For this tool, you can actually use it for free for up to 5 keywords searched per day. If you are just learning how to optimize your own small website, this might be a good option for you. It’s $29 a month for the basic program.
  • SpyFu– This isn’t one I’ve used, but I’ve heard good things. The basic plan is $33 a month.
  • SEMrush – Another premium SEO tool, packed with features. Starting at $99.95 per month, it’s not one of the cheapest either.
  • Google AdWords Keyword Planner – Google has loads of data, so utilize the AdWords keyword planner is a great (and free) way to learn. However, the AdWords interface isn’t for the faint of heart and takes some time to learn. You do need an AdWords account to use it, but it’s free.

Now that I’ve overwhelmed you with tools, let’s talk about what to look for when you are doing keyword research. I had one client, years and years ago, that got super frustrated doing keyword research. She found a keyword that she felt was ideal and she started using it only to get frustrated that she wasn’t getting any traction. The problem? It was an unattainable keyword.

What to look for in keyword research

Monthly Search Volume – What this means essentially is if anyone is actually searching for your keyword. I got repeated emails from someone who was upset that she wasn’t ranking for a particular keyword, but when I did the keyword research, we found that there was no search volume for that keyword.

If nobody is looking for that term, then there’s no ROI. Why optimize for a word that nobody is searching for?

On the flip side, if you choose a keyword that has a ton of monthly search volume, then you run into something that is likely unattainable. If you have a small site and are new, it’s unlikely you’ll rank for a high volume keyword phrase.

Difficulty – How hard is it going to be to rank for a keyword? That’s something to consider. Just because it’s a perfect keyword doesn’t mean you can rank for it. The more difficult it is, the less likely it is you can rank for it. Instead, look for similar but less difficult keywords. For example, I’d love to be on page one for the phrase “web design” but it’s fairly unattainable for a small website like ours. However, another similar term, “web design services” is a great term that gets a good amount of traffic but isn’t as difficult.

Relevance – This is so important. Do the existing Google search results show websites similar to yours? This goes back to me trying to rank for “websites for writers” when Google indicates that those terms aren’t relevant for web designers. Always do a Google search and see what Google thinks people are looking for for your specific terms. If the results they show you aren’t related to what you offer, you may need to rethink how relevant your keywords are.

What happens after you choose your keywords? Are you done?

SEO is never done, because the rules change all the time. However, SEO isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. You have to wait and see what happens. But you also can’t be complacent. And you can’t choose keywords and then never check them again. You have to keep researching your keywords. What someone is searching for today may not be what they’re searching for in five years.

Keyword research takes time and effort, but the end result will be much better if you do it properly. Half-hearted keyword research will get you poor or no results. A web design company that offers SEO will know how to properly implement keyword research for your target audience to get you the best results. My advice to you is – be thorough, be realistic, and understand how to implement your keywords and you’ll find that the payoff is worth the time investment.

Amy Masson

Amy is the co-owner, developer, and website strategist for Sumy Designs. She's been making websites with WordPress since 2006 and is passionate about making sure websites are as functional as they are beautiful.

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