By Amine Rahal, entrepreneur and writer. Amine is the CEO of IronMonk, a digital marketing agency specializing in SEO & CMO at Regal Assets, an IRA company.
There used to be a time when you could install a free Chrome browser plug-in, scrape all the competitive keywords you need, throw them into an article a couple of dozen times and then immediately rank for high-volume search terms after hitting “publish” on your WordPress site. Those days are no longer, and that’s not such a bad thing.
Google has gone to great lengths to improve the internet user experience over the past couple of decades. If you want to create rankable content these days, you need to provide exceptional value for your reader. Finding the right keywords, and using them strategically, is an essential step in today’s search engine optimization (SEO) process.
As the owner of two full-service digital marketing agencies, SEO has been my bread and butter for the better part of two decades. Here are my top five keyword research strategies to help you start ranking sooner:
Step 1: Choose Your Search Tool
Although there used to be serviceable freeware available for SEO keyword research, as far as I’m aware, there aren’t any left that are competitive with the paid services. Virtually every SEO specialist I know of uses one of the following paid tools, which are all excellent choices:
• Moz Explorer.
• Keyword Tool.
Do your homework to find which one best suits your goals and budget. I’ve used all of these tools at one point or another, and I have no affiliation with any of them. I can honestly say they all do just about the same thing with the same degree of accuracy and depth: finding search terms and content ideas based on what people search for on Google.
Typically, all of them offer free one-week trial promotions. So, you can try them out risk-free before committing to a purchase.
Step 2: Run A Google Audit
Your next stop is the Google Search Console (GSC), which is every SEO’s best friend. GSC provides a ton of free value by informing you about:
• What pages are currently ranking for specific search terms.
• Search terms driving the most website visits.
• Which devices are being used to visit your website.
• Advanced SEO metrics like click-through rates and average search engine results page (SERP) positions.
The goal here is to find the near-misses that your website currently has (if any) and build from there. If your website is already succeeding in a particular content topic (e.g., you’re ranking 25th for “best Italian recipes”), you’ll have a starting point for building supplementary content. This is called a “seed keyword,” which can be extended later.
Step 3: Build Out Your Seed Keywords
Once you’ve identified a shortlist of seed keywords (i.e., five to10 seeds), you can use your keyword research tool to plug in your seeds. From there, the tool will generate a list of search terms ranked by their volume and keyword difficulty (KD).
If you’re still just starting out in the SEO game (i.e., your website has a Domain Authority score under 40), edit your search options to filter out results with a KD above 50. Anything above that mark will require hundreds of backlinks to rank in the top 10, so you’re better off focusing on less competitive search terms for the time being.
Using the example from earlier, “best Italian recipes” gives us the following content ideas based on our seed keyword when plugged into a keyword search tool:
• Best Italian beef recipes (34 KD, 350 Vol.).
• Best Italian bread recipes (41 KD, 250 Vol.).
• Best Italian chicken recipes (24 KD, 150 Vol.).
• Best Italian pasta recipes (30 KD, 150 Vol.).
You’ll notice that keywords with higher volume tend to have higher KD scores. Your goal is to try to strike a balance between managing difficulty (i.e., keeping KD below 50) while also not wasting your time on keywords nobody searches for (i.e., volume below 100). For every seed keyword, you should be able to draw out at least 10 long-tail keywords.
Step 4: Tie Your Pages Together
Your website should be neatly organized with links that help readers navigate to other useful, relevant content. Remember that Google’s main mission is to improve the user experience (UX) of the internet. If your website easily allows visitors to find other content you’ve published that can provide value for them, Google will reward you for the effort.
That’s why I also include a minimum of four or five internal links in my published blog posts to other relevant pages on my site. This way, there’s sufficient cross-promotion between my pages and readers can maximize the value they get from my content.
In this case, your “best Italian recipes” blog article should be peppered with internal links to your “best Italian beef recipes” and “best Italian bread recipes” articles. This often requires you to go back in and edit old articles to add new links as they’re made available.
Step 5: Building Out From There
My final piece of advice is to use the Google Suggest tool to find other content ideas that can be used as keywords for stand-alone articles, or to use as seed keywords that you plug into your SEO research tool.
Start by searching a relevant query into Google and scrolling to the bottom of the results page. There you’ll find a list of related topics and questions that can be used as seed keywords. Nearer to the top there is also often a “People also search for” box that contains long-tail search terms that can also be used as keywords.
Crafting Creative Keywords: The Key To SEO Success
The success of an SEO strategy truly hinges on the keywords selected. So, choose them wisely. I strongly recommend trying out a reputable keyword research tool to generate long-tail keywords from seed keywords, and then using Google Suggest to find other content ideas based on what’s already worked for you. From there, you can rinse and repeat by plugging in new content ideas into your research tool as your content output develops.