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Written by Sam Yadegar on Oct 1 , 2020

Knowing the ins and outs of proper keyword research can enhance every facet of your digital marketing program — here’s how.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Best practices for keyword research 
  • Pro tips for optimizing your keywords
  • Ways to boost pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns through keywords
  • How keywords improve search engine optimization (SEO)

Keywords are a common topic of conversation among digital marketers. And it’s easy to see why. They’re the backbone of any successful digital marketing program. What’s more, without optimized branded and non-branded keywords, consumers may overlook or never be exposed to your products or services, even if they’re in the market for them. 

Half the battle of marketing online is understanding how people search so you can ensure your ads are visible to the right audience at the right time. 

Because of how important keywords are to digital marketing, there’s no shortage of tips, tricks, and tools floating around about how to make them work for you. But don’t let the overwhelming amount of information prevent you from determining how to make them work for you.

Let’s dive into the crash course of keyword research 101. 

keyword research 101

Basic keyword research is an essential component of a fine-tuned digital marketing strategy. (Image via Unsplash)

What are keywords and why are they important?

Keywords are fundamental to your SEO and paid search efforts. Marketers use these terms in copy and content because they match up with common terms people use when searching for a product or service. They can also help people find your business organically online.

Keyword research is the process of discovering and analyzing search terms that your target market is using to find your products or services. In short, keywords should be at the core of your marketing efforts. And they should be a factor in every decision you make when it comes to your program.

How to conduct keyword research

Basic keyword research is an essential component of a fine-tuned digital marketing strategy. However, it’s also something that needs to be monitored and updated regularly for best results. 

There are quick tips that will make conducting informative keyword research as efficient as possible. Most of these can be done manually on the search engine results page (SERP) or by using tools like Ahrefs, Google Trends, or SEMrush (plus, many of these offer free trials or service levels): 

  • Determine the keywords you already rank for 
  • Find related keywords that could boost your rankings
  • Look to see what keywords your competitors are targeting
  • Experiment with Google’s predictive search, which autofills search terms based on factors like popularity or similarity
  • Put yourself in your target market’s shoes and ask what terms they’d use to find you

Pro tip: AnswerThePublic is a helpful tool to find commonly searched for questions your target market is asking online. It’s a great research tool for optimizing your keywords with search intent in mind. 

conducting keyword research

One way to ensure you’re spending your ad budget effectively is by focusing on the right keywords in your PPC strategy. (Image via Unsplash)

How to optimize your keywords like the pros

With your keyword research results in your hands, the next step is to ensure they’re optimized to get high-quality leads on your website. So, what does that mean? 

Optimizing your keyword list basically means you’re using the right keywords in the right format at the right time. For example, when you think about your buyer’s journey, you’ll likely use different keywords and phrases for different parts of the journey. 

Some other ways you can optimize your keywords include: 

  • Using long-tail keywords (more specific three- or four-word terms)
  • Leveraging keyword research tools (like the ones mentioned above)
  • Paying attention to the search volume and competition level of keywords you want to rank for
  • Using location-specific keyword research to rank higher in your target locations 

Pro tip: Keywords help pages rank, not your entire website. That’s why it’s wise to optimize all of the pages on your site that you want to rank for valuable keywords. 

Boost your PPC strategy with the right keywords

PPC is one of the most effective ways to get fast results for your online marketing efforts. But, without an effective strategy, you may quickly go over budget. One way to ensure you’re spending your ad budget effectively? Focus on the right keywords in your PPC strategy. 

If you’re using irrelevant keywords or fighting to rank for super competitive terms, you’re sure to get frustrated or feel like your PPC campaign isn’t working. 

Doing informative keyword research is an essential step to a successful PPC strategy that gives you the most ROI for your efforts. 

You can optimize keywords for your PPC campaign by:

  • Looking for keywords that are already successfully driving conversions and sales — these are your winning keywords (we also called them “money keywords”)
  • Seeing if those keywords have a low budget, which could limit the campaign’s success
  • Determining if you can expand your keywords by looking at the search term data of winning keywords
  • Regularly reviewing your PPC campaigns for optimization opportunities

SEO and keyword research go hand-in-hand

Using the proper keywords can be a huge boost for your SEO efforts that’s also cost-effective. We know how important content marketing is for helping your SEO — keywords are a huge part of that.  

You obviously want to make sure the content is high quality, beneficial, and relevant to your business before adding it to your website. After all, if your target audience isn’t interested in the topic you’re writing about, you’re essentially wasting time and resources. 

Being well-informed about users’ search intent is key to building an effective SEO strategy. Although SEO takes more time than paid search in terms of seeing results, using the right keywords is essential for long-term success. 

comment spamming

Spamming a bunch of blog comment boxes with links to your website won’t help you rank better in Google. (Image via Unsplash)

SEO keyword tactics to avoid

The goal of creating website content shouldn’t just be to rank high in search results. For it to be truly effective, your content should educate and inform actual humans, not simply please search engine bots.

Because strong SEO takes longer to cultivate, it can be tempting to use black-hat SEO tactics that promise significant results in a shorter amount of time. But not only are these methods often unethical, they can end up hurting your rankings. That’s because the algorithm may penalize you if they discover you’re doing something that goes against their guidelines.

Before you think you can outsmart them, know that these algorithms are updated nearly constantly to combat the latest black-hat techniques. Some of the more well-known black hat tactics include:

  • Keyword stuffing: Going overboard with including your keyword throughout your content in an unnatural way in an attempt to rank for the keyword. Search engine bots are actually able to look for the value of the content vs. the number of times a keyword is mentioned. 
  • Cloaking: This refers to the act of presenting different content or URLs to users and search engines.
  • Comment spam: Spamming a bunch of blog comment boxes with links to your website won’t help you rank better in Google.
  • Invisible text: This involves hiding text in your website’s code so the page can rank without the content being seen by visitors.

The takeaway

Understanding how and why people are searching for your products or services will make it much easier to improve your SEO and PPC campaigns. Once you know the keywords that are bringing you the most success, you can start building out your list and use it as a reference for future marketing strategy planning. 

Keyword research is easier to understand than you might think when working with the right people. Our full-service, ROI-centered digital agency can help you achieve predictable revenue, sustainable growth, and measurable results.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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