In times like these, most conventional wisdom goes out the window. Business practices that were working before COVID-19 aren’t necessarily working now. We’re in a constant state of flux and rapid adaptations and pivots are the secret sauce of successful entrepreneurs and companies. Having said that, there are some strategies and techniques that are still relevant and, interestingly enough, more important than ever before. Keyword research – a component of the larger SEO process – is one of them.
Keyword Research is a Necessity
As the name suggests, keyword research is the process of identifying valuable keywords, phrases, and strings of characters that people enter into search engines. The objective of keywords research, which is very much a practice in analytics, is to identify which keywords are valuable to specific websites so that the proper SEO and content strategies can be used to improve search rankings and garner more traffic.
Keyword research has always been seen as a critically important element of SEO, but it’s something that only a small percentage of businesses actually take seriously. COVID-19 and the unique circumstances surrounding this crisis could – and should – serve as a wakeup call.
We all know that consumer purchase patterns have changed in recent weeks, but so have their search behaviors. Here are some noteworthy trends – all rooted in concrete data – that should be of interested to entrepreneurs and businesses in every industry and niche:
- COVID-19 searches are spiking early in the morning and late at night. This is sort of an odd trend for searches and indicates that the virus is the first thing on people’s minds when they wake up and the last thing they think about when they go to bed.
- There’s fear and uncertainty, which leads to a scarcity mindset. Searches are skyrocketing for topics and terms like home delivery and “can you freeze” certain types of food.
- Google Trends shows how searches for COVID-19 symptoms have changed over the past four months. It tracks search terms like fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, loss of taste, and loss of smell. As you’ll notice, these terms all peaked in mid-to-late March and are quickly declining. (This either indicates fewer cases or a sense of subject matter fatigue.)
- People are tired of doom and gloom. They want encouragement, uplifting stories, and positivity. In fact, people are so desperate for relief from the pessimism that searches for “good news” are at an all-time high. (Like a major all-time high.) Just check out this graphic to see what we’re talking about. Based on analysis of the data, it appears that searches for good news were roughly 78,000 per month in December 2019. That would put them right around half a million searches per month today.
These are just a few examples of the ways in which search traffic is changing in the midst of this pandemic. You could drill down into any industry – law, healthcare, finance, ecommerce, entertainment, etc. – and you would find dozens of niche-specific insights in each.
But here’s the rub.
Most marketers, entrepreneurs, and business owners don’t take the time to do keyword research. So they don’t actually realize that there’s been a shift. They feel the difference, they just can’t pinpoint what their customers want or where they’re focusing their attention and energy.
For all they know, their lack of website traffic and sales mean their customers simply aren’t online. (Which is emphatically false. People are spending more time than ever before on the internet.)
Keyword research is just one element of a larger SEO strategy, but it’s vital one. When you invest in keyword research, you’re able to tap into the brains of your target audience.
While you can spend thousands of dollars on market research and one-on-one interviews with customers, simple keyword research is often far more insightful. People search based on fears, wants, desires, and concerns. Imagine what it would be like to have clarity in these areas!
Keyword research is the great equalizer. It shines a spotlight on trends and behaviors, which allows any business to instantly become more relevant and engaging to the right people at the right time.
How to Get Started With Keyword Research
There are dozens of different directions you can go with keyword research. Every SEO has a favorite method or approach. We’re not here to give you a definitive or in-depth look at how you do keyword research. Instead, we’re going to show you one approach from a 60,000-foot vantage point. This will provide you with a basic idea of what it looks like from start to finish. Then you can dig in and research the nuts and bolts of how you want to handle your own keyword research strategy. (Or hire a service to do it on your behalf.)
So, without further explanation, here it goes:
There are a number of different tools and data sources you’ll want to use throughout this process, but this first step requires nothing more than yourself and a blank spreadsheet.
Begin by brainstorming topics that are important and relevant to your business, niche, and target customers. This list of topics can be idealistic (“these are topics I want to rank for”) or actual (“these are the topics I know my customers are using to find me”).
The important word here is “topic.” We’re not discussing specific keywords yet. Let’s say, for example, that you run a dental practice. Possible topics might be:
- Teeth cleaning
- Sedation dentistry
- Tooth pain
Some of these topics might double as keywords, but that’s not the focus at this stage of the game. You’re creating categories from which you can pull out keywords.
Hopefully, you have somewhere between 5-10 main topics. (Any more or less becomes problematic at this stage in the game. You need enough to give you options, but not so many that you become overwhelmed.)
Think of each one of these topics as a bucket. Now it’s time to fill these buckets up with specific keywords and search terms. (Again, just use your intuition and past experience to guess what sort of keywords are important.) Based on the example above, this might look like:
- Teeth cleaning: teeth cleaning cost, dental cleaning near me, removing plaque from teeth, making teeth white, etc.
- Cavities: tooth pain, hole in tooth, what is a cavity, how to fix cavity, tooth filling, cavity symptoms, etc.
- Sedation dentistry: oral sedation dentistry, full sedation dentistry, pain-free dentist, painless dentist, no pain dentistry, etc.
- Tooth pain: tooth pain symptoms, hurting teeth, teeth sensitivity, toothache pain, sinus tooth pain, etc.
Up until now you’ve made some guesses and assumptions. Now it’s time to get more technical and precise by researching related terms. You can do this using any number of tools. Keyword Planner is sort of the go-to tool, but there are plenty of other great options. This includes: Soovle, KWFinder, Jaaxy, Ahrefs Keyword Explorer, and Moz Keyword Explorer.
Plug each keyword from your buckets above into these tools and start finding related keywords. Depending on the tool you use, you’ll be able to see things like search volume and ease of ranking.
At this stage in the game, you may want to study the competition to see what they’re doing. There are plenty of tools that let you see which keywords other sites are ranking for. You can use this to guide your own strategy – either to avoid or target specific search terms.
You can’t focus on 100 keywords at once – at least most smaller businesses can’t. It’s better to zoom in and go quality over quantity. What are the 10 or 12 keywords that you can really give your time, money, and attention to? Avoid keywords that have too much search traffic, as well as those that don’t have enough. In the middle, you’ll find a sweet spot where there’s enough traffic, but not massive competition.
You can’t stop at keyword research! You might feel like you’ve just run a marathon…but it was only a 5k. Now it’s time to put all of these insights into action.
Use your keyword research – which is dynamic and constantly changing – to reshape your website content, blog content, and even your social media. It might take a few months, but you’ll eventually notice rankings improve, traffic increase, and conversions skyrocket.
Growth in an Age of Decay
It’s easy to feel like the world is in shambles – as if everything is falling apart. Health, wealth, happiness…it’s all slipping. But don’t trust the news to tell you the whole story.
Yes, there’s very real sickness and despair right now. However, your business doesn’t have to decay. By leaning in and listening to what your customers need and want, you can actually grow your business at a time when most are stagnating or shrinking.
It all starts with keyword research. Will you make it a priority over the next 90 days?