What is keyword research?

SEO basics
What is keyword research

SEO basics: What is keyword research?

Keyword research is your first step in optimizing your website for certain keywords. Without keyword research, you might find yourself lost in your own lingo and battling giants in your industry that can’t be beaten in the search result pages just like that. There is a variety of factors you have to take into account when doing keyword research and setting up your keyword strategy. In this article, we’ll discuss your mission, your audience and your competition. 

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What makes your company unique?

Before you do anything, and this is key, you need to know what makes your company unique. You need to have a clear concept of the mission of your company. You need to determine exactly what you have to offer. Because that’s what’s going to make you rank. It’s that simple. SEO is just like regular business. If you’re doing everything on the same or inferior level as your competition, you’re not going to stand out. If you’re not the best result, why should people want to find you? Why should Google rank you? This seems simple, but this factor is often forgotten.

Meaningful keywords

We often hear people say: we can’t come up with meaningful keywords. If you struggle with that too, take a step back and look at your business at large:

  • What do you have to offer?
  • What is your mission?
  • What are your core values and strengths?
  • How can you branch out from your core selling points to very specific bits of information or service? Use these to stand out from the crowd.

You don’t have to be better than your competition at everything, as long as you identify enough things to build a keyword strategy around. For smaller companies, this means that you probably have to be better at the things bigger fish haven’t thought of. Or at the things, these companies aren’t actively looking to do. If you can’t come up with anything, you have a bigger problem than just coming up with keywords…

The role of your audience in your keyword research

Once you’ve determined what you have to offer, it’s time to consider your audience. In the end, SEO is all about making sure your users are able to find you. So the first thing you have to do is find out what words your potential audience uses to find the information they’re looking for.

Let’s consider an example. At Yoast, we think of our courses platform as “Yoast Academy”. So at first sight, it seems very logical for us to optimize for the keyword “Yoast Academy”. However, when we analyze traffic data, it turns out that our audience uses “Yoast courses” way more. So it makes much more sense to optimize for that term instead. Every company has its own internal vocabulary, which often doesn’t match the vocabulary of its audience. Therefore, you should always choose your keywords from the perspective of your audience. You can use Google Trends to research how often search terms are used compared to other terms.

What about your competition?

Lastly, you simply can’t devise a proper keyword research strategy without taking your competition into account. Too often, websites optimize for terms they have absolutely no chance ranking for. So you need to research your competition.

You can go all overboard and make a thorough analysis of all the competitors in your field, and that can certainly be worthwhile. But let’s stick to the basics for now. It’s actually quite easy to get a general idea of your SEO competition. Just google some search terms you would like to rank for! See what companies show up and where you rank. How big are the companies you are competing with for top three rankings? Would your company fit between these results? This is all quite easy to determine using just the Google search results.

But be wary! You can’t just trust the search results because Google tailors them to your search history. So logically, your site is going to come up higher for you than for others that perform the same search. You can use an incognito screen to circumvent this, although there’s still a local search component even in an incognito screen. If that is a problem for you, you should consider using VPNs to mask your location.

Expanding your strategy step-by-step

Big sites can rank for the most general terms. Smaller sites within a very specific niche can do the same. Of course, it’s also easier if you’re writing in a language that is not spoken all over the world. For most smaller sites that are writing in English, however, the general rule of thumb is this: start with a big set of long tail keywords which have little traffic but you can rank for more easily. Then, work yourself up the rankings step-by-step. Once you’ve gained some SEO authority, start optimizing for more general keywords. And in the end, maybe you will even be able to rank for your head keywords!

Read more: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »


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15 Responses to SEO basics: What is keyword research?

  1. Naved
    By Naved on 20 April, 2018

    Michiel, I recently read somewhere that long tail keywords are not more effective due to Rankbrain implementation by Google, rather we should target for mid-tail keywords. What do you say about that?

  2. Trinath Pattanayak
    By Trinath Pattanayak on 19 April, 2018

    Nice and very valuable learning for me. Soon I will try this and hope in case of any difficulty I will get help from you.
    Thank you very much.

  3. Martanian
    By Martanian on 18 April, 2018

    Indeed it should be the first step for all website owners to find the best keywords for each of their posts and pages. In many cases, while creating a content marketing blog, the new articles topics rely on the keywords researched before, not the other way around :)

  4. Kai Va Landschoot
    By Kai Va Landschoot on 18 April, 2018

    Yoast keyword density calculator doesn’t seem to spot synonyms and the likes. Does this matter? I’d rather have my text written naturally with the focus keyword (phrase) once or twice in the text and the rest being variations of that phrase. Is that ok?
    It doesn’t seem natural if I write “Hank Williams’ last concert” every time instead of using variations of that.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      By Willemien Hallebeek on 19 April, 2018

      Hi Kai! Using synonyms now and then is a great idea. It definitely makes your copy more natural and pleasant to read. And Google will comprehend that you’re talking about the same topic. You might want to use the keyword you’d like to rank for a bit more often than just once or twice, but don’t fret to use synonyms now and then. We’re not able to detect them with our tool yet, though.

  5. Jaspreet singh
    By Jaspreet singh on 18 April, 2018

    Good information i will try to use this info.

  6. vaibhav bahuguna
    By vaibhav bahuguna on 18 April, 2018

    Thanks for teaching so much about SEO whenever I need help I come here and look for new tips.

    • Iris Guelen
      By Iris Guelen on 18 April, 2018

      Good to hear Vaibhav!

  7. Weed Shop
    By Weed Shop on 18 April, 2018

    Hello, I have been reading articles about your SEO and learnt alot about internal site linking and keyword research tool. But just a quick question, Can i target a single and relatively high competitive keyword like Vape Pens and outrank my competitors while using Yoast Premium ?

    • Iris Guelen
      By Iris Guelen on 18 April, 2018

      We recommend to focus on your long tail keywords first and working your way up to your head keywords. Maybe this article can help: https://yoast.com/keyword-research-ultimate-guide/. Good luck!

      • Weed Shop
        By Weed Shop on 18 April, 2018

        Okay, thanks for the feedback. I thought maybe with the Yoast SEO premium, We could outrank competitors for single keyword. Please I also which to ask about text linking in site, for example i do this kind of text link
        Vape Pens how beneficial will it be for me in my website??
        And will it be considered as spamming if I do that for two or more texts on the same page ??

  8. Suresh Dubey
    By Suresh Dubey on 17 April, 2018

    I came to know the importance of using keywords in the blog articles. Thanks

  9. Richard
    By Richard on 17 April, 2018

    Although I consider myself an intermediate “SEO person”, this post is still a great one – especially combined with the Keyword research ultimate Guide.
    What I really was struggling with at the beginning, is to find Keywords not only for my product pages, but especially my main page. I (still) find it quite hard to decide on a “long tail keyword”, that is profitable enough for me to go for it, leaving a / or multiple fathead keywords behind.
    Reading through the posts in this blog really helped me to get a grasp of the whole topic though. The key for me was understanding the concept of search intent, getting to know what my (potential) customers really want.

    • Iris Guelen
      By Iris Guelen on 18 April, 2018

      Yes, it is definitely a process that needs quite a bit of attention. Good to hear that our posts have helped! :)

  10. yukti sharma
    By yukti sharma on 17 April, 2018

    well for the websites and also for the blogging content is everything as we need it more.. but the SEO is also doing a role in that to optimizing it SEO is also called the doctor of a website well nice content and the information…


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