In the SEO world, keywords are a big deal. One of the most fundamental SEO practices is determining which keywords and phrases are being used to search for a particular product, service, or business, and then optimizing a website based on these findings. Researching these keywords is one of the first and most crucial steps in any SEO campaign.

Keyword research involves determining the specific words and phrases that someone would use to search for content on Google. For an SEO agency client, keyword research often starts with seeing what the client’s website already ranks for on search engines. It can also entail asking the client what words or phrases their customers might use when searching for their products or services. 

Interestingly enough, the client’s assumptions on which search terms are being utilized by their customers often don’t align with what search engine data shows. They are often surprised to find that they don’t actually rank for what they think they do. That’s one reason why keyword research is so important! 

When researching keywords, there are three important things to consider: relevance, volume, and competition. The best candidates for keywords will be high relevance, high volume, and low competition, but that’s often a rare combination that can be hard to achieve, as high-volume keywords are usually highly competitive as well.

The most important thing to consider when choosing keywords is their relevance to the content with which they are associated. In most cases, we know exactly what we’re looking for when searching for a specific product, brand, business, etc. and we’ll recognize when the information provided in search results doesn’t add up. Google may even penalize a website if it finds it using irrelevant or spammy keywords.

When content is optimized for keywords that people are searching for, it ranks higher and thus garners more traffic. That’s why choosing high-volume keywords is one important aspect of keyword research. The more popular a word or phrase, the more likely it will bring traffic and potential conversions to your website–IF you can rank for it!

Many high-volume keywords are, naturally, highly competitive, and ranking for these keywords will require substantially more time, effort, and resources. Unless you have all of these in ample quantity at your disposal, it can be more cost-effective to target low-competition keywords with high relevance. Relevant keywords that are both high-volume and low-competition are often the “Goldilock’s Zone” for typical SEO clients such as small businesses.

There are two primary categories of keywords in SEO: short-tail and long-tail. Short-tail keywords are simple, broad, and typically only consist of one or a few words. A search for “dress shoes” or “crocs” is likely to provide millions of results, as these are two very broad categories. Because short-tail keywords are more common search terms, they are more competitive and harder to target and rank for. 

Long-tail keywords are more specific queries, and generally imply the searcher is looking for something more specific or has a better understanding of exactly what they’re searching for. A search for “Macy’s women’s dress shoes” or “size 10 green crocs” would be an example of a long-tail keyword. Because they’re highly specific, long-tail keywords have less search volume than short-tail, but this also makes them less competitive and easier to target.

Figuring out the best possible keywords to target for your specific niche takes considerable time, and as people’s search intent is constantly changing and evolving, keyword research needs to be revisited regularly. As customers’ interests, too, evolve, so do rankings of certain terms based on those trends, so it’s also important to keep up with consumer trends in your niche so you can capitalize on them. Google Trends can be a great tool in this regard as it provides information on top-ranking queries in Google and compares their search volumes overtime. Another useful tool is Google Keyword Planner, which provides traffic insights and keyword ideas with supporting search engine data.

Keyword research is all about balance; a balance between volume and competition and a balance between short-tail and long-tail keyword optimization. Finding this balance is one of the most challenging aspects of SEO, but also one of the most necessary. A well-executed keyword research strategy can do wonders for traffic and conversions. By knowing exactly what keywords to target, you are more likely to attract visitors to your site who are already looking for your product or service–and thus well on their way to completing a conversion