How to Research & Optimize Keywords for Search Engines

Last modified on: March 18th, 2024

Keyword optimization is a critical aspect of SEO that can make or break the success of your SEO campaign. Continue below to learn how to research and optimize keywords.

Steps for Keyword Optimization

When it comes to optimizing keywords for SEO, there are two main steps:

  1. Keyword Research: Research and organize a list of keywords that are most relevant to your target audience, business, and site content. Aim to find keywords with the highest probability of driving targeted traffic to your site and business.
  2. Content Optimization: Optimize your online content on-site and off with relevant keyword phrases as naturally as possible, and place keywords in vital sections of your pages and posts (explained later in this article).

Optimizing for Keyword Intent

Strategically researching, organizing, and optimizing keywords for your content to better align with a user's keyword intent is how you realize great results through SEO efforts.

Once you've got your keywords figured out, you'll have a better sense of direction with your SEO content strategy. Creating search engine optimized content then becomes a much easier process.

Understanding the right keywords to target and where to optimize them on your site will help you develop content that truly helps out your target audience. Search engines, as a result, will reward your website with higher rankings and higher quality traffic that can lead to potential business opportunities like leads and sales.

Before diving into keyword research, let's look at the types of keywords involved.

Understand Types of Keywords

Depending on context and user intent, many words and phrases of topical significance can be considered “keywords”. Thinking strategically about which keywords to use, where, and when becomes much easier when we go break down keyword types:

Broad Keywords

Commonly 1-word or 2-word phrases. At this point in 2024, most broad keywords are very competitive and used often in the language of any given topic or industry. For example, this article is about keyword optimization (a somewhat broad subtopic keyword phrase) which falls under the topic of SEO (a very broad topic keyword).

Long-tail Keywords

Phrases of 3 or more words. Longer-tailed keywords are usually less competitive and more specific than the broad keywords they relate to. Long-tail keywords include question-based search queries like “How do you perform keyword optimization”, or specific information-seeking queries like “keyword optimization software”.

Local Keywords

Local or “geotargeted” keywords fall under either broad or long-tail keyword types. However, it's a good idea to mention them separately, as they're vital to the success of local SEO efforts.

Local businesses, especially those with a storefront, have to target the right local keywords and topics in their content including listings and directories to stay relevant in local search results. A verified and up-to-date Google Business Profile helps too.

Further keyword categorization

You can also categorize keywords further: Example categories include competitor names, interests of your target audience, industry leaders, suppliers, products, services, and trending industry-related terms. Check out Google Trends for this type of analysis.

Breaking down keywords into categories can help you see your industry and related information from different perspectives. Researching target audience interests, for instance, might uncover some great marketing opportunities you never thought about.

Try not to confuse these keyword types with Google Ads keyword match types. Match types are keyword variations used to control which searches trigger pay-per-click ads.

Next, let's look at keyword intent or the user intent behind the keywords that are searched on Google. Effective content fulfills the intent behind a user's search.

Understand Keyword Intent

Effective SEO content efforts tend to align with a user's keyword intent. This “intent” can also be viewed as the purpose, intention, or goal behind a user's search. For best SEO results, focus on matching your content to the intent behind target keyword searches.

Giving People What They Want

Keyword-optimized content helps give people exactly what they're looking for when querying search engines like Google. Over time, the content best aligned to a reader's search query intent should end up ranking well for that specific search query and/or many related keyword-rich queries.

Matching Your Content With Intent

This is where some keyword research comes into play.

Create a Google Search Console property and submit your site's sitemap file if you haven't already done so. Search Console provides data on your site's presence in Google Search Results, such as clicks, impressions, and detected keyword positions.

Similarly, create a Bing Webmaster Tools property for similar data from Bing Search.

Checking Search Console for Strong Keywords

Example: In Search Console, you can view user-searched keywords that Google has displayed your site for in its search engine results pages (SERPs). While the search data is not real-time and update times vary, the data and trends can still help you determine which keywords to prioritize creating and optimizing content around.

Find these keywords by following “Search Traffic -> “Search Analytics” under the console menu on the left-hand side of your browser screen.

Learning Intent Through Competitors

Note the keywords found under “Search Analytics” that you want to improve rank for. Google these search terms and check out the competing content currently ranking in the top positions for these keyword phrases. Analyze their page content, subsections, structure, links, and other site content to get an idea of what Google considers worthy of ranking prominently for the given keyword.

Analyzing Competitor Content

Get a sense of the type of people your competitors' content is marketing to. These are likely the same people you aim to market to if you want to rank for similar queries. Think about their content from a potential customer's point of view. What types of information are they sharing and what questions are they answering that seem relevant & helpful?

Last but certainly not least, consider how you can improve your content with this insight. Aim to answer the intent, including questions, behind the search queries as comprehensively as possible on your web pages.

Gaining Fresh Ideas to Align With Keyword Intent

You should gain some fresh ideas and perspectives on how you can further improve your content for keyword intent quickly and effectively through this kind of research using Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, and manual searches. If you apply what you discover, you'll be outranking your competition in no time.

Ultimately, you will create better content that aligns with a user's keyword intent simply by performing in-depth, systematic keyword research.

Preparing for Keyword Research

To conduct effective keyword research, its necessary to understand:

  • Potential topics related to your business, offerings, and industry.
  • The intent behind your target audience's keyword searches.
  • Your target audience's buyer personas.
  • The potential keyword research techniques to use.
  • The various keyword research tools to use.

About the Above Aspects

The first two aspects listed above can help transform your thoughts into initial keywords to start keyword research. Then, techniques and tools help move along the research process more efficiently.

Your target audience's buyer persona is very helpful to understand. As defined by HubSpot, “a buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.

Understanding keyword intent can help form your target user's buyer persona too. All it takes are some simple, but powerful thoughts to fuel the direction of your keyword research and content strategy.

Target User Questions to Think About

Why would your target user want to read your piece of writing? Is it to learn or boy? Or are they just curious or bored? What are their possible reasons behind taking the time to search and read your content?

Thinking about these questions whenever you have the time, especially before you create a new page of content can be very valuable. Doing so will help you become a natural at aligning words used within your content with user intent, and you'll ultimately conduct better keyword research. You'll also create better content for search engines.

Compare Content With Competitors

Compare your branding ideas and current website content with your competitors. Form a list of broad or head keywords and long-tail keyword phrases you find valuable and relevant that your competitors are using on pages of their websites.

Build upon this list over the life of your search campaign, experimenting with keyword research tools. There are many useful SEO software tools out there, many free and a few worth investing in for maximum data insight and successful SEO performance.

Organize Your Keyword Ideas

Use spreadsheet software like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to record keyword ideas and related information you discover. In addition, using mind mapping software can be a really effective way to visually organize this kind of information.

Performing Keyword Research

You can begin keyword research by taking advantage of search data tools like Google Keyword Planner, Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, and Google Trends, and by performing strategic manual searches.

Google Keyword Planner

Although Keyword Planner is geared toward research for paid advertisements using Google Ads, you can still get a sense of keywords commonly searched on Google, how often they're searched based on location, and how competitive they are based on suggested PPC (pay-per-click) ad bids.

Keyword Planner is provided for free by Google. You'll just need a Google Ads account to access the tool.

Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools

You can use the free webmaster tools provided by Google and Bing to review historical search data for your website. In Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, once connected to your site, you can analyze which search queries have and are displaying your indexed website pages and their average ranking positions.

You can also view stats like clicks from search, impressions in search, click-through rate, and average search position at the keyword and page level for your site. Use this data to help improve your existing content and create new pages or blog posts.

Google Suggest

Experiment with Google searches using Google's autocomplete search function known as Google Suggest. When searching in Google, take advantage of the auto-suggested phrases provided by this search feature.

These suggestions are based on popular searched keyword phrases and website sources in Google that are related to what you've so far typed into the search box.

SEO Software With Keyword Research Tools

An all-in-one SEO software like SE Ranking or Semrush is recommended to help you find new keywords to target, get insight into how often each keyword is searched per month, how competitive each term is to rank and helpful keyword manager tools.

Check out this SE Ranking review and Semrush review for more details on features.

Related: SE Ranking vs Semrush Comparison Review

Once you have a set of keywords you plan to create content around and rank for, use a rank tracking software such as those built into these SEO platforms to track changes in your keywords' positions over time.

Using Keywords in Content

After you've researched your target keywords, it's time to apply them and optimize your content for search engine optimization success.

Create a Framework

When creating keyword-optimized content, starting with an outline can help. Think about the overall theme and topic of your pending content piece. Also, consider the subsections to include to make the topic easier to digest for your target audience.

Optimize Keyword Locations

Improve your content by applying keywords to the right sections. Google search crawlers look at specific sections of your website to determine keyword relevancy and how this relevancy ties into other search ranking factors.

While search engines like Google continue to evolve in how they crawl, process, and understand web pages, consider using your target keywords early on in the search title, H1 header, and body content of your web page. Then, aim to incorporate these keywords and related terms naturally throughout the rest of the content piece.

You can help improve the relevance of your page or post for a target topic and keyword by including the target keyword and related words within elements like image alt text, file names, the page URL, titles, subheaders, and paragraphs.

Keep in mind that Google may also check keyword density and how often keywords are used in each section of your page in comparison to other words. Avoid overdoing the usage of any particular keyword phrase or repeating the same words unnaturally.

Investing in SEO writing software like Surfer is a powerful way to optimize your pages for target keywords based on algorithms that look at the current top-ranking pages. The software then gives you suggestions on which related terms to include in your content to compete and improve your search engine rankings.

Check out this Surfer SEO review to learn more about its key features.

Semantic Keywords

Incorporate semantic keywords in your content naturally to help improve your content's relevance for your target topic, keyword, and related terms.

The use of semantic keywords can help your content rank beyond your target keyword for related terms and variations.

Keyword Over-Optimization

Avoid keyword stuffing and unnatural use of keywords. Since April of 2012, Google's algorithm has become much more capable of detecting website activities like over-optimization, thin content, and duplicate content.

Black Hat SEO Tactics

Known as black hat SEO, there are a variety of low-quality, deceptive, and manipulative SEO tactics that go against Google's webmaster guidelines. Take a look at these guidelines for a better understanding of these restricted activities.

Improved Detection Capabilities

Other major search engines like Bing have also been improving their detection capabilities for low-quality content to avoid ranking this type of content.

Avoiding penalties is pretty simple. Focus on creating content that you would enjoy reading yourself if you were a member of your target audience. As if you were a user who just discovered your page through the type of search queries you're optimizing for.

Web Content Isn't Always Permanent

While this might depend on your situation and level of access, you can always edit and update a site's published web content. Just try not to publish content before it's ready.

At a minimum, your content should provide value to readers in a way that satisfies the intent behind the target keyword they searched before you optimize keywords further.

Once value and keyword intent are achieved, you can focus on improving your content's keyword optimization much more flexibly, such as adding in additional subtopics and related terms.

Final Thoughts

Keywords are the foundation of SEO and optimizing for them is necessary to maximize the results of your SEO efforts.

Consider the information on researching and optimizing keywords shared above and you'll be managing a super-effective content-driven SEO campaign in no time.

Looking for SEO services? Check out these low-cost SEO packages.

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