SEO Keyword Research Tutorial for the B2B Online Marketer

Keyword research is a fundamental tactic providing business direction for B2B search engine marketers. In uncovering keyword opportunities prospects and customers might use to find an organization’s business solutions, B2B SEO’s can set forth a specific focus for content marketing, link acquisition, and technological development.

B2B SEO Keyword Research

This post is meant to provide further exposition on why B2B SEO’s perform keyword research and what factors and decision-making criteria go into the process. We’ll close the post out with insight into popular keyword research tools and next steps for B2B search engine marketers.

Crunched for time? Here is a slide deck we created in support of this blog post, highlighting the core concepts surrounding SEO Keyword Research for the B2B Online Marketer.

Keyword Research: What It Is & Why You Need It?

Here’s our definition of what keyword research is, when we explain it to a new client:

“Keyword Research is the process of discovering words and phrases people might use when searching for your organization’s solutions and brand”

Why do we need keyword research? Because SEO strategy hinges on it’s direction. According to MarketingSherpa’s 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report, keyword research is listed as one of the most effective and easier to implement tactics B2B marketers engage in for SEO performance. Here are the three specific reasons we mention when discussing keyword research with clients and prospects:

  • Content & Keywords: Keyword research allows B2B SEO’s to understand the type of content that ranks well for particular keyword searches.
  • Search Result Variation: Through keyword research we gain a better understanding of the types of search engine results that Google in particular will display when searching the particular keyword. It’s no longer ten simple text links but images, news, maps, and more.
  • Link Strategy: Lastly, keyword research guides our understanding of the types of links and third party mentions that a web page or website has acquired which in turn help the web page rank well for a particular keyword.

Third Party Perspective: But what do other SEO professionals say about keyword research? Here are a few definitions and perspectives from others in the field:

  • Moz“Keyword research is one of the most important, valuable, and high return activities in the search marketing field. Ranking for the “right” keywords can make or break your website.”
  • SEOBook“The process of discovering relevant keywords and keyword phrases to focus your SEO and PPC marketing campaigns on.”
  • Search Engine Journal“Keyword research is the first thing you do when planning a website. You do it before thinking over the site architecture and creating the content. Keyword research is the what you do to estimate your competition and create a promotion strategy.”

Keyword Research: Important Factors

I think back to presentations I gave on behalf of SEMPO for Bentley College and Microsoft Canada based on SEMPO Institute’s Insider’s Guide to Search Marketing. To paraphrase and update, effective keyword research involves four key factors in the decisioning process:

  • Relevance: How closely the search term matches the site’s products, services, and content.
Keyword Relevance
  • Specificity: How broad or specific a term is.
Keyword Specificity
  • Popularity: How often the search term is searched for on major search engines.
Keyword Popularity
  • Competitiveness: How many companies are pursuing the keyword?
Keyword Competitiveness
(Image Source: Moz)

A combination of these four factors comes into play when B2B online marketers consider developing keyword research.

How Do You Perform Keyword Research?

Three conceptual steps are involved in performing keyword research. The first step is keyword discovery. For B2B online marketers, that means brainstorming as many keywords as possible. Explore adjectives, extensions, synonyms, etc .

We tend to organize keywords by “theme” for clients and our own organizational efforts. In keyword theming, more competitive, strategic keyword phrases are centered around a series of “long-tail” opportunities, often extensions and more specific variations.

Need help creating lists of keywords? Excel formulas can be handy in this process but we also created a Keyword List Generator to help in organizing keyword ideas as well.

Keyword Discovery

Keyword analysis comes second. Always review (or re-review) keyword-specific search engine results for applicability.

Potential Questions To Consider:

  • Do I understand the VALUE PROPOSITION of my web page?
  • Do I understand the TYPE of search results that appear for a particular keyword opportunity?
  • Does the content on the page resonate with the intent of the search engine query?
  • How COMPETITIVE are the sites that rank well for a particular keyword?

Here is a blog post we wrote highlighting “12 Questions to Ask When Performing SEO Keyword Research” for B2B online marketers to consider as well.

SERP Analysis

Finally we reach the point of keyword decisioning, which doesn’t always mean the most competitive or highly search terminology. It is important for B2B online marketers to analyze keywords that will provide the BEST VALUE .

While the right keywords bring visitors that interact and convert actions within your website (E.G., fill out forms, make purchases, email, etc) they also provide a good opportunity for your web page to ACHIEVE prominent search engine visibility in a REASONABLE amount of time and effort (and budget).

Don’t lose sight of the competition you face for strategic keywords and ability to outperform their current (and potential) SEO initiatives.

Keyword Determination

Remember: Most SINGLE keywords are too general and will not bring targeted traffic. As a rule, a keyword phrase (2, 3 or more words) that is more specific will bring more qualified traffic.

Keyword Research Tools

Here is a select group of keyword research tools that we recommend for performing keyword research. Most of these tools are free and perfect for periodic keyword research exploration. If you’re considering more frequent keyword research (let’s say weekly or more), I would consider the Google Keyword Planner (below) in coordination with commercial variations of the applications below.

  • Google Keyword Planner – Google AdWords free keyword research tool – Google Keyword Planner – provides marketers with information on average monthly searches, competitiveness, and suggested CPC costs if using AdWords.
  • Bing Webmaster Tools – Bing Webmaster Tools offers free keyword research tool. Data comes from organic search at Bing and marketers can select region, date ranges, and export information.
  • UberSuggest – This free keyword tool provides thousands of keyword ideas based on a base term or phrase. Keyword phrases are broken own by letter and numeric variation for ease of results navigation.
  • RavenTools – RavenTools keyword research tool is accessible through commercial subscription. RavenTools offers a free 30 day trial to evaluate performance and personal preference.
  • Spyfu – Spyfu offers a free keyword research tool with summary data. Their paid solution provides greater competitive keyword visibility and ability to download / export data in Excel format.
  • WordStream – WordStream provides a free keyword tool to uncover long-tail keyword opportunities. Users can register for a free trial to obtain a comprehensive list or receive an email export of the top 100 keywords.

What’s Next?

  • Implementation: Develop a content marketing plan and set of initiatives designed to maximize visibility for target keywords .
  • Evaluation & Reporting: Use reporting tools such as Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, and / or commercial SEO resources like RavenTools and Moz to track performance of web pages associated to target keywords .
  • Analysis & Next Steps: Always revisit search engine results and keyword research to determine how to continue to improve performance of web pages associated to target keywords.

We’re oversimplifying the process a bit with these three bullets but there are plenty of resources available to learn and develop tactics around SEO content marketing, technical SEO, and link acquisition.

More importantly, as we move forward in 2014, we’ll continue developing posts that address a strategic overview of B2B SEO and the fundamentals concepts involved. Keyword research is only the first step in this process.

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