12 Questions to Ask When Performing SEO Keyword Research

The other day members of our team had an informal discussion on how we choose keywords for our clients’ web pages. We base keyword selection on criteria that includes factors like relevance, competitiveness, and existing search results. The development of good keyword research also incorporates marketing prowess, data analysis, and experience working with SEO over time.

Keyword Determination

Keyword research is the life-blood of a search engine optimization campaign. The implementation of effective keyword research can lead to high quality traffic and leads over the long term, from organic search engine visibility. Poor keyword research leads to frustration and leaves site owners questioning the value of SEO.

While you can find a more comprehensive tutorial I wrote on keyword research here, in this post I’ll go over 12 questions to ask when performing keyword research, in an effort to drive better results and opportunity for client SEO programs.

Part 1: Keyword Discovery

  • Do I understand the marketing strategy of the website?The basis for effective keyword research hinges on how well you understand the products and solutions a website (or an organization) offers and the applicability to target markets. If you don’t have this in place, you tend to be blindly throwing darts at a dartboard, hoping they hit their mark.
  • Do I understand the value proposition of the specific web page?That sounds simple enough but in reality can be quite challenging. For example, when considering keywords for solution-oriented web pages, not only must you understand the objectives of a solution but also how that solution fits into the market.
  • How many ways could a visitor search for this content?Part of keyword research is exploring all of the paths a potential customer might use if they wanted to find your web page. Think about synonyms, adjectives, root keywords, etc. and then use keyword research tools to uncover approximate search estimates and competitiveness for the possibilities.
  • Did I interview key stakeholders for their perspectives?Whether we’re talking about target audiences, marketing teams, or even sales and customer service personnel, members of the organization and customer base can be interviewed to provide feedback and starting points for more extensive keyword development.
  • Did I review competition and industry sources?It’s important to evaluate copy used across competitors and industry sources. Doing so allows you to find keyword targets; taking a deeper dive into the competition may also reveal more impactful content strategies and link opportunities. Just keep in mind, however, that your competitors may not be doing a good job with their own keyword research!
  • Did I really cover as many angles as possible?While time is never really on the B2B marketer’s side, it’s usually worthwhile to revisit your keyword research a second (maybe third?) time. Take a break, walk away, and dive back in with a fresh perspective.

Part 2: Keyword Evaluation

Now that you have a wide range of keyword opportunities, the next step is making recommendations for what keywords to prioritize and incorporate into web page copy.

  • Now that I’ve identified my keywords, where (in the site navigation) is the page located for placing them?As a general rule, more competitive terms should get placed in more visible and naturally viewed locations, according to site architecture. Content buried three or four layers down in a navigational stream rarely stands a chance to rank well for highly competitive keywords, unless it’s specifically meant to attract inbound links or get referenced consistently in other locations.
  • Do I understand the type of search results that appear for a particular keyword opportunity?While it’s seemingly obvious, this question often gets overlooked (it just got overlooked in our most recent internal conversation, in fact). Knowing a keyword is searched regularly and the type of results that currently perform well in search engine results are two different things. In other words…
  • Does the content on the page resonate with the intent of the search engine query?The key is evaluating existing search results to ensure your web page’s content is applicable to the type of results found for specific keyword queries. You can argue that search results are not appropriate, and that your organization’s content is truly what is appropriate. That might be so, but keep in mind that it’s is a tougher hill to climb to achieve success (though it can be accomplished with perseverance).
  • How competitive are the sites that rank well for a particular keyword?“Never bring a sword to a gunfight.” Make a realistic evaluation of just how difficult it might be for your page to rank, in comparison to the web pages already ranking well for a particular keyword opportunity. Do you have the right tools, assets, and strategy in place to compete? My colleague Brendan Cottam brought up using the Moz Toolbar as a mechanism for quickly determining keyword difficulty while evaluating search engine results.
  • Is there really a better solution for applying a particular keyword?I guess I might be asking the same questions in a different way. However, the key is to understand the right direction moving forward. If there’s a particular keyword your organization is interested in, sometimes it’s better to make a recommendation for new content to be developed, than attempt to squeeze an indirectly related keyword in an existing but less relevant web page.
  • Has a benchmark already been established?The final question is simply where or if the page or website currently appears for the potential keyword opportunity and how will improvement be defined and/or observed going forward. This is especially important when organizations begin an SEO initiative, to gain a better understanding of challenges and opportunities in the short and long term.

Final Thoughts

The above is a list of 12 questions to think about when performing keyword research for search engine optimization. The more effective the keyword research, the more likely you’ll achieve success with SEO initiatives over time. Did I miss something important? I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback, via the comments below.

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