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An introductory guide to keyword research

3 minute read

An introductory guide to keyword research

Whether you run a website for your small business or you have your own blog just for fun, you might be wondering how you can get more people to visit your site. One way to encourage natural traffic growth is to familiarise yourself with a concept known as search engine optimisation, or SEO. This is a way to get your website to appear higher up in search engine results pages, and it’s a practice that revolves around the idea of ‘keywords’. In today’s post, we’re going to introduce you to keywords and show you how to find the ones you can use to your advantage.

What are keywords and why use them?

Keywords are the words and phrases people use to find what they’re looking for online. They enable complex search engine algorithms to break down and understand information on the internet as they try to deliver relevant information to users. When you search for anything in Google or other search engines, the words you type in are keywords. ‘Restaurants in London’, for example, or ‘women’s shoes’.

Keywords are important to small business owners and bloggers alike, because they help search engines understand what your site is about. This means that when people search for sites like yours, you’re more likely to appear higher up in those searches if your site contains relevant keywords. That means more visitors and, for commercial sites, more customers. By learning how to use keywords and how to optimise your site for search engines, you’re taking advantage of a free and potentially powerful form of internet marketing.

Finding keywords

The Google Keyword Planner tool is designed for those running an AdWords campaign (the paid adverts you see at the top of the Google search results), but it’s a handy tool for anyone wanting to find keyword ideas and compare the popularity of different search terms. It allows you to search for keywords based on a theme, and it generates lots more ideas for related terms people are searching for. It also tells you approximately how many people search for a keyword each month, so you can understand which keywords are likely to result in more visitors to your site.

To use the Keyword Planner, put your website URL into the tool, select your location and type in an example keyword or two (if you’re a food blogger, you could type in ‘food blog’, for instance). It will then generate lots of ideas for you to work your way through. They won’t all be relevant, but you can select the ones that are and then export your keyword ideas into a spreadsheet. Ordering the ideas by search volume will show you the top keywords for your site.

Another good source of keyword information is Google Trends, where you’ll find information on trending topics that will allow you to find out what people are searching for at the moment. There’s also a handy comparison tool, which allows you to compare two or more keywords to find out about their popularity over time and in different geographical regions.

Long-tail keywords

When someone types more detail into a search engine, this is known as a ‘long-tail keyword’. Examples of these more complex queries might include ‘vegetarian restaurants in Clapham, London’ or ‘pink high heeled women’s shoes size 6’. Questions are common long-tail keywords; ‘what is the best way to unblock a bathroom sink?’, for example, or even ‘what is the meaning of life?’

Google’s suggested search terms are a great place to find long-tail keyword ideas; simply type a topic relevant to you and phrases such as ‘how to’ or ‘why do’ for suggestions. For example, typing in ‘food blog how to cook’ results in suggested searches including ‘how to cook a turkey’, ‘how to cook bacon in the oven’ and ‘how to cook sweet potatoes’ (see below). These are some great ideas for blog posts, too, because you know that they’re popular topics that are more likely to bring visitors to your site.

Finding the right balance

In the old days, when search algorithms were less sophisticated than they are now, website owners used to cram as many keywords as possible into each page so that search engines could be in no doubt as to what terms they wanted that page to rank for. Fortunately, algorithms are a bit cleverer than that these days, realising that this so-called ‘keyword stuffing’ isn’t something a real human wants to read. With that in mind, stuffing too many keywords onto your site is likely to do more harm than good to your search engine rankings.

So, use keywords sparingly. Write for human readers, but with an awareness that search engines need to understand what you’re talking about too. Using keywords in your website copy won’t automatically bump your website up to the number one position in relevant search results, but over time, it will help grow your audience without costing you a penny.

Peter is the Head of Content at Nominet. He's passionate about helping small businesses make the most of being online, especially through the use of content marketing.

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