Discover the words people are using to find your products and services
Table of Contents
Chapter #3: Keyword Research
Your SEO knowledge is advanced by now. You know how search engines work, the basic building blocks of SEO, and how Google ranks New Zealand businesses.
Now it’s time to learn the keyword research skills that will put your business in front of people looking for your products and services. In this chapter we’ll show you how to:
- Find the keywords your audience is using
- Create content that satisfies your audience’s search intent
- Strategically place keywords throughout your content to satisfy users and search engines
Most businesses use the spaghetti approach to keywords. They throw everything at their website and hope something sticks. The real power of keyword research comes when you use tools to understand what words people are using on Google, and what type of content they’re looking for.
Once you learn how to identify the most valuable keywords (which we’ll be teaching you), you can answer questions like:
- What are people searching for?
- How many people are searching for it? (known as ‘volume’)
- What type of content are they searching for?
In this chapter you’ll get practical tips to answer these questions, as well as a roadmap to avoid the most common keyword research pitfalls New Zealand businesses face. Once you master keyword research you’ll have an advantage over your competition. While everyone else hopes for a winning hand, you’ll have seen the cards and know exactly how to win the game every time.
Start by Asking Your Audience What They Want
The #1 mistake businesses make when it comes to keyword research, is to make assumptions.
Your audience knows exactly what they’re looking for online. Too many businesses skip this first step of customer research and start using fancy keyword research tools like they’re a shortcut to success.
The truth is, keyword research takes time and skill. Why invest resources when you could speak to your audience and hear their desires for yourself? What you think you should be ranking for may be very different to what your audience is looking for online.
For example, let’s say you’re running a cleaning business in Christchurch. You assume people want to find local cleaning services so you jump into your keyword research process and find the search terms to help your service pages rank. Only…nothing happens. After months of waiting there’s no increase in clicks, calls or customers.
Instead of jumping to conclusions, you could have reached out to your potential customers by asking questions on your business Facebook page, creating surveys for your email list, or speaking to people face-to-face when you were at your customer’s homes.
Your questions might have included:
- What type of cleaning services are people searching for?
- Who is searching for these terms?
- When are people searching for cleaning services?
- What questions do people ask about cleaning services?
- Why are people searching for cleaning services?
- Are people looking to hire cleaners or learn how to clean their own homes?
Asking these questions is crucial to understanding your audience’s wants.
In this example, you may find out your audience didn’t want to pay for cleaning services right away. They wanted free tips and tricks to DIY their own cleaning. By getting customer feedback you could have seen the desire for free tips and tricks and focused your keyword research with greater accuracy.
A blog that ranks for free tips and tricks may end up driving leads from people who realise cleaning is time consuming and boring (we’ve all been there). While a service page for your local cleaning service gets no leads because people aren’t ready to commit yet.
Remember, what you want to rank for and what your audience wants to rank for are two different things. Once you know what your audience wants, you can focus on related keywords for a more successful SEO campaign.
How Do I Know What Keywords People Are Searching For?
This is the million dollar question. Once you know what keywords people are using online, you can create content that uses those keywords, and solves every problem people have.
Keywords are crucial because your audience may use different words to describe their problems than the way you describe your own business. Finding out what keywords your audience uses on search engines like Google is your first step.
Let’s ease into our keyword research process by picking words you already use to describe your business, products and services. These will be your seed keywords. By entering your seed keywords into keyword research tools you’ll discover the number of monthly searches – known as volume, and any similar keywords. For example if you’re an interior decorator you might pick seed keywords like ‘interior decorating’, ‘home design’, ‘living room design’ and so on.
During this initial keyword research phase you can focus on keyword variation (we’ll worry about how many people are searching for these topics later – known as volume). Before you narrow your focus, it’s crucial you’re covering all the ways people search for businesses like yours online.
Once you’ve entered your seed keywords into your chosen keyword research tool (scroll to the bottom of the page for a list of easy-to-use keyword research tools we’ve collected for you) you’ll be able to see related topics, similar questions, and other keywords that might be useful.
For example, let’s say you’re a plumber who specialises in emergency plumbing repairs.
Type ‘emergency plumber’ into a keyword research tool and you’ll discover similar phrases people are using to find plumbers. For example:
- ‘Emergency plumber near me’
- ‘Is a leaking sink an emergency’
- ‘What are plumbing emergencies’
- ‘How much does a plumber charge per hour’
These are highly related terms you would have missed if you’d tried to optimise your website for the keyword ‘emergency plumber’ without doing a little keyword research yourself.
OK, let’s mention volume now. A keyword brings little to no value if there are ZERO people searching for it. Keyword volume is measured as a monthly figure, with higher amounts representing the most popular search terms.
As you follow the above roadmap and find similar questions, queries and topics you’ll notice the monthly search volume varies. It’s a rookie SEO mistake to pick keywords with the highest monthly volume and try to optimise for those. While 10,000 monthly visitors would be nice, a keyword with that many monthly searches is HIGHLY competitive. If we stick with the example of an emergency plumber, you’ll be competing for those keywords with national brands who have been running SEO campaigns for years (with big budgets to match).
Smart Kiwi businesses are aware it may be a strategic victory to target searches with lower volume per month. Yes, there are less people searching for these keywords on Google, but there’s less competition too.
A sound SEO strategy is to identify a mixture of high volume AND low volume keywords for your website. Remember, it’s better to be seen by a small number of people interested in your products and services, than going for a big crowd and not being seen at all.
Do I Pick Keywords for My Website or for Individual Pages?
Great question! We’re glad you asked. Keywords are used to rank individual pages NOT your entire website.
Optimising for unique keywords on each page lets you cast the widest net possible. If you’re a small business providing 5 services, you can create 5 separate service pages and optimise each page to meet the search intent of customers.
The opposite approach is to cram all your information onto your homepage, which only works if you’re a big brand and will limit your rankings and traffic.
Many businesses focus their attention on their homepage, thinking it’s the first place a potential lead will land. This gets the magic of SEO backwards. By optimising individual pages you’ll attract site visitors through unique keywords. By ranking multiple pages for multiple keywords, the first page a potential lead sees could be one of your service pages, making keyword research for each individual page a crucial step.
The Importance of Search Volume
Short version. The higher the search volume for a keyword or keyword phrase, the harder it is to achieve high rankings.
OK, now the slightly longer version. While the above rule is *typically* true, it’s not set in stone. The difficulty of ranking for high-volume keywords is known as keyword difficulty. The difficulty may go up more if the SERP is clogged with results in the form of a featured snippet, knowledge graph or map listing.
As frustrating as it is, big brands (with big SEO budgets) often take the top 10 spots on the first page of Google for those high-volume keywords. For New Zealand businesses just starting their SEO journey, it may be beneficial to leave these and adopt a strategic approach instead.
It would be amazing to rank #1 for a keyword that drives 10,000 monthly searches. SEO studies have shown the #1 spot on Google receives roughly 31% of all clicks. Across 10,000 monthly searches, that’s around 3,100 clicks going to the website in the top spot. Not bad, right?
But the effort it takes to rank in spot #1 (not to mention the time and the cost) may not be worthwhile. If the top spot isn’t a realistic objective for new SEO campaigns, does that mean you should target the lowest search volumes?
Optimise for too many low-volume keywords and you’ll rank in spot #1 on Google…but no one will ever search for those keywords.
The most advantageous tactic is to find a middle ground. Skip the high-volume keywords (unless you’ve got an SEO consultant guiding you with an advanced strategy) and avoid the low-volume keywords that only waste your time.
Your goal is to find keywords that are:
- Highly specific (without being overly niche)
- Low volume (without being overly low)
In the SEO world, these are called long-tail keywords. And they’re your ticket to growth.
Everything You Need to Know About Long-Tail Keywords
If someone offered you the chance to rank #1 for the keyword ‘shirts’, would you take it?
With over 3,000 monthly searches across New Zealand, a broad keyword like this feels like striking gold.
But there’s a catch…
Broad keywords like ‘shirts’ make up just a fraction of all searches made on Google. Short keywords, known as fat-head keywords, are ambiguous and put you at risk of attracting site visitors who aren’t looking to buy a shirt. They may be looking to read about shirts, compare shirts, find a tailor for shirts.
Let’s use pizza as an example.
Would someone searching for ‘pizza’ be looking to buy a pizza? Order a pizza? Read about the nutritional value of pizza? Find the nearest pizza restaurant? Google isn’t sure of their intent – so the results are varied and provide answers for a wide range of people with pizza on their mind.
If you optimise for a broad fat-head keyword like this, even if it’s one of your products or services, you risk casting a net so wide it doesn’t attract customers looking to spend money or learn about your business.
Unlike fat-head keywords, long-tail keywords are specific. They are used by people searching for a specific answer to a specific question.
- ‘Pizza’ = fat-head keyword
- ‘Order a pizza in Wellington’ = long-tail keyword
Long-tail keywords are more specific and (as the name suggests) longer than fat-head keywords. Long-tail keywords typically have higher conversion rates because the search intent is so narrow. In the example above, someone is looking for a pizza in Auckland, meaning the website in position #1 on the SERPs will have the highest chance of making a sale.
Someone searching for ‘pizza’ is researching. But someone searching for ‘order a pizza in Wellington’ practically has their wallet out. It’s a small tweak that has HUGE ramifications for your business.
Best of all, roughly 70% of ALL traffic comes from long-tail keywords. So don’t get hypnotised by high volume fat-head keywords that would have been close to impossible to rank for anyway.
Target long-tail keywords to put your business in front of an audience ready to open their wallet.
Key characteristics of long-tail keywords
- ✔ Consist of more than 2 words (making them more specific)
- ✔ Usually have lower search volume, but come with lower keyword difficulty
- ✔ Tend to have higher engagement and conversion rates
- ✔ Responsible for most organic traffic (70%)
3 Simple Ways to Get Strategic with Search Volume
While your competition bang their heads on the wall chasing high-volume keywords, you can start being strategic with your approach to keyword research. Here’s how you can watch what your competitors are doing and steal their existing keyword strategy (why work harder when you can work smarter?).
Keywords by competitor
It’s easy to deep dive into keyword research and end up with spreadsheets full of keywords your potential customers are using. If you’re not sure where to start, use your competition as a guide.
- a). Prioritising keywords your competition aren’t ranking for, or;
- b). Prioritise keywords your competition ARE ranking for
Option a) is a way to take advantage of your competition’s oversight. If there are keywords driving traffic in your niche, and no one has seen them yet, you can establish yourself as the solution.
Option b) shows you that your competitor’s keywords are driving traffic and are worth ranking for (the fact your competition is ranking shows they’ve seen the value already). By using those same keywords and creating stronger, more relevant and more useful content, you could take their rankings from them.
Keywords by season
Keywords aren’t static. While volume is measured as a monthly metric, certain keywords become more popular throughout the year. The easiest way to take advantage of this fluctuation is to match your content strategy with seasonal keywords.
For example, if you know that certain keywords become more popular around Christmas or New Years, you can get your content ready months in advance (at least 6 months to allow time for Google to crawl, index and rank your page). When Christmas arrives and people start searching for seasonal keywords, you’ll have exactly what they’re looking for while your competition scrambles to create content that won’t rank in time.
Keywords by region
You know the difference between international SEO and local SEO by now. Using geographically-driven keywords can help you rank in your local area and target specific towns, regions and cities.
Using keyword research tools like Google Planner or Google Trends (don’t worry, we’ll be explaining how to use those in detail shortly) can unlock unique terms for certain areas. For example, you might find customers in the North Island search for products and services using different terminology to customers in the South Island.
How to Match Your Content to a Searcher’s Intent
In the chapter #1 we learned how the intent of search engine users dictates the type of content they are shown. This is all managed by Google’s complex ranking algorithm which breaks searcher intent into separate categories. They are:
- Know (find information)
- Do (accomplish a goal)
- Website (find a specific website)
- Visit (visit a local business)
It’s a rookie mistake to assume everyone using Google is looking for the same thing. In reality, every potential customer is moving through their own personal buying cycle. Some people are just realising they have a problem and are looking for information, for example ‘reasons for back pain’. Others are further along their personal buying cycle and are looking for ways to accomplish their goals, for example ‘physiotherapist near me’.
While there are thousands of possible search types, here’s an example of 5 major categories of intent:
#1 – Informational Queries: This searcher is looking for information, such as the name of a rugby player or the distance between Christchurch and Wellington.
#2 – Navigational Queries: This searcher is looking for a specific address on the internet, such as Facebook or the homepage of the All Blacks.
#3 – Transactional Queries: This searcher is looking to complete a transaction in the near future (but not necessarily right now), such as buying a ticket to Australia or ordering food online.
#4 – Commercial Investigation Queries: This searcher wants to compare products and services to find the best one for their needs, such as comparisons between shoes or local tours.
#5 – Local Queries: This searcher is looking for a local product or service, such as a cafe, restaurant or retail store.
You don’t always need a full service SEO agency or expensive keyword research tools (though these can provide superior rankings and results). Your first step in the keyword research process should always be the SERPs. If you want to see what type of content your audience is looking for, enter keywords relating to your business, products and services and see for yourself.
Use the 5 major categories of intent above to see what’s ranking for those keywords, and create content that satisfies that specific user intent. That’s how you make keyword research simple.
BONUS: Keyword Research Tools for Your Business
Quick recap…so far you’ve learned about the importance of long-tail keywords, how to use the SERPs to gauge the search intent of your target keywords, and a few simple ways to get strategic with your keywords.
But there’s one HUGE question left – how do you find which keywords have lower volume and are worth your time?
The answer is keyword research tools.
These tools provide insight into the average monthly volume of a keyword or keyword phrase. Using these tools you can quickly see if a search term has a high volume of searches per month (and an equally high level of competition). Or, if a search term is relevant, lower-volume, and long-tail (which is perfect for you).
We’ve rounded up a few keyword research tools to make your next SEO campaign easier.
Google Trends: Google’s free keyword tool analyses the popularity of searches in real time. This is the ideal tool to find fluctuations in keywords. Filter by region or by time to see the rise and fall of your target keywords. If you notice a pattern of spikes each year (this is an example of keywords by season) you can start optimising your pages in advance.
Answer The Public: Answer The Public also takes searches from Google in real time, visualising every related question people have been asking about your chosen keywords. Using an easy-to-understand search cloud, your keywords become questions that your audience needs answering. Optimising for these questions means finding a proven audience.
Keyword Surfer: The above tools provide keyword variety, while Keyword Surfer provides keyword volume. This free tool, available as a free extension, shows the average monthly search volume for your keywords, plus related variations (remember to set the filter to New Zealand).
Moz Keyword Explorer: Moz’s Keyword Explorer provides monthly search volume, related searches, as well as a handy difficulty score to show you how hard it would be to rank for your target keywords. A premium keyword tool that can do a ton for your SEO goals, you can unlock 10 free searches per month without upgrading to the paid version.
Google Keyword Planner: You’ll need a Google account to use Google Keyword Planner, but then you’re all set to use this 100% free tool to track keyword volume. This handy tool shows a monthly volume range, for example 10k – 100k, as well as related searches and the level of competition.
Congrats! You’re a Keyword Research Pro
Did you feel that? Your keyword research knowledge has just been leveled up.
Now that you know what keywords to target, the next chapter will show you how to create content so irresistible and well optimised it satisfies Google’s algorithm – putting you on the first page of Google. And also satisfies search intent – putting your business in front of the right people.
Chapter #4: On-site Optimisation