We’re going to explore what we mean when we say ‘keywords’, and think about some of the concepts to keep in mind when putting together our own list of keywords. So first things first, what are keywords?
What are keywords?
Keywords are the words and phrases that searchers enter into search engines, such as Google, to find the answers or information that they’re looking for.
Anything searched for on a search engine, whether a single word or a phrase, is considered a keyword. For example, if you were looking to buy a new pair of trainers, you might type something like ‘women’s black trainers’.
Keywords are important because they help your website to show up when people type them into search engines. For example, if you type into Google ‘how to do local keyword research’ BrightLocal appear at the top.
As a business owner or agency professional, you want the keywords on yours or your client’s web pages to be relevant to what people are searching for so you have a better chance of ranking higher in SERP results.
Most people have some idea of the keywords they want to rank for. But it’s impossible to know everything people search for. That’s why it pays to do some research to find more relevant keywords.
Defining keyword research
The definition of keyword research is:
“The process of discovering words and phrases that people use in search engines like Google, and determining which of these matter most for the objectives of a given website.”
We say ‘words and phrases’ because, as I mentioned earlier, when people search, their query strings typically include more than one word.
Using more words gives a search query more context, and allows Google to serve a set of results that are more relevant to the query.
Why keyword research is important
Keyword research is vital for successfully being found online.
It heavily impacts on-page SEO, as well as how pages are organized and shaped—or what we call the ‘information architecture’.
It also affects how you talk about your business, products, and services in both your offline and online marketing materials.
Keyword research can give you a great insight into your target audiences, your niche, your competitors, and also how your marketplace is changing.
Through conducting in-depth keyword research you’ll develop a detailed understanding of your potential customers and how they’re searching, what they’re searching for, the problems they’re looking to solve, and how you—and your products and services—can best meet their needs.
Google back then…
All searches performed by users start with a search query or search ‘string’—these are the words that you type into the search engine.
Back in the olden days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth (also known as the 1990s), when we optimized a web page for search engines we entered popular terms into the ‘meta keywords’ field.
At the time, search engines were dependent on this field to assess the relevance of a search query in relation to the content on a page, and meta keywords were a powerful ranking factor.
So, if you entered ‘donuts, best donuts, london, sprinkles, donut boxes’ into the keywords meta tag, Google would know that this page was about all of these things.
Of course, as more and more people created websites, the keyword meta tag became misused for the manipulation of rankings.
It became less important as time went on, and in 2009 Google finally confirmed that the meta keyword tag was no longer relevant for rankings.
…And Google today
Since 2012, Google representatives have been advising the search community to focus on “things, not strings”.
The key here is that Google is looking to better understand the context of the page, not just the content of the page. It wants to ‘understand the world a bit more like people do.’
These days, you still need to include relevant keywords on the page (and variations on those keywords, plurals, synonyms, related phrases, etc.) but it’s now also super important to understand searcher intent, to build your page around that intent, and recognize the importance of your website becoming an authoritative topical hub.
The context of search
We need to keep in mind that searcher behavior isn’t fixed and the queries people use, the length of those queries, and the context in which the searches are made is constantly changing. And because of this, keyword research is never a ‘one and done’ process.
Take for example the explosion of mobile search. Mobile devices now account for approximately half of web traffic worldwide, and Google asserts that a third of mobile searches are related to location.
Google coined the term ‘micro-moments’ to describe when people turn to their smartphones:
- I-want-to-know moments
- I-want-to-go moments
- I-want-to-do moments
- I-want-to-buy moments
Covid-19 has also affected what people search for and when, and the way in which they look for products and services. Shoppers aren’t just turning to Google for things they want to buy online, they’re also using Google to find out what is available nearby.
Google tells us that searches for local business have grown by more than 80% year over year, including searches for “near me” and “support local businesses”. And searches for “who has” + “in stock” have grown by more than 8,000% year on year!
Staying abreast of how world events affect search is essential for each and every business that wants to appear in the SERPs.
So that’s it for now. We’ve talked about what we mean when we say keyword and keyword research. We’ve talked about how important it is to understand searcher intent when we start to look at keywords. And we’ve talked about how various contexts affect how, where, and why people search.