The world of search engine optimization (SEO) has evolved so rapidly in the last couple of years, so much so that it's hard to keep up with the role keywords play.
In fact, since Google's RankBrain update years ago, many marketers have wondered if keywords are dead. The answer is simple – no.
Before RankBrain, you could simply sprinkle the right keywords in important areas of your content, like your URL, title, and throughout the copy, and expect to climb rankings in search. While those practices are still important to follow, the use of keywords is far different.
And so is keyword research.
Keyword Research in 2019
This is still a must for your SEO strategy because RankBrain simply evolved the way Google understands web content.
This algorithm uses machine learning to better understand the searcher's intent. Your audience's queries now go through an interpretation model, which factors in their location and other attributes to deliver personalized results based on their actual intent.
In other words, you can't just stuff keywords everywhere. Now, you need to create insightful, relevant content that specifically addresses your target audience's pain points and interests.
Researching keywords involves finding the words and phrases your target audience is using when they're entering queries into a search engine.
Your keyword research informs your content strategy because you can build a list of keywords you want to rank for and keywords your competitors are already ranking for. This is why keyword research tools are essential for any content marketer's toolkit.
To get your keyword research strategy up to speed, let's review six facts you need to know about keyword research in 2019:
6 Keyword Research Facts
1. Organic Traffic Is Still Valuable.
Organic search is one of the most coveted sources of traffic for companies. When someone searches for answers and you're the authority figure who helps them solve a problem, they're prone to not only remember you.
They will trust you and hopefully come back to you again and again.
The fact is that visitors from search who find the content they need from you can turn into leads if you continue delighting them. This is why search is still a vital part of your audience's overall experience – it might be their first impression of your brand.
The best way to generate more organic traffic is by outranking competitors and climbing to the top spot. Those coveted top rankings are coveted for far more than bragging rights.
The higher your ranking, the more likely readers will come visit your site. In fact, as Advance Web Ranking’s March 2018 research found, the first position on Google search results on desktop earned a whopping 30% click-through rate (CTR). The lower your rankings, the more your chances of earning clicks drops.
2. There Are Four Kinds of Keywords to Consider.
People generally use four different variations of keywords when they're using a search engine.
This kind of keyword search usually starts like a question because the searcher is need of tips, solutions, and insights on a specific challenge.
Let's say your ideal buyer works for a hospital, and your brand specializes in selling surgical supplies. Your audience might be searching an informational phrase, like "how do I budget for surgery supplies?"
Searchers often look for content on certain features or user reviews of a product or service. This kind of keyword search usually stems from the searcher wanted to navigate to a specific website, so they likely use a product or brand name.
In the case of the surgical supply company, their audience might be searching, "'brand name' dressing kit reviews."
This keyword search demonstrates that the searcher is ready to dive deeper in their research of their problem. In other words, they're ready to convert.
For the surgical supply company, searchers would use queries like, "how to maintain inventory of surgery supplies ebook."
At this point of the searcher's journey, they're likely ready to make a purchase, so these keywords and phrases include terms that indicate they're ready to buy. For example, they might be using words like "pricing," "subscription," or "buy."
The ideal audience of the surgical supply company would be using, "buy 'brand name' defibrillation product."
3. Your Research Is Never Truly Finished.
Just like all of your efforts in your SEO strategy, keyword research is a task you conduct on an ongoing basis. You can't just build your list of keywords and start creating content around that list without keeping up-to-date information.
Your list of target keywords will evolve and even grow over time, especially if your brand is branching out to new markets or introducing new offerings.
4. Long Tail Keywords Are Becoming Obsolete.
Before updates like RankBrain, you would have to optimize so many different webpages around super specific, longer form keywords. This would include a blog article centered on "best suction catheters for cheap" and another article optimized for "cheapest and best suction catheters."
Then, Google would rank each piece of content based on the long tail keyword associated with them. Fortunately, RankBrain understands how these terms are similar, so it ranks content pretty much the same way for both queries.
In short, trying to rank for different variations of a query with the same intent is becoming less of a necessity. Instead, you should find medium tail keywords that get a good amount of search volume without the high competition of shorter, more generic keywords.
5. Keywords Inform Your Topic Clustering Strategy.
This is the future of how organizations and marketers need to use what they find through their keyword research. It's important to think in terms of topic clusters.
Topic clustering is when you create a single pillar page that acts as a comprehensive resource covering a generic, overarching topic. Then, you create several other content pages that cover related subtopics of that pillar page and link them all together internally.
Bring your topic clustering and keyword research together to earn big SEO wins. Here's how to do this:
- List out five to 10 core problems that each of your buyer personas is experiencing.
- Translate these problems into broad topics, then within each topic bucket, list out subtopics that have a semantic relationship with the main topic.
- Research keywords and queries that relate to each topic cluster and subtopic to build a list of content marketing ideas.
- Map your content out to each buyer and their journey stage, and start creating and optimizing helpful content for each subtopic and topic.
The easiest way to make the most out of your topic cluster model is by using HubSpot's content strategy tool. It helps you visualize and build an internal linking strategy that connects pillars with cluster content.
6. Spying On Competitors Is Still Important.
How do you actually define success in your SEO efforts?
This is often uncovered when you're developing SMART goals for your marketing strategies. But part of measuring your success will likely be influenced by how well you're standing out amongst the market you're in.
This is where competitive intelligence tools come in handy. You need to use tools to track your rankings and how your rankings change over time in relation to your competitors.
This way, you can identify where you're gaining and losing ground and find opportunities to improve your content strategy. Your competitive intelligence reports should be part of your entire keyword research strategy because they influence one another. Ultimately, you need to know where and how you can get a leg up on the competition.
As SEO evolves, your approach to keyword research will need to keep pace. This is why it's so important to stay in the know on all things SEO in 2019 and beyond.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2016. It was updated in December 2018 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.