Written by Fani Sánchez
Table of contents
Any search engine optimisation strategy begins with a keyword research and the definition of a list of terms. These terms represent the concepts, which we want our customers to identify us with, and what we want Google to rank us for. It’s important that we choose them carefully. A wrong choice of keywords would make us centre our efforts into terms that will not give us the desired profitability.
Where do I start, though?
Don’t worry, there is a methodology, and in this post we are going to explore the aspects to keep in mind before we dive into the keyword research. We’ll need to rely on a great deal of empathy, and being perfectly familiar with our target audience to fully get into it.
All prior aspects to keyword research are tightly linked, and they require us to have a great deal of empathy and being perfectly familiar with our target audience.
Defining our target
The first thing we need defined before starting with the research and selection of keywords is to know who our target audience is. When a user looks up something on any type of search engine (information, products, services), they are impulsed by a motivation or a clear necessity. There are different user profiles, though, and each of them, depending on their context, will search in their own way.
We propose to conduct an exercise of defining personas to represent our target audience, so that we can identify goals, motivations, desires, and limitations for each target subtype. This phase will heavily rely on a deep empathy exercise.
Different user profiles
The target audience of a website or business, there can be –and there are– multiple profiles with:
- Different needs.
- Different purchase motivations.
- Different stages in purchase decision.
- Different socioeconomic backgrounds.
- Different degrees of familiarity with the service or product.
Let’s see this with an example. If we’re talking about a user who wants to buy a mobile phone, but is a “noob” in that respect, they may look for “the best mobile phones” or “latest smartphone models”. If they are knowledgeable in the subject, however, they might look for things like “smartphones with 12mpx camera” or “quad core smartphone”, or any other more specific formula, which highlights their knowledge of what they want. If we go for an even more expert user, someone who is a frequent consumer of this type of products or services, they will most likely look for specific brands and products, such as “Samsung Galaxy 4 price” or “Buy Xperia Z3”.
Branded keywords and search terms
It is also convenient to consider some branded terms, especially if our brand competes with vertical search engines such as Trivago, Tripadvisor or Booking. Vertical search engines are search engines specialising in a specific market niche (hotels and flights, holiday packages, restaurants…)
If vertical search engines are present in your industry, keep in mind that you will have to compete with them for branded search terms
For example, if I have a “X” restaurant, I will have to consider “X restaurant reviews” as a search term, or if I have a “Y” hotel, I will have to consider search queries like “Book a room in Y hotel”, or “Y Hotel prices”.
Anticipatory searches correspond to the first stage of the conversion funnel: the moment of discovery.
Anticipatory search queries are conditioned by the conversion funnel stage they belong to: the moment of discovery is the first stage.
These searches can be very generic or very specific. They are frequently used to outline the content strategy of a website, suggesting topics of interest for our target audience.
Some anticipatory search terms examples:
- If we’re planning a trip: romantic destinations, rural getaways, holidays with kids…
- If we’re thinking of buying a car: low consumption cars, best car brands…
It’s also important to keep in mind that on many occasions, the words our customers use to look us up are not the same ones we use to name our services.
Being experts in our field can make us forget the customer’s perspective, and we may end up forgetting that our professional language usually won’t match theirs.
We must remember that we are writing and optimising for people, who may or may not understand the professional terms or “big words” we use to describe things. They may sound nifty to us, but they won’t make us look better, especially if our audience is not familiar with them.
The better our terms match the search queries our prospects are likely to type, the more users will arrive to our website. And they will be users who are really searching what we offer, and so they will bring in high-quality traffic with a high conversion potential.
We have to be emphatic, and step into our prospective customers’ shoes, no matter how big, flat, uncomfortable or different to ours. We’ll think of ways they can look for our services. When defining our target, we must be capable of distancing ourselves from our own perceptions and personal opinions, and that is a much more common trend that it seems.
Are we focussing on an experienced or inexperienced audience? Is their search motivation to find a solution to a problem? Are they looking up their symptoms? These are just some of the questions we should ask ourselves to create our list.
The available tools are just a foothold: for this task, the advisable thing to do is talk to loyal customers, organise focus groups encouraging participation, survey the customer service staff for information, or even just ask family and friends how they’d look for our services.
Keywords to match our content
The list of selected keywords should match our website’s current content, or we can create content for that to happen. Otherwise, the situation will be comparable to a physical store advertising products or services they don’t actually have. The result of this situation can be easily extrapolated to the online world: the user is attracted by this “false” advertising (keywords without correspondence), they enter the store (website), don’t find what they’re looking for, they feel deceived or frustrated, and then they leave. And not just that, as they probably won’t ever step foot in your shop ever again.
The chosen keywords should match the real offer and content of your website as much as possible.
We can also choose keywords for which we are capable of creating content. For example, imagine you have a shoe shop, but for the time being, you don’t sell flip flops. If at the moment of conducting your keyword research you run into these terms and/or interesting derivatives, you could consider the possibility of adding flip flops to your product catalogue, and create a new category that is dedicated and optimised to the just-discovered formulas.
We can also introduce very long tail terms to further develop our content strategy on our blog: “how to combine heels and dresses” or “what shoes to wear for a wedding”.
Polysemy and ambiguity in terms
There are polysemous words, i.e. with various meanings, which without context can lead to confusion.
For example, if we have an electronics shop where we sell computers and accessories for them, we will very likely have “mice”. But not the cute little animal with fur and tiny whiskers people may have as a pet. A computer mouse, more like. So when we attempt to rank for this term, we might want to specify it, just in case, to avoid any confusion, and disambiguate this polysemy using “computer mouse”, “pc mouse”, “laptop mouse”, “gaming mouse”, “wireless mouse”, etc. or their equivalent in plural, regardless of whether or not they have traffic potential.
With the user’s language context we are referring to languages, which experience certain variations depending on the geographic and cultural context they are used in. For example, people in Spain don’t use the same Spanish as people in Argentina or Mexico do. Same thing happens with English-speaking users, who may use certain different terms and expressions depending on whether they live in the United Kingdom or the US. Both speak English, but each with their respective variations.
To get your target audience’s language context right, use the Google AdWords Keyword Planner, paired with a market study of your competition within the country you want to position your business.
To go through with this task there are tools, which will suggest you terms based on the selected country, like the Keyword Planner from Google AdWords. However, the thing that will help you the most is to carry out a market study. Find your local competition and examine the keywords they use on their website, because they are very likely way ahead of you in that respect.
It seemed easy… right?
User motivation, needs and expertise is reflected on our keywords from many angles: combinations based on branded terms or product name, on the solution or target goal, focussed on the end consumer, decision-maker or buyer; experienced or inexperienced users… If we consider them all during our keyword research, it will most certainly be easier to connect with our target audience.
Our success will notably depend on getting to know how our prospects look for our services, to rank for similar search combinations, making the access to our products easier for them.