Does Keyword Research Even Matter Anymore?

keywords

Keyword research. I’m sure you’ve done it before.

You probably know what it’s like to use keyword research tools and come up with lists of keywords to track and rank for. I’ve done it dozens of times myself. Why? Because it’s one of those “standard practices” that we do in SEO and online marketing.

But search engines today aren’t looking only at keywords! Search engines are looking at hundreds of different factors. And keywords? They are only a small part of the big picture.

Don’t get me wrong. I think keyword research is still important.

But here’s the thing…

Keyword research isn’t the only aspect you need to be researching when optimizing a website or planning your content marketing.

I want you to go a level deeper—to the level that users are searching for and search engines are indexing for.

I’m going to share with you three ways to go beyond basic keyword research. Although keyword research should still be a part of your SEO, it’s only the start.

I’m confident that these advanced research methods will add rocket fuel to your marketing, attract targeted traffic, earn valuable links, and ultimately boost your revenue.

I will explain in detail how to use each of these powerful research methods.

First of all, let me preface this by revealing something you may not know about Google: the algorithm changes 500-600 times per year.

That’s a rate of nearly 1.5 changes a day!

Even with all the marketing ability I’ve developed running my various businesses, I can’t hope to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the Google search algorithm and its machine learning. Odds are, neither can you.

So, now that you understand the why, let’s dive into the how. This is how we do keyword research in today’s world.

1. User intent

One of the biggest mistakes I see many newbie online entrepreneurs make is that they focus too much on the specific keywords in their research without focusing enough on user intent behind those keywords.

You may be thinking, “Neil, what is user intent, and how do I use it to improve the traffic and conversions on my site?”

User intent is just what it sounds. User intent refers to the user’s ultimate goal in typing a search query.

Let me make a quick point about the terms I am using.

  • Keywords: A targeted phrase you’re trying to rank for. You do keyword research. You use this phrase in your content, making sure it appears in all the right places.
  • Query: The phrase or words that a user types into Google. This could be a short phrase, a question, or just a string of words the user is typing.

I try to keep those two terms—keywords and query—straight, but sometimes I use them interchangeably.

As SEOs, we tend to focus on keywords, right? That’s what we want to rank for, obviously.

But users don’t care about our keywords. They just want to get the best result for their query.

And that’s my point: every query has an intent. Every time someone types something into Google, they are trying to accomplish something. They have a goal.

For example, when I am up late at night watching Gossip Girls reruns and I Google “Chinese food,” my user intent is to order some Chinese food.

And guess what? Google knows this. And, voila, this is exactly what comes up!

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However, if I change the wording ever so slightly, typing “great Chinese food” instead of “Chinese food,” what appears is quite different.

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By simply changing one word, I shifted the intent of my search from ordering Chinese food to finding great Chinese meals and restaurants in a given area.

See the difference? Sure, the difference involves a change in wording. But the deeper change was one of intent.

Google gets it. The whole search engine is designed to deliver really good results based on the user’s intent.

Check out this video from Google. User intent is the whole reason why Google spends hundreds of millions of dollars to refine its algorithms and enhance its machine learning process.

If the search engine is that focused on user intent, we should be as well.

So, how can you use this to improve your keyword research?

You have to take advantage of user intent to understand which keywords you should try to rank for.

Basically, you need to understand the user’s goal when they input certain queries.

Let me give you another example.

See if you can figure out the intent behind this query: “order a birthday cake”

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Pretty straightforward, right?

If this “order a birthday cake” was one of your target keyword phrases, you should understand that the user’s intent is to order a birthday cake.

The great thing about user intent is that it becomes far easier to figure it out as the query becomes longer.

Long queries are really valuable for two reasons:

  • We can identify exactly what the user wants and give it to them.
  • We can gain targeted organic traffic for super-specific long-tail keywords.

Double whammy!

Let me show you exactly what I mean by expanding that “order a birthday cake” query.

Most users don’t simply want to order a birthday cake. They want to order a specific type of cake, for a specific type of person, in a specific location, for a specific purpose, and at a specific time.

See where this is going?

Take a look at this doozy of a query:

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How’s that for user intent?

You can use this super-focused intent to create super-focused content!

For this query, you know that:

  • Someone wants to order a cake…
  • for a girl…
  • who is probably between 4 and 10 years old.
  • They don’t want to make the cake themselves.
  • They want it delivered to their venue.
  • And they live in the Atlanta, Georgia, area.
  • Most likely, it’s a mom, dad, or party planner who’s typing in this query.
  • They probably have a limited amount of time on their hands. They’re busy.
  • They live with or know about children and understand what children like.

I could go on and on.

This is the level of keyword research that you want to do. You’re not just spinning a bunch of variations from some keyword tool. Instead, you’re diving into the reasons, the motivations, and the desires of the user.

We could even sketch a persona based on that keyword and then target that persona in our marketing efforts.

Kelly is a 33-year-old working mom. She has a 3-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter who turns 6 on August 2. Kelly loves her kids but isn’t able to spend much time with them because of her demanding job as a paralegal in downtown Atlanta. Kelly wants to surprise her daughter with a special birthday party with a princess theme.

You might not be able to achieve this level of research for every keyword, but you can at least get a general idea of the general intent of your target audience.

Basically, if you know why a user is looking up a certain keyword, you will be able to determine what keywords you want to use on your website and in your content.

Using my first example, if you were a Chinese takeout restaurant, you would want to rank for “Chinese food,” “order Chinese food,” or “Chinese takeout.” Ideally, you would also try to rank for local terms such as “Chinese takeout downtown Las Vegas.”

However, if you ran a Chinese recipe niche site, you might try to rank for “great Chinese food,” “awesome Chinese recipes,” or something similar.

2. Search query type

Another important element of diving deeper into keyword research is understanding search queries and search query type.

As I explained above, a query is what a user types into Google. A keyword is what you’re trying to rank for.

Let me show you a keyword and a query example so you can clearly see the difference.

Keyword: Men’s skinny jeans

Query: Where to buy men’s skinny jeans

Do you see the difference?

The keyword is a relatively straightforward term. The query, however, is more specific because the user wants to accomplish something (user intent—as discussed above).

But there’s another remarkable thing about those queries.

Whenever you are doing keyword research, try to understand what kind of queries lend themselves to people hitting the “buy now” button.

It’s really important because if you could figure out the types of queries that lead people to purchase immediately, you would be able to get more sales.

And if you could figure out the queries that pulled people into the top of your funnel, you’d be able to structure an amazing content marketing campaign.

Here is the good news: you can find that out, and you can structure your content marketing around those types of queries.

Here’s how.

There are three basic types of queries:

  1. Informational
  2. Transactional
  3. Navigational

Let me explain each of these so we can get clear on how to target each one:

  1. Informational searches are pretty easy to figure out. The user wants to get information on a certain topic. For example, “how to structure a content marketing campaign” is an informational query.
  2. Transactional searches mean that the user is trying to buy something or transact in some way. “Buy skinny jeans online,” “order flowers las vegas,” or “whole foods coupon” are all transactional queries.
  3. Navigational searches take place when the user is trying to get to a specific website but doesn’t remember or doesn’t want to type in the URL. For example, if I wanted to visit the Men’s Health website, I would search for “mens health” or “mens health mag” rather than typing “http://www.menshealth.com/” into my search bar.

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Nearly every query fits into one of these three types.

What’s even better is that nearly every query has a specific position in the marketing funnel.

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Make sure you understand, of course, that most search traffic is informational.

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In other words, you’ll be gaining most of your leads in the top of the funnel through informational queries.

Informational queries build awareness and aid the user’s consideration, just like the marketing funnel predicts.

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Let me share an example now so you can see how to apply this information to your content marketing and SEO strategies.

Say you are selling men’s skinny jeans and trying to decide which keywords to try to rank for.

Some possibilities:

  • Men’s skinny jeans
  • Top men’s skinny jeans
  • Skinny jeans men’s style
  • Best men’s skinny jeans
  • Distressed men’s skinny jeans
  • Hipster men’s skinny jeans

Now comes the important part of understanding the search query.

If you were an e-commerce store that sold men’s skinny jeans, the keywords you would try to rank for would be very different from the ones you would target if you were running a blog on men’s fashion and writing an article on why skinny jeans are appalling.

This is the difference between informational and transactional search queries.

Basically, you want to research search queries related to your industry to discover new keywords you can try to rank for.

Let’s say you are selling men’s skinny jeans. You want transactional queries. Looking at the different search queries, you will notice that common keywords that pop up are:

  • Men’s skinny jeans sale
  • Men’s skinny jeans online shopping
  • Men’s stretch skinny jeans

Within an e-commerce environment, it’s important to understand the specific nature of a user’s transactional query. They might be looking for sizes, features, and specific product types.

Most e-commerce search functionality offers support for “non-product” queries but has limited ability in allowing “subjective” queries.

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By enhancing keyword support in the most relevant areas of your e-commerce website, you’ll be able to gain organic traffic to those internal pages where the user is prepared to transact.

If, on the other hand, you run a fashion blog and are writing that article on men’s skinny jeans, you might find search queries like these:

  • Fashion blog men’s skinny jeans and boots
  • Men’s skinny jeans outfits
  • Men’s skinny jeans
  • Spring outfits men’s skinny jeans

As you can see, all these queries contain the keyword phrase “men’s skinny jeans,” but the secondary keywords you should try to rank for will change based on the user intent behind the search query.

By knowing which queries you are targeting, you will be able to come up with a more targeted list of keywords to try to rank for.

Plus, the keywords will result in greater conversions of your visitors into either blog subscribers or buyers.

3. Demographic research

The third and final part of keyword research is demographic keyword research.

You know about demographics, right?

Demographic research is a powerful marketing tool. You can use the information you gain in your demographic research to target specific types of people.

You’ve probably seen sample personas like this one:

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Most personas contain demographic data:

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In the persona above, it’s helpful to know that Brandi…

  • is a female
  • is 36
  • lives in the LA area
  • makes 38k a year
  • has narrow feet

Personas affect everything in marketing.

Personas affect keywords too.

Let me show you how.

Let’s say your target demographic is men ages 18-35 looking to lose weight.

However, you’ve chosen to target the keyword “easy fat loss.”

What you may find is that the majority of people searching for “easy fat loss” are women 30-45. (I’m just using this as an example, so this assumption may or may not be true.)

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Thankfully, there are several excellent tools you can use for keyword demographic research, including Microsoft’s AdCenter Labs, Keyword Discovery, and, of course, the AdWords’ Keyword Planner.

Some of these tools, such as Keyword Discovery, are particularly structured to enable demographic keyword research.

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The more you can segment and analyze your data, the better you will become at identifying demographic keyword trends.

A report like the one below, for example, alerts you to the fact that men and women between the ages of 35 to 54 search for “oscars” at specific times of day.

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The demographic information behind some queries is obvious.

  • Men’s skinny jeans. The demographic is most likely young men.
  • Amazon books for teenage girls. This demographic could be either a teenage girl or the parent of a teenage girl.
  • Best foods for pregnancy. Probably a mom-to-be.

By using the right research tools and figuring out which queries your ideal demographic is typing, you’ll be able to be more precise about the keywords you try to rank for.

Here’s a parting word of advice about demographics: narrow it down.

We would all like to think that our product is good for everybody. However, if you can identify your ideal client and demographic and really capitalize on this, making sure every keyword you rank for is something that demographic is searching for, you’ll have a higher conversion rate than if you went too broad with your keywords.

Specific, long-tail queries will draw in the specific and eager customers you want to attract.

Conclusion

Here is what you need to know: Keyword research still matters. It is an integral part of any successful online business.

But basic keyword research on its own will not get your as far as you need to go with your online marketing! Your standard practice of typing a few phrases into Google Keyword Planner and exporting the list into your tracking software isn’t how it’s done anymore.

You have to be willing to dive deeper into your research to uncover the who, what, and why of each of your keywords.

If you can go beyond the basics, you will improve your marketing success.

I’d love to hear about any innovative strategies you know that take keyword research to an advanced level. What methods do you use to go beyond basic keyword research?