1.6 billion live websites (and counting) – that’s how many sites search engines like Google have to sift through every time someone types in a phrase in the search field.
In a matter of seconds, the search engine trawls through millions of websites, collating a list of relevant sites for that person’s consideration. This exclusive, shortlist is referred to as the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and if you fail to make the cut, you’re out of the game before it even started.
But how do search engines decide what sites to display?
Search engines strive to provide users with the most relevant results possible and with so many websites on the internet, they need to have quite a sophisticated filing system.
When a new website or page is published online, search engines send out clever little bots to crawl through it and figure out what it’s about. They’re looking for typical search terms, or keyphrases, in the content, so they can file the page away under that term.
When someone then searches for that phrase, the search engine consults its index and displays a list of all the relevant sites. Your website’s position on this list is referred to as ‘ranking’.
What is a keyphrase?
A keyphrase is the combination of words people type into search engines to find information e.g. “Nike running shoes” or “SEO specialist Cornwall”.
These special phrases are the basis of all organic (unpaid) traffic via search engines and, with Google alone processing over 40,000 search queries every second, it’s critical you’re on the list for the right keyphrases.
Defining the phrases you want to rank for is known as keyphrase research, which is an in-depth, vital part of any SEO strategy and should be the foundation for all digital marketing.
What does keyphrase research involve?
Keyphrase research is hugely valuable and can provide significant returns if done correctly. It’s much more comprehensive than simply guessing what your target customers might search for.
Keyphrase research involves analysing and carefully selecting a set of optimum phrases to ensure your site ranks well, and appears in front of the right people.
Keyphrase selection can make or break even a state-of-the-art website, so it’s critical you do your research.
Using specialist tools, each keyphrase is analysed based on the following metrics:
- Search volume: How many times the keyphrase is typed into search engines per month.
- Difficulty: How plausible it is to rank for this term. If the first page is dominated by multinationals and news sites, it’s going to be very difficult to compete.
- Relevance: If a term is relevant to your site, company or product offering. For example, “running shoes junior” might be a highly searched phrase, but if your company only sells adult running shoes, it’s not relevant to your business.
- Intent: What are people actually looking for when they use this phrase? Going back to our example, “trainers” is a highly searched phrase, but people could be looking for running shoes, personal trainers, fitness equipment, dog trainers to name just a few. If you’re selling running shoes, there is little value in ranking for this term as, even if it brings traffic to your site, the conversion will be low as a percentage of your visitors weren’t looking for running shoes in the first place.
Another reason it’s important to analyse user intent is to capture traffic at different stages of the buying cycle. Someone searching for “running shoes” is probably just researching, whereas someone looking for “Nike running shoes size 9” is ready to buy. Content can be developed to capture traffic from both these routes.
Choosing the right keyphrases
To create that all-important list of keyphrases you want to rank for, you need a holistic approach.
Firstly, you need to understand your current position. What do you rank for and what’s the search volumes of these terms? Are these the most relevant keyphrases? It’s important to understand whether you need to improve your rank or change the keyphrase focus of your content.
You also need to look at your competitors to understand what they rank for. If they rank for the same phrases as you but higher, you can benchmark their content to decide if yours could be improved. If they’re ranking for different phrases, you need to understand the search volume, relevance and intent associated with those phrases as they might represent new sources of traffic for your site.
Above all, you need to get inside the head of your target consumer, trying to anticipate what they might look for and what language they could use.
At each stage of the buying cycle, people will be searching for different things. If you put yourself in their shoes, preempting what they’re looking for, you can use these keyphrases to open up new traffic streams to your site.
You also need to analyse the language people use. Your keyphrases should cover related words and synonyms e.g. running shoes, trainers and sneakers even, so that you capture all of that relevant traffic.
It’s also important to understand if search trends have changed over time. What’s the current way of referring to something? For example, we used to talk about ‘internet marketing’, but nowadays it’s much more commonly referred to as ‘digital marketing’.
Long tail keyphrases
The highest volume keyphrases online are generally 1-2 word terms like “trainers”, “running shoes” or “SEO”. It’s easy to be seduced by the volume of searches, but these broad, generic terms are highly competitive and have a relatively low conversion rate. The good news is, they actually only make up about 30% of the searches performed online.
The other 70% of searches are for more specific terms like “mens Nike red running shoes”, and there’s a lot more value in focussing on these keyphrases as they capture people further into the buying cycle when they are preparing to buy. As demonstrated in the below infographic, the more specific the keyphrase, the more likely you are to convert, although the search volume will be lower.
What’s more, as these keyphrases are more specific, there’s less competition in the SERP and it’s much easier to rank.
Research suggests that click-through rates are higher for long tail keyphrases too, as they allow search engines to show more relevant results.
The importance of keyphrase research
Keyphrases should be the foundation for all digital marketing. That’s how people look for businesses, products and information at all stages of the buying cycle, so if you’re not using them correctly you can’t drive traffic, online sales or return on investment.
With the right keyphrase research, you can optimise your content to ensure you rank highly in the SERP and have a better chance of getting a click-through. It also highlights areas for content development in the form of new pages on your website or blog posts so that your site can rank for a wider range of keyphrases and capture more traffic.
It also means the traffic you get is better quality and more relevant. Giving you the best possible chance of conversion.
Moreover, keyphrase research is actually market research. In order to do it well, you need to extensively examine your own position, your competitors’, the market and your target consumer. This level of analysis can quite often highlight opportunities for development and give you an insight into consumer demands. For example, you can see who is the most searched for brand and benchmark yourself against them. Or if you notice you don’t sell the top searched for product, you could adapt your offering.
Knowing the top ranking players in the SERP can also spark ideas for collaboration and highlight backlinks providers, which are also critical SEO strategies.
Keyphrase research shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s actually one of the most important steps to any online marketing, particularly SEO, and it’s not as simple as it first seems. To do it well takes a combination of specialist tools, industry experience and tested methods.
Solve-ing your SEO through keyphrase research
At Solve, we want our clients to succeed, and the success of any SEO strategy depends on the quality of the keyphrase research. Our specialist team of geeks and geekesses use a combination of market-leading tools, proven experience and a little Solve magic to ensure all of our activities are based on thorough keyphrases research. And our methods really work – we’ve improved the ranking for hundreds of businesses, some by as much as 25,000%! But don’t just take our word for it, check out what our previous clients say on Google.
If you need help to solve your SEO, get in touch to see how we can help.