Keyword Research Process
Choosing the right keywords is the last piece needed for the foundation of your B2B marketing strategy. Keywords establish a data-driven direction for marketing initiatives, help relevant buyers who are actively searching for solutions like yours find you, and if done correctly, enhance your brand visibility online.
Keyword research accomplishes a number of important objectives for your strategy:
Tells you exactly which keywords people are actively searching for online
Helps you identify relevant content opportunities that could enable you to rank higher on search engines for relevant search queries
Allows more precise targeting for paid advertisements and organic search engine optimization (SEO) strategies
You may already have a perception of how someone would search for your product online, but you shouldn’t only rely on your own knowledge or assumptions to make decisions about keywords. Instead, you should be able to back up your conclusions about the keywords you target and the intent behind them with hard data about how searchers use them.
A Step-by-Step Guide
Broad keywords vs. long-tail keywords
Going back to our CRM platform for SMBs example, you could choose to target “CRM” as a keyword for your new platform. But this strategy most likely won’t be an effective use of your SEO efforts and ad budget.
Targeting broad keywords like “CRM” is a risky strategy for a couple of reasons:
Search intent: What are people looking for when they search “CRM” on Google? You can’t really know for sure. They could be looking for a definition, they could be researching the history behind the technology, or they could be looking for a new platform that’s nothing like yours. Even if you were able to rank for this broad keyword, your efforts would be wasted on too many users who are unlikely to ever buy from you.
Instead of casting a wide net with broad keywords, we suggest targeting many long-tail keywords in order to have a better chance at ranking higher and appearing in more relevant searches.
Long-tail keywords are phrases typically containing 3 or more words that target a more niche segment of searchers. Long-tail keywords are usually searched less frequently than broad ones, but they are generally easier to rank for and can help you get your message in front of the right people.
Start with a long list of keywords that you believe are related to your product then reverse engineer those search terms, adjusting them through research to better align with how consumers use search engines to find solutions like yours.
Thanks to all that research you’ve done about your ideal customers by this point, you should have at least some guesses about which qualifiers are most applicable to your product or company. For the best results, avoid broad search terms like “CRM” and instead target a long-tail keyword like “CRM software for small businesses.”
Qualifiers are words that further describe a keyword. Searchers use them to narrow down what they’re looking for from an online search. For example, “for small business” is a qualifier of your hypothetical CRM platform because searchers using the phrase are most likely not interested in enterprise solutions.
There are a few free and inexpensive tools we recommend for keyword research starting out. We’ll begin with the end-all-be-all king of the search engines: Google.
Using Google for keyword research
The best free keyword research tool out there is Google search itself, which provides real-time insight about which long-tail keywords are actively being searched.
When initially building your long list of keywords, head to the Google homepage to see exactly what people are searching via the search field’s auto-complete function.
As you begin to type your broad search term, you’ll see a drop-down list of suggested searches. You can tell from the screenshots above that the suggestions get more specific as your search term does, allowing you to build a large list of long-tail keywords.
There are a few hypotheses we can make about the search terms that appear under “CRM software:”
“CRM software meaning”is likely a search performed by someone looking for a definition with little intent on making a purchase soon
“CRM software reviews” is a search likely performed by someone further along in the sales funnel looking for information on specific products in order to make a more informed decision, but the term may not apply directly to your product page
“CRM software for small business” might be a search done by someone in the awareness, consideration, or decision stages looking for CRM software that aligns with their specific needs
The related searches at the bottom of the search engine results page (SERP) and the expandable “people also ask” section can be helpful during this process as well. As you look through these suggested keywords, you can make some inferences about the search intent behind each one.
It’s also important to look at the SERPs of the keywords you’re interested in to see what type of pages are ranking for both the organic search results and paid ads.
This tells you what kind of content, relevant to the keyword results, is valued by Google, as Google generally ranks pages based off of positive user interaction.
Looking at the results can confirm or disprove your assumptions about search intent, as well as inspire future ideas for relevant content. This practice should also help you to better understand the user search intent, as you can see what information best satisfies their search.
Once you have your list of long-tail keywords suggestions, it’s time to narrow down the list to the most valuable keywords for your particular page.
Using Moz to determine keyword value
Capturing as much attention as possible with your keywords is the goal, but you want to make sure you’re getting attention from the right people. Keep in mind that while “CRM software” may be searched 120,000 times in a month, the 850 searches performed for “CRM software for small business” will get you closer to your potential buyers.
Moz is a reliable resource for learning about specific long-tail keywords, as opposed to other tools (like Google Keyword Planner) which focus their search metrics for broader keyword categories.
We use Moz to measure several important factors about long-tail keywords:
Search volume: How many times the specific keyword is searched monthly
Difficulty: How difficult it is to rank higher than competitors for the same keyword
Organic click-through rate (CTR): Estimates the percentage of clicks available to organic search results compared to other search elements like ads and snippets
Priority: Combines the other 3 metrics to identify ideal keywords that have high search volumes and CTR with low difficulty to rank
Search volume is one of the primary indicators that a certain keyword is worth pursuing. But in order to reach your most relevant buyers, you need to analyze how the other metrics can help or hurt your targeting.
A keyword might have a high search volume but is nearly impossible to rank for and/or doesn’t provide enough opportunity for actual clicks. On the flip side, you might easily rank for a keyword, but there just isn’t enough search volume to make any impact.
It helps to lay all of these metrics out in a single table to determine which keywords are worth pursuing:
Notice in this analysis that we use our own metric: intent. We don’t rely too heavily on Moz’s default priority metric but instead prioritize the inherent search intent associated with each keyword. Our search intent metric is based on an arbitrary but consistent scale from 1 to 10.
In our analysis, keywords that have a difficulty under 50, a score of 5 or above for intent, and a score above 50 for CTR and priority are the ones we consider ideal.
You should look for the sweet spot where you find a large enough search volume, CTR, and search intent paired with a low enough amount of competition. Luckily, Moz offers a free trial to get you started with your own keyword research.
Using SEMrush to outrank your competitors
When it comes to understanding how to outrank your competitors, you need to take a deep dive into those other companies’ keyword efforts and see what is and isn’t working for them in the search results. SEMrush is one practical tool for investigating competitor’s SEO strategies.
With SEMrush, you can find a considerable amount of information about:
Competitors’ website traffic analytics
Keywords they rank for
Pages on competitors’ websites that bring in the most visitors
Their text and display ads
Which keywords lead to which of their pages
The information you gather from SEMrush helps you complete another important part of your keyword research: an SEO competitive analysis.
Moz has their own guide for performing a competitive analysis, but essentially, this analysis allows you to compare your competition’s SEO standing against your own. The competitive analysis helps you identify gaps in your keyword strategy, as well as link building opportunities that give your site more authority and increase your reach.