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Why keyword discovery needs to be the centre of your SEO strategy

No, you haven’t travelled back in time – it’s 2019, Axl and Slash are sharing a stage again and keywords are still important in your SEO strategy.

What a time to be alive.

True, the keyword has had a rough time of it  – its death has been proclaimed from on high by many a marketing guru. However, we’re here to tell you to put the handkerchiefs away – keywords are going nowhere fast.

To prove it, in this article I’ll counter some of the ‘keywords are redundant’ arguments. I’ll also examine the benefits of good keyword research, and show you some tools for generating your own.

hy keyword discovery needs to be the centre of your SEO strategy

Aren’t keywords dead?

If you’ve read one of the gazillion articles out there about the post-keyword-apocalypse world we apparently live in, it’s likely that at least one of the following reasons were given for the keyword’s untimely ‘demise’:

1. Algorithmic updates

Google has undergone several algorithmic changes in recent years, but the most important from a keyword perspective was Google Penguin.

Penguin sought to bring law and order to what was a wild west world of keyword mayhem. Its aim was to lower the ranking of websites that engaged in manipulative link schemes and/or keyword stuffing.

Keyword stuffing was the unnatural repetition of certain target words or phrases in order to perform well when users Googled these terms. This isn’t good to read and doesn’t provide the searcher with real value – so Google decided it needed to go.

What this means for you now

This doesn’t mean keywords are dead – they’re still crucial signposts that help match your content to a user’s intent. Penguin simply requires us marketers to use them with a little more intelligence.

What Google intended to do with Penguin was to say, ‘Don’t write for us, write for your readers’ – meaning that keywords are deployed naturally, rather than shoe-horned in at every opportunity. Infinitely achievable.

2. Ambiguous analytics

In a now far-off fairytale time, Google Analytics used to provide detailed data on top keyword drivers for every site – cue heaven’s choir.

However, in 2010 Google began quietly removing this information – cue sad violin. At the time this was touted as the beginning of the end for keywords, but here, again, the gun was prematurely jumped.

Sure, we lost a valuable way of tracking our keywords, but the validity of the terms themselves was left untouched. People were still searching in the same way, and Google still used these queries to find relevant content

3. The growth of voice search

One advance that has changed how we search is the growth of voice activation. By 2020, it’s predicted that 50 per cent of searches will be conducted through speech as opposed to typing, according to Comscore.

The trend towards voice search has had two interesting impacts on how we search:

  • We waffle more – It seems we all like the sound of our own voices. Data from Google shows that 70 per cent of queries to its Assistant use ‘natural’ language, as opposed to traditional, shorter keyword phrases.
  • We leave out significant keywords – Google Assistant is able to string searches together and use context to work out what you’re looking for. Take a look at this example used by Search Engine Journal:

Does this means that keywords are dead? It’s still a no from me. We simply need to consider them in the same way that voice search does – i.e. in conjunction with each other, not in a vacuum.

Benefits of good keyword research

Okay, so we’ve brought Lazarus back from the dead. Now, what can he do for us?

The title of this article focuses on the centrality of keywords in SEO strategy, and for good reason. They’re far more than just signals for Google (though they’re damn good for that) – as we’ll see here:

Gaining a better understanding of your customers

Much like Voldemort and his horcruxes, your customers give away a little bit of themselves every time they create a search. It’s your job to defeat them and claim the Elder Wand for yourself put these clues together and build a holistic picture of your target market.

By conducting thorough keyword research you can answer questions like: What makes my customers tick? What are their pain points? How can I provide the value they seek? Even better, by analysing the wording they use, you can adapt the tone and style of your website content to speak their language.

Keyword discovery, therefore, becomes a crucial part of creating user personas – essential documents that will inform much of your future marketing efforts.

Planning your content

Using a strategy to create a strategy, how … strategic.

I promise I’m not trying to overcomplicate things – a great keyword strategy can help you plan your content to achieve maximum impact.

The search terms your target market is using will show you where they are in the sales funnel. Have they already expressed an explicit interest in a product or service that you provide, or are they simply looking for some inspiration?

Meeting this intent head on, with tailored, compelling content means you’ll have a better chance of your website ending up in front of their eyes, as opposed to your competition’s.

Making your editorial better

When it comes to editorial, many people think that keywords are simply there to tell you what subjects to cover to improve your ranking.

Not true.

Ever heard of cornerstone content? The guys at Yoast SEO sum this concept up well, describing cornerstone content as “usually relatively long, informative articles, combining insights from different blog posts and covering everything that’s important about a certain topic.”

Keyword research really comes into its own here. It allows you to group common search terms around a topic, and create one comprehensive piece that sets out to answer them all.

Let’s take this article as an example. I’m working off something we at Castleford call a Search Performance Brief (SPB) – this super handy guide gives me all kinds of useful info based on research by our strategy team.

I can’t give away too much of our secret source, but by jumping through as many of these hoops as possible I have a better chance of creating a high-ranking piece of content about which minstrels will sing songs for centuries to come.

Getting noticed

Last, but certainly not least – keywords help you get found.

No matter if you’re trying to sell tea to pensioners or chatbots to banks – you need to be heard above the din that is the modern digital world.

This is why we all care about keywords in the first place, right? They’re signposts that point people to you, getting your brand and services in front of users at the very moment they’re looking for what you’re offering.

How to generate keywords

Keywords are generally sorted into one of two categories: short tail or long tail.

Short tail keywords consist of one or two words, and aren’t highly specific. For example, ‘keyword discovery’.

Long tail keywords are (shockingly) longer terms (a minimum of three words) that target a more distinct niche – e.g. ‘why is keyword discovery important for SEO strategy’.

Which should I be targeting?

The short answer is long tail – they account for 70 per cent of monthly searches for a reason (Moz). Here’s why:

  • There’s less competition: More specific terms have fewer people searching for them, meaning that your content has a better chance of ranking higher up the search engine results page (SERP).
  • You’ll be targeting the right people: General terms are likely to attract traffic from people who aren’t interested in your particular offering. Be picky with your keyword selection so Google can match your business with the most qualified searchers.
  • People (and the algorithm) want you to: People tend to type (or speak) as they think – i.e. in sentences, not two-word outbursts. The Google Hummingbird update sought to mirror this in the search algorithm by matching exact phrasings more frequently.
Long tail keywords can help you cut through the competition and find your niche.

Dive deep to find those long tail keywords.


The trick is finding the sweet spot between traffic and competition. You don’t want to be so niche that no one ever searches your chosen term, but competing for highly sought after keywords is obviously more difficult.

Sound tough? Fear not – heaps of tools exist to help you find keywords that will boost your site’s SEO performance. Here we’ll look at four of our favourites:

1. Moz’s Keyword Explorer

Moz is an SEO heavyweight, thanks largely to the great range of tools it offers. Keyword Explorer is a fine example of this, presenting an easy-to-use (and free!) mechanism for finding keywords galore.

It boasts a 95 per cent accuracy rate when predicting the search volume of a term, and allows you to target long tail keywords posed in the form of questions. As we’ve seen, this is particularly important in light of Google Hummingbird and the increasing prevalence of voice search.

2. Google Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner allows you to get info from the very beast you’re trying to placate. While designed for search ad campaigns, its insights can be used for organic content too – after all, when users search, they don’t specify whether they see paid or free results.

All you need to do is plug in a few phrases important to your business, and you’ll be able to determine the competition and traffic that each receives.

3. SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool

With over 9.4 billion keywords in its database and covering 118 countries, SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool takes a comprehensive approach to search term research.

A particularly useful function of this tool is SERP Features. This gives you insights into special results on a SERP, and how they relate to keywords. Rich snippets, knowledge graphs and carousels are all highly coveted, as they stand out to the reader.

With SERP Features you can, for example, enter a domain name, filter through its organic rankings and discover which keywords trigger SERP features. You can then use this knowledge in your approach to try and seize strategic positions on the SERP. Huzzah!

4. AHREFS Keywords Explorer

The advanced metrics you get with AHREFS Keywords Explorer are excellent, giving visibility on factors like percentage of clicks, percentage of paid clicks and clicks per search. You can also study the return rate, the number of times people search for that keyword again, as well as SEO metrics from top-ranking pages and how they’ve fared over the past year.

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Al Hall
Al Hall About the author