Keyword research has become harder and harder as Google continues to hide more information from webmasters. If you’re new to the world of SEO and online marketing, you may not remember a time when you were able to see every keyword that drove traffic to your site through search engines – and how much traffic each keyword was generating.
Unfortunately, more than 90% of that information is now presented to webmasters as simply “(not provided).” So what are webmasters and SEOs to do in this age of unknown and incomplete data?
The good news is that search engines are much smarter than they used to be and are able to understand the intent of what a user is searching for, without having to use “exact-match” search results. Because of this, content publishers can focus more on the experience of their readers as opposed to stuffing keywords in content in order to be found in search engines.
That being said, utilizing proper keywords on your website and in your content is still extremely important and can still be useful in achieving greater search engine visibility.
Let’s explore some methods that are still available to webmasters, SEOs, and online marketers that can be extremely helpful in identifying the best keywords for optimizing content.
1. Google Auto-Populate
While you might be thinking how difficult Google is making your life by not providing valuable keyword data, there are still features such as Google’s auto-populate function that can help searchers complete their thoughts while at the same time providing valuable keywords to webmasters. Searchers will often start by typing in a particular query only to end up choosing what Google auto-populates in the search box.
This is the best place to start your research, as you will most likely want to find out what kind of content already exists about the topic you are crafting content around. This is also a useful method for identifying long-tail keyword phrases that may be more difficult to identify in keyword planner tools. Who better to give you suggestions about keyword opportunities than Google?
2. Google Related Searches
Similar to the auto-populate function, Google provides “related searches” at the bottom of most SERPs or “search engine results pages.” This should also be one of the first things you look at when starting keyword research.
Don’t be afraid to search for multiple variations of keywords and keyword phrases. This is also a helpful exercise to start understanding how the search engine is thinking about certain words and what words are being associated with one another.
3. Google Ads Keyword Planner
The Google Ads Keyword Planner is where most webmasters start their more in-depth research. You can start by searching for a new keyword of your choice.
You will then be presented with the average monthly searches, competition, and suggested bid for the keyword you typed in as well as other suggested keywords and phrases. The number of alternative options usually depends on the popularity of the subject.
For example, you will see far more alternative suggestions for “keyword research” than you will for “cogeneration plant engineering.”
Unless you are putting together a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign, the only truly useful information presented here are the suggestions and the average monthly searches. The competition is only broken down by low, medium, or high and is most times not a reliable metric for determining how difficult it will be to rank for a particular keyword. Instead, I would recommend Moz’s keyword difficulty and analysis tool for this.
4. Google Search Console
There is a place where the true webmasters live: Google Search Console. This is where you find the top queries that are being searched for as well as the top web pages that are being found via search.
You can find the top queries that have driven traffic to your site over specific periods of time with this tool. You can also see the content that has driven the most traffic to your site over the same amount of time.
5. Google Trends
Google Trends can be useful in choosing the correct variation of a particular keyword. This tool will display the overall “interest over time” of a keyword and also includes a forecast for certain terms.
Interest over time is represented as a number between 0-100 at certain points over time. It reflects how many searches have been done for a particular term relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. They don’t represent absolute search volume numbers.
Below is a comparison between the terms “search engine optimization” (blue), “search engine marketing” (red), and “content marketing” (yellow). Notice that “content marketing” has been a more a popular search term than “search engine marketing”.
6. Google Analytics
While most of the keyword data found in the organic section of Google Analytics is labeled as (not provided), there is a section under “Acquisition” that contains your Search Console data if you have linked up both platforms.
It is located under “Search Console” → “Queries.” This information is similar to what you will find in Search Console.
Even with Google hiding most of its keyword data in Google Analytics, there are still many resources that Google offers (for free) that can be extremely useful for webmasters and SEOs to identify relevant keywords for optimizing their content.
Start by using these tools to help identify useful topics and keywords, then create and share great content that appeals to your audience. Remember, if your content is not useful and shareable, it doesn’t matter how many keywords you can identify. The goal, above all else, is to drive traffic to your content and have others naturally share and link to your content.
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