Research is one of the most important steps in optimizing a website to increase search-engine traffic, and it’s one of the steps that laypersons often skip or complete inadequately.
Before starting on research, you need to know what information you’re looking for. But research also requires some critical thinking. Once you get the information, what are you going to do with it? How will it impact your SEO project?
For example, let’s say you’re a personal trainer. You want people to be able to find you online, so you figure you’ll optimize for the keyword “personal trainer.” You create content, acquire backlinks, and promote your article for months only to find that your website still doesn’t turn up in the first 100 pages of search results for “personal trainer.”
Then you do some research. You realize that you’re competing with every website in the world that is optimized for “personal trainer.” But you only need to get your website in front of people in your geographic area — people to whom you can actually provide in-person services. You do a little more research, make some changes to your website optimization, and just weeks later, your website starts climbing the ranks.
SEO Research: Getting Prepared
The goal of SEO research is to collect data so your SEO campaign will be based on accurate information. For example, you might want to compare two keywords to see which one is searched the most and which one is the most competitive.
Good research starts with asking the right questions. Here are some questions to consider when conducting SEO research:
- What are some words and phrases that are related to my business offerings?
- What are some synonymous words and phrases for these keywords?
- If I have a website, which keywords are already bringing in search-engine traffic? How well are these keywords converting?
Next, you’ll look at each keyword individually:
- Is this keyword a good match for my website? In other words, are people who search for this keyword looking for what I’m offering?
- How many searches does this keyword get per month?
- How competitive is this keyword?
- Is this keyword likely to convert? In other words, will it result in the searcher visiting my site and taking the desired action (such as hiring me)?
- Are there any long-tail keywords that I could use to gain more traffic or more targeted traffic?
Next, you need to find the answers to these and other questions.
Tools and Resources for SEO Research
There are a variety of tools that you can use to conduct SEO research. Usually, the first thing you want to do is create a big pool of potential keywords. Once you have a robust selection of potential keywords, head to one of Google’s many services to expand your keyword list and learn more about how those keywords perform on search engines. Google is the standard-bearer among search engines, and it offers several valuable tools:
- Google Trends: Enter a keyword and get details about its use in raw numbers and charts as well as geographic data, related topics, and synonymous or related search terms.
- Google Keyword Planner is a tool within Google Ads (you need a Google Ads account to access it). This tool will show you search volume (the number of searches that any keyword gets) and alternative keywords, and you can purchase ads for further acquisition of traffic or to test keywords as matches for your site’s offerings.
- Google Search: The search engine itself can show you where various websites rank for different keywords. Is your website on page five for “personal trainer springfield” or is it on page fifty-five?
Next you might want to try Moz. This is a reputable SEO company that has been around for a long time. You can use their Keyword Explorer for a free trial, but eventually you’ll have to pay for use of their tools. Their website also has some useful information that will help you work your way through SEO. Here is a description of their Keyword Explorer:
We at Moz custom-built the Keyword Explorer tool from the ground up to help streamline and improve how you discover and prioritize keywords. Keyword Explorer provides accurate monthly search volume data, an idea of how difficult it will be to rank for your keyword, estimated click-through rate, and a score representing your potential to rank. It also suggests related keywords for you to research.
Wordtracker is another tool with limited free use (currently it looks like you get about twelve free searches). It shows information similar to what you’ll find in Google Keyword Planner and Moz’s Keyword Explorer.
If the premium tools work well for you and you intend to complete an SEO campaign and generate revenue from it, then it’s a good investment to make by purchasing access to these tools. But SEO is a field with some sketchy corners, so make sure you vet (research!) any SEO company (regardless of whether they are selling products or services) to make sure they are credible.
Tracking and Researching Performance
The world moves at a breakneck pace and things change fast. A noncompetitive keyword that was getting 100 searches per month when you researched it two years ago might now be super competitive and getting millions of searches each month. So you should regularly check your keywords and update the information you’ve collected about them.
You’ll also want to conduct research to ensure that your SEO efforts are working. Returning to our personal trainer, let’s say she optimizes her website for “personal trainer springfield.” A month later, she enters that keyword on Google Search and finds her website on page five. She does some more optimization and checks in three months later to find that her site has moved up to page three. She continues to optimize until her site hits page one.
But a year later, she notices her traffic is dropping. She’s running short on clients. When she revisits her research, she finds that her site has dropped back to page three. New trainers have entered her market and out-optimized her. She needs to increase her optimization. Luckily, she has an advantage, because search engines like sites that have been around for a while.
SEO research is ongoing and requires diligent maintenance. To keep up with your website’s performance, make sure to run regular (weekly or monthly) traffic reports and check to see which keywords are sending traffic to your site and how much traffic they are sending. At the very least, conduct quarterly or annual audits to check your site’s rank for top-priority keywords.
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Melissa Donovan is a website consultant and copywriter. She is also the founder and editor of Writing Forward and the author of over seven books.