By this point, most people have heard of the critical importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for empowering your website’s organic ranking on Google and other popular search engines. Though when you start peeling back the layers of the digital marketing onion, you’ll find that truly effective SEO strategies start with strong keyword research.

This goes beyond using your favorite taglines and key phrases in your web content. Truly effective keywords drive SEO best practices. Ineffective keyword research, or the ad hoc use of hot topic buzzwords rarely factors well toward improving your website’s organic ranking results.

To better understand keyword research and its foundational importance in SEO strategy, we’re going to have to take a deeper look between the lines.

What Are Keywords?

Google and other popular websites deploy an army of crawlers to review websites around the world and index them. As part of this tirelessly automated process the crawlers index the use of keywords on pages, blogs, content creation, image tags, and more. They are then assigned to the grand index of your website, as well as your competitors across the street and around the globe.

How Is Keyword Research Done?

Keyword research is an in-depth process of uncovering valuable search queries, and terms that a potential target will enter into search engines, such as Google, to find the information, products, and services they need.

Finding Seed Words

The internet is rife with services that track, monitor, and perform keyword research for you based on their own internal, proprietary process. You enter “Seed” words into their search engine, and it spits out results that you can filter and interpret to find the keywords that best describe your website, in a way that Google and other search engines rank highly.

Seed words are things you and/or your target market might associate with your company’s products and services. Let’s say you have a cleaning and janitorial company. You might start with seed words like:

  • Cleaning
  • Vacuum
  • Office Cleaning
  • Cleaning Products
  • Floor Care
  • Dusting

These “Seed” words are just a starting point. They aren’t literature that you labor over. It should only take you a few seconds to come up with a handful of them to create a starting point.

Research Your Competitor’s Keywords

A lot of the best keyword research platforms will let you see how your competitor’s pages and their keywords rank. You enter the URLs of the closest competitors in your niche or region and it will give you a listing of their top keywords on those pages.

You can then compare these to your list of seed words. If your seed words are in the same vein as their highest-ranking keywords, you know you’re in the right ballpark. If they’re not, you’ll need to perform some degree of self-review to understand the contrast.

The best practice here is to check the ranking of popular pages for multiple competitors. If possible, compare your seed words to local competitors as well as similar companies that are doing well in other geographical regions.

If you are seeing similar keywords ranking high on competitor pages, as well as similar companies in different regions, you should add them to your list of seed words.

Use Seed Words To Find Keywords

Once you have a healthy list of seed words, you can start the keyword research process in earnest. There are internet companies and keyword research apps that will do this for you for a fee.

Though you can use Google’s Keyword Planner for free. Not only does it walk you through the keyword research process, but it gives you insights into how to improve your ranking on Google, which is undeniably the most popular search engine in the world.

How Does Keyword Research Affect SEO Strategy

Once you have a list of seed words from your own in-house brainstorming and seed words drawn from your competitor’s ranking you can apply them to enhance your website’s organic ranking.

You can use the information garnered by your keyword research, to identify the target audience and potential keywords that should be included in your website content and take a higher position in SEPR.

These keywords thus affect SEO strategy because it is based on hard data, rather than personal preferences. You can prioritize your SEO efforts by choosing words with high search volume, and less competition from other businesses, while also improving your conversion rates.

Where to Use Keywords to Improve SEO

While keywords certainly need to be in your general body content, there are some places where they need to show up to improve your SEO strategy. This includes:

  • Headings & H2 Tags
  • Page titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • Opening sentences of body content
  • Images tags & descriptions
  • Link anchor text

Using Keywords for a Competitive Advantage

A lot of larger companies with massive websites and high site traffic use the keywords that have the highest search volume. Google also tends to reward these larger sites with better ranking for using these words.

For a smaller company with a less-mature website, the highest search volume keywords certainly need to be there. Though there are also going to be hidden gems that have a medium search volume that could give you a competitive advantage against larger companies and more-established local competitors.

If you’re a sandwich shop known for submarine sandwiches, you might want to use second-tier keywords based on your most popular specialty sandwiches. If you’re a cleaning company that offers green cleaning products, you would also want to represent them heavily amongst other high-volume keywords.

These are small strategic things that you can do to position yourself in a sea of strong competition in keyword use and SEO strategy.

What Are the Best Sites for Keyword Research & SEO Strategy

The internet is festooned with website builders, apps, and platforms that claim to be the best option for keyword research and SEO strategies that boost your organic ranking on Google and other popular search engines. Some charge exorbitant fees, others offer subscriptions, and a few are completely free to use. Though the best options to consider for your next keyword research endeavors are:

  • Google Keyword Planner
  • Ahrefs
  • SEMrush
  • Ubersuggest
  • SECockpit
  • Keywords Everywhere
  • KWFinder

If you’re new to the world of keyword research and you want to get your feet wet without making a major investment, then your best option is to use Google Keyword Planner. It’s free and optimizes your research for keywords that Google’s algorithm prioritizes.