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Keyword Research - the foundation of effective SEO

Without knowing what your prospects are searching for, rather what you think they should be searching for, there is little chance that you’ll be found by the ideal prospects as often as you’d like

Do you know what your prospects are actually searching for?

It seems a fairly easy question and for many of many of my clients they'll approach me with some very specific (and often very limited) number of keywords. These keywords may have previously become a fixation with them as to how they are ranking, wirth a daily preoccupation to laboriously manual check. Frequently when I ask 'So why these keywords?' I'll get the answer that it was just the most obvious one or what it seemed that bthere competiutors were also competing for. Despite this obsession, when I ask 'So what traffic does this keyword generate for you?' there is often a long silence. This information is often frequently available to them but they have no idea how accessible it is. 

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is the systematic study of potential keywords using analysis software that determines the relative volumes of keyword searches per month in a speciffic region or area. Once this data has been generated these keywords are evaluated for intent. Without an understanding of the searcher's intent a keyword may be entirely irrelevant to a client if the intent of the keyword is inappropriate.

What is intent?

The intent of a searcher is what they are ultimately looking to understand or find from their search. 
For instance, if they search for 'accountancy jobs' the intent may be relatively clear that they are looking or considering employment in this sector. However, if they were to search for 'accountancy salary' it is less clear. For instance, it might be an employer wanting to determine the average they should offer or maybe it is an employee or student trying to determine what they could make or should be making.
This is why why a consultative approach to SEO and particulalry intent is imperative. Without discussing thoroughly with the client a search term's applicability to their business then it may be not appropiate to their business for a whole host of reasons. It may not suit their business, their future buinsess plans or may only be peripheral to their core business activities. 

Hidden gems - keywords you didn't know you had

Before looking for keywords you may want to rank for I undertake an exhaustive search for any keywords you may already be ranking for. Frequently I'll discover one or two pages or posts that are actually ranking for keywords that the client wasn't even aware of. This sometimes might be generating a good proportion of the traffic without them being aware. The issue is whether this keyword is of use. If it is it might mean with a little further optimisation it could be a lead magnet for you. If not it's not applcable, it may be worth looking to optimise for a different keyword that will convert.
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Why is keyword research important?

Without keyword research all other SEO efforts are compromised. Why? Because without understanding what pages should be optimised for then you may start ranking for the wrong keywords and even if youn start getting an increase in traffic the visitors migth not convert because they had no intention of using, or need of your services.

What is a keyword research example?

An example that comes from my own experience is a client wanting to rank for 'cherry picker'. This is an incredibly wide search term. A person searching for this may have an interest in 'cherry picker sales', 'cherry picker renta'l, 'cherry picker training', 'cherry picker jobs' or maybe just a definition of cherry picker. So there really needs to be more qualifier keywords to determine ewhat the intention is.
Of course a further issue can be that a very generic search term, with numerous searches, may be very difficult to rank for.  Of course, in saying this, there is need to have a viable number of searches a month to justify the effort involved in optimising to take place. What is viable search volume can very much depend on the level of intent there may be. As a note of caution, you should expect your SEO to share these search volumes with you. If they don't share this information with you then ensure you ask fvor them to share this with you. If they still aren't prepared to share this information with you then I'd strongly suggest you entertain other possible SEO providers.
A further issue to this is even if you have a further qualification keyword it might not be enough. For instance if you offer a regional service then it may be important to put a geographic qualification, say 'London' etc. If you don't and you start to rank without the geogrpahic qualifier then visitors who do come to your site who you can't serve will likely spend little time and certainly not convert. However, since with many visitors spending little time on the site it will give the impression to the search engines that it isn't as an engaging site as your competitors. What is more, poor user experience is believed to be a ranking factor so it will likely mean that perhaps an initial rise in that search term's keyword ranking after being optimised it may begin to drop after the iniital surge. So a poor choice of keyword can actively work against you.
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Existing keyword research tools you might not be leveraging

I mentioned at the start that you might have access to some major insightful data that you might never have really looked at or even considered. 
Your own sales data - you may well be collatong a huge amount kof information concerning how clients became your clients without ever analysing in any great detail. It's possible you haven't been doing this but there's no time like the present to start capturing this data when people make enquiries. In addtion, it can be highly illuminating speking to your best customers to determine why they chose you over your competiton and why they've remained loyal to you.
Google Adwords - you may be running or have run Pay per Click campaigns in the past. This can provide you with data of leads that actually converted for you in any volumes so analysing this can be hugley informative.
Google Search Console - you may have set this up, possibly when you were also getting access to Google Analytics. However, the keyword insignhts that this can give you is far more revealing then Google Analytics can give you. This gives you the click throughs in detail as to the keywords that generated the traffic. 
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