Researching Keywords for SEOHere at KCWMS, we talk to a lot of business owners who are either in the first stages of their web development, or who are radically altering their content marketing strategies. For some of the people we talk to, keyword research is a new idea to them, but many others are already thinking about keyword research and other market research before they even get started on their web development or on re-branding their business.

Don’t get us wrong; keyword research is important. In fact, it might be one of the most important and high-return aspects of your entire SEO plan. But a good SEO strategy takes into account more than keywords alone, and doing keyword research without thinking about the big picture may do your business more harm than good.

Keywords are how your audience finds your website, and highlighting the right keywords can improve your search rankings, bringing tons of new eyes to your site. Here’s the thing, though—getting people to click through is only part of your job, and good keyword and market research is about making sure that you get the right people to click through.

What do we mean? Basically, you want people visiting your website who’re looking for what your business has to offer. If people click through and then don’t find what they’re looking for, they’re going to go away unsatisfied (at best). That might get you a lot of traffic… but it’s not going to get you very much business. So you want your keywords to bring in people who’re looking for your product or service, and once those keywords have brought them in, you want to make sure they can find what they’re looking for.

If you run a business cleaning furnaces, you don’t want most of the people who come to your website to be looking to buy a furnace. That won’t do you any good, and it will just frustrate them. Keyword research does more than just tell you what keywords are ranking in your market, they help you to learn more about what your customers want, and how you can help them to find it.

Putting too much focus on keyword research too early on is kind of putting your cart before your horse. It ends up with your web development and content plan serving the keywords, rather than your business. Keywords alone don’t have a lot of power, unless there’s something worthwhile waiting for people after they click through. Instead of focusing too much on keywords, first make it a point to know your business well, know what you offer and what you don’t. That will help you determine your focus, which can, in turn, drive your market research. Remember what they taught you in English class: First, know your audience. Once you know that, you can use keyword research to help figure out how best to reach them with your content.

Kevin Pike, President of Rank Fuse Interactive, put it this way: “Starting from a common sense approach with keyword research has always worked best. Ninety-nine percent of businesses already know who their customers are, what products and services they are selling, and what keywords they use to communicate with customers. For these companies, keyword research is making sure the website supports what we already know. For those brave entrepreneurs who are pioneering new ideas and industries, keyword research becomes much more important because competition may be pulling your audience in a different direction. When companies need to expand to cover a wider keyword footprint, keyword tools become much more important.”

One of the most vital things for any company to keep in mind when engaging in SEO planning is that keyword research—like most every aspect of your marketing strategy—is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Let keywords help define your market and your strategy, but not your message. Keywords are a powerful tool, but like any other tool, it’s important to make sure they work in service of your goals, and don’t become goals themselves.

Lastly, as online searches become more conversational with the rise of voice search through smartphones and other mobile devices, the way that search engines interact with keywords to return search results is also changing. The Google Hummingbird algorithm update of 2013 changed the way that Google’s search engines sought to understand the intent and meaning of web content. Today, search engines take into account much more than just keywords and short phrases; the entire context and overall focus of your website plays a significant part in returning search results that meet the needs of modern consumers. In this changing and dynamic online environment, keyword research is just one part of a complex SEO strategy that will help you to reach customers who are looking for your product or service.

by Steve J. Scearce