Keyword research is one part of an inbound marketing strategy you can use to help you get found by the people looking for what you do. But the approach to keyword research is different to what it was just a couple of years ago.
As a Contract Manufacturing Organisation (CMO), you will only attract your ideal customers to your website's content if you understand their pain points and ambitions.
Keyword research is all about turning their pain points and ambitions into strategic keywords to be used in your website's content, which satisfies both your ideal customers and search engines.
But the approach to keywords is changing. It used to be that you could identify a keyword, scatter it throughout your content, and see the traffic rush in.
But the way we search for information has changed, and search engines are getting better at delivering relevant content.
What does this mean for how we use keyword research in 2022 and beyond?
Search behaviour changed. So Google did too.
The way people search for information online has changed. They aren't searching for broken terms. Instead, they are asking questions and expect Google to know exactly what they want.
This has been amplified by the rise of mobile and voice search, causing queries to become more and more conversational.
Now, search is more about intent than it is about specific keywords.
So Google has had to adapt its algorithm to analyse phrases instead of keywords to deliver relevant content.
In 2018, Google launched BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), a model that processes words in relation to the other words in a sentence rather than one by one. BERT models can therefore consider the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it. This is how it understands the intent behind search queries.
Now, Google will show up the content users are really looking for, not necessarily the content most aligned to the keyword in their search query.
Does this mean keywords have become a less powerful tool for search engine optimisation (SEO)?
In short, no. Keywords still have a crucial place in an SEO strategy. However, companies have had to become smarter about the way they use them.
Embracing the topic cluster model
This change marked a major switch from keyword to topic-focused SEO.
Rather than looking at specific keywords, a topic cluster approach enables a deeper coverage across a core range of topics related to your brand.
Here's how it works:
First, think about the broad topics you want to rank for. For example, let's say you want to rank for 'contract manufacturing'. You would then create new content based on specific keywords related to that topic, such as 'advantages of contract manufacturing' and 'how to choose a contract manufacturing organisation'.
This group of keywords and the overarching topic is your topic cluster.
The typical way to structure topic cluster content is with one large piece of content covering the core topic, known as a pillar page. So in the example above, this would be a page all about contract manufacturing.
The pillar page is supported by a series of cluster content, e.g. blog posts, with each going into more depth on one of your subtopics. So you may have a blog post about the advantages of contract manufacturing, for example. The pillar page links to each blog post, which in turn link back to the pillar page with the same hyperlinked keyword.
To rank for intent, you need to signal authority and relevance to the search engines, and a topic cluster model helps you do that. One high-performing blog post can elevate search rankings for all the other pages linked to the same pillar. And you can capture a large amount of search traffic over a wide pool of relevant keywords that can be built up over time.
Topic clusters haven't replaced keywords, but they have pushed marketers to look beyond singular search terms to think about topics in a broader context.
The emphasis now is not on writing for search engines but on creating semantically relevant, helpful content that informs and nurtures your prospects as they move through the buyer's journey.
What does this mean for the future of keyword research?
Keyword research still happens in much the same manner: by using knowledge of your ideal customers' pain points, challenges and aspirations you find the topics and phrases they are searching for.
But when brainstorming keywords, you'll need to consider:
- What is the intent of my customers when searching online? What do they intend to achieve? E.g. Are they looking for information or are they ready to buy?
- What questions are they asking at each stage of the buyer's journey?
- What words and phrases do they use in search engines?
Understanding your ideal customers and how they use the internet to search is key. You may already have an idea about the keywords and phrases you think are important for your customers. Entering them into a tool such as Moz and Semrush will provide useful insights into how to use them.
These tools show you how many people search for that keyword every month, how difficult it is to rank for that keyword, and other keyword suggestions - which might be better than the keyword you have in mind. They allow you to discover other keywords, common questions, and topics for your content that you might have otherwise missed.
Thruuu is another tool that is helpful for understanding why certain pages are ranking first, what topics they are covering, and what content gaps you could fill.
As-you-type search suggestions in Google will also help you identify what your content might be missing. They offer clues to related and synonymous topics and questions hidden behind each query. Google's 'People also ask' section can also be used in a similar way.
Your keyword research should map out the whole topic cluster. Aim to identify one overarching topic, like 'contract manufacturing', and several unique keywords for the subtopics within the topic cluster.
When determining which keywords to include, aim for those with the highest reasonable search volume with the lowest reasonable difficulty - while ensuring the greatest relevance to a search term that might lead to business.
Typically, this means focusing on long-tail keywords rather than generic search terms. The volume might be lower, but the competition will be less fierce. And because long-tail keywords are specific and intentional, they tend to lead to better conversion rates.
Keywords aren't going anywhere. But how you use them as part of your inbound marketing strategy is changing.
Your focus should be on understanding the intent of the user's search queries and creating informative and interesting content that helps them. And by using a topic cluster model, you can signal authority and relevance to search engines and get found by people looking for what you do.
As we become more reliant on AI in how we search for information and search engines become more sophisticated, how to best use keywords to attract customers to your website will continue to evolve.