Of all the steps in the SEO process, there is one that if skipped would almost certainly mean all your work is wasted, yet many people question whether it really is necessary.

Of course I’m referring to keyword research – possibly the most dull and misunderstood aspect of SEO.

Why not just get to work on link building some links or writing some content?

The reality is that an SEO campaign without keyword research is almost certainly doomed to failure. We see too many companies build their whole SEO campaign around a handful of obvious “gut feeling” keywords without looking into the effectiveness of ranking for those words.

Why Keyword Research?

Keyword research provides a blueprint for all of the SEO work that follows. The goal isn’t just to choose keywords that define the page you are optimising, but to maximise the benefits by choosing the right mix of high demand and low competition phrases.

Short Tail vs Long Tail

Imagine you work in the Perth area as a plumber. Although you have an amazing looking website, SEO was never a consideration in setting it up and it only gets a tiny amount of organic traffic – just a handful of visits per day.

Having spent years as a plumber, you know the one thing that your customers always value is fast service. Nobody wants to be left without hot water for more than a few hours. As a result you’ve advertised yourself as the “same day plumber”. You’ve also made the decision to focus on hot water systems only and avoid all other areas of plumbing.

It’s this information that really provides the key to an effective and profitable SEO campaign. If you were to target # 1 ranking for the obvious words “plumber” or “plumbing” you’re in for a long, expensive and fairly futile slog.

For one, you’re not interested in ranking anywhere outside the Perth metro area. It would be slightly better to rank for the term “plumbing perth” – a somewhat easier keyword.

Of course, a fair percentage of the traffic you would attract with that term will probably not be interested in your services. For example people looking for plumbing supplies, fixing leaking pipes or blocked drains will arrive at your site and discover you can’t help them.

So called “long tail keywords” are generally 3 – 5 word phrases that define a little more clearly the intent of a search term. It is easier and more beneficial to rank for a large volume of these longer phrases like “same day plumber perth”, “hot water system repairs perth” than for a just a few 1-2 word “short tail” keywords like “plumber” “plumbing”.

Keyword topics

The effectiveness of this long tail approach is best achieved with a focus on keyword topics. This involves using a range of qualifiers to better focus on the intent of the searcher. In the example above, we know that the client you are targeting are looking for 3 specific qualifiers to your plumbing service – “Perth”, “same day” and “hot water systems”. By building topics around these terms, we would focus our efforts on a large number of high conversion keywords, rather than a small number of generic low conversion keywords.

By spending a few hours researching and building this keyword list, you’ll significantly increased the return on your SEO campaign. For us, every new project we work on begins with at least a few hours of keyword research – it’s an essential part of the process.

Although this research on its own achieves nothing, like any good strategy, its return on investment will be immense.