When it comes to SEO, my mantra is and always will be to create quality content and a quality user experience. Those are the two fundamental practices you need to focus on. Everything else is gravy.
Does that mean you should write content on every little thing in your field? No.
The best non-SEO tip I've heard was to discover what questions that your market is asking, and then to answer them.
Is it really that simple? Yes. But if you need guidance to help find those questions, keyword research is a tool that can certainly help…
… With one small caveat.
SEOs tout the importance of keyword research.
I agree, but only to a certain extent.
As a professional, you'll likely know your audience and the kinds of questions they're asking. So you simply produce content that answers their questions, solves their problems, or overcomes their challenges. As far as SEO is concerned, you've won half the battle.
After all, Google is not your client, but you both share the same clients.
The issue is, Google is becoming increasingly smart, too.
Its sophisticated intelligence, using machine learning and natural language processing, learns about the user's search intent, your content's intent (or better said, its context), and how the two are connected — in relation to all other alternatives on the Internet.
The above is super-important. Re-read it if you must.
Therefore, keyword research is useful in that it helps you understand your audience and what they're looking for, and your competition and what they're offering your audience.
To be clear, “competition” doesn't mean your direct competitors, although they may be. They are those who answer your audience's questions better than you do, and therefore rank higher. They may not be businesses at all, for that matter.
Here's a little insight into why “keywords” are not as important as you think.
Google is paying more and more attention to topics. Many SEOs are in fact gravitating towards “topical research” rather than “keyword research.”
Why is this important?
Google's sophisticated AI-like technology (called “Rankbrain”) is becoming increasingly aware of the intent behind a person's search.
If you have a piece of content that answers a person's question, even though it may not have a single mention of that keyword in it, Google will serve up your page as the best possible result for their query.
Because it's on-topic, not because it's keyword-stuffed.
Here's my point.
Keyword research is not about researching keywords in a direct sense. It's to help you understand what people are searching for and why.
That's why question-based searches are becoming increasingly popular. Before the days of voice-enabled smartphones and devices, we used to type in our searches into Google, for the sake of efficiency, by using a word or two. That's it.
Today, you can use voice search and blurt out entire questions.
You might ask a question, like: “Hey Google, where can I order a deluxe pizza?” Google is context- and location-aware, so it will serve up a listing of local restaurants for you, and maybe ask for or suggest next steps.
You don't just say, “Pizza.” Google will probably ask, “OK, what do you want to know about pizza?” (Correction: I just tested this on my Android, and sure enough, Google gave me a listing of restaurants nearby. That's how smarter it has become. I also order pizza often, so it knows me.)
The point I'm trying to make is this.
You don't want to stuff your content with keywords, write content around them, or even try to rank for them. I've worked with professionals who chased vanity keyword metrics, which was misguided, fruitless, and oftentimes very expensive.
You want to focus on topics instead.
What about a tool to help your research?
There are tons of keyword tools out there, and I've listed a few of them before. But if you want a resource that's easy, useful, and free, then use the most useful tool of them all: Google itself!
I'm not talking about Google Keyword Planner (although you could if you want to), which is a tool intended for those using Google Ads.
But I'm talking about suggestions Google themselves are giving you. As you start typing in the Google search box, you get a drop-down list of autocomplete suggestions based on previous searches.
It's a great way to see what kinds of questions people are asking, which will give you some content ideas. But it can also provide clues as to what your competition is doing when you look at the resulting listings.
But don't stop there.
When you type in your query, Google's search results page provides two other important lists of suggestions, first under the “people also ask” section, and second at the bottom under “related searches” (searches related to your topic).
You can click on any of these to see the resulting results page, which will provide once again another host of “people also ask” and “related searches” for you, and so on. Rinse and repeat.
I've recorded this short five-minute video clip to show you an actual example.
You have a lot of ammunition to help you. Regardless of the tools you use, the key is not to research specific keywords but to learn about your audience, what they're searching for, and who you're up against.