Keyword research is your first step in optimizing your website for certain keywords. Without keyword research, you might find yourself lost in your own lingo and battling giants in your industry that can’t be beaten in the search result pages just like that. There is a variety of factors you have to take into account when doing keyword research and setting up your keyword strategy. In this article, we’ll discuss your mission, your audience and your competition. 

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What makes your company unique?

Before you do anything, and this is key, you need to know what makes your company unique. You need to have a clear concept of the mission of your company. You need to determine exactly what you have to offer. Because that’s what’s going to make you rank. It’s that simple. SEO is just like regular business. If you’re doing everything on the same or inferior level as your competition, you’re not going to stand out. If you’re not the best result, why should people want to find you? Why should Google rank you? This seems simple, but this factor is often forgotten.

Meaningful keywords

We often hear people say: we can’t come up with meaningful keywords. If you struggle with that too, take a step back and look at your business at large:

  • What do you have to offer?
  • What is your mission?
  • What are your core values and strengths?
  • How can you branch out from your core selling points to very specific bits of information or service? Use these to stand out from the crowd.

You don’t have to be better than your competition at everything, as long as you identify enough things to build a keyword strategy around. For smaller companies, this means that you probably have to be better at the things bigger fish haven’t thought of. Or at the things, these companies aren’t actively looking to do. If you can’t come up with anything, you have a bigger problem than just coming up with keywords…

The role of your audience in your keyword research

Once you’ve determined what you have to offer, it’s time to consider your audience. In the end, SEO is all about making sure your users are able to find you. So the first thing you have to do is find out what words your potential audience uses to find the information they’re looking for.

Let’s consider an example. At Yoast, we think of our courses platform as “Yoast Academy”. So at first sight, it seems very logical for us to optimize for the keyword “Yoast Academy”. However, when we analyze traffic data, it turns out that our audience uses “Yoast courses” way more. So it makes much more sense to optimize for that term instead. Every company has its own internal vocabulary, which often doesn’t match the vocabulary of its audience. Therefore, you should always choose your keywords from the perspective of your audience. You can use Google Trends to research how often search terms are used compared to other terms.

What about your competition?

Lastly, you simply can’t devise a proper keyword research strategy without taking your competition into account. Too often, websites optimize for terms they have absolutely no chance ranking for. So you need to research your competition.

You can go all overboard and make a thorough analysis of all the competitors in your field, and that can certainly be worthwhile. But let’s stick to the basics for now. It’s actually quite easy to get a general idea of your SEO competition. Just google some search terms you would like to rank for! See what companies show up and where you rank. How big are the companies you are competing with for top three rankings? Would your company fit between these results? This is all quite easy to determine using just the Google search results.

But be wary! You can’t just trust the search results because Google tailors them to your search history. So logically, your site is going to come up higher for you than for others that perform the same search. You can use an incognito screen to circumvent this, although there’s still a local search component even in an incognito screen. If that is a problem for you, you should consider using VPNs to mask your location.

Expanding your strategy step-by-step

Big sites can rank for the most general terms. Smaller sites within a very specific niche can do the same. Of course, it’s also easier if you’re writing in a language that is not spoken all over the world. For most smaller sites that are writing in English, however, the general rule of thumb is this: start with a big set of long tail keywords which have little traffic but you can rank for more easily. Then, work yourself up the rankings step-by-step. Once you’ve gained some SEO authority, start optimizing for more general keywords. And in the end, maybe you will even be able to rank for your head keywords!

Read more: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »

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Perhaps you’ve read about the related entities patent which was recently granted to Google, or perhaps you haven’t yet. You should read Dave Davies post about it on Search Engine Land and find out more about it. The related entities patent gives us valuable insights into how Google identifies relationships between content. So, in this post, I’ll try to explain a bit about the patent without making it all to complicated. And, I’ll discuss the importance of the patent for your content SEO strategy.

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What is a patent? Why is it important?

Google applies for a lot of patents. When the patent is granted, it gives us information on how they engineer their search engine. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, you should check out Bill Slawski’s site SEO by the Sea. This specific patent about related entities implies that related entities, related content, and relations in general are becoming more important.

It’s important to remember that we do not know exactly how Google has applied this specific patent in its search engine. We can only guess, test and speculate how Google will use it. The way the search engine works and how it serves the results to our search queries give us a lot of information though. Think of it as an educated guess.

So what does this mean? What does Google do with it?

In his post on Search Engine Land, Dave Davies explains beautifully how these related entities work. Google has an actual entity database in which it saves which concepts and which identities belong together. This database is ever growing, and Google learns more and more about how things are related to one another. This means that if certain concepts turn up together in content in various places on the internet, Google will save these in its entity database. This process is ongoing, which means that for some searches, you won’t get the same rich result as for others. Try searching for [types of cheese] and [types of shoes] to see the difference.

While Dave Davies was mainly talking about entities as big things – presidents, people, actors; I think that words, things and concepts could also be entities. Thinking of words and concepts as identities, which are also saved in that entity database, will have some consequences for copywriters and content SEOs. Of course, this is speculation. Nobody knows exactly which concepts are in fact treated as entities by Google.

google entities types of pasta

After typing [types of pasta] Google now shows this entity-based rich result

Clicking on Tagliatelle leads to relevant search results. A breadcrumb path shows the connection to the main subject

Let’s look at an example to figure out what it means if words and concepts are considered entities. Google will probably notice that in content about [tagliatelle], the words [pasta] and [spaghetti] will also appear rather often. These words will probably be linked together in Googles entity database. If someone is searching for [tagliatelle] in Google, content without the words [tagliatelle] but with the words [pasta] and [spaghetti] could also pop up in the search results. This would mean that the exact word matching would become less important. It’s all about context. And, we have seen this in the past few years. Google has become more and more adept at matching a search query to content without the exact search phrase in the text.

What does it mean for content SEO?

I think that the exact matching of a search query will become less important. Concepts, words and things related to a specific topic will become more important. By using the words, concepts and phrases related to tagliatelle in your post, you’re increasing your chances to rank for the term ‘tagliatelle’.

What about keywords?

That does not mean, however, that you should not focus on keywords anymore. Google is getting better at establishing what the audience is searching for. But you should know what your audience is searching for when you are writing. You should know which words, concepts and phrases they are using. And you should use those same words as well. You want your audience to recognize your text as an answer to their search query. You should keep on using the keywords and keyphrases that your keyword research provided. Don’t go overboard though, and use your keyword carefully.

Write an awesome text

I think the most important thing to realize is that a keyword is not a topic yet. It cannot be seen as an entity as it does not have the correct context. You’ll need an angle, a specific story around a keyword, a good idea to write a blog post. An idea in which the desired focus keyword could have a prominent place. You should think about your audience. What do you want to tell your audience? What’ll be the main message of your article? And what is the purpose?

If you write an original article, an article people would want to read; you’re probably already using all of the terms that are related to your keywords. It’s rather hard to write a blog post about tagliatelle without using the word [pasta]. You’ll use the related entities, simply because they are related. It’ll probably just come natural, as long as your trying to write an original text.

Think about synonyms, related words and concepts

Although I think that if you’re writing a good text with an original idea, you’ll probably already be using all the related concepts you should be using; you should also think of synonyms to your keyword. Take a moment and try to come up with a few alternatives for your keyword. Think of things that are strongly related to your keyword. Use these words in your text and you’ll probably increase your chances to rank. Besides, your content will be more pleasant to read as well!

Conclusion

Keywords remain essential. However, the exact matching of a keyword will become less important. And synonyms and related concepts will become more important. We don’t have a bullet for synonyms or related words in our SEO analysis yet. I guess that’s a hard one to establish. Could we do that? Does anyone have any suggestions?

Read more: ‘SEO Copywriting: the ultimate guide’ »

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When looking for information about keywords in relation to SEO, you get bombarded with information about keyword research. And of course, keyword research is crucial if you’d like your page to rank. But it’s also important to understand what the basic principle of a keyword is. And that’s the thing I’ll explain here.

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What is a keyword?

A keyword, or a focus keyword as some call it, is a word that describes the content on your page or post best. It’s the search term that you want to rank for with a certain page. So when people search for that keyword or phrase in Google or other search engines, they should find that page on your website.

Let’s say you’ve got a website about pianos: you sell all sorts and types of pianos. You blog about what to look at when buying a piano and you share reviews about the pianos you offer on your online shop. You sell digital pianos so you’ve created a product category page about digital pianos. Ask yourself this:

  • What kind of search term do you want to be found for?
  • Which words do you think people will use in search engines to find you?
  • What would the search query look like?

Probably [digital piano], right? Because this keyword reflects what’s on the page best. If you’d have to explain the bottom line of your content, how would that look? What words would you use? That’s your keyword or key phrase – if it consists of multiple words.

We use the word ‘keyword’ all the time, this does not mean it consists of only one word. A lot of times keywords consist of multiple words. So when talking about keywords, a lot of times we mean a phrase instead of just one word.

Why are keywords important?

One of the things Google looks at when ranking a page is the content on that page. It looks at the words on the page. Now picture this, if every word on, for instance, a blog post about a digital piano is used 2 times, then all words are of equal importance. Google won’t have a clue which of those words are important and which aren’t. The words you’re using are clues for Google, it tells Google and other search engines what the page or post is about. So if you want to make Google understand what your page is about, you need to use it fairly often.

But Google isn’t the only reason why keywords are important. Actually, it’s less important, because you should always focus on the user: on your visitors and potential clients. With SEO you want people to land on your website when using a certain search term or keyword. You need to get into the heads of your audience and use the words they use when they are searching.

If you use the wrong keywords, you’ll never get the visitors you want or need, because your text doesn’t match what your potential audience is searching for. But if you do use the keywords people are searching for, your business can thrive. So if you see it like that, your keywords should reflect what your audience is searching for. With the wrong keywords, you’ll end up with the wrong audience, or none at all. That’s why having the right keywords is really important.

How do you use keywords in your pages and posts?

There used to be a time where you could add a lot of keywords to your pages and posts, do some old-fashioned keyword stuffing, and you’d rank in search engines. But a text with a lot of the same keywords in it is not a pleasant read. And because users find this kind of copy terrible to read, Google finds it terrible too. That’s why ranking in Google by doing keyword stuffing, fortunately, became hard to do. 

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So what are the rules of thumb here? First and foremost, it’s very important that your content is easy to read. Of course, you should use your keywords in your text, but don’t stuff your keywords in almost every sentence. In general, if 1 or 2% of all words of your copy, is your keyword, then you’re not overdoing it. Make sure your keywords are well-distributed throughout your text. Don’t put all your keywords in the first paragraph thinking you’re done with that part of the optimization. Naturally spread the keywords throughout your page or post. Use your keywords in a subheading or a couple of subheadings, depending on the length of your page or post. And use the keyword in your page title, first paragraph and in your meta description. You can find all of these recommendations in the SEO analysis of Yoast SEO.

Now you have a common understanding of what a keyword is. This knowledge will really help you with your keyword research, which of course is the next and vital step!

Read more: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »

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Some of the things Yoast SEO does are pure magic. Lots of things are just taken care of after you’ve installed the plugin. You don’t have to do anything about that. Simply installing Yoast SEO will fix a lot of important technical SEO things for you. The content side of SEO, though, is something you should always do yourself. Yoast SEO will help you, but you’ll need to make an effort for it. So there’s a lot of work in it for you. In this post, I’m going to tell to you about the things you need to do yourself, in order to make your SEO strategy successful.

Configure Yoast SEO properly

First of all, you need to configure Yoast SEO correctly. You should be aware that the plugin can’t perform to its full potential if the settings of Yoast SEO aren’t optimal for your specific website. So, make sure that the configuration of Yoast SEO is, in fact, in line with your website. The configuration wizard helps you take care of a lot of these settings, you can read about what it does in this post

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Keyword research… always

The second thing you need to make sure of is doing your keyword research right. You need to know that you’re focusing on the words that people actually are searching for. If you’re optimizing for a term nobody uses, you can rank number one, but you still won’t have any traffic. And if you’re optimizing for a term that’s so competitive that you won’t ever be able to rank for it, then you won’t get any traffic as well.

Doing your keyword research means getting inside the heads of your audience. It also means knowing your competition and estimating your chances to rank for a certain keyword. Yoast SEO will help you optimize your content for your keywords, but figuring out what the right keywords are, is your job.

Read more: ‘How to choose keywords that’ll attract traffic’ »

Write awesome content

The third thing you need to do yourself is to write awesome content. And that’s something you have to do manually. Of course, you can outsource this, but it’s something somebody has to do. Yoast SEO actually helps you to write both SEO-friendly, as well as readable texts with the content and SEO analysis. So you should use this feature and make sure your text is well-optimized for the search engines. But adding great content is still something you need to do yourself, it won’t happen magically.

Internal linking

Another thing you’ll need to do yourself is take care of your internal linking structure. This is very important because a proper internal linking structure will make sure that Google understands your website. And you want Google to understand your website. Otherwise, you will be competing with your own content for a place in the search results.

Yoast SEO (premium) will help you to do that, with our internal linking feature. But it’s still something you need to be actually doing yourself. Yoast SEO will make suggestions for articles you could link to, but you still have to put them in your article.

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Social previews and redirects

Social previews and redirects are features in Yoast SEO that’ll help you improve your SEO. Your effort is needed in order to gain an SEO advantage from these features. Part of your SEO strategy will be a strategy on social media, so Facebook and Twitter. And Yoast SEO can help you make those posts on Facebook, but you still have to hit that button and write the content. Same goes for the redirects. If a page is outdated, you want to redirect it to another page. But it won’t happen just magically; you have to create those redirects yourself.

Don’t forget your competition

Even if they’ve done all the things I talked about, some people are unable to rank for a specific term. Why is that? Well, I think a lot of it has to do with competition. Some search terms are so competitive, and dominated by high-authority brands, that it’s terribly hard for a starting out blog to rank between them. If you want to rank for ‘holiday home Florida’ and you’re just starting out as a blog, you’re probably not going to rank right away. You need to have a whole strategy, in which you focus on long-tail search terms first. So, part of why you’re not ranking has to do with the competition.

On top of that, SEO sometimes takes a long time. Don’t despair if you’re not ranking overnight. It can take a little while before you start ranking for specific search terms. It’s a process that requires a strategy and it takes some time before you see the results.

Conclusion

SEO is a lot of work. Yoast SEO magically takes care of most of the technical SEO stuff. The content side of SEO is a different story though. You’ll need to make an effort to set up a successful content SEO strategy. There are a lot of things you should work on, in which Yoast SEO can actually help you and take you by the hand. And don’t forget: whether or not you rank for specific terms also depends on your competition in your specific niche. 

Keep reading: ‘The ultimate guide to content SEO’ »

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In our Ask Yoast case studies, we generally give SEO advise to clients who sign up for this series. This time, however, we’ve had a look at the website of Ryan Hoffman: leverageny.com. He didn’t sign up for the case study, but commented on our Ultimate guide to Content SEO. He told us nobody in his target audience reads content. So we became curious if we could give Ryan tips to optimize his website without focusing on the text only. Our main conclusion is: Ryan’s website would benefit from a more holistic SEO strategy. Read on to find out how!

What keywords does your target audience use?

First of all, setting up an SEO strategy and creating content should always start with keyword research. Writing about keywords nobody is searching for doesn’t make sense, as you probably understand. Ryan already mentioned that people searching for a keyword such as ‘How to sell a house’ probably aren’t looking for great content. Those people end up calling an agent, sell their house and that’s it.

So what type of content could attract people interested in real estate? Where would you be interested in if you were looking for a new house? List everything that pops up your mind, and you’ll probably get great new content ideas. For example, think of ‘Tips for buying a house’, ‘Should I buy or rent a house?’, ‘What additional costs can I expect when buying a house?’. 

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Make your keywords specific

You might notice that the key phrases I’ve added to the paragraph before are quite long. Such specific key phrases are also called long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are more specific than main keywords, but they can be of equal value to your website. Of course, fewer people will search for such specific keywords, but if they do, they’re more likely to convert. People searching for long tail keywords usually know better what they’re looking for on the internet. This means it’s easier to meet their needs by writing specific content about long tail keywords.

We recommend checking the content of existing articles to see if you can determine a specific long tail keyword you want to rank for with that article. If you find one, try optimizing that article for it to increase the value of the traffic to that article.

Make use of tools

In addition to listing the subjects that pop up in your mind, you can use tools to find new keywords. There are lots of tools that can be helpful by finding relevant keywords for your business. This article about keyword research tools will give you some examples of tools we use at Yoast. Our Yoast Suggest tool shows popular, relevant keywords as well as keyword ideas for every letter of the alphabet. Just take a look at these images:

Help visitors reach the main goal of your site

When visitors click on your website in the search engines, most of them will probably land on a specific article. It’s important to keep those visitors on your website and to easily reach the main goal of your website.

When we look at your site, however, it’s not completely clear to us what the main goal of leverageny.com is. Do you just want visitors to read your content or do you want them to search for an actual house on your website? Looking at the website, we think the option to search for a house is quite hard to find. If this isn’t your main goal, this is no problem. Think about what you want your visitors to do on your website and make sure you help them navigate to that goal with the right links on the right spots.

Positive user signals

In the introduction of this post, we already mentioned that we recommend following a holistic SEO strategy. This means you should strive to make every single aspect of your website great. For example, adding new content regularly is something search engines like. Keeping visitors on your website though, is probably just as important.

Google uses so-called user signals to determine if the website is a result that matches the search intent or search query of the visitor. The time visitors stay on your website can be an indicator of that match. Visitors staying for a long time on your website send a positive user signal, improving your site’s SEO indirectly and possibly leading to higher rankings.

How to keep visitors on your website

To increase your visitors’ time on site, it’s important to give them the opportunity to easily navigate to relevant, other posts on your website. Make sure you link to relevant content at the bottom of each post but also from within the texts of posts by using internal links. By adding more internal links, you can make your most important posts stronger and you’ll give your visitors the opportunity to easily navigate to other relevant posts. 

Looking at your posts, we think there might be too much distraction because of all the different elements in the sidebar and below the posts. Try to add more focus to the part you want your visitors to click on after reading a post.

In addition to that, you can  create more specific categories. Checking the XML Sitemap, we noticed that you’ve only added very generic categories:
Categorizing posts, you can make a strong ‘bulk’ of content about the same or nearly the same subject. Adding more relevant posts to a category will make it  stronger. Google will see that the content within that category is all related and therefore, valuable for potential visitors. For example, for the category ‘Home buying’ you could add subcategories such as ‘Home buying: apartments’ and ‘Home buying: cities’. Another option is adding tags such as ‘Apartments’ and ‘Beach houses’ to create specific overviews of related posts on your site. 

Categories and tags are beneficial for your site structure and for Google – to understand what content you have on your site. Moreover it helps to keep visitors on your site. When users see a link to related categories or tags they’ll likely navigate to those sections to read more relevant content. But now, the posts within the category ‘Home buying’ are probably too different to find specific posts a visitor would be interested in.  

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Optimizing for local SEO

Since the business of Ryan Hoffman is focused on particular areas of New York, it’s important to optimize for local SEO as well. There are probably lots of people in the neighborhood looking for a house in one of those areas. When you optimize for local SEO your website will be more visible in the search results of people nearby.

We noticed that you’ve already added separate pages for different areas which is great! Doing this, the search engines understand what areas your business focuses on. To give those location pages even more value, we recommend adding introductory content with information about the specific area to increase your rankings in the local search results even more.

In addition to that, we think that you didn’t create a Google My Business account yet. Adding your business details to Google My Business can also be very valuable for local SEO. We definitely recommend setting this up!

The power of social media

Lastly, we would like to mention that you shouldn’t underestimate the power of social media nowadays. The amount of people having social media accounts is still increasing, so your target audience probably uses social media every day.

We think social media should definitely be part of a holistic SEO strategy. Google and other search engines can’t ignore the importance of social media anymore and this means that you can boost your site’s SEO by the right use of social media. Since you write lots of great posts, we think it would be great to promote them on social media. Give your posts attractive titles and perhaps promote them – this isn’t too expensive on for example Facebook –  you’ll lead people from social media to your website. And when they are in, you should keep them in and make them convert!

To sum it up

In short, it’s important to do proper keyword research to really know what your target audience would like to read online. Adding more long tail keywords will probably make it a bit easier to rank. Besides using the right keywords, it’s important to make sure visitors can easily navigate to relevant content on the website. Make use of internal links and remove all the clutter. The main goal of your website should be clear and with internal links you can lead your visitors to that goal. Lastly, optimize for local SEO and make sure you benefit from the power of social media to improve your SEO and to get more traffic to your site.

Ryan’s response

When we showed the draft of this post to Ryan, we got a very nice and detailed response. Thanks and good luck Ryan!

“Great points on long tail research. With a lot of local competition, I think I could benefit from targeting more in depth keywords in an effort to drive specific traffic.

I have been a bit frustrated about how to keep my bounce rate down and keep visitors on the page. I want them to search homes for sale, but with most of my traffic coming from mobile, I have had a hard time presenting the home search ability to visitors. I want them to read articles to learn about the market, but also search. I need to make this clearer when they land.

I do have a lack of links inside articles. Maybe assuming that visitors will read to the end and navigate elsewhere is naive of me, but I also wanted them to see that I have houses for sale on the site they can click on. So far through, it hasn’t been working.

Niche specific categories and tags has definitely been something I have on my list. I need to drill down into these broad categories to get more specific for my visitors and for Google.

Another great point by Yoast here is that I need to add content to the different geographic pages of my home search. Right now these pages just offer a list of active homes for sale. But creating video or other relevant content before the list of homes in presented is something I should definitely do.

I have been working on social media, and of course my Google my business page. Sharing posts on Facebook has seen an increase of traffic, but also, my content is not specific enough to target an audience. Right now my content is for “everyone” and every area in my surrounding location. I think I would benefit from a more niches based approach.

I thank Yoast for this great case study regarding my site. Truth be told, I have studied SEO, mostly via Yoast content for quite some time, and have seen improvements in my SEO when following their best practices. I have been enlightened with this case study and learned a lot on new things to work on, but also feel like I am on the right path since Yoast mentioned a few ideas that I already had on my list, mainly because I learned them from Yoast! Thanks again for the great piece.”

Read more: ‘How to optimize your real estate site’ »

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Doing keyword research is a vital part of your content SEO strategy, but can be a long and difficult process. It’s just not easy to get into the heads of your audience: what words and phrases could they be using? What is their intention when searching? Another important aspect to check is whether it’s realistic to try to rank for a certain keyword or keyphrase, especially if there’s heavy competition.

In this Ask Yoast, I’ll get into a specific case of a business aimed at reaching people who want to start a company in Vietnam. What are the most important things to keep in mind?

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Brian Ho emailed us his question on keywords:

I’m trying to reach out to people around the world who want to open a company in Vietnam. Does that mean that I need to add the word ‘Vietnam’ to all my focus keywords?

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page for my answer!

Finding the best keyword strategy

“Well, you don’t have to add it to all of them, but ‘Vietnam’ is probably one of your important keywords at that point. So if you think about ‘start business’, then yes, ‘start business in Vietnam’ is probably the focus keyword that you want to optimize for, not ‘start business’, because then your competition will be way, way, way bigger.

At the same time, there are reasons why people would want to move to Vietnam and they don’t know that when they’re searching. So you probably also have keywords that relate to starting a business and that might actually make you want to convince them that they should do that in Vietnam, but they wouldn’t use the word ‘Vietnam’ when searching.

So think about your keyword research. We have a course about that if you into that: our SEO copywriting course has a whole module about all of this. This is not something that you should just add, because just adding ‘Vietnam’ to your focus keyword is not going to change anything. You really should think about your strategy, like: “Okay, which keywords do I want to be found for, which topic should I write about?”. And then, based on that, decide your focus keywords. Good luck.”

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In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from our readers. Have an SEO-related question? Let us help you out! Send an email to ask@yoast.com.

(Note: please check our blog and knowledge base first, the answer to your question may already be out there! For urgent questions, for example about our plugin not working properly, we’d like to refer you to our support page.)

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Search engines love entities. Entities can be people, places, things, concepts, or ideas and they will often appear in the Knowledge Graph. Lots of search terms can be an entity, but specific search terms can also have different meanings and thus, be different entities. Take [Mars] for example; are you talking about the planet entity or the candy bar entity? The context you give these entities in your content determines how search engines see and file your content. Find out how to link entities to your content.

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Let’s talk semantics

Semantics is the search for meaning in words. In theory, you could write an article about Mars without ever mentioning it directly. People would understand it if you provide enough context in the form of commonly used terms and phrases. To illustrate this, we’ll take the keyword [Mars]. Mars is a so-called entity, and search engines use these to determine the semantics of a search.

If you search this term in Google, you’ll most likely get results about the planet Mars. But why? Why isn’t the Mars candy bar in the top listings? Or Mars the chocolate company? Or the discovery district MaRS in Toronto? Maybe the Japanese movie called Mars? Or one of the many Mars-related movies made over the years? This is because Google makes an educated guess using search intent and your search history. Also, it uses co-occurring synonyms, keywords, and phrases to determine which page is about one of these specific search variations and which ones to show.

Co-occurring terms and phrases

Co-occurring terms and phrases are those that are commonly used to describe an entity. These are the terms that are most likely to pop up in content about that entity. Content about the planet Mars will probably contain mentions of the following terms:

  • ‘red planet’
  • ‘northern hemisphere’
  • ’low atmospheric pressure’
  • ‘martian craters’
  • ’red-orange appearance’
  • ’terrestrial planet’
  • ’second-smallest planet in the Solar System’
  • etc.

Pages with Mars candy bar content might feature phrases like:

  • ‘chocolate candy bar’
  • ’nougat and caramel covered in milk chocolate’
  • ’limited-edition variants’
  • ’ingredients’
  • ‘nutritional information’
  • etc

While content about the 2016 Mars movie will probably mention its main protagonists Rei Kashino and Makio Kirishima.

All these words are co-occurring keywords and phrases. It’s a type of content that is semantically related to the main keyword, but that doesn’t contain the keyword itself. This might include synonyms but often expands on that because they clarify the knowledge of the term, instead of saying the same thing differently. Search engine spiders scan your content for these related terms to paint a picture about the nature of your page. This way, it can correctly index the page, ie. file under [planet Mars], not [Mars the candy bar].

Optimize for phrase-based indexing

Over the years, Google was awarded several patents that suggested the development of a phrase-based indexing system and systems using word co-occurence to improve the clustering of topics. This is information retrieval system uses phrases to index, retrieve, organize and describe content. By analyzing the context surrounding an entity – meaning all the phrases that are commonly connected to an entity – Google can truly understand what a piece of content is about. That might sound complex, but it is something you can optimize for. And you are probably already doing that – to a certain extent. First, do keyword research. After that, provide context in your articles.

When writing about an entity in your content, it makes a lot of sense to give search engines – and readers for that matter – as much context as possible. Use every meaningful sentence you can think of. This way, you can take away any doubt about the meaning of your content.

If your subject is the planet Mars, you need to take a look at the Knowledge Graph in Google. Scour Wikipedia. Find out what kind of common terms and phrases co-occur in search results and incorporate them into your content so you can give your term the right context. Also, run a search and open the sites of competitors that rank high for your search terms. What are they writing about and how do they describe the entity? What terms and phrases can you use in your content? By doing this, you’ll find out that there will be much overlap with what you had in mind, but there will be many new – and maybe better – nuggets for you to use.

One more thing: no LSI keywords

Recently, the term LSI keywords started to pop up again as a magical way to play into one of Google’s ranking factors. They are not. Yes, you have to provide search engines context. No, latent semantic indexing has nothing to do with it. There’s no evidence whatsoever that search engines have ever used latent semantic indexing to determine rankings. LSI was a document analysis patent from the 90’s that only seemed to work on a limited set of documents, and it has no place in SEO.

Read more: ‘Keyword research for SEO: the ultimate guide’ »

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SEO is a way to get more traffic to your website. By ranking high in Google, you attract more people to your site. Eventually, your goal probably is to sell your stuff, or to attract more regular visitors. A nice tactic to get more traffic to your site is optimizing your content for words people use. However, to really convince people to buy your stuff, subscribe to your newsletter or to come back to your website another time, you should take into account search intent as well. Here, I will tell you what search intent is and how to optimize your articles for search intent.

What is search intent?

Search intent has to do with the reason why people conduct a specific search. Why are they searching? Are they searching because they have a question and want an answer to that question? Are they searching for a specific website? Or, are they searching because they want to buy something?

Over the years, Google has become more and more able to determine the search intent of people. And Google wants to rank pages highest that fit the search term as well as the search intent of a specific search query. That’s why it’s essential to make sure your post or page fits the search intent of your audience. 

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4 types of search intent

There are a few distinct types of search intent:

Informational intent

First, there is informational intent. Lots of searches on the internet are of people looking for information. Information about the weather, information about educating children, information about SEO. In this case people have a specific question or want to know more about a certain topic.

Navigational intent

The second type of search intent is called navigational intent. People with this intent try to get to a specific website. People who search for Facebook are usually on their way to the Facebook website.

Ranking high on a navigational term is only beneficial for your organic traffic if your site is the site people are looking for. A few years ago, Yoast had a Google Analytics plugin and we ranked pretty well for the term Google Analytics. It didn’t drive any traffic to our site though. People searching for Google Analytics were looking for the Google Analytics website and were hardly ever interested in our plugin.

Transactional intent

The third type of search intent is the transactional intent. Lots of people buy stuff on the internet and browse the web to find the best purchase. People who have the intention to buy are searching with a transactional intent.

Commercial investigation

Some people have the intention to buy in the (near) future, but use the web to do their research. What washing machine would be best? Which SEO plugin is the most helpful? These people also have a transactional intent, but will need some more time and convincing. These types of search intents are usually called commercial investigating intents.

Keyword intent

The words people use in their search queries will give information about their user intent. If people use words as buy, deal, discount, they are definitely prone to buy something. Also, if people are searching for specific products, they probably want to buy it. If people are searching and use words like information, how to, best way to, you’ll know they’ll have an informational search intent.

How to optimize your content for search intent

You want to make sure that a landing page fits the search intent of your audience. If people search for information, you don’t want to show them a product page. At least, not immediately. You’d probably scare them away. If people want to buy your product, do not bore them with long articles. Lead them to your shop.

Optimizing your product pages for more commercial driven keywords is a good idea. If you sell dog vitamins, you could for instance optimize a product page for [buy dog vitamins]. Perhaps you also have an article about administering vitamins. You could for example optimize that article for the search term [how to give vitamins do my dog].

It can be rather hard to determine the search intent of a query. And, perhaps different users will have a (slightly) different user intent, but still land on the same page. If you want to know more about the search intent of your audience, the best way is to ask them. You could make a small survey, containing questions about what people were searching for and make that survey pop up if people enter your website. That’ll probably give more insights in the search intent of your audience.

Conclusion

It’s crucial to ensure that the content you’re writing fits both the terms people are searching for, as well as the search intent of your audience. Make sure your post or page is informational, if people are searching for information. But lead people to your sales pages if they are prone to buying one of your products.

Read more: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »

 

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It can be a great strategy to focus on long tail keywords. But don’t go overboard there. Trying to rank for very long keyphrases usually makes your text a terrible read. Why is that? And what should be your strategy for those long keywords? Let me tell you all about long focus keywords in this post!

Focus keywords and  focus keyphrases

If you’re using our Yoast SEO plugin to optimize your posts and pages, you’re probably used to filling out your focus keyword. That’s the word you want that specific post to be found for. A focus keyword hardly ever is a single word though. It usually consists of a few words: it probably should be called a keyphrase.

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If you want your blog post to rank for the term [longtail keywords], you should optimize your post for that term. If you want it to be found for the term [keyword research tools], you’ll optimize for that term. Choosing what terms you want to be found for is hard, and you’ll need to do some proper keyword research to come up with those terms.

Read more: ‘How to start with keyword research’ »

Why long keyphrases?

Using long keyphrases can be a great strategy. The longer the keyword you’re optimizing for, the fewer competitors you’ll have. Focusing on a lot of long tail (specific) keywords could generate lots of traffic to your website. Combining such a strategy with cornerstone content and a great internal linking structure is a very smart SEO strategy. Nevertheless, if key phrases become too long, the readability of your text will suffer.

Keep reading: ‘How to incorporate cornerstone content’ »

Readability and long keyphrases

Optimizing your text for a very long focus keyword will jeopardize the readability of your text. I would strongly advise against the use of very long focus keywords: optimizing for more than 6 words is incredibly hard. Optimizing your text for a keyphrase like [keyword research tools that are easy to use] is very hard. If you want to use that exact phrase multiple times in your text, you’ll need to make an effort. Furthermore, your text can easily become rather awkward, and seem overoptimized if you use such a phrase too often.

Google and long keyphrases

Google is very capable of recognizing longer keyphrases, even if the words are not in the exact same order. If you Google for [keyword research tools that are easy to use] you’ll get these kinds of results:

Google highlights words in the search query, and recognizes the words in the query, even though they’re not in that exact order. In almost all cases, Google can do that. 

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Use multiple focus keywords for those long key phrases

If you want to optimize for long key phrases, you should use the multiple focus keyword functionality in Yoast SEO premium. For example, if you want to rank for the keyphrase [keyword research tools that are easy to use], I would advise you to optimize your post for [keyword research tools] and for [easy to use]. If you optimize your posts this way, you make sure you’re optimizing for all the specifics of your long tail focus keyword.

The multiple keyword functionality of Yoast SEO Premium enables you to focus on multiple aspects of a long tail keyword. The readability of your text will not suffer, and you’ll still make sure you cover all the aspects of a long search term in your writing. Of course, in the ideal situation, Yoast SEO would recognize the terms in the same way Google does. That’s still work in progress though.

Read on: ‘Keyword Research: the ultimate guide’ »

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If you’re serious about your SEO, you’ve probably set (implicit) goals on what you want to achieve. Perhaps you want to rank in the top ten search results for a specific keyword. Maybe you want your organic traffic to rise with a certain number. But what do you do if you are unable to meet your goals? Simply reset your goals? Or do you adapt and improve your SEO strategy? And how should you do that? In this post, I’ll talk you through the most important and effective tactics in content SEO strategy that’ll help you to achieve your SEO goals.

Why set SEO goals at all?

If you set SEO goals, chances are much higher your content SEO strategy will be successful. Specifying your goals will give you the motivation to meet those goals. They will give focus to your strategy. Also important, you’ll be able to measure the success of your SEO strategy, if you make your goals specific.

You could set goals for ranking top 10, top 5, top 3 or taking the number 1 position in the search engines for specific terms. You can also set goals for the amount of traffic you want to attract from the search engines. Make goals specific and put deadlines on them. That’ll help you become extra focused and determined to achieve your SEO goals.

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Not meeting your goals isn’t that bad…

It can be disappointing if you’re unable to meet your SEO goals, especially if you put a lot of effort into your content SEO strategy. No worries, though. The next step is to analyze what went wrong. If you analyze and evaluate properly, you’ll uncover valuable information. That information will help you to set realistic new goals and to improve your SEO strategy on all fronts.

Are all technical SEO aspects taken care of?

Make sure your technical SEO is in order. Yoast SEO takes care of these things for you. Still, you won’t be the first to accidentally have a noindex/nofollow tag in the wrong place. If you’re blocking – perhaps even without knowing it! – crawlers from your site, you’ll never rank high in Google.

Read more: ‘Technical pointers’ »

Evaluate your keyword research

A common mistake in content SEO is to aim for keywords that are simply too competitive to rank for. It’s understandable that we all want to rank for terms that generate the most traffic. Competition on those terms is killing, though. We can’t all rank for the same terms. If you are unable to meet your goals for certain keywords or keyphrases, you might be aiming too high.

Consider ranking for long tail keywords. The longer and more specific your keywords are, the less competitive they’ll be. If you focus on many of those long tail keywords, you can generate lots of traffic with those. And, after a while, you’ll be able to rank for more head terms as well, as your authority in your domain will increase.

Ranking for competitive search terms is always a longterm SEO strategy. I’m not saying you shouldn’t set goals to enter the top 5 in Google on a competitive term. I’m just saying that you should give yourself some time to achieve those goals. In the meantime, set goals on entering the top 5 in Google on more long tail and less competitive keywords. You’ll be able to celebrate successes while working towards your ultimate ranking goal.

Keep reading: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »

Evaluate your content

Another reason you’re not ranking (yet) could be that your site lacks awesome and SEO-friendly content. A successful SEO strategy requires lots of great quality content. A few thin-content sales pages will not get you in Google’s top 10. You need to incorporate several awesome, informative cornerstone content pages. Besides that, writing informative, unique and well-optimized articles and blogposts will do the trick.

When tackling your content to achieve your goals, check the following things: Did you write multiple lengthy articles or blogposts? Are they optimized for the right search terms? Did you update old content? Writing SEO friendly content is a lot of work. It’ll pay off, but you need to make an effort. No shortcuts here.

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Update that site structure

A third reason why you’re not ranking well or attracting as much traffic as you’d like could be that your site’s structure isn’t up to scratch. If your website is about ballet shoes, you’re probably writing many related articles about ballet shoes. But you want to tell Google which of these articles is the most important. Otherwise, you will end up competing with your own content in the search results. That could result in lower rankings for all of your articles.

The best way to improve your site structure is to choose a cornerstone approach. Determine which article on each main topic you’re writing about is most important. Link from all other blogposts on that topic to your most important one. Our Yoast SEO plugin has several features to help you improve your site’s structure. Using these will do wonders for your SEO!

Conclusion

Whether you reach your goals or not isn’t the main issue; you just need to set them. If you don’t manage to reach those goals, it’s a good starting point to look for the reasons you did not meet them. And that’ll allow you to improve your SEO strategy.

Read on: ‘The ultimate guide to site structure’ »

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