Keyword research is simply the process of identifying the best and most relevent keywords to use to optimize the different pages of your website so that you can be found in search. It is the most important on-page SEO activity that you can use to prepare your website to rank in organic search.
With keyword research, it would be wise to optimize your web pages for the specific keywords that your prospective customers are most likely to use to search for your products or services. That is the only way you’re going to get found.
However, the way keyword research is performed today has fundamentally changed. In the old world of SEO when Google search was keyword-driven, keyword research was all about targeting the most important exact match keywords for your business and then optimizing your site to rank as highly as possible for those search terms. Approaching your SEO with that tactic is only likely to earn you a penalty.
Today, although keyword research is still critically important for SEO, as a semantic search engine, Google is now contextually-driven, which means, for the most part it no longer relies on keyword-optimized web pages in order to establish relevance to a search query.
This means Google now uses artificial intelligence to understand the searcher’s intent and the “contextual” meaning of keywords being searched for. Being theme-driven, it considers the entire query as a whole and then identifies the most “contextually relevant” results for the search query.
Essentially, Google’s algorithm is now better able to find and return the “most relevant” web pages to a particular search query even if particular web pages do not contain the keywords used in the search query.
The implication of Google being a semantic search engine means that you can no longer overtly target keywords that you want to rank for. When Google was a keyword-driven search engine, it was acceptable to optimize your web pages for the exact keywords you were able to discover through keyword research. This meant adding exact match keywords to your URL structure, your metadata, your web copy, your anchors, etc. Today, this practice is no longer a legal tactic in organic search, and will in all likelihood, attract a Panda penalty for over optimization.
When targeting keywords today, you need to be very strategic. For example, openly optimizing a web page for an exact match keyword like “bake cake”, or “cooking rice” is a waste of time. Rather, you should use those keywords to create themes, titles or topics for your videos, blogs or other content.
A more specific keyword you can use instead is “how to prepare chocolate cake” or “preparing long grain brown rice in ten minutes“. You can then optimize for this long tail keyword by using it as the basis of your blog titles, and use it in videos, audios, anchors, social media posts and statuses, etc. You can also strategically use the keywords bake cake and cooking rice naturally in your content.
If you do this, then the page will also be ranking naturally for keywords like bake cake, cook rice and cooking rice even though you did not specifically optimize for those exact keywords.
Keyword density is the amount of times a keyword or phrase appears in the content of a web page, compared to the total amount of text on the page. For example, if in a 2000-word article, the keyphrase cooking rice appears 20 times, the page would have a keyword density of 1% for that phrase.
The question now is, what would be an acceptable keyword density percentage?
The best way to determine the right density is to look at what your top competitors are doing using the free tool:
- Search for the target keyword on Google.
- Grab 5 of the top ranked pages from the search results.
- Record the keyword densities of your primary and secondary keywords to get an average.
It is important to keep in mind that you cannot just blindly copy what the top ranking sites are doing. These sites are trusted by Google, and can get away with certain infractions that a relatively new website would be penalized for doing. You would be better off focusing on results from your actual competitors that are ranking well in Google. Simply use what you learn from the bigger brands as a guideline, rather than a hard and fast rule.