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Keyword Research

When the use of search engines on the web first began to become popular, they weren't very sophisticated at how they found relevant results for a particular search query. They relied heavily on meta data and backlinks. While these ranking factors are still a minor influence, the most important factors modern search engines take into consideration when finding and ranking results today is the relevancy of the content to a person performing an actual search, and the popularity of the sites that serve that content.

This aligns with one of the ongoing philosophies of modern SEO; cater to your audience — real human beings — and not to robots and ranking algorithms.

We refer to the contents of these search queries as keywords, and the science of figuring out the best keywords to include in your site to attract the right kind of visitor as keyword research.


Basic Keyword Research

From an ecommerce perspective, when someone is searching the web, they can typically be classified as being in one of three modes:

  • Browsing — In this mode, a searcher is just exploring or surfing the web. They don't have a specific goal or task they wish to accomplish. They might be searching for funny cat videos or the history of Japan. They use short, non-descriptive search queries, like "funny cats", or "Japanese history". These searches return hundreds of millions of results, making it hard to compete and be found.
  • Researching — Searchers in research mode have a specific topic in mind, and are actively seeking more detailed information about it. This could be someone who is considering purchasing something, like a camera, and might be looking up reviews and specifications for a particular model. People in this mode have slightly more specific queries, like "Nikon camera reviews".
  • Buying — As an online merchant, this is the mode you want your store's visitors to be in when they find your products. This person has made the mental commitment to make a purchase, and are performing a search with that as the end goal. Searchers in this mode are straightforward and detailed with their search queries, like "buy Nikon 16 megapixel digital SLR", "women's white long sleeve cashmere sweater", or "organic dog food in denver". These searches return fewer results, meaning there is less competition to contend with, thus making it more likely for your result to be surfaced.

These detailed searches and phrases, known as long tail keywords, are the kind of content that you want to include on your BigCommerce store's page titles and product descriptions to help make your products more easily found by search engines, and to stand out in the results.

For each product or category, you'll want to focus on groups of long tail keywords, not just one. It's more difficult to rank by focusing on a single long tail keyword; using groups will make you more visible and attract more traffic.

Take a look at the following example. In addition to having a detailed, long tail keyword product title, "Nikon 16 megapixel Digital SLR", the product description and category name also include similar long tail keywords in that group related to the product, "best reviewed DSLR" and "quality digital camera under $700".

Camera product page demonstrating the use of groups of long tail keywords in the title, description and category

* Camera product page demonstrating the use of groups of long tail keywords in the title, description and category.

Words and phrases like "best" and "under $700" are known as qualifiers. Use qualifiers to help come up with new long tail keyword combinations to add to your group. Remember that your customers might not search the same way that you do, and may not use or be familiar with the marketing or industry language that you might.

With all this in mind, be aware that getting too specific with your long tail keywords can have the opposite effect, in which the search query is so incredibly specific, there's hardly anyone actually searching for it. For example, there's probably very few people who search for "best reviewed Nikon 16 megapixel camera under $700".

Another recurring theme with modern SEO is that it's a continuing, ongoing process, and that the optimization never truly ends. It’s a process of trial and error, and by making small, educated changes over time, you can maximize your potential for attracting the right kind of visitor, while minimizing the chance of hurting your existing exposure and rank.

If you're new to keyword research, start by taking the tips and advice here and applying them to some of your products. To get started, maybe focus on your top 10 sellers, then allow some time to pass and see if you get more traffic and better conversion.


Documenting Progress

As an online merchant, you want as much traffic from the right kind of visitor as possible, and one theory that's been proven to accomplish this time and time again is having the right keywords in your site's content.

Keyword research is just like any other science:

  1. Come up with a hypothesis.
  2. Perform experiments to test your theory.
  3. Measure the results.
  4. Analyse and learn from the data you've collected.

It’s important to understand that while you may be able to drive large amounts of traffic to your site, it doesn’t matter unless the majority of that traffic represents shoppers who are ready to take action.

Getting started, you'll need a tool that can tell you how your site is performing now, so that down the road, you can see if your experiments are having an effect. The most popular tool for tracking and reporting website traffic is Google Analytics. By enabling ecommerce tracking in Google Analytics, you’ll also be able to measure your products’ conversion rate, which will help indicate if your efforts with keyword optimization are helping.

Some basic metrics to track:

  • Number of new customers per week
  • Number of sales by product
  • Average order value
  • Lifetime customer value

Depending on your BigCommerce subscription plan, some or all of the above metrics have built-in analytical reporting in your control panel.


Getting Ideas for Keywords

Being a business owner or operator, you’re probably already familiar with some of the keywords related to your product. You might not be aware, however, of what long tail keywords your potential shoppers are searching for when trying to find your product. There are a few techniques and tools you can use to gain insight into what keywords you should be using.

Google’s search bar has an automatic completion feature. You may have noticed that as you begin typing a word or phrase, Google almost immediately starts offering suggestions for long tail keywords based on what it thinks you’re looking for. By examining Google search suggestions, you can get some idea of what specific search queries people are using when they conduct searches using keywords related to your product.

Google' s search bar offers suggestion based on keyword in a search query

In addition, when you press the search button and land on Google’s Search Engine Results Page, or SERP, you can find results in a “Searches related to” section towards the bottom. This is yet another source of inspiration to find out what your potential customers are searching for, and how they go about it.

Google displays related searches at the bottom of search engine result pages


Google Keyword Planner

To get larger amounts of data, and find keywords you may be unaware of, you will want to utilize a keyword research tool. The Google Keyword Planner, offered as part of Google’s AdWords service, is a popular choice for many merchants. There is plenty of documentation on how to use it. Be sure to read this first as it will help you understand how to use all of the features it has to offer.

If you use any Google service (like Gmail), you can already sign in to AdWords, Google’s paid-search (non-organic) solution. If it’s your first time using AdWords, Google will guide you through the process of setting up your first campaign. To complete the process, Google will ask you to provide a method of payment (a bank account or credit card number). Go ahead and complete setting up your AdWords account — you never have to actually launch the initial campaign Google had you set up.

By going about it this way, you can use Google’s Keyword Planner for your organic keyword research without having to pay anything.

Once you’ve set up your account, follow the tour Google provides to learn about the ins and outs of using the tool. To do this, click on Tools, then Keyword Planner. From here, you have a few options. Choose Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category.

Come up with 5 to 10 keywords and phrases to create your seed list, and use the extra targeting and keyword filters to further tweak your results. Select a product category that most closely matches your industry. If your business is local, you’ll get more relevant suggestions by changing the location to be something specific, like your city or state. Submit your data by clicking Get ideas.

Create a seed list with 5 to 10 keywords

On the next page, you’ll see report tabs for ad group and keyword ideas. Google shows you what keywords are popular for certain ad groups, and you can see data specific to individual keywords. The Keyword Planner shows you the average monthly searches for suggested keywords and how competitive they are.

Use Google's Keyword Planner to get long tail keyword suggestions

Short keywords will typically have the most search volume and competition. Longer, more specific keywords will likely have less. Generally, you’ll want to focus on keywords that have a high search volume, but not a lot of competition. Of course, every business is different, and niche markets might not have much search volume. That’s okay, you can still use the planner to get some good ideas of what keywords you may want to try incorporating into your site.


Making Changes

Once you’ve curated a list of long tail keyword suggestions, go apply some of them to your products’ titles, descriptions, and categories. Also, consider adding some keywords to your site’s content pages, like your about, contact, and FAQ pages, and to your blog, if you have one.

Allow some time to pass so that you can see if the products and pages you’ve updated with your new keywords have improved conversion rates and page views. It will take time for the experiment to run its course, so allow at least 2 weeks before verifying any trends.

If you do see some positive results, don’t go overboard and make immediate drastic changes to your whole site. Repeat the process over with some more products, and see if you can replicate the results. Over time, you’ll learn to hone your keywords research skills, and you’ll be able to recognize which keywords are helping drive traffic to your store, and those that are irrelevant, and that you can ignore.


Other Services

There are a number of keyword research tools out there besides Google’s Keyword Planner:

There are also alternatives to Google’s traffic and ecommerce reporting, some of which have advanced ecommerce analysis features:


Long Tail Keywords

When adding content to your store, like product titles and descriptions, about us and contact information, you'll want to use keywords that will make your goods or services more easily found by people searching for them.

People who already know what they want to buy use search terms that are longer and more specific than those who are just researching a product or service.

These longer, more specific searches are called long tail keywords. Having long tail keywords mixed in with the content of your site will increase your rank on search engine result pages when people search for the same terms.

For example, someone doing research on fashion trends might do a general search for "women's shoes", and will get literally millions of results. At the same time, someone who has zeroed in on what they want to buy will do a search for "sparkly red pumps size 7", and receive fewer but far more relevant results.

A search for women's shoes produces hundreds of millions of results.

Having your products show up in this shorter, more exclusive list of search results is good because there is less competition than with the generic search, were you'd be less likely to stand out or be found.

A more specific search yields fewer, yet more relevant results.

A recurring, overarching philosophy when it comes to search engine optimization is to cater to people, your visitors / shoppers, rather than focusing on generating traffic. While getting traffic to your site is generally good, getting the right kind of shopper to find your products is essential to your store’s success.

Use long tail keywords in your stores content, especially in your product descriptions.

You'll need to dial in exactly how long your long tail keywords need to be. If they're too short, your content is lost in the millions of results returned. If they're too long, you won't get any traffic because almost nobody is being that specific.

Add long tail keywords to your store's content in a way that best serves and speaks to your shoppers. Do not just throw them on your site without context just to appease search engine crawlers. Search engines, especially Google, have become exceedingly better in the past few years at being able to discern between sites that are actually geared towards shoppers, and sites that are merely pandering to search engines in the hopes of generating traffic.

Think about how searchers phrase their queries when researching keywords for your product or industry. They may not be as familiar with your market as you are, and might not use or understand industry terminology, slang or buzzwords.

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