It’s a situation you have never before found yourself in. It is fraught with anticipation— and potentially danger. Oftentimes it can be the difference between success or failure.

It is the square zero experience, and if you find yourself developing a keyword glossary that will drive your digital marketing campaigns for an indefinite amount of time, you might be in one.

To explore the topic in further depth, we recommend checking out our full overview of keyword strategies and why they’re important, but here we will focus on the very starting point: keyword research, which lays the foundational groundwork for your SEO efforts. 

For those who are about to embark on a new or refreshed keyword process – here are five square zero keyword research “survival” tips you should take to heart.

5 keyword research tips to survive the SEO wilderness

#1 – Develop Your Structure

You are separated from civilization by an enormous cave system. One path leads to safety – and several more lead deeper into the abyss. You stand at the opening and prepare to take your first step. But do you have a structure in place to map your journey?

Developing a structure for documenting and organizing the keywords that will be generated by your keyword research is essential. The more detail and data you can surface through this process, the more confidently you will be able to make decisions about where to focus and prioritize. Information like search volume, keyword difficulty, and competitive landscape are important considerations in a keyword strategy. At TopRank, we use keyword glossaries to track and analyze all of these attributes and more. 

#2 – Know the Obstacles

Knowing what you’re up against is critical when embarking on any expedition. If you’ll be facing extreme cold or inclement weather, you want to pack and prepare for such conditions. 

When it comes to keyword research, it’s valuable to obtain a clear understanding of the SEO space in your industry or niche. Who are the power players in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for key terms and phrases? Which keywords are competitors bidding on for their paid strategies? Where is the whitespace where you can make an impact most quickly?

A Fortune 5 company ranking highly for one of your targeted keywords may represent an insurmountable challenge. But a synonymous phrase, which may be just as popular with buying customers – and which the mountainous competitor has not yet considered – may represent the most ideal path for your campaign.

#3 – Understand How You Will Be Found

Brands don’t have the luxury of firing a flare gun into the sky to help their customers find them through a sea of content and search results. Keywords will be your beacon for discoverability, and as you begin identifying them, you’ll want to know who you are trying to reach and how.

Think holistically about your buyer’s journey and the many problems they need to solve along the way. From searching for basic information as they get started to comparing solution benefits in the late stage, there are always a wide range of different ways you can show up for your target audience. 

Before beginning your keyword research, understand that your final glossary will be a representation of your brand’s singular messaging and identity across the products and services mix. Any phrases that don’t tie back to this messaging will ultimately be wasted effort. 

#4 – Know the Angles

You are on a boat stranded in the middle of an ocean. Your path to safety will need to be adjusted based on the wind and the waves – but fundamentally – your path should lead in one direction.

When at square zero of keyword research, understand that several different keywords – and several different keyword variations – will bring value to your campaign. But at the end of the day, all keywords should point in one direction. 

Understanding search intent holds the key to ensuring you are targeting keywords relevant to your buyer’s journey. It’s important to qualify each keyword based on what the user is trying to learn or accomplish.

#5 – Understand the Value & Purpose of a Mirror

You need to create a fire to stay warm and survive the night. Your tools include a mirror and quickly dwindling sunlight. Do you spend time staring into the mirror – assuring yourself that everything will be OK – or do you try to capture the power of the sun to start a fire?

At square zero of keyword research, it’s important that you spend far more time looking externally than internally. When strategies are driven by assumptions or poorly-vetted conclusions, they can easily run astray. Today’s marketers have access to a wealth of data on search behaviors, algorithm changes and keyword trends. Use this information to better understand your brand’s opportunities through a more objective, data-backed lens.

The key is to be less concerned with ‘what you want to rank for’ and more concerned with ‘what are my customers looking for?’ A favorite question I like to use to set the mood is, ‘how do your customers look for you – before they know you exist?’ 

Be confident in your keyword research structure and strategy – before you dive into actual keyword research – and like any other square zero scenario, you’ll ensure the best chance of success and survival.

Learn how your brand can not just survive but thrive in the modern SEO wilderness. Download our ebook, Marketing with Intent: A Guide to the Future of SEO and Qualified B2B Traffic.

About the author

Nick Nelson is our friendly neighborhood writer-man. As the Associate Content Director at TopRank Marketing, he is on a mission to energize brand narratives with smart, fun, sharp wordplay. In his free time, Nick enjoys basking in the misery of Minnesota sports fandom, making cringeworthy puns, and smothering all types of food in buffalo sauce.

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