Keyword Research Basics for Freelance Writers

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As a freelance writer, you may spend the bulk of your working time writing content to be published on the web. And whether that content comes in the form of blogs, onsite copy, or landing pages, keywords will be an important part of the writing process. Keywords and keyphrases are the anchor terms for your content that will determine the focus of each piece you write. Additionally, they’ll help your content be seen by consumers who are likely to care about it. Some clients may have a working keyword list that you are given before creating content. However, others will be starting from scratch in terms of building their web presence. So, it’s essential to have some background in keyword research that you can put into action for your clients.

Understanding Keywords

Before you understand how to search for keywords, you will want to know why they are so important in the first place. Keywords are essentially search terms. When a person heads to Google to search for a phrase like “carpet cleaning services”, they will be given a list of websites that offer pages specifically relating to that keyword. For example, the first result that comes up may be a service page for a local cleaning company. That page likely uses the keyword “carpet cleaning services” throughout the body of the page as well as in the title, image descriptions, and other key areas. Therefore, when Google indexes search results, that page will appear most relevant for the search term provided.

There is also a local component involved. You might include a geographical indicator with the search term to narrow down results. For example, you might choose “carpet cleaning Los Angeles”. Otherwise, Google may automatically filter results based on the searcher’s location.

Finding Relevant Keywords

So, how do you know which terms to target when you’re identifying new keywords for a business? Your first step will be to identify which terms are most important to the business. That begins with a list of the business’s core service and product offerings. Using the example of a cleaning company, you might end up with a list like this:

  • Carpet cleaning
  • House cleaning
  • Upholstery cleaning
  • Pet stain removal

Once you’ve got a few terms written down, you can then research some related terms to include on your list. To find those terms, do a quick Google search for each of the service offerings. Scroll to the bottom of the search results to find related terms. In the case of “carpet cleaning”, you might find:

  • Rug cleaning
  • Green carpet cleaning companies
  • Carpet cleaners

At this point in the keyword research process, you’ll have a good handful of search terms. However, there’s still work to do to identify your target keywords.

Adding Long-Tail Keywords

Search terms are a great start, but they don’t always reflect the way people search. They are also challenging keywords to rank for. Take the example of “upholstery cleaning”. This is a term that you’ll find on the site of any cleaning company that offers this service. So, ranking for that term would be highly competitive. However, you might find it easier to stand out with a search term like “how to remove upholstery stains”. This is called a long-tail keyword or keyphrase. It reflects more accurately the kinds of terms people search for. Thus, it can be a clearer guide for your content strategy. In this case, that keyphrase could easily become a blog post that drives up traffic to your client’s website.

As you come up with different potential keywords, remember that it isn’t a whole site that ranks for a given keyword. Pages rank for keywords, so a site can compete against itself without a sufficient number of keywords to focus on for each page of content.

Determining the Value of Your Keywords

Now that you have a list of keywords that will prove relevant and useful for your client, you’ll need to see if those terms are ones that people will actually search for. You’ll also want to gauge how competitive it will be to rank for each keyword. There are a few different keyword planning tools out there. However, most writers prefer the Keyword Planner tool from Google Ads. You will need to create an Ads account to use it. However, you don’t need to run a full campaign or even run an ad. Simply type in your keywords and see where they rank for number of average monthly searches and competitiveness. High competition keywords are not a strong choice, because they have already been used by so many potential competitors. Low- to Medium-competition keywords will be more reliable for getting hits on your client’s website.

When you use the Keyword Planner, you’ll also get a look at related keywords that can serve as alternate choices for those that are too competitive or aren’t popular search terms.

Seeing Where Competitors Rank

Though it’s not a mandatory step in the keyword research process, it can be helpful to see where your client’s competitors rank for certain keywords. One way to do this is by Googling specific keywords—make sure to include relevant geographical terms too—and see where on the search results page your client’s competitors are ranking. For best results, be sure to use an incognito browser for your search. Alternatively, you can use the Google Ads Keyword Planner to search a specific competitor’s site and see the keywords they rank for already. If you’re offering more in-depth SEO services to your clients, you might also use tools like SEMrush to search for competitor data and other keyword information.

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