Keyword research for ecommerce

Last updated: April 27, 2023

Aaron Rudman-Hawkins

Aaron Rudman-Hawkins is a dynamic digital marketing expert and a driving force behind The Evergreen Agency's success. With a passion for technology and a deep understanding of the ever-evolving digital landscape, Aaron has become a trusted name in the industry.

Read Aaron's bio here

Keyword research is one of the most important components of SEO, as it underpins everything that your campaign is built upon and sets the tone for your entire website.

In this guide, we’ll provide all the information you need in order to nail your keyword research and in turn, set the foundations for successful online growth.

Keep reading to learn more on:

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is the process of finding keywords that relate to your business’ offering to accurately describe the products you provide.

Keywords are woven into the copy on your website and help search engines like Google understand what your page is about and how closely this aligns with what your target customers are searching for.

Why is keyword research important?

Keyword research is vital to helping you understand how your customers search and aims to answer the following top-level questions:

  • What are people searching for?
  • How many people are searching for it?
  • What format do they want that information in?

Go one step further and good keyword research can also help you to better understand:

  • How do your customers describe your products?
  • What questions are they asking about your products?
  • What kind of information are they currently provided with?
  • How does this information compare to the information that your website provides?

Keywords are the gateway to discovery for potential customers and are incredibly powerful when a clear strategy is applied to them. Think of them as the tools that your customers use to find the products they need and that search engines use to confirm that your website meets those needs.

When these two uses aren’t aligned, search engines struggle to understand what you do and in turn, rank you poorly because it’s unclear what exactly your website should be ranking for.

This guide will help you understand how to do good keyword research and how to apply a strategy to your keyword research in a way that appeals to your customers and facilitates business growth.

Keyword research fundamentals

How search engines use keywords

Everything on the internet is organised and understood by search engines through the presence of entities. Now, entity SEO is a whole other topic in itself that this guide won’t cover, but for the purpose of understanding the importance of keyword research, entities can be thought of as information organised into topics and how those topics relate to one another.

A search engine’s understanding of these topics and their relationships all comes down to keywords as a representation of a topic. For a business, keywords can be thought of as the way your website demonstrates its authority and expertise within a given topic area aka your industry.

For home and garden businesses, topics can be easily split out into the product categories that your business sells. For example, if you are a company that sells pet products, your website might be organised into the following product categories:

  • Pet beds
  • Pet collars
  • Pet leads
  • Pet bowls
  • Pet coats
  • Pet accessories

Each of these categories could then be broken down into subcategories like so:

  • Dog beds
  • Dog collars
  • Dog leads
  • Dog bowls
  • Dog coats
  • Dog accessories
  • Cat beds
  • Cat collars
  • Cat leads
  • Cat bowls
  • Cat coats
  • Cat accessories

Each of these categories is a topic and each topic will have a plethora of searches related to it. In order to show that your business is an authority within each of these topic areas, your pages must accurately reflect what users are searching for. This not only demonstrates to search engines that your website meets their needs, but also reassures your potential customers that they’ve landed on the right page related to their search.

Keyword mapping

Keyword mapping is simply the process of mapping your keywords to a page. Without this, you run the risk of not having a clear idea of what each page needs to rank for which can result in mixing up your keywords and making a search engine’s job harder.

To avoid this, section your keyword research document according to the different product categories you sell before you start your research. Not only will this make organising your keywords easier, but it will also provide you with a clear structure and starting point. This will keep you focused on one category at a time and prevent you from going off-piste which can easily happen when you start building out your list.

How to do keyword research?

Once you’ve structured your spreadsheet and know which topic you’re going to start with, you’re now in a position to build your keyword list.

Step one: Find out what you’re already ranking for

The best way to find out how your customers are searching for your products is by looking at your own data to see what keywords are currently driving traffic to your website. Many businesses will look at what everyone else is doing before they consider what’s currently working for them, but this step is often the most lucrative and insightful, as you’ll get a great insight into your audience’s search behaviour.

The best tool for this is Google Search Console because it tells you exactly which keywords are driving traffic to your site for free! Here’s how to find them:

  • Head to your Google Search Console dashboard and click search results on the right-hand side. This will take you to the performance page.

GSC Search Results

  • Once you’re on this page, you’ll see a few filter options that you can use to get the most relevant data for your research:
    • Filter the page by clicking ‘new’ and then ‘page…’
    • Enter the URL of the product category page you want to see the keywords for

GSC Page Filter

  • Once you’ve filtered your data, scroll down and you’ll see a list of queries. These are the keywords that are generating clicks to your chosen product category page.

GSC Queries

  • Export the list and put the keywords into the relevant tab of the keyword mapping spreadsheet you created earlier.

You’re now in a position to look at the keywords you’re already ranking for and decide which ones are the most relevant to your products.

Step two: Determine your seed keywords

All keyword research starts with a seed keyword. A seed keyword is usually a short-tail (one or two words) keyword that broadly describes a topic and will form the basis of your keyword research. Seed keywords generally have high search volumes and are the most competitive terms you’ll be targeting, which is why it’s important to build out your list with more specific keywords later on.

The joy of using your product categories as the starting point is that your seed keyword will likely be the name of that product category. For example, for a company selling dog beds, the seed keyword for that topic would simply be ‘dog beds’. Easy!

If the product categories on your website aren’t that clear and you’re unsure where to start, think of the simplest way to describe the product and put it into a search engine to see what comes up. If the pages that ranking are from similar businesses and the products match yours, then you can be confident that you’ve found your seed keyword.

Step three: Build out your list with relevant keywords

Using your list of keywords from Google Search Console, identify the seed keyword and highlight it. You’ll be using this later to find new keywords that you currently don’t rank for.

Hint: Don’t have Google Search Console? Not to worry, you can put your seed keyword into a tool like Semrush’s keyword magic tool to find a list of keywords related to your seed keyword and build your list from there.

Now go through the list and highlight the other keywords that accurately describe your product category. For our dog bed example, we might end up with something like this:

  • Dog beds
  • Large dog beds
  • Pet beds
  • Dog bedding
  • Dog basket
  • Grey dog beds
  • Beds for dogs
  • Dog beds for sale
  • Flat dog beds
  • Small dog beds
  • Pet beds for dogs
  • Black dog beds
  • Dog bed for large dogs

Step four: Find competitor keywords

Now that you’ve built out your list with relevant keywords that you’re confident accurately reflect your product, it’s time to find out what your competitors are ranking for in your chosen topic.

To do this is really easy – Simply take your seed keyword and a handful of others and put them into the search engine you’re optimising for. The pages that are ranking on page one are the pages that the search engine deems as the most relevant for that topic. In other words, these pages are your competitor pages.

To find out which keywords these pages are ranking for, put the URL into a tool like Semrush and you should see all of the keywords the page is ranking for. Cross-reference the keywords on this list with your list and add any that you feel are relevant that you don’t already have.

Congratulations, your keyword list is built! Now it’s time to refine it.

Step five: Refine your keyword list

When doing keyword research, it’s tempting to think you should go after the keywords with the highest search volume because these are the ones that are likely to drive the most revenue. However, that’s not always the case.

There are a number of metrics that need to be taken into account when refining your keyword list to ensure that you’re going after the most realistic keywords based on your website’s authority and position within the industry.

The two main metrics to pay attention to are search volume and keyword difficulty.

Search volume provides an indication of how many users search for that keyword per month. The higher the search volume, the bigger the opportunity but this often comes with more competition.

This is where keyword difficulty comes in.

Keyword difficulty provides an indication of how easy or difficult it will be to rank for a keyword. Every tool calculates this differently and to varying degrees, but generally, it takes into account the authority of the websites ranking on page one.

So, how do you get this right? The trick is to choose keywords that have a significant amount of search volume but with a relatively medium to low keyword difficulty. The ease with which this can be done varies between industries so it’s best to be realistic and keep the business goal in mind.

If you’re in a very competitive industry and all of your keywords have a high keyword difficulty, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t target any of them, it just means that you’ll need to be realistic about the additional digital marketing activities you’ll need to do successfully rank for those keywords. This will either be creating a content cluster to support your chosen topic, building your authority through promotion, or both.

To find out the search volumes and keyword difficulties of your chosen keywords, put the whole list into a tool like Semrush’s bulk analysis tool and you’ll be provided with a list of metrics for each keyword.

Bulk Keyword Analysis

Export this list into your keyword mapping spreadsheet so that you’re left with just the list of keywords and their metrics.

You can now start refining your list based on the search volume and keyword difficulty.

Go through the list and pay attention to those keywords that you feel most accurately reflect your products and are specific to your niche. Generally, long-tail keywords (three words or more) are less competitive than short-tail keywords and are likely to drive better quality traffic, as they tend to be more tailored to your audience’s needs.

For example, if you only sell dog beds for large dogs, you’ll want to make sure you’re including these keywords in your list so that they even out the broader, more competitive terms. A good rule of thumb when refining your keywords is to choose keywords that describe what you do and who you do it for.

Step six: Confirm your keywords match the user intent

User intent is arguably one of the most important considerations when it comes to keyword research. Sometimes referred to as search intent, user intent assumes the intent behind a keyword and this can have a knock-on effect on the types of pages that rank in the search results.

Choose a handful of keywords from your list and look at the search results that rank for those terms. This can help you determine whether your page matches the user intent behind your chosen keywords.

For example, if you search for ‘dog beds for large dogs’ and the search results are filled with guides providing information about the best dog beds for large dogs, or explaining how to choose the best dog bed for your dog, then this suggests that the keyword is informational and better suited to a blog than a product category page.

Users searching this keyword will be higher up in the marketing funnel and looking for information rather than interested in making a purchase. If, however, you’re met with a series of product category pages, then you can be confident that the user intent matches the keyword.

There may be cases where the search results are showing both commercial and informational results. If this is the case, think back to your overall business goal and how your keyword research aligns with that goal.

Does it make sense for your business to target this keyword? If so, keep it, optimise your product category page with it and consider creating an additional piece of informational content around it to hit both intents.

Step seven: Optimise your pages

Now your keyword research is complete, your next step is to optimise your product category pages by adding those keywords to your copy.

One of the most common mistakes ecommerce businesses make is thinking that their products alone are enough to rank their pages successfully. While your products are ultimately going to be generating your revenue, it’s important to remember that the information that you provide is what adds value to those pages and ultimately what search engines are looking for.

Product page copy is one of the most important features of a successful ecommerce website and is also a feature that is repeatedly ignored.

To make the biggest impact, write engaging, useful content related to your products and you will naturally start to include the keywords most relevant to your products. Potential customers will be grateful for the additional information and search engines will reward you for your efforts by ranking those pages higher in the search results.

Keyword research vs keyword strategy

The fundamentals of keyword research are generally straightforward and the ‘how’ is relatively easy to understand once you get into the swing of it. However, as with all things in digital marketing, it’s also important to consider the ‘why’ as it will allow you to put together a list of keywords that not only enable you to rank for your given topic but that will also enable your website to grow as your business grows.

A keyword strategy considers the following:

  • How competitive is your industry?
  • What are the primary keywords that you should be targeting?
  • How easy will it be to get onto page one for these keywords?

This goes beyond simply finding keywords to rank for, it considers the wider needs of the business and digital marketing landscape in your industry.

These questions will often take you down paths leading to your wider marketing plan which is why keyword research can’t be done in isolation and needs to consider other key areas like content and promotion.

Remember, there’s a lot of competition on the internet and competitors don’t sit still which is why keyword research needs to be done strategically for the best results.

Check out our blog to find out more about our approach to digital marketing, including SEO, Paid Search and Paid Social.

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