The first thing you need to do whenever you start to delve into SEO is keyword research. There are a variety of tools out there to facilitate this, As discussed in the introduction, I use a premium tool called AHREFs, and the data I reference will be pulled from there.
But over the years have also used Semrush (both their free and premium offerings) and Google’s AdWords keyword planner.
Google’s offering is ok for the occasional use – especially given the fact it’s free (just requiring an AdWords accounts). But I don’t feel it’s the most accurate – offering search volume in wide ranges like ‘100-1000’. The data gets more accurare as you spend on Ads. The premium offerings of AHREFS and SEMRUSH are *very* premium for a solo photographer to subscribe to, priced and aimed at agencies or SEO marketers who will make the subscription price back from their clients. Prices for AHREFs range from $99 to $999 a month.
For a solo operator – to make the cost easier, I’d suggest signing up for a 7 day trial of Ahrefs ($7 at time of writing), doing a significant amount of keyword research in that time, exporting it all – and then using that data to direct your efforts over the next 12-18 months.
You can always sign up for a month here and there to do more research, as required.
Ok, so what are people *actually* searching for?
The idea of keyword research is to get a feel for what people are searching for.
For example, I’ve been working on another wedding photographers SEO recently, and they’re based in Bedfordshire.
They’ve been targeting the keyword “Wedding Photography Bedfordshire” – a very logical thing to aim for, given their geography – but upon doing a little bit of keyword research, it turns out not many people are searching for that term.
Ahrefs lists it as 60 searches a month.
Whereas the similar term “Wedding Photographer Bedfordshire” receives 400 searches a month.
I know which I’d prefer to show up for!
*** Now, some folks will argue that “Google is smart, Google knows that both search terms are essentially the same” – and yes, that’s true, Google is getting smarter and smarter every day.
I won’t go into ultra detail (you can google it if your interested) but, Machine Learning and AI are all giving the search engines a better understanding of your content, and it’s target, in an attempt to link that up with searcher’s intent to ensure the searching is shown the best fitting content for their intention.
But I still believe getting the keywords right from the start is essential for maximising your traffic and eliminating any search engine confusion. ***
Picking the right keywords
Ok, so let’s start with some simple location-based keywords variations – I’m writing this for wedding photographers, but the same kind of structure can work for any industry.
As we’ve already used Bedfordshire above as an example, let’s stick with it. You might start looking at general county based search variations like –
Wedding Photographer Bedfordshire
Wedding Photographers Bedfordshire
Wedding Photography Bedfordshire
Wedding Photographers in Bedfordshire
Wedding Photographer in Bedfordshire
Wedding Photography in Bedfordshire
Bedfordshire Wedding Photographer
Bedfordshire Wedding Photographers
Bedfordshire Wedding Photography
Putting those into AHREFS gets me the following information –
The volume column indicates that Wedding Photographer Bedfordshire is the best one to target, given its high search volume with a significant drop off in searches for all the others.
You can certainly keep these other keyword variations wedding photographers Bedfordshire and wedding photography Bedfordshire in mind when writing your content, but realistically, you can see the one you want to rank for on volume alone.
The other column KD or Keyword Difficulty estimate how tough it will be to rank for a given keyword, but more on that later.
Interesting to note that the term Bedfordshire Wedding Photographer has a fraction of the traffic.
And further down, Bedfordshire Wedding Photography also a minuscule amount of traffic.
Indeed, proof as to why doing the research is vital.
Bedfordshire is getting picked on a bit here, so let’s look somewhere else in the UK.
Let’s look at Norfolk; these are the numbers we get out of AHREFs for that area –
So like Bedfordshire before, we can see there is a significant drop off in volume from the ‘top’ keyword, down to the others, we can also see there is a much higher degree of keyword difficulty across the board.
Notice too, the comparable keyword difficult between ‘Wedding Photographer Norfolk’ (22) vs the lower volume search of keyword ‘Wedding Photography Norfolk’ (18).
Little variations and details like this are what will separate your SEO efforts from your competition.
It’s not huge, I’ve seen much more significant variations – but this highlights that lots more folks are competing over a lot less traffic with that keyword.
Also interesting, is that the keyword structure changes from county to county.
Norfolk favoured the structure “COUNTY WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER” whereas Bedfordshire was “WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER COUNTY”.
So it highlights the importance of doing your own, local keyword research, rather than relying on what everyone else is doing.
What to do with this information?
Once you have your main keyword ideas written down – you can move onto the next bit.
If you’re using Ahrefs, head into their Keyword Explorer area, type your keywords or amend the above variations to fit your location, and see what you get.
The important things to take note of at this point, are the volume and the KD (or keyword difficulty) – which should give you a rough idea of how hard it will be (out of 100) to rank for the given search term.
Considering volume – You want to balance the effort you put in with the volume.
For broad county or city based searches, anything north of 150-200 is usually worth a look.
Under that can still be valuable, it depends on the market.
Generally speaking, It’s not worth putting 30+ hours into writing content targeting a keyword that only has less than ten searches a month, unless you have specific knowledge that it will pay off.
But sometimes those small searches can pay off if search intent is right.
Considering Keyword Difficulty – It varies from site to site, but I find anything under 20 KD quite easy to rank for, while anything over 40 KD can be tough, but not impossible.
Do your research (or hire someone to do keyword research for you!) It’s different from county to county.
Hidden gem keywords
If you happen to stumble upon something that has 400+ search volume, and a negligible difficulty (for example, less than 7), then you should do everything you can to get some content up that will target that ASAP, because that is where you will see significant gains, relatively quickly.
Also worth thinking about at the keyword stage, is the search intention. Someone searching for ‘Fancy London Hotel Wedding Photographer’ is potentially at a different stage of the buying process to someone searching for ‘Fancy London Hotel Wedding Photography’.
Someone looking for ‘…Photographer’ is looking for someone to provide a service at the aforementioned Fancy Hotel, whereas I believe that someone searching for ‘…Photography’ could merely be looking for inspiration or ideas, by way of wedding photography that has taken place at that hotel.
Of course, there is nothing to say that they won’t revisit your site at a later stage of the process, just something to consider.
You can spend as much or as little time as you need in the keyword planning stage, but, the more you put in at this stage, the more you will get out further down the line.
When I’m starting a new project, I tend to spend a week or so on keyword research alone, as I’ve found this helps me build a plan to work with moving forward.
I’m a data geek and enjoy doing thorough keyword research – potentially stumbling upon the hidden gem keywords – I’ve found loads over the years that have converted into wedding bookings within days of posting content for them.
With more photographers than ever, and indeed more SEO savvy photographers out there, these hidden gem keywords are slightly harder to come by, but they’re still out there.
The next Article I’d suggest you read would be: Keyword Cannibalization