Over the past few years the way we do keyword research has changed greatly.
In the early days, keyword research was simply finding a few very high search volume keywords and stuffing your content as much as possible. But over time search algorithms got smarter, more focused on search intent and information accuracy.
The latest algorithm DeepRank in combination with natural language processing provides even more accuracy to show the most relevant search results possible.
While Google keeps rolling out new updates keyword research becomes more and more crucial for any digital strategy. In order to optimize for such changes simply adding a few keywords into your content won't cut it anymore. For today’s marketer it’s more than a set of words that need to be used in your website copy. It is the equivalent of market research giving you an in-depth idea of who your audience is, what they are searching for and why.
Today, keyword research has become more and more topical. It’s no longer about finding that one ideal keyword, it's about understanding your audience and their needs and covering the topic in a complex way providing as much value as possible.
The need for keyword research is pretty clear, but how do you do it?
That’s what I’m about to cover in this guide. To make it easier for you, I have divided it into 5 chapters:
Keyword Research Basics
What are Keywords?
Keywords are words and phrases that people type into search engines. They’re also known as search queries or “SEO keywords.” Keywords are the getaway that lead searchers from the organic search results to your website where they can potentially find the information they were searching for. That’s why it’s so important to find those keywords that people search for and optimize your content in a way that helps your website appear in search results.
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is the process of finding, choosing and analyzing words and phrases that searchers use in search engines, like Google, Bing and YouTube with the goal of finding information.
The Importance of Keyword Research
Essentially keyword research affects every step you take in your digital strategy, whether it be emails, social media content, on-page SEO, off-page SEO and more. That’s precisely why keyword research is the first step of an effective SEO strategy as it gives you a concrete base to build the rest of your strategy on, making sure every step you take is optimized for your brand and your potential audience.
Types of Keywords
These are usually single-word very broad terms with lots of search volume and even more competition. Head terms or seed keywords don’t convey the searchers intent so usually they don’t convert very well. E.g. “Content” or “design” are head terms that don’t clearly carry the meaning behind a query.
Body keywords are 2-3 word keywords that get considerably high search volume and moderate competition, but are more specific than seed keywords. Keywords like “content marketing” or “web design” are examples of body keywords.
Long Tail Keywords
Long tail keywords are long, 4+ word phrases that are usually very specific. Such as “Content marketing trends for 2021” and “How can I learn web design” are good examples of long tail keywords. These terms don’t get a lot of search volume individually but when you add them together, long tails make up the majority of searches online. 91.8% of all search queries are long tail keywords. However, long tails are responsible for a relatively small percentage of total search volume (3.3%).
LSI keywords are words and phrases that search engines see as semantically-related to a topic and use to deeply understand the content of a page.
As search algorithms have gotten smarter, search engines got better at reading the contents of a page by looking for certain keywords that are closely related each other.
Pro Tip: You can find tons of lsi keywords by closely looking at Google suggests or by using the free tool LSIGraph.
How to Find Keyword Ideas
First things first, if you want to write irresistible content that can potentially catch people’s attention, you need to find out what they are looking for.
My first advice to anyone reading this: Know your niche!
Think about the topics you want to ranked come up with as many topic buckets as you think is relevant to your business, and then you can use those general topic ideas to come up with some specific keywords later in the process.
Instead of looking elsewhere as to what people are searching for why not look at the exact place they make the search?
A really cool way to find tons of keywords is to check out the Google Suggest, “Searches Related to” and “People also ask” section of Google’s search results.
Simply type in a topic of your choice: “web design”.
Upon starting to type out the word, you’ll notice Google is giving your numerous suggestions of keywords that are closely related to the word you are currently typing. It is literally telling you that people are searching for these keywords that it’s suggesting, so there’s no second guessing whether they are relevant or have enough search volume.
Below the featured snippet you can find relevant question keywords related to your search terms, and at the bottom of the page 8 keywords that are closely related to your search term.
YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, so it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Although keyword suggestions on YouTube are specific to the platform and are focused on video results, it can still be useful.
There are thousands of searches behind the most popular topics. There is a high chance that popular keywords from YouTube will have high search volumes in Google too. It gives a fresh perspective into the user’s mind showing what kind of videos interest them and giving us an opportunity to target their interests in a whole new way.
If Google is the go-to place for information, Amazon is for finding products. Did you know that Amazon has its own search algorithm called A9?
Just like Google and YouTube, it collects data about popular search queries and offers automatic suggestions. The relevance of the suggestions is based on the product conversion rate and buying behavior.
The difference between the keywords found on Google suggest vs Amazon suggest is the search intent behind each query. These suggestions are keywords with transactional intent used together with buying words such as - “shop”, “shipping”, “discount” clearly showing the searchers readiness to make a purchase.
Are you an affiliate marketer? An e-commerce store owner?
Don’t overlook Amazon keyword research even if you’re not selling on it.
Chances are your audience hangs out on Reddit. It’s one of the biggest online communities in the world and it covers any topic you can imagine. Naturally, it can be the perfect place to not only meet like-minded people interested in your niche but also discover the topics they discuss and lots of interesting keyword ideas along the way.
Just head over to Reddit, search for a broad topic related to your niche then, choose a subreddit where your audience probably hangs out: start engaging with the community and following interesting threads and you’ll find what you were looking for.
Pro Tip: “Keyworddit” is a really great free SEO tool that scans Reddit for words and phrases that people use.
Google Search Console
Trying to find keyword ideas from outside sources is nice and all but most people forget to look at what they already have and what they already rank for.
Google search console is another ‘not hidden’ goldmine of keyword ideas that shows the search terms that bring in the most clicks from Google. By simply analyzing and filtering your performance report by impressions you might find hidden keywords that get lots of impressions but not that many clicks.
The great thing about GSC is that you know for sure these are keywords your customers search for and Google sees you as a good fit for such queries, so a little bit of effort can make a whole lot of difference.
Google Trends as the name suggests show the overall trend for changes in search volume for keywords over time. It is a great source for seasonality as well.
It not only shows interest over time for certain search terms and topics but gives you a bunch of related queries to explore as well. And the best part, the tool shows regional interest making it easier to target specific locations.
If you are running PPC ads there’s a good change you already have a solid list of keywords for ads, and it’s a good place to start. Not all pay-per-click keywords are suitable for organic search, but finding ones that bring in conversions is worth targeting.
You can access Google Ads data from your Google Analytics account, as long as your GA and Ads accounts are connected. Now in your dashboard go to "Acquisition > Google Ads > Search Queries" and export the data you’d like to analyze.
Moreover, as I‘ve mentioned amazon I can’t help but think of amazon advertising as well. If you are an amazon seller and run search ads, your customer search result report is a hidden goldmine for finding tons of highly converting keywords. Amazon advertising lets you run various campaigns, including automatic campaigns that require no keywords, as well as highly targeted campaigns that can match potential searchers queries exactly.
Keyword Research Tools
The most common and most accurate way to find keywords is probably by using a keyword research tool. There are plenty of free and paid keyword research tools on the market but how do you know which one to use and is it worth paying for a keyword research tool?
There’s no yes and no answer to this: it depends on your goals and your niche.
The main advantages of using a professional keyword research tool:
There are two methods to approach the research in a keyword tool:
Search Based on a Seed Keyword
The name suggests that this method is based on searching for a head term and in turn the tool will give suggestions for that seed keyword. This works when you are first starting out with keyword research and don’t even have the base keyword set that you need in order to optimize your most valuable pages. Most professional keyword research tools have SEO metrics that will help you analyze and choose the right keywords. It’s a pretty good method for finding out body keywords as well as to get a general idea about the industry and the search potential in front of you.
The principle is to identify close competitors that are targeting the same or similar audiences and try to find out how they optimize their content. With this method, which honestly I strongly prefer, you get real-time data on what exact keywords your competitor uses and ranks for on a domain and page level. Some tools even give you the position your competitor ranks with the keywords they are targeting, giving plenty of opportunities to analyze the gaps and optimize for the poorly ranking keywords.
Another cool trick you can do with paid tools like Semrush is to create gap analysis comparing yours and your competitors webpages to identify missed opportunities.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner had long been a go-to free keyword tool for many people. It is probably the most reliable one out of them too. That’s because the data you get is directly from Google.
To use the Keyword Planner, you need to create a Google Ads account. After the signup, go to Tools – Keyword Planner.
Select Find new keywords and enter the seed keyword(s) to get the suggestions.
After that, you’ll see a list of keywords sorted by the relevance to the seed keyword.
Although it does give you hundreds of keyword ideas, it doesn’t fully replace some of the paid keyword tools below. But it can still be extremely useful, if you keep in mind:
Many people, including myself, consider Ahrefs a really cool tool for link building, but a lot of people simply forget that it has an awesome keyword tool called the keyword explorer that provides the sort of data on each keyword not many competitors do including advanced metrics like clicks, return rate and parent topic.
I’ll be the first to admit Ahrefs is not that creative when coming up with keyword suggestions, but if your industry is very specific or you like to make super data-driven decisions, look no further. You will get the most in-depth data for both SEO and paid search campaigns.
If you want a quality paid tool that will save you a lot of time, try SemRush. For competitor keyword research it is my favorite one out of all the tools that I’ve tried as it momentarily gives the exact keywords your competitor is ranking with on a domain or page level. You can even pick and choose your favorite keywords with the help of the Keyword Magic Tool and export the list with all the metrics and data included.
The tool has some more cool features including keyword gap analysis that offers a side by side comparison between keyword profiles of up to five competitors and topic research that analyzes your rival’s content giving you topic ideas to create winning content.
Need more Google suggests for keyword ideas? Ubersuggest was one of the first tools I even used and it was the first Google suggest scraper I used.
From head terms to long-tail phrases to question keywords you’ll get hundreds of suggestions along with important data to solidify your choices. Plus, if you’re using their paid plan you can get historical data on each keyword and content ideas to streamline your content strategy even further.
This new tool is like Google Trends… but better. Exploding topics, created by an “SEO genius” Brian Dean scrapes the web for terms that are surging in popularity. Upon visiting the website you can discover some rapidly growing topic at the moment and seize the opportunity before they take off.
For extra convenience you can sort the list of topics by category to get super-targeted topic ideas you can optimize for right away.
Answer The Public
Answer The Public is yet another awesome resource for generating questions and phrases asked around a particular seed keyword. Simply pop in a keyword and it will return with some very cool visualizations around all of the queries related to that keyword.
The feature I like the most is generating keyword suggestions based on:
Question words (when, how, where, what, can, will…)
Prepositions (for, without, to, with,…)
Comparison words (like, versus, and, or,…)
How to Choose and Analyze a Keyword
Now that we have hundreds of keyword ideas, it’s time to analyze them and choose the ones that will bring in real value.
There are some key aspects to consider when analyzing potential keyword ideas and I’ve made sure to cover them all: let’s dive in.
Keyword Search Volume
Search volume tells you the annual average searches a certain keyword got per month. It’s pretty simple actually, the more people search for it, the more traffic you get.
But the thing is, what’s considered a good search volume?
The short answer: it depends on your niche.
The long answer: search volumes are different for different industries. There’s no one normal. Some industries are more sought-after than others but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t drive traffic to your website even if the search volumes of your target keywords are lower than other industries. It’s actually more important to have super-targeted low search volume keywords than extremely broad, overstuffed industry targets that can never be met. So, analyze your niche first, determine the ‘high’ and ‘low’ search volumes for it and take your picks.
Click Through Rate
It’s no surprise that organic clicks are not what they used to be. With the featured snippet taking over the SERP and Google showing even more paid search results than before organic search has taken a back seat.
If you want to get a full idea of how many clicks to expect from a first page ranking you need to look into organic CTR as well.
How do you do this?
Simply look at the search results for your keyword. Is it excessively overstuffed with featured snippets, ads and whatnot? You are probably not gonna get a lot of clicks out of it even if you rank #1. You can use a tool as well. Ahrefs and Moz Pro have the feature.
With all that said, if the keyword has high search volume, but lower CTR, it might still be worth a try as lots of people search for it, so don’t take my word to heart.
Word of advice: if your website is relatively new, target low competition keywords, mainly long term keywords to see results.
The majority of keyword tools have some type of keyword difficulty feature that measures the competitiveness of search terms. It estimates how difficult it is to rank for a certain keyword taking into consideration the authority of the websites ranking in the first page of the search results.
After trying most of the paid and free keyword tools, it’s safe to say that almost all of them show different keyword difficulty scores, but it’s more about getting a general idea so any of the mentioned above work fine.
Sometimes, if there is no relevant content that matches a particular query, Google might display semi-relevant webpages with very high authority. Basically it shows you results that don’t give you the answer you want but still are somehow ‘relevant’ because of their authority. And in such cases if you check the difficulty of said keyword, you’ll find a high score but it doesn’t mean you can’t outrank them: try writing a super-targeted, relevant content that will actually give the answers. That’s why don’t rely on keyword difficulty calculated by a random tool, always do the SERP analysis.
Cost Per Click (CPC)
When analyzing potential keywords it is crucial to consider search intent behind each term to see whether the keyword is relevant to your content.
There’s one metric that sums it all up: CPC.
Do people searching for this keyword take meaningful action? Are they ready to actually spend money?
Search volume and difficulty are important, but without commercial intent, there’s no point in targeting that keyword. Better yet, if your target keyword has low search volume but high enough CPC you can generate really nice ROI.
And lastly you want to find out if your target search terms are growing slow or dying fast.
A good way to check it is Google trends or Exploding topics. These tools give a comprehensive breakdown of the keyword trend letting you know what to expect.
E.g. I’ve noticed a potential in the keyword ‘influencer marketing’, so I decided to pop it into trends. And guess what I saw? Interest in the keyword is quickly growing in 2020, so I better hurry up and write a piece on it.
How to Use Keywords for SEO
Most keyword research guides end at this point. You’ve found the keyword. You picked the ones with the best metrics.
But what’s next?
It’s time for optimization. Buckle up.
Using all the data we’ve gathered up until now, you can start optimizing for the groups of keywords where you are not ranking well while your competitors do.
First, prioritize pages with high business value and optimize them with relevant, targeted keywords. As always, avoid overstuffing and look out for keyword cannibalization. Some industries have very similar keyword groups and there might be some instances when certain pages can target the same keyword. To avoid this, look over your keyword research file for duplicate values before moving forward with implementation.
After optimizing existing pages, move over to industry trends and high search value keywords that you can use in order to create valuable content pieces around them. Create various content clusters and start creating supporting blog posts around it. The content hub method is a great way to start out your blog in an organized and highly-targeted way.
Try writing long-form content packed with value and relevant information and the results might surprise you: you can easily rank for terms you haven’t optimized for, simply because your content interests your audience and is top-notch.
Moreover, the topic clusters strengthen the semantic relationship between your blog posts in turn helping search engines better evaluate the topical relevance of the articles. It makes internal linking super easy too!
Now is Your Turn
Keyword research isn’t simply about finding words or phrases that your competitor targets or are relevant to your business. It’s about finding never explored areas of content demand, analyzing the market, understanding your potential customers and their thought process, by helping your business find a market position where it can prosper in the midst of overstuffed, mediocre sea of irrelevant content.
I hope you enjoyed my keyword research guide and found some of the tips useful.