Keyword Research is the foundation of any marketing strategy. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about organic traffic like SEO or paid like Social Media ads or Google Ads (PPC).
SEO can be a complex and confusing science, especially with Google constantly changing their search algorithms. Studies show that only about 10% of searchers stray beyond page one of Google, and close to 30% do not pay heed to anything past the top three search results.
Needless to say, your organic search ranking is vital to increase consumer traffic and overall digital exposure.
#1. Why is keyword research important?
The first step to building an SEO strategy is keyword research: compiling a list of words, terms, and phrases relevant to your brand or business that consumers are using when searching online.
There are two reasons why I consider the keyword research to be the fundamental step for every SEO project having a major impact on the success or failure of the business.
Here there are:
When it comes to choosing keywords — commercial intent is actually MORE important than search volume.
Short example: If you target “WordPress hosting features” may sound pretty good but actually the people looking for that may not actually purchase hosting, they may just look around for the features offered by hosting companies. If you target “best WordPress hosting offer” you are actually targeting users that want to know the best hosting offer so they will purchase it right now.
These two pitfalls are often the ultimate decider on how successful any SEO project is.
This keyword research guide will cover how to avoid these pitfalls and how to find the best keywords.
First, we must define what a keyword is.
#2. WWYG: What Would You Google?
When conducting keyword research, put yourself in the mind of the consumer. We all shop and search online in some way, shape, or form. When you’re looking for something online—say a trendy new bar for a hot date or a tasty recipe for next week’s potluck—think about how you search.
When people are browsing the internet for a product or service without a particular brand or company already in mind, their search behavior can spell patterns that can help businesses show up as the top (or close to the top) result.
Pinpointing these patterns in consumer search methods (as they relate to your business or industry) is the key to targeting the most effective keywords amongst an entire lexicon of terms and phrases.
2.1 Types of Keywords
Keywords can be divided into two categories:
- head terms – which are shorter, more generic search terms no more than three words in length
- long-tail keywords – which are more specific phrases longer than three words.
It may be easy to assume that you should focus on the most heavily-searched terms, but the key to truly effective, well-balanced search optimization is targeting the right mix between universal terms and specific queries.
However, these more general terms can be more competitive to rank for as contending businesses will likely target and invest in the same relevant head terms. Also, being much broader in context, head terms may yield a higher pool of searchers, but not all of that traffic translates into clicks and conversions.
Think of it this way: a head term like “apple pie” will certainly capture a huge volume of search traffic, but a long-tail keyword such as “quick and easy apple pie recipes” will prove more effective for online food blogger trying to drive traffic to their site.
The consumers most companies are trying to target are usually the people searching more specifically with long-tail keywords. More generic searchers using head terms could be browsing for a multitude of purposes and just looking for general information unrelated to your business.
#3. What about user intent?
Now that we explained what head terms and long-tail keywords are, we need to speak about user intent keywords.
These keywords can be separated into three categories considering the user intent and what a user wants to look for when is doing a search.
- Navigational keyword: keywords used to locate a particular brand or website. Examples would be Facebook, WordPress
- Informational keyword: keywords used to discover on a particular topic. This includes keywords beginning with ‘how to…’ or ‘what are the best..’
- Commercial intent keyword: keywords entered into Google by customers wanting to complete a commercial activity, i.e. ‘buy WordPress book’.
In most cases, targeting head term or navigational keywords for other brands is competitive and not worth the time or effort.
Despite their high traffic numbers, they will generally not lead to any sales. You should target these keywords only if you are in affiliate marketing and the product you are promoting is new and there isn’t much competition.
On the other hand, long-tail, informational and commercial intent keywords are good keywords for most SEO projects. They will lead to more traffic and sales.
#4. How to build your keyword list
Ok now that we’ve talked about what are keywords and search phrases and the user intent behind them let’s start creating our own keyword list.
4.1 Starting From the Top
The best strategy to spearheading your keyword research is to start from a very high level. Before you worry about the most particular, highest-trending search terms, think more broadly.
Come up with 5-10 topics or categories related to your business. If you have a sales or business development team, consult them on the key “buzz words” they use when selling your products or services to potential clients, or consider customer reviews/testimonials and the terms they use to describe their objectives and experience.
For (a very relative) example, a digital marketing agency may consider categories along the lines of “digital marketing”, “search engine optimization”, “blogging”, and “social media”.
Also, consider synonymous but commonly interchangeable terms like “digital/online/web marketing” to cover all your bases. Starting broadly captures the aforementioned head terms, and allows you to branch off into more specific search queries, or long-tail keywords.
4.2 Expanding Your List
Once you’ve come up with your broader search topics, start thinking of more specific questions or search queries related to each one. To use the same example, a marketing agency may take their head terms and expand into keyword phrases that point more specifically toward their website. “local SEO experts”, “effective digital marketing services/software/consultation” or “how to advertise on Facebook”.
Let your imagination run a little wild, as the goal in this step is to build out all the terms you think may be relevant to your business. This isn’t your final list of keywords, but rather a catch-all of ideas that you think your target consumer may be searching online. You’ll narrow things down later.
If you find yourself stumped on expanding your search terms, take a look at what Google suggests. When you search a particular query, scroll down to the bottom of the search results to find “Searches related to”, where Google will list other keyword phrases similar to your search:
There may also be a “People also ask” section inserted somewhere in the middle of the Google search results as well:
4.3 Steal keywords from competitors
Another tactic to building out your keyword list is to consider search terms your website, and your competitors’ websites, are already ranking for. If your site has been live for at least a few years, it may already rank for a few keywords (you may not be #1, but the goal is to get there!).
Google themselves offers tools like the Ads Keyword Planner which provides insight into your ranking keywords. Also, try scoping out the competition by searching your keywords to see what websites are ranking highest.
If you’re feeling sneaky, you can let your competitors do the heavy lifting for you and snatch up keywords from their sites. There are many tools out there created for this sole purpose.
Another powerful tool is SEMrush’s Domain Analytics Organic Research Tool.
SEMrush (review and tutorial here) estimates the keywords that are sending the largest amount of traffic to your competitors’ websites. The estimates are reasonably accurate and can be a valuable resource for bulking out your keywords list.
While SEMrush’s insights are powerful, they do come at a cost. You can preview the first 10-keywords for free, but if you want more data its plans start at $99.95 per month for pro users.
4.4 Why don’t you ask the public ?!
Answer The Public is a really cool keyword tool as it takes your keyword, and prefaces it with prepositions such as ‘for’, ‘like’, ‘near’, ‘with’, ‘without’ etc. to come up with some more keyword ideas which it presents in a neat ‘wheel’, although you can also download the suggestions as a list.
So Anser The Public will find a whole heap of long-tail keywords for you, based on prepositions that people will commonly use in their search queries.
But what’s really cool, is it also comes up with suggestions based on questions such as ‘what’, ‘which’, ‘where’, ‘how’, ‘are’ etc.
Since the Hummingbird update, Google has placed increasing emphasis on content that answers people’s questions.
If you can include answers to popular questions in your content, you stand a better chance of ranking.
And even better, if you provide a concise, authoritative answer you may even achieve a coveted Featured Snippet listing (position zero in the search results, above number one!)
4.4 Narrowing Down
When you’ve come up with what you consider your most relevant search terms and phrases, there are online resources to help you refine your list based on internet trends and consumer behavior.
The aforementioned AdWords Key Planner can show you keywords’ potential search volume and prospective impressions and clicks (you’ll need an AdWords account to use the Keyword Planner, but you don’t have to actually invest in any Google ads).
Google Trends provides data on trending search terms and related queries. It breaks trends down chronologically, and even geographically, so you can see how usage of certain terms has been progressing or regressing regionally and over time.
There are other services that can provide more thorough data and projections, suggesting potential keywords, gauging search competition, and giving you a real-time look at how you rank for particular keywords.
Check our previous article on the Top keyword research tools used by top marketers.
Refining your keyword list helps you better allocate your time, resources, and investment (if you choose to invest in some paid search efforts), and gives you a better idea of the most effective keywords to focus on, as well as lower-volume keywords that may be trending positively.
#5. A word about Latent Semantic Indexing
What really matters for SEO these days, is in-depth and comprehensive coverage of a topic. To rank well for a search query, you really need to answer all aspects of a query, covering all sorts of related queries as well.
In short, you need to be the best resource to answer that query.
Google uses a technique called latent semantic indexing to discover what a page is about from its contents. Google can then display results, even if the search query doesn’t match exactly the keywords used, because Google knows what the page is about, not just the keywords used.
Latent semantic indexing keywords (LSI keywords) are keywords that Google believes are related to the same topic. The more of these you can weave into your content, the more likely you are to rank for keywords you haven’t even thought of yet.
As well as the ones you’ve carefully chosen. So once you’ve found and researched your main keywords, find some juicy LSI keywords, and make sure your content addresses these as well.
A really good SEO tool for finding latent semantic indexing keywords (LSI keywords), that I’ve just discovered is LSI Graph. You just enter your main keywords, and it comes up with a boatload of semantically related keywords for you to use as well.
Another tool you can use is LSI Graph from Twinword Ideas.
Click here to find a nice tutorial that shows you how to use premium tools to do keyword research for free.
#6. How to do Keyword Research With Ahrefs
I will show you how to do keyword research with ahrefs using a real project I am working on now. We find the keywords for a counseling Psychology office website in Bucharest, Romania.
As you could guess we have here several particularities for this project:
- Counseling psychology is a competitive niche
- The office is in Bucharest, Romania so we target local keywords
- There are many websites that target the niche with informational resources, we are interested in keywords with buying intent only
After opening Keywords Explorer in ahrefs we start by selecting Romania and Google as the main keywords source. You could select other sources like Youtube, Amazon or Bing to find more keywords but for our project, this is our best source.
I’ve entered my main keywords (seed keywords) manually but if you already have a list of keywords in txt or csv format you can easily import it.
For those two keywords, we have brief information: Keyword difficulty (KD), Search volume, Clicks, Cost per click (CPC), Clicks per search (CPS), Return rate (RR), SERP Feature (SF) and Parent topic.
We go further and select the 1st keyword to find more about it and see if it’s a good fit for our keywords list. “Psiholog Bucuresti” -has a keyword difficulty of 9/100 which is great and a search volume of 1400 which is also good.
Having the same terms tab it’s an important one as it gives us more keyword ideas we could use for our research.
Below you could find all the terms containing the keyword along with metrics that will help us decide if the keyword is a good fit for us or not. KD – Keyword difficulty, Search volume, Clicks on searches, Cost per Click, Return Rate, SERP Feature, and Parent Topic.
The parent topic tab is also important. A single page can rank for hundreds of closely-related keywords. Parent Topic determines if you can rank for your target keyword while targeting a more general topic on your page instead.
All the keywords with a tick we’ve added to our keyword research list. Another tab that will help us is the SERP overview because we see the websites that already rank for these keywords. They are our competition. We will study these websites more in-depth when we create the SEO strategy but at this point, we are interested in what other keywords these websites rank for so we can add them to our list.
We will select only websites that sell services and ignore informational resources. The second website is a good fit as it ranks for 39 keywords and its selling psychology consulting services. So we click on Keywords to see all the organic keywords they are ranking for and research what keywords are good for us.
Now you have a pretty good idea on how to do keyword research with ahrefs and create a keyword list. We ended up with 13 keywords that we will create content and start optimizing our website.
Before doing any SEO I recommend to start a PPC campaign on this keywords and see how these keywords perform for you. If they bring your sales to keep them if not you will lose your time and resources ranking for keywords that do not bring you any business.
#7. Put the strategy in action
While keyword research can seem a bit daunting, these keyword research guidelines can hopefully help make it an effective part of your overall marketing strategy. However, search engine optimization doesn’t end at identifying keywords.
I invite you to check the 10 SEO Guides list you can read for free to get an overview picture of what SEO is and how you can do it.
If you want to get really aggressive, you may also consider AdWord and Facebook ads campaigns to monetarily invest in particular keywords to increase your rankings.
The key to scaling your SEO is to constantly maintain and refine your keywords and tactics. You may find yourself reevaluating and updating your keywords and corresponding content every few months.
If you are really serious about optimizing your search presence, a digital marketing service, especially an SEO agency that specializes in search, is a worthwhile investment to get the most out of your SEO efforts.