Keyword research is the most important aspect of your SEO marketing. Imagine if you put all your time and effort into creating the best website with the most amazing content, but no one ever sees it because you chose the wrong keywords. It would be a shame, right?
Conducting in-depth keyword research lets you understand what your audience is searching for. It provides you insight on what their pain points are and how they go about on the internet finding solutions for it. Keyword research also lets you see what your competitors are trying to rank for. You need to know what your competitors are targeting to compete with them or find other opportunities.
Optimizing your website and content for the right keywords can boost your search visibility and be more competitive in your niche. Unfortunately, finding the right keywords to target is not as easy as it seems. It’s a complicated and extensive process that requires time, effort, and sometimes a little bit of money.
In this guide, I will run through the basics of Keyword Research and some additional tips on how you can take your SEO to the next level.
In this guide:
- What Is SEO Keyword Research?
- Why Is Keyword Research Important For SEO?
- What are the Elements of Keyword Research
- The Four Types of Keywords
- How do you do the best keyword research?
What Is SEO Keyword Research?
Keyword research is the process of exploring popular search phrases that users input into search engines like Google and incorporating them strategically into your content and website tags for them to appear higher on search results. It is no longer an afterthought process that you can do after content creation or launching your website. Keyword research should be one of the first steps in defining your SEO goals, the type of content you’ll publish, and what your pages should look like.
The keyword research process involves choosing a topic for your content focused on a set of targeted keywords you want your content to rank for. However, you cannot just select any keyword. There are factors like competition, search volume, keyword density, and other metrics to consider before you can even finalize a list.
There are three major changes in keyword research that you should know about:
1. The way people search has changed
The way people search has changed dramatically over the years. With the rise of voice search and mobile devices, people are searching with shorter and more conversational keywords. For example, instead of typing “keyword research tips,” they would say “how to do keyword research” on their phone.
2. How Google interprets searches has changed Google has also become better at understanding the intent behind searches.
For example, searching for “buy shoes” will show you results for stores that sell shoes online. If you search for “how to clean shoes,” it will show you results for articles and videos on how to clean shoes.
3. The landscape of keyword research has changed.
With the rise of new tools and technologies, the landscape of keyword research has also changed. In the past, you would need to rely on guesswork and your industry experience to develop keywords. But now, there are multiple tools that you can use to help with your keyword research.
Top Keyword Research Tools
There are so many keyword research tools available in the market you can use. However, these are my top favorites.
I prefer using Google’s very own Keyword Planner, as it provide accurate data on how people use their search engine to find information and what terms your competitors are bidding on paid ads. Search console, on the other hand, provides you a clear view of how people are finding your site. It also shows you what search terms actually drive traffic (organic clicks) and which content pages get the most clicks.
However, if you do want to dive in deeper and see what your competitors are trying to rank for, you may want to use either SEMRush and Ahrefs. These tools are super helpful for conducting competitive keyword gap analysis and what types of content they produced that made them rank for it.
Why Is Keyword Research Important For SEO?
Since the early days of search engines in 2005, SEOs are already doing keyword research to rank higher in search results. And as algorithms got smarter, the practice has evolved and become more complex. The goal is still the same, though: to appear in front of your target audience when they search for something online that’s related to your business.
According to the Conductor’s State of Organic Marketing 2022 report, over 50% of the organizations used search data as the basis for content creation. Most likely, your competitors are doing it. So why are you hesitant?
Here are the reasons why it’s important to do keyword research:
- Keyword Research Provides Accurate Marketing Trend Insight
Keyword research can provide you with insights into current marketing trends and help you focus your content on relevant subjects and keywords that your audience is looking for.
- It Helps You Understand Your Competitors
By understanding the keywords your competitors are targeting, you can better assess their strengths and weaknesses. You can also develop strategies to outrank them.
- Generates More Traffic to Your Website
By understanding how people search for things online, you can better optimize your website and content to appear in front of them. This, in turn, will generate more traffic to your website.
- Generates More Leads and Sales
By targeting the right keywords, you can bring in high-quality leads that are more likely to convert into sales.
Keyword research can offer important information about the questions, issues, and solutions that your target audience is seeking for. It should be the core basis of your SEO efforts and guide you in developing content strategies.
What are the Elements of Keyword Research
There are three elements of good keyword research: relevance, difficulty, search intent, and volume.
Relevance is the most important element as your target keywords should always be relevant to your business, products, or services. And at the same time, it should also be relevant to the searcher’s intent.
For example, you own an online store that sells running shoes. You want to rank for the keyword “women’s running shoes” as it is more relevant and specific to your products as compared to targeting “shoes for women” — which is a broader keyword and encompasses a wider category of shoes.
But isn’t that a good thing? No, it’s not.
So let’s say, you were able to rank yourself for the keyword “shoes for women,” but you only sell running shoes. Users who are searching for a different type of shoe like work shoes or stilettos and wedges can stumble upon your website. While this seems like a good thing, it actually delivers a bad customer experience. Obviously, they’re not looking for running shoes so why would they stick around to your website if you’re not offering what they are really looking for?
It’s like selling a product that you don’t offer. It’s clearly a waste of resources.
Keyword difficulty is another important element as it determines how difficult it is to rank for a certain keyword. If you’re using SEMRush and Ahrefs, you will find the keyword difficulty score right away on their keyword tool. However, if you choose to go with the free Google Keyword Planner tool, you can estimate the difficulty with the amount of competition.
If the keyword is too competitive or has a high keyword difficulty score, then it’s obvious that you won’t be able to rank for it anytime soon. Let’s go back to our previous example.
Remember how I suggested targeting a more specific keyword like “running shoes for women” or “womens running shoes”? Aside from the fact that these are highly relevant terms for your store, it also is lesser competitive than merely targeting “shoes” or “womens shoes”.
This is also where search intent comes into play. If you try to type in “shoes” or “womens shoes” in Google, the search results will provide you with a variety of websites—from dictionaries and wikipages, to online retail stores and brands.
If you’re a customer and you’re looking to buy running shoes, the results obviously do not provide you with what you are looking for. Therefore, adding a few more words makes sense to narrow down your results. Obviously, you want to be the first on the list in this scenario. This is where ranking for long tail keywords becomes a strategic move.
Long tail keywords such as “running shoes for women” are more specific, which means they are easier to rank and have lower keyword difficulty scores. Not to mention, when you do target these long tail keywords, you are more likely to drive conversions as the searcher’s intent is clearer.
And finally, the last element is volume—which refers to the number of searches that a keyword receives per month.
Keyword search volume is also an important metric as it lets you know whether there is enough interest in the keyword to warrant your efforts in ranking for it. Obviously, you want to target keywords with a high search volume as this means that there are more people interested in what you’re offering.
But beware, just because a keyword has high monthly search volume, it doesn’t mean that you will get tons of traffic to your website. If the keyword is too competitive or has a high keyword difficulty score, then you might not be able to rank for it at all.
This is why it’s important to consider all the elements—relevance, competition, search intent, and volume—before targeting a certain keyword.
The Four Types of Keywords
When looking for user intent behind a search, we can break all keywords down into four categories: commercial, transactional, informational, and navigating.
Commercial keywords are search terms that express interest in specific products or services. These keywords are linked to users who want to know more about a particular product or service. It may support their interest in purchasing or comparing the product to similar products or looking for free offers/tests/discounts. You may use comparison articles, listicles, reviews, or how-to articles to target these keywords.
Samples of Commercial Keywords:
- Android vs Apple
- Free trial
- iPhone 13 reviews
- Krispy Kreme Donut flavors
These keywords are commercial by nature since it reveals the users’ intent to buy or take some commercial activity in the future. These present opportunities to reach an audience that could be converted into customers in the future.
Transactional keywords are associated with users who want to buy a product or service. They reveal the searcher’s intent to make a purchase and usually consist of phrases like “buy,” “order,” “purchase,” or include terms such as “discount” or “sale.”
Samples of Transactional Keywords:
- Buy running shoes
- Purchase iPhone 13
- Order takeout online
- Get 50% off
Content that ranks for these keywords should be focused on closing a deal or sale. This could be in the form of product pages, landing pages, or even blog posts that talk about special deals or promotions.
The key here is to make it easy for users to find the product or service they are looking for and to purchase it quickly and easily.
Informational keywords are associated with users who want to learn more about a particular topic or subject. These keywords reveal the searcher’s intent to gain knowledge on a certain topic. They usually consist of phrases such as “how to,” “what is,” or “define.”
Samples of Informational Keywords:
- How to start a blog
- What is SEO
- Define keyword research
Content that ranks for these keywords should be focused on providing valuable information to the reader. This could be in the form of tutorials, guides, or even blog posts that offer insights or tips on a certain topic.
The key here is to make sure that your content is comprehensive and easy to understand. You want users to leave your content feeling like they’ve learned something new.
Related Reading: Why Content Marketing Can’t only be About Your Services?
Navigational keywords are associated with users who already know what they are looking for and are simply trying to find a specific website or webpage. These keywords reveal the searcher’s intent to navigate to a particular website or page. They usually consist of brand or website names, such as “Facebook” or “YouTube.”
Samples of Navigational Keywords:
- Facebook login
- YouTube videos
- Twitter trending
Content that ranks for these keywords should be focused on providing a smooth and easy user experience. This could be in the form of a well-designed website, quick-loading pages, or even a mobile app.
The key here is to ensure that users can easily find what they are looking for and that your website or app is easy to use.
Keyword research is critical for any business that wants to be visible online. By understanding the different types of keywords and their associated user intent, you can create content that is more likely to rank well on search engine results pages (SERPs).
How do you do the best keyword research?
There is no cookie-cutter answer when it comes to the best keyword research method, as it really varies depending on your needs.
For example, if you are trying to rank for your blog, your approach to doing keyword research should be focused on informational keywords. These are the keywords that people type in when they are trying to learn more about a certain topic. On the other hand, if you’re an e-commerce store owner, then your focus should be on commercial keywords—keywords that people use when they are ready to buy a product.
But the good news is, I’ve listed down some advanced tips you can use to level up your keyword research game, no matter what industry you’re in.
Define Your Business Goals
The first step is to get clear on your business goals. What are you trying to achieve? Do you want to increase brand awareness or drive more traffic to your website?
Your business goals will dictate the type of keywords you should be targeting. For example, if you’re trying to increase brand awareness, then you should be targeting branded keywords. These are keywords that are associated with your brand name or include your brand name in the keyword phrase—for example, “Nike running shoes for women”.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to drive traffic to your website, then you should be targeting non-branded keywords. These are keywords that are not associated with your brand name and do not include your brand name in the keyword phrase. For example, “best running shoes for women”.
Define Your Target Audience
The second step is to get clear on your target audience. Who are you trying to reach with your content?
Your target audience will also dictate the type of keywords you should be targeting. For example, if you’re trying to reach a younger audience, you should target keywords associated with youth culture. On the other hand, if you’re trying to reach a more mature audience, you should target keywords associated with their interests and needs. It’s basically trying to learn the language your customers use.
For example, if you’re trying to reach teenage girls with your content, then you might want to target keywords like “fashion trends” or “celebrity gossip.” But if you’re trying to reach middle-aged women with your content, then you might want to target keywords like “fashion for work” or “timeless style”.
Understand Your Users’ Intent and Their Pain Points
The third step is to understand your users’ intent and their pain points. What are they trying to achieve? And what problems are they trying to solve?
Your users’ intent will dictate the type of keywords you should be targeting. For example, if they are trying to learn something, you should target keywords that are associated with the “informational” stage of the buyer’s journey. These are keywords that people type in when they are trying to learn more about a certain topic.
On the other hand, if they are trying to buy something, you should target keywords that are associated with the “commercial” stage of the buyer’s journey. These are keywords that people use when they are ready to buy a product.
For example, if you’re trying to reach people who are in the “informational” stage of the buyer’s journey, then you might want to target keywords like “how to style a scarf” or “types of lipstick”. But if you’re trying to reach people who are in the “commercial” stage of the buyer’s journey, then you might want to target keywords like “buy red lipstick” or “cheap scarves online”.
Do Competitive Analysis
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of doing competitive analysis. The reason why is that it will give you a good idea of the keywords that your competitors are targeting. And it will also give you insights into their content strategy—what type of content they produce, what pages they rank for, and how users are finding them.
To do competitive analysis, start by looking at your competitor’s website. Take a look at their blog posts and see what keywords they are targeting. You can also use tools like Ahrefs or SEMRush to see what keywords they are ranking for.
While competitive analysis is usually tedious work, it’s very rewarding. Especially if you have zero experience in doing keyword research and are completely baffled by the process, checking up on your competitors will help provide directions.
Create a List of Seed Keywords
Once you know your business goals, it’s time to start generating a list of seed keywords—keywords that are relevant to your business. These are usually broad, generic keywords that you can use as a starting point for your keyword research.
To generate a list of seed keywords, you can start with these four methods:
- Brainstorming: Sit down with a group of people and brainstorm a list of relevant keywords.
- Competitive analysis: Look at your competitors’ websites and see what keywords they are targeting.
- Customer surveys: Ask your customers what keywords they would use to find your business.
- Social media: Use social media listening tools to see what keywords people are using when they talk about your brand or product.
Target Variations and Related Search Terms
Once you have a list of seed keywords, it’s time to start expanding on them by targeting variations and related search terms. This will help you come up with a more comprehensive list of keywords that you can use for your keyword research.
Actually Do a Search on Google
You may have noticed at the bottom of Google’s search results page a section called Related Searches. This section contains a list of related keywords that you can use for your keyword research.
In this screenshot, we can see Google Philippines recommending some interesting long-tail queries related to running shoes for women. If you’re an online shoes retailer and you’re offering different brands, you’ll find it insightful to see how popular the search term “running shoes for women nike” is. This may help you shift your focus from promoting a different brand to Nike as obviously more people are looking for it.
This is a good place to start finding keyword variations as these are the actual search terms people use in finding services like yours. It’s also a good idea to use these related keywords in your content as they will be more likely to rank higher in the search results.
Answer Questions (People Also Ask)
In Google search, you will also notice a section called People Also Ask. This is a list of common questions related to your query. You can use this as additional keyword ideas for your content.
For example, if you’re planning to write a blog post about running shoes, you can see from the screenshot above that people are also asking about the best running shoes for ladies, types of running shoes, or how to buy running shoes. You can use these questions as topics for your blog post or as keywords to target.
Check Your Google Search Console Data
If you have a website, you should also check your Google Search Console data. This is a tool provided by Google that lets you see how people are finding your website.
To access your Google Search Console data, go to your Google account and select Search Console from the drop-down menu. Then, choose your website from the list of property sets.
Once you’re in your Search Console account, click on Performance in the left sidebar. This will take you to a page where you can see all the keywords that are driving traffic to your website.
You can use this data to develop a list of keywords you can target for your content. This will also give you an idea of which keywords are already generating traffic for your website and which ones you need to work on.
Cut Down Your Keyword List
Now that you have a pretty good list of keywords, it’s time to start narrowing down your options. This is important because you don’t want to end up with a list of too many keywords. This will make it difficult for you to focus your content, and you might miss out on some important keywords.
To help you narrow down your list, here are some tips:
- Make sure your keywords are relevant to your business.
- Your competitors are ranking for them.
- Check low-hanging fruits or keywords for which you are already ranking in the top 4 to 15.
- Target keywords that are not too competitive and caters to search intent.
- Choose long-tail keywords over short-tail keywords unless it’s a commercially viable keyword.
- Prioritize keywords that have high search volume with medium to low keyword difficulty.
Once you’ve gone through your list and chosen the best keywords for your business, it’s time to start incorporating them into your content.
Map them Out Accordingly
The next step is to map out your keywords accordingly. This means you need to decide which keyword you will use for each piece of content.
Yes, you cannot use the same keyword to target your homepage and your service page. This will result in keyword cannibalization which is bad for your SEO. If you’re trying to rank two pages for the same keyword, most likely Google will cancel out one of these pages or even split the traffic between the two. That doesn’t sound like a good idea, does it?
To avoid this from happening, you need to be strategic about which keyword you want to target for each page. This can be done by looking at the searcher’s intent and matching it with the right keyword.
Here’s an example:
Say you have a website that sells running shoes. You want to target the keyword “running shoes” but you can’t use it for all your pages.
Your homepage is probably going to be about your brand and what you do. In this case, targeting the keyword “running shoes” doesn’t make sense as searchers are not looking for that when they visit your homepage.
What you can do instead is target a keyword like “best running shoes” for your blog post or “buy running shoes” for your product page. This way, you’re able to match the keyword with the searcher’s intent and increase your chances of ranking in Google.
Measure, Analyze, and Repeat
The final step in this process is to measure, analyze, and repeat. This is an ongoing process because the landscape of SEO is constantly changing.
What works today might not work tomorrow, so it’s important that you keep track of your rankings and traffic. This way, you can make the necessary changes to your website and content to ensure that you’re always ranking in Google.
You can use tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to track your progress. These tools will give you an idea of how well your website is doing and what keywords are driving traffic to your website. Make sure to check your rankings on a regular basis and adjust your content accordingly. If you see that a particular keyword is not performing well, try to optimize your content for that keyword.
There You Go!
By following these tips, you should be able to do keyword research like a pro and rank your website higher in Google. Remember to measure, analyze, and repeat to ensure that your website is always ranking in Google.