Use this ultimate guide to have an in-depth look into and to understand what keyword research is and how to use it to your advantage to achieve the best results.
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword Research involves trying to find and investigate different search terms. These keywords could be varying words or phrases that people using search engines would be looking for. With keyword research, we can find which of these are the most popular and then utilise that information for our own websites, be that for SEO or as part of our overall marketing strategies.
For example, if you were looking for a new coat, you might search for “black winter coat” or “black winter coat for men”. These search results are keyword specific; some can be longer or shorter depending on how detailed you want that search to be, and some can also take the form of a question or a whole phrase.
Doing keyword research uncovers the popularity of that term you are searching for, the ranking difficulty of the term and what word or phrases are best to target overall.
Google search results can frequently change with constant algorithm updates; it is forever evolving and improving. Still, the one thing that remains essentially the same is using regular and appropriate keyword research to optimise our websites.
Why is Keyword Research Important?
Keyword Research is a great way to understand what your target demographic is searching for on Google. This information then helps you create a content strategy around those popular terms.
Although Google is the most popular search engine, remember that it isn’t the only one. Depending on your product, niche or even your target audience, you may need to focus on Bing YouTube, Amazon, Wiki.com or even Zalando.
Many Google and other internet searches focus on finding a solution to something or discovering more about a given topic. For example, someone may search “how to do SEO?” or “how to rank higher using SEO?”. The Keywords in this example would be “SEO” and “How to”. Think of how many How-to style videos there are on YouTube!
Creating content for those target customers who want to find something out rather than producing content around what you want to sell them will help you use your keyword research to your advantage. Not everyone is ready to buy straight away and will be put off if the only content they find on your website is trying to sell to them. Diversifying your content and answering questions will help you become more successful in gaining more traffic, and your target audience will come to you rather than you having to find them.
Keyword research is essential because it tells you the topics people are interested in and how popular specific topics are within your target audience. You can then use your keyword research to create detailed content by learning what topics are popular and what their common pain points are.
Do You Really Need to Do Keyword Research?
Doing keyword research can help you and your business grow online. You want to be able to connect and relate to your target audience, and without knowing what it is they are searching for or interested in, you won’t truly be able to create content specific to them.
Not knowing what keywords are popular or being searched for could lead to a decrease in your rankings. It may even mean you end up using outdated or overly competitive keywords that will affect your organic search visibility.
There’s no point in creating content around what your product is if no one understands what it is and how it works. Keyword research is how you can uncover this. It allows you to determine where you should focus – it can even help you realise a new feature you should add or change the way something works depending on what your audience is searching for.
You may be surprised by the amount of value and insight that you can obtain from thorough keyword research. You could even end up applying that knowledge to other areas of your business.
Can you do Keyword Research For Free?
To do keyword research successfully, you need to get a keyword research tool. There are many tools that help you with different aspects of keyword research, depending on what it is you want out of your tool. From helping you generate keyword ideas to identifying distinct keyword trends, there is no one size fits all, so doing your research to find the right one for you is just as important.
Most people may not have the budget to invest loads of money into keyword research tools, but that doesn’t matter! There are a surprising amount of excellent free tools that can help you gather the information you need for SEO or marketing.
The search engine you need to obtain information from will determine the tool you ultimately use. If you need to discover which keywords people are using on Amazon, you will use different tools than if you wanted to find what people are searching for on Google. You also may need to pay for this more specific information.
In the case of Google and other more typical search engines, I’ve discussed how to do keyword research for free in detail previously, but here is a small list of some of the free keyword research tools you can use:
- Answer the Public,
- Ahrefs Keyword Generator,
- Google Trends,
- SE Ranking.
If you already have a Google Ads account, you can even use this to find new keywords at no extra cost. Once logged in, navigate to the Keyword Planner and then Discover New Keywords; here, you can generate keyword ideas that can help you reach people that are already interested in your product or service. The beauty of Google’s Keyword Planner is that it also provides historical search volume data over a given timeframe instead of the average overall search volume that some tools offer.
It’s all about finding what works best for you and making sure you are getting the most out of your tools as possible. Be sure to check the limitations of your tools too. For example, some are entirely free, whereas others limit the number of searches you can do in a day. So it is worth weighing up what you can afford if each tool would meet your needs or not.
Okay So… Where Do You Start With Keyword Research?
To start your keyword research process, you need to understand the core set of initial queries that are relevant to your business. Start with identifying the primary services your business has to offer and create a list. For example, my website would be:
- Link Building,
- Technical SEO.
This list will then create a foundation of terms linked to your business’s obvious themes. So for another example, if you have a company that sells furniture, your main keywords or services could be:
- Dining table and chairs,
- Coffee tables.
These are all base-level keywords that will help you reach your audience. Once you have this, you can then drill down into specific content ideas. I suggest starting with top-level searches to see the types of things your competitors are publishing around the most relevant keywords to your website and service.
Also, think about topics your target audience will search for to find your service or business. The person searching may not know your business exists, so make sure you combine your business’s area of expertise with your audience’s interests.
For example, someone who is looking for a new pair of shoes may use phrases like:
- Women’s wellies for dog walking,
- Running shoes for winter.
There are many benefits that can be taken from researching the keywords that both your direct and indirect competitors are ranking for too. This will help you narrow down specific content beyond the top-level searches and be able to use additional keywords from your competitors that relate to your business and theirs.
Your chosen keyword research tool should help you see the search volume of the terms you are researching, but it may also provide additional information. Having data about the average cost per click and how difficult it is to rank organically for that keyword will help you determine the competition level and effort required to rank for that keyword.
There are many other ways that you can check the popularity of certain content or keywords beyond the tools I mentioned earlier and without the need to invest too much time and money into them.
For example, I would also suggest using platforms such as:
- Google Auto Suggest,
- Google Trends – I mentioned this earlier, but I’ve included it again as it can specifically help you see which is a continuously good keyword or just another ‘one-hit wonder’.
To help keep all your topics and content ideas all in one place, try creating a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet will help you see all your content in one place, and you’ll be able to organise the good from the bad easily with little time or effort.
What are your Competitors Ranking For – Why is it Important?
Above, we touched on seeing what your competitors are ranking for, but why is this important? It is necessary to understand your industry and your competitors, how they use these exact keywords, and what has been successful for them in their own strategy.
You don’t want to be writing a piece about something that isn’t related to you and what you offer. Competitor analysis is excellent for understanding what is and isn’t too challenging to outrank a competitor for and what they are currently ranking highly for that drives conversions.
Understanding your audience is a big part of competitor analysis. Coming up with a wide range of topics to outrank your competitors is important, but you also need to ensure that you are staying focused on outperforming your competitors on a business development level and not simply trying to outrank them just for the sake of it. It is highly unlikely that you will surpass them for every keyword, and that’s ok; focus on the keyword that matter and will make a difference to your main KPIs (key performance indicators).
Understanding and identifying your main competitors will make it easier for you to create a more targeted strategy. Finding out who the key players are in your target market will help you understand who you are competing against and whether they have a higher domain authority or more backlinks etc.
Using a tool such as Semrush can help you track their keywords, monthly search volume, domain authority and backlinks.
If you find that you’ve created optimised content, but it doesn’t seem to be performing as well as others in your market, it may be because your website lacks authority. Earning quality backlinks and increasing your domain authority can increase your rankings as Google will start to see your content as more trustworthy.
As part of your competitor keyword research, you can look at the keywords both you and your competitors are using and identify if there may be any additional opportunities with them. This should give you a more objective picture of what you are up against and will help you seal up any gaps that they may have to secure a higher ranking for your site.
Just because a competitor is ranking highly for a very competitive keyword, it doesn’t mean you have no chance of ranking for it. It would still be worth creating content for that topic as it will still be information your audience is looking for. You can use backlinks and internal linking to help spread link equity to your new piece of content and improve your ranking and visibility.
Using Keyword Research to Develop Existing Content
Using keyword research to optimise existing content is way easier than doing it from scratch. The research you have collected and combined with your existing analytics data can show you what keywords are working and which are not working.
You can use your Google Analytics, Google Search Console accounts and rank tracking data from the likes of Accuranker to pull a list of keywords that are driving impressions and clicks to your site and use this to identify opportunities related to keyword growth.
For example, you can easily spot what pieces of content are performing moderately well and what keywords from your research you can now incorporate into the content. You can even spot if you may need to change specific keywords completely to allow them to be more relevant and more closely matched to the language your audience is speaking. Making changes such as this should improve the overall performance of that piece of content, and by repeating this across several pieces, you should start to see significant improvements.
Improving old content with new keywords or optimising them to stay relevant will help Google to see more value in your content. The more relevant Google deems your content to be, the more likely they are to rank you on higher positions on search results. Again, looking at the data you pulled from your keyword research tools, Google Auto Suggest and competitors data, you can improve your content to fit into what your audience wants.
How to Choose Keywords With The Right Search Volume and Difficulty Levels?
The two most important factors to look for whilst selecting your keywords is search volume and keyword difficulty.
Search volume is the number of users that search for that keyword within a particular time frame.
Search volume should be taken with a pinch of salt, though. Google doesn’t provide this information, and so each tool has to devise its own methods for obtaining the number of searches that a term receives each month. For this reason, the search volume that you see for a keyword can vary from tool to tool. It is best not to rely on these numbers entirely and simply use them as guides to determine if it would be worth the time to target each query.
Keyword difficulty is basically how much competition there is out there for that respective keyword, measuring how difficult it is for your site to rank for it. The higher the difficulty, the more difficult it is to rank.
You should avoid targeting high competition keywords as this would be too challenging to rank, but you also don’t want to go for any super low competition keywords as these don’t get very high search volumes.
Monitoring keyword difficulty and search volume is a balancing act to make sure you are targeting moderate to low competition keywords but also have a good search volume.
Using these metrics is helpful, especially when you are doing keyword research. When looking for keywords, you will probably find thousands if not millions of terms all relating to the business or service you provide. This is where keyword difficulty and search volume can help you filter out that extensive list of keywords.
Going through each keyword manually would be too time-consuming. Instead, I would suggest using search filters where you can find individual keywords within a particular range of difficulty and filter out the rest. Not all tools have a ‘filter’ button, but they will have other related options you can use to filter out particular difficulty scores and other metrics.
You can also use search volume and keyword difficulty metrics to find long-tail keywords instead of short-tail options. Generally, long-tail keywords have lower keyword difficulty and search volume, meaning they have a lower level of competition.
These two metrics are also a great indicator of gauging the seasonality of your content and when to publish. Depending on the seasonality of the keywords, you will either gain more or receive less traffic, although this may change depending on the type of content you want to publish. Make sure you look into popular times and dates to post to determine the difficulty level of those keywords.
Identifying search intent for keyword research
Traditionally there are three different types of search intent, they are:
- Navigational – This could be a search that is made with the intent of reaching a destination on the web. E.g., “Primark” if you intended to get to Primark’s homepage.
- Transactional – This is a search made with the intention of buying something. For example, “buy iPhone 12”.
- Informational – This is a search made with the intention of getting more information, for example, “Best snorkel gear”.
Optimisation of these three types of intent is essential, so the more navigational or transactional keywords should be optimised further. This is because people using these keywords are closer towards their purchase decisions than someone using a more informational keyword. So having these transitional or navigational keywords closer to your homepage, your products page or about us page, for example, will help drive the overall intent of sale.
In contrast, informational search intent is less rigid than navigational or transactional intent. You can optimise informational keywords that are either closely related or loosely related to your overall brand or products by using blog posts and articles discussing what you offer as a brand. As long as the keywords have a good ratio of search volume to keyword difficulty, your informational intent should be well-optimised and hopefully rank higher.
Long-form guides and “how-to” content that isn’t monetised is perfect for informational content. It allows you to show the reader that you’re an expert on this topic and an authority in the industry, and therefore they can trust what you have to say about this. Another benefit of this content is that it can essentially as an internal linking tool to other pieces of content. You can link from this long-form guide to other blog posts or even directly to product and service pages to encourage readers further down the conversion funnel. It is also a good idea to expand on and improve these guides with new information on at least a semi-regular basis so you can continue to expand your cornerstone pieces of content over time and reestablish your expertise in the area.
You can also use informational intent in your blogs to drive affiliate sales. Using keywords like “best” or “product A vs product B” will not only help gain more traffic to your site but should also improve the overall traction around your whole site.
Using search intent is all about what you intend for your keywords to accomplish. Whether that be sales for your business or people reading information on a service that either you are selling or reviewing, these three search intent types will help people find your content via the keywords you use and the intention behind what your business offers. Alongside the other main three components: search volume, keyword difficulty and intent, together, these metrics will help you evaluate your keywords properly.
Keyword research is essential to every company, and everyone should utilise it. It helps you understand your audience and compete with other websites in the same field as you. Keyword research is also a great way to give you new ideas for content and marketing campaigns.
Keyword research is integral to understanding what your audiences want and what they say about particular brands. It’s also important to show up in search, so your products and services come up in related searches and keywords, giving your business a more significant presence in search results.
There’s a lot that goes into keyword research, and it won’t happen overnight. It takes time, but all good things come to those who wait, so be patient and keep up with your optimised content, and you will see the benefits long-term.