SEO is arguably the most crucial aspect of your business’s online presence. No matter what industry your business is in, SEO is what brings in new, organic traffic every day.
Part of effective SEO involves keyword research, but many business owners decide to forgo this step entirely. Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Keyword research is vital to your SEO because it has a direct impact on how much search traffic you receive.
As with everything else, there is a method to keyword research. There are certain do’s and don’ts involved with carefully selecting your keywords and researching which ones to include or exclude.
No matter how much experience you have with SEO and keywords, here is a comprehensive guide on how to do keyword research properly and efficiently.
The Basics of Keyword Research
For complete SEO beginners, you’ll need to start where everyone else has started before you: with the basics. Fortunately, the basics of keyword research are not that difficult to understand and follow.
What is Keyword Research?
As you can probably guess, keyword research is the act of looking up and discovering keywords that you can use to optimize your website. Keywords are what make your content appear when users search for something, whether they use Bing, Google, Yahoo, or another search engine.
The Importance of Keyword Research
So, why is keyword research important? After all, you know your business best, and you know what products you offer, what type of customers you want to attract, and what services you’re attempting to advertise. You already know the best keywords, right?
That’s not always true. Researching keywords starts with what you know and builds up from there. You can start your research by thinking of keywords that you think will be useful, but you’ll still want to put in some actual research before making your final decision.
When you take the time to research keywords, you ensure that there’s a demand for the content you’re providing. If you write several blog posts for something that no one is looking for, then these posts won’t do anything to help your site or improve your organic traffic.
Instead, your time would be better spent writing about something that people are searching for. This way, you’ll have a steady stream of visitors that come across your website organically.
Keyword Research: Getting Started
Now that you know the basics, you’re ready to get started with your keyword research. There are several steps but don’t worry, we’re here to help you along.
Brainstorm and Find Keyword Ideas
As with every project, you should first take the time to brainstorm ideas. Keyword research is no different. However, the way you brainstorm keywords will be just a little different than throwing a few keyword ideas on paper and picking your favorite.
To start your brainstorming session, you need to identify key areas which you can draw keyword inspiration from. Here are some questions to ask yourself during this step of the process:
- What are people searching for? – This should be relative to your business. If you’re an ice cream shop, look at what flavors people are looking for. If you’re a coffee shop, look at what the most searched coffee shop drinks are.
- Who is searching for this on search engines? – You need to know your target audience. Are they teens, young adults, or parents? How you proceed depends on this answer.
- When are these terms most searched? – Sometimes, search queries are seasonal, and knowing this information is important to how and when you plan your marketing campaigns.
- Why are they making this search? – If you run a cafe, people may be looking for good first-date locations, a health-conscious coffee option, or even specialty beans they can buy as a gift. Keep in mind why people are searching for this specific product or service, as this will further help guide you.
- Where are potential customers located? – Local searches will affect your business differently than national or international searches. Consider where most of your potential customers are located, as it may affect your delivery options and how you market your business.
After you ask yourself these questions, you’ll have a much clearer basis for how to choose your keywords and what keyword ideas may or may not be beneficial for your business.
You may also come up with a few “seed” keywords: keywords that help generate starting points for where to begin the real research. Examples of “seed” keywords for a coffee shop include cappuccino, latte, and coffee beans.
Look at Your Competitors
The best way to know what you’re going up against is to look at your competitors and see what keywords they’re ranking for. They’re likely using SEO techniques as well, so there’s no shame in drawing some inspiration from them. The odds are high that they’re doing the same.
You may need to use your “seed” keywords to figure out what competing websites rank the highest against you, or you may have a few competitors in mind already. In either case, once you have the website, plug it into a keyword research tool like Ahrefs that will analyze the site’s top keywords.
Do this for multiple different competitors’ websites. Don’t just rely on one site. After a few different comparisons, you’ll have a pretty clear list of which keywords pop up the most frequently, generate the most search engine traffic, and can be used to draw in traffic.
Expand Your List of Keywords With Keyword Research Tools
Using the list of keyword ideas you found, you should next turn to keyword research tools to see how well these keywords are performing. One of the best free keyword tools you can use is Google’s Keyword Planner, a well-known keyword research tool that tells you the monthly search volumes of various search terms.
Using Google Keyword Planner, enter your potential keyword to see stats and information about it. You’ll see how frequently it’s been used over time, how popular it is, and even related keywords.
As Google Keyword Planner will often give you keyword suggestions that don’t contain your target word but are still related to it or very similar, it’s a great free keyword tool for coming up with new keywords you were unaware of.
Google Search Console is also a great resource to help you come up with more keyword ideas. Often, your website could be ranking for keywords that you didn’t intentionally rank for. These keywords will come up on your Google Search Console report. You can now add these keyword ideas to your list, create content that is optimized for them, and you should rank better for them on organic search results.
Get to Know Your Niche
You can’t expect to attract customers and appear credible if you don’t know your niche well. Unfortunately, many businesses think they can just throw multiple mentions of a keyword phrase into a blog post or other site publication and win the allegiance of potential customers. Not only will this annoy visitors, but it can also harm your website’s SEO and ranking rather than help it.
A great way to do more research on your niche and potential customer base is by visiting forums, Q&A sites, and groups in your industry. Reddit, for example, can be a great resource.
Returning to the example of a cafe, Reddit can be a great source for figuring out what information people are looking for related to coffee. You can use the number of upvotes a thread receives to see which questions contain information that the /coffee community on Reddit is interested in. In many cases, you may come across questions that you had never thought of.
The great thing about using community groups and forums to look into your niche is that you’ll get a lot of information about what you can add to your website’s blog in the future. Even if a certain question only receives 200 searches per month, it’s possible to include other keywords within a post that draws in multiple types of visitors.
You shouldn’t look for industry questions by referring to industry professionals. As an expert in your industry, you’ll have very different questions and a different vocabulary than customers who are new to the industry.
Forums and online communities are often where novice customers go for information, and they will give you a much clearer idea of what your customers are asking, the vocabulary they use, and the information they want.
Time to Analyze Keywords
By now, you should have a pretty comprehensive keyword list and questions that can be used for SEO purposes. While you could just try your chances with any and all of these new keywords, it’s a much better idea to pause and analyze them.
After all, not all of your keywords will draw in the customers you’re hoping to attract, and you need to know which keywords will actually benefit your website and which ones could increase your site’s bounce rate.
You’ll likely add, edit, and remove keywords as your business grows and changes, but you don’t need to throw all your keywords into your site right now. Instead, it’s better to pick out the best keywords for your business now and move forward with them.
There are a number of ways to analyze keywords, and using more than one keyword analysis method will give you a clearer idea of which keywords will be best for your business.
Analyzing Search Volume
You can approach search volume in two different ways: by starting with keywords that your competitors rank highly for or by starting with keywords that your competitors haven’t thought to include. It all depends on the SEO strategy you want to use.
You can certainly use both approaches, but you’ll need to choose which one to start off with.
Using your list of keywords, you’ll want to refer back to your keyword research tool and enter your first keyword. You’ll be presented with a number representing the number of searches using that keyword, not the number of people using that keyword. This is also known as the search volume. Google Ads Keyword Planner shows you the monthly search volume of search terms, while Ahrefs is known to present rather accurate search volume data too.
The information you get will be country-specific and based on annual searches – two other important things to remember. You’ll get different search engine results pages if you search within France than if you search within the United States.
When analyzing the search volume for a particular keyword, it’s essential to consider what your business can handle. Keywords with over 10,000 per month (120,000 searches annually) search volume will be much more competitive than keywords with a few hundred or thousand searches per month.
Small, newer businesses may not be able to handle the competition that some keywords present, while large, more established businesses may not want to bother with low competition keywords that turn out such few search engine results.
Use various filters within a research tool like Ahrefs to keep results within a reasonable search volume that your business can handle.
Another important thing that many people overlook is long tail keywords. These are keywords that receive less than 100 searches per month. While they may not create thousands of visits, they will add up over time and help you draw in new customers with time. So, during your search volume analysis, don’t forget to also take into account low search volume keywords.
Analyzing Keyword Difficulty
Keyword difficulty refers to how easy or hard it will be to rank high for a certain keyword. As you can expect, high search volume keywords will be much more difficult to rank high for than lower search volume keywords.
However, this isn’t the only thing that comes into play when determining keyword difficulty.
Here are some other aspects that come into play:
- Search intent – What does the user want to get out of the search?
- Content depth and authority – Are you a credible, authoritative source, or is the content on your site just there to meet a word count and trigger keywords? Will you be competing with other much more authoritative sites that are currently ranking?
- Number and quality of backlinks – How many backlinks does your site have? Do the currently ranking sites have a lot more authoritative backlinks than your site?
This is by no means a complete list of what affects keyword difficulty, but they’re some of the main things to keep in mind. That being said, every SEO expert will have a slightly different opinion on what they think plays a stronger role, whether it’s your domain authority, content quality, or backlink authority.
Analyzing Seasonal and Regional Trends
Some keywords will be triggered more frequently in different parts of the world and at different times of the year.
One common example is holidays. Anything containing the word “Christmas” or “Hanukkah” will tend to rank very highly between October and December, but they tend to do relatively poorly in March.
Conversely, keywords containing the word “easter” will do better in March and April than they would in October or November.
Fortunately, seasonal trends are easy to prepare for, especially if it’s something that you know happens every year, such as Hanukkah or the Fourth of July. This means that you can prepare content for these holidays well in advance and publish them shortly before the high season hits, giving your website a competitive edge and a boost over the competition early on.
Another example is regional terminology. In different parts of the country, one single thing may be referred to differently, thereby affecting your search results. In New York, a user may search for “trailers” while a user in Texas might search for a “rig” instead. While both users are looking for big trucks, the words they use are different.
Depending on your business, you may only want your website to appear for users in Texas. This means that you’ll want to look up keywords that are specific to the region and make sure to include them in your content, even if the search volume or ranking isn’t as high as other words.
With all the prior research you’ve now done, it’s time to actually pick out your best keywords and determine which ones you’ll target. You can’t take on all the keywords you’ve compiled right away, so you’ll need to target the most important ones and work from there.
Targeting keywords will involve a couple of steps, so grab your list of keywords and get ready to pick your targets.
Identify a Parent Topic
The parent topic is the keyword that works for multiple searches. This is determined by Google, though, and not you. While you may think the target keywords “dog harness” and “no pull dog harness” would fall under the same parent topic, Google will actually consider them two different topics.
To determine the parent topic for a keyword, you’ll need to research each keyword and compare the search results. If the results for two or three keywords are pretty much the same, then you know they fall under the same parent topic. If the results are completely different, however, then the keywords will fall under separate parent topics.
The great thing about parent topics is that you won’t have to make separate content in order to rank for multiple keywords within that topic. You can rank for two or three keywords under a single-parent topic with only one piece of content.
However, to rank for two keywords that are considered separate parent topics, you’ll need to create two separate pieces of content.
Knowing which keywords fall under which parent topic will help you create content for each parent topic. Instead of putting out content for three keywords that fall under one parent topic and then moving on to the next parent topic, you can put out one content piece for each parent topic, start attracting customers within each topic, and then continue developing content within your chosen parent topics.
Study the Search Intent on Search Engines
This is a vital part of the keyword research process. You don’t want to include a keyword that, in your mind, is relevant to your business, but is actually used with a different intent in mind. Google analyzes each search term and portrays content that it thinks the user wants, so you’ll need to cater your content to meet the intention behind the keyword phrases.
Just because someone types something that includes the word “latte” doesn’t necessarily mean they’re looking for a recipe. This is why you can’t just assume that including “latte” in your content will turn up customers every time. If the content doesn’t match the search intent, it won’t appear in the search results.
With this in mind, you’ll want to determine relevant searches that you want to rank for. In the case of a latte, it depends on your business. Do you want to show users how to make the perfect latte, or do you want to guide users on choosing the best coffee beans for making a latte?
Search intent is important to keep in mind when creating content, so don’t assume just because you write one content piece about lattes (or whatever else your business specializes in) that your website will always rank well.
The final step of SEO keyword research is choosing the right keywords to prioritize or focus on. Not every keyword phrase will be beneficial to your business, so determine the most relevant search terms and begin your SEO campaign with those.
Here’s how to prioritize search terms in just a few quick steps:
Gauge the Business Potential
There are three categories that a search inquiry may fall into:
- TOFU (Top of the Funnel Users): users just looking for information on a broad topic
- MOFU (Middle of the Funnel Users): users looking for a solution to something
- BOFU (Bottom of the Funnel Users): users looking to buy something
TOFU searches tend to have low conversion rates but are often high search volume searches. BOFU searches are the opposite. They’re very lucrative and have a higher conversion rate, but are low search volume searches that turn up fewer users.
How a particular search term benefits your business is entirely subjective. You know your business best, so using the information you uncovered during your prior SEO keyword research, you’ll need to determine which keywords will be TOFU, MOFU, or BOFU.
Meet Your Business Goals
Is your intention with keywords to bring in new business, encourage previous customers to return, or just increase business awareness? Depending on the answer, certain keywords may be more or less likely to help you meet your goals.
Some keywords may bring in more leads, while others increase your conversion rate. Some will have faster results, while others may take time to prove their worth. Depending on what your business goals are, the keywords you choose to prioritize and use will vary.
Keyword Research is a Crucial Part of Search Engine Optimization
As you can see, a lot goes into the keyword research process. It’s an extensive process that can set the foundation of your SEO campaign and determine how successful your results will be.
You can’t do thorough keyword research in a few short hours and expect good results; instead, you should always take the time to research keywords properly. Additionally, keyword planner tools like Google Keyword Planner and keyword explorer tools like Ahrefs are invaluable to finding keyword suggestions, but you do need some prior knowledge to make the best use of them.
Ultimately, it’s best to leave keyword research in the capable hands of our SEO team, who have spent years analyzing countless keywords and know which ones to prioritize and target for the best results. Call us today to schedule a consultation about our SEO services, so we can learn more about your business goals and help you craft the most effective keyword strategy to grow your business!
Stephan Boehringer is the CEO of Get The Clicks, a web marketing company. Stephan has over 20 years of experience in the field of web marketing, and has been a speaker and consultant for many years. Stephan is passionate about web marketing and helping their clients be the best they can be.
Stephan Boehringer graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services.