We all know that SEO is a race; a race to reach the top of a search engine results page. Every site on the web strives to rank higher through various on-page and off-page optimizations not only to be the most useful for the searchers but to ultimately drive the maximum traffic and convert it.
However, what is the first step you take before you enter any race? You certainly analyze your competitors, choose your tools wisely and prepare yourself. Right?
Now, this is exactly what keyword research is in the world of SEO. It is the research and analysis of keywords that make you ready for this ranking race.
So to help you win this race, here is our complete guide to keyword research that covers all the critical aspects, factors, and concepts of keyword research you will need to understand and the tools you need to use to conduct keyword research effectively.
We will go through what keyword research is, why it is important, and how to do it.
Let us start with the basics.
To understand keyword research, we need to first understand what is a keyword in SEO.
Table of Contents
What Is a Keyword?
A keyword is any term a user searches for on a search engine (Google, Bing, etc,) to find information about something. It can have multiple intentions; it can be asking a question, inquiring about something, or purchasing a product/service.
Whatever a user enters on a search engine, Google (or other search engines) searches for its match in its huge database of billions of web pages to find the most useful and relevant set of results for that specific user query.
As it crawls through every page, it needs to know what each page is about. And, here comes the usage of keywords.
Keywords are terms incorporated into a content/web page that allow a search engine to recognize its context and add it to its index. We optimize our content around specific keywords in order to be recognizable and rank higher for those terms on a search engine results page (SERP).
(In other words, keywords are the racing tools that help you win the SEO race if chosen right.)
But how do you find the right keywords for your content/webpage? That is what keyword research is all about.
What Is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is the process of finding, analyzing, and choosing the right keywords. It involves the investigation of terms that people search for and their thorough analysis based on a number of factors to consider. (We will go through all those factors soon.)
First, based on the term you want to focus on, you come up with a rough list of potential keywords using a keyword research tool to get keyword ideas.
You then analyze them by measuring them up with various metrics/factors to filter out the right ones among them.
Why Is Keyword Research Important?
Keyword research is the first and foundational stage of search engine optimization. It helps identify the effective and the right keywords for your content strategy. It is important to choose the keywords wisely as they can make or break your SEO efforts.
No matter how optimized your content may be, if you have used the wrong keywords, you will not be there in the target users’ search results. And this is where keyword research plays a major role.
The terms you focus on should align with what exactly your target audience searches for and what they want. So keyword research is crucial to effectively tailor your content around the right keywords to achieve higher rankings for those terms and drive the targeted traffic.
Moreover, keyword research allows you to know your audience/customers better by discovering what they look for in a search engine. When you know their needs better, you will be able to provide exactly what they want and reach them better.
Without proper keyword research, you may end up using keywords that no one searches for or using the wrong ones, or even not targeting any keywords at all.
Keyword research also tells you what can work for you and what cannot. It lets you reflect on all the affecting and deciding factors like search volume, keyword difficulty, etc., so that you can rest assured about the choice of keywords around which you will focus all of your content.
Furthermore, it allows you to analyze your competitors and how they have used the terms to achieve ranks. This helps you determine how much effort you will need to compete with them. So you can shape your content strategy accordingly.
Essential Guide To Keyword Research
As we discussed above, there are multiple crucial factors to consider while conducting keyword research. These factors affect the choice of keywords and help you determine the right keywords for your content.
Let us understand these concepts one by one before we move on.
⇒ Search Volume
The search volume is the number of searches performed for a specific keyword in a given timeframe. Every keyword has this trait that tells what is the frequency and quantity of searches it goes through.
Because this metric tells you what terms people often search for and what they don’t, you need to consider this factor while choosing keywords. Terms with extremely high search volume often have more competition for ranking.
Moreover, keywords can have seasonal or evergreen search volume. The seasonal keyword (e.g., Christmas gifts) is more searched for during a specific time period. Whereas the evergreen ones (e.g.: ways to earn money online) have consistent search volume all the time.
Relevance in terms of keywords implies that the search results for a specific keyword should relate to the context of that keyword. For example, the keyword “best finance books” doesn’t relate to the content around “baking a cake”. This term is closely related to search intent, which is explained below.
⇒ Search Intent (User Intent)
Search intent is the intention/purpose of a user behind searching a particular keyword. This implies what type of results/information a searcher is looking for on a search engine. There are basically 5 types of search intents that a keyword can have:
↳ Transactional Intent:
This indicates that a user wants to buy a product or a service. (A transactional query example: “Samsung s20”)
↳ Commercial Intent:
With this intent, a searcher is researching a product or a service but is yet not ready to buy it. (E.g.: “best mobile phone brand”)
↳ Informational Intent:
The searcher aims to find information about something such as solving a query or inquiring about something. (E.g.: “how to make a cake”)
↳ Navigational Intent:
The searcher wants to specifically search for a page or a website or its section. (E.g.: “Wix homepage”)
↳ Local search intent:
The user is looking for something specific to a geographical area. (E.g.: “coffee shop near me”)
Search intent is the most crucial factor to consider while keyword research because the search intent of the chosen keyword should align with the needs (intentions) of the targeted audience for that keyword (in order to create relevant content accordingly).
To further simplify it, consider an example. Suppose you are targeting the keyword “marketing strategies”, planning your content around all the marketing strategies used offline. But when searching this keyword, your audience expects digital marketing strategies.
Since the search intent of the audience does not match that of your keyword, the content you created wouldn’t be useful for them.
Thus, choose your keywords by considering what kind of results the user expects from a keyword search.
Tip: You can simply Google the chosen keyword and see what types of results appear and verify your search intent match.
⇒ Authority (DA/PA)
Domain authority (DA) and page authority (PA) are the scores given to a site and a page respectively which indicate how reliable and trustworthy they are.
These scores are defined by Moz and lie in the range of 1 to 100 (lowest to highest authority). The authority of sites is generally calculated based on the number and quality of domains referring to that site (i.e., through quality backlinks) and several other factors.
High-authority sites and pages are given high priority when ranking for a specific keyword. The more authority a site has, the more difficult it will be to rank for the keyword/s it targets.
While keyword research, it helps determine how strong are the competitors and where your domain/page stands.
⇒ Keyword Difficulty
The keyword difficulty(KD) is a metric to measure how difficult it is to rank high for a specific keyword. This factor is determined majorly on the basis of domain authority, page authority, and content quality.
High keyword difficulty implies high competition and the need for lots of time and effort to rank for that keyword. This score has a range between 0 to 100 (easy to hard KD).
⇒ Seed Keyword
The seed keyword is nothing but a term that is your base topic on which you want to focus on. This acts as the starting point of keyword research and all your potential keywords revolve around this seed keyword/s.
You find your actual keywords on the basis of the seed keyword.
While conducting keyword research, brainstorming and various keyword research tools require you to have a base point to work on, which is the seed keyword.
Note that this is not the actual keyword but just a base term, and thus the name “seed”.
Let’s say you want to find keywords related to marketing. So “marketing” will be your seed keyword.
⇒ Long-tail keywords
Long-tail keywords are long search queries having around 3 or more words and are more specific.
And since they are more specific, the audience searching for these long-tail keywords has very specific search intent and is more serious about those query results and probably much further in their buyer/searcher’s journey.
So the conversion rate and the quality of the audience of such long-tail keywords is high even if their search volume is not much.
These terms usually have low competition (keyword difficulty) and so can be easy to rank for.
Additionally, even when long-tail keywords are less often searched for, they make up the majority of search queries in aggregation. (95% of all search queries in the U.S. get fewer than 10 searches per month, which are nothing but long-tail keywords.)
Source: The search demand curve by Ahrefs
⇒ Short-tail keywords (Head terms)
As opposed to long-tail keywords, head terms are shorter terms that represent a broader concept.
They generally have a high search volume and more competition. And because these terms are searched often, they have more demands but are generally difficult to target and rank for.
For example, “vegan diet” is a short-tail keyword. And “vegan diet for weight loss” is a long-tail keyword.
⇒ Low-Hanging Fruits
Low-hanging fruits are the name given to those terms which are easy for you to target as per your website’s authority level. Targeting such terms allows you to have the benefit of low competition.
How to Do Keyword Research for SEO?
Keeping the above factors and concepts in consideration, let us begin a step-by-step keyword research process.
Now, the keyword research process is divided into two stages:
- How to research keywords (Step 1 – Step 3)
- How to analyze and choose keywords (Step 4 – Step 7)
Firstly, let us see how to find keywords.
Step 1: Brainstorm potential keywords
Based on the seed keyword you want to focus on and what you know about your base topic, curate a rough list of keywords that you think people would search for related to your seed keyword.
Consider the topic/s you want to create your content around or the concepts through which you can add value to your audience or the terms related to the product or service you provide, or what your targeted audience needs. You can also consider keywords that your website is already getting found for (using a website analytics tool).
Although keyword research is not a guessing game and needs a lot of data and analysis, it is still important to start with what you know and build and filter the list as you move ahead.
Remember that the terms that you come up with are not your exact keywords, but they will help you in the further steps to figure out the relevant and specifically actual keywords for your website/content.
Note: It is advisable to jot down all the ideas for keywords that you discover during the upcoming Step 2 and Step 3. They will be used in further analysis and filtering.
Step 2: Use These Hacks To Discover More Keyword Ideas
When you have jotted down all the keyword buckets through brainstorming, use these additional ways to find keywords. Brainstorming helps you to list out keywords that you think people would search for and the below ways help you to discover keywords that people would actually search for.
↳ Google Suggest (Google Search Autocomplete)
When you type a search term in Google’s search bar, it suggests searches people conduct related to that term. This can help you discover keyword ideas related to your base topic or get more specific.
For example, the term “vegan diet” has these suggestions for you (just type your focus topic and hit space, and the list of suggestions will pop up):
↳ Related Searches Of Google
Similar to the above suggestions but more relevant and specifically related to the search term, the “related searches” section of Google SERP helps you with what people search about a term.
Just search for your seed keyword and scroll down to the bottom of the page.
For the same example of “vegan diet”, here are its related searches:
↳ Use Amazon (Amazon Suggest) For E-commerce Keyword Ideas
Amazon autocomplete/suggestions are similar to Google, which shows what people search for but they are specifically helpful to find keywords related to product purchases. So if the search intent behind the keywords you want to target is transactional (or commercial), Amazon can help you this way.
Just type in the product name and hit space: (for example: “tennis balls”)
↳ Use These Websites To Find Question-Based Keywords
When you have your main topic with you and you specifically want to choose long-tail keywords or question-based keywords (which are, by the way, best for content creation), you can use these websites.
AnswerThePublic tracks the autocomplete suggestions of search engines like Google and mass-produces all the phrases and questions that people ask around a given keyword. The huge amount of results that it produces can help you in keyword generation. Here is how:
⤚ Question DB
Question DB takes in a term/topic of a broad category and spills out keywords and questions around the provided term. Here is how:
↳ Find Creative Keyword Ideas With Seedkeywords.Com.
Seedkeywords.Com is an interesting tool for helping you find undiscovered keyword ideas that you might not have thought about. This platform allows you to ask/survey your audience what they would search for a particular thing. What could be a better source of keywords other than your target audience itself?
This helps you to know your audience’s needs and search intents by allowing you to directly receive the potential keywords from them.
You create a general scenario and create a URL and share it with people who then enter potential keywords they would search for and thus you get yet another but a creative list of keywords.
Refer to the website for a detailed tutorial on how to use seed keywords.
↳ Choose Keywords Related To What You Already Rank For.
If you have an established domain and you have been ranking for certain keywords then you can also spot some undiscovered keywords from those you already rank for.
You can do so using the Google Search Console. This is an analysis tool but can give you some hidden keyword ideas.
Go to the “performance section” and see the search results showing you the list of keywords you rank for.
For example, if your domain is related to “carpet cleaning” this is how it will look like.
Step 3: Use These Tools To Generate Keywords
The previous step was to come up with keyword ideas that can make up the potential keywords. In this step, we will use some actual keyword generation tools to get more practical keywords using these major tools.
⇒ Discover Keywords That Your Competitors Rank For.
For a certain search term, look up the competitor websites (domains) that already rank for that keyword on a SERP. Among many tools, here are two crucial ones for competitor keyword research.
With the help of SEMrush, you can know what are the keywords that the top-ranking sites are being ranked for. This is how to do it:
Search Google for the term you want to find keywords for. Look up the top results that appear. Take the URL of your competitor’s domain and type it into the “organic research” section of the “competitive research” of the SEMrush dashboard.
Then click the search button and you will be shown a list of keywords that the domain is currently ranking for.
↳ Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
You can also use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for competitor analysis.
Enter the competitor domains in the site explorer and see the “organic search” section of the results for the list of keywords that the top websites are ranking for. (Ahrefs also provides a free tool for the same; find it here.)
Here is the demo:
↳ Use Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer.
Go to Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer and type in your seed keyword. It will show you the list of keywords related to the term you entered.
↳ Use Google Trends.
Although the purpose of Google Trends is different than providing keyword ideas, it shows the related search terms (keywords) when a term is searched in Google Trends. This can generate related keyword ideas.
Go to Google Trends, type the focus keyword (seed keyword), and hit enter to find all the relevant search terms related to it.
↳ Use Moz’s Keyword Explorer.
Similarly, Moz keyword explorer also provides you with a list of generated keywords when a seed keyword is given to it.
This tool can also help in individual keyword analysis to determine search volume, keyword difficulty, etc.
↳ Use Google Keyword Planner.
This is a powerful tool and certainly, the most reliable one as the data comes straight from Google itself. Google Keyword Planner helps you with a plethora of keywords related to your term and performs many other keyword research tasks.
Open the keyword planner of Google and login if you haven’t.
Then select “discover new keywords” to get keyword ideas.
Search for the term and see the results.
↳ Use the Semrush Keyword Magic Tool.
Sign up for the Semrush Keyword Magic Tool and go to the “keyword research” section > Keyword Magic Tool in the dashboard.
Type your term and hit the search button to see a list of keyword suggestions.
So, these were all the major tools to help you create a list of keywords for your SEO. Now, the next task is to analyze them and choose the right keywords among them.
Step 4: Analyze The Keyword Difficulty
Cut down your keyword list by checking for the keyword difficulty of the keywords chosen.
Try to pick up those terms which are not too competitive as it will be hard for you to rank for them unless you are a highly authorized domain for that keyword.
You can check KD in two ways:
- Since Keyword difficulty is determined by the authority, you can check the DA/PA scores for the competitors’ pages in the SERP while searching the chosen keyword on Google.
- You can alternatively directly check the Keyword Difficulty scores that many tools calculate and provide.
The more the DA/PA or KD scores, the more difficult it is to rank for that keyword. Choose those which have low difficulty (i.e., prioritize low-hanging fruits).
Note that “high” and “low” DA/PA scores vary in every domain. Once you go through multiple sites’ authority and KD scores, you will know which ones are good to go.
⇒ Various tools help you figure out the KD for a keyword.
↳ Moz Bar for Chrome
The Moz Bar shows you the authority scores directly from the SERP. You just have to download the Moz Bar chrome extension and sign up for it.
↳ Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty Checker Tool
Unlike the previous one, the Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty Checker directly gives you the calculated keyword difficulty score for a given keyword.
The same results can be obtained from the “keyword explorer” section of Ahrefs’ dashboard.
↳ SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool
A yet another powerful tool to determine keyword difficulty, SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool gives you all the data in the keyword overview along with the difficulty score and what you will need to beat a given keyword’s difficulty.
Step 5: Analyze The Search Volume
Minimum and maximum search volume vary from industry to industry. So you have to determine what amount of search volume is high enough for the keyword/s in your niche.
Choose a moderately high search volume to be able to get a decent amount of searches on your keyword and not get too competitive.
Additionally, if your domain is newly established, meaning if it has not gained much ranking yet, it would be better for you to choose low search volume terms (such as long-tail keywords) which are easy to rank for.
And as you start gaining authority, you can gradually start targeting high-volume and difficult-to-rank keywords (like head terms).
⇒ Various tools show the monthly search volume of the keywords.
↳ Google Keyword Planner
Step 6: Analyze The Trend Of Keywords
This factor, although not mandatory, is also important to consider because if the chosen keyword’s trend is unexpectedly low, it would affect the search volume as well.
You can check the trend of a keyword through Google Trends this way:
You can also compare multiple options for keywords.
Step 7: Check The Search Intent
SEMrush shows what type of search intent a keyword has.
You also need to check what results come up in the Google search to determine and verify search intent.
Remember that the “best” keywords do not exist. You have to choose the “right” keywords for your site because keywords do not have a “one-size-fits-all” rule.
It all depends upon the level of competition your site has (KD), the pace at which you want the results (short and long-tail keywords), and the ability to beat the content quality of those who already rank high.