My first lesson when I learned how to do keyword research was that not all keywords are created equally.
I launched my website in January 2019 without doing any sort of keyword research. I knew the copywriting services I wanted to rank for and I assumed it was enough to use the phrases as keywords for my service pages.
One of the keywords landing page copywriting service is at the top of Google Page 1 but it doesn’t drive any traffic because nobody is searching for it.
I only got around to doing keyword research in January and I discovered the right keyword for this page should be landing page copywriter which has a monthly search volume of 90.
If you want to learn SEO, keyword research is a great foundation to build on. It’s how you stay in-tune with the needs of your audience. It’s more than just an SEO technique, it’s the foundation for all your digital marketing efforts.
If you’ve written blog posts and published a ton of content on your site but your readership is low, it’s most likely because you’ve not done the proper keyword research.
In this guide, I’ll discuss:
- What is keyword research
- The importance of Keyword Research for ranking on search engines
- How to do keyword research
- The best keyword research tools
What is a Keyword?
A keyword is a word or phrase that your target customer uses to search for a particular concept on the internet. It is the most common word that defines content.
Let’s use the image above as an example. My skin was dry and flaky and I needed a good body lotion that was affordable. I did a long-tail keyword search for best drugstore body lotion for dry skin.
The top-ranked pages on Google SERP have one thing in common. Their headlines and content have the words I entered for my search. This is the keyword for the page.
What is Keyword Research in SEO?
Keyword research is the process of finding the common word or phrases that your target audience use to search for content related to your product or service.
The goals of keyword research are to:
- Understand the searchers intent
- Know your audience better
- Use these keywords to optimize your content
The first keyword research step is to choose a topic around a set of keywords that you want your content to rank for.
Usually, keyword research takes place in the early stages of content planning. It also lays the foundation for future content creation, campaigns, and projects.
For brands that focus on solving customer problems, keyword research is at the core of a great content strategy.
What Is the Importance of SEO Keyword Research?
1. Front Row Seat to the Buyer’s Pain Point
The goal of content creation is to help your audience solve a problem. But you can’t solve problems if you don’t know their pain points.
The keyword research process helps you understand your audience and their needs. Knowing the exact phrases your audience use to search for a solution gives you a big advantage when addressing them.
You have front row seats to your buyer’s mind. It also provides deeper insight into keywords and phrases that offer the most ROI for your competitors.
According to Crazy Egg, most of the keywords you discover during research are informational. They help you learn what type of information your audience needs to make an informed decision.
The data enables you to understand what works and what doesn’t work. You can create top and middle of the funnel content to effectively address your audience’s needs.
2. Understand the Buyer’s Journey
The buyer’s journey shows your sales team where a potential customer is in the sales funnel and to determine how to approach them.
Think of how your target customers search for your products. You’re tempted to focus on transactional words like buy or add to cart. But most users won’t use transactional keywords until the decision making stage of the buying process.
SEO keyword research uncovers phrases and words that ensure you reach users at all stages of the buyer’s journey.
3. Create Relevant Content
Remember the example I gave in the introduction? Quick research shows that my target audience isn’t looking for an agency-type of service for landing page copy. They’re looking for ONE writer to get the job done.
If the organic search result isn’t related to your service, dig deeper to find relevant search phrases. Keyword research highlights similar keywords that replace phrases with zero search volume.
4. Discover the Competitiveness of a Keyword
Let’s face it. Your chances of ranking for a competitive keyword with a search volume of 10k is very low.
Sites with a high domain authority are already hogging page 1 ranking for keywords with two words like copywriting service or keyword research.
Understanding the keyword difficulty helps you target the right keywords you can rank for. You may have great content that is well written and satisfies the searcher’s intent, but it won’t rank if the competition is stronger.
5. Finding Local Keywords
If you run a local business that serves a local clientele, you should focus on local SEO for small businesses. Conducting keyword research helps you identify local keywords and attract local searchers who need your product and services.
6. Optimizing Content with Data from Keyword Research
Keyword research is the first step in writing SEO content. As part of my SEO copywriting checklist, I do competitor research to analyze keywords my competitors are currently ranking for and I compare with my keywords to see which is more commonly searched.
7. Attract Qualified Traffic
Choose the wrong keywords and you’ll drive worthless traffic that doesn’t convert. Choose the right keywords and you’ll attract qualified traffic.
Attracting the wrong target audience means they’re unlikely to convert or become customers. You need high-quality traffic from visitors who make up your ideal client base and have a higher chance of converting.
When you spend time learning about your audience’s search habits, your SEO strategy caters to the words they use. And you can optimize your site for keywords that turn visitors into leads.
How to do Keyword Research
Here’s a list of tasks to guide you when doing keyword research
- Define your goals for search traffic
- Make a list of relevant niche topics
- Begin with seed keywords
- Find your money keywords
- Analyze your keywords
- Understand the search intent behind keywords
- Scope your competitors
- Group your keyword lists
Okay, let’s dig deeper into each point.
1. Define Your Goals for Search Traffic
To be clear, traffic is not the metric of success when doing keyword research. Sales, and more sales… that’s the ultimate goal.
Traffic is a means to an end, but not the end goal.
Which keywords will help you solve sales problems?
You want keywords that:
- Build awareness for your products and services
- Feeds all segments of the sales funnel
- Generates sales for your business
Most users coming to your site aren’t ready to convert on their first visit. The awareness stage is super important because it helps you rank for competitive keywords while driving direct sales.
After defining your keyword goals, develop keyword categories around your goals, and categorize keywords to build an SEO content strategy.
For instance, when I became intentional with SEO in January, the goal for keyword research was to craft content around commercial keywords like copywriting agency copywriting services and SEO Copywriting Services.
Users searching for these keywords are usually looking for a copywriting agency or a specific copywriting service.
Based on my goals for keyword research, I’ll also create several pieces of content for visitors at the awareness, consideration, and decision making stages of the funnel.
2. Make a List of Relevant Niche Topics
After defining your goals, the next step is to come up with a list of niche topics that your target audience is interested in.
For instance, if you’re an inbound marketer, you need to understand the keywords and phrases people use when searching for inbound marketing on search engines.
Obvious topics that come to mind include content marketing, online branding, social media marketing, and search engine optimization.
Brian Dean of Backlinko recommends using Wikipedia to quickly find topics around your parent keyword.
For our broad keyword, inbound marketing topic ideas from Wikipedia include SEO, search marketing, email marketing, automation, and customer relationship management.
If we click on Search Engine Optimization, there’s a ton of suggestions that would be hard to find any other way.
Another technique for brainstorming keyword ideas is to try the searches related to section. Staying with our inbound marketing example, here’s the list of related keywords below.
Want more keyword ideas? Use the Keyword Magic Tool on SEMrush to get more ideas. Narrow your search by clicking on Exact Match to find ideas with your keyword in them.
I wouldn’t trust SEMrush when it comes to data on monthly search volume or competition but the list is pretty impressive for a base search.
3. Begin with Seed Keywords
Tim Soulo of Ahrefs says that seed keywords are the foundation of keyword research. Seed keywords help you identify your competitors and define your niche.
It’s an easy way to describe products with your own words or promote your business online.
For instance, while setting up Zenith Copy, I brainstormed a list of keywords that best defined how I wanted to be found online.
The Google searches I first thought of were:
- Freelance copywriter
- Hire a copywriter
- SEO Copywriter
Sounds simple and easy enough right?
The keyword for my homepage had to be a keyword with a lot of monthly searches. But when I looked at hiring a copywriter, I found that it had a monthly search volume of 1,000 with a keyword difficulty of 64%.
So, I took a different approach. I have a team of remote copywriters, editors, and project manager. It made sense to go after copywriting agency for my homepage. And I used service-based keywords like SEO copywriting services for my service pages.
The key is to find a niche within your industry that best defines what you do and attracts customers who want to pay money for your products or services.
You can start with a broad keyword and niche down until you find a keyword with a great opportunity.
4. Find Your Money Keywords
Let’s talk about commercial keywords. It’s the crème de la crème of keywords. For instance, I currently rank for copywriting agency and product description copywriter.
I get a lot of inquiries from potential customers who need services in both areas. But it took a year to rank for these keywords.
That’s because money phrases are difficult to rank for.
Consider that pay per click ads will take a large chunk of the traffic because they sit at the top of the search engine result pages. The rest of the websites on page 1 share what’s leftover.
To rank for these money phrases, I do keyword research for non-money phrases that my site can rank for while linking internally to the pages with the money phrases.
For instance, take the page for product description copywriter, which is also a keyword.
I built a mini-cluster with 4 blog posts and 4 guest posts published on high authority sites.
I targeted informational topics such as:
- Product description examples
- The ideal length of a product description
- Writing a product description
- Writing product description that sells
- Product copy isn’t converting
And a bunch of other keywords…
The goal is to
- Build authority
- Cultivate awareness and
- Stimulate shares and backlinks that lead to sales
5. Analyze your keywords
You’ve got your broad keywords, niche keywords, and money keywords. It’s time to analyze and identify the best keywords that will bring the most value.
Consider these elements when analyzing a keyword:
- Keyword popularity – High search volume
- Keyword difficulty – Ability to rank for the keyword
- Relevance – The search intent behind the keyword complies with your content
Remember the example I gave for the Landing Page Copywriting Service? I didn’t get any traffic because there’s no search volume for the keyword.
The same applies if you’re chasing a keyword with high search volume and high difficulty. You’ll find it difficult to outrank your competitors.
However, that’s not to say it’s not impossible. Search ranking will happen if you’re patient, have a wad of cash to spend on SEO, and consistently create good content.
For instance, the keyword for my homepage has a high search volume and high keyword difficulty. But I had a long-term interest in the keyword and I was willing to wait.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Beating the top-ranked pages is going to be difficult. Most of the sites ranking above me have greater domain authority, page authority, domain age, and robust backlink profile.
But if there were many low-authority sites ranking for my preferred keyword, it will be easier to rank for the phrase based on the strategy I’ve implemented in the past year.
6. Understand Search Intent
After picking a keyword, I look through the top 10 pages ranking on Google search engine result pages to understand the intent behind the keyword.
What information does a user want to see when they search for a keyword? Are they looking for more information, a specific website, or to buy a product?
Is it commercial? Perhaps a service page would be ideal.
Is it information? A long-form guide or downloadable e-book would thoroughly satisfy search intent.
Is it transactional? I’ll answer questions similar to what I see in SERPs.
If it’s navigational, and the user is searching for a specific brand, can I steal some of the traffic away by creating a review of the product or service that site offers?
Sadly, he doesn’t drive a ton of search because the keyword is a navigational keyword, and visitors are looking to visit BuzzStream’s site directly, not read a review.
Here’s an example from Mangools that answers the question about what is search intent.
If the term is not relevant to my page or the services I provide, I’ll delete that keyword from my list. There’s no need to optimize my site for a keyword if it isn’t relevant to what I do.
I published an article on Hackernoon on How to Use Search Intent to Improve Google Ranking. Read that for a better understanding.
7. Scope Your Competitors
Doing branded keyword research alone isn’t enough. Find out what your competitors are ranking for. It offers a holistic picture of the content landscape in your industry and improves your SEO strategy.
You’ll also identify keywords that are difficult to rank if you’re just starting out alongside quick wins from low to medium competitive keywords.
Using your competitor’s high ranking keyword means you’ll work extra hard to rank high for those keywords.
Pick other keywords which your competitors do not rank for, but are still common. It improves your chances of ranking for those keywords.
For instance, I’m a freelance copywriter, but It’s not a keyword I actively pursue. I did quick research with SEMrush and I found that the keyword difficulty is 67%.
ABC copywriting is the top-ranked site for this keyword. I looked at their metrics on Moz Pro and they have a DA score of 43 with 31 link domains pointing to the page.
The other sites ranking for the keyword also have a great domain and backlink profile. I estimate that it will take 12 months of building content around related searches and doing link building to rank for this keyword.
The best option would be to rank for a related term with less competition. The easier way to accomplish this task is to perform a keyword search on your competitors. You should have enough data to create an SEO plan and craft good content. You’ll also gain more insight you can use to write SEO content.
8. Group your keyword list
It may not sound important, but you need a master keyword list that includes keyword data and groups.
Group your keywords by:
One page can rank for multiple keywords. But the parent topic is the highest volume keyword the page ranks for. For instance, a page I created with the focus keyword website copywriting rates also ranks for:
Website copywriting prices
How much to charge for landing page copy and
Copywriting services prices
Let’s assume I want to rank for related queries to website copywriting rates. I’ll copy the URL for the site currently ranking number 1 for this keyword into SEMrush domain analytics. I’ll narrow my search with the exact URL option to only view keywords this specific page ranks for.
WebFX has the top spot. From the analytics, they rank for 147 organic keywords in total. I can optimize my page to rank for:
Copywriting cost per page
Website copywriting prices
Freelance copywriter rates
How to charge for copywriting
Group by Search Intent
We’ve established that there’s an intent behind every search query. It’s only when you understand the searcher’s intent that you can build perfectly matched pages.
What is the Best Keyword Research Tool?
You can’t do keyword research without using keyword tools. Apart from research, these tools will help you create an SEO content outline and improve on-page SEO.
PS: I wrote a detailed post where I talked about my favorite tools for SEO content writing.
1. SEMrush: Domain Analytics and SEO Content Template
You’ll probably notice that most of the screenshots I’ve shared in this article are from SEMrush. If you only have the budget for one keyword tool, choose SEMrush.
There’s a ton of stuff you can do with SEMrush that other keyword research tools don’t offer. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with a long list of keyword ideas, use your competitor’s keyword data to build your strategy.
For instance, Creative Copywriter ranks at the top of Google for my primary keyword copywriting agency
Based on my target location, I’ll review the top keywords they rank for in the US, UK, and other countries.
SEMrush is an invaluable tool when creating an SEO content outline as it shows you related keywords, keyword variations, and popular questions related to the keyword.
If I want to create an SEO optimized page, I’ll use the SEO content template to find semantic words and topic ideas to improve my copy.
For this copy, HubSpot has the first position. I’ll simply enter the link on SEMrush to see other keywords they rank for. A total of 1,400. Welldone HubSpot!
SEMrush is also great for checking your site ranking, leveraging data from gap analysis, and getting topic suggestions for subheadings.
Ahrefs is the best tool for conducting backlink analysis. They reveal more data on my backlink profile than any other keyword research tool on the market.
The same applies to the keyword data you get when using Ahrefs for keyword research. I love how they show you keyword ideas, questions to include in your SEO copy, newly discovered keywords, and other keywords your page should also rank for.
Ahrefs keyword explorer aggregates data from multiple search engines to generate data.
It gives you extensive information on:
- Keyword difficulty score
- Search volume
- SERP overview
- Keyword lists
- Click metrics
- Parent topics and more
3. Moz Keyword Explorer – Discover Out of the Box Keywords
If you’re looking for unique keyword ideas, Moz keyword explorer will help you find uncommon keyword ideas with low competition.
You’ll get the same keyword suggestions most tools offer, but Moz goes two steps further with Organic CTR and Priority features.
Organic CTR is the predicted number of clicks you’ll get from page 1 of Google. Priority score combines data on search volume, CTR, and keyword difficulty to help you choose which keywords to target or ignore.
If you have a thousand keyword ideas and you’re not sure how to trim the fat, use Moz Keyword Explorer to get the most juice from your keyword data.
4. Keywords Everywhere – Keyword Research from SERP
For only $10 I got 100,000 credits. This is the cheapest SEO tool with the highest value for money.
Install the Chrome Extension and you’re good to go!
I trust Keyword Everywhere for data on:
- Monthly search volume
- Cost per click and
- Keyword difficulty
They have a large database of related keywords to improve my SEO copy or build a topic cluster.
Here’s a sample search for the broad keyword SEO Copywriting
Beneath the keyword, I can see data for monthly search volume, CPC, and competition. From this data alone, I know it’s going to be impossible to rank for this keyword without building a massive topic cluster.
On the right side of the SERP, there are related keywords and keyword data for People Also Search For. It’s a ton of keyword ideas if I want to build topical authority around SEO copywriting.
I love Keywords Everywhere because it’s all happening on the Google Search Engine Result Page. I also get to see Google Suggest keywords from both sections.
5. Long Tail Pro – Find Long-Tail Keywords
Long-tail keywords are great for SEO. They may get less search traffic but yield a higher conversion value. The user is more specific with their search query and they know exactly what they need.
When searching for long-tail keywords and LSI keywords, I turn to Long Tail Pro. It’s a powerful SEO research tool that generates thousands of unique long-tail keywords based on single or multiple root keywords at once.
Using the right keywords for your content is the first step to ranking on multiple search engine research pages. High ranking increases visibility and consequently conversion which is the main goal.
It is almost impossible to find the right keywords and determine placement without proper keyword research. It may take a while and require team collaboration but the result is an unlimited supply of content ideas, organized content strategy, engaged audience, and higher revenue for your business.