SEO Basics Keywords

Keyword Research for SEO: A Guide for Beginners

Google has a knack of keeping digital marketers on their toes with their frenzy of algorithm updates. Thankfully one thing has remained constant for inbound marketers – keyword research. Well, the need to conduct keyword research has stayed the same. How you go about doing so hasn’t.

What exactly is keyword research

Keyword research is the systematic process of seeking out and analyzing real search terms that people enter into search engines. The insight you can gain into these actual search terms can help develop and enhance your content strategy. Furthermore, keyword research can also help foster a healthy marketing strategy on a larger scale.

Why is keyword research important?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but SEO has evolved a whole lot over the past 10 years. One glaring fact is that keywords themselves no longer really matter in terms of ranking on a daily basis. This is very true to an extent; using keywords that match an individual’s search is no longer the most important factor for SEO professionals. Instead, it’s the intent behind that keyword, and whether or not a piece of content solves for said intent. This, however, does not mean that keyword research is an outdated practice. Here’s the skinny:

Keyword research informs you about the topics that people care about and, assuming you’re using an effective SEO tool, how popular said topics really are among your audience. The key term here is topics. By esearching keywords that garner high volume searches each month, you are able to identify and sort your content into topics that you should develop content around. You can then use these topics to dictate which keywords you look for and eventually target.

Through researching keywords by popularity, search volume, and general intent, you can then tackle questions that the majority of your audience wants answers to.

How does intent impact keyword research?

As mentioned in the previous section, user intent is now one of the most critical factors that impact your ability to rank well on search engines such as Google. In the modern era, it’s of the utmost importance that your webpage addresses the problem a searcher intended to solve. So, how does this affect your keyword research tactics?

It’s relatively easy to take keywords at face value. However, keywords have many different meanings beneath the surface. Since the intent behind a search is so important to your ranking potential, you best be extra careful when it comes to how you interpret the keywords you target.

Keyword research example

Let’s say, for instance, you’re researching the keyword “how to start a blog” for an article you want to craft. The term “blog” can mean a blog post or the blog website itself. What the searcher’s intent is behind the keyword will influence the direction of your article. Does the searcher want to learn how to draft an individual blog post? Or do they want to know how to actually create a website domain for the purpose of blogging? If your content strategy only targets people interested in the latter, you best make sure of the keyword’s intent before committing to it.

In order to verify what a user’s intent is in their keyword search, it’s a wise idea to simply enter the keyword into a search engine yourself. This allows you to see what types of results come up.

I’m about to outline a keyword research process that you can follow that will help you come up with and narrow down a list of terms that you could potentially target in your posts. This outline will allow you to establish and carry out a strong keyword strategy that will help you get found for the search terms you genuinely care about.

How to research keywords for your SEO strategy

1.) Make a list of important, relevant topics based on what you know about your subject matter

Think about the topics you want to rank for in terms of large, catch-all, buckets. You should come up with about 5-10 topics per bucket that you think are important to your business.  You’ll then use those topic buckets to help develop some specific keywords later on in the process.

These are likely the topics that you blog about most frequently, or perhaps they’re the topics that come up the most in sales conversations. Put yourself in the shoes of your ideal buyer personas – what types of topics would your target audience seek out that you’d want your business to get found for?

2.) Fill in those topic buckets with keywords

Now that you have a couple of topic buckets on which you want to focus, it’s time to figure out some keywords that fall into said buckets. These are keyword phrases that you believe are important to rank for in SERPs (search engine result pages) since your target audience is likely conducting searches for those particular terms.

The purpose of this step isn’t to come up with your final list of keyword phrases. You simply want to end up with a mass of phrases you think potential customers might use to search for content related to that particular topic bucket. We’ll widdle the lists down later in the process so you don’t have something too out of control. Once you have your ultimate list, there are several data-driven tools available to you for finding out which keywords you’re most likely rank well for.

While more and more keywords are getting encrypted by Google each day, another intelligent way to come up with keyword ideas is to figure out which keywords your website is already getting found for. You’ll need analytics software such as Google Analytics. Drill down into your site traffic sources and sift through your organic search traffic. Doing so will allow you to identify the keywords people are searching to arrive at your site.

Repeat this process for as many topic buckets as wish. Remember that you can always head over to your customer-facing peers and ask them what types of terms their prospects and customers use if you’re having trouble coming up with meaningful search terms. Those are typically great starting points for keyword research.

3.) Research related search terms

This is a creative phase you may have already considered when conducting keyword research. If not, it’s a great way to flesh out those lists.

If you’re having a hard time generating more keywords people might be searching about a specific topic, go to Google and take a look at the related search terms that appear when you plug in a keyword. You’ll notice suggestions for searches related to your original input. These keywords may serve as a catalyst for other keywords you may want to consider.

Want to take things a step further? Type in some of those related keywords and look at their related search terms.

4.) Check for a mix of head terms and long-tail keywords in each bucket

Here’s the gist if you’re not familiar with the difference between head terms and long-tail keywords. Head terms are typically shorter and more generic. Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are longer keyword phrases that usually contain three or more words.

It’s of the utmost importance to check that you have a mix of head terms and long-tail terms. This will give you a keyword strategy that’s well balanced with long-term goals and short-term wins. Head terms are generally searched more frequently, which makes them much more competitive and harder to rank for than their long-tail counterparts. Take a moment and consider the following: without looking up search volume or difficulty, which of the following terms do you think would be harder to rank for?

  1. How to write great blog posts
  2. Blogging

If you answered #2, you’re totally right. However, don’t get too discouraged. Head terms typically boast the highest search volume (aka greater potential to send you traffic).  However, the traffic you’ll garner from the term “how to write a great blog post” is usually far more desirable.

Why should you seek out head terms and long-tail keywords?

Someone who is seeking something that specific is likely a much more talented searcher for your product or service than someone looking for something really generic. Since long-tail keywords tend to be far more specific, they’re usually easier to tell what people who search for those keywords are really looking for. Someone searching the head term “blogging,” on the other hand, could be searching for any one of a number of terms that are unrelated to your business.

That being said, make sure that you have a healthy blend of head terms and long-tail keywords. You’ll definitely want some quick wins that long-tail keywords will provide. However, you should always try to make a dent in more challenging head terms across the big picture.

5.) How are your competitors ranking for the same keywords?

You shouldn’t feel the need to do the exact same things as your competitors just for the sake of doing so. The very same applies to keywords. Simply because a keyword is valuable to a competitor doesn’t mean that that it’s important to you. However, having a good idea of the keywords your competitors are trying to rank for is a great way to help give your keyword list another evaluation.

Say for instance that your competitor is ranking for certain keywords that are also on your list, it only makes sense to improve your ranking for those. However, you best not ignore the keywords that your competitors don’t really seem to care about. These terms are a great opportunity for you to make a dent on the market share on important terms.

When all is said and done, it is essential to remember that the goal is to end up with a list of keywords that will provide some quick wins. This list should also help you progress towards bigger, more elusive SEO goals.

You’re likely wondering how do you figure out which keywords your competitors are ranking for…right? Well besides manually searching for keywords in an incognito browser and seeing how your competitors rank, you can use a tool like SEMrush. This nifty do-dad allows you t run a number of free reports that reveal the top keywords for the domain that you enter. This is a great way to get an idea of the types of terms that your competitors are ranking for.

6.) Cut down your keyword list with Google AdWords Keyword Planner

Now that you’ve developed a healthy list of potential keywords, it’s about high to narrow your lists with some quality quantitative data. There are a lot of tools out there that can help you accomplish this task, but here are a few of my favorite ways to go about making this happen.

I’m a big fan of mixing the powers of Google Ads Keyword Planner and Google Trends. Keyword Planner provides search volume and traffic estimates for keywords that you are considering. Sadly, Google stripped away a lot of the interesting functions when they shifted from Keyword Tool to Keyword Planner. However, you can make up for this for the most part by implementing Google Trends to fill in some of the blanks.

Keyword Planner allows you to identify terms that have way little to no, or way too much, search volume. These extremes will prevent you from developing a healthy mix as we discussed earlier. However, before you remove any terms from your list, make sure to check out their trend history and projections via Google Trends. Doing so will allow you to see whether some low-volume terms might actually be a worthwhile investment now. Said terms could pay off big time later on down the road.

Sometimes your list of keywords is simply too immense and you need to widdle it down somehow. Google Trends can help you figure out which terms are on the up and up. This inturn helps you figure out which terms are a worthwhile investment here and now.

And…you’re done!

Congrats! You now have a list of keywords that will help you narrow your focus. You will likely see some short-term and long-term gains too!

Make sure to re-evaluate your keywords every few months. Once per quarter is a great benchmark, but some SEO wizards prefer to do so on a more regular basis. As you harness more authority in the SERPs, you’ll realize that you can add more keywords to your lists. However, don’t forget to maintain your current presence. Lastly, don’t hesitate to grow in new areas on top of those you’ve already laid claim to.


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