Anytime someone searches for something in Google, that information is stored and cataloged by Google.
Even better – Google gives us access to this information.
In other words, we can find out:
- What people are searching
- How they are searching for it
- How many times those terms are being searched every month on average
We will draw on all the previous lessons in the SERP University Keywords Module, and bring it all together, so make sure you have already read the previous posts.
In this article, we will cover this essential part of SEO step-by-step and show you exactly how we approach keyword research that has helped us bring in millions of visitors a month for ourselves and our clients.
If you are looking for additional / out-of-the-box ways to do keyword research, check out our other posts in the Keywords Module of SERP University.
Keyword Research Defined: Keyword Research is the process of searching, finding & analyzing actual search terms that users are actively searching when looking for answers to their questions, solutions to their problems, products, content, media, etc.
Keyword Research is usually the very first step in any successful SEO campaign.
For a business looking to sell more products or services, understanding precisely what your potential customers are searching for (the verbiage they use, the problems they have, the questions they need answers to) is a compelling way to guide the strategy of your content creation & marketing campaigns.
It’s almost like the “What Women Want” of SEO.
Remember that movie? Where Mel Gibson knew what women were thinking – he could tailor the “marketing” of himself precisely to what they wanted.
Keyword Research allows us (business owners/marketers) to do the same with our audience – it tells us what they are thinking and searching for and gives us a direct roadmap of content and messaging that we need to create precisely what they need.
Instead of going into ALL the ways you can do keyword research and listing all of the possible tools and methods – we will focus on the primary ways to get most of your work done – this is called the 80/20 Rule, and it is imperative to keep in mind when doing keyword research.
We will go through our process for doing keyword research so you can follow along and make some tangible progress with your digital marketing.
Although there is no right or wrong way to do keyword research, it can quickly turn into a rabbit hole.
So, to save you from countless hours of confusion & seemingly never-ending research, we are going to break down how we do keyword research that has worked for us to accomplish excellent results for our client’s SEO campaigns, like this:
Before you start looking for keywords, you want to make sure you understand your consumer – do your customer research and create your customer avatars.
Fully understand the demographics, interests, etc., of who you are about to create content for, and you will have a much easier time when it comes to making your keyword list & content strategy.
A big part of doing keyword research is understanding your competition – aka doing your competitor research.
The biggest thing to know when doing competitor research is understanding the difference between Direct & Indirect competitors.
Direct competitors are the businesses in your space that provide similar products/services to your exact audience.
Indirect competitors are the businesses in your space that are not providing competing products/services but are taking up your audience’s attention -and the precious and limited space on search engines for the terms you want to rank for.
You will want to have a list of your competitors already created before you start doing keyword research – we will reference it a lot through this process.
Start by getting a list of keyword ideas.
We usually like to start by looking for seed keywords to use as topics or “hubs” or “buckets” – and then expand.
The goal of this section would be to come up with 5-10 topics to start with (you can do more now or add to them later).
- Keyword Tools
If you know your industry, you should start by using your existing knowledge to brainstorm some topics & subtopics.
We are highly familiar with SEO, so we knew a lot of these already when we needed to begin to think about topics.
Things like “keyword research,” “on the page,” “off-page,” “technical SEO,” etc.
The same goes for your industry – if you are familiar with it, you should have a pretty good idea about the primary topics & subtopics that you can begin to organize.
If you get stuck, you can always turn to Google.
Search for your industry + the word’ topic.’
- Start your keyword research using your current & existing knowledge.
- Use Google if you need help expanding your ideas.
Using your competitors to create your keyword topics is a tried-and-true method that we love using.
Why? Because when you analyze other companies already established in your industry, they have done a lot of this leg work already.
Pull up your list of competitors and look at their websites to find topic ideas.
Here is how we did this with our keyword research.
1. Pull up your competitor list
2. Navigate to some of their websites and look for topics
Pro tip: Good places to look include the menu bar, services page, and blog categories
3. Add them to your Keyword list
You always want to be maintaining a list as you do keyword research. You can use a spreadsheet, an outlining tool like Dynalist, or a mind mapping tool, but however you want to do this, make sure you keep track.
Build out your list with topics & sub-topics:
The 3rd way we go about finding keywords & topics to start with is by using keyword research tools.
Keyword tools can give you a ton of information on your topics very quickly.
After you have created your list of topics, you can expand on them using various methods that we cover here in our guide to finding Long Tail Keywords.
Our #1 recommended tool for doing topical keyword research is Ahrefs.
Plug your competitors into Ahrefs and look at their Organic Keywords.
Doing this with just one of our competitors, I can already see 900+ PAGES of keyword ideas:
Ahrefs Top Pages
Use the “Top Pages” report in Ahrefs to see what pages are bringing your competitors their traffic:
Ahrefs Keyword Explorer
Type your primary “industry” or topic into “Ahrefs > Keywords Explorer” & use the options in the “Keyword Ideas” sidebar to see an almost endless amount of ideas:
Yes, many of the keywords won’t make any sense but spend a few minutes scrolling through the pages, and you will get ideas to work with.
Here are some of the keyword ideas that stuck out in just a few short minutes of looking through these results:
- SEO tools
- SEO training
- SEO services
- SEO audit
- SEO software
- SEO analysis
- White hat SEO
- SEO techniques
- How does SEO work
Pro Tip: Easily expand off these primary topics by clicking into one, checking what URLs are ranking, and then looking at the other keywords those URLs rank for.
Use a tool (like Ahrefs or Google Keyword Planner) to find and note each keyword’s search volume & keyword difficulty.
Targeting keywords with HIGHER search volume and LOWER difficulty is a good starting point for creating a strategy to drive organic traffic to your website.
Pro Tip: Use a spreadsheet function to automatically color the SV (search volume) and KD (keyword difficulty) columns to see where the opportunities lie easily.
Keyword relevance is a significant part of developing a good SEO strategy from your keyword research phase.
Make sure you trim out / ignore keywords that are not relevant.
Intent (aka “search intent,” “keyword intent,” etc.) refers to the state of mind and the desired outcome that the searcher has.
We cover this in detail in a previous lesson about SEO Keywords, so you should already be familiar with this – but the intent of a keyword will have a considerable impact on the profitability / ROI you will get by ranking for that term.
Keyword modifiers are prefixes, suffixes, etc., that can be very beneficial to your business and the profitability of ranking for a keyword.
They are the additional words (like you see in the above image) that change the intent of the keyword.
For example, in our article “how to choose an SEO company,” we also want to rank this term with the modifiers (adjectives) suitable, best, top, etc.
So, we include that in your keyword research + planning.
Keyword variations are essentially different ways of saying the same thing.
This goes back to intent.
For example, if I am looking for “business cards for lawyers,” I might search “lawyer business cards” or “attorney business cards.”
The intent is the same.
Google is getting better at understanding this, but it still helps to rank for all the keyword variations by putting them on your webpage – so be sure to keep an eye out for them during your keyword research phase and add them to your list.
Once you have landed on a list of keywords that you want to build, you must map them to URLs on your website – these can be existing URLs or pages you plan to make, but either way, you want to match up keywords to URLs on your sitemap.
Remember: A sitemap is simply a list of all the URLs on your website.
Mapping keywords to URLs help you:
- Keep your website organized
- Plan the order in which you will start creating your content
- Avoid having multiple pages on your website optimized for the exact keywords (crucial)
The best way to start mapping keywords to URLs is with SERP App – a free application that allows you to manage your SEO & digital presence better online.