If you work in digital marketing or content creation, you need to know how to do keyword research. It's the foundation of search engine optimization (SEO) and digital advertising. It directs your content planning and shows you what to say on your website.
Keep reading to learn how to do keyword research in SEO, from brainstorming to application. But first, let's look at what the process will entail.
What Is Keyword Research?
Keyword research means finding the words, phrases, and questions your customers and potential customers use. It helps you identify those search terms and prioritize them based on their most essential characteristics, including:
- Brand relevance
- Relationship to the buyer's journey
Some businesses do keyword research in-house as part of their marketing strategy development. Others outsource the process to an SEO or content service.
Why Is Keyword Research Critical for Your Business?
Focused keyword research gives you a clear direction for your marketing efforts and budget. It helps you to identify your audience's most pressing needs, which is essential for your marketing strategy.
What's more, focused keyword research is the foundation of a solid SEO strategy. It shows you what your audiences want to know and helps you create the valuable content Google loves.
Keyword research also helps you allocate your paid ads budget. Advertising dollars are best spent when they reach the most interested audiences. Keywords help you do that.
Types of Keywords
To get the most value from your keyword research, you have to understand the purpose of different categories in the buying process.
The best way to understand keyword purpose is by search intent — what people want to see when they search using a particular phrase. When you know the search intent of different keywords, you can choose the right ones for your content strategy.
Searchers use navigational keywords when they have a particular destination in mind. They know where they want to go but choose not to enter the URL into the search bar.
Navigational keywords can point to a site, a web page within that site, or specific brand information the user wants the search engine to target. For example:
- Compose.ly blog
- Write for Compose.ly
Because these searches mention the business name specifically, Google ranks the branded site first.
These searches are excellent for SEO. However, they require people to know your business name first, so keep investing in brand awareness.
Transactional keywords have the most robust purchase intent. These are phrases such as:
- Buy a used iPhone
- Coffee shops open now
- Kid's bike under $100
- Dog bed free shipping
If you successfully target transactional keywords, you can reach people ready to buy. Match them with the right content, and you could significantly increase your conversion rate.
People use informational keywords when doing research. This research may or may not lead to a purchase — sometimes, the searcher only wants an answer.
For example, say your friend has been talking incessantly about their Bitcoin investment. You don't want to admit you don't know much about it, so you Google, "What is crypto?"
You click on a blog, and the next thing you know, you're subscribing. Then, you make your first crypto purchase a month later through that site.
Of course, that's not always how it goes. Sometimes a reader gets their answer and moves on, and you never hear from them again. But sometimes, you get in on the ground floor with a customer who didn't know they had a purchase need.
Informational searches are often questions like:
- How do you tie a bow tie?
- How long do you cook chicken soup?
- What is celiac disease?
These keywords can also be simple words and phrases, such as:
- Healthy pregnancy diets
- Swing dancing
- Retirement planning
Choosing the right informational keywords can expand your audience in unexpected ways. Just be sure you have a thoughtful content-to-purchase pipeline, so you lose as few leads as possible.
Investigational keywords are the bridge between informational and transactional searches. People often use these keywords when they have a purchase need but don't know which product to choose.
Examples of investigational keywords include:
- Best smartphones for teens
- Top 10 Bluetooth headphones
- Which keyword research tools are worth the money
Investigational keywords let you target people who are almost ready to buy but need more information. You don't have to convince people of a need, but you do have to position your brand as a top choice.
Keyword Metrics to Check
Before you learn how to do keyword research, you need to familiarize yourself with the basic vocabulary.
Search volume tells how often people searched for a particular term on a specific search engine over a defined period.
If you have a Google Ads account, you can access search volume through the Keyword Planner. From that information, you can extrapolate:
- The amount of traffic certain keywords could generate
- The difficulty of ranking for specific keywords
These insights help you choose the keywords that are most worth targeting.
Keyword relevancy measures how closely a term relates to your products or services.
Search engine algorithms measure your web pages' relevance when evaluating for rank. They look at your authority on the topic, including the credentials of your content creators. They also consider the volume and quality of content you produce on a particular topic.
For example, if you sell women's clothes and have little to no content about wedding dresses, Google's algorithm will assume you don't know much about wedding dresses. But if you have three blogs and a how-to video by a wedding consultant, you have a better chance of ranking for that topic.
If you're evaluating keyword relevancy for your brand, consider what search terms your audience would likely use. You can get some of this information by looking at how different pages perform and what keywords those pages target.
Keyword difficulty refers to the challenge level of ranking for a particular word or phrase. The higher the difficulty level, the more time and effort you'll need to invest in getting results.
Competition is the most significant factor in determining keyword difficulty. If a keyword is very popular, it's harder to rank on Google's first page.
Other factors include the popularity and authority of currently ranking pages. When the top results are sites like Amazon or Target, it's harder for a new site to break in. It's easier if the top sites are small businesses or independent blogs.
Because it's impossible to know what keywords a site wants to rank for organically, search engines usually use paid ad volume to gauge keyword competition and difficulty.
How to Conduct Keyword Research: 6 Steps to Follow
As in all aspects of SEO, the secret to success is staying focused on your goals. This step-by-step keyword research process will keep you on the right track.
1. Prepare a List of Keyword Ideas
Your first task is to put yourself in your customer's shoes. What questions would they ask that could lead them to your products?
Start with your customer personas. A persona is a great way to think about what different types of buyers need from you and what problems you can solve.
Think of each persona as a real human being. Think of their pain points and ask yourself what search terms they might use to solve those problems.
Touch on as many of the four main keyword categories as possible. For example, if your persona is a 32-year-old mom shopping for shoes on a budget, you might write:
- What shoes are best for your feet? (Informational)
- Top-rated kids' shoes this year (Investigational)
- Hottest women's shoes on sale (Transactional)
Be as general as possible on the first pass. Then, narrow it down to each product or service category. What searches would send someone to this category in particular?
2. Look for Keyword Suggestions in Google SERPs
Don't worry if your brainstormed list feels too thin. You'll fill it out using different terms as jumping-off points to find other ideas.
Google's search engine results page (SERP) is a gold mine of ideas. Enter any search term and scroll down the page to find:
- Inspirational content full of possible keyword ideas
- A "people also ask" section with several related questions
- A "related searches" section with even more search terms similar to yours
You can generate infinite possible keywords this way. First, take a related term and plug it into the search field, then scroll down and see the results it generates. Next, choose a related word from that page and repeat the process until you are satisfied.
3. Conduct Keyword Gap Analysis to Find Your Competitor's Target Keywords
By this point, you'll have dozens of potential keywords. You can't target them all at once, so you need to narrow down the list. And what could be a higher priority than finding out where your competitors are succeeding and you're not?
A keyword gap analysis reveals what keywords your competitors — but not you — rank highly for. These are valuable keywords to prioritize because they help you expand your audience rather than investing in searches where you already rank.
Gap analyses also point you toward new content ideas. They reveal untapped keywords plus the pages and content your competitors use to rank for those terms. Creating similar content but doing it better is a perfect way to move up the ranks.
4. Analyze and Choose High-Volume Keywords With Low Competition
Now that you have a sizable list of keywords, it's time to start narrowing it down. You don't have to toss out any keywords yet, but you do need to choose which to target first.
The most efficient keywords have high search volume and low competitiveness. Start on Google Trends, using its comparison feature to look at search volumes of several related keywords.
Then, take the terms with the highest search volumes and plug them into a tool that measures competitiveness. Ubersuggest, a trending tool with a robust free version, is a helpful place to start. It gives you the SEO and paid difficulty of each keyword, plus suggestions of other keywords and their difficulty levels.
5. Prioritize Your Keywords
The next step is to take your high-potential keywords and choose which to target first. To do this, you'll rank the priority of each keyword based on its potential to help you reach your goals.
For example, if you want to focus on brand awareness, you might prioritize informational and investigational keywords. The keyword "what is SEO" would get a higher priority rank than "best value SEO services."
There's no correct answer here. It all depends on your brand development and marketing goals.
6. Check Monthly Search Volume and Difficulty Scores for Your Selected Keywords
Write a list including each of your priority keywords alongside their key metrics — difficulty, search volume, and relevance. It helps to create a table, either physical or digital.
Use the same source for the same metric. For example, if you use Ubersuggest to get one keyword's difficulty level, use it to gauge every term's difficulty.
When you're done, look at the numbers and how they work together. Are there one or two keywords that are the highest priority and have the highest volume? You might want to focus on one of those, even if it's not the least competitive keyword.
Your goal at this stage is to develop one or two keywords you want to invest in ranking for. Once you have those, you can start creating content.
Best Keyword Research Tools to Use
Now that you know how to do keyword research, let's get into its application. Your first step is to choose a user-friendly keyword research tool that helps you meet your goals.
The best keyword research tools on the market include:
- SEMRush: A subscription-based tool with broad functionality, including competitor keyword research and real-time SEO tracking
- Ahrefs Keyword Explorer: A powerful service that provides keyword suggestions, competitor keyword analysis, accurate keyword volumes, and more
- KWFinder: A focused analytics tool that provides easy-to-read data on difficulty, search volume, and competitor rankings
- LongTail Pro: A tool for targeting long-tail keywords — those phrases that are longer and more specific
Finally, don't underestimate the first-ever keyword research tool — outsourcing to an expert. Compose.ly offers expert SEO support to help you develop your content strategy and a comprehensive Managed Service plan for content creation.
Stop worrying about how to juggle keyword research with the rest of your marketing strategy. Partner with us today and let our experts handle it.