Keyword Research

What is Keyword Research?

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 are going to 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 are going to cover this extraordinarily important part of SEO step-by-step and show you exactly how we approach keyword research that has helped us to 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 be sure to check out our other posts in the Keywords Module of SERP University.

Related Reading:

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 normally the very first step in any successful SEO campaign.

Why is Keyword Research Important?

For a business looking to sell more products or services, understanding exactly what your potential customers are searching for (the verbiage they use, the problems they have, the questions they need answers to) is an extremely powerful 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 exactly 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, and gives us a direct roadmap of content and messaging that we need to create to speak to exactly what they need.

How to Do Keyword Research

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 extremely important to keep in mind when doing keyword research.

We will go through our process for doing keyword research so you can follow along and actually 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 bit of a rabbit hole.

So, in an effort 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 amazing results for our clients SEO campaigns, like this:

Understand Your Consumer

Before you start blinding 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.

See our article on Customer Avatars & Creating a Buyer Persona for more information.

Understand Your Competition

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 to understand the difference between Direct & Indirect competitors.

Direct competitors are the businesses in your space that are providing very similar products/services to the same audience you are.

Indirect competitors are the businesses in your space that are not providing competing products/services, but are taking up the attention of your audience -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.

Find Keywords

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 from there.

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).

How to Find Keywords for SEO

  • Brainstorming
  • Competitors
  • Keyword Tools

Use Your Existing Knowledge to Brainstorm Keyword Topics

If you know your industry you should start by using your existing knowledge to brainstorm some topics & subtopics.

For us, we are extremely familiar with SEO so when we needed to begin to think about topics we knew a lot of these already.

Things like “keyword research”, “on 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.

Simply 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.

Use Your List of Competitors to Find More Topics

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 that are already established in your industry chances are 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, or 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:

Keyword Tools

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 a variety of methods that we cover here in our guide to finding Long Tail Keywords.

Our #1 recommended tool for doing topical keyword research is Ahrefs.

Ahrefs Competitor Keywords Overview

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

Simply type your main “industry” or topic into “Ahrefs > Keywords Explorer” & use the options in the “Keyword Ideas” sidebar to see an almost endless amount of ideas:

Yes, a lot 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 of these primary topics by clicking into one, check what URLs are ranking, and then look at the other keywords those URLs rank for.

Analyze & Understand Keywords

Metrics

Use a tool (like Ahrefs or Google Keyword Planner) to find and note the search volume & keyword difficulty for each keyword.

Obviously targeting keywords with HIGHER search volume and LOWER difficulty is a good start 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 so you can easily see where the opportunities lie.

Relevance

Keyword relevance is a major part of developing a good SEO strategy from your keyword research phase.

Make sure you trim out / ignore keywords that are not relevant.

Intent

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 huge impact on the profitability / ROI you will get by ranking for that term.

Modifiers

Keyword modifiers are prefixes, suffixes, etc. that can be very beneficial to your business and 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 for this term with the modifiers (adjectives) good, best, top, etc.

So, we include that in your keyword research + planning.

Variations

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 about 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.

Map Keywords

Once you have landed on a list of keywords that you want to build it’s important that you map them to URLs on your website – these can be existing URLs or pages you plan to build, 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 helps 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 same keywords (very important)

The best way to start mapping keywords to URLs is with SERP App – a free application that allows you to better manage your SEO & digital presence online.

Step 1: Sign up for SERP App

Step 2: Add your “Project”

Step 3: Add URLs + Keywords

Note: You can also do this on a spreadsheet, but you won’t get the benefit of rank tracking, uptime monitoring, optimization tips, etc.

Keyword Research Tools

This lesson is about how we do keyword research.

A streamlined process that we have refined over many years.

It is not meant to be an “everything” article listing all the possible tools or ways to do keyword research, because we want you taking action.

If, however, you are a little more advanced and want to be a little more creative, check out our article on Keyword Research Tools to explore more ways of finding keywords.

Final Thoughts

If you have any questions about what you read in this article (or if you just want help getting it done) join us, and hundreds of world-class marketers, who are making themselves & their clients make more money with online marketing – JOIN FREE: SERP University

Devin Schumacher

Devin Schumacher

Devin is one of the world's top search engine optimization experts, and the Founder of SERP Co.

6 thoughts on “Keyword Research”

  1. Keyword research is key (sorry). Otherwise your content ends up MIA . It could be talented and interesting, but lost in an ocean of information as well-crafted content i.e. content embedded with precisely-used keywords jumps over yours in searches.

    1. No worries JJ, I love puns too 🙂

      I can’t tell you how right you are though – 99% of the clients we work with that have interesting, well-made content that come to us for SEO have missed the connection on the content-to-keyword part. It’s like they forgot (more likely that they were unaware) that you need to do keyword research and map it to your content plan BEFORE you start.

      We spend a lot of time cleaning that stuff up.

      Well said, and thanks for chiming in!

  2. The days of typing “cat herder” 300x on your page and expecting a high ranking on Google are long gone. Insightful and informative article on the work you need to put into your SEO (or what to expect if you hire someone).

  3. That part about intent seems important. Could you possibly give more examples of how you can incorporate a potential client’s intent into your keyword research?

    1. The easiest way to understand intent is to actually Google the keyword term/phrase you are interested in.

      See what kinds of results come up.

      For example, if you Google “pizza near me” Google will display maps and a lot of local businesses. Because it knows that “near me” implies local intent.

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