How to Research Keywords for SEO

Posted on August 15, 2018

Many people understand the importance of SEO – it’s how you get more eyes on your website without spending money on paid search. However, simply writing content won’t get the job done. You’ll need to learn how to research keywords for SEO.

Keyword research is the foundation of every successful SEO campaign. Keyword research is how you keep a pulse on how your customers are searching for your products and/or services.

And since customer behavior is constantly changing, keyword research is not simply an upfront one-time activity. The best SEO marketers approach keyword research as an ongoing activity and update their campaigns appropriately according to new findings.

While keyword research can be tedious and complex, it is absolutely necessary if you want to drive SEO results.

How to do Keyword Research

What is a Keyword?

Before diving into the process of keyword research, let’s clarify what we mean by “keyword.”

If a user types “SEO” into Google, “SEO” would be a keyword. Similarly, if a user types “SEO Agencies Near Me,” into Google, “SEO Agencies Near Me” would be a keyword.

A keyword is simply the contents of a user’s search query. Don’t get thrown off by the non-plural verbiage of the phase, “keyword.” A keyword can include one or multiple words.

Why is Keyword Research Important?

As mentioned previously, keyword research is the foundation of any successful SEO campaign. This is because it gives you insight into which keywords your customers are searching for, and ultimately, which keywords you should optimize your website for.

This doesn’t only apply to SEO, paid search marketing also performs best when informed by the latest keyword trends.

Let’s say you own a cell phone company, and you’re wanting to sell more phones through your website. You may be tempted to describe your products as “Cell Phones.” However, after conducting keyword research, you may find that “Smartphone,” and “Mobile Devices” are more fruitful keywords to target. As a result of this insight, using better keywords in your website’s copy will yield stronger SEO results and enhance your company’s visibility when people search for “Smartphone” and “Mobile Device.”

But how exactly would we go about determining that “Smartphone,” and “Mobile Devices” are better keywords to optimize your website for over “Cell Phones?”

Keyword Research Process: Best Practices

When conducting keyword research, there are quantitative and qualitative factors to take into consideration. The factors based in more objective/quantitative analysis are typically easier for the purposes of keyword evaluation.

When you start evaluating qualitative metrics however, you can go down a bottomless rabbit hole. Let’s begin with more objective metrics.

Keyword Search Volume

Keyword search volume is the number of searches (on average) a specific keyword receives each month. You’re not doing your keyword research properly if you’re not optimizing for keywords that are actually being searched. The entire point of researching keywords is to find what your customers are looking for and the terminology they’re using so you can create content aligned to that terminology.

There are several tools available which gives insight into keyword search volume, such as SEMRush, Google Keyword Planner, Moz, Ahrefs, and more.

Using SEMRush to examine the search volume for the keyword, ”keyword research”, our findings are as follows:

 

As you can see, the term keyword research has 5,400 searches per month and there are 200 million results that show up when the term “keyword research” is searched. You can also check out “phrase match,” or closely related keywords to the term, “keyword research.” Here are some examples:

 

This feature is useful in finding alternative keywords or long tail keywords for blog posts, and is usually offered by other keyword research tools outside of SEMRush. You’ll also notice there’s a new statistic that’s shown here called “KD” – we’ll go over that a little more later.

There’s also a “relevant keywords” feature in SEMRush, allowing you to find more closely-related alternatives to the term “keyword research.”

 

As you can see, the relevant keyword section looks very similar to the phrase match section. In the very left column, you can see the related percentage. That’s how relevant that keyword is to what you’re researching. This will help you find other keyword options and phrasing/verbiage you can use in your page copy.

The results we have been analyzing thus far are applicable for nationwide searches, that being the number of average searches per month from the United States in general.

But what if we wanted to view search volume for a specific geographic location? Another keyword research tool, Google Keyword Planner, offers functionality to assess search volume by city.

 

Why does city based keyword research matter? It takes into account dialect and regional terms. For instance, people in Wisconsin called water fountains “bubblers.” That would mean you’d find a higher search volume for “water fountains” in Chicago but a higher search volume for “bubblers” in Milwaukee.

Geographically-focused keyword search volume trends are also very important if you have a local business. Iif a term isn’t often searched in your region, you may want to consider rewriting/rewording the copy. If no one near you is looking for the phrasing you use to describe your products/services, you’re only going to get irrelevant traffic.

Is Your Keyword the Best Option?

Sometimes, you may be using a term for your products that isn’t as highly searched as another term. Here’s an example: let’s say you work for a chairlift company that helps elderly homeowners go upstairs. You did your keyword research for “chairlifts” and found it has a great search volume:

 

However, you also know that your competitors are getting way more organic traffic and conversions than you. When you go to their website, you notice they’re using the term “stair lift” over “chairlift”. At first, you may not think much about it, but one small change could make a major difference; “stair lift” has a significantly higher search volume than “chairlift”:

 

Part of doing your keyword research is making sure that you’re using the right keywords. While in the case of stair lift vs chairlift, you’ll probably want to use both throughout your website – both are really strong keywords and ranking for them will drive traffic to your website. In other cases, you could be choosing between 1,000 searches per month vs 10 searches per month. If you choose the wrong keyword in that case, you could find yourself losing out on a lot of potential clients.

Keyword Difficulty

In a perfect world, you would target keywords with the highest search volume. In most cases though, more strategic thinking is required.

For instance, let’s say you own a small video game store. You may think that you ranking on Google’s first page for the term “video games” should be your goal:

 

Over 200,000 monthly searches – sounds great, right? However, it’s unrealistic to think that a small company’s website is going to rank for the term “video games” (not saying it isn’t possible, but you’re up against huge websites and brands like GameStop, IGN and GameSpot).

SEMRush offers an organic keyword difficulty (KD) feature. Essentially, this is a measurement of how difficult it would be to organically rank for a given keyword. If several highly authoritative websites rank on Google’s first page for a given keyword, you can expect the KD of that keyword to be high. Several lower-authority websites populating Google’s page – one results can indicate a low KD.

 

The chart above shows that the term “video games” has a KD of 93.95 out of 100. That’s pretty tough and will take a lot of content and links to rank for that keyword. Over a long period time and website growth it’s possible to rank for this very difficult keyword, but there are more attainable keywords to shoot for if you’re a small company.

The term “video game stores” might be an easier term to try and rank for. It has a KD of 73.96, making it significantly easier to rank on Google’s top page.

 

Which KD scores are best to target for your website? It really depends on the stage of your company and website.

If you have strong organic traffic, lots of high quality links and engaging content, you could shoot for keywords that are a bit more difficult (KD of 80+). However, you shouldn’t only focus on those keywords – mix it up with easier to rank for keywords as well.

Smaller or growing companies should look at keywords with a difficulty of 65-75. Even if a keyword has a low KD doesn’t mean the volume is low. For instance, “video game stores” has a volume of 40,500 searches per month.

As you create more content and earn more links, you’ll find yourself ranking for other keywords that are more difficult based on the authority of your website.

While SEMRush is not the only keyword research tool offering KD functionality, not every tool allows users to analyze KD metrics. Those that do may operate on different numerical scales. For example, a low KD score on Moz’s keyword research tool may be closer to the 20 – 30 range whereas a low KD score from SEMRush may be closer to the 60 – 70 range. As you analyze KD from different tools, keep in mind that every tool’s measurements are different.

Keyword Relevance and Intent

The most underrated tactic within keyword research seems to be relevance and intent. This is a qualitative factor when research keywords that can lead you down a rabbit hole.

One task you should always perform when researching the viability of a keyword is actually Googling the keyword you are interested in targeting. Going back to our video game store example, let’s say our store owner wanted to target “Video Games.” Let’s analyze the types of results that populate Google’s first page when this query is searched:

Google Keyword Search Results
 

While some big box retailers (Walmart, Amazon, Gamestop) appear in the organic results and local pack, we also see the following types of content ranking high:

  • Video game news articles
  • Video game reviews
  • Video game blogs
  • Wikipedia

 

Since Google’s first page for the keyword, “Video Games,” does not primarily consist of stores and retailers, we must question the search intent behind this keyword. Based on the results of this search, it looks like most users are intending to find blog and news article content when searching for this keyword. These types of content would not be appearing in Google’s first page otherwise.

Keep in mind that Google is a business at the end of the day, and their search engine algorithm is their product. If their algorithm delivers results that users are not interested in, people are less likely use Google’s search engine relative to competing search engines. Since Google’s ultimate goal is for their search engine results to mirror their customer’s search intent, Google inadvertently reveals this search intent behind a given keyword – it’s reflected in their results!

That’s why it is crucial to ensure your content’s keyword focus aligns to the proper search intent for that keyword!

Even if you are targeting a keyword with the lowest possible KD, you will not appear in the organic search results if your content’s keyword focus does not align to the search intent behind that keyword.

When writing copy for a product or service page, make sure you are targeting a keyword whose page-one search results are dominated by other product/service pages. When writing copy for an educational article, make sure you are targeting a keyword whose page-one search results are dominated by other educational articles.

Don’t Use the Same Keyword for Multiple Pages

When learning how to research keywords for SEO, many people forget the importance of making sure you don’t continuously use the same keywords for each page.

By using a different keyword focus for each page of your website, each individual page stands to offer unique value to users. When you use the same keyword focus for multiple pages, your website’s pages may compete with each other for keyword rankings, thus diluting the SEO value of your website and its content. No matter the quality of links or content on your website, you won’t be able to rank for competitive keywords on the first page.

When doing your keyword research, it’s important to document and track of all your individual web pages and their keyword focus. When creating new pages or blog posts, be sure to check which keywords you’ve already used so you don’t recycle keywords.

These Tips Will Take Your Keyword Research to the Next Level

Keyword research is an important part of getting your site to rank organically. If you don’t know how to research keywords for SEO, you’re going to have a hard time getting traffic without paying for it.

While these tips seem simple, they can be the difference between success and failure. Always make sure that your keyword focus for each individual web page is unique, has decent search volume, isn’t too difficult for your site to rank for and aligns to the proper search intent.

If you do need help, you should consider hiring an SEO specialist – someone who knows exactly what they’re looking for and works with keywords on a day-to-day basis. SoMe Connect can help your website bring in more traffic by improving your organic keyword rankings. You can learn more here.