Your Ultimate Guide to Keyword Research
by Mike Khorev
Keyword research is arguably the most important part of any SEO strategy: by targeting the right keywords, you can allocate your time and resources to maximize your SEO results. However, how can we actually execute keyword research?
There are many different guides for keyword research available. The thing is, each of them offers completely different instructions, that may end up confusing you in the end. This is mainly caused by the fact that keyword research for a certain business might need a different approach when compared to other companies, due to many factors.
So, here we will try to discuss a framework of keyword research that can be applied to any company. Before we begin, however, let us discuss the main concept of keyword research.
The Concept of Keyword Research
Keyword research, in a nutshell, is the process of finding the keyword(s) you want to rank for.
There are three main concerns in finding these keywords:
- How relevant the keyword is for your business. For example, if you are a restaurant business, sports-related keywords are probably not relevant
- Are many people searching for the keyword? Even if the keyword is relevant, it won’t bring much value if not too many people are searching it. This is what referred by “search volume”
- How difficult it is to rank for the keyword (keyword difficulty and/or competition). Also, the more competitive the keyword is, the more expensive the CPC (cost-per-click) for paid search ads.
Although these three factors are the most important ones, there are other concepts we should understand when discussing keyword research. Here are some of them:
- Generally the shorter the keywords (or key phrases) are, the more competition you’ll have. So, long-tail keywords are generally less competitive than short-tail ones.
- Focus keyword, or main keyword, is the keyword we deemed as the most important, and our main goal is to rank for this keyword.During keyword research, finding the focus keyword is your priority.
- Behind every keyword or search query is a deeper concept we know as search intent. Which is, the actual goal of the searcher. Knowing the search intent can further maximize your SEO result.
The Importance of Keyword Research
Here is the deal: sometimes the words or phrases we use to describe our brand, product, or service don’t really align with the phrases our audience are using. When this mismatch happens, your potential prospects simply can’t find your product, service, or content.
This often happens when you have a unique product description: for example, you are a restaurant which, in essence, is selling sandwiches, but you call your sandwiches “healthy bars”. If you’re solely focusing on “healthy bars” as your keyword and not on “sandwiches” and its variants, your potential audience might not be able to find you through search engines.
So, we are back to the three key factors we have discussed above: we should focus our optimization efforts on phrases and words that people actually use.
The 3-Step Keyword Research Tactic
Below, we will share our favorite keyword research method, which comprises of just four steps. Obviously this is not the only tactic available, and further below we will also discuss some other tips to maximize your keyword (and topic) research results.
1. Define Keyword Research Goal(s)
Above, we have mentioned why keyword research is important, and three important factors to consider when performing keyword research.
Here, we will expand that concept: to have a successful keyword research, you must first define your goals. The key here is truly understand your business and your audience, and align those two to find the right keywords.
Here are some important questions to ask in this step:
- What is your business?
- What is your website about? (Can be similar to the first question, but can be different)
- What is your unique proposition?
- What promises do you make on your site?
- What niche are you in?
- How can you be a thought leader/expert in that niche?
- How usually your audience find your business (or your competitors?)
- What are your audience’s common problems?
- What is your audience’s need?
And so on. The more (proper) questions you have, and the more detailed your answers are, the better you can define your goal(s).
2. Understanding Your Audience’s Search Intent
We have briefly discussed the concept of search intent above, but how can we effectively utilize it to maximize our SEO results?
Whenever someone (including us) searched something, we are aiming to get something, the search query is just a mean to an end. Generally, there are four different types of search intents:
1. Transactional intent
Here, the aim of the searcher is simply to make a purchase, and finding the best possible location to make that transaction. This can be finding the best restaurant near you at the moment, finding an online product to buy, or even creating a new email account.
2. Commercial Investigation Intent
Quite similar to transactional intent, but here people are researching and comparing different products or services before making a purchase. For example, you are looking to buy a new book but you can only purchase one. Here, you are searching for different reviews and recommendations before you decide on a book.
3. Navigational Intent
Navigational queries are simply performed with the aim to visit a specific website, but the searcher don’t know the specific URL. So, usually the search queries here are the name (or close variants) of a website.
4. Informational Intent
People are looking for a specific information or an answer for their question. This can be finding directions to a destination, finding solutions for a specific problem, finding out the score of last night’s football game, and so on. Most of the queries here are non-commercial, people are not looking to make a purchase but to find an answer.
After we’ve understood those four different intents, ask yourself what are the intents of your potential audience before they usually find a site (or product/service) like yours?
For example, if you are a SaaS company selling a marketing automation tool, some of your prospects might directly look for your site after a colleague’s recommendation (navigational/transactional intent). Some other can stumble upon your site when researching for different products similar to yours (commercial investigation intent). Some others might be looking for a solution for their business issue, and stumbled upon your content (informational intent).
As we can see, the SaaS business can have potential audiences from all four different intents, and so this business must optimize different keywords covering all those intents to maximize visibility.
However, there are cases where a business might only get traffic from one or two intent types. For example, it’s quite uncommon for people to directly visit a restaurant’s website with an informational intent, usually they’ll first visit a food blog instead.
Finding out the search intents of your potential audience will be a core step in deciding on your keyword(s).
3. Make a List of Keywords and Possible Topics
This is probably the most important step, but this step won’t be as effective without a thorough understanding and execution of the two previous steps. If you skipped to this section, we strongly encourage you to go back to step 1.
There are many different approaches you can use in this step, that’s why your goals (step 1) and your understanding of your audience (step 2) are important to limit your options.
Remember the three main principles of keyword research we have discussed at the beginning of the article:relevancy, search volume, and competition. Based on these principles, here are a few approaches we can do in this step:
1. Start From a Single Focus Keyword
Depending on your business model and industry, there will be main, focus keywords that can define your niche or industry. For example, if you are a digital marketing consultant, your focus keyword can be “digital marketing tactics”. If you are an ecommerce site selling smart home technologies, your focus keyword can be “smart home”, “smart home tech reviews”, and so on.
With this approach, we can first figure out this main focus keyword, and then we can find more keywords related to this focus keyword. For example, if your focus keyword is “digital marketing tactics”, you can try to find related, even long-tail keywords with enough relevancy, search volume, and reasonable competition.
2. Monetization Approach
This approach is useful for blogs and sites that are mainly aimed to generate money from the blog itself (not selling ecommerce products, not directed as an inbound marketing channel for the main business, etc.).
In this method, we find a product, service or offer we can monetize, and then we try to find keywords or queries related to this product/service with enough search volume.
A good example here is for affiliate marketing blogs, commonly covering products from Amazon or ClickBank. For example, there is an affiliate marketing opportunity for a product named X, which is a smart home hub product. In this case, we can target keywords like “smart home assistant reviews”, “best smart home hub”, and so on.
3. Using The Available Data to Generate Keywords
There are at least four ways you can use the available data to find your keywords:
- See what keywords you already rank for. Also, check out keywords where you are ranked on the second or third page, where you can optimize them with just a little boost
- See the keywords your competitors are ranking for. You can aim to compete on these keywords or use them as your inspiration to find other keywords
- Based on number one and two, you can use keyword suggestion tools like UberSuggest, Soovle, and others to generate keyword ideas
- Manual keyword research by truly understanding your niche. For example, if your main niche is basketball, keyword suggestion tools might not suggest keywords like “best slam dunk” or “best Michael Jordan highlights”, you will need to think them manually.
For these three approaches, you can use various tools from Google Search Console, Adwords Keyword Planner to third-party tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs to assist you. The fourth approach, however, is a little different, as it will rely on your expertise and experience regarding your niche.
The key to success in this step is a thorough understanding about your niche/industry, and your audience. The more you know about your niche, and the more you understand your audience, the more precise and relevant your keywords will be.
Important Keyword Metrics To Understand
There are literally millions of keywords and key phrases to choose from. So, how can we determine the “right” ones? Above, we have discussed that there are three main factors to consider: relevancy, search volume, and competition. These metrics below will help you measure those three factors:
1. Search Volume
We have repeatedly mentioned the term “search volume” above. However, what actually is it? The search volume as a metric refers to the overall number of searches of a given keyword, usually measured monthly. So, a search volume of 10,000 will mean 10,000 searches a month.
The important question is, how high a search volume can be considered decent? The answer will depend upon several factors, especially your niche and your market size. Generally, search volume around 800-1,000 and above is worth pursuing.
Even when the search volume is high, it won’t bring much value when not many users are actually clicking the link. This especially happens of search queries where Google display featured or rich snippets.
Generally, aim for keywords with at least 50-60% clicks over the search volume. If not, it’s probably not worth it.
The more popular and specific the keyword is, the more competition you will have. Measuring competition can be difficult, and more often than not, you will need to manually research the keywords by Googling it, looking at the top-ranking content pieces, and so on.
Third-party tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs do offer keyword difficulty metrics, mainly based on the backlink profile on each keyword.
4. Cost-per-click (CPC)
CPC is more important for PPC advertisers than for SEO purposes. However, if the CPC is high, it is a strong indicator of a valuable keyword, especially if you value commercial intent.
If you want to measure CPC accurately, make sure to monitor it on Adwords dashboard instead of third-party tools. This is mainly because CPC fluctuates a lot over time, and third-party tools often only offer a snapshot of the data.
Keyword research is a rather tricky subject: it is fairly simple to understand, but can be really tough to implement as it also involves a lot of manual fine tunings and guessworks.
However, by using the framework we have shared above, you can have an easier time in executing your keyword research.
In the end, keyword research is about priority: SEO can be time and resource consuming, and you should prioritize the keyword(s) that will bring more value to your business. Keep that in mind when choosing the right keywords, and keep evaluating your progress.
April 6, 2020