SEO revolves around keywords. Keyword research is a crucial part of an SEO strategy and the first step in the SEO content writing process. Whenever you are creating content with a view to rank it on Google, you have to find out which keywords your target audience uses to find information on their topic of interest.
In this post, you will learn everything you need to know about keyword research to be able to find those ‘low-hanging fruit’ keywords you can actually rank for. We will discuss several keyword research methods you can use (both free and paid) and explain how to choose the most viable keywords for your website.
Determine your end goal.
Before you dive into the keyword research process, you need to reflect on the ‘bigger picture’ behind your SEO strategy. Keywords are just a means to an end. In other words, they are simply the tools to achieve your end goal.
But what is your end goal as it pertains to SEO? Who exactly are you trying to reach? What does your company offer that makes it special in some way? In other words, what are your unique selling points (USP)? This reflection is the foundation which is going to inform your keyword research.
With your end goal in mind, try to get into the heads of your target audience? What will these people be looking for? What kind of search terms could they be using when looking for your products or services? What are their pain points that your products/services solve? Write down as many answers as possible.
Free keyword research methods.
After you’ve pinned down your end goal, it’s time to find some relevant terms you can rank for. There are many ways to find keywords for SEO from a simple Google search to advanced SEO analytics tools. We will discuss some free keyword research methods first:
Keyword research with Google.
One of the easiest ways to find keywords is to check the search queries Google suggests while you are typing. Those are the queries that people actually type into Google to find information on that topic.
You can also check out the “Related searches” at the bottom of Google’s SERP (search results pages).
Keyword research with Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is a vastly underutilized keyword goldmine, where you can unearth some “hidden gems” – keywords that would be hard to find with any other method. To kick things off, simply go on Wikipedia and type in some broad keyword relevant to your business.
This will take you to the Wikipedia entry for that topic. You can find some excellent ranking opportunities in the Contents section, which lists all the subtopics covered on that page. You can also click on the internal links on the page and check out the Table of Contents for other, closely related topics.
Keyword research with online forums.
Online forums are like having live focus groups at your fingertips 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To find forums in your niche, you can type in these search strings into Google:
“keyword” + “forums”
“keyword” + “board”
Forums are organized into topic sections, which are in turn organized into subtopics and discussion threads. Each of the sections are potential keywords that you can target. You can also unearth some great long-tail keyword opportunities in the discussion threads.
Keyword research tools.
If you want to go an extra mile, you can also use SEO analytics tools to find keywords that you can rank for.
The beauty of keyword research tools is that they give you a deep look into each keyword from its monthly search volume, popularity of the corresponding topic by country, and even allow you to estimate how difficult it will be to rank for that keyword based on the strength of your website.
The main downside is that you have to pay a monthly fee to access that functionality and the keyword databases.
Ahrefs is by far the most comprehensive SEO analytics platform available on the market. Its keyword database contains more than 7 billion keywords, and it is updated with fresh data every month. The great thing about this tool is that it gives you full access to its functionality in its 7-day trial for just $7, which is perfect for one-time projects.
If you are serious about ranking, Ahrefs can help you find and analyze a ton of keywords in terms of their ranking difficulty, popularity over time, traffic potential (clicks), and even commercial intent (as reflected by CPC).
You will also be able to see and filter keyword suggestions (based on your seed keyword) according to their search volume, keyword difficulty, SERP features, and more.
SEMRush is another industry-leading SEO tool with powerful keyword research capabilities. While Ahrefs is great for deep keyword analytics (analyzing ranking difficulty, traffic potential, etc), SEMRush shines in keyword discovery thanks to its extensive reporting and filtering options.
To find ranking opportunities in SEMRush, go to the ‘Keyword Magic Tool’ tab and type in some broad seed keyword that is relevant to your business, choose the country you want to target, and hit ‘search’.
On the next screen, you will see a list of keyword suggestions based on your seed keyword along with their metrics. Depending on the popularity of your seed keyword, the table could show millions of related keywords.
From here, you just play around with the reporting and filtering options to find relevant and viable keywords for your business. There are 4 reporting options you can use to get more relevant keyword suggestions based on your seed:
Broad Match is the default report which will show you all the keyword ideas for the seed keyword in all of its semantic forms but without the exact order. This report returns the largest number of keywords suggestions.
Phrase Match provides keywords in the exact same form as the seed keyword, but it mixes up the order of words. The phrase match report also excludes variations of your seed keyword (-ing, -ed, -s, etc).
Exact Match shows all keyword ideas for the seed keyword in the exact same form as the seed keyword as well as the exact order.
For example, if you query “garden design” in the tool with the 3 different match types, the Broad Match report will have keywords such as “backyard garden design,” and “garden design app” that the other two reports would exclude because of the changed word order and semantic variations.
Related Match will show you all the keywords that are determined to be related based on having similar search engine results.
This keyword research tool focuses on narrowing down your list of potential keywords, rather than helping you discover new keywords.
When you enter your keyword into MOZ Keyword Explorer, you will see the SERP Analysis table, which will show you the Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) of the first 10 ranking pages.
This information helps you determine if a keyword is a viable target for your business. If you see that the pages ranking for that keyword have a similar Domain Authority or Page Authority to yours, it is an indication that you have a good chance at ranking for it.
How to choose a target keyword.
This is pretty straightforward. The more people search for a keyword, the more traffic you can get from it. This begs a question: what is a good search volume?
Search volume can vary a lot between different industries.
For example, a long tail keyword in the weight loss industry (e.g. ‘how to lose weight fast’) gets X monthly searches per month. But a long-tail keyword in a highly specialized B2B space such as legal services only gets X monthly searches.
Search volume is only one of the many factors you should consider when choosing your target keywords. Many high search volume keywords are extremely difficult to rank for because you will have to compete with immensely popular sites with very strong backlink profiles.
Your best bet is to target many long-tail keywords with low to moderate search volumes. Over time – as you build up your site’s authority – you will be able to go for more competitive keywords that have much higher traffic potential and CTR (more on that later).
Keyword difficulty is another important factor to consider when you are selecting keywords you are going to target. If you choose a keyword that’s too competitive, you might have trouble getting past Google’s 5th SERP.
But if you manage to find keywords with decent search volume yet without a ton of competition, you have uncovered the ‘low-hanging fruit’, as SEOs like to call them. Those are high-volume keywords that are relatively easy to rank for. Depending on the strength of your website, you might even stand a good chance of cracking the top 10 SERP!
As we alluded to earlier, the ranking difficulty of keywords are tied to two MOZ metrics: the Domain Authority and the Page Authority.
To put it simply, the DA is the search engine ranking score that reflects the website’s ranking potential in search engine results pages. It ranges from 0 to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ranking potential. The DA of a website is based on the its backlink profile (how many and what kind of websites are linking to it).
Organic click-through-rate or CTR is the percentage of Google searchers that click on an organic search engine result. Over the last few years, the number of people who actually click on organic results have declined tremendously as Google introduced Featured Snippets and bumped the amount of ads displayed in SERPs.
As a result, ranking websites have seen their traffic plummet for many keywords, especially the ones with high commercial intent. The same happened to simple question queries that can be answered within a featured snippet.
When choosing keywords to target, you also need to take into account their organic click-through-rate in order to gauge their traffic potential.
To estimate the CTR of a keyword, you can just check its SERPs. If you see a lot of ads and featured snippets, then you won’t get a ton of clicks even if you secure the 1st ranking position.
Having said that, don’t avoid all the keywords that have low CTR. Most people still prefer to click on organic results because they deem them more trustworthy than ads. In case of featured snippets, you will need to evaluate the search intent behind the keywords to gauge whether an organic listing can compete with them.