Keyword Research: The Ultimate Guide For 2021
If you want to get more organic search traffic to your website, SEO can deliver.
With a strong SEO strategy and the right keywords, you’ll climb to the top 10 in Google rankings and increase your revenue.
But with TRILLIONS of searches every year, how do you choose the right keywords to target? That’s why you’re here. And that’s the very question we’re going to answer.
In this guide, we’ll take you through all the essential steps to conduct keyword research. We’ll break down exactly what keywords are, and the importance of the right keyword research process for your website. Then we’ll take you through seven easy steps so you can do it yourself. Finally, we wrap it up with a handy checklist and a list of the best SEO tools out there.
Ready to skyrocket your revenue from search engines?
What are keywords?
Keywords are the words, phrases and sentences (“search queries” or “search terms”) that people type into a search engine when they want to find information.
When a user types a search query into a search engine like Google or Bing, the search engine uses an algorithm to scour the web to identify the most relevant websites to pull up in the search engine results page.
While there are a ton of different factors that search engines take into account when finding results, one of the key ways they figure out the relevance of a website is by matching up a searcher’s keywords with the content on a website.
If the keyword search is the same, or similar, the website has a higher chance of appearing at the top of search results (SERP).
There are a few different types of keywords:
Short-tail keyword. These are broad keywords. It could be a single word or phrase that is very generalised, such as “car for sale”. Short-tail keywords are typically 3 words or less with a higher search volume.
Long-tail keyword. Long-tail keywords are a combination of several terms with lower search volume. When someone types more detail into a search engine, this is a long-term keyword. An example of this would be “cheap cars for sale in Sydney” or “what are the best second-hand cars for sale?” More than 70% of all searches are for long-tail keywords.
Primary keyword. The primary keyword is the main keyword phrase that you’re targeting in your content strategy. It’s the one that you’re aiming to rank for and should feature in the headline, domain, blog post, meta description, and meta title for that piece of content.
Secondary keyword. These are extra SEO keyword phrases you’re hoping to rank for with your content. These can be either short-tail or long-tail keywords that builds up the semantics of the overall topic.[b]
What is keyword research?
It’s the process of identifying the different search queries that people are looking for.
Using the information gathered from your list of keywords, you can optimise the content on your website to target the best keywords and rank higher in the top 10.
There are trillions of searches on the Google search engine every year. Out of these, there are thousands — maybe even tens of thousands of search terms that are relevant to your business. Of course, you can’t target them all.
To really make an impact with your SEO, you have to pick and choose the search terms you want to focus on.
Keyword research helps you do this using the power of data. By honing in on ones that have a good monthly search volume, low competition, or that convert well, you can prioritise your SEO efforts.
Why is keyword research important?
It’s important because it’s the foundational aspect of any SEO strategy and guides every other aspect of your SEO.
It helps you pick and choose which keywords to focus on, so you can optimise your existing website content to increase visibility for relevant searches. It’s also easier to create a content plan to target your potential users and customers.
But why increase visibility on Google? To answer that, let’s take a look at this graph that illustrates the clickthrough for Google search results. When looking at it, keep in mind that every page on Google’s search engine has 10 results:
Image credit: Backlinko
Notice the sharp dropoff in the number of clicks after position 10? That’s because the majority of searchers never make it past the top three results on Google — let alone past the first page.
In fact, more than 75% of ALL clicks go to the top three results. On top of that, only 0.78% of Google searchers click on someone on Page 2. The numbers just keep dropping from there.
If you want to get traffic through search engines, you NEED to be on that first page. More importantly, you need to be in those top three results. Finding and targeting the right keywords in your SEO strategy helps you do just that.
That’s why, improving organic search presence on Google is the #1 priority for 61% of marketers around the world. The simple truth is that SEO is the most profitable marketing tool in your arsenal. When you rank at the top of search results, your site has more visibility. More visibility means more search traffic. And more traffic ultimately translates to greater revenue.
But as we mentioned earlier, you don’t have time to target ALL the keywords. So you want to know how to find the best keywords to focus on that bring real value to your business?
Follow this formula to get just the right ones for the job.
Best keyword research tools
Keyword research involves just that: research. To do this, you need to have the right tools in your arsenal.
Below, we’ve listed out some of the best research tools out there to help you crush the competition and win your SEO game.
1. Google Keyword Planner
Using Google Keyword Planner, you can get a quick snapshot of monthly search volume for keywords that are relevant to your business. But what makes this a great free keyword planning tool is the ability to check out the competition.
Take a look at that screenshot above. You can see the competition level for different keywords, as well as the search volume per month. With this information, it’s easier to find keywords and spot opportunities to target search terms with higher search volumes and low keyword difficulty.
Once you have your initial list of topics, KWFinder[d] is a great keyword research tool to help you dig deeper and flesh out your list of keywords. It gives you keyword suggestions, search volume, autocomplete queries, and actual questions that people ask.
Here’s KWFinder in action for the keyword “PPC management”:
Here’s the list of autocomplete recommendations:
The suggestions and autocomplete sections give you some additional keyword ideas. The questions show you what people are asking, which provides plenty of topics for blog posts and other content.
On top of this, KWFinder has been noted by other industry professionals as the most accurate keyword difficulty rankings out there. This way, you can evaluate exactly how much competition is out there, and focus your efforts accordingly.
3. Ahrefs Keywords Explorer
Ahref’s Keywords Explorer provides detailed information for every keyword as well as a quick snapshot of first page competition and how many users actually click through for the keyword.
You can also see top questions, keyword ideas with the same terms and suggested keywords to rank for. Recently, Ahrefs’ update allowing users to see global monthly search volumes together with country-specific search volumes is extremely handy.
Ahref’s Keyword Difficulty score system is another winner, as we can actually see an exact quantity of backlinks needed to be able to rank on the first page for that keyword.
The only major downside is Ahrefs is not a free option, but it’s worth your bucks particularly if you’ll have multiple or many people using it.
Another stellar alternative, on SEMrush, it’s easy to check top seed keywords and their search volume that your competitors are already ranking for under their Competitive Research section. This is the standout feature that SEMrush’s keyword toolkit offers.
Alternatively, the Keyword Magic Tool is a great way to quickly conduct a keyword search to check search volume as well as all the other metrics you want to know about.
Neil Patel’s free keyword research tool, UberSuggest, is particularly helpful for finding new keywords (its keyword ideas feature) and long tail variations.
It’ll spit out key metrics such as monthly search volume, SEO competition, average CPC and PPC competition.
You can also sort by suggestions, related, questions, prepositions (having two related queries in one term) and interestingly comparisons (splits out terms that include “versus”, “or” or “and” terms) which not all other competitor tools do. Not bad for free at all.
6. Google Search Console
Google Search Console is one of the most important tools in your advanced keyword research. It sheds valuable insights that you can use to get the right keywords for the right sites.
To find this, hop on to the Search Analysis option like so:
Here, you’ll see your top performing pages. If you click ‘Queries’ on one of those pages, you can see the terms that bring the most traffic:
These are your star performers. Try to incorporate those keywords into the pages that have the most revenue potential. If they don’t fit into the content, you can use related keywords that will.
Once you do this, you’ll be able to create a group of high-performing keywords that make people land on the pages with the most revenue.
7. Google Trends
This is a great free Google tool to discover new keywords and search trends. On Google Trends, you can quickly see how much search interest there is for any particular query over time, interest by sub-region or city and whether a keyword is becoming increasingly popular.
What’s cool is that Google will show you related rising and top queries for the term too. Plus, you can also filter to specifically look at interest via News Search, Image Search, Google Shopping or YouTube Search.
Being able to compare multiple terms at once also comes in handy to quickly get a good snapshot of general search interest.
Overall, Google Trends is particularly helpful if you’re creating evergreen content so you know these are topics people are actually interested in now and for the longer term.[e]
How to do keyword research
1. Create buyer personas
Before jumping into the keyword research process, the first step is to understand exactly WHO your audience is, what matters to them, and what they’re searching for.
The ability to understand your customers is crucial to get the right related search terms. It also helps you optimise your content for user intent.
This is where buyer personas come in. Buyer personas are ‘characters’ that embody your target customer. They help you look at your potential customers as people, rather than through the lens of sales. Once you do this, it’s much easier to understand how they’re searching on Google.
The more you know about your potential customer, the better you can pinpoint the keywords they’re using to find content. So what do you need to know to build out your buyer personas?
Start with the following:
- Average income
- Their key problems or pain points that you can solve
- What they want to accomplish
- How your product can help them
Keep in mind that, when creating your buyer persona, you’re not limited to just one person. Most businesses have more than one buyer persona. Craft a different number of personas, based on all the different types of customers you’re hoping to reach.
Once you’ve got your buyer personas sorted, write these down and share them with your marketing team or SEO agency. Then you can move onto the next step: identifying the keywords they’re using to search.
2. Identify topics that are relevant to your business
Before digging into the EXACT thing people are searching for, it’s a good idea to brainstorm some top-level topics that are relevant to your business. These will help guide more in-depth keyword research down the line. They’ll also help you cluster your content marketing and structure your website more effectively.
To pick the right topics for your business, start by writing out a list of things that you do. These are generally the products or services you provide, or the problems you’re aiming to tackle with your business.
For example, if you’re a home reno company in Melbourne, you could have the following topics:
- Bathroom renovations
- Kitchen renovations
- Living room renovations
- Bedroom renovations
- Home extensions
- Second storey additions
Meanwhile, if you’re a search engine marketing agency, you could have these topics:
Limit your list to around five topics, and keep it high level. Topics aren’t keywords. They’re the pillars you’re using for the next step.
3. Find niche keywords
When most people start with keyword research, they use a keyword suggestion tool. They pick the keywords that are the most popular, thinking it will give them the traffic they need.
In short, they see a ton of different keywords and build their content around them, hoping that will work. In most cases, it doesn’t. Why? Because when you try to target everything, you end up targeting nothing.
While it’s a good idea to include new high search volume, relevant and popular keywords, these shouldn’t form the bulk of your keyword research. Instead, focus on finding niche keywords that work for your business.
When it comes to SEO, ‘niche’ doesn’t mean a narrow range and a limited audience. Good niche keywords need to cover a broad topic, without being too generic and overused. That’s where the topics you brainstormed earlier can help.
Start out by looking at your topics. Step into the shoes of your buyer, using the personas you created earlier. Think about what words they would use to search. Write these down. Then, use an SEO tool to identify the search volumes for these keywords, and provide similar recommendations.
After you’ve got an initial crop of keywords, it’s time to dig even deeper.
4. Pinpoint long-tail keywords
If you’ve never used long-tail keywords, you’re missing out on an amazing way to increase your traffic and sales conversions. It’s one of the fundamental components of white hat SEO.
Long-tail keywords are an integral part of a good keyword research formula. They’re longer and more related versions of the mainstream keywords that most businesses use. And, as we touched on before, they make up roughly 70% of all searches.
These keywords are essential because they help you cover keywords at different stages of the buyer journey.
How does this pan out? For example, let’s say you’re selling furniture. A keyword like ‘Modern furniture for sale’ targets people in the buying stage. You should aim to rank highly for it.
But for most people, the journey starts LONG before they’re typing in this keyword into Google. They’ve likely already run searches like the following:
By targeting these keywords, you can answer a question that someone may have long before they reach the buying stage. If you rank highly for that, you establish yourself as an authority and nurture that person through the funnel and onto the next stage.
Then, when they’re ready to buy, they might type in “modern furniture for sale”. If they see your website again in search results, chances are they’ll be more inclined to click on it. While your “modern furniture for sale” keyword helped them convert, it was actually your long-tail keyword that got them there.
So how do you find long-tail keywords? You can use a keyword research tool to help you pinpoint different long-tail ideas and their search volumes. You can include these in your target keyword list, and aim to create content to address these.
But there’s another way.
5. Use research goldmines
If you want to rank on Google, Google is your best friend. You can use the search engine to find niche keywords, but it’s also handy to pick relevant goldmines for keywords.
A good example is using forums for keyword research. Forums can be a true goldmine of information about your target audience. They can be a great tool for your advanced keyword research and can provide a ton of useful information about your audience.
Let’s use the travel industry as an example. There are a TON of forums out there related to travel and planning. You probably use them in your own travels. All you need to do is visit these forums and do a bit of research.
Just look at this example for Bali:
Straight away, it’s easy to see the questions people are asking. You can use that to target niches with quality content. Structure content around the questions people ask on such forums.
After you’ve done this for some time, you’ll get a rush of new niche keyword ideas.
You can rinse and repeat with platforms like Google Trends, Reddit, Quora, Whirlpool or Wikipedia. Another way to find questions people are asking is to hop onto existing blog posts that are ranking on the topic and look at the comments section. Trending social media topics can also come in handy.
6. Test your keywords
By now, you probably have an impressive list of keyword ideas that you could target. So how do you narrow it down and find the best ones for your business?
Simple. Before you get started on content creation and on-site optimisation, assess the keyword’s value and search volume using these steps:
A) Ask the Key Questions.
Does the keyword align with your website’s content? Will the searcher get something useful when they use that keyword? Will this ultimately lead to a return on your efforts? A good keyword answers “yes” to all of those questions.
B) Search For It.
Do a Google search for the keyword you’re considering. You’re looking to see what your competitors are doing with it. If there are plenty of ads, you’ve likely found a keyword that offers value and converts traffic.
C) Test It.
Don’t jump into targeting the keyword with SEO. Test it using Google Ads. Run a small campaign using the “exact match” option. This helps you figure out how much search volume & traffic the keyword generates when given a high positioning.
D) Track it.
Run the campaign for 24 hours, and look at the number of conversions you get for a few hundred clicks. Let’s say your test led to 10,000 impressions and 300 clicks in 24 hours. Of those clicks, 20 people converted into customers. They generated a total of $1800 in revenue. That means one visitor is worth ~$6 in revenue.
That’s from a 3% Click-Through Rate (CTR). SEO can achieve an average of 31.75% if you obtain the top ranking. A 30% click-through rate on those 10,000 impressions means 3,000 clicks.
And that equates to $18,000 in revenue per day. That’s a worthwhile niche keyword.
Of course, your tests may provide the opposite results. You could end up with tons of impressions and no conversions. Or, you may discover that a keyword is so niche that nobody searches for it. When you use this technique, it helps you target niches that convert while avoiding those that don’t.
7. Focus on the low-hanging fruit
It’s likely that, while conducting your keyword research, you’ve found a bunch of keywords that you are ranking for, and some you’re not.
While you COULD take the long road and try to rank for all the keywords, it’s smarter to focus on the most lucrative opportunities.
Unfortunately, SEO takes time. Even with the best SEO strategy and keyword research, it could take 8 to 12 months before you get the results you want. That’s why it’s important to try and lock down some short-term gains while focusing on the long game.
Look at the keywords that you already either have good search volume for or believe that you can rank for with minimal effort.
Run the niche keyword test to find the most lucrative of those. Then target them. You’ll get more traffic AND you’ll give yourself some breathing room to focus on the more challenging keywords.
Keyword research checklist
- Develop different buyer personas based on the problem your brand solves.
- Identify approximately pillar topics related to your products or services.
- Find niche keywords for your pillar topics. These should be relevant to the products you offer, without being too generalised or overused.
- Pinpoint opportunities to rank for long-tail keywords using keyword research tools (more on that below).
- Use research goldmines like forums, Wikipedia, Google Trends, Reddit and Quora to get more long-tail keyword inspiration.
- Test your keywords using Google Ads. Find the highest-converting keywords and prioritise these.
- Focus on the most lucrative keywords to rack up some short-term gains.
- Use Google Search Console to track your progress and identify your best-performing keywords.
Ranking high on Google is by no means an easy task. The engine algorithm changes frequently, and it can prove challenging to adapt to all those changes.
But with the right formula and the best tools under your belt, you’re well on your way to improving your organic traffic and conversions. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Turning all of these tools and strategies into rankings and search traffic that then turns into revenue? You'll need an evidence-based campaign tailored to your goals. If you're looking for an experienced SEO Agency to partner with, why not claim our FREE offer today — get an SEO Audit Call and strategy worth $2,000.
[a] Move tools section from #5 to #3
[b] Remove section from published articles
[c] add link
[d] add link
[e] New content - replaces 3-5 tools and adds additional tool
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