What is keyword research?
Keyword research is 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.
As we mentioned earlier, there are trillions of searches on Google 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 search volume, low competition, or that convert well, you can prioritise your SEO efforts.
Why is keyword research important?
Keyword research is important because it’s the foundational aspect of any SEO strategy.
It 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 search results on Google. When looking at it, keep in mind that every page on Google 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.
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.
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 weapon 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 want to know how to find the best keywords to focus on? The ones that will 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
Google Keyword Planner is a reliable favourite for a reason. It gives you information straight from the source. The best part is it’s a free keyword ideas tool.
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 from Keyword Planner. 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 a higher search volume and low keyword difficulty.
Once you have your initial list of topics from Google Keyword Planner, KWFinder is a great SEO keyword research tool to help you dig deeper and find new keywords. It gives you more keyword ideas, search volume, autocomplete queries, and actual questions that people ask.
Here’s KWFinder in action for the seed keyword “PPC management”:
Here’s the list of autocomplete keyword suggestions based on that seed keyword:
The suggestions and autocomplete sections give you some additional new 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 one of the keyword tools with the most accurate keyword difficulty rankings. 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 volume data 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 keyword tool, but it’s worth your bucks particularly if you’ll have multiple or many people using it.
Another stellar alternative for keyword tools is 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.
5. Keyword Surfer
If you’re after one of the best SEO tools to help you research keywords as you browse the web, Keyword Surfer is perfect for you. This nifty Chrome extension displays the monthly search volumes for any search typed into Google — plus, it gives you the ability to filter the same keywords by global search volume or search volume for specific countries.
On top of this, the free keyword research tool also provides you with keyword data, such as search volumes for Google’s autocomplete results:
As well as a list of the searches related to your seed keyword in Keyword Surfer:
6. Google Search Console
Google Search Console is one of the most important tools in your advanced 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 each particular keyword into the pages that have the most revenue potential. If the exact match keywords won’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 one of those great free keyword research tools to discover new keywords and search engine 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 with this tool compared to other keyword tools is that Google will show you related rising and top queries for the term. 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 or looking for blog post ideas. With this tool, you know these are topics people are actually interested in now and for the longer term.
If you’ve ever used Reddit, you’ll know that this is a treasure trove when it comes to pinpointing search trends and content ideas. Keyworddit is a great free keyword research tool that allows you to find keyword ideas directly from subreddits.
All you need to do is type in your keyword topic or a specific keyword, like so:
The keyword tool will then return a list of content topics and keyword data, along with a link to the context to show you where the keyword suggestions were derived from:
You can use this to find relevant search terms for your topic, based on what's being asked and searched for online.
What are top SEO keywords?
Here's the deal: there is no such thing as the 'best' keyword. The right keyword phrases for your business vary depending on your customers, location, product or service, and your industry.
Your goals also play a role here. Are you trying to increase brand awareness and website traffic using organic search? If so, you want to target keywords that have a higher average monthly search volume. On the other hand, if you’re looking to increase conversions during the middle and bottom of funnel, your goal should be to pinpoint long-tail keywords that are specific and targeted to your product or service.
Search intent also comes into play. This refers to the problem a user intended to solve when they first typed the search into Google.
Intent can be broken up into four categories:
Informational: The searcher is looking for information, such as “what is the capital of Australia” or “how to make a chocolate chip cookie”.
Navigational: The searcher is trying to find a specific website or web page. An example might be “Gmail login page” or “OMG ultimate guide to keyword research”.
Commercial: Searchers are doing research around products and services and weighing up their options. These keywords could be anything from “top SEO agency in Sydney” to “best laptops for students 2021”.
Transactional: The searcher is intending to make a purchase. They know what they’re going to buy and want to find a place to buy it from, such as “buy Apple iPhone 13” or “cheap Nike Air Force 1”.
Let’s say you’re running a wedding cake company in Brisbane and you’re looking to do some keyword research to support your SEO efforts.
One of the keyword phrases with the highest search volume might be “wedding planning” or “wedding cake ideas”. However, these keywords are highly competitive and generic, which means you’ll end up investing a ton of time and resources on traffic that might not convert.
On the other hand, a keyword phrase like “wedding cake tree Brisbane” may not have as many searches, but you can sure bet that everyone searching for this transactional keyword is in Brisbane and looking for a wedding cake tree — in other words, your ideal customer.
Ultimately, the key is to focus on identifying the intent behind each search, then creating a strategy that’s relevant for that intent.
Creating highly informative content to target informational keywords, such as a blog post or eBook. This will demonstrate your authority on a topic and provide value to your readers.
Developing comparison landing page or blog post content to demonstrate your product superiority for a keyword phrase with commercial intent.
Optimising your product and service pages for transactional keywords, as well as your user experience.
This is a far more effective and profitable approach to researching keywords than looking for the ‘best’ SEO keywords.
Getting strategic: How to Find and Choose Keywords for Your Website
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:
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:
Living room renovations
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 target 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 keyword 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, like the ones we feature later in this post. They help you pinpoint different long-tail keyword 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 target 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 asks 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. Check out the competition
During your search, you’ll likely amass a ton of keywords. Sooner or later, you’ll need to start deciding which ones to prioritise as part of your keyword strategy.
That’s where doing a bit of recon on your competitors comes in. By understanding what your competitors are — or aren’t — ranking for, you can begin to build a strategy that puts your website on top in organic search.
There are two ways to go about this. You could either:
Target keywords that your competitors aren’t ranking for, in order to capitalise on their missed opportunities.
Review which keywords your competitors are ranking for and you’re not, and increase your ranking for those.
The route you take ultimately depends on the time and resources you have to invest in your SEO and how aggressive you want to be with your strategy.
The former allows you to capture traffic that your competitors may have missed, and can be a good approach if you’re after some quick wins.
The latter is a much more assertive approach that will have you going head-to-head with competing sites ranking for your target keywords. This means everything in your SEO strategy and implementation will have to be better than theirs to come out on top, from link building to domain authority.
7. Look at seasonal trends
Another tip for conducting keyword research? Go with the seasons.
Every industry has its peaks and lulls — and more often than not, search trends mirror these patterns. If you understand the seasonal trends behind your keywords, you’ll be able to craft a powerful SEO strategy that puts you ahead of the competition when it matters the most.
You can find seasonal trends in Google Trends by simply typing in your keyword. For example, if you’re a florist and you see that searches for ‘Mother’s Day gifts’ spike every year around April, you can plan this into your content strategy and give these keywords an extra push in the months leading up to this spike.
8. Narrow down your regions
If your business is based in, or targeting a specific region, it’s a good idea to factor this into your keyword planning. You can narrow down search terms by state or city in Google Keyword Planner:
Or do the same thing in Google Trends:
With Google Trends, you also have the option to evaluate interest by subregion to see if there are any variances in different states or territories:
9. Sort your keywords into buckets
Short-tail keywords are typically more competitive and take more time to rank for. Meanwhile, long-tail keywords are often easier to rank for as they’re less competitive and the search volume is lower.
And the best SEO strategy? It contains a mix of both of these search terms.
Sort your keywords into short and long tail buckets, then aim to target a mix of both in your SEO strategy. This way, you’ll capture some quick traffic and wins from less competitive long-tail keywords while also working toward improving your rankings for those hotly contested short-tail search terms.
10. 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 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.
11. 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 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.
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