Keyword research is the foundation of any successful search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. But it’s also one of the trickiest parts: knowing exactly which words will improve your rankings can be difficult. That’s why it’s important to understand the basics of keyword research before you invest in a long-term strategy.
The most common question I get is, “Does Google still care about keywords, or not?”
After that? These are the most common ones.
Let’s get to it…
1. What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the iterative process of discovering and analyzing the actual words and phrases that people type into search engines when conducting a search.
It helps marketers understand what customers are looking for, what kinds of topics they are interested in, and which keywords they are using to find those topics.
As a result, it is an important part of any content strategy and can help improve your website’s rankings in search engines, visibility, and conversions. After all, we’re all trying to turn traffic into customers!
2. Why is keyword research important?
Knowing which keywords are popular and how often they are being used can help you create effective content (blog posts, landing pages, etc.) that appeals to your target audience.
It is especially helpful if your audience talks about your products and services differently than you do because it helps you discover the differences in words and phrases used to describe the same thing.
Additionally, keyword research can help inform your overall search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, as selecting the right keywords can improve your website rankings on search engines like Google.
3. How do I choose the right keywords for my website?
Choosing the right keywords for your website is a process of discovery that begins with understanding your target audience and ends with increased traffic to your website.
Specifically, you will:
- Identify your target audience: Start by understanding who your target audience is and what they’re looking for when they type in queries related to your website. Knowing who you’re targeting will help you determine which keywords to use.
- Research relevant keywords: Once you have identified your target audience, explore different keyword options that are relevant to their search queries. Use a keyword research tool such as Google’s Keyword Planner, SEMrush, and Moz to find keywords that are related to your industry and have a good number of monthly searches. Use broad topics as seed keywords and analyze the many variations of that single keyword to find long-tail keyword ideas.
- Analyze competition: After finding the right keywords, you should also analyze the competition level for those terms. Tools such as Ahrefs and Moz will tell you the keyword difficulty of each term and help you identify if it’s worth targeting a certain keyword or not.
- Eliminate mismatches in user intent. User intent (or search intent) is the intent behind the search. For example, is the user looking for information or looking to buy something? Even if you get everything else right, you won’t rank for that term if the user intent doesn’t match.
- Prioritize keywords: Once you have done all the keyword research, prioritize the keywords you want to target first. Some keywords may be more important than others, depending on your business goals, so make sure to rank them accordingly.
- Monitor performance: Finally, monitor the performance of the keywords you’ve chosen. Track and measure the results to see which ones give you the best increase in organic traffic. This will help you continuously improve your strategies and get better results in the future.
4. How can I find relevant keyword ideas?
There are many ways to create lists of keywords to research and analyze. Here are some ways to generate keyword ideas to get you started:
- Use a keyword tool: There are many free and paid tools available online to create a list of keyword ideas. Popular tools include Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, KW Finder, Moz Keyword Explorer, Ahrefs Keyword Explorer, SEO Power Suite, and Ubersuggest.
- Use other helpful websites: AnswerThePublic shows you a unique visual display of related keywords to your single keyword and doesn’t require setting up an account. Soovle pulls keyword suggestions from Google, YouTube, Bing, Yahoo, Amazon, and more. (All in one place.) QuestionDB pulls question keywords from threads on Reddit.
- Analyze competitor websites: See what keywords your competitors are targeting to get an idea of which ones may be useful for your own website.
- Look at search engine autocomplete: Take a look at the suggestions Google provides when you type in a few words. This can give you an idea of what people are searching for.
- Use related searches: Take a look at the “Searches related to” section at the bottom of the search results page to get ideas for additional keywords to add to your keyword list.
- Ask customers: Your customers or potential customers might have ideas for keywords you should consider targeting.
5. How do I identify popular search terms?
There are many ways to find popular search terms to analyze.
- Research competitor sites. Review the content of other websites in your industry to see what search terms and phrases have been used or are popular.
- Utilize keyword research tools. Most of the keyword tools mentioned above give you information about popular keywords, indicated by their monthly search volume.
- Monitor trending topics. Utilize social media sites like Twitter or Reddit to track popular topics, hashtags, and conversations within your industry.
- Use Google Trends. With the free Google Trends tool, you can see what people are searching for on Google and how those searches change over time, by season, and by geographic location so you can get relevant insights into what your customers are researching online.
- Analyze search engine queries. Use Google Search Console to monitor the organic search terms that people use to find your website and analyze the traffic data to determine which phrases are most popular.
- Monitor news outlets and blogs. Track headlines and content shared on news outlets and important blogs in your industry to get an idea of the topics and keywords people are searching for.
6. How do I understand keyword competition?
Identifying highly competitive keywords helps you avoid wasting time and money creating content targeting keywords you’ll never rank well for.
When researching the competition for a keyword, you should look at the number of times it has been searched (monthly keyword search volume), the number of websites trying to rank for that keyword, and the keyword difficulty, a calculation of your ability to rank on the first page of the search engine result pages (SERPs).
The level of competition varies widely from one keyword phrase to another. Once you understand the competitive landscape, you can better decide which keywords to target and how to optimize content for them.
You’re looking for the handful of relevant search terms you can rank well for and drive traffic to your website. In other words, the most effective keyword for you is the one with the highest volume of searches, the least amount of competition, and the most traffic potential.
7. What is long-tail keyword research?
Long-tail keyword research is the process of researching longer, multi-word, more specific keyword phrases which are more likely to drive targeted traffic to your website.
Long-tail keywords often have lower search volumes, but they are easier to rank for and often have a higher conversion rate.
8. How often should I update my keyword research?
I recommend you update your keyword research every few months. That’s how you’ll keep up with the latest trends in search terms and make sure you are still targeting the most relevant keywords.
Your business, your website, and your content will grow and change over time. As you grow, you’ll be able to tackle more competitive keywords as part of your SEO strategy.
9. Is knowledge of keyword research basics enough to optimize a website?
Any effort you spend making your content search engine friendly is worth your time. Using keyword research to identify the most relevant and popular search terms for your website or product will help you write blog posts around those keywords, which will help your site be more search-engine friendly and helpful to users.
10. What tools are available to help with keyword research?
There are many, many tools available to help with keyword research, including some you might not think of as keyword research tools. Here is a list of both free and paid options:
Answer The Public
If you’re just getting started with keyword research, this is a great tool to try because you don’t even need to create an account to use it. Just type in your keyword and take a look at what comes up. (free & paid)
Offers a comprehensive keyword database with precise search data, synonyms, related keywords, and more. (free & paid)
Google Keyword Planner
A free tool from Google that allows you to search for keyword ideas and get estimates for search volume and competition level. (free)
A free tool from Neil Patel that generates many SEO keyword ideas from seed keywords. It offers search volume data, an idea of how difficult your keyword will be to rank for (keyword difficulty), and more. Paid accounts enjoy a Chrome browser extension. (free & paid)
Moz Keyword Explorer
Generates keyword ideas based on your seed terms, uncovering related phrases and exploring questions people are asking about the topic. (free & paid)
Includes extensive keyword databases and competitor analysis to help you identify profitable target keywords. (paid)
Ahrefs Keyword Explorer
Generates a huge number of keyword ideas and search data based on seed words or URLs and provides detailed reports. (paid)
A full SEO tool suite. It’s not only one of the best keyword research tools available, but it also offers website analytics, SERP analysis, backlink analysis, a rank tracker, and website audit features. It’s an all-in-one solution meant to streamline everything you would need for comprehensive SEO. (paid)
Long Tail Pro
Generates long-tail keywords for niche sites and has even found a cult following with content producers for micro-niche sites. (paid)
The #1 choice for analyzing your competitors’ SEO strategies. Their keyword tool uncovers valuable, virtually untapped keywords and makes a huge difference if you’re working in a highly saturated niche. (paid)
One of the best tools for keyword research. Its complete toolkit includes everything you need to improve on and off-page SEO. You’ll get fundamental keyword research features, as well as optimization options for mobile, social media, and more. (free & paid)
Makes it easy to find keywords with low SEO difficulty, along with a whole host of other useful features. (paid)
One of the best keyword research tools for marketers and bloggers who are in a hurry and want ranking difficulty or keyword suggestions to appear along with their search results. (paid)
Regarded as one of the top keyword research tools on the market, and offers analysis for multiple search engines, including Google, YouTube, Bing, Amazon, and the App Store. (paid)
The best free keyword research tool for finding question-based keywords. While several tools will show you results pulled from Google or Bing, QuestionDB scrapes questions from all across the web, including sites like Reddit, Quora, and Stack Exchange. (free & paid)
The best free keyword research tool for affiliate marketers. Jaaxy helps you find affiliate programs to join and feature on your site and shows you the listed commission and Alexa Rank for each program and associated product website. (paid)
A tool that aggregates Google’s “People Also Ask” (PAA) data so you can analyze it to inform your strategy. The PAA box is a gold mine for related topics and questions surrounding your keyword of choice. (free & paid)
A browser extension that helps YouTube creators optimize, publish, promote, and grow their channels. (free & paid)
A free keyword research tool and customizable search engine aggregator that collects search suggestions across up to 15 different engines. Including Google, Bing, Wikipedia, Amazon, eBay, YouTube, and more. (free)
Wordstream's Free Keyword Tool
Wordstream gives you hundreds of relevant keyword results, plus additional, actionable information like competition level and estimated CPC. It’s an awesome alternative to Google’s Keyword Planner. (free)
An industry-leading rank tracking tool that makes it easy to monitor rankings across Google and other search engines. (paid)
Term Explorer offers probably the deepest research reports of any keyword research tool on the market. From one seed term, you can get over 10,000 keyword variations.
Understanding keyword research takes time, effort, and knowledge. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for optimizing your content for search engines. The good news is now that you have the answers to these questions about keyword research basics, you’re better prepared to do keyword research that gets results.