Talk to anyone about the basics of SEO and you can guarantee that they’ll mention keyword research. After all, while there are many factors that can make or break a digital marketing campaign, there are few things more important than making sure you appear when your customers search for certain phrases online.
Keyword research isn’t just about figuring out how you’re going to speak to the search engines and improve your position in the SERPs. Used correctly, you can also access this process as a way of figuring out what you should be talking about in your blogs, articles, and countless other forms of content too.
If you’re looking for tips on how to do the kind of keyword research that can both improve your search strategy and enhance your content development strategy, this is the article for you.
Keyword Research: The Basics
Let’s start with a simple introduction.
Keyword research is the act of tracking down and analyzing potential search terms entered into Google and other environments to help customers find your website.
The more you know about the search terms that your audience is using, the easier it is to ensure that you appear at the right points in your customer’s buying journey.
Over the years, the way that we’ve used keywords has changed drastically. It used to be that you could just choose a word and throw it into your blog posts as many times as possible to get results. Now, the search engines are getting smarter.
Google wants you to think carefully about the intent behind what your users are searching for and create content that’s more valuable and engaging than anything your competitors have to offer.
However, while the rules around keywords have changed, the demand to use these tools in your SEO strategy is still the same. Creating content for content’s sake won’t help you to capture the attention of your audience in a world where Tech Jury tells us that 4.4 million blog posts are published each day.
You need to figure out what your audience actually wants to hear about.
So, how do you get started?
How to Find Keyword Ideas
The easiest way to start searching for potential keyword ideas is, to begin with, the basics: creating a list of potential topics or “seed keywords” that you can consider.
Think about the topics that your business needs to rank in terms of generic topic buckets. For instance, if you’re a digital marketing company, then it makes sense that you would want to rank for terms related to things like:
- Content marketing
- Inbound marketing
- Lead generation
- Social media marketing
- Search engine optimization
And so on.
Using a tool like Ahrefs, you can examine the kind of volume that each of the topic buckets you’re interested in might get. For example:
Clearly, there’s a lot of volume for content marketing, but if you swipe your eyes to the left, you’ll notice that there’s also a lot of competition for this term too. That’s why it’s important to go beyond your generic content buckets and look for something more niche.
Expanding Your Content Keyword Ideas
There are a bunch of handy SEO tools available online today that can help you to fill your generic content buckets with potential keywords. However, you don’t necessarily need to invest in anything specialist straight away. Simply typing the keywords that you already have into Google is a good first start. When you do that, you’ll see an instant list of suggestions:
These are topics suggested by Google’s auto-suggest function. They’re based on things that people are already looking for online, so you know that writing about one of those topics should get you some attention from your target audience.
You can do the same thing with YouTube suggest, or simply stick with Google and scroll down to the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the “Searches related to…” section:
Just like with the suggest function, because these ideas come straight from Google, you know that people are already looking for them.
Other options to expand your keyword list include:
- Finding keywords on Reddit: Search for a broad topic that your target audience is interested in on Reddit. This will bring up a list of “subreddits” which might give you additional ideas on what you can rank for.
- Using the Wikipedia table of Contents: Wikipedia is great for keyword research. Type in a broad keyword into the search engine and visit the page. You’ll see that your keyword is probably part of a “series” which includes other ideas:
- Find topics on forums: You can also search for keywords using forums. All you need to do is type a search into Google like “keyword + forum” to get started. You can even check pre-existing generic forums like Quora and Yahoo Answers.
Using Keyword Research Tools
If you want to get really in-depth with your keyword research, then there are professional tools out there that can help you. These are designed to give you some extra ideas that you might not have gotten from the options above.
For instance, the HubSpot Content Strategy tool helps you to identify and research topics that your business should probably approach based on the existing content that you’ve already covered. You can also use the same tool to check out how much traffic your existing posts have, so you know which information your audience is interested in.
Alternatively, Keywords Everywhere gives you a bunch of keyword ideas to harness from around the web in one easy-to-use interface.
All you need to do to use Keywords Everywhere is install a Chrome extension, and as soon as you visit one of the websites that this channel integrates with, you’ll see a list of keyword ideas. There’s also info on the data behind each keyword.
Another, similar option for enhancing your keyword research is Ubersuggest. This is a keyword scraper tool that generates ideas from Google’s search suggestions and gives you information on things like search volume and keyword difficulty.
You can even keep things super simple and stick with the Google Keyword Planner if you prefer. Many people consider this option to be the gold standard for checking out keywords that might be suitable for their ad campaigns.
Whether you use SEMRush to save you time by showing you the exact keywords that your site and competitors already rank for, or you head to Ahrefs for in-depth keyword competition data, there are plenty of options to help you.
Understanding Keyword Difficulty
Once you have your list of potential keywords from all around the web, you need to figure out whether you’re actually going to have a chance of ranking for it.
As we mentioned above, finding a keyword that’s high in volume is easy enough. Finding one with low enough competition that you can appear on the SERPs is a different matter.
With your list of keywords in-hand, use your chosen keyword research tool to check out the search volume for a specific keyword or phrase.
Remember, the higher the volume, the more work you’re likely to need to do to achieve good rankings. Bigger brands usually take up the top 10 results for the majority of high-volume keywords, just because they’ve had more time and budget available to them. Although you want something with a reasonably high search volume, try not to go too high.
For instance, in the example below, you’d be a lot more likely to rank for “content definition” than just “content”:
When examining keyword difficult, you often need to think about the long-tail. While it would be nice to rank for a keyword that has tens of thousands of searches every month, these popular terms still only make up a fraction of all the searches performed worldwide.
More importantly, opting for seed keywords like “content” means that you end up targeting people with ambiguous intent. You don’t know if a person searching for content is looking for a specific kind of content, a content marketing campaign, or a content production company, for instance.
Get strategic with your search volume by:
- Looking at keywords by a competitor: Find out which keywords your competitors aren’t currently ranking for and use your content to fill in the gaps. This is the ideal way to reach customers that are being missed by other companies.
- Look for keywords by season: Seasonal trends can be excellent in developing a content strategy. If you know that Christmas deals start to spike in October, then you can prepare your content for this months in advance.
- Examine keywords by region: Going local with your keywords is an excellent way to reduce the ranking difficulty while ensuring that you attract customers that are more relevant to you. Keywords like “content marketing near me” could be particularly useful in today’s age of voice search.
How to Choose Your Keywords
Choosing the keywords for your content strategy can be a difficult process.
Although it’s tempting to get carried away looking at things like monthly search volume, there are many more factors that can affect the success of a keyword in your content strategy.
Ideally, you do need your content keywords to have a decent number of searches each month, as this ensures that people are actually looking for what you’re trying to rank for. However, you don’t need to go for options with thousands of searches every time.
Remember to combine your volume information with:
- Keyword difficulty: Keyword difficulty determines how difficult a keyword will be to rank for. You can see this on Ahrefs when you search for a keyword. The higher the number, the harder it’s going to be for you to get ahead of your competition with a specific term. Try to stick to a keyword difficulty of 30 or less, particularly if you’re a small business.
- Cost-per-click: This metric will be necessary for websites that want to monetize their content with PPC ads. If you plan on trying to improve the amount of traffic that you get for your content, then cost-per-click needs to be low enough to meet your budget. You can check for costs using something like Google AdWords.
- Domain authority or domain rating: If you’re looking for keywords by examining the terms that your competitors are already ranking for, make sure that you take domain rating into account. If a domain rating is very high, then you might not be able to beat your competition in the search results without a huge and expensive strategy.
- Business Fit: Choosing keywords based on business fit is when you think about how likely it is that someone who searches for a keyword that you’re ranking for will become a customer. Cost per Click can help you to figure this out, but you also need to think carefully about your customers and their intent. A set of audience personas that you can use to step into your customer’s shoes and consider their individual needs will be helpful here.
- Keyword Trends: You’ll also want some evidence that the number of people who are searching for your keyword is growing fast, or at least dying slow. The best way to figure this out is to use Google Trends. For instance, if you looked for “Voice Search” on Google Trends, you’d find that the interest in this keyword is good, but it’s also dropped slightly over the past five years:
The perfect keywords for your content will have all of the following things:
- A monthly search volume that’s over 500
- A keyword difficulty score that’s less than 30
- A cost-per-click value that’s suitable for your budget
- A competitor domain rating of less than 50
- A consistent number of searches, or a gradually rising number
Advanced Tips for Keyword Research
Now that you know your way around the basics of keyword research and how to do it, you can begin to look into some more advanced strategies to improve your chances of content success.
It’s worth noting that there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for finding keywords for your content solution. Instead, you’ll need to experiment with different campaigns, measure your results, and figure out what’s right for you based on that.
However, there are a few great strategies that you can try to get started.
- Barnacle SEO
Ranking in the top three search result positions isn’t always the end goal of a good keyword content strategy. If you use a tool like Barnacle SEO, then you can gain more traction from your keywords than you ever expected.
With Barnacle SEO, you use the authority of other websites to boost your ranking on the first page. For instance, if you’re ranking on the first page of Google for a blog that you’ve written about YouTube SEO, then you can also boost your chances of ranking elsewhere by:
- Appearing in guest posts that also rank on the first page of Google and linking back to your original post.
- Creating YouTube videos that reveal some of the information included in your original content.
- Aiming for the featured snippet section of Google by answering questions to common questions.
- Appearing in the “People Also Ask” section of Google.
The idea of Barnacle SEO is that you go beyond simply ranking for one page or content item and think about how you can own as much of the first page of Google as you can for your keyword.
- The Competition Gap Approach
Another option for really ramping up your content marketing strategy and making the most of your keywords starts with some competitive analysis.
There’s a good chance that your competitors have already performed a lot of the keyword research that you would be doing anyway. That means that you can save yourself some time and effort by looking at your competitors and seeing which keywords they’re trying to rank for.
Just type a keyword into Google to get started and see who shows up on the top of the page.
Crucially, if you really want to make the most of using your competitors for your keyword strategy, you shouldn’t just be cherry-picking their top ranking keywords. You should also be looking for words that they don’t rank for, that you can target.
A good tool for this is the Content Gap option on the Ahrefs Site Explorer. With this tool, you can see which keywords your competitors are ranking for, as well as which terms are in your strategy that your competitors haven’t targeted yet.
- Make the Most of Searcher Intent
When you’re optimizing your content with keywords, it’s important to remember why you’re trying to get your customers to read the blogs and articles on your website. If you’re hoping to drive people towards conversations with whatever you’re writing, then you need to understand how searcher intent plays into your keyword choices.
While all of the various segments of search intent, from awareness to decision-making offer opportunities for conversion, you should be mostly focusing your effort on transactional queries and commercial investigation.
The best way to do that is to categorize the keywords that you’re targeting with your content by where they fall in the stage of the conversion funnel that your customer might be in. By segmenting your keywords into potential funnels, you can start to get a better picture of what people are searching for at different times in their journey. This means that you can use your keywords carefully, taking advantage of the search context.
Once you know how search intent works, you can examine keyword ranking options by how valuable they are to your business. For instance, if the search intent for a specific keyword is just “navigational” then you might decide not to spend money on it – even if the search volume is great.
On the other hand, if the intent is “informational” a content piece optimized for that term could be crucial to your company’s growth.
- Use Questions to Expand Your List
Another great option for people who want help using their keywords to build their content strategy is to expand their lists using questions. Suggestion tools like Answer the Public are excellent for this purpose. The tool allows companies to get auto-suggested results provided by Google, Bing, and YouTube.
The great thing about using questions to expand your content strategy is that it allows you to connect with people during the initial stages of their buying journey.
It could also mean that companies in the current search landscape can have a better chance of ranking for things like voice searches, which are becoming more common in the age of smart speakers and assistants. Businesses can take questions and transform them instantly into content that answers the queries that their customers have.
- Try the Monetization First Approach
Last but not least, one excellent keyword-based content strategy to try is to explore your options from a monetization-focused approach. Pick a product that you like and think about the search queries that people might be using to look for that product on Google.
Amazon has one of the most popular affiliate programs around, for instance. This means that all you need to do is browse through the Amazon website that you’re willing to promote.
If you’re looking for content as an affiliate, this could be the easiest way to find content to write about that has the best chance of making you money. If you’re writing for your own website, you can start by grabbing the low-hanging fruit in your keyword search by choosing the terms with the lowest cost-per-click price.
Connect Your Keyword Research with Your Content Strategy
Finally, once you know exactly how you’re going to be using your keywords, it’s time to link them into your content strategy. You may decide to create different buckets of keywords for specific stages in the buyer journey, all the way from targeting keywords from people looking for information, to targeting terms that are all about purchasing, like “content marketer near me”.
You can also take the time to think about what kind of things your audience will need to see at each point in their journey. For instance, in the early stages of the buyer cycle, your customers might be more interested in reading things like articles or listening to podcasts.
In the later stages of the buying cycle, when your audience is starting to make a purchasing decision, they might want more eBooks and whitepapers that provide statistics and valuable information.
You might even need to think about building landing pages with your content for specific points in the customer journey. This could help you to capture email addresses and contact information for people who need more content touch-points before they’re ready to buy.
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to apply your keywords to your content marketing strategy, don’t forget to analyze what’s working and what isn’t.
It’s up to you to make sure that you’re getting the kind of results that you want from your keywords. If you’re not getting enough conversions from your conversion-focused content, maybe you’re choosing terms with the wrong kind of intent.
Perhaps you have a problem with the degree of competition that surrounds the kind of term that you want to rank for.
The more you analyze your results, the more you’ll know.