Keyword Research for SEO: Beginner’s Guide

Keyword Research for SEO: Beginner’s Guide

Beginner's Guide to Keyword Research: Keyword Intent, Keyword Ranking, SEO Keyword Research
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Yet another article about keyword research. As a business owner and marketer, I can’t stress enough the importance of keyword research.

It may not be the most glamorous of subjects, but it is a vital part of your marketing strategy that can’t be ignored. And beyond search engine optimization, keyword research has the ability to benefit you across many areas of your business.

Why is Keyword Research Important?

I would argue that Keyword Research is probably the MOST important aspect of SEO. Without keyword research you are likely to rank for the wrong keywords or none at all. Or maybe you identified some keywords to use, but didn’t properly go through the research steps I will outline in this article, resulting in highly competitive keywords that are far too competitve to rank for.

Beyond SEO, keyword research is an integral component of website planning (site architecture), naming conventions (products/services), ideation (blog/social posts), research & development (R&D), and the list goes on.

Here is a quick list of additional reasons as to why keyword research is important:

  • Keyword research helps you in finding out what topics people are interested in. Now, if you are using an SEO tool to find that, then you can also know how popular those topics are amongst your audience.
  • Keyword research is like a compass for your business– if you research them in the right manner, then you can find out where to go and what to do. Moreover, it can also tell you if you are making any progress in what you are doing.
  • Keyword research gives you insight into the desires, thoughts, and fears of your customers. And you can use this insight while marketing your goods.

What Exactly is a Keyword?

If you are new to SEO or you just simply have not come across this term before, keywords are simply a phrase that you have identified that you would like your site to rank for within search engines, such as Google and Bing.

A keyword can either be a single word or a combination of words. Single words are often the most difficult words to rank for due to their competitiveness and often we find that keywords with more words are easier to target and rank for due to their lack of competitiveness.

Because of this, keywords are generally broken up into three main categories: head, body and long-tail keywords.

Head Keywords

Head keywords are identified as single-word keywords. These single words often carry high search volume (I will explain more about search volume later in this article) and competition. Unfortunately, head keywords often don’t convert well as they are somewhat ambigous and don’t clarify search intent.
 
Imagine trying to rank for the keyword “insurance.” The ambiguity comes into play in that it is uncertain as to what type of insurance people are searching for (car, health, life, etc.).

Body Keywords

Body keywords are made up of 2-3 word phrases. These keywords are a bit more specific than head keywords, but generally don’t result is as high of search volume. Because they bring a little more clarity into the search phrase, they also bring with them higher conversion.
 
Remember our example of “insurance.” Now imagine a search phrase with 2-3 words like “car insurance” or even “car insurance quote.” You see how these types of keywords bring clearer search intent?
 

Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are the keywords with 4 or more words. These keywords are often the best phrases to target as they often have very little competition, making it easier for you to rank for, as well as a high conversion rate, due to the fact that these keywords are very specific.

Going back to our “car insurance” example, imagine a long-tail keyword of “new driver car insurance quote” or “first time driver car insurance quote.”

Keyword Research Long Tail Keyword Search Graph

Now your getting it! Let’s move on.

Understanding Search Intent

This section really deserves an article all to itself as there is a lot of physcology behind a person’s search query.  Remember how I mentioned earlier that keywords give you insight into a person’s desires, thoughts and fears. Well studying search intent allows you to understand these phsycological behaviors. Knowing the intent of your targeted users enables you to identify the right keywords and/or phrases to use.
 
Let’s go back to our “first time driver car insurance quote.” In this example the query is telling us the following:
  • “First time driver”: Most likely the parent of the driver or the driver themselves. Identifying the fact that the driver is new, most likely just received their license or will be receiving their license soon.
  • “car insurance quote”: Price shopping, but with high commercial intent (will explain more later).
 
Because the search query is so specific, it tells me that there is an underlying fear of the cost of a first time driver. So it would be a good idea to comfort and address these types of concerns within your title tag.
Types of Intent for Keyword Search
  1. Informational: Informational searches are keyword searches looking to acquire information. The user is only looking for information on ‘how’ to do something or is willing to ‘answer’ a question. These are known as the “Know” keywords.
  2. Navigational: Navigational keywords are straight and clear. A user knows the exact site they are looking for. Navigational keywords are mainly brand, product/service or site names. These are known as the “Go” keywords. Some keywords which look navigational but are not navigational can be confusing. For example, when a person searches for ‘facebook’ they might be looking for information on the company.
  3. Transactional: Transactional keywords are used when a user is looking to make a transaction. Examples of these are commonly found in product/service-related searches where the intent to buy is made clear through keywords like “buy online.” These are what are known as “Do” keywords. With the use of these keywords, search engines will relate the most relevant places to buy the product from.  Some transactional keywords are ‘best shampoos’, ‘good quality cameras’, ‘cheap bags’ etc.

 

Search Intent Keyword Research

What is Keyword Research?

As we all know, there is a lot of competition out there, especially in the internet world. So, in order to survive that competition, it is vital for businesses to optimize their content in such a manner so that they can charm their customers.

This is the premise behind is keyword research. It helps businesses in acquiring a better understanding of their target market and how they search for their content and products so that they can effectively tailor their content around it.

Basically, keyword research can be explained as the process of finding what words and phrases people are entering in search engines to look for a specific product or service with an aim to optimize the content around those terms.

This is done because it assists marketers in knowing what people are searching for, how many people are searching for it, and in what format do they prefer getting that information.

How to Discover Keywords?

In this part, we will try to research and understand how you can conduct step-by-step research of the keywords.

  1. Make a list of topics that are relevant to your business

The first step is to consider all the issues that you think are important for your business. Think of the generic subject that your business is about mostly. This step is not about details; just think of general terms. When brainstorming, you will probably come up with some 5 to 10 topics. Now, if you are a regular blogger, then these will probably be the topics around which most of your content revolves. So for example, if you run a travel company, then you might come up with general topics such as:

  • Travel destinations
  • Winter travel spots
  • Best hiking spots
  • World’s best beach resorts
  • Desert holidays
  • Wildlife destinations
 
Keyword Discovery - Topic Search

Now you see those numbers that are written to the right of these topics? They are the monthly search volume of each topic. These show you how many people are looking for these topics, and hence by this, you can get a rough idea about how many different sub-topics you can create around these main subjects.

  1. Fill the topic buckets with keywords

Now that you have your topic bucket, the next step is to come up with some keywords that fall into those buckets. These are the keywords that you believe are important to rank higher in the Search Engine Results Pages. For example, for the travel subject “best hiking spots” you would probably brainstorm and come up with keywords like:

  • Best day hikes
  • Famous walking trails
  • Best places to hike in May
  • Famous hiking trails in the world
  • Best countries for hiking
  • Most remote treks
 

The idea here is to not come up with your final list of the keywords but to end up with a brain dump of keywords that you think your potential customers use to search for finding content related to that topic bucket.

For coming up with these keywords list, you can figure out the keywords for which you are already being searched for. For this, you can use Google Search Console or other such tools. Or else you can simply head to your sales department and ask people there for the terms that your prospective customers use or about the common questions that they pose. This can be your start.

  1. Research related keywords

Now in this step, I need you to head over to Google and research those relevant keywords. Type in your subject topic in the search bar. As soon as you type in the keyword and before you hit enter, Google will show you a drop-down list of suggestions. These are prime search terms within Google and should be considered early in your research process. These related keywords/terms are Google’s way of telling you the most relevant and most popular search terms. The same can be done for alternative search queries like Youtube and Amazon, ideal if you are an ecommerce business.

Google Search Query Suggestions

YouTube Search Query Suggestions

Amazon Search Query Suggestions

Something to keep in mind here, is that when entering within the search bar, as you begin to type, take a look at the keywords/terms that appear at the beginning of your search query.

Here you can see that the results vary differently simply by typing in “Travel” only.

Keyword Search using Google Search Query

Another great suggestion is to simply add a space before and after your search term, Google will often provide alternative suggestions.

In the case of “Travel destinations” I simply added a space before the search term resulting in the following keyword suggestions.

Add a space before your search term within Google's search query to see suggested results

Moreover, apart from this, you can also do an actual search your keyword topic within Google. Google will open a results page, known as a Search Engine Results Page or SERP for short. Within Google’s Search Engine Results Page, if you scroll down a bit, you will come across the “People also ask” section. This section is great for generating ideas and answers to some common questions related to your keyword. Write down the questions that you can best answer as this will be key for further search engine optimization.

Google SERP People Also Ask section

Now within that same Google SERP, scroll down to the bottom of the page and you will come across a section titled “Searches related to” and your keyword. You can use these suggestions to provide additional keywords. For the most part these keywords are going to relate to the initial typed in phrase within the search bar that your originally entered prior to submitting.

Google SERP Related Search Terms Section

Bonus! You can also click on one of those related searches and then scroll down to their suggestions. Rinse and repeat this process for more recommendations.

  1. Check for a mix of head, body and long-tail keywords

Now for getting an ideal keyword list, you need to create a mixed balance between head, body and long-tail keywords. Why is that you ask? Well, it is essential because head terms are usually searched more frequently and hence are more competitive. This makes them harder to rank for as compared to the long-tail phrases.

As a reminder, head keywords are single word phrases that tend to be generic while the long-tail words, on the other hand, are very specific. So when people are typing head keywords like “travel,” they might be looking for something that has nothing to do with your business, while someone who has searched for “travel bucket list 2019” is a specific customer who is looking for someone just like you.

So, balance is important.

  1. Check your competitors

Given that it’s a competitive market and you don’t need to copy your competition, but checking out how your competition is performing can offer you some key pointers. So what you need to do here is to check out how your competitors are performing on certain keywords. See what keywords they are ranking for within Google. Are they using some keywords that match your list?

Now, if there are some same keywords, then it definitely makes sense that you need to rank higher for those. And for the keywords that are unique in your list, do not change them. Because these unique keywords can be your key to own the market share for those terms.

Remember, a balance is important between the keywords that are common and those that are unique to your content.

Keyword Research Tools

Now that we have got a list of keywords, it’s time to finalize them with the help of some quantifiable data. There are a lot of tools out there that you can use for this purpose. But the ones I personally would recommend are as follows:

Its no surprise that Google Ads Keyword Planner is at the top of this list. By simply having a Google Ads account, you are able to tap into this free keyword research tool. Did I mention its FREE!

Google Ads Keyword Planner

“Keyword Planner is a free Google Ads tool for new or experienced advertisers that’s like a workshop for building new Search Network campaigns. You can use Keyword Planner to search for keywords and see how a list of keywords might perform. Keyword Planner can also help you choose competitive bids and budgets to use with your campaigns.” About Keyword Planner

Keyword Planner is ideal for both organic and paid search terms, however, it’s search metrics are primarily based on paid search results. You can get the traffic estimates and search volumes for keywords by simply entering the keywords from your list and then striking out those that have way too much or way too little search volume. But before deleting anything, one thing that you need to do is to check out the trend history and projections of those keywords in Google Trends. This will help you in deciding whether or not you want to invest in a keyword that has low search volume now but can reap benefits later, ideal for seasonally based search terms.

Also, for terms that have a balanced search volume, you can use the Google Trends, in order to determine which of those are trending upwards and thus are worth more of your focus.

Keyword Planner Keyword Research Search Results

Beyond simply just searching based on actual keywords, you also have the option to search competitive sites. Keyword Planner’s site search gives you the ability to generate keywords that a site ranks. This is a great way to peek under the hood of your competition and to identify keywords that resonate well with your business. When doing a site search, I would recommend filtering your options by page level as certain sites may yield a very broad spectrum of keywords that might take up a lot of time going through. Focus on the URL / page that ranked that that particular keyword and simply search the rest of the page for other like keywords/terms.

Google Ads Keyword Planner Site Search

So, this is how you can research keywords so that you can optimize your content according to the likeness of your potential customers. But remember to re-evaluate this list of keywords every once in a while (more like every quarter) to stay updated.

Ubersuggest

Ubersuggest Homepage

Yet another free tool that offers you a list of keyword suggestions from Google search suggestions and offers you data on each keyword, including its CPC, search volume, trend, and keyword difficulty. “Ubersuggest helps you generate keyword ideas for your content marketing strategy and production. With Ubersuggest’s free keyword tool, generate an unlimited number of suggestions for free and take your content creation to the next level while increasing your website’s chances of ranking against the competition.”

 

Keywords Everywhere

This keyword research tool is a popular one and is easy to use too. All you need to operate it is to install the Chrome extension. Now available on Firefox too! A once free tool, now requires a credit based payment plan, but don’t let that discourage you from using it. In fact, because of its ease of use, this tool is often the first tool I use when performing keyword research. The reason being is its built in Google interface.

Remember how we started our keyword research by typing in Google search. With Keywords Everywhere, that search becomes hyper indexed and the chrome extension adds additional search results fields to your keyword research. Now you are able to see keyword volume, CPC and competition rating right within your Google SERP. Located along the right side of the search results, you will now find Keywords Everywhere “Related Keywords” and “People Also Search For” results. And the bonus here is that the keyword suggestions that this tool offers are not just from Chrome but from different places around the web. Think of Youtube, Google Analytics, and Bing.

Keywords Everywhere Search Results

 

SEMrush

SEMrush is tool of choice when keyword research becomes your primary goal. Built for advanced users, this keyword research tool is only a small component of what SEMrush is capable of. This application is geared towards SEO specialists, but is easy enough to use that anyone looking to gain better insight into their competitors or even their own website can easily get the information they are looking for. Much like the other tools mentioned above in the article, SEMrush provides keyword reports based on both organic and paid efforts as well as backlinks, traffic analytics and content suggestions.

SEMrush Keyword Research Tool

Much like Google Ads Keyword Planner, the best way to go about doing keyword research within SEMrush is by simply typing in your competitors URL. Use detailed competitive analysis reports to see how your competitors rank for certain keywords. Take it a step further by comparing your competitors against one another to see which competitors outperform the others across various search terms.

Lastly, unlike any of the other tools I have outlined thus far, SEMrush is the tool of choice to track and monitor your own websites keyword ranking. See what keywords your site is ranking for and receive optimization and content suggestions from SEMrush on how to rank higher in Google.

SEMrush

Also, remember those competitors you were comparing, stack them up against your site and start identifying keywords that you will be targeting to get ahead of the competition and track how these rankings compare over time.

Though these tools are powerful and ideal for doing quality keyword research, I would be remiss to not also mention that the tools are only as good as the person using them. I think it is important to understand how to quantify and qualify good keywords.

What are the Factors that Decide the Keyword Strength?

There are many factors that are taken into consideration while deciding whether a keyword is fit to be used or not. These factors include:

Search Volume

Search volume represents the number of people who search for that specific keyword. Often this number is displayed in volume per month. So, the greater the search volume, the more the traffic that you can generate from it. But neither too high nor too low search volume is ideal for use. So what is the good number you ask? Well, that differs from industry to industry. You will have to figure out what that number is for your niche.

Organic Click-Through Rate

Presently Google displays the search results with featured snippets and way too many ads. So a lot of times, people don’t reach the organic results. That is why only checking the search volume is not enough; you also want to know the estimated organic click-through-rates (CTR). Now you can do this in two ways.

The first way, enter your keyword in the search results and then check the results. If the sites displayed on the page have snippets and multiple ads, then that means you will not get many clicks on it.

Another way is to check the CTR through tools like Ahrefs or Moz.

Keyword Trend

This basically shows if your keyword is moving up or going down at a certain point. Sometimes you might want to use keywords that have a low search volume now but which can reap you benefits in the future. You will often see keywords that are related to seasonal trends have the most drastic keyword trends over the course of a year.

Difficulty Level

While deciding on the keywords that you want to focus on, considering their difficulty level is important. As we have talked earlier, head terms are usually very generic and have high competition levels, however, long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are very specific as they consist of more words and thus have low competition levels. Now once you have decided on a mix of head terms and long-tail keywords that you want to go with, you can check their difficulty level too.

For this, you can simply enter these keywords in the Google search engine. Now, if the sites displayed on the first page consist of Uber authority sites (like Wikipedia), then you might want to strike those keywords off. However, if the results displayed consist of a few small bloggers that shows you that have a shot at it!

Another way of checking the competition level of the keywords is with the help of various tools that we talked about earlier. Keyword Planner, Keywords Everywhere and SEMrush to name a few. All of these tools have some sort of keyword competition feature. This way, you can get an idea of whether or not the keyword is suitable for use.

CPC

Cost-per-click basically tells you if the people, who are searching for this keyword, actually spend money or not. Sometimes even if the search volume of a particular keyword is not good, it can get high CPC, which makes using it a good choice.

Summary

Keyword research is the starting point for any good Search Engine Optimization and content marketing strategy. Outlining your site structure and creating your content with keywords in mind, means you are much more likely to show up in search. And showing up in search, is the best way to get more traffic to your site. Take some time now to identify those main topics / keywords that relate to your business and then start using the tools and processes outlined in this article to identify keywords that you can start targeting and ranking for today! When keyword research is done properly, you will attract free, organic traffic that is searching for your products and services.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Angel Flores

Angel Flores

Angel Flores is a digital strategist, marketing evangelist and serial entrepreneur with over 10 years of hands-on experience in SEO, PPC, marketing analytics, brand and campaign strategy, lead generation, and CRO. Having built his first website at age 12, Angel has gone on to build and manage over 100 different websites for various startups, agencies, e-commerce, SaaS, healthcare and international brands. He has had the honor to work with such brands like Microsoft, Workfront, Kodak, Edison Energy, Chuao Chocolatier and many more.

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