Keyword research is one of the basic SEO tasks. In this chapter, you will learn how to find your niche and how to find profitable keywords you can rank for.
The power of keyword research lies in better understanding your target market and how they are searching for your content, services, or products.
Keyword research provides you with specific search data that can help you answer questions like:
- What are people searching for?
- How many people are searching for it?
- In what format do they want that information?
Before keyword research, ask questions
Before you can help a business grow through search engine optimization, you first have to understand who they are, who their customers are, and their goals.
This is where corners are often cut. Too many people bypass this crucial planning step because keyword research takes time, and why spend the time when you already know what you want to rank for?
The answer is that what you want to rank for and what your audience actually wants are often two wildly different things. Focusing on your audience and then using keyword data to hone those insights will make for much more successful campaigns than focusing on arbitrary keywords.
Here’s an example. Frankie & Jo’s (a Seattle-based vegan, gluten-free ice cream shop) has heard about SEO and wants help improving how and how often they show up in organic search results. In order to help them, you need to first understand a little more about their customers. To do so, you might ask questions such as:
- What types of ice cream, desserts, snacks, etc. are people searching for?
- Who is searching for these terms?
- When are people searching for ice cream, snacks, desserts, etc.?
- Are there seasonality trends throughout the year?
- How are people searching for ice cream?
- What words do they use?
- What questions do they ask?
- Are more searches performed on mobile devices?
- Why are people seeking ice cream?
- Are individuals looking for health-conscious ice cream specifically or just looking to satisfy a sweet tooth?
- Where are potential customers located — locally, nationally, or internationally?
And finally — here’s the kicker — how can you help provide the best content about ice cream to cultivate a community and fulfill what all those people are searching for? Asking these questions is a crucial planning step that will guide your keyword research and help you craft better content.
What’s that word mean?
Remember, if you’re stumped by any of the terms used in this chapter, our SEO glossary is here to help!
What terms are people searching for?
You may have a way of describing what you do, but how does your audience search for the product, service, or information you provide? Answering this question is a crucial first step in the keyword research process.
You likely have a few keywords in mind that you would like to rank for. These will be things like your products, services, or other topics your website addresses, and they are great seed keywords for your research, so start there! You can enter those keywords into a keyword research tool to discover average monthly search volume and similar keywords. We’ll get into search volume in greater depth in the next section, but during the discovery phase, it can help you determine which variations of your keywords are most popular amongst searchers.
Once you enter in your seed keywords into a keyword research tool, you will begin to discover other keywords, common questions, and topics for your content that you might have otherwise missed.
Let’s use the example of a florist that specializes in weddings.
Typing “wedding” and “florist” into a keyword research tool, you may discover highly relevant, highly searched for related terms such as:
- Wedding bouquets
- Bridal flowers
- Wedding flower shop
In the process of discovering relevant keywords for your content, you will likely notice that the search volume of those keywords varies greatly. While you definitely want to target terms that your audience is searching for, in some cases, it may be more advantageous to target terms with lower search volume because they’re far less competitive.
Since both high- and low-competition keywords can be advantageous for your website, learning more about search volume can help you prioritize keywords and pick the ones that will give your website the biggest strategic advantage.
Understanding the long tail
It would be great to rank #1 for the keyword or would it?
It’s wonderful to deal with keywords that have 50,000 searches a month, or even 5,000 searches a month, but in reality, these popular search terms only make up a fraction of all searches performed on the web. In fact, keywords with very high search volumes may even indicate ambiguous intent, which, if you target these terms, it could put you at risk for drawing visitors to your site whose goals don’t match the content your page provides.
Keywords by competitor
You’ll likely compile a lot of keywords. How do you know which to tackle first? It could be a good idea to prioritize high-volume keywords that your competitors are not currently ranking for. On the flip side, you could also see which keywords from your list your competitors are already ranking for and prioritize those. The former is great when you want to take advantage of your competitors’ missed opportunities, while the latter is an aggressive strategy that sets you up to compete for keywords your competitors are already performing well for.
Keywords by season
Knowing about seasonal trends can be advantageous in setting a content strategy. For example, if you know that “christmas box” starts to spike in October through December in the United Kingdom, you can prepare content months in advance and give it a big push around those months.
Keywords by region
You can more strategically target a specific location by narrowing down your keyword research to specific towns, counties, or states in the Google Keyword Planner, or evaluate “interest by subregion” in Google Trends. Geo-specific research can help make your content more relevant to your target audience. For example, you might find out that in Texas, the preferred term for a large truck is “big rig,” while in New York, “tractor trailer” is the preferred terminology.
Tools for determining the value of a keyword
How much value would a keyword add to your website? These tools can help you answer that question, so they’d make great additions to your keyword research arsenal:
- Moz Keyword Explorer – Input a keyword in Keyword Explorer and get information like monthly search volume and SERP features (like local packs or featured snippets) that are ranking for that term. The tool extracts accurate search volume data by using live clickstream data. To learn more about how we’re producing our keyword data, check out Announcing Keyword Explorer.
- Bonus! Keyword Explorer’s “Difficulty” score can also help you narrow down your keyword options to the phrases you have the best shot at ranking for. The higher a keyword’s score, the more difficult it would be to rank for that term. More about Keyword Difficulty.
- Google Keyword Planner – Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner has historically been the most common starting point for SEO keyword research. However, Keyword Planner does restrict search volume data by lumping keywords together into large search volume range buckets. To learn more, check out Google Keyword Planner’s Dirty Secrets.
- Google Trends – Google’s keyword trend tool is great for finding seasonal keyword fluctuations. For example, “funny halloween costume ideas” will peak in the weeks before Halloween.
- AnswerThePublic – This free tool populates commonly searched for questions around a specific keyword. Bonus! You can use this tool in tandem with another free tool, Keywords Everywhere, to prioritize ATP’s suggestions by search volume.
- SpyFu Keyword Research Tool – Provides some really neat competitive keyword data.
Once you find keywords you want to rank for, you’ll need to find out how hard it will be by evaluating the competition. It is usually expressed with the metric called keyword difficulty.
In most tools, the keyword difficulty value is indicated on a scale from 0 to 100. The higher the score is, the harder it is to rank on the 1st SERP for the keyword.
It is based on the authority of pages ranking for the given keyword.
By keeping an eye on keyword difficulty:
- You’ll get a great overview of what are the “big” keywords and “big” players in your niche
- You’ll be able to identify keywords that you have an actual chance to rank for
- You’ll be able to save a lot of time by focusing on keywords that can bring you results even if you don’t have much authority yet
The keyword difficulty values may vary in different tools – you can see a score 30 in one tool and 50 in another one for exactly the same keyword.
That’s because the calculations are based on slightly different metrics and algorithms. The important thing is to compare the results within one tool.
Last but not least, your keyword must be relevant. The easiest way is to do a proper SERP analysis to find out:
- Whether you are able to compete with websites in the 1st SERP (see the previous part about keyword difficulty)
- What is the search intent behind the keywords you want to optimize for
By looking at the SERP you can identify what’s the search intent behind the query and whether it matches your content.
There are 4 different search intent types:
- Navigational – search for a specific website/brand
- Informational – search for general information
- Transactional – the user wants to buy something online
- Commercial – the user does the research before purchase