Keyword research is one Google ranking factor that has remained quite consistent throughout the years of evolving SEO. The importance of good keyword research could mean the difference between someone finding your website and your website staying on the second, third, or fourth page of Google eternally.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the process of finding which words are commonly used in a business, industry, or topic, with the goal of using those words in the content on your website to help drive traffic and bring the reader more value. Researching keywords can illuminate new topics to discuss, the difficulty level of ranking for specific keywords, and may even help you understand why your page isn’t ranking higher on Google.
In this article, we’ll discuss what keywords are, why you should do keyword research, how to conduct keyword research for your website, and how to implement it. We’ll also try to answer common questions about keyword research so you can be best prepared to do it for your website.
What are keywords exactly?
Keywords are singular words, short groups of words (short-tail keywords), or longer groups of several words (long-tail keywords). In the context of websites, digital marketing, and content marketing, keywords are part of what drives traffic to a page.
Why should you do keyword research in the first place?
Without understanding the importance of the proper usage of keywords, you’re taking a gamble on whether or not your new website or piece of content will be found by who you intend to find it. By taking the time to do keyword research correctly, you’ll be able to discover new emerging topics in your industry, keywords that could bring you tons of new traffic, and bring more value to your target audience than your competitors.
How to identify good keywords
Search intent and relevance
When conducting keyword research, it’s important to keep in mind the intent of your content and the intent of the keyword you’re going to use in the content. For example, let’s say you have an eye care clinic (our favorite is Claris Eye Surgery & LASIK by the way 😎). Of course, you’re going to want local customers to find your clinic, so you start researching keywords related to “eye care clinic” on a keyword research tool.
You see that the keyword “eye care clinic near me” has a lot of search volume at 5000 searches per month. It also has a low keyword difficulty (more on this later) making it easier to rank for. So you should use this keyword in your content then, right? Not quite…
While the intent behind the search may be there, this keyword isn’t relevant. The main reason is that the keyword is not geo-specific. Meaning, that anyone from all over the country could be typing this word into Google searching for a local eye care clinic. So if you try to rank for this word, you might actually get onto page one!
But the problem with using this keyword is that you will end up ranking higher on Google searches in areas where this term is irrelevant. Instead, you should use geo-specific keywords such as “eye care clinic in insert city here”. Let’s give another example.
Let’s imagine again you’re an eye care expert and you want to grow your organic traffic online to help increase brand awareness. You decide you want to write a page specifically about LASIK aiming to educate people about the topic.
You wouldn’t actually want to use LASIK as your focus keyword. At the time of writing this, the term “LASIK” gets 62,000 monthly searches per month in the United States alone. It also has a difficulty rating of 79/100, making it “Super Hard” to rank for according to Ahrefs Keyword Explorer tool.
Topics as broad as “LASIK” have been covered by scientists, experts, universities, labs, and departments of the government, making something this vague impossible to rank for. So writing content this broad is not off the table. But don’t expect it to rank and get you organic traffic.
Websites and organizations are going to dominate the top results for topics this general. Instead, you could target questions like “Does LASIK hurt?” which gets 2.1k monthly searches in the United States and has a ranking difficulty of 2/100 making it a very easy keyword to rank for.
By targeting keywords with low ranking difficulty and decent monthly search volume, you could help those 2,100 people searching for an answer each month by writing a blog that directly answers this question. The more in-depth the better, and the more value you bring to the table when answering the question, the more likely you are to rank. That is the power of keyword intent!
Keyword difficulty is the level of difficulty to rank a keyword out of 100 based on:
- The number of referring backlinks to the top 10 pieces of content on the Google search results page for that keyword
- The authority and age of the domain the content is on (more backlinks from other sites equals more authority)
- The amount of competition currently out there trying to rank for the same word
Keyword difficulty is generated by keyword research tools such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, and more, which evaluate all of these factors together to calculate a difficulty number out of 100. These tools will also assign Domain Authority (DA) rankings to all websites based on the authoritativeness of their content, and the number of backlinks on the internet pointing to that given website. DA is an indicator of which keywords you can realistically rank for.
DA is out of 100 and generally is close to the number of keyword difficulty you can expect to rank for on your website. So if your DA is 34, you can try to realistically rank for keywords from 1-34 by making high-quality content for them. Calculate your DA by entering your URL into a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush.
The more the merrier. When analyzing keywords in keyword research tools, you’ll get various pieces of information including global search volume, and monthly search volume in your country. Higher volume keywords tend to be more difficult to rank for, but that’s not always the case.
You might get lucky while researching content ideas and find a keyword that is very easy to rank for that also has a lot of search volume. This is what we’re looking for. The more volume the keyword has, the more chances you have to get someone landing on your page for that search each month. The lower the keyword difficulty, the easier it will be to rank.
How to do keyword research effectively
List out overarching topics that are related to your business
To begin your keyword research expedition properly, you’ll want to gather all the resources you can to help you generate ideas for broad topics that are discussed in your industry or business. We’ll use eye care as an example again:
- Eye surgery
- Laser-assisted cataract surgery
- Lifestyle lens
- Optiwave Refractive Analysis System
This is a short list of broad topics that can be researched further using tools to find subtopics and long-tail keywords to potentially rank for.
Search for long-tail or short-tail keywords
Using keyword research tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and even Google search is the next step. Take each of your broad topics and input them into the keyword research tools. You’re going to get hundreds if not thousands of related keywords containing the main keyword you entered. Each one is going to have a monthly search volume, difficulty, related questions category, and related keywords category.
Next, you’ll want to comb through these by filtering for realistic keyword difficulty. Add relevant keywords that meet your ideal keyword difficulty to a new keyword list in the tool, and move on to your next topic.
In addition to traditional keyword research tools aforementioned above, one of the best FREE keyword research tools out there is Google search. By taking your broad topics and new keyword ideas and inputting them into Google, you’re going to see two things. First, you’ll see suggested searches in the dropdown on the search bar.
Next, once doing the search you’ll see “People also ask”. Using the information and suggestions from both of these is going to do two things. 1. Give you more content ideas. 2. Give you potential ideas for unanswered questions on Google. Use both of these to your advantage to expand upon your keyword research and make it even more valuable.
Look for related subtopics and terms
After filtering through your initial list of broad topics, you’re going to get back tons of related subtopics and terms. These are going to be great ideas for content, so make sure you document them somewhere. Keyword research tools like Ahrefs have keyword list managers which make this process 100x easier.
Repeat the previous step, and comb through these subtopics to find keywords in Ahrefs with high search volume and low keyword difficulty. Take those same keywords and input them into Google. Using the suggested searches and the “People also ask” section on Google, you’ll get even more great suggested questions to answer related to your subtopic keywords. The possibilities are endless!
Use a keyword research tool to vet your potential keywords
Again, you’ll want to double-check that the keywords you’re going to make content for are realistically rankable on Google. That means high search volume (200+ is ideal) and low keyword difficulty.
Remember the different types of content
When creating content it’s important to remember the different types of content you can create and the intention behind it. A few examples of content types are:
- Service pages
- Really long lists
- Unique stories
- Case studies
- Best ______ product
- How-to guides
- News and current events
- Problems and solutions
- Myth vs. fact
Keep these in mind when you decide what direction you’re going to go for your new page. This list should help you stay focused and the topic at hand and make the content creation process much easier.
Start making content
Creating your content is the next step in the process. This is probably the most time-consuming part, but also the most rewarding. This is where you see the fruits of your labor come to life. And if you’re lucky, within a few weeks or a few months, your new page could be ranking on the front page of Google.
It’s important to know how to create content that will serve search engines as well as humans. We’ve actually put together a comprehensive guide on doing content marketing right to make this process a walk in the park.
You can’t neglect this part. Creating content that ranks is somewhat technical and omitting certain details can lead to subpar results. Good content should abide by the following guidelines:
- Structure headers and subheaders correctly
- Write quality headers
- Write and optimize meta titles and descriptions
- Include your focus keyword throughout the content organically
- Include internal and outbound links
- Use schema markup when appropriate
- Put important content at the top
- Be comprehensive
- Check your spelling, punctuation, and grammar
- Break up your content with visual elements
- Keep your goals in mind
- Don’t be repetitive
- Don’t have duplicate content anywhere
- Avoid being overly-self serving
- Return later to make updates
Yes, this is a lot. But doing content the right way takes time. Investing that time is ultimately what will get you long-term results when readers start to see you as an authority on your subject.
Keyword research FAQs
How do I do keyword research for free?
There are several ways to do keyword research for free. A lot of keyword research tools have free versions of their software that offer limited results for keyword queries. Some of these include:
- Keyword Surfer
- Google Question Hub
- Google search console
- Google Keywords Planner
- Google Trends
- Keywords Everywhere Chrome Extension
How do you do keyword research for a local business?
Doing keyword research for a local business is similar to doing it for a national one. The only main difference is, you need to consider geography and the ideal target audience. If your business operates in various cities, counties, or states, you need to include those locations specifically in your content. This includes:
- Meta titles
- Meta descriptions
- Page H1 title header
- Main body content
- URL (when appropriate)
In addition to including the location in the content, you want to use keyword research tools to find any long tail keywords including your service area and the location you’re targeting. You can find these by typing your target keyword for the service into the keyword research tool and looking for your geographical locations in the results.
Finally, you’ll want to create dedicated landing pages for different cities, states, or counties for your business. Smaller is more ideal here. People generally search for a service in their area plus their city name.
Each city landing page you create should be clearly linked on your website somewhere, whether in the main navigation, or a footer menu on the contact page for example. Additionally, each city page should also have unique content and not mirror exactly what has been said on any other page of your website. This will prevent Google ranking penalties for duplicate content.
Google Business Profile
You should always use the Google Business Profile to help you get more local traffic. One of Google’s ranking factors for local businesses is “keywords used in Google reviews.” Meaning, the more Google reviews you get using your ideal keyword in them, the higher you’ll rank locally on Google searches.
How do you do keyword research for a new website?
Doing keyword research for a new website is similar to doing it for an established one. When researching keywords for a new website you want to make sure to only use keywords in a realistic range of keyword difficulty. Generally, 5 and below is realistic for ranking a new website’s content on the first page of Google.
Now that you know the importance of keywords and keyword research, you can use the tools available to you to get the job done right. Keyword research is more than just guessing keywords and putting them on a page. It must be done with intention and an in-depth investigation. Additionally, structuring your content is half the battle. Without properly structured content, your page may still fail to compete with other pages for the front spot on Google.