How to Perform Keyword Research for SEO

Date: October 10, 2019

Love it or hate it, keyword research is a critical step in the content creation process and a necessary component to any successful content strategy.

Hands pointing at different components of keyword research on a whiteboard

Keyword research is a central SEO practice and the first step in the content creation process. Before writing content for your website, blog, or inbound marketing materials, you need to focus less on what you think will resonate with your target audience and instead base your content on the search terms they are actually typing into the search engines. 

Researching keywords will not only help you figure out what to rank for, but it will also give you better insight into how high the demand is for specific terms and how difficult it would be to compete for those words and phrases in the organic search results.

That said, uncovering and using keywords that perfectly align with a user’s search is no longer the be-all-end-all SEO ranking factor. What matters more is the user’s intent behind using those particular terms, and whether or not your content adequately addresses that intent. So, does this mean that keyword research isn’t a relevant process anymore? No, and this is why.

What is the difference between keywords and search intent?

Keyword research provides insight into the topics that matter most to users and how popular those topics are to your particular audience. Therefore, the keywords that get the most search volume per month should inform your content topics. From there, you can use those topics to decipher which keywords you look for and try to target.

So, how do you come up with and hone in on a solid list of terms to target within your search engine marketing strategy?

5 Steps to research keywords for your SEO strategy

Think about your mission and devise topic groups

Before getting started, think about your company mission. Who are you? What differentiates you? Whom are you hoping to reach? A solid understanding of who you are as a company is crucial for a sound keyword strategy. 

From there, think about your buyer personas and try to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself what topics you’d want them to use to find your business online. Plug those topics into an SEO tool and check their monthly search volume to assess how important they are to your target audience.

After this exercise, you should have between 5 to 10 topic groups that are important to your company, and you can use these categories to help uncover specific keywords down the line.

Find keywords for each topic group

Now that you’ve devised your topic groups, it’s time to add keywords to each one. To do this, spend time with each category and brainstorm the keywords, phrases, and questions that you think people may search related to each topic. You can even research related terms by going to Google and looking at the related search terms that emerge at the bottom of the search results for a keyword or phrase. 

Remember, this exercise won’t result in your final list of keywords, just an initial list of phrases and words that you think people may use to search for content related to your topic categories. 

Ensure a good mix of keywords and long-tail keywords 

Before discussing the proper balance between primary keywords and long-tail keywords, let’s take a look at the difference between the two.

  • Keywords are words and phrases that are generally pretty generic and only up to 3 words long. 
  • Long-tail keywords are phrases that are much more specific in nature and contain 3 or more words. Compared to keywords, which tend to target mass audiences, long-tail keywords are designed to target niche demographics. 

While keywords generally provide the highest level of search volume, your long-tail keywords will attract more qualified traffic. Make sure your keyword strategy includes a good mix of primary keywords and long-tail keywords to effectively marry the low-hanging fruit with your more long-term goals.

Peek at your competitors 

Understanding what your competitors are ranking for is a great way to assess your list of keywords. Sure, it’s a good idea to try and rank for the keywords that your competitors are ranking well for, but it’s also smart to capitalize on the keywords that your competitors don’t seem to care about. You can use tools like SEMrush to run free reports on the highest-ranking keywords for any domain that you choose. 

Pair it down

Now that you have a nice, robust list of keywords and long-tail keywords, it’s time to pair it down. To do this, you can use Google AdWords Keyword Planner and Google Trends. Keyword Planner will show you the search volume for the keywords you’re considering and help identify those with too much or too little volume to be worthwhile. If you’re hesitant to discard anything based on your Keyword Planner findings, use Google Trends to see which of those keywords have the potential to trend upward in the future. 

That’s it! After following these steps, you’ll have identified the right topics for your company, along with the right mix of keywords and long-tail keywords to help achieve your short-term and long-term goals. Just remember to re-evaluate your keywords every few months to see which ones are working for you and which ones need to be reworked. 

Enjoy your view from the top of the SERPS! 

Need help devising your keyword strategy? Let us help you.