How to do Keyword Research
Let’s start with the basics:
What is Keyword Research
Keyword research is the process of determining which keywords you should use to rank well. This consists of figuring out the words people type in to Google and consequently what words you need to use.
In this post, I’m going to share the process I’ve been using for years to create comprehensive keyword strategies that work.
Starting Keyword Research With Seed Keywords
The easiest place to start your keyword research is often by creating a list of terms that are either products (or services) that you sell or otherwise important to your brand. The goal is to come up with lists of terms that your customers are searching for on Google.
With an ecommerce site, this is pretty easy – you can start by exporting a list of all your product categories. If your site isn’t live yet, you can also look at your competitors’ product categories.
If you’re selling software or a service, write down terms that best reflect your offering.
Now that you have a list of seed keywords, we’re going to put these seed keywords into a keyword research tool. I’ve used most of the major keyword research tools out there and prefer SEMrush (aff link) and use it on a daily basis. They have a huge keyword database, provide solid keyword data, and allow for large data exports at a reasonable price. Other great tools that you can use for keyword research are ahrefs keyword research tool and moz keyword explorer. Since I use SEMrush most frequently, that is what I’ll use through this post.
In SEMrush, either type your keyword into the search bar at the top or navigate to the “overview” section of “keyword analytics” in the sidebar menu.
This will give you a report showing you a good amount of data about the keyword you entered. We want go to the phrase match keyword report.
This phrase match keyword report will give us a report of all the keywords which contain our seed keyword, or are very closely related to our seed keyword. We want to export this report using the export button at the top right of our table.
We will then want to repeat this process for each keyword in our seedlist.
If you want to narrow down the phrase match report to reduce the data you’ll comb through manually later, you can use the advanced filters in SEMrush to exclude specific keywords. This can help remove keywords that you don’t care about so that you can focus on the keywords that are going to move the needle for you.
How to Find Your Competitors Keywords
The other approach you can take to for keyword research is to find which keywords your competitors are ranking for. Again, SEMrush is a great tool for this; as is Moz and Ahrefs.
Instead of going to the keyword analytics section of SEMrush, we’ll use the “organic research” (under “domain analytics”) section of SEMrush. To start either type in your competitor’s site into the search bar or navigate to the organic research section of SEMrush.
After entering your competitor’s site, you’ll go to the organic research report. You’ll want to click through to the positions report to see the keywords your competitor is ranking for.
Once you’re on the positions report, you’ll want to export the keywords they are ranking for. Then you’ll repeat this for each of your competitors to see all of the keywords your competitors are targeting.
As with searching through the phrase match keyword data, you’ll probably want to filter this data to reduce the amount of irrelevant data you have to sift through. Typically I’ll filter out:
- Branded terms
- Terms associated with product detail pages – typically these aren’t that useful and just provide more data to sift through (note this is a URL based filter, not a keyword based filter)
- Any major categories you do not carry
*note: the house doesn’t actually have product detail pages that follow this pattern, this is a hypothetical to illustrate the concept.
How to Find Long Tail Keywords
Most keyword research tends to focus on head terms, keywords with thousands of searches a month, but there is huge aggregate volume in the long tail. Long tail search terms are keywords which might only be searched by a few people a day, but in aggregate these searches constitute a huge chunk of search volume. It’s estimated that 70% of all searches can be classified as long tail searches. According to Google, 15% of all searches have never been searched before.
Additionally, I’ve also seen that as long as there is commercial intent (more on this later) associated with the keyword, long tail keywords convert much better than head terms. They tend to be more specific and focused than their broader counterparts which means you have more inclination as to what the searcher wants to see when they land on your page.
If you want to find long tail keywords related to a primary keyword, Google is a great source for discovering these queries. Enter your main keyword and look for the “people also ask” and “searches related to” boxes. These provide great long tail keyword suggestions that Google thinks are highly related to your main search term.
If you have a large site and want to find long tail keywords in scale, a tool will be much more helpful than manually checking search results. While SEMrush, Moz, and Ahrefs can all provide long tail keywords (filter your keywords for volume < 100), I have had the most success finding long tail keywords with keywordtool.io. The free version of the tool will give you long tail keyword ideas but you have to sign up for the paid version.
Merging Our Lists
Now that we have several keyword lists (seed keywords, competitive keywords, long tail), we can merge them into a single list – or multiple lists. You might want to create different lists for different parts of your website. Creating multiple lists is beneficial when you have a significant amount of data; if you have a smaller site, a single list is probably fine.
Here is the template that I use when consolidating keywords lists from SEMrush.
A couple notes here:
- I start with a raw merge list and then copy everything but the keyword competition to a clean merge list. This is because depending on the day that SEMrush scrapes the data, the competition can be slightly off and cause duplicate keywords. Once you copy your list into the merge clean tab, de-dupe the file (excel, sheets). Then use the vlookup formula to pull in keyword difficulty.
- Depending on your data sources (domain positions, phrase match, different tools, etc), you will have different columns. Be careful when merging lists
Creating Topics from Keywords
Now that we have organized lists, we need to review them and turn them into a usable format that isn’t so overwhelming. While keywords are fundamental to SEO, Google is really looking to understand topics – not single keywords.
A high level example of this are the searches “how to buy a snowboard” and “snowboard buying guide”. When people search for these different keyword phrases, they are really looking for content on the same subject, which means Google needs to understand which words are related.
We can see that Google is pretty good at understanding these two keyword phrases are related by looking at the search results for these queries. Google shows 6 of the same search results in both SERPs and 3 of the exact related searches at the bottom of the page.
When we are doing keyword research, we want to find closely related keywords that we can group together in buckets or “topics”. Basically, topics are made up of closely related keywords. To understand whether topics are closely related, the best tool we can use is Google itself. By looking at the search results and seeing how similar they are, we can identify closely related keywords to group into topics.
Each topic should consist of a set of keywords, with a primary keyword, synonyms, variations, and related keyword phrases. Here is the template I use to organize SEMrush data into topics:
Each topic, and all of the related keywords, should be mapped to a target page. In some platforms, this is called the preferred landing page (PLP). It is important to map out topics and keywords to target pages in order to make sure you’re not targeting the same topic and keywords on multiple pages which can:
- Create internal competition causing Google to rank the wrong page
- Be seen as spammy if it gets out of hand
Keyword Intent: Which Keywords Will Make You the Most Money
Now that we’ve identified our keywords, grouped them into topics and mapped them to existing or new URLs, the next step is to determine what the user’s intent associated with a topic. This is helpful for us to understand both what keywords we should focus on and what the content should look like.
There are two components to topic intent:
- Satisfying user intent
- Mapping topics to purchase intent
Satisfying user intent
The most important part of topic intent is understanding what the user wants when they search for a topic. This is critical because if we don’t help the user in their search they’re going to bounce and it will be impossible to get your content to rank.
How to determine the intent of a keyword
A keyword can mean different things to different people – the good news is that Google has so much data that we can rely on them to understand the intent of a keyword. If we are trying to figure out what a user wants when they search for any given keyword, we can see what is already ranking.
If a result is not what a user wants, they will bounce back to google or start a new search pretty quickly. When this happens often, Google can pretty easily identify if a page is a good fit for a specific keyword.
If we want to understand the intent of a keyword or topic, we just have to Google that keyword and analyze the results. Typically the majority of results will point to a common theme (ex: shopping, information, entertainment, etc). We can use this understanding keyword intent to make sure that we’re targeting the right keywords and properly craft our content.
In some cases, there is mixed intent. This is usually when a keyword is relatively broad or can have multiple meanings. This search for “wakeboard” shows mixed intent through the different features shown on the SERP. While most of the SERP is decision / ecom focused, Google is also showing topical interest features due to the broadness of the keyword.
The path of least resistance to ranking well is to go with the flow and make sure your content matches the intent Google already associates with a keyword.
Mapping topics to purchase intent
Once we have identified an intent for our topics, the next step is to match them to your marketing funnel. The specific funnel doesn’t matter that much. You can use a classic model like AIDI; I generally use Inspiration > Solutions > Purchase > Retention. While it is less conventional, I think it maps well to the searchers journey.
While mapping out your topics to intent isn’t critical, it is useful in:
- Understanding the purpose of your content and the goals you should use to determine success
- Help show skeptical stakeholders how content fits into the purchase journey
- Prioritizing your content efforts – starting with the content lower in the funnel often generates more revenue that higher funnel content though there is often less search volume around these queries.
It is important to realize that the user’s search journey is non-linear (like our funnel) and the user can hop on and off at any point. To illustrate this, below is my search path for trying to learn about travel trailers.
- Travel trailer buying guide
- 2011 Gmc yukon towing capacity
- Best ultralight travel trailers
- Used ultralight trailers
- Classes of travel trailers
- Bumper travel trailers (images)
- Buy used travel trailer
- Sky river rv
- Keystone trailers
- Forest river trailers
- Jayco trailers
- Best entry level travel trailers
- site:www.rvforum.net/ best ultra light
That’s it. This is the process I use for keyword research and to create content plans. If you liked this post, you might enjoy my post on keyword opportunities. Leave a comment if you have questions. If you don’t have a great keyword research tool yet, you can sign up for a free trial of SEMrush (while it is an affiliate link, I do pay for it every month). If you do sign up for the trial and don’t want to pay for it, remember to cancel before the subscription starts.
How to do keyword research:
- Make a list of keywords that are relevant to your brand and product and use tools to identify related keywords
- Use a tool like SEMrush to discover what keywords your competitors rank for
- Creates topics, or groups of closely related keywords, and assign them to specific pages on your site
- Determine the intent and funnel position associated with each topic