Want to know how to do keyword research?
Watch the video now or read the article below.
Note: There are a lot of ways to do SEO keyword research. There are almost 100 keyword research tools, many different methods and some people spend much more time than others. In this article, we cover some great stuff. I recommend you read it, digest it and then find the best way to do SEO keyword research that works for you.
So you want to rank a web page? Okay, but keep in mind that you don’t just “rank” a page.
You have to rank it for a specific keyword.
Then, when people use a search engine to retrieve information based on that keyword, they’ll find your site sitting pretty towards the very top of the search engine results pages (SERPs).
That’s why any great content marketing and SEO effort doesn’t begin with an author typing out an article that’s relevant to a specific niche. It begins with SEO keyword research.
So how should you research keywords for SEO? What kinds of keywords should you look for? Where you should you begin?
Those are all great questions. Read on for the answers.
Keyword Research and Market Research
As with so many other marketing initiatives, keyword research begins with market research.
The good news is that you’ve probably already done much of the market research necessary for keyword research. That’s because it’s really the same thing as the market research you included in your business plan.
The important thing here is that you do not begin keyword research with a keyword research tool, like the Google Keyword Planner. If you do that, you’re putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
Why? Because you first have to understand the type of people in your target market and what they want before you’ll know what kinds of keywords they use when they’re searching for information related to your industry.
- For starters, identify the people in your target market. That includes describing them based on their demographics and interests.
- Next, segment your market by splitting it up into smaller sub-groups based on different needs, demographics, and interests.
Why do you need to segment your market? Because different people within your target market might search for different keywords.
For example, if you run an e-commerce site that sells blue jeans, young women are more likely to search for “boyfriend jeans” than men of any age.
Watch a video on category optimization.
Once you’ve segmented your market based on interests, it’s time to further segment your market based on their intent to buy.
Some people might just be “tire-kickers.” They’re not convinced they need to buy anything yet, but they’re browsing around and looking for options.
Other people are looking to make a purchase right away.
As a rule of thumb, your goal is to build brand-name awareness among the tire-kickers and move in for the quick close among people who are searching with an intent to buy.
The point here is that you’ll likely use different keywords to “reel in” people in either category.
People who are just browsing tend to use keywords that include the following:
- Top 10
On the other hand, people who are looking to make a purchase tend to use these keywords:
So, if you’re selling blue jeans online, then someone who Googles for “Top 10 Blue Jeans” might be a tire-kicker. However, someone who Googles for “Buy Blue Jeans” is probably ready to make a purchase.
Now, use 3×5 cards, Powerpoint slides, or whatever you prefer to identify the various segments in your market that you’ve just identified.
For example, one of your segments might be identified as follows:
- 22-39 years-old
- Earns $25,000 – $50,000 per year
- Works in construction
- Enjoys sports, beer
- Goes through lots of blue jeans every year because of his work
Do something like that with all of your segments.
Watch a video on segments.
Once you have your segments itemized, make a list of keywords that each segment would use based on purchase intent as described above.
For example, someone in the segment described above might search for “best blue jeans” if he was just browsing around and not interested in buying anything right away.
On the other hand, if he wanted to make a purchase, he might search for something like “discount blue jeans.”
You’ll likely find that there’s some overlap in search terms between many of your segments. That’s great because it means you can reach many segments with one keyword.
Once you’ve made a list of search terms, you’ve taken a great first step forward, but your work is far from over.
Keyword Research – Fine-Tuning Your Keyword List
Now that you have a list of keywords, it’s time to tweak it a bit. You’ll add to it, modify some search terms, and scratch some keywords off your list.
For starters, let Google guide you in enhancing your list. Just go to the search engine and type in your search terms one by one.
For each search term, scroll to the bottom of Page 1 of the SERPs and take a look at what alternate suggestions Google is giving you. You’ll find them in a box labeled “Searches related to” followed by your keyword.
For example, if you search for “boyfriend jeans,” you’ll see the following suggestions at the bottom of the first page:
- boyfriend jeans h&m
- boyfriend jeans zara
- boyfriend jeans outfits
- how to wear boyfriend jeans
Aha! The search term “how to wear boyfriend jeans” looks like a great option to reel in people who are at the upper end of the sales funnel. So you’d want to make a note of that keyword.
Next, use Wikipedia to expand the list even further.
If you search for “boyfriend jeans” in Wikipedia, you’ll come across an article that includes the following sentence: “The boyfriend blazer ranges in many different shades ranging from classic hues of black and gray to whites, pinks, and neons. They are very versatile because they can be worn with a cocktail dress, a skirt and blouse, or even leggings.”
So there’s something your competitors might not be thinking about: boyfriend jeans can be worn with a cocktail dress. Maybe you can write content about great combinations with boyfriend jeans and cocktail dresses.
Keep in mind that during this phase you’re just jotting down everything you can think about that might be relevant to people in your target market. Think of it as brainstorming.
You’ll eliminate options later on.
Use Tools to Improve Your Keyword Research
Now that you’ve used Google and Wikipedia to grow your list of keywords, it’s time to grow it even more. For that, you’ll need some tools.
Watch a video on SEO tools.
There are three types of tools that I’ll discuss here: free Google tools, other free tools, and premium tools.
The first free Google tool that you should use is, unsurprisingly, the Google Keyword Planner tool.
- Fire up the tool and click on the drop-down that reads: “Find new keywords and get search volume data.”
- Fill out the form for your niche and website. It’s fairly straightforward.
- Then, click on the “Get Ideas” blue button towards the bottom.
You’ll see a bar chart at the top that shows the monthly search volume for the niche you entered in the form. Below that, you’ll see a tabbed report with “Keyword ideas” as the selected tab.
If you entered “blue jeans” as your niche, the “Keyword ideas” tab will show you that “blue jeans” receives more than 22,000 monthly searches on average. That information will be displayed at the top.
Below that, you’ll see a list of search terms related to “blue jeans.” Scroll through that list and look for some more valuable keywords that you can use in your content marketing.
As you’re scrolling, pay particular attention to the average monthly search volume. That’s in the column just to the right of the search term.
You might stumble across what you think is a great search term but it only receives 40 searches every month. Decide if it’s in your interests to rank for that term when you could spend your time ranking for keywords that receive thousands of hits every month.
- Use the Keyword Planner tool to go through all of your search terms so that you can get as many ideas as possible.
- Once you’re done with Keyword Planner, head on over to the Google Search Console. Assuming that you’ve already listed your site in the Search Console, click on it.
- In the left-hand sidebar of the Search Console, click on “Search Traffic” and select “Search Analytics” from the drop-down menu that appears.
- The default report might be all you need here. Scroll down and take a look at search terms that you already rank for.
- Jot those down. You’ll find that it’s usually pretty easy to rank again for terms that already perform well for you.
- Also, zip back to Keyword Planner and plug those terms in there. Get some more keyword ideas from the search terms that are currently sending traffic your way.
- Next, take a look at Google Trends. Sticking with the theme du jour, type in “blue jeans” at the top of the page in the field that reads “Explore topics.” Then, hit Enter.
- Scroll to the bottom and you’ll see a list of searches and queries related to your search term.
- You might think: “Meh” because you’ve already seen related search terms. But there are two things you should know.
- First, you might see terms you didn’t see in Keyword Planner (in fact, you probably will).
- Second, Google Trends gives you a little more flexibility in your search.
Go back to the top of the page and you’ll see that you have filter options. You can select searches by region, date, and category. Any of those options might give you different ideas about keywords you can use.
Now, it’s time to move on to some other free tools.
The first is Soovle. Just go to the page and type in your search term and you’ll see a variety of related terms splattered all over the screen.
For example, if you type “boyfriend jeans” in the input field, you’ll see related terms like “boyfriend jeans and heels,” “boyfriend jeans plus size,” “boyfriend jeans for juniors,” and many others that you can add to your keyword list.
- Next, have a look at Ubersuggest. Once again, the learning curve is short because there’s just one field for input and it’s in the middle of the screen.
- Plug in “boyfriend jeans” and click on the “Suggest” button. Wait a few moments while the tool does its magic (you should see a status bar).
- Once you get your results, go through them and add the ones that you think will be of value to your content marketing efforts. Note that you can click on each keyword and immediately search for it on Google Trends. That will give you even more ideas.
- Finally, there’s Keywordtool.io. It’s another simple-to-use tool that gives you great keyword ideas.
Once again, you only have one big input field in the middle of the screen so, once again, plug in “boyfriend jeans.”
You’ll see another list of search terms related to boyfriend jeans. The information about search volume, CPC, and competition will be blurred out unless you paid for the premium version of the tool. You can get all that information in Keyword Planner, though.
Just as before, add keywords that you think you can use.
By now, you should have a monstrously large list of keywords related to your niche if your list is generic (as is the case with blue jeans).
The important thing is that you gathered as exhaustive a list as possible during your initial keyword research.
Now, it’s time to use premium tools to modify that list even more. That includes eliminating some of the keywords you’ve already picked.
The brainstorming session is over. Now, it’s time to start getting rid of keywords that aren’t usable.
And yes, as painful as it is to admit, you’re probably going to have to fork over at least some cash for a keyword research tool. They’ll pay for themselves many times over if you use them correctly.
One of the best tools of the trade for keyword research is SEMRush. You can go there now and enjoy some limited use of the tool for free.
Plug in “boyfriend jeans” on the home page of SEMRush and click the “Search” button. Take a look at the report that follows.
You’ll see an overview of the organic search results, the number of results, and a bar graph that shows the general trend of the search term.
Click on “Keyword Difficulty” in the left-hand sidebar. You’ll see that it’s difficulty is given as a percentage. In this case, the difficulty is 88.52%.
What does that mean? It means, for practical purposes, you’ll never rank for the search term “boyfriend jeans.” There’s just too much competition.
So that’s why you’ll scratch that one off your list.
Use SEMRush to analyze all the keywords you collected in a similar way. Eliminate the keywords that are too difficult to rank.
Once you’re done with that, you can also use SEMRush to give you even more keyword ideas. The Keyword Magic feature will fetch keywords related to a particular search term (e.g., “boyfriend jeans”) and you can immediately check their difficulty level.
There are other tools you can use to get ideas for keywords and/or eliminate options that are too difficult:
Long Tail Pro – You’ll have to install software on your PC if you go with this option because it doesn’t run in the cloud like SEMRush. Still, it offers great keyword options and competitive analysis.
Scrapebox – Although Scrapebox is a favorite tool of black-hatters, there’s no reason you can’t use it for legitimate purposes. It’s a great way to find additional keywords, but it doesn’t give you information about keyword difficulty like the other options.
SECockpit – This tool not only offers keyword ideas and analysis but also gives you a rank tracker if you select the Pro version (or higher).
Understanding Heads, Bodies, and Longtails
By now, you should have a list of keywords that you think will provide an excellent opportunity for content marketing purposes.
Now, it’s time to understand a little more about keywords.
Many SEOs break keywords down into three categories: heads, bodies, and longtails.
- Heads are broad keywords that you usually don’t want to touch because they’re so difficult to rank. The keyword “blue jeans” is an example of a head keyword.
- Bodies are heads with a little more specificity. For example: “women’s blue jeans.”
- Longtails are keywords that usually span several words. For example: “skinny jeans for teen girls.”
As a rule of thumb, longtails are the easiest to rank for because there’s usually not that much competition for them. The downside of longtails is that they don’t receive much search traffic, so you won’t pull in many people even if you rank #1 for a longtail keyword.
Bodies are more difficult to rank for, but they have better search volume. They also pick up a lot of the longtail traffic because bodies are often part of a longtail keyword.
If you’re just getting started with keyword research and content marketing, it might be a good idea to optimize for a longtail just so you can get an idea of what’s involved. After that, move on to ranking for bodies.
Keyword Research and Sizing up the Competition
Even though you’ve eliminated some of the tougher keywords, you’re still going to need to do a little more competitive analysis before you can start creating content. To do that, you’re going to need to install a couple of add-ons (or extensions) to your browser.
- Head over to SEOQuake and install the extension that you see promoted on the home page. Don’t worry, it’s free and you can uninstall it at any time.
- Next, head over to Moz and install the MozBar. Again, it’s a free extension.
- Be sure to activate the MozBar by following the instructions the tool gives you once you’ve installed it.
- Also, keep in mind if you don’t have a Moz account, you’re going to have to create one. It’s free.
- The SEO Book toolbar is also an excellent option.
Once you have your tools and your account set up, it’s time to start searching for keywords. Plug “boyfriend jeans plus size” into Google and search for the results.
Below each listing in the organic results, you’ll see the MozBar. That bar has two important pieces of information: Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA).
As the names imply, PA is the authority of the page (e.g., www.oldnavy.com/products/plus-size-boyfriend-jeans.jsp) while DA is the authority of the domain (oldnavy.com).
As a rule of thumb, the lower the PA and DA, the easier it will be for you to rank on top of the page for your keyword. In other words, if you see a page ranked at #3 with a low PA and DA, you can probably rank your page at #3 and push that one down to #4 or lower.
Also, the PA and DA boxes give you the number of backlinks pointing to the page and domain, respectively.
Why is that important? Because Google considers backlinks to be a sign of authority.
It’s this simple: as a rule of thumb, the more backlinks that are pointing to a page and domain, the more difficult it will be for you to rank your own page on top of it.
In the case of the Charlotte Russe site (#6 in the SERPs), you can see that there are more than 8,500 links pointing to the page (all from one root domain, so a global link).
Next, take a look at the SEOQuake bar just below the MozBar. Pay particular attention to the “L” and “LD” boxes. They show you how many backlinks are pointing to the page and the domain, respectively. Note: There are so many tools you can do this with. Majestic is another great option and SEM Rush has a good backlink tool in beta right now…
In the case of “boyfriend jeans plus size,” you can see that Old Navy has six links pointing to the page but more than 95,000 links pointing to the domain.
Again, that’s going to offer some stiff competition.
That’s why you use the tools, though. You’re looking for links on Page 1 that have low PA/DA and a limited number of backlinks.
There’s one more thing to check with the two tools. That’s the backlink profile.
Just a few paragraphs up, you read the following line: “as a rule of thumb, the more backlinks that are pointing to a page and domain, the more difficult it will be for you to rank your own page on top of it.”
Note the “as a rule of thumb” part.
The reality is that there are pages that rank with a lot of low quality backlinks. That’s because some SEOs use black-hat tools to create backlink spam. They will get banned eventually.
The good news for you is that even if a site ranks well with a lot of spammy backlinks, you can still beat it in the SERPs with quality backlinks. So, if you know that you can get backlinks to your content from sites with a high DA, you might still be able to knock off a site that ranks well with garbage backlinks.
How do you tell if a page is ranked with backlink spam?
Moz provides a Spam Score that will give you a clue about the quality of the sites that are providing the backlinks. They also have a Spam Analysis tool as part of Open Site Explorer. If you don’t like that one, Link Detox is also good from Link Research Tools.
The next thing you want to check from your competitors is on-site SEO. Let’s see how well Charlotte Russe does with optimizing for “boyfriend jeans plus size.”
The title of the page doesn’t include the search term. Instead, it reads: “Plus Size Jeans & Denim for Women.”
That’s good news for you. If the site isn’t using the search term in the title, that’s a sign of poor on-site SEO. You might be able to rank ahead of it.
Go ahead and click on the link to open the page. Now, you’ll see that the SEOQuake and Moz toolbars are at the top of the screen.
Click on the magnifying glass on the Moz toolbar. It will give you an overview of how well the page is optimized for your search term.
In this case, you can see that the phrase “boyfriend jeans plus size” doesn’t appear in the URL, the page title, or the meta description. Again, that’s good news for you if you’re trying to rank for that keyword.
Next, you need to look at the quality of the content itself.
Since the “boyfriend jeans plus size” search term is basically directing you to e-commerce sites, let’s take a look at a search term that’s used by people a little higher up in the sales funnel.
Go over to Google and search for “top 10 jeans.”
The first organic result comes from a domain called “top101news.com.” That sounds like a Mickey Mouse domain that was set up specifically for affiliate marketing, so you think you might be able to overtake it.
Upon further examination with your new toys, you see that it’s got a PA of only 15 and a DA of only 19. It’s definitely ripe for the picking.
But what about the content itself?
The first sentence in the article reads as follows: “Branded jeans- give the most comfort: Nowadays we wear jeans in a regular basis.”
The rest of the article isn’t much better.
What happened? Was the article written by someone who doesn’t speak English as a native language?
Possibly. More than likely it was written by a spinner. Someone just took another article and ran it through software to paraphrase it. The result is the crap you’re reading.
Of course, what’s bad news for the people reading that article is good news for you. The quality is so low that you can probably rank for “top 10 jeans.”
Using Your Keywords
At this point, you’ve gone through the tedious process of finding the right keywords and determining which ones you should use in your own content marketing effort.
(What I described in this article is a manual way to go about keyword research. Generally, it can be faster to do all of this one tools like Moz or SEM rush).
Now what do you do?
You want to include your keyword in your content so that Google will know to rank your page for that search term.
If you want to learn about next steps, check out our Google SEO Starter Guide.
Get Your Keyword Research Going Now!
A great site begins with SEO keyword research. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools to help you find the best keywords for your niche. Many of them are free, but some of them cost money and are well worth the investment.
Have questions? Ask below!