- What is keyword research?
- Keyword research, step-by-step
Keyword research is about finding what your ideal customer is searching for. What are they typing or speaking into Google, and what are they hoping to find from their search?
Despite its name, a keyword doesn’t have to be a single word: it can also be a phrase.
The information found from keyword research can be used to influence the content on your website and blog. By knowing what your customers are searching, you can use the exact same or similar phrases in your copy to indicate to Google that your website has the information that these users are looking for.
For SEO, keyword research is incredibly important. You may think you know what your users are searching but may turn up some topics or sub-topics that you never previously considered. Having an in-depth knowledge of your user keywords gives you an in-depth knowledge of your user behaviour, pain points, parallel interests and more.
There are lots of excellent paid tools out there, but they often require a reasonably large budget. Fortunately, there are free tools and methods available too, and that’s what we’ll be taking a look at today.
When researching keywords, you need somewhere to start. First off, list the products or services that you sell. Start with general terms rather than specific product names. If necessary and relevant to your SEO strategy you can get more specific further down the line. For now, you don’t want to be too niche, as you don’t want to limit your research.
Let’s imagine an online store specialising in gifts. Keywords you might start with include letterbox flowers, gifts for men or mothers day presents.
If you sell specific products, you can include keywords such as Jo Malone Candles or Dolce & Gabbana Perfume, but try not to go any more specific than this.
If you have lots of products, list them all and then pick out the most popular or most lucrative. You can look at others in the future, but don’t overwhelm yourself by starting with too many.
Keyword research doesn’t have to be expensive and there are plenty of free tools out there. Some require that you create an account, but there is no spend involved.
Tools you can use for free include:
- Google Search Console
- Google Ads Keyword Planner
- Microsoft Advertising Keyword Planner
- Also Asked (paid version also available)
- Answer the Public (paid version also available)
- Semrush (paid version also available)
Type your starter keyword into one or more of these tools. Many of them use similar data sources, so you may get matching results, but it’s worth experimenting with each one as they all provide slightly different information. The Ads Planners, for example, will show you how popular each search term is.
Make a note of all of the keywords you discover. Most of the above platforms will allow you to export or download the lists, though it’s worth collating them all into one place such as a spreadsheet.
You can also use search engines themselves for keyword research.
Navigate to Google Search and type your starter keyword into the search bar. Google will show a drop down list with a number of related keywords. Take a look through these and make a note of any that are relevant to your business.
You can also use a similar technique in YouTube search, particularly if you have a lot of video content.
Once you’ve collected these suggestions, run the search by hitting enter. Here you have several opportunities for further keyword research.
Analyse the top results
Read through the top few results (ignoring any ads) and see the kind of keywords you can spot. Open up the top websites and look at keywords in page headings and the main text. Are there any you can use in your own copy?
People also ask
Within the search results will often be a section called People also ask. This will show you common questions users ask that are related to your starter keyword. You can answer these questions on your own page to make the content more useful.
The Also Asked site, mentioned above, uses this data to populate its results.
At the bottom of each search page, Google encourages further searches by suggesting other related search terms. These are just more keywords that you can collect for your research.
Answer the Public, above, uses this data.
By now, you will probably have a pretty sizeable list that you’ll want to narrow down.
There will undoubtedly be some keywords that aren’t relevant to your business. Go through your list and get rid of all of those. These could include mentions of products you don’t sell, competitor keywords (such as reviews of a particular company), or location searches in areas you don’t cover.
Despite filtering your keywords, you’ll probably still have hundreds and hundreds to choose from.
But what you’ll find is that many of these remaining keywords are closely related. They could include similar phrases such as housewarming gifts and new home gifts where users search different phrases but are ultimately looking for the same thing.
Keyword clusters group these related keywords together so that you can build your page content around many keywords rather than just one or two. It means you target a specific topic rather than a specific keyword, giving you scope to rank better for multiple searches.
Go through your remaining keywords and start grouping together those that are similar, both in phrasing and intention (i.e. searchers are looking for the same thing). Avoid using the same keyword in multiple clusters.
When you have your clusters, you can assign them to a page that already exists on your site. Or they might give you ideas for additional pages that you could create.
If you have a very large cluster, try reducing it to the most relevant or most popular keywords only. You don’t need to include dozens of keywords with little to no traffic.
You don’t have to assign every keyword cluster to a page at this stage. Similarly, you may not find that every keyword goes into a cluster. Keep the information for a later date when you may want to expand your website.
You may not end up using every single keyword from your keyword cluster, so it’s useful to highlight the best phrases and make sure to include those in your copy. You don’t have to use the exact phrases – especially if they don’t work grammatically – but try to include close matches.
Use the remaining secondary keywords from your cluster to guide the writing: they can help you identify the type of information to include and questions to answer. Utilise exact and similar phrases if you can naturally do so, but avoid keyword stuffing.
When it comes to selecting focus keywords, you want to find those that receive the most searches but that aren’t too competitive. There are paid platforms that will give you this specific information, but with the free ones you have to be a bit more inventive.
Google Ads Keyword Planner will tell you approximately how many monthly searches a keyword receives, so this is a particularly useful tool.
Alternatively, type your phrases into Google. Take a look at how many search results come up. Generally, the larger the number of search results, the more competitive a phrase is.
You can also look at the top results (ignore any ads). Who are your competitors for this keyword? If you’re looking at big players like Amazon, Not on the High Street, and Etsy, then you’ll likely find it difficult to get into the top results.
However, if you’re jostling for top position against smaller companies, this may be a better target keyword. You won’t get as many people searching, but you’ve got more chance of being seen.
If the top results for all your keywords are the big players, analyse some of the results a little further down the page. First position on Google is the ultimate goal, but results that are slightly lower down can see good traffic too.
Intention also plays an important part in your selected keywords. You don’t want to spend time writing content around a particular phrase only to find out that you’re getting completely the wrong people to your website.
You can check intention by typing a keyword into Google and seeing what results come up. Do they align with your own content? If not, you may have to rethink your keywords.
Looking back at our gift store example, a keyword that might have come up in research is pretty flower gifts. That sounds like the perfect phrase to target! However, by running a quick search on Google, you see that the results are all for another company called Pretty Flower Gifts. Anyone searching that phrase is likely to be looking for a specific company.
While you might want to target this phrase to try and gain some of your competitor’s traffic, your efforts will be better spent working with more relevant keywords.
After all your research, it’s time to write your text.
If you already have text and can naturally insert your keywords, then that’s fine to do. If you’re writing from scratch, use the keywords to guide your copy.
Keywords should read naturally and be prominent in your text without being excessive. If you’re not a strong writer, consider involving a professional copywriter.
Include keywords in your headers where possible. But don’t include excessive repetitions of the same phrase. If you have a WordPress site and use a plugin like Yoast, you can use this to help too. Read my guide to SEO readability for more information.
Remember that Google won’t find your content immediately, so you will have to wait until you start seeing results. This can take up to several months, so patience is key!
It’s important to monitor progress from the moment you publish. This will help you track how your work is affecting site traffic.
Google Search Console will tell you how you rank for each keyword. Just look at your performance report and see what your results are. Do they gradually (and slowly) improve over time? If not, take a look over your text to ensure it’s not spammy (e.g. with too many keyword repetitions), and ensure that your overall site performance is good too.
As for all elements of SEO, keyword research and improvement is an ongoing process. If one keyword isn’t working for you, perhaps another one will do better. Though remember to allow plenty of time – at least 6 months – for changes to take effect before you swap things up.
Trends also change, and the phrases users searched 5 years ago may not be the same as they use now. Google Algorithm changes and user behaviour also affect how well your pages rank, so regular keyword maintenance is important if you want to stay on top.