How to Do SEO Keyword Research

how to do keyword research

Updated December 20, 2018

Keyword research is now more important than ever as knowing what keywords you should target is vital to your website’s success.

With more and more website owners utilizing keyword research tools, attractive themes, and hiring writers for content, it’s becoming more challenging to be competitive ranking your own website on the search engines.

There used to be a time when you would type in a keyword or search for a term in a search engine and 5 out of the first 10 results were complete trash. Now, when you do your research, you are finding more and more website owners that are doing things right.

The days are long gone where you can plop up some content on your website and add in some keywords to get your website to get to the top of Google and other search engines.

With Google becoming more and more selective in what information they give website owners, it’s imperative that you are investing in the right tools to take your keyword research to the next level, so you can be competitive in this very lucrative market.

Keyword research is the first thing you should be doing before developing a content plan. And it’s vitally imperative that you get this step right. You have to nail it! And if you don’t, you’ll be writing to an audience that can only fit in a commercial airplane bathroom!

When it comes to keyword research techniques, SEO rewards those who do thorough and methodical research. So, that is where you need to begin when developing a solid SEO strategy!

If you don’t know what people are searching for on the internet, how will you know if your content is ever going to be read? More importantly, how can you help people if you aren’t reaching them?

So, in this post, we’re going to break down our top seven ways to finding the best keywords for your website. We’re also going to be talking about some pretty cool ways you can use Long Tail Pro to find the best keywords for your audience.

We’ll also be hooking you up with our super cool strategy on how to use the free tool, Google Keyword Planner, to your advantage, even when Google gives you search volume ranges instead of concrete values.

Ready to learn how to perform keyword research?

Today, we’ll break down the most important steps that you need to follow when doing keyword research as well as exactly what you need to do for each step. With this information, you will be able to quickly and effectively improve your website’s performance. Let’s get started!

1. Organized Brainstorming

Your first step is to simply brainstorm. We’re going to be diving deeper into research a bit later, so gathering your thoughts independent of your later findings can help you come up with ideas you wouldn’t when your mind is full of new concepts.

Start your keyword research by coming up with general topics and generic phrases that might be associated with your business.

Here are just a few hypothetical example businesses to get us started:

  • Jack’s Sandal Shack — An online-only eCommerce sandal retailer
    • Buy sandals online
    • Buy men’s sandals
    • Athletic sandals
  • Vicky the Vet — A one-clinic veterinarian located in a small market near Chicago
    • Chicago vet
    • Chicago pet care

Your list should be rather long. Write down anything you can think of related to your niche or business. If you are new to your niche or business, one of the best ways to think about topics and categories related to it is to search forums (even older ones) to see what questions people are asking.

You want to find “pain points”. Whenever someone purchases something, it’s usually because they want to solve a particular problem. What problem is your audience trying to solve? Do they want to know the best sandal for hiking or want to find vets who will cater to rodents?

This is where you can get more specific. For instance, Vicky can recall how her clinic has lots of customers thinking about “elder dog care” or “vet services for rodents.” Jack may think about people who want to “buy men’s dress sandals.”

As you are writing down these ideas, think about the intent that someone would have when searching for something.

The user’s search intent is a very important part of keyword performance. search intent is the reason why people perform a specific search. There are four main reasons that people search for things:

  1. Informational intent: want to know the answer to a specific question or more about a topic
  2. Navigational intent: trying to get to a specific page
  3. Transactional intent: browsing with the intent to buy something
  4. Commercial intent: investigating a future purchase; doing product research

Google has a great understanding of what people are looking for when they do a specific search, so you should, too! Consider the reason that people might be searching a specific keyword. Knowing search intent can help you to write and use keywords in a more effective way.

After thinking about intent, you will want to start pooling keywords like these together into different categories. Vicky could separate things like “elder dog care” that deals with older dogs from search terms that are focused on finding a “24 hour vet in Chicago.”

Categories help you organize your keywords, so you can create silos of content. Silos are important not only to organize the way that you are approaching your ideas, but also to help you perform better on search rankings.

Search engines reward websites that have organized content categories. Indexing, finding context for content, and deciding what result to display are all easier for the search algorithms when your keywords and content is categorized.

Divide your keywords using the following outline:

  • Group content by category based on topic
  • Divide each group of keywords into subtopics
  • Keep keywords in each subtopic and topic hyper-focused to that topic
  • Try not to overlap keywords between categories

Once you have categorized sets of keywords, you can then start building pages for your website. Each category of keywords could potentially be a new page on your site – so you’re tackling keyword research, thinking of SEO, and starting a content plan all in one swoop!

Hang on to these categorized lists – they’re going to get a lot bigger soon!

You may even want to start a spreadsheet to organize these thoughts in a more useful way.

2. Look at Your Current Organic Traffic

With your catch-all list of things you think are related to your business, it’s time to start digging into more data-based information. The best place to start is with your very own website.

Use your preferred analytics tool to process site traffic over the past few months. You can use Google Analytics or any other tool that you prefer.

If you don’t have Google Analytics yet, you’ll want to install it on your website, so you can start collecting important data that will help you build out your website even further.

You will want to look for two main things:

  • The keywords searches that led to inbound traffic from search engines.

If Google Analytics isn’t providing enough information on which keywords are pulling in your traffic, try Google Search Console.

  • The pages on your site that get the most attention.

To find these pages in Google Analytics, you’ll need to use the left navigation menu, select “Behavior”, then “Site Content”, and finally “All Pages”. This will let you know which pages on your website are getting the most traffic.

By researching these two elements, you can add to your growing keyword list and continue to refine its categories.

You can also begin to assess your site visitors’ intents and where their primary interest(s) lies. You can find out which pages are already performing well in the search engines and what topics your visitors navigate to the most.

What if you don’t have a site to analyze?

3. Spy on your competitors

Although you can’t access the Google Analytics of your competitors, you can definitely get a glimpse into which keywords they are targeting on any given page on their website.

And this is going to be HUGE for you.

Researching your competitors is like having your own personal mentor, guiding you through what’s successful with the search engines.

Even if you have a vast amount of data on your own website, this step shouldn’t be skipped.

In years past, it used to be easy to see which keywords your competitors were ranking for; all you had to do was access their page source code, do a CTRL + F (find) for keywords and, voila, you had a plethora of information you could use for your own webpage on a similar topic.

Nowadays, you’ll be hard pressed to find many websites where this method still works. Many website owners have stopped adding keywords altogether to their SEO plugins.

I like using Long Tail Pro to spy and see what keywords my competitors are targeting on any given page of their website.

Speaking of competitors: Do you know who your competitors for top ranking position are? You may have your suspicions based on your knowledge of the industry that you are dealing with, but you might be surprised to find out that your competitor isn’t always who you think it is going to be.

Your online competitors might be completely different than your sales competitors, and that difference matters. Before assuming a specific competitor, take some time to figure out who your competitors really are.

Your SEO competitors are anyone who are posting content using the same keywords that you are. If you search your target keyword or search phrase, you’ll see that a number of sites may show up before you can even find your own results.

Depending on your overall content and the keyword searches performed, pages with irrelevant content can actually do better than yours for your target keyword. If that happens, adjusting your keywords or improving your content is vital. In time, the search results should improve to better support your content.

4. Get into the Offline Element

At this point, we’re going to step away from our computers again and do some old-fashioned research. Ask your front desk staff, sales associates, customer service reps, and any other public-facing individuals what questions, comments, and topics they hear from customers the most.

These conversations can lead to revelations like, “We actually have a lot of people asking about what dog food is best” or “People keep asking about any sandals we have on clearance.”

These insights help you work backwards from the mind of the customer and realize what real people care about independent of what any analytics report says.

You could also begin to think about the value of each question. For instance, let’s say a business named Mike’s Plumbing & Pipes has people calling in about two things:

  • How hot should I have my water heater set?
  • What is this brown sludge coming out when I turn on the hot water?

One question naturally seems closer to a money-earning transaction than the other, so remember the difference when starting to weigh priorities later on.

What if you don’t have an existing audience?

This is where your legwork comes in and you will need to network a little bit. You may need to survey your family and friends or get referrals from family or friends to people who would be your potential customers.

Create a relevant survey that asks them questions about their purchases and concerns in your niche or business area.

5. Start Using Keyword Research Tools

Some people who are more familiar with keyword research may start with this step quicker, but it always helps to know how to brainstorm keyword ideas “from scratch” using the above methods before adding potential keywords to your preferred software.

That said, using keyword tools will help you move away from abstract, subjective decision-making into a more objective, data-based mode.

Nowadays, it is imperative that you have an additional tool to Google Keyword Planner to do your keyword research.

With more and more website owners knowing the importance of this step, you’ll be left behind guessing what keywords get the most traction and are going to give you the most bang for your buck!

There are a lot of free tools out there you can use, but I recommend that you pair them with a paid keyword research tool that will give you more detailed data.

Here are a few of the free tools available out there:

All these keyword research tools will display search history data on any keywords you entered as well as their most commonly associated cousins. Here, Vicky the Vet may find out that “Philadelphia vet” is not as popular of a search term as “veterinarian in Chicago,” along with similar information.

She will also be able to see the amount of effort others have put into dominating such a category, helping her see which queries have the highest potential to shoot for the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Here’s a video on how to use Long Tail Pro to do this:

6. Begin Sorting Keyword Priorities

By now you should have a huge, somewhat-messy list of keywords of interest. Most of them should be organized into “piles” according to their general category, and more than a few should be marked with priority scores given the information displayed in the aforementioned research tools.

With these categories and rankings, you can begin to sort through this pile with page goals in mind.

Your first task is to locate the more-generic, less-specific search terms and separate them from the longer, more-specific terms. They will form the following two categories:

  • “Head” queries that represent overarching topics or the most general version of a search, e.g.:
    • Sandals
    • Veterinarian
    • Plumber
  • “Long tail” queries that are looking for more specific information regarding a small slice of the overarching concept, e.g.:
    • Women’s casual sandals
    • Cat dental clinic
    • Residential water lead level testing

As you might imagine, long tail queries and keywords are more vague and harder to cover at once. You may only have a few pages or even just a few sentences dedicated to each one, if at all. This is okay!

Long tail queries make up around 70 percent of the average search, meaning that you don’t have to have all of your bases covered to be considered useful to online searchers. You should, however, cater to the long tail queries that most closely match your specialization, area of interest, or typical clientele requests.

When prioritizing keywords at this stage, make sure to watch for blind spots! Something as simple as using a singular form when a plural is more common or rearranging the words in a less-common way can affect keyword relevance.

7. Prioritize Based on User Intent

At this point, you are almost done with keyword research. This last stage is simply refining your lists and priorities established earlier.

And how will you do this? By thinking about what search terms come from the highest-value traffic, aka analyzing user intent.

Look at your pool of prioritized keywords and try to decipher where on a buying journey the customer might be. For instance, someone may be searching “how to repair flip flops” and not necessarily be looking to buy a new pair just yet, whereas someone searching for “best price on leather flip flops” almost certainly is.

Examining intent can also help prevent logical mistakes. For example, Vicky the Vet may want to avoid “cat food weight loss” when trying to reach new potential clients because such a searcher is likely trying to find a diet cat food intending to help with weight loss.

Instead, she can prioritize “How much should I feed my cat?” or better yet “Why isn’t my cat eating?” to find customers with a more direct intent to purchase veterinary services.

Cross check your newly chosen prioritized keywords with the competition each category faces once more, just to know what you will be up against. Don’t throw anything out just because it seems like it could be harder! Just maybe put it off until later or keep the challenge in mind when putting your hard-earned research results to use.

Suggestions on What to Do with Your Keyword Research Results

This section could fill a whole new guide, so let’s leave it at some quick suggestions for how to use your priority keywords:

  • Inform site layout such as navigation, parent pages, and sub-page structure
  • Dictate the verbiage of headers, metadata, page titles
  • Develop a content marketing strategy to help you rank for priority keywords
  • Refine your online word-choice habits on social media when making new pages or when generally leaving a digital trail online
  • Refine your business model to more closely reflect the niches with the highest potential
  • Start a pay-per-click (PPC/AdWords) campaign to get more inbound traffic data
  • Create spreadsheets to help you assign a dollar value to ranking for a keyword-based on-site performance
  • Look to social, local, or other search algorithm influencers

No matter what you do, always remember these three words: Measure, Adjust, Repeat. Because that is the best way to do keyword research and then make it really work for your site!

Your work with keyword research is never truly done because you will constantly be measuring your site performance based on your keyword use, adjusting your strategy to pursue better outcomes, and repeating the process to make adjustments that help you pursue goals and push growth.

When you take the time to learn how to conduct keyword research, you are much better prepared to create a content plan that can be used to deliver content to your audience consistently and effortlessly.