Updated March 15, 2022
There used to be a time when you would type a keyword 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. Keyword research is the first thing you should be doing before developing a content plan, and it’s imperative that you get this step right.
With Google becoming more and more selective in what information they give website owners, it’s critical that you are investing in the right tools to take your keyword research to the next level so that you can remain competitive.
In this post, we’re going to show you how to do keyword research step-by-step. We’re also going to be talking about some pretty cool ways you can use Long Tail Pro to find high-volume, low-competition keywords that can quickly skyrocket your website’s rankings.
The first 4 steps of this process are all about discovery. Once you have an initial list of potential keywords, the next steps are to analyze the keywords to figure out how easy (or hard) it will be to rank for them, and then to prioritize the keywords to decide where to start creating content.
Step 1: Make A List Of Relevant Topics For Your Business
Your first step is to simply brainstorm. Start your keyword research by coming up with general topics and generic phrases that might be associated with your business.
Here is a hypothetical example of businesses to get us started:
- Jack’s Sandal Shack — An online-only eCommerce sandal retailer
- Buy sandals online
- Buy men’s sandals
- Athletic sandal
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, like Reddit or Quora, to see what questions people are asking.
Your goal is to find your customers’ “pain points” — what problem they’re trying to solve with your product or service. This is where you can get more specific. For instance, Jack may think about people who want to know the “best men’s sandals for hiking.”
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:
- Informational intent: want to know the answer to a specific question or more about a topic
- Navigational intent: trying to get to a specific page
- Transactional intent: browsing with the intent to buy something
- 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.
Step 2: Organize Keywords By Category
After thinking about intent, you will want to start pooling keywords like these together into different categories. For example, Jack could separate his terms into categories based on sandal style, best use for the sandal, and sandal trends.
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 categories or keywords in a more useful way.
Step 3: Find More Related Keywords
The reality is that you only know so much about your business, your audience, and the type of things you think people are looking for. Once you’ve exhausted your own brainstorming sessions, there are several free keyword planning tools that can help you uncover additional related keywords.
Related keywords can give your site greater visibility for terms people are searching for that may not be as apparent to you. For example, depending on the brands of sandals that Jack sells, a related keyword could be “why do men’s Sketchers arch fit sandals hurt” or “best OluKai flip flops for men.” These more specific, ‘long tail’ related keywords have lower competition and can be easier to rank for.
To find related keywords, you can use one of these tools:
Google Keyword Planner – A free tool that’s part of the Google Ads suite. All you need is a Google account to use this free tool. Once on the dashboard, select “Discover New Keywords,” enter a seed keyword, and a list of related keywords will be populated. You can view individual keywords or group them by relevance. You can also filter based on characteristics of the keywords; for example, Jack can filter related keywords by shoe brand or shoe style.
Google Trends – This isn’t a traditional keyword research tool. Google Trends shows how often a keyword is entered into Google over a given period of time. For example, it shouldn’t be surprising that the search volume for “men’s sandals” peaks in mid-June. Additionally, Google Trends can show you search volume by region as well as related queries sorted by increase in search volume. In other words, what queries are ‘trending’ in the SERPs! This tool can be helpful for planning timely and seasonal content and promotions.
Answer the Public – This clever tool uses the autocomplete data from Google and other search engines to generate a goldmine of keywords and topic ideas. Simply enter a seed keyword, like “men’s sandals” and let the magic begin! Using Answer the Public, Jack will discover that people are also asking things like “what men’s sandals are in style” and “how should men’s sandals fit,” which give Jack some great ideas for content!
Of course, in this point, you can also use Long Tail Pro and get not only ideas but also data and more value for these keywords.
Step 4: 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.
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. Today, 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. Here’s how to do that:
Under Keyword Analysis (1), click on Competitor Keywords (2) and enter your competitor’s domain (3). Long Tail Pro will return a list of keywords (4) that your competitor ranks for.
There is a second place where you can enter your competitor’s domain (5) and Long Tail Pro will give you a quick analysis of the site’s authority (9) (10) and backlink snapshot (7) (8). This section will also tell you what range of keyword competitiveness (6) your competitor is capable of ranking for based on the strength of their site.
Remember, the more high-quality backlinks that your competitor has, the more authority their site has. When two sites are competing for the same keywords, the site with higher domain authority will win. That’s why it’s so important to keep tabs on these metrics on your own site — as well as your competitors’.
Step 5: Analyze Your Keywords
You likely have a pretty hefty list of keywords, terms, and long tail phrases at this point. Before you start throwing them into your content at random, you need to analyze them to see how easy or difficult it will be for your site to rank for them.
Using a paid keyword tool, like Long Tail Pro will provide you with in-depth analysis of the keywords you can up with and help you move away from abstract, subjective decision-making into a more objective, data-based mode.
To do this, return to Keyword Research (1) and select Manual Keywords (2). You can add up to 200 keywords (3), then hit Retrieve and Long Tail Pro will return an analysis on each keyword (6).
In the second domain field (4) where you entered your competitor’s domain, enter yours this time. This will give you your domain authority, backlink snapshot, and what keyword competitiveness you should be targeting (5). In the example below, Long Tail Pro suggests attempting to rank for keywords with a KC lower than the lowest of the two numbers, which is 25.
From here, you can start understanding the analysis of the keywords below (7)(8). For example, Jack’s primary keyword, “men’s sandals” has a super high monthly search volume of 110,000, but the keyword competitiveness is 46, which is far above Jack’s recommended 25. In other words, Jack isn’t going to be able to compete with Amazon, Zappos, DSW, Macy’s and the other major players in the online shoe biz. This tells Jack he needs to look at some of those more specific, long tail phrases in order to be able to rank on page one.
Step 6: Prioritize Keywords
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 based on the metrics Long Tail Pro used to analyze your keywords.
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.:
- “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% 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.
At this point, you are almost done with keyword research. This last stage is simply refining your lists and priorities by thinking about what search terms come from the highest-value traffic — i.e. 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.
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.
Ready to start your keyword research?
Download our free template for the keyword research process, then sign up for a trial of Long Tail Pro.
Start doing keyword research and creating a content plan, then watch your rankings and conversions skyrocket!