When you think about it, the goal of Keyword Research is simple. You want to uncover phrases to connect you with potential customers as they move through the customer journey.
As people move from becoming aware of a problem to researching their options to moving forward with a solution, they use keywords.
The popularly of the search terms they use and the intent they have suggests their value as a customer, and if they should be focusing on them as your target audience for an SEO campaign.
To help, Google provides a free tool called the Google Keyword Planner for Google AdWords users that assigns a monthly search volume estimate for keyword phrases (groups of keywords clustered together) to help researchers. It also provides keyword suggestions to find more potential targets.
But seoClarity users can review this data for more than 250 million terms within the Research Grid database. Search volume values overlays search results ranking data within the database to build a profile of top keywords driving traffic to any website, combining the features of several keyword research tools into one powerful interface.
Before I show you how to do keyword research with this data, let me answer the most common question I hear about it.
How Long Does It Take to Do Accurate Keyword Research?
This question never surprises me. The process, when you think about it, seems complex enough to seemingly require hours to complete.
Luckily, that's not the case.
Although finding the right keywords involves many steps, a strong keyword research tool can allow you to complete it relatively fast.
Plus, most likely, you won’t be building an entire keyword landscape in a single session. Instead, you’ll focus on researching specific seed keywords, matching your organization’s goals, for example.
Having said that, I’d still put aside at least two or three hours to complete the process I’ve outlined in this article.
The Keyword Research Workflow: How Do You Find New Keywords for SEO?
Step 1: Build the most gigantic keywords list possible.
To begin, you must build as large of a keywords list as possible. This will help you identify the full market opportunity in your industry.
Here’s how to build such a massive keywords list - fast:
Identify your competitors. The first step is to find all competitors that compete for search visibility. seoClarity creates an exhaustive list of other domains competing with you for search visibility. In the workflow, we recommend you select up to 50 competitors to ensure you capture the entire market opportunity.
seoClarity report showing competitor ranking data.
Find all ranking keywords your competitors rank for. Within your top competitor list, find all of the ranking terms for your competition. To do this, rely on Research Grid to access the entire search landscape of a competitor by searching their domain and gathering their all keywords they rank for.
If you decide to focus on the top ranking terms in the first position from your competitors. You can do this by filtering a competitor's keyword list by their first page rank. Here, we chose only the keywords that appear on page 1 and have a rank of 1 - 10. Below is the alternative view if you click on the domain within the competitor research view.
We can even take this one step further in comparing competitors' data (which we share later in this post in our Wisdom of the Crowd section) to find the most relevant keywords you should target.
Step 2: List your seed keywords.
Seed keywords are phrases that describe your product, category, industry or niche that are not related to your brand name. In short, these phrases tell the audience what you do.
You can find them in your business documentation - the company’s business plan or positioning document, for example.
Many sales materials will also include descriptions of your product and positioning.
Your current rankings and traffic data can help identify seed keywords, too. For example, using Search Analytics, review what non-branded head keywords drive the most traffic to your site.
Search Analytics feature showing seed keywords.
Next, identify the variations of the seed keywords. Again, go deeper into the Search Analytics to identify:
- Variations of phrases you’ve discovered in the business documentation, for example, and
- Additional, longer phrases that relate to your seed keywords.
Finally, research all of the related terms to your seed phrases. By uncovering additional information about your keyword, related terms with high search volume help search engines determine two things:
- The topic of a page; at least, they help search engines understand your topic better.
- A person’s intent behind the search. By analyzing related keywords on a page, Google can decide why a person conducted a specific search and what information would deliver on that intent.
We do this through Topic explorer, which allows you to convert seed keywords into topic clusters. Starting off with a seed keyword, you narrow results to focus on specific topics. And there is a strong reason for that.
For years, Google has been moving from focusing on exact match keywords to topic-based search. As a result, it’s more important to identify topics to focus on, rather than specific phrases. Because, for one, even if your phrase varies a little from the exact match, Google will still recognize it as having the same intent.
Let’s see how it works in practice. Using Topic Explorer, I research keywords associated with the term, “water purifier.” The tool tells me there are over a thousand related keywords available.
Next, I can group them by topic clusters, reducing the list by approximately 50%.
From here, I discover that there may be some high value opportunities in terms related to "portable" water, "tap" water, or "distilled" water.
What we now know is that there are likely variations of our seed terms that have variations that may need to be included in your massive list.
Step 3a:. Use Wisdom of the Crowds to determine relevance.
The two previous steps helped you a) build a massive keyword set, and b) identify phrases that best describe your product or services.
You could stop here. Depending on your niche or industry, you could already have thousands, if not more, of potential phrases to target.
But, herein lies the problem. You see, working off internal data means you’re approaching the topic from a single point of view – yours.
Your audience, however, might understand the topic differently. They might use different terminology to describe it. Look for various other information about it that your current keyword list maybe does not cover.
That’s you need to verify your keywords with the “wisdom of the crowds” approach.
What is Wisdom of the Crowds?
The wisdom of the crowds allows you to tap into a collective knowledge about your audience and industry to understand the keyword landscape better.
Take your seed keywords, for example. You’ve discovered them based on internal information only – your company’s business plan, sales documents, and traffic data. Chances are that many other terms describe what you offer equally well - you just don’t know them.
However, there is someone who might: your competition.
Analyzing their strategies will reveal other keyword opportunities you may be missing.
A visual showing keyword opportunities in the competitor data.
Ways to Uncover New Keywords Using the Wisdom of the Crowds
From the keywords list you created earlier in Step 1, identify phrases for which at least two or more of your competitors rank. In doing the following, you can compare what keywords your competitors rank for but you don’t.
Your massive keyword list can easily be modified for relevancy by using the Wisdom of the Crowds approach with an excel formula to find keyword that 2 or more of your competitors rank for.
Or, leverage Content Gaps to discover all of your competitors’ keywords. Include your competition as well as own domain on the list and hit Update.
The platform will compare all the domains with your domain you’ve chosen to include on the list. Then, you receive a report on common keywords as well as those that only each domain ranks for.
Keyword opportunities from competitors' data.
Finally, this process will list all keywords discovered, allowing you to find the relevant list of all phrases your competitors rank for. You can choose to include only the terms in common or you can choose terms that maybe you don't rank for but are desired. If your competitors include a keyword, consider whether or not you should target it, too.
Side note: I recommend you go through the above steps at least once a year - if not more than that. If you work in a large industry with a high rate of change, I’d suggest you follow the above process every six months.
Your next step must be prioritization of these terms you've uncovered.
Assess the keywords’ search volume. Using the Search Volume capability within seoClarity, discover topics with the highest search volume. To inform your selection further, map it with the CPC cost for each keyword. Look for those with high bids, suggesting greater profitability of a phrase.
List of keywords showing highly transactional terms based on the PPC data.
Next, match those phrases to your visibility. Look at your rankings at positions 11 – 40. Keywords on these positions might require significantly less work to push to page 1, making them a true low-hanging fruit for your search visibility.
Evaluate keyword difficulty. The keyword difficulty metric allows you to understand how competitive a phrase may be. You can use it in two ways:
- To prioritize which top keywords to start working on first, but also,
- To find low hanging fruit among your keyword set.
Analyze your keyword list for keyword intent. Assess the CPC again. The higher the CPC, the more transactional the phrase might be. Also, look at what words it includes. Terms like “how to…” or “where,” “location,” etc. might suggest other intents – to learn or to go.
Step 3b: Use machine learning to convert long keyword lists into topics.
Wisdom of the crowds is not the only way you could evaluate the relevance of your keywords. Another is to use deep machine learning insights of Google SERPs.
Topic Explorer, for example, lets you analyze the entire keyword landscape to identify what information related to your keywords searchers are looking for. What’s more is that it presents this information visually, allowing you to dive deep into relevant topics.
And here’s what happens when one of the topics is expanded even further:
Note that, at any time, I can access the list of keywords associated with each spoke.
With such insight, I can identify the most relevant topics to target to build a complete search visibility for a specific seed term.
Step 4: Organize and prioritize keywords
If you followed the steps above, then, most likely, you have a comprehensive list of phrases relevant to your products, services, industry, territory and so on.
You’ve also prioritized them and know which ones to target first. You also know which keywords could deliver results faster than others.
Next, you need to organize them to plan your strategy to target those.
Map keywords to existing content. Depending on how much content you have already, some of your pages would relate to the new keywords you discovered. So, as the first step, map your existing pages, blog posts, and other assets to relevant keywords.
Also, consider the intent behind a keyword and its landing page. This will help you avoid mapping a transactional phrase to an informational blog post, for example.
Sample keyword map to determine site strategy and keyword targets.
Organize topics by clusters. We talked about topic clusters before, specifically how creating clusters can help your domain rank better by collecting related information together.
I imagine that you have many potential clusters among your assets already. To identify them, group keywords into topic categories. You’ll quickly see which content assets you already have in a cluster and what you need to develop to complete it.
The Final Word: Prioritize All Stages of the Buyer’s Journey
Here’s a keyword research mistake I see companies making over and over again: they prioritize only transactional keywords, leaving many open opportunities to engage other potential customers as well.
Success in the search requires long-term thinking. Persistence is key - as well as targeting the full market opportunity.
So, instead of just focusing on sales, work towards attracting customers at every stage of their journey - from those who only began considering what you’re selling, to people actively looking for a place to buy it from. You can do this with the following tactics.
- When researching keywords, for example, filter your list by intents, too. Then, prioritize keywords from each segment, not just the transactional one.
- As you map content to keywords, consider what phrases customers early in the buying cycle would use, too. Then, include that content in your topic clusters.
- Do not ignore informational keywords. They might help attract visitors who could turn into customers in the future.
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Editor's Note: As you're aware, this industry grows FAST. This post was originally published in September 2018 and has been updated to include the latest insights on keyword research.