Are you stuck with finding new keywords for your SEO campaign?
Do you look for a guide to show you how to find new keyword ideas at a scale, and do it fast, at that?
This post will cover all the topics related to keyword research, including:
- The Goal of Keyword Research
- What is SEO Keyword Research?
- How to do Keyword Research
- How to Analyze Keyword Research Opportunities
The Goal of Keyword Research
Think about it, the goal of keyword research is pretty simple, actually: You want to uncover keywords that connect you with potential customers as they move through the customer journey.
Why, because as people move from becoming aware of a problem to researching their options to moving forward with a solution, they use keywords that match their search intent.
The popularity of the search terms they use and the intent they have suggests their value as a customer and whether or not they should be focusing on them as your target audience for a search engine optimization 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 300 million terms within the Research Grid database. Search volume values overlay 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 tools into one powerful interface.
Before I show you how to do keyword research with this data, let's start with some basics.
What Is SEO Keyword Research and Keyword Analysis?
Keyword research is one of the most essential and core search engine optimization activities. Its goal is to identify topics, keywords, and search queries customers use to find relevant information. Essentially, you want to understand the way people search. Its purpose, on the other hand, is to determine what keywords to create content for to position the website to place the brand in front of its target audience.
As part of the process, SEOs and marketers determine various aspects of keywords, from search volume to the competition targeting such a phrase already to evaluate their chances to rank.
Keyword analysis, on the other hand, aims to determine the value of a keyword. It uses various metrics to determine whether the phrase can attract target traffic to the site that is relevant to the company to convert into leads or transactions and eventually repeat customers.
To specify that, marketers have been using a whole range of different approaches. At seoClarity, however, we recommend (and do ourselves) evaluating and execute keyword research in a very prescriptive process using criteria like page strength, domain's branded search volume, domain authority, and backlinks.
Why Research and Analyze Keywords?
We research keywords to identify what keyword we should optimize the content for. Based on the intent of the keyword we can determine what information to include on a page so it can rank higher and drive the right traffic.
We analyze target keywords to:
A. Prioritize keyword opportunities. Not all phrases you discover during the research can, in fact, drive significant traffic or rankings. Or their popularity is seasonal and there is no need to work on them now. Keyword analysis allows you to prioritize opportunities so that you always work on the ones that can deliver the highest ROI.
B. Learn more about the audience's preferences. Analyzing keyword data like the search volume or CPC cost will reveal a lot about what engages the audience. You will also discover which keywords are the most relevant to your audience (and why).
C. Evaluate the competition. Keyword analysis uncovers who else targets the keywords, and how likely are you to beat them (or what do you need to do to do so).
D. Analyze Current Keywords Performance. The process will also reveal the reasons why certain pages do not perform well for their target keywords, and highlight ways to overcome the issue.
How Long Does It Take to Research New Keywords?
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 and 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 outlined in this article.
Recommended Reading: Keyword Research Strategy: 5 Step Framework to Understand Your Market
How to do Keyword Research as Part of Your SEO Strategy
Below, I’ve outlined the keyword research process I use personally and recommend to our clients. It will help you identify head terms to target, long-tail keywords to drive targeted traffic and create the content that will help you achieve your goals.
The keyword research process includes five steps:
- Identifying the most relevant topics
- Matching topics with seed keywords (or head terms)
- Researching more keywords related to your core topics
- Refining those keywords to identify the biggest opportunities
- Prioritizing keywords to focus on first.
Let's go through them in turn.
Step 1: Identify the most relevant topics for your brand
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 with you. seoClarity creates an exhaustive list of other domains to use in competitive keyword research. 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.
Step 2: Match topics to seed keywords (or head terms)
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: Research more keywords related to your topics
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: Refine keyword lists to identify the biggest opportunities
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. This is a good point to focus attention on proper link building between the clusters.
How to Analyze Keyword Opportunities
Keyword analysis is the closing part of the research process. Although you could conduct the two separately, I always recommend that analysis follows right after the research.
Before I show you the process for analyzing keywords, let's discuss what metrics and tools we'll be using.
Keyword Analysis Metrics
To identify the keywords potential or evaluate it further in a group of other search phrases, I recommend you look at the following:
- Search Volume - The average number of monthly searches this phrase receives.
- CPC - How much other companies are willing to spend to place a Google ad for the keyword.
- Trends - What is the interest in the keyword over time.
Let me show you why these three are so important for the keyword analysis process.
The search volume suggests the interest in the phrase. Naturally, keywords with the highest search volume offer the biggest possibility to drive traffic.
But, it's the other two metrics that highlight those phrases' true potential.
Cost Per Click value highlights the commercial potential of a keyword. Basically, if companies are willing to spend money to have their ads appear there, the keyword, most likely, can attract relevant traffic.
So, a keyword with a relatively high search volume and CPC cost will, most likley, offer a better potential than a one with just the search volume but no Google Ads.
Note: by commercial potential, I mean the keyword's ability to drive relevant traffic at a specific stage of the buying cycle. It does not mean that those people are ready to buy right away. But it suggests that they are at some point of the buying journey.
Then, there's the trend. This metric highlights when customers search for the keyword throughout the year. This metric does not reveal anything about the phrase's commercial potential. However, it can help you prioritize the best opportunities. Because, if a keyword experiences only a spike of interest at the start of the year, then, there is no point in working on it right after that peak has waned. You can prioritize it for later, and use the time now to work on phrases with high interest throughout the year.
Keyword Analysis Tools
seoClarity offers two specific capabilities that help with analyzing keywords:
Topic Explorer and Keywords.
Both are part of the Research Grid and you use both in the keyword research process. You've seen how they work earlier in the post.
Topic Explorer allows you dive deep into the analysis metrics mentioned above. It lists the average search volume, the CPC cost and the trend for each keyword you want to analyze.
Note that the tool also reports on the keyword intent, providing you with even more information to optimize for the keyword better.
Keywords, also a part of the Research Grid, allows you to evaluate a keyword at a time, providing in-depth information about it, including top-ranking domains and additional information about them.
The Keyword Analysis Process
Finally, let me outline the simple process for analyzing keywords.
Step 1. Create a list of target keywords to analyze.
The step may seem obvious but I have seen SEOs evaluate all keywords they've found during the research stage, regardless of whether those phrases match their products or services.
So, as the first step, go through the list, eliminating phrases that do not sound relevant, for example.
This will shorten the list, and let you evaluate only the real opportunities.
Step 2. Evaluate the search potential by the Search Volume and CPC cost
Just like we discussed above, filter keywords by the search volume and their CPC cost.
Remember, the more companies are willing to bid on a keyword, the greater its commercial potential (even if it has the informational intent.)
Step 3. Assess the competition
In the Topic Explorer, click on the little magnifying glass beside each keyword to view the list of it's top-ranking pages. Your goal is to find keywords with great potential but not many major competitors targeting them.
This isn't always possible, of course. But it's worth undertaking such a research to help prioritize opportunities further.
Step 4. Review the keyword trend
At this stage, you should have a far shorter list of keywords. So, as the last step, assess their trends, splitting the list into keywords with seasonal and all year round popularity.
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.