Keyword research is critical to search engine optimization (SEO), which is why every business investing in SEO should learn how to do keyword research. With this guide, you'll learn how to find the best keywords for SEO so that your company can maximize the performance (and return) of SEO.
Keep reading to learn more about SEO keyword research! If you're looking for professional help with SEO, contact us online or give us a ring at 888-601-5359 to learn more about our custom SEO plans for small-to-midsized businesses!
Table of Contents
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is finding, analyzing, and choosing search terms, which people use to generate results on search engines, for SEO. SEO uses keywords to help search engines rank pages in search results accurately and help people understand a page's context.
Why is keyword research important?
Keyword research for SEO is critical for a few reasons, including:
- Search engines: Search engines like Google use keywords to rank websites in search results. A blog post with a title tag with the keyword, "best running shoes," and a list of the best running shoes tells search engines that it's a relevant page to show for searches with that keyword.
- People: People use keywords to search for content online — and choose which content to click on from search results. Someone looking for a compilation of the best running shoes, for instance, is more likely to click on a round-up blog post of the best shoes than a product page.
- Companies: Companies that use keyword research generally earn a better return on investment (ROI) from SEO because they target keywords with the most value. A business that does SEO keyword research, for instance, may focus on long-tail, low-competition keywords.
When you know how to research keywords, you make data-driven decisions about your SEO strategy. Instead of guessing what your target market searches for, you know what your target market searches to find businesses like yours and then use those keywords on your site.
How to research keywords for SEO
You know why SEO keyword research is important, but how do you get started with the keyword research process? Keep reading, because the eight steps outlined below will walk you through how to research keywords for SEO:
1. Brainstorm potential keywords
The first step to keyword research is brainstorming a list of possible keywords. These keywords can be as broad as you want, and can be anything that relates to your industry, products, or services.
So for example, if you’re a bike shop in Harrisburg, your keywords might be something like, “bike shop in Harrisburg,” “bike rack,” ”bike seats,” or any other bicycle parts that you sell.
You can also use location-based keywords, so words and phrases that describe your state, city, region, or other terms that searchers might use to describe your area.
2. Research competitor keyword targeting
Then, you can also check out your competitors’ sites and see the keywords they’re using to describe the similar products and services that they have.
Investigating your competitors can be a great way to come up with ideas that you never would have thought of in the first place, and can inform the rest of your keyword research later on.
3. Compile a list of long-tail keywords
Once you have your basic list, the next step is to expand this into a longer list of long-tail keywords. So the keywords you came up with in step one, might be really short and generic keywords, like bike shops.
But if you think about it, there could be thousands or even tens of thousands of businesses across the country trying to rank for that exact keyword, and as a local business, you’re probably not going to be able to rank in the top 10.
So basically what you want to do in this step of the keyword research process is find longer, more specific keywords that indicate that a user is specifically looking for the parts you offer or a bike shop in your area.
While you can rely on suggested searches from Google, this approach can take a significant amount of time because it's manual. That's why we often recommend using a keyword research tool.
4. Use keyword research tools
A keyword research tool like KeywordsFX will expand your keywords based on actual user search trends and data.
When you type a keyword into KeywordsFX, you’ll get an alphabetized list of all of the variations that users commonly search in Google.
So for example, if you type in “bike rack,” one of the results for this is “bike rack for audiq5.” This means that a lot of users out there have searched for that exact phrase in Google in the past, and it also means that if you sell a bike rack that is compatible with this specific car, this might be a keyword that you want to target.
As you scroll down the page, you’ll see a ton of different results for this, and depending on the keyword that you entered, it could be an overwhelming list of keywords.
Take note of the ones that are relevant to your business, or just export them to a spreadsheet. You can repeat this process for every one of the keywords on your original list, and at this point, you may have several thousand possible keyword ideas for your website.
But in the next step, we’ll go over what to do with all of those keywords and how to narrow them down to get the keywords that are going to generate the best possible results for your SEO strategy.
5. Export keyword data into a spreadsheet
There are many different free tools you can use to narrow down your list, but at WebFX, a lot of us like to use a Chrome extension called Keywords Everywhere. This is a free extension, and you can bulk upload all of the keywords that you found in the second step.
So, if you did export all of your keywords into a spreadsheet, you can just copy and paste those and upload those right into the tool.
6. Analyze keyword metrics
Once you upload your list, you’ll see a few metrics for every keyword.
The most important of these are search volume and CPC, or cost-per-click. The search volume shows how many users are searching for each keyword per month. The higher the search volume, the more users are interested in that particular keyword.
The cost-per-click then, is data pulled in from Google AdWords or Google Ads that represents how many advertisers are trying to place ads for that keyword. The higher the cost-per-click, the more difficult it will be for your business to rank for that keyword.
So when discussing how to find keywords, the ideal keyword would be one that has a high monthly search volume, but a low cost-per-click. This means that lots of users are searching for this information, but not a lot of websites are trying to rank for it.
For this example, the keyword “bike rack for Subaru Forester,” has a high monthly search volume, but also a relatively high cost-per-click. This means that a lot of users are looking for bike racks that are compatible with this car, but unless your site already has a relatively high domain authority, it will probably be hard to rank for this keyword.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth targeting, or not worth having a page on your site for, but that there are probably other keywords that will be more effective at driving qualified traffic to your site.
If you sort the list by monthly search volume and scroll down a little farther, you’ll start to find the keywords that have a lower search volume, but also a lower cost-per-click.
So for example, the keyword “bike rack for xc90 Volvo,” only has an average monthly search volume of 10, and although this might not sound like a lot, that’s 10 potential customers if your site is able to rank well for that keyword.
Plus, the CPC is only 10 cents, which means that no matter how small your site, you do probably have a chance at ranking for that.
In the early stages of the keyword research process, don’t focus too hard on monthly search volume.
Later you can start focusing on those keywords that are going to attract a ton of traffic, but right at the start, it’s still worth your time to target long-tail keywords that have a low search volume.
As you go through this list of related keywords, you may even find ideas that you hadn’t thought of in your original brainstorming process. If this is the case, you can take these keywords and put them into KeywordsFX or another tool, and find even more keyword variations that you can use for your strategy.
If you run PPC campaigns with Google Ads, you can also use their keyword planner tool to expand your list. Click “Search for keyword and Ad group ideas,” and enter a few of the keywords that you’ve already found in your keyword research process. Then click the Ad group ideas tab.
This will show you the keywords that advertisers frequently target within the same campaigns.
This means that the majority of the keywords in this tab will be relevant to your products and services – and if you decide that any of them are, you can use Google Ads average monthly search volume and competition data to determine whether or not they are good additions to your strategy.
7. Prioritize your keywords
Once you have your list of keywords, you can determine where you want to incorporate them on your site.
If you found keywords that already have pages for, you can take these keywords and add them to your title tags, header tags, meta descriptions, and other important HMTL elements, as well as the body copy on each of these pages.
That being said, you definitely want to avoid keyword stuffing, or adding keywords where they’re not relevant or necessary. All of the content on your site should be written with your users in mind and with the goal of informing you potential customers and helping them find the information that they need.
Throughout the keyword research process, you might have found a few keywords that you don’t yet have content on your site for, but instead of adding these keywords to random pages hoping that those pages will rank for the keywords, you should see this as an opportunity to create more content for your site and more pages that will help your customers.
8. Make keyword research continuous
As you optimize your site, you can continue to do keyword research as much as you need. Over time, this will help you identify even more keywords that are helpful to your customers as well as keep your keywords relevant to changing search volume and trends.
So for example, even though the keyword “bike rack for 2016 Subaru Forester,” might be really valuable right now, five years from now there will probably be a newer model and other newer keywords that users are searching for.
That being said, the steps that I’ve covered are really only the basics. So if you want to learn more, I recommend that you download our free guide to keyword research.
Learn more about how to do keyword research
You’ve learned the basics about how to do keyword research, but if you’re looking to take your keyword research skills to the next level, you’ll want to get a copy of our Beginner’s Guide to Keyword Research. It’s free and full of helpful tips for how to find the best keywords for SEO.
Download your copy today and start finding the best keywords for your business!