Here’s the thing about ranking organically on search engines:
It lives and dies by your SEO keyword research.
The success of your online business on search engines depends on how well you’ve researched for your site’s target keywords.
Even if you have the best strategy in place in the hope of dominating Google’s organic search, if your chosen keywords suck, then your strategy is pretty much useless.
Therefore, this guide will explain how you can find the right keywords to target for your online business. I will share you the exact process of conducting SEO keyword research like how the experts do it. I will also provide you the best tools and resources to make your keyword research much easier.
Before we begin, let me answer a question that’s in your minds all this time:
Why should I care about SEO in the first place?
This is a fair question to ask. Keywords are the last thing business owners should think about when building a site. Their main concern is to provide their target audience with valuable information and services relevant to their needs.
However, since the competition is building up, you need to take advantage of anything you can get!
Consider that you’re going up against established businesses with years of experience under their belts and deeper pockets. From the very start, the odds are stacked against your favors, so you need to find a way to outsmart them.
This reason is why SEO is beloved by small businesses and startups:
Due to the low overhead and high conversion rate, it provides people who are just treading water in the business to make a big splash in your niche.
I wrote a Mention blog post that details some of the best SEO success stories. The examples stem from the fact that they lacked online presence and visibility. It is through SEO that these companies were able to thrive and fully realize their potentials.
Keep in mind that the companies mentioned in the post like Complete Plumbing Source and Maldive Traveller aren’t household names. They were only able to gain a foothold in the industry by organizing a comprehensive SEO strategy that focuses on their strengths.
To develop this strategy, you need to conduct proper keyword research for your business.
SEO keyword research is a process that lets you determine the target keywords for your site pages.
Target keywords refer to the search queries users type in on Google search.
If they want to learn more about SEO, then they’ll simply type in “SEO” or “SEO tips” on the search bar. Pretty straightforward, right?
Now, what you want to do is find the right keywords for your online business.
But what makes a keyword the right one for your website?
The goal of SEO is to make your site easier to find on Google. So if you’re running an SEO company or if you have a post about SEO tips, then you want to rank on top of Google search for the aforementioned keywords.
While it sounds simple enough, the tricky part here is that it isn’t.
There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to SEO keyword research and you need to be aware of those factors in order to find out the best keywords for your business.
Below are some of the variables that you need to concern yourself with before you begin conducting your keyword research:
What is your goal for targeting a keyword?
Ranking on top of organic search results for your keyword is the main objective. However, what is your intention in ranking on top? Do you want to drive lots of traffic to your site? Are you looking to build an email list? Do you want to acquire more leads from your site?
By defining your goals, you will have a clearer picture of which keywords to choose.
What is the intent of the target keywords you want to optimize for?
Not all keywords are built the same. That’s because users don’t share the same intent when searching for keywords.
Two of the most common keyword intents are informational and transactional.
The former refers to keywords that aim to educate and inform the user about a topic. From the examples above, “SEO” and “SEO tips” are informational keywords because it is assumed that the user wants to find out more about SEO in general.
The latter refers to keywords that users search when they want to purchase something, or at least interested in purchasing. If somebody wants to buy SEO tools, they’d probably type “best SEO tools” or ” what SEO tools should I buy.” Both clearly show that the user has an interest towards SEO tools, which makes the keywords transactional in nature.
It is also possible that people can search with the intention of learning more about the topic to make an informed purchasing decision. Keywords that start with “best” normally end up being informational and transaction.
How many people are searching for the keyword (volume)?
You can divide keyword type into two categories: head term and long-tail.
The former refers to keywords with not more than three words while the latter indicates those with four words or more.
Aside from their number of words, both can easily be defined by their average monthly search volume (AMSV). Since head terms are more general, they garner the most searches in a month. On the other hand, long-tail keywords are much more specific and precise. It also means that they have the least monthly search volume.
Later in this post, you will learn how to identify the monthly search volume of a keyword to help you launch your own SEO keyword research!
How difficult is it to rank for a keyword?
As a rule of thumb, you want to target keywords with the most searches in a month so you can increase your visibility on organic search, especially if you are ranking on the first page for this type of keyword.
At the same time, the keywords with the most searches are also the most difficult to rank for. This is true for head terms, where sites like Wikipedia and industry giants appear on the first page.
Instead of choosing head terms, you can go with long-tail keywords. While they have lesser search volume compared to head terms, they also have lesser competition on organic search.
Therefore, it is much easier for you to rank for these keywords. Not to mention, you have better chances of converting organic visitors since the keyword is specific; therefore, you’re probably writing about something they’ve always wanted an answer to!
How to manually conduct your SEO keyword research?
Ideally, you’d want to research for keywords in conjunction with a tool because it’s more efficient. However, it is important to know how to perform the research without tools so you will understand the little things that go into keyword research.
To begin, there are two types of keyword research- traditional and competitor-based. The former requires to you find keyword ideas related to your seed keyword and determine which ones to rank for on your site.
The traditional approach is the easier and more straightforward way to find keyword ideas for your sites. You can conduct your analysis using free tools online (more on those later). However, traditional keyword research banks on pure conjecture. You are putting all your eggs in the fact that the keyword has good metrics according to a tool. There’s a chance that the keyword doesn’t have any of your competitors in there, which means you won’t be able to attract your target audience, either.
Competitor-based refers to the process of identifying keywords that your competitors are ranking for. Using this method, you need to decide which keywords to target for in the hopes of outranking your competitor.
The great thing about competitor-based keyword research is that you will be targeting proven keywords that other websites are already optimized for. A disadvantage of this approach is that you won’t be able to find keywords in a niche without competitors because you don’t have competitor sites to spy and research on.
To make it easier for you to remember:
Traditional keyword research finds keywords to find other keywords, while the competitor-based method finds websites to find competitor keywords!
With regard to which keyword research method to use, it’s not really a competition.
You need both methods to find the best possible keywords to target.
Searching for keywords traditionally and by referring to your competition will help you narrow down your choices and get as many data as possible before making an informed decision.
How to perform traditional SEO keyword research
Finding potential keywords to target
First, you want to determine the keyword that best describes your business. Let’s go with the example keywords from above and say that you are running an SEO agency. Sign up and log into Google Keyword Planner and type “SEO agency” in the search bar.
You can also filter the results by location, language, or others so you can conjure more specific data.
What this tool does is help you find keywords to target for organic search results. based on keyword volume From the screenshot below, it shows how much monthly search volume a keyword garners. Unfortunately, the tool only shows you the range of search volume a keyword receives. Nonetheless, this is good enough to give you an idea of which keywords to target.
Only focus on the average monthly search volume column since it’s the only data relevant to organic search results.
If you’re not satisfied with the keyword suggestions provided by the tool, you can jump to Ubesuggest. Just type the topic keyword of your site and browse through the results.
Ubersuggest was once a tool to help you unearth more keyword ideas based on your seed keyword. Once you have the keywords, you can plug them into Google Keyword Planner to show the search volume range.
However, since Neil Patel purchased Ubersuggest, it has become something more than that.
Aside from providing you with keyword ideas to choose for your website, Ubersuggest also shows the approximate search volume of a keyword.
Basically, it not only does away with Google Keyword Planner, but it shows a more precise search volume for each keyword that Google’s too”. Keyword search volume is a metric that was once reserved for premium SEO tools. With Ubersuggest, cash-strapped SEO specialists will have a field day of finding out which keywords to optimize for based on their search volume.
However, Ubersuggest is far from perfect. It doesn’t show how difficult it is to rank for a keyword. Also, the accuracy of the search volume is debatable. And knowing Neil Patel, there’s a good chance that all of the tool’s features won’t be free for long. Nonetheless, as it stands, Ubersuggest makes SEO keyword research easier for everybody.
From here, you should have a bank of keywords to choose from.
Determine difficulty of keywords
To validate your keywords, you need to take a quick look at your competition. Go to Google and type the keyword you’re planning to target. If you’re targeting local search, you want to enter the domain extension of Google based on location (for example. Google.com.my for Malaysia).
Look at the first page or the top ten results for that keyword for the competitors you should focus on.
Here’s how your elbow grease should come into play. To determine whether or not you can outrank the pages on the first page of search results, you need to manually analyze and assess each page. That means checking for on- and off-page SEO factors of the pages.
To make life easier for you, simply download the Woorank extension for Google Chrome. It is a free tool that helps provide you an aggregate score of a page based on different SEO factors.
While it is in no way the most accurate measure of a page, it nonetheless provides you a general idea of a page’s score, which you can use to compare others.
If you want a tool that allows you to export data like internal and external links in a page, keyword density, and others, then SEOQuake is another Chrome extension and Firefox add-on that you want to look into. You can compile valuable data of all your competitors in a single spreadsheet so you can compare each of them and see the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Once you have the data, below are some of the questions that you need to ask yourself if this is the keyword that you ought to target:
Can I produce better content than they do?
Amidst all the different ranking factors, the only variable you need to concern yourself with is value. If you honestly think you can create a much better, more useful, and more valuable content than your competitors, then, by all means, you should target this keyword.
Can I link to pages from their link profiles?
While you probably will target keywords from websites with more authority than yours, you need to develop a strategy to level with them. Another important SEO factors are backlinks. It is the backbone of an effective off-page SEO campaign, so you need to build a strategy that will allow you to garner lots of links from authoritative sites.
The creation of highly valuable content that is better than the rest is a great link bait tactic. You will have already covered this part, assuming that you truly have created a much better content. However, as mentioned, you will be up against sites that are well-entrenched in your respective industry. Therefore, you need to be more proactive when building links to your site.
One of the best ways to do this is blogger outreach. In general, you want to find different influencers or people who have a significant following and clout in your field. Once you’ve found them, reach out to them with your page and ask a backlink from them. Some people won’t link to your site immediately, so you need to be creative when sending them a cold email with this proposal. You may also want to strike a relationship first and build off that before you pitch your page to them.
Depending on your approach to blogger outreach, this is potentially the fastest way to generate backlinks to your site and close the gap that exists between you and that top spot in search results.
How to automate finding one’s keyword difficulty?
Analyzing a keyword based on how difficult it is to rank for it on organic search is a time-consuming process. You will not have time to manually check each site ranking on the first page of search results for your keyword by answering the questions above.
Therefore, to save time and resources, you need to use a tool that will help simply show you the keyword difficulty with a few clicks of a button.
KWFinder is a relatively new SEO tool that’s making a big splash in the market.
It is a great way to find a keyword’s approximate search volume and difficulty. The tool also lets you find more keyword using the Autocomplete and Questions feature.
KWFinder is a paid keyword research tool, but it allows users to sign up for a free account and enter five keyword lookups in a day. I suggest you use Ubersuggest to find your target keywords and use KWFinder to validate your findings using the tool’s keyword difficulty index.
If you’re interested to learn more about KWFinder and other SEO keyword research tools, then read on!
How to perform competitor-based SEO keyword research
Manually treading the organic search waters will most likely drown you with too much data. Not to mention, you’re not spending your time wisely by visiting each site one by one, as shown earlier in looking for a keyword’s difficulty index.
Therefore, competitor-based SEO keyword research requires you to purchase a tool that will dig up the data for you so you can focus on making decisions on how to optimize your website.
Among the best competitive research tools is Ahrefs.
What was once primarily a link analysis tool is now a fully-fledged SEO software. Ahrefs boasts arguably the largest link database online. While bigger is better, what matters is how they use the data to provide users with actionable data for their SEO strategy.
Similar to SEMrush, Ahrefs offers both competitor research and traditional keyword research in its impressive arsenal. To access the tool’s competitor research feature, click on Site Explorer and enter the URL that you want to analyze. Then, click on the Organic Keywords tab to show keywords that the page is ranking for.
Upon clicking on the keyword, you will immediately gain access to the keyword’s keyword difficulty score, search volume, and keyword ideas to help you assess if the keyword is worth targeting.
A unique feature Ahrefs has is the Content Gap. Using this feature, you can find keywords that a maximum of three competitors is ranking for but you aren’t. Once you have the list, you can evaluate keywords that you feel you can rank on given the available metrics provided by Ahrefs. This feature helps expedite the competitor-based keyword research process so you don’t have to cross-reference every competitor with its list of keywords.
SEO keyword research tools you need to use
Following the keyword research blueprint beyond may take you hours or days to find the best ones for your business. However, instead of manually sifting and sorting through each keyword, you can use premium tools to help you unearth data in less time.
You’ve seen how much easier it is to conduct keyword research using KWFinder and Ahrefs. Below are other tools that you may want to consider in your SEO keyword research.
As an SEO keyword research tool, LongTailPro is arguably one of the most tried and tested in the market. It helps you uncover hundreds and thousands of keywords that you can use for your business. More importantly, it allows you to filter keywords based on their difficulty so you won’t have to manually each page for your target keyword.
Long Tail Pro is perfect for site owners who are simply interested in finding keywords using the traditional approach. There are more comprehensive SEO tools mentioned below that have keyword research as one of its many features, but for $37/month, Long Tail Pro doesn’t disappoint. It doesn’t one thing, and it does it rather well (and cheap!).
Much has been said about KWFinder above. It’s a great free tool that effectively conducts your traditional SEO keyword research, albeit on a limited basis. For $49/month, you’ll be able to enjoy 100 keyword lookups every day, thus boosting your keyword research. If you need more juice from your keyword research, you can upgrade to higher plans.
The price is good enough for everybody to purchase KWFinder by itself. However, upon purchase, you will also gain access to Mangools’ suite of SEO tools: SERPChecker, SERPWatcher, and LinkMiner. If you’re not using an SEO tool yet, Mangools’ is a great place to start your SEO journal, starting with its amazing keyword research tool.
SEMrush fits the bill of helping you conduct competitive research so you can dig deep down your link building efforts.
Before using its competitive research tool, you need to identify your competitors for your target keyword. If you haven’t figured out who they are, you can simply go to Keyword Analytics and enter your keyword into the search bar. From there, you will see the list of sites ranking for the keyword on Google Search.
After choosing a URL from the list, view the full report of the Top Organic Keyword to see other related keywords that the page is ranking for.
You can see vital metrics such as Keyword Difficulty, Traffic %, and others to help you identify which keywords you should focus on. Doing this process on all competing pages will help you find proven keywords to target for your site.
SEMrush also has keyword research features to help you conduct traditional keyword research. In particular, its Keyword Magic Tool helps you organize keywords in groups based on their topic. It makes compiling keywords with similar topics easier and helps you find the best keywords to use on your site faster.
Arguably the most interesting feature of this tool relevant to SEO keyword research is the SEO Content Template. After entering the keyword, the tool will provide you data on how many words to write, what semantic keywords you should use in your content, and which sites you should acquire a backlink from to rank on top of search results for that keyword. Basically, with just one click, you are automating your keyword research and content creation!
Wrapping it up
Tired, yet? Well, you shouldn’t be!
As exhausting as SEO keyword research can be, there’s no way around it. You really need to dive deep into the process of sifting through hundreds and thousands of keywords to find the best ones for your site.
Once you have identified the right keywords to use for your site (ideally between 5-10 keywords), you can proceed with developing your site’s SEO campaign, both on- and off-page. Your keywords will provide clarity on how to approach building your SEO strategy.
If you followed the steps and used the tools mentioned above, you can guarantee that your SEO campaign will give you a fighting chance against bigger and more established competitors.
Best of luck! And if you have any comments about this post, please voice them out by typing them below.