- 90.63% of content gets no traffic from Google, according to Ahrefs. This underscores the importance of creating content targeting relevant search terms.
- Keyword research is the process of finding the search terms and queries that are relevant to your audience. This should be the first step of any content campaign.
- Marketers can conduct keyword research manually using Google and other free tools, using specialized tools such as Semrush or Moz, or a combination of both.
SEO and the organic search landscape have evolved pretty dramatically over the years, but one thing remains the same: the importance of keywords, also known as search terms or search queries. Search terms – the terms and phrases people are typing into search engines every day – give SEOs a huge clue as to what users want and need from digital content. That’s why every content campaign should start with keyword research.
Below is our beginner’s guide to keyword research, from why keyword research is so important to keyword research tips for marketers in any industry.
What is keyword research and why does it matter?
As the name implies, keyword research is the process of finding keywords that are relevant to your business or industry – i.e., relevant to potential customers.
In other words, the keyword research process should help you uncover the topics and questions that interest your audience. By finding and analyzing groups of related keywords that are relevant to these topics, you can then create content targeting these keywords, with the hope of answering your audience’s questions and thereby increasing your rankings, traffic, and even conversions.
Keywords make your content relevant
Keyword research is crucial to any content campaign because Google prioritizes relevance. Creating content about topics that no one is searching for is a waste of time and resources, and does nothing to increase your exposure. A study by Ahrefs found that 90.63% of content gets no traffic by Google. There’s a good chance a lot of that content contains no relevant keywords.
On the other hand, knowing what your audience cares about, what search terms are related to those topics, the popularity of those terms, and how likely it is that you will rank for those terms gives you the data you need to create quality content that actually answers users’ questions.
Keyword research tips for beginners
Keyword research can be a time-consuming process with lots of steps, but the effort is well worth it. Below, we’ve laid out our best keyword research tips for beginners, starting with a basic step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Understand your industry
It’s important to have a thorough understanding of both your business and the industry at large. In order to come up with topics relevant to your audience, you need to understand the types of questions and pain points that come up around your products or services, as well as topics that are trending in your industry.
For 99% of marketers, this is simply part of the job. However, it’s worth mentioning the wealth of insight you can get from things you’re probably already doing, such as reading industry-specific blogs, attending industry events like mixers and conferences, or following thought leaders on social media.
Tip: One of the best resources for keyword ideas can be your customer service department, since they are in direct contact with your audience on a regular basis.
Step 2: Brainstorm head keywords
Think of head keywords or “seed keywords” simply as short, basic phrases that are relevant to your industry. In the case of Redefine Marketing Group, this would include things like:
- Search engine marketing
- Content marketing
- Local SEO
- Mobile first indexing
…and so on. As you can see, these phrases are quite general and should be thought of as starting points, not a final list. In fact, in many industries, the more general the keyword, the harder it may be to rank for. However, this list will provide excellent terms to enter into Google or keyword research tools, leading to more comprehensive keyword options.
Tips for brainstorming: Involve your colleagues. Don’t hesitate to reach out to colleagues across different departments. Keyword research is by definition a process for understanding what people are interested in or asking about in your field, so the more diverse input, the better.
Step 3: Use your seed keywords to find additional keywords and related keywords.
This step is where the bulk of the “research” happens. This is where you will use keyword research tools to mine real search results for relevant short-tail and long-tail keywords and queries. We will further explore the various options for keyword tools later in this article, but the basic idea is that such tools give you a look at real search terms your audience is using.
Several things happen during this step, sometimes more than once. In general, this includes:
- Entering head keywords (the keywords you brainstormed in step 2) into your chosen keyword research tools
- Browsing the results and evaluating them by relevance, search intent, keyword volume, keyword difficulty, etc.
- Finding related keywords – i.e., expanding beyond exact match/phrase match terms and using your understanding of search intent to capitalize on the relationship between keywords that do not contain matching words. For example, if you typed “local seo” into a tool like Semrush, you would not see the search term “how to use google my business” in the results. However, from our industry knowledge, we know that users interested in learning about local SEO will likely also be interested in learning about Google My Business.
- Organizing results into topic “buckets” – for example, at RMG we might have a “bucket” for the general term “local seo” that would include search terms like “local SEO tips” and “local SEO tools” as well as “how to use google my business” or “yelp reviews for marketing.” It’s important to keep your list organized in a spreadsheet that you can return to throughout your content campaigns.
When to conduct keyword research
Keyword research should happen before any content gets created, for two main reasons:
- Keywords can be chosen that fit the brand and don’t sound forced.
- Keywords can be chosen that are relevant to your audience and aren’t too competitive.
It’s best to go into the writing process knowing what keywords you’re targeting are, instead of fitting them into the content after the fact. This makes for a more natural experience for the writer and reader.
Keyword research should also not be considered a one-and-done process, but rather an ongoing process that gets revisited and refined along with your ongoing content efforts. This ensures that you stay in step with trends in your business or industry.
Weighing search volume, competitiveness, and other keyword metrics
Not all keywords are created equal – that is, not all keywords will be worth it for you to target. Consider the following metrics carefully when deciding what keywords to include in your final list (note that different tools contain different metrics or names for the same metrics):
- Search volume: This tells you how many people are searching for that term in a given time period, e.g., per month. Conventional wisdom says you should go for higher search volumes, but there are many situations in which lower search volumes are no big deal or can even be a better choice. For one thing, high search volumes often correspond to higher competitiveness. We explore this more below with regard to long-tail vs. short-tail keywords.
- Competitiveness: Sometimes measured as “keyword difficulty,” this is a measure of how difficult it is to rank for that search term based on current rankings. If you are using multiple search tools, you may need to normalize your results if the different tools measure this differently (e.g., as a percentage, a number, etc.)
- SERP features: Some search terms have SERP features in the results, such as Featured Snippets, knowledge panels, shopping results, image results, etc. It can be worth it to look at any SERP features you may be able to optimize for when targeting certain keywords.
Long-tail vs. short-tail keywords
Short-tail keywords are typically those that most people think of when they think of search terms: they are typically only two or three words, general, concise, and have high search volumes. Head keywords or seed keywords tend to be short-tail keywords.
Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, tend to be more specific and have lower search volumes. Contrary to what you may think, the “long-tail” does not describe the length of the keywords themselves but rather where they fall on the search results curve for a given topic. Keywords in the “long tail” of the curve have lower search volumes and are typically more niche.
Because lower search volumes often translate to lower keyword competitiveness, targeting long-tail keywords is a great strategy for organic SEO. It’s a good idea to include both long-tail and short-tail keywords in your final list.
Considering competitor rankings
One great way to supplement your keyword research is to look at what keywords your competitors are ranking for. Remember that competitors should be sites that are comparable to yours in terms of domain authority, industry, products, size, etc., rather than major players like Wikipedia.
One strategy we like is the content gap analysis. In this process, we use keyword research tools to find keywords that both our clients and their competitors both cover, but for which the competitors rank while our clients do not. Then, we re-optimize the content that targets those keywords with the intention of increasing those rankings.
Keyword research tools
1. Paid tools
There’s a wealth of powerful tools specifically designed for keyword research, including those by Semrush, Ahrefs, Moz, and more. The advantage of these tools is that they automate the organization process, letting you perform almost the entire process in one platform, from sourcing head keywords to sorting related keywords into buckets to finding and analyzing competitor keywords. They also let you filter by important metrics like keyword difficulty and search volume.
2. Alternative approaches
If you don’t have access to paid tools like those mentioned above, you can still get far with manual keyword research. For example, using Google Instant, you can literally just type a search term into Google and browse the related phrases that pop up below:
You can also browse the “People Also Ask” sections for long-tail keywords:
Finally, sites like Answer the Public let you browse real search terms for free. Note that some of these sites limit the number of searches you can perform per day or month.
RMG can help
The keyword research tips above should set you up for a successful round of keyword research. However, we know the process can seem overwhelming, especially if done manually. The SEO experts at RMG not only do keyword research every day, but we also have access to powerful tools to make the process easier, giving you the time and resources to focus on making your products and services great. Reach out to the team today to find out how we can help take your content to the next level.