Before you dive into writing content for your blog, you need to know what people in your niche are searching for. Keyword research for SEO helps us understand our target audience and what their needs, wants and demands are.
If you are new to the concept of keyword research or you simply want to better your keyword strategy, this 7 step guide will help you find the right keywords.
Step 1: What is keyword research and why it’s important
What is keyword research?
Let’s have a look at the MOZ definition:
Keyword research is a core SEO task that involves identifying popular words and phrases people enter into search engines -make in an attempt to figure out what to rank for. Researching keywords gives marketers a better understanding of how high the demand is for certain keywords and how hard it would be to compete for those terms in the organic search results, offering some direction to optimization efforts.
Keyword research not only gives you an idea of what people are searching for but also guides your content strategy in the right direction. You should always start your SEO process by doing keyword research. Once you have your keywords, then you can start writing content around those keywords.
Why is keyword research important?
Doing keyword research and targeting the right keywords can help you increase organic traffic to your site and rank higher in search engines without having to spend money on advertising. Furthermore, it gives you a better understanding of your target audience and tells you what people want right at this moment. If we know what they are searching for, we can cater to their needs and produce content that will hopefully answer their questions and solve their problems. We can also better understand our competitors’ strategy and find out what keywords they are using and ranking for.
Step 2: Where can I get ideas for my keyword research?
There are so many ways where we can get ideas for our keywords. But before we do that, write down a list of 5 broad categories relating to your niche. Once you have your list ready, use any of these 5 proven methods to generate more in-depth and specific topics for each of your categories.
#1. Google Suggest
I always start brainstorming ideas by using Google suggest. It’s super easy and informative. Have a look at the example of “how to lose weight”:
You can see that people are searching for a lot of different topics relating to weight loss – “how to lose weight fast”, “how to lose weight in a week”, “how to lose weight on legs” and so on.
#2. Google “Searches related to”
Another easy method for generating ideas is Google’s related searches. Just type in one of your categories into Google and scroll down to see searches related to your query.
You may have noticed that some of the related searches for “how to lose weight” differ from the ones that we have got earlier with Google suggest. So you have some new ideas like “how to lose weight naturally”, “how to lose weight fast without exercise”, etc.
Good old forums are still relevant in this day and age. People looking for answers still register on forums and engage with other fellow users. In order to find forums relating to your niche, just type in your “keyword” + “forum”. Look at the screenshot below:
Now it’s time to do your research. Click on all forums threads that appeal to you and see what people frequently ask and post about. Majority of forums will be divided into sub-forums or categories that can help you generate your keyword ideas.
I feel like Reddit is an extremely underrated tool among many SEO experts.
Reddit is home to thousands of communities, endless conversation, and authentic human connection.
It is a great place to generate ideas and do your keyword research. You can join thousands of communities (subreddits), post links (read rules of each subreddit before posting), write comments and much more.
For example, let’s have a look at our “how to lose weight” category on Reddit:
As you can see, Reddit has lots of weight loss related communities you can join. If you browse within those subreddits, you can find tons of useful information for your niche. Also, if you look to the right, you can see that Reddit has a “people also searched for” feature just like Google.
BuzzSumo is one of my favorite tools to use to see what is trending on the Web. Although it is not a free tool, you can get a free 7-Day trial without having to put in your credit card details.
Let’s have a look and see what results our query “how to lose weight” will display:
You can apply various filters and see how many times an article has been shared online via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit. You can view the backlinks as well.
If you are struggling to come up with ideas for your blog, check out my post about 80 blog post ideas.
Now it’s time to read up on some theory and find out what types of keywords are out there.
Step 3: What types of keywords are there?
If you do a google search query for “types of keywords in SEO”, you will find loads of different variations. I like to put my keywords in 3 main categories – generic, broad and long tail keywords. Have a look at the graph below (inspired by the Moz demand curve):
Generic keywords (also known as short keywords, head keywords, short tail keywords) consist of 1 word or single phrase. For example: laptops, real estate, shoes, etc. These keywords have a high monthly search volume and usually crazy competition. If you want to target these keywords, you are in for a real challenge.
Broad keywords (also known as mid-length keywords, body keywords, middle tail keywords) consist of 2-3 word phrases. For example: HP laptops, real estate jobs, women’s shoes, etc. These keywords have a decent monthly search volume with less than high competition. However, these keywords are still very competitive and you will have to put in a lot of effort to rank high in search engine results.
#Long tail keywords
Long tail keywords (don’t really have any variations to its name) consist of 4 or more phrases. These are very specific and descriptive phrases. For example: HP laptop screen replacement near me, real estate jobs in London, women’s shoes with arch support, etc. These keywords may only get one hundred searches a month (or sometimes even less), but they are usually low in competition and tend to have better conversion rates.
Now let’s discuss the concept of keyword difficulty.
Step 4: What is keyword difficulty?
Ahrefs provides the following definition of keyword difficulty:
In the world of SEO, Keyword Difficulty is a handy metric which helps you understand how hard it would be to rank for a particular search query.
People who are new to SEO may confuse ‘Keyword Difficulty’ with ‘Competition’ in the Google Keyword Planner. ‘Competition’ only refers to paid search results while ‘Keyword Difficulty’ applies to organic search results.
Good point mentioned right there. Never confuse “keyword difficulty” with “keyword competition” as they are two totally different metrics. In this post I am only talking about “keyword difficulty”, something that applies to our organic searches.
The majority of keyword research tools use a keyword difficulty index (from 0 to 100) that shows you how difficult it would be to rank for a certain keyword. The higher the index, the more difficult it will be to rank high for that keyword.
Time to have a look at the best keyword research tools out there.
Step 5: What keyword research tools to use – free or paid
The good thing about this tool is that it’s absolutely free. I always start my keyword research with Ubersuggest. It is a very good starting point to generate a list of keywords.
Ubersuggest uses the following metrics:
VOLUME – the number of searches a particular keyword has during a month
CPC – cost per click
PD – paid difficulty (estimated competition in paid search), also knows as PPC (pay-per-click)
SD – SEO difficulty (estimated competition in organic search), also known as KD (keyword difficulty)
When doing keyword research, we should primarily focus on volume, CPC and SD. Just type in your words, select a country and see what results pop up. It also has a very useful “filters” section.
Ahrefs keywords explorer tool is a very comprehensive one. It not only gives you a keyword difficulty score, but also tells you how many backlinks from how many sites you will need in order to rank in the top 10 for your chosen keyword. It is an expensive tool (the cheapest monthly plan is $99) but you can always try their 7-day trial for just $7.
KWFinder is another great tool for keyword research. It has a very nice interface and it’s super easy to use. Although it is a paid tool, it is one of the cheapest on the market (the cheapest monthly plan is only $29.90). They also have a very generous 10-day free trial that doesn’t require inputting any credit card details. I strongly suggest everyone to try them out for free and make the most out of those 10 days.
#SEMrush (FREE and PAID)
Another powerful tool for keyword research for SEO. With a free account (limited to 10 searches per day) you can still get quite a bit of useful data – keyword difficulty, marketing insights, domain analytics and much more. Make sure to use it wisely if you are on a free account. If you have some money to spend, their cheapest plan starts at $99.95 per month.
#FREE or PAID?
It depends on a lot of factors. If you are just getting into SEO, I would suggest going for the free options and free trials. My personal favorite among the free tools is Ubersuggest.
Once you know how to pick keywords and want to gain a better understanding of the different SEO metrics, then it is wise to invest a bit of money into some paid tools. I would start by using KWFinder as it is only $29.90 per month and you get loads of different apps within the website – KWFinder for keyword research, LinkMiner for backlink analysis, SiteProfiler for various SEO metrics and insights, SERPChecker for SERP analysis and SERPWatcher for rank tracking. That’s definitely not a bad return for your 30 bucks.
Step 6: How to choose the right keywords
Now that we have covered all the necessary components of keyword research, we can finally start picking the right keywords for our blog or site. I like to follow these tips when choosing my keyword:
#Target long tail keywords
Try to target long tail keywords as they are less competitive, have better conversion rates and are easier to rank for in the search engine results. Plus the experts are saying that the future will consist of long tail keywords.
#Choose words with an easy keyword difficulty
Focus on words with easy keyword difficulty, especially if you are a newbie and your site is new and not gaining tons of traffic just yet.
#Search volume of at least 100 per month
This is something that is easily debatable but I like to target keywords that have got at least one hundred searches a month. I don’t see a reason why I’d spend hours writing about a topic that only gets 10 monthly searches.
#Growth of keyword interest
Target keywords that are growing steadily or have a consistent interest over time. Google Trends is a great tool to see how certain keywords have been performing over time. Depending on the filters you use (country, time period, category), you can find out whether there was a growth or a decline in your chosen keyword.
As we can see from the screenshot, the keyword “how to lose weight” had its peak in July 2018 and January 2019. It is also growing now, in June 2019. This can indicate that people want to lose weight the most during the summer period and Christmas / New Year’s period.
#Relevance to your niche
Perhaps this is a very obvious one, but don’t forget to keep your posts relevant to your niche. If you have a blog in the “weight loss” niche, don’t suddenly start writing articles about “investment advice” or “real estate” just because you came across a good keyword. People will often think that you are unprofessional and only writing about things for the sake of it. Keep your blog focused on your topic and improve your knowledge in that area.
#In a nutshell
We want to focus on long tail keywords:
- with an easy keyword difficulty
- with a decent monthly search volume (at least 100+ a month)
- that are steadily growing over time
- that are relevant to our niche
But obviously, this is not always going to happen. Just be logical and target keywords that you think you can rank for. Start with less competitive keywords. Once your site establishes itself in its chosen niche and starts gaining some decent traffic, backlinks and authority, you can challenge yourself and target keywords that are a bit more competitive. Everything takes time and practice makes perfect.
Step 7: How and where to use the keywords
Now that we finally got some keywords, we can start using them in our blog post. Whenever I write new content, I include my keywords in:
- Blog post URL
- Blog post title
- Main heading (H1)
- Body text (at the beginning of the post and somewhere in the middle, wherever it makes sense to mention it really)
- Image file name
- Image Alt text
Remember one thing though, never ever use your keyword too many times. This practice is called keyword stuffing. It negatively affects your SEO and can even result in a Google penalty.
Yay! Keyword research has been finally covered
Now you know all the basics of keyword research and hopefully, have the knowledge to go out there and build your own list of keywords.
If you want to read more about how to optimize your blog post for search engines, make sure to check out my on-page SEO guide.
Got any comments or questions? Please leave them in the comment section below.