How to: Carry out keyword research for SEO

Posted: 12 Mar 2024

Keyword research is a crucial step in SEO. At its core, keyword research involves identifying the terms and phrases that people use to search for information online. These keywords are not just a collection of words; they are insights into the minds of your audience, revealing what they are looking for and how they go about searching for it.

Understanding the right keywords to target is fundamental to any successful SEO strategy. It’s not just about getting traffic to your site, but about getting the right kind of traffic – the kind that will convert into customers, subscribers or followers. Whether you’re a business owner looking to boost your online presence, a content creator aiming to reach a wider audience or an SEO professional seeking to refine your strategies, mastering keyword research is essential.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the entire process of keyword research, from understanding the basics to using advanced tools and techniques. We’ll explore how to use platforms like Ahrefs and SEMrush, how to analyse your competitors and how to leverage Google’s autofill feature to uncover valuable keyword opportunities. We’ll also delve into the concept of user intent, helping you to distinguish between keywords used for gathering information and those used with the intention to buy.


Part 1: Understanding the basics of keyword research 

Starting keyword research is akin to setting the foundations for a house. Without a solid foundation, the structure won’t stand strong. Similarly, without a solid understanding of keyword research, your SEO strategy might not withstand the competitive pressures of the online world. 

Let’s start by defining some key terms and concepts that will be our building blocks:

  • Keyword difficulty: This is a metric that estimates how hard it would be to rank for a particular keyword in search engine results pages (SERPs). A higher difficulty score means more effort and resources may be needed to compete for visibility.
  • Search volume: This term refers to the number of searches a specific keyword receives within a given timeframe. It’s a measure of popularity and indicates the potential traffic a keyword could bring to your website.
  • User intent: Understanding user intent is about grasping the reason behind a search query. It’s the ‘why’ that drives the ‘what.’ Keywords can generally be classified based on the intent behind them – informational (seeking information), navigational (looking for a specific website or page) and transactional (intending to make a purchase or complete an action).

Now, why is keyword research so crucial for content creation, SEO and enhancing your online visibility?

Targeted content strategy: By understanding what your audience is searching for, you can create content that addresses their questions, needs and pain points. This relevance boosts engagement and can establish your site as an authoritative source in your niche.

SEO optimisation: Keywords are the signals that guide search engines to your content. By optimising your content with the right keywords, you improve your chances of ranking higher in search results, leading to more visibility and traffic.

Competitive advantage: Analysing the keywords your competitors are targeting can provide insights into market trends and gaps in their strategies. This knowledge allows you to refine your approach and capture audiences they may be overlooking.

Measurable success: Keyword research provides tangible metrics, such as search volume and difficulty, which can help you set realistic goals and measure the success of your SEO efforts over time.

Keyword research is not just a task to be ticked off; it’s a strategic element that informs every aspect of your content and SEO efforts. By understanding and applying the principles of keyword research, you can significantly enhance your online visibility, attract a relevant audience and achieve your digital marketing objectives in a way that’s both efficient and effective. 


Part 2: Identifying your goals

Setting clear SEO goals determines the direction of your efforts and helps you navigate through the possibilities of keyword research. These goals should align with your broader business or client objectives, whether that’s enhancing brand visibility, generating leads, increasing sales or all of the above. 


Aligning SEO goals with business objectives

Brand visibility: If you aim to increase brand awareness, you’ll likely focus on keywords that are more informational and broad. These keywords help introduce your brand to potential customers who are in the early stages of their decision-making process.

Lead generation: For goals centred around lead generation, you’ll want to target keywords with a mix of informational and transactional intent. These keywords attract users who are looking for solutions and may be interested in what you offer, making them more likely to convert into leads.

Sales: When the objective is to boost sales, transactional keywords become your best friend. These are the keywords that users search for when they’re ready to make a purchase. Focusing on these can directly impact your bottom line by driving motivated buyers to your site.


How goals influence keyword selection

Understanding your goals helps to fine-tune your keyword strategy by prioritising terms that are most likely to attract the right audience and achieve the desired outcome. Here’s how:

  • Goal-relevant keywords: Each type of goal encourages you to look for keywords relevant to different stages of the customer journey. This alignment ensures that you’re not just attracting traffic, but the right kind of traffic at the right time.
  • Competition and feasibility: Goals also play a role in deciding how aggressively you target high-competition keywords versus focusing on niche, long-tail keywords. For newer businesses, starting with less competitive keywords can provide quicker wins, building a foundation for tackling more challenging terms as your site gains authority.
  • Content strategy: Your goals influence not only which keywords you target but also the kind of content you create. Whether it’s informative blog posts, product pages or how-to guides like this one, each content piece should serve your SEO goals and address the needs of your target audience at different stages of their journey.

Setting clear SEO goals aligned with your overall business objectives is not just a step in the process; it ensures every keyword you target and every piece of content you create is moving you closer to where you want to be. 


Part 3: Understanding user intent

Understanding user intent helps point your SEO strategy in the right direction. User intent refers to the purpose behind a search query – what the user is really looking for. By aligning your keywords and content with the right user intent, you can ensure that your audience finds exactly what they need on your site, making your content not just visible but valuable. 

Types of user intent

Informational intent: This is when users are on a quest for knowledge. They have questions or need information on a particular topic. Keywords related to informational intent often start with “how to,” “what is,” “guide to,” etc.

Navigational intent: Users with navigational intent already have a destination in mind. They use specific brand names or website names because they want to visit a particular site. Keywords here are usually brand or website-specific.

Transactional intent: Here, users are ready to make a move. Whether it’s making a purchase, signing up for a trial or downloading an app, their searches are driven by the desire to complete an action. Keywords often include “buy,” “deal,” “discount,” or even specific product names.

Commercial investigation: This is a blend of informational and transactional intent. Users are in the decision-making phase, comparing products, reading reviews and looking for the best options before they make a purchase decision. Keywords might include “best,” “top,” “review,” or “comparison.”

Aligning keywords with user intent for content creation

Here’s how you can align your keywords with the right intent:

  • Match the content with the intent: For informational intent, create detailed guides, blog posts and articles that answer questions and provide valuable insights. For navigational intent, ensure your brand and product pages are optimised with your name and relevant keywords. For transactional intent, focus on product pages, landing pages with offers, and calls to action that encourage purchase or sign-up. Lastly, for commercial investigation, create content that compares products, offers in-depth reviews or showcases testimonials.
  • Use intent-specific keywords: Incorporate keywords that match the user intent into your content. For example, use question-based keywords for informational content, brand names for navigational pages, product-specific terms for transactional pages and comparative keywords for commercial investigation content.
  • Optimise for natural language: With the rise of voice search, optimising for natural, conversational language is more important than ever. People speak differently than they type, often using longer, more specific phrases. Including these in your content can help you capture the right intent.
  • Monitor and adapt: User intent can evolve and what works today may not work tomorrow. Regularly review your content’s performance and search trends to ensure your keywords and content stay aligned with your audience’s needs.

By understanding and aligning your content strategy with user intent, you not only attract the right audience but also provide them with the value they seek, enhancing their experience and your site’s relevance.


Part 4: How to generate keyword ideas 

Unlocking the treasure trove of keyword ideas is an exciting part of your SEO journey. It’s where creativity meets strategy and where you start to see the vast potential for connecting with your audience. 

Part 4.1 – Brainstorming session

Begin by identifying broad topics related to your business or industry. These topics should reflect the core interests of your target audience and the different aspects of what you offer. For instance, if you’re a digital marketing agency, your broad topics might include SEO, content marketing, social media and email marketing.

Tips for brainstorming potential keywords:

  • Think like your customer: What questions might they have? What terms would they use to search for your products or services?
  • Use mind mapping: Create a visual map starting with your broad topics and branch out into more specific areas.
  • Involve your team: Different perspectives can uncover keywords you might not have considered.
  • Consider different keyword types: Remember to think about informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial investigation keywords.

Part 4.2: Using keyword research tools 

Top tools at your disposal:

  • Ahrefs: A comprehensive SEO tool that offers keyword research features, competitor analysis and more.
  • SEMRush: Another all-in-one tool that provides detailed keyword data, market insights and competitor intelligence.

Step-by-step guide:

(i) Enter your broad topic: Start by entering one of your broad topics into the tool’s search bar.

(ii) Analyse the results: Look at the suggested keywords, focusing on metrics like search volume (how many times a keyword is searched per month) and keyword difficulty (an estimate of how hard it will be to rank for that keyword).

(iii) Refine your search: Use filters to narrow down the list to the most relevant and achievable keywords.

(iv) Look for keyword gaps and opportunities: Pay attention to keywords your competitors might be missing.

Part 4.3: Exploring competitors’ keywords

Identifying competitors: Start with a simple Google search of your broad topics to see which websites rank the highest. These are your main competitors.

Analysing competitors’ keywords:

  • Use tools like Ahrefs or SEMRush to input your competitor’s website and uncover the keywords they’re ranking for.
  • Look for high-performing keywords that might be relevant to your content.
  • Consider how you can create content that is better or offers a unique angle on these topics.

Part 4.4: Using Google’s autofill and related searches

Tips on using Google search features:

  • Autofill: Simply start typing your broad topic into Google’s search bar and observe the autofill suggestions. These are based on popular searches related to your query.
  • Related searches: At the bottom of a Google search results page, you’ll find a list of related searches. These can provide additional keyword ideas that are relevant to your audience.
  • Insights about user intent: Pay attention to the phrasing of the autofill suggestions and related searches. They can give you clues about the types of questions people are asking and the intent behind their searches.

By combining creative brainstorming with strategic use of tools and data analysis, you can uncover a wealth of keywords that will drive your SEO strategy forward. Remember, the goal is not just to attract traffic, but to attract the right traffic. With a thoughtful approach to generating keyword ideas, you’re setting the stage for content that resonates with your audience and fulfils their search intent. 


Part 5: Evaluating and selecting keywords

Congratulations on gathering a diverse collection of keyword ideas! Now, evaluating and selecting the right keywords is a critical process that requires a careful balance of various factors. Let’s guide you through the criteria for selection, the balancing act between long-tail and short-tail keywords and how to use keyword tools effectively for evaluation.

Criteria for selecting the right keywords

Relevance: The golden rule of keyword selection is relevance. Ask yourself, does this keyword accurately reflect the content or product I’m offering? The closer the match, the higher the likelihood of satisfying user intent and achieving better engagement rates.

Search volume: This metric indicates how many people are searching for a specific keyword. While high search volume means more potential traffic, it’s not just about the numbers. Aim for keywords that your target audience is actively searching for, even if some are niche with lower search volumes.

Difficulty: Also known as competition, keyword difficulty shows how hard it would be to rank for a particular term. Balance your strategy by mixing keywords with high difficulty that offer long-term goals and those with lower competition for quicker wins.

Current ranking potential: Evaluate your website’s current ability to rank for each keyword. Consider factors like domain authority, content quality and existing rankings. Keywords that align with your strengths and offer realistic opportunities for ranking improvements are usually good choices.

Balancing long-tail and short-tail keywords

  • Short-tail keywords: These are broad, often highly competitive keywords, usually one to two words long. They have high search volumes but also high competition and can be vague in terms of user intent.
  • Long-tail keywords: These keywords are longer phrases that are more specific and usually have lower search volume but also lower competition. They’re excellent for targeting niche demographics and are often associated with higher conversion rates due to their specificity.

The balancing act:

  • Aim for a mix of both long-tail and short-tail keywords in your strategy. Use short-tail keywords to build general visibility and long-tail keywords to attract targeted traffic more likely to convert.
  • Consider the stage of your business or SEO campaign. Newer websites might find more success focusing on long-tail keywords initially, gradually targeting more competitive short-tail keywords as they build authority.

Using keyword tools for evaluation 

Keyword tools are your allies in the evaluation process, offering insights that help you make informed decisions. Here’s how to use them effectively:

  • Filter by your criteria: Use the tools to filter keywords based on relevance, search volume, difficulty, and your website’s ranking potential. Tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush allow you to tailor your search with these filters.
  • Analyse keyword trends: Look for keywords with stable or growing search trends. Avoid those with declining interest over time, unless they’re seasonal or event-based.
  • Consider SERP features: Some keywords trigger special features in search results, like featured snippets or local packs. Identifying these opportunities can help you tailor your content to potentially capture these spots.
  • Review and refine: Your keyword list should be dynamic, adapting to changes in your business, audience behaviour and the competitive landscape. Regularly review and update your keyword strategy to ensure it remains aligned with your goals.

Remember, the goal is to connect with your audience through content that resonates and satisfies their search intent. With a well-evaluated and carefully selected list of keywords, you’re well on your way to achieving this goal.


Part 6: Organising and prioritising keywords

Now that you’ve identified and selected your keywords, it’s time to get them organised. You will need to sort your keywords in a way that aligns with your content strategy and business goals. 

Strategies for categorising keywords

By intent: Group your keywords based on the user intent they serve. This organisation helps tailor your content strategy to meet users at different stages of their journey.

By topic: Organise your keywords around specific topics or themes relevant to your business. This approach not only helps in creating focused content clusters but also in establishing topical authority in your domain.

By product or service: If you offer multiple products or services, categorising keywords according to each offering can streamline content creation and ensure that all aspects of your business get the right attention.

By customer segment: For businesses serving different customer segments, organising keywords according to the interests, demographics or pain points of these segments can help in personalising content and targeting more effectively.

Prioritising keywords

With your keywords neatly categorised, the next step is to prioritise them. Not all keywords will have the same impact on your goals, so it’s essential to focus your efforts where they’ll count the most.

  • Align with business goals: Evaluate each keyword or group of keywords based on how well they align with your overarching business objectives, such as increasing brand visibility, generating leads or driving sales.
  • Assess opportunities: Some keywords might present unique opportunities due to seasonal trends, emerging market interests or low competition. Keep an eye out for these, as they can offer quick wins or strategic advantages.
  • Consider resources: Be realistic about your resources – time, budget and expertise. Prioritise keywords that you have the capacity to target effectively. It’s better to rank highly for fewer, well-targeted keywords than to spread yourself too thin.
  • Use a scoring system: To facilitate prioritization, consider using a scoring system that takes into account factors like search volume, difficulty, relevance and potential ROI. Assign scores to each keyword or keyword group and prioritize based on the total score.
  • Review regularly: Market dynamics, search trends and your business priorities can change. Regularly reviewing and adjusting your keyword priorities ensures your SEO strategy remains responsive and effective.

Organising and prioritising your keywords is a crucial step that transforms your list from a simple inventory into a strategic asset. By categorising your keywords thoughtfully and prioritising them based on clear criteria, you set the stage for targeted, impactful SEO efforts. This not only helps in achieving your immediate goals but also builds a strong foundation for long-term success. 


Part 7: Implementing keywords into your SEO strategy

Using best practices for integrating keywords into various elements of your website and content, ensures that your SEO efforts are as effective as possible. 

Best practices for keyword integration

Website content: Your website content is the heart of your SEO strategy. Integrate keywords naturally within your text, focusing on creating valuable, informative and engaging content. Place keywords in headings, subheadings and throughout the body where they fit contextually, but avoid keyword stuffing. The goal is to make your content appealing to both search engines and human readers.

Blogs: Blog posts offer a fantastic opportunity to target long-tail keywords and cover topics in-depth. Use keywords to guide your topic selection and content structure. Incorporate them into titles, headings and naturally within the text. Blogs are also great for internal linking using keyword-rich anchor text to other relevant pages on your site.

Meta tags: Meta titles and descriptions are crucial for SEO and click-through rates. Use your primary keywords in the meta title and describe the page content compellingly in the meta description, including relevant keywords where possible. Keep them concise and relevant to improve visibility and engagement in search results.

URLs: Structure your URLs to be clean, simple and keyword-rich. This not only aids in SEO but also improves user experience by making the URL easy to read and understand. For example, use /digital-marketing-strategies instead of /page-1.

Images and alt text: Optimise your images by using descriptive, keyword-rich file names and alt text. This improves the visibility of your content in image search results and helps with overall SEO.

The importance of high-quality, user-focused content

Integrating keywords is crucial, but it should never come at the expense of quality and user focus. Here’s why creating high-quality content is paramount:

  • Engagement and value: Content that genuinely addresses the needs, interests and questions of your audience will engage and retain visitors, encouraging them to explore further and take action.
  • Search engine trust: Search engines aim to provide users with the best possible results. High-quality, relevant content is more likely to earn higher rankings, as it signals to search engines that your website is a valuable resource.
  • Natural keyword integration: When you focus on creating user-centric content, keywords will naturally find their place without forced insertion. This leads to a better reading experience and improves the content’s SEO performance.
  • Building authority: Consistently producing outstanding content helps establish your site as an authority in your niche, earning trust from both users and search engines.

By following these best practices and focusing on quality and relevance, you’ll be able to weave your keywords into a strategy that not only ranks well but also attracts your audience. 

Part 8: Monitoring and adapting

The huge umbrella of ‘digital’ is ever-changing, with trends shifting and algorithms evolving. To ensure your keyword research is successful, you need to monitor progress and be ready to adjust as needed. 

Techniques for tracking keyword performance

Rank-tracking tools: Tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs and Moz offer rank-tracking features that allow you to monitor the positions of your keywords in search results over time. By setting up a list of your target keywords, you can get regular updates on how your pages rank for each term, helping you identify trends and opportunities for improvement.

Google Analytics: Google Analytics is invaluable for understanding how visitors interact with your website. Track metrics such as page views, bounce rates and conversion rates to gauge the effectiveness of your keyword-targeted content. 

Google Search Console: This tool provides direct insights from Google’s perspective, showing which queries bring users to your site and how you rank for them. It also offers data on click-through rates (CTR) and impressions, which can help you understand the visibility and appeal of your listings in search results.

Tips on adapting your keyword strategy

Be responsive to data: Regularly review your rank tracking and analytics data to identify keywords that are performing well and those that aren’t meeting expectations. Look for patterns that might indicate why certain keywords are more successful, such as content quality, user intent alignment or on-page optimisation.

Keep an eye on trends: Use tools like Google Trends to stay updated on changes in search behaviour and emerging trends. Adapting your strategy to include trending keywords or topics can capture new traffic opportunities and keep your content relevant.

Refine and expand your keyword list: Based on your performance analysis, refine your focus on keywords that offer the best ROI. Consider expanding your keyword list to include variations or related terms that might capture additional traffic.

Optimise existing content: If certain pages or posts are underperforming for targeted keywords, review and update them. Improve on-page SEO, refresh the content for accuracy and relevance and ensure that it fully addresses the user intent for those keywords.

Experiment and iterate: SEO is not a set-it-and-forget-it endeavour. Be willing to experiment with new keywords, content formats and strategies. Use A/B testing where possible and relevant to directly compare the performance of different approaches.

Stay informed on SEO best practices: SEO is a dynamic field, with search engines constantly updating their algorithms. Stay informed on best practices and industry changes to ensure your keyword strategy remains effective and compliant.

Monitoring and adapting your keyword strategy is an ongoing process of observation, analysis and action. By staying aware of the performance of your keywords and being flexible in your approach, you can navigate the shifting tides of SEO with confidence.


What’s next? 

The ultimate goal of SEO and keyword research is not just to achieve high rankings but to build a lasting connection with your audience by providing them with value and relevance. By embracing the principles of continuous learning and adaptation, you ensure that your SEO efforts remain effective, resilient and aligned with the goals of your business or client.

If you need help with your keyword research and SEO strategy, get in touch today.