* This post may contain affiliate links for some of the awesome SEO tools I use every day 😉
Whether you’re a blogger, a business owner, or an aspiring SEO copywriter, the concept of creating “SEO content” may seem easier said than done.
After all, you know that the key to generating organic traffic from your content goes far beyond simply writing a blog post and clicking “Publish”. If it were that simple, you ‘d already be seeing the traffic roll in.
In reality, your SEO strategy begins before you type a single word. It must begin with a solid foundation of keyword research.
And before you can start generating traffic, you need to be sure that you’re targeting terms people are actually searching for.
So, how do you find the best keywords for your SEO strategy? How do you attract the right type of audience that’s likely to convert into subscribers, customers, or clients?
In this SEO 101 guide, we’re covering how to do keyword research for SEO so you can drive high-converting traffic to your website.
Keyword Research: Discovering What Your Audience is Searching for Online
What this means for you as a website owner is that Google has an incentive to rank your website if you provide content that’s valuable to users.
Therefore, keyword research isn’t about finding the right keywords to “trick” Google into ranking your website. It’s about identifying which terms your audience is using to find websites, blogs, services, or products like yours.
Once you’ve identified these keywords, you can create content that your audience is 1) actively searching for and 2) actually wants to read.
What are Keywords, Really?
Keywords (otherwise known as “search queries”) are words and phrases people use to search for things in search engines. Search engines then generate a list of results to match what the user is searching for.
As a website owner, you use keywords to add context to what your website content is about. When you target specific keywords in your content, your website has a chance to rank for these keywords in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Then, users can click on the result to be taken to your website.
People often use sentence fragments or broad terms – like “SEO meaning” or “best black boots” – to find what they are looking for. For this reason, keyword research is necessary in order for you to find the exact keywords your audience is actually searching for. They aren’t always what you would expect.
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research, then, refers to the process of finding out which terms users are searching for in search engines. It also involves looking at keyword data to determine how many people are searching for a given keyword and how competitive the keyword is.
Through keyword research, you may discover that a certain keyword gets thousands of searches per month, but is also highly competitive. On the other hand, you may have a keyword in mind and through research realize that it gets no traffic at all. In any case, keyword research helps you determine whether a keyword is worth targeting on your site.
Why Keyword Research is Important
Keyword research is important because it helps you identify the best keywords to target in your website content. Conducting thorough keyword research is a far better approach than using a “post and pray” method.
For instance, you may already have a whole list of keywords in mind, but if you haven’t conducted research to determine whether these terms have any search volume, you don’t know whether targeting those terms is a good use of your time.
Or, you may have no idea where to start when it comes to creating an SEO strategy. Keyword research will help you find keywords to target to attract organic traffic to your website.
Finally, conducting keyword research ensures that you’re creating content that’s actually relevant to your audience. There are tons of keywords out there, but not all of them will apply to what your target audience is actually searching for. If you want to attract users who are likely to convert into customers or clients, then you’ll need to find the right keywords for your SEO strategy.
The Key to Great Keyword Research? Understanding User Intent.
Keyword research has evolved a bit over the years.
For a while, it was all about finding keywords that exactly matched what a user was searching for. Now, it’s more important to find keywords that match the intent of the user.
User intent is an important component of the keyword research process because it informs how you create your content. Instead of jamming your content full of exact-match keywords, you want to create content that addresses the problem/question a user intended to solve by conducting their search.
Since keywords can have many different meanings, it’s crucial that you consider user intent before you start creating content.
For example, maybe you identify the keyword “Thailand travel guide” as potentially being a good fit for your website.
However, “Thailand travel guide” could refer to a guide-like blog post that talks about travel in Thailand, or a human travel guide that shows tourists around the country.
Is the user looking for a blog post to read, or are they looking to hire a travel guide in Thailand? The user’s intent could significantly influence the direction you take in your content.
To avoid any content mishaps, you’ll want to consider intent while doing your keyword research.
One way to do this is to do a simple Google search of your target keyword and see what comes up.
Are most of the results blog post-style guides to Thailand? If so, then that’s probably the direction you’ll want to take in your own content.
If this seems confusing, don’t worry. I’ve factored this into the keyword research process below so you can narrow down your list of keywords and identify terms your audience is actually searching for.
Before Keyword Research, Understand Your Audience
One of the biggest mistakes website owners make when it comes to keyword research is not taking the time to thoroughly understand their target audience.
This is such a common problem because most website owners *assume* that they know their target audience.
In reality, you don’t truly know who your target audience is or what they want unless you ask the right questions through market research.
That’s why I highly recommend conducting a market research survey before diving into keyword research. You can do this by creating an anonymous Google Forms and sharing it with people in your presumed target audience.
Some questions to include in this market research survey are:
- What is your biggest struggle when it comes to ______?
- What is your #1 goal when it comes to ______ ?
- What 3 solutions/approaches have you tried to achieve this goal?
- What are the top 3 issues you had with these solutions/approaches?
- What 3 questions do you have about ______ ?
- What is your #1 fear when it comes to ______ ?
The “_____” in each of these questions should be whatever your primary offer/solution is. For example, for my SEO content agency, I would ask my target audience “What is your biggest struggle when it comes to creating SEO content?”.
Your audience’s answers to these questions will give you valuable insight into what their pain points are, what they are hoping to achieve, what solutions they have tried already, what content they are searching for, and more.
With this information, you’ll have a better idea of what keywords to target because you’ll understand the intent behind what your specific audience is searching for.
How to Research Keywords for Your SEO Content Strategy
Keyword research for organic SEO is made much easier when you understand who your target audience is and what information they are searching for online.
Then, it’s just a matter of using the right keyword research process to find the best keywords based on search volume and competition level.
Follow the 6 steps below to master keyword research and improve your website’s SEO.
Step 1: Create a list of topics that are relevant to your business.
I’m a big fan of the idea that keyword research should start with a good ol’ fashioned brain dump. Creating a list of topics that relate to your business is a great way to get the wheels turning when it comes to coming up with keyword ideas.
With the results from your market research survey in hand, write up a list of all of the terms you can think of that apply to what your business provides.
For example, if you are a digital marketing agency that offers marketing services to consultants, your list may look something like this:
- Digital marketing
- LinkedIn marketing
- Lead generation
- Facebook marketing
- Social media marketing
- Marketing for consultants
- [ city ] digital marketing agency
Try to think of as many terms/topics as possible. Don’t worry about whether these terms have search volume or not; we’ll use SEO tools later to refine this list based on actual search data.
Step 2: Identify keywords that fall under those topics.
Once you have a list of topics that are relevant to your site, it’s time to find keywords that fall under each of those topics. This is where you get more specific about the keywords your target audience might be using to find websites/businesses like yours.
These might be subjects that you already blog about on a regular basis, or are things that come up when you’re talking to potential clients. Consider what types of topics would your target audience might be searching for.
For example, if we look at the first topic – “digital marketing” – we know that this term is far too broad if our goal is to attract consultants looking for marketing services. Therefore, we might come up with some terms like:
- Digital marketing for consultants
- Best digital marketing strategies for consultants
- Digital marketing agencies for consultants
- How to get more consulting clients with digital marketing
- Best digital marketing tools for consultants
Again, try to think of as many phrases as possible that might fit under each of the main topics you came up with in Step 1. Note that goal here isn’t to come up with your final list of keywords, but to do an entire brain dump of ideas that you can then narrow down using accurate keyword data.
Once you have this list, you can use SEO keyword research tools to find out which keywords you’re most likely to rank for.
Having trouble coming up with relevant terms? Don’t be afraid to ask your audience and/or colleagues about any topics you might have missed. You can also use free tools like Answer the Public to generate a list of topics you might not have thought of before.
Step 3: Use SEO keyword research tools to find related keywords.
The more keywords you can come up with from the beginning, the better. That’s because it will save you loads of time when it comes to coming up with new content ideas in the future.
Now that you have wracked your brain for keyword ideas, it’s time to use some handy SEO tools to further expand your list. You can use the keyword research tools below to find related keywords your audience might also be searching for.
What is the Best Keyword Research Tool?
There are many amazing free and premium keyword research tools available to help you build out your data-driven keyword list. Below, I have listed a few of my favorites, plus a quick breakdown of how to use them to find new keywords to your site.
SEMrush is far and away my favorite SEO tool, not only when it comes to keyword research but pretty much every step in my SEO process.
While it is a paid tool, you definitely get your money’s worth in terms of all the tools you have at your disposal. Most of my SEO audits, keyword research, and backlink research are done using SEMrush.
You can use SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool to find related keywords to target on your site. Here, I have done a related keyword search for the term “SEO content” and it generated a robust report of additional terms I could target on my site.
Surfer SEO is another one of my favorite SEO tools so when they release their FREE Keyword Surfer Chrome extension for keyword research, I was thrilled. Simply download the extension to your computer and head to Google to find terms related to the keywords you search for.
Google Trends is another free tool that lets you examine trends around your chosen keywords, as well as identify related search queries. You can use the search box to find similar terms, or do a broad search to see what topics are trending in your industry.
SpyFu markets itself as a competitor research tool for Adwords (Google Ads), but also provides a treasure trove of information if you are conducting keyword research for your SEO content. Simply do a search for your competitor’s URL and see what keywords they are ranking for. You might find some sweet ideas to add to your keyword list.
You can use any or all of the keyword research tools above to find related keywords to expand your keyword list. I highly recommend subscribing to at least one premium SEO tool in order to have the most accurate data at your fingertips.
Step 4: Experiment with short- and long-tail keywords.
Short-tail keywords search terms with only one or a few words – much like the terms you came up with in Step 1. While these terms are pretty popular (high search volume), they tend to be very competitive since they are so broad. At the same time, they may not be specific enough to attract your target audience.
Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are longer, more specific search terms. These are likely the types of terms that you came up with in Step 2 – as they are much more targeted and align more closely with what your audience is searching for.
You’ll want to experiment with both types of keywords in order to find the best opportunities for your site. While you might love the idea of ranking #1 for a broad term like “digital marketing”, it’s likely a smarter strategy to target something less competitive – like “digital marketing for consultants” or “best digital marketing tools”.
Note that the more specific the keyword is, the more targeted your traffic will be. For example, someone searching for “digital marketing” may simply want to learn what digital marketing is. Someone who searches for “digital marketing agencies in Seattle” is much more likely to be ready to contact you, subscribe, sign up for your services, etc.
Having a mix of keywords makes for a keyword strategy that moves you toward both long-term and short-term wins.
Step 5: Research which keywords your competitors are ranking for.
I touched on competitor research briefly when I mentioned using SpyFu to identify what keywords your competitors are ranking for. But you can use a tool like SEMrush for this too. In fact, SEMrush offers a wealth of data regarding what terms your competitors are ranking for.
Using SEMrush’s Domain Overview tool, you can discover what keywords your competitors are targeting, where their backlinks are coming from, what their top-performing content is, and more.
With this information, you can then find keywords that may be worth targeting on your own website.
For example, I used SEMrush to research what keywords seocopywriting.com is ranking for to see if there are any terms I should add to my list.
Here, you can see that they are ranking #1 for quite a few terms. However, not all of these would be a good fit for my site. I may want to target “seo copywriting services” since I provide those services through my agency, but not “copywriting course outline” because this is not something that I offer.
Note that you can still use free SEO tools like SpyFu to do this, but I recommend opting for a premium tool so you have as much data as possible. You can also get an idea of what keywords your competitors are targeting by simply looking at the terms they use in their website content.
Step 6: Organize and tweak your keyword list based on search volume and competition level.
By now you should have a pretty thorough list of keywords based on 1) what your business/site offers, 2) the market research you conducted, 3) the related keywords you found using keyword research tools, and 4) the competitor research you did to find the terms your competitors are ranking for. Now, it’s time to organize and tweak this list based on how much search volume each keyword gets and how competitive they are.
This is where you will definitely want to have an SEO tool handy to help you determine the search volume and competition level of each keyword.
Create a Google or Excel Sheet
I like to organize all of my keywords into a Google or Excel sheet so I can note the search volume and competition score of each term. You might want to create a separate sheet for each category – such as “digital marketing”, “Facebook marketing”, etc.
SEMrush makes it easy to plug in all of your keywords and create a report that includes the search volume and competition score. Then you can export this report, add your own notes, and organize it in a way that makes sense to you.
Note Search Volume and Competition Level
If you are taking the manual route, simply research the search volume and competition score for each keyword and record these numbers in their own columns.
Your sheet should look something like this:
If any of your keywords get 0 search volume, obviously these may not be worth targeting on your website. You can cross these out or remove them from your list. Similarly, if you have keywords that get a massive amount of search volume but are too competitive or too broad, you can also remove these from your list.
Identify Search Intent
Next, add a column labeled “Intent” to note the supposed search intent behind each keyword.
A simple way to determine search intent is to Google the keyword and see what comes up in the search results.
Are most of the results service pages? That may mean that the user’s intent is to buy services.
Are most of the results informative blog posts? That likely means that users are looking for free information.
Are most of the results “best of” or comparison guides? Then users are likely looking for reviews that compare one brand or product to another.
This step is important because it is easy to assume that each keyword makes sense as a blog post. But it may be that users are looking for services, reviews, contact information, product pages, etc. Make sure to take a moment to consider the search intent behind each term.
Organize Keywords by Priority
By this step, you have a list of keywords that all have decent search volume and competition level (not too broad, not too competitive). Now, you need to decide which keywords are worth targeting first.
If you are a new/small site, you’ll want to go after those terms with a lower keyword difficulty score (under 60, preferred). You’ll also want to prioritize any keywords that are spot-on what your business offers (such as “SEO content services” if you are an SEO content agency.
Other keywords may be low priority if they aren’t super relevant to your site, are too competitive, or just don’t seem as important in terms of ranking. You can always come back to these keywords later when you add new pages or posts to your site.
Add a column to your sheet that identifies where each keyword is at in terms of priority (High, Medium, Low).
Map Keywords to Content Types
Your goal should always be to target 1 primary keyword per page/post while also targeting a few secondary keywords. By “mapping” your keywords to each page/post, you avoid creating content that competes with other content pieces.
For example, it makes sense to target “SEO content services” on a designated service page. But, you won’t want to target that same keyword elsewhere – in, say, an article titled “SEO Content Services: What Are They?”.
I like to go through my sheet and note what type of content I want to create for each keyword: post or page.
Then, I may identify some keywords on that same sheet that are super similar that may make sense as secondary keywords.
Here’s what this layout might look like:
- Homepage: “SEO content agency”
- Main Services page: “SEO content services:
- SEO Copywriting page: “SEO copywriter”, “SEO copywriting service”
- Website Audit page: “website content audit”, “SEO content audit”
- Blog article: “What is SEO copywriting”, “what is SEO content writing”
- Blog article: “What is content marketing”, “content marketing definition”
Note that each keyword is matched with a content type based on the search intent behind the keyword. If users are looking for a how-to guide, create a how-to guide, not a service page. If your keyword shows a clear intent to purchase, target this on a service or product page.
If you are completely stumped on how you should map which keyword to which content type, again, look to see what your competitors are doing. What pages do they have? What terms are they using in their blog posts? Are there any important pages you should have on your site?
Once you have mapped out all of your keywords, you’ll have a complete strategy for all the new pages and posts you should create. Of course, you can always tweak this strategy over time, but now you will be stress-free knowing you have found the best keywords for your site!
Have questions about keyword research? Shoot me an email at [email protected]
Wrapping Up: Common Questions About Keyword Research
There are a few questions that commonly pop up when it comes to keyword research. If you are still puzzled about how to find the best SEO keywords for your site, check out the frequently asked questions below.
What is a “good” keyword?
A good keyword is any search term that your target audience is using to find websites/businesses like yours, and that receives a decent amount of search volume per month. A keyword that gets a lot of searches without being too competitive is typically a good keyword to target in your website traffic because you’ll have a good chance of attracting traffic to your site.
How do I research keywords for free?
There are many free keyword research tools available. My favorites are SpyFu and Keyword Surfer. Also, SEMrush provides limited keyword data for free, though I highly recommend the premium subscription. You can try SEMrush Pro for free for 7 days here!
What’s considered a “high search volume” keyword?
What’s considered “high search volume” is relative to how much search volume your industry keywords have. For example, “digital marketing” (vol: 49,500) has a high number of searches because it is a popular topic, whereas “english tutor(ing)” (vol: 4,400) is way less popular. So, if a keyword that’s related to digital marketing gets 2,000 searches per month, this may be considered low for this niche, while a keyword like “online english tutor” (1,900) would be considered high for the English tutoring niche. Therefore, you’ll want to research a wide range of keywords in your niche to determine what’s considered high or low volume for you.
How should I organize my keyword research?
I recommend using Google Sheets or Excel to create a spreadsheet that includes your focus keywords, along with the search volume, competition level, priority, search intent, and content type for each keyword. This will help you keep all your keywords organized and map each keyword to a specific page/post on your site.
Should I focus on only one keyword per page/post?
While you do want 1 primary keyword per page or post, you will also target related/secondary keywords within the same page/post. For example “what is keyword research” and “what is seo keyword research” and “how to do keyword research” are so similar that they wouldn’t make sense to target on different pages. Instead, you can target all of these keywords in a single post. This is what we call “clustering” your keywords to target multiple related terms within a single piece of content.
Download the Free Keyword Research Template
Keyword research can seem complicated. That’s why I created the free Keyword Research Template to help you organize your keywords and find the best new terms for your website.
Access the exact template I use to conduct keyword research for my clients. With this free template, you’ll have everything you need to create your own high-traffic content strategy.