Fundamentals of Keyword Research

Good keyword research and analysis is a cornerstone of any SEO strategy, yet it can be a daunting thing to learn.  People may find it intimidating due to the plethora of information available.  It is a big subject, but not as overwhelming as it at first appears.

Keyword research is not some arcane art, understandable only to those with a Masters in marketing.  Rather, it is something you can learn to do yourself, for every page or post you create.  There are many approaches to keyword research, but it all starts with understanding the fundamentals.  So let’s start with the ever-popular question:

What is Keyword Research?

Keyword research, in a nutshell, is about finding the words and search terms being used by the kind of visitors you wish to attract.  It’s about matching what you have to offer with what users are searching for.  Pretty simple, right?  Hold on to your hat!  Things will look a lot more complicated before they look simple again.

Guidelines for Keyword Research and Strategy Planning

Getting ranked for a keyword or key phrase, of course, depends on how many others are trying to rank for it.  That is why single-word keywords are the most difficult to rank for, while phrases of four words or more (also known as long-tail keywords) are much easier and typically yield higher conversion rates.  We’ll go into more detail on this later in the article.

Another major factor to consider is keyword search volume.  How many people are actually searching for it?  Just as too much competition on a popular search phrase is a bad thing, so is a phrase nobody is even searching for.

Keep in mind that getting ranked for a keyword or key phrase depends on how relevant the content is around it, and of course how well the search engine can understand it.  That’s called on-page-SEO.  Google has very sophisticated methods by which it analyzes a page.  It looks not only at keyword density, but for related words, and can analyze the quality of writing as well.  Having well-written copy with targeted content is imperative.  However, don’t get distracted from the main target – your customer.  It’s always best practice to write to the customer first, and the search engines second.

What you are promoting and what potential visitors may be looking for should always form the core of your keyword strategy planning.  This is an important point to consider carefully.

If you are promoting a product, for example, which has already been strongly promoted to the point of recognition, then certainly the product name would be a likely keyword.  However, good search engine marketing strategies seek to leverage the more generic terms which describe a product.  Ranking high for “Acme Soap Friend” would not be nearly as valuable as ranking high for “soap holder for shower.”

Anticipating questions is an excellent approach to keyword strategy.  As search engines become more and more sophisticated, users are learning to ask in more sophisticated terms.  Common search terms these days are not just simple phrases, but often in the form of a question.

Remember not to overlook your competitors.  Study the keywords they are trying to rank for.  Perhaps you want to try to outrank them, or maybe you can find something even better.  Staying on top of the keywords they are using can also yield peripheral information, such as early warning of a campaign or new product.

Keyword Research Techniques

The methods and tools businesses use to conduct their research vary greatly, and depend on many factors.  Business size is certainly a factor, but more important are things like business model and overall marketing strategy.  Generally, however, the process follows these general steps:

  • Brainstorm a list of all possible keywords related to your site and business
    • These are also known as seed keywords
  • Refine this list to those which are most relevant
  • Consider all variations of your keywords
  • From these keywords, create phrases (long-tail keywords)
  • Analyze your keywords using a tool like Keyword Explorer
    • Check the search volume of the keywords
    • Check the difficulty in ranking for the keywords
    • Research related search terms
    • Perform competitive keyword analysis to see your competitor’s most important keywords
  • Check your results over time to determine the effectiveness of your strategy

Remember that search volume for some keywords may vary due to season or other factors.  Effective tracking of results will greatly improve your understanding of which keywords are most beneficial to you.

Keyword Terminology

Here are some simple definitions of some of the jargon you will encounter in keyword research:

Head keywords

These are single-word keywords that are great in building your brand if you find a way to rank high for them.  However, head keywords are extremely competitive.

Body keywords

These keywords are a step narrower than the head keywords.  They’re mostly comprised of two or three terms.  Many searches consist of only two or three terms.  Body keywords are mainly targeted by established businesses that are well-known.

Long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords, also known as key phrases, contain four or more words.  Competition is generally lower, and they are ideal for connecting newer sites to their target audience.  Typically, they also result in higher CTR because they are fairly specific.

Keyword Research Tools

One very popular tool is Google’s Keyword Planner.  However, it is only available through Google Ads, which is premium and will not suit everyone’s needs.

Rest easy, because there are many good keyword research tools that are free.  These can be great ways to explore and learn without investment.

Keyword Explorer is an excellent free tool.  Just using it and reading the documentation will teach you much of what you need to know.  It is packed with features often only available in premium versions of tools.  It is also part of the premium Moz Pro SEO analytics platform.

Keyword Tool is another highly promising free keyword research tool.  The free version of Keyword Tool generates up to 750+ long-tail keyword suggestions for every search term.  It’s easy to try out, because you don’t even need to create an account.

Google Search Console is certainly worth using as well.  With it you can learn a lot about which phrases are sending you the most traffic, the click-through-rates (CTR), and more.

There are certainly plenty more out there, some broad and some highly specialized.  Joshua Hardwick’s excellent article has some great suggestions, with useful details on what they do and how to use them.  Might we also suggest, ahem, a Google search?