Keywords are the terms that your customers type into search engines like Google when they’re looking for something—and the foundation on which all search marketing campaigns are built. Whether you’re planning an SEM or SEO campaign, it all starts with identifying the keywords you’re going to target.
When you understand what keywords your target customers are searching for, you can create content that answers those terms, ranks on page one of the SERPs, and drives targeted traffic straight to your website.
In this article, we’re going to show you the basic keyword research process, step by step. Read on and we’ll walk you through it.
Step 1: Brainstorming Keywords
The first step in keyword research is brainstorming ideas. The goal here is to get as many possible keywords that your target audience might be searching for down on paper as possible; we’ll sort through them and vet them later.
Let’s imagine you’re trying to drive traffic to an e-commerce store that sells office chairs. Put yourself in the shoes of someone that wants to buy an office chair and think about what kind of keywords they might be searching for. Right off the bat, a few ideas spring to mind:
- Ergonomic office chairs
- Cheap office chairs
- Office chairs for big and tall people
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
What might someone who might want to buy an office chair at some point in the future, but doesn’t necessarily know that yet be searching for? How about these:
- How to be more productive at the office
- Reducing back pain at work
- How to sit properly at a desk
The kind of people searching for these keywords are at the very top of the sales funnel – they don’t know they need an office chair yet, but they do, so they’re still worth adding to our list.
Keyword Research Methods and Tools
Of course, brainstorming like this can only get you so far. When you run out of steam, there are other ways you can research and find potential keywords. Here are a few things you can try:
- Check search suggestions—when you start typing a keyword into Google, it shows you lots of long-string search suggestions. These are all potential longtail keywords. For instance, if you type “digital marketing agency” you will notice different suggestions like “digital marketing agency in Melbourne or Sydney. Google suggest these based on other users search records.
- Use Answer The Public—Answer The Public is a free keyword research tool that generates a list of question-related and long-string keywords when you type in related keywords. For example, typing in ‘office chairs’ brings up suggestions like ‘office chairs without wheels’, which we can add to our list.
- Look at Google Trends—Google Trends can show you some ‘trending’ keywords related to any term.
- Use Google Keyword Planner—Google Adword’s Keyword Planner can help you to find keyword suggestions by generating a list of keyword ideas.
- Check forums—Look at threads on forums like Reddit that are related to your business niche and use them to find some potential topic ideas
Step 2: Checking Search Volumes & Competition
Once you have your list of keywords, the next step is to check search volumes. The goal of most SEM and SEO marketing campaigns is to generate traffic, and you’ll only get traffic by ranking for terms that people are actually searching for, which is why this step is so important.
To check search volumes, you can type your keywords into tools like Google’s Keyword Planner, Moz Keyword Explorer, or SEM Rush and add the figures to your keyword sheet.
You’ll want to rule out keywords that have 0 monthly search volume, otherwise, you’lll be creating content that noone will ever see. I’d advise targeting only keywords that have a monthly search volume of at least 500, but it’s really up to you.
Step 3: Analyse the Competition
Search volume isn’t the only thing that matters—competition does too. A search term might have hundreds of thousands of monthly searches but still be worthless as it’s so competitive that you stand no chance of ranking for it. Another might only have a few hundred monthly searches but have no competition whatsoever.
That’s why we also need to look at how competitive each keyword is. There are lots of keyword research tools out there that can check the competition of your keywords for you, including Ahrefs, Moz, and SEMrush.
These tools will automatically check how competitive the keyword is by looking at the sites that are already ranking for those terms and then tell you whether they’re low, medium, or high competition.
However, my preferred method of keyword competition analysis is to just type the word into Google and look at the websites that are already ranking. If there are lots of super-authoritative websites ranking on page one, it’s probably best to avoid it.
The kind of competitiveness you’ll want to tolerate depends on how authoritative your website domain is, known as your Domain Authority, but this is a topic for another article completely. If your website is relatively new, or you’re a small brand, it’s probably best to stick to low-competition keywords.