Beginner SEO Guide: How to Perform Keyword Research for 2020
If you’ve dipped your toes at all into the world of SEO, then you’ve heard the word that all search engine masters love and hate: keyword.
Whatever side you believe, keyword research and keyword marketing still have their value if you know how to play your cards. Here, we’re helping you figure out what to do and how.
What is Keyword Research?
First, let’s cover the basics.
Keyword research is the way that you (realistically) rise in the search engine rankings. Without it, you’ll find yourself hopelessly fighting against giants in your industry that you can’t possibly win against in a single day or week.
It’s the first step in your keyword strategy, which is intimately connected to your SEO strategy and methodology.
It consists of using keywords to find and search actual terms that people type into a search engine, which will inform your content strategy and help boost your web traffic.
What are Organic Keywords?
The cornerstone of keyword research is organic keywords, which are keywords used to attract free traffic through SEO, in contrast to pay-per-click keywords. These are part of paid search engine marketing and are bid on as part of paid search campaigns.
What is Keyword Marketing?
This takes us to keyword marketing.
While SEO is, technically, a form of marketing, organic keywords as they relate to search engine optimization aren’t the same thing as paying a marketing firm for an ad to run on TV.
The point of SEO is to garner web traffic via free methods, rather than paying money to boost your ranking.
In other words, SEO is marketing, and so are keywords in a certain sense, but indirect marketing.
It’s about getting to know exactly what makes your business unique, what your business has to offer your customers, and how to use that knowledge to help your website perform well in search engine rankings.
Judging the Value of a Keyword
As such, because every website is unique, the value of a keyword to a website depends on the keyword and the website itself.
While a webmaster may use keyword research tools to find out what terms people are typing into a search engine, it won’t do them any good if they don’t know enough about the website they’re doing research for.
For example, if an e-commerce site sells high-heeled shoes, it won’t do them much good to optimize for keywords like “dog food” or “things to do in Honolulu”.
The key is to know what keywords will be most relevant to your business, what keywords a searcher is likely to use when they find your site, and whether a searcher will be able to find what they were looking for on your site by using certain search terms.
How to Conduct Keyword Research
As you’re probably starting to figure out, the first part of researching keywords is not, in fact, opening a search engine or a research tool. The first step, to borrow from the Greek aphorism, is to know thyself.
Keywords are, after all, another small step in the process of optimizing your website.
Start by narrowing in on what you offer your customers. Are you a boutique luxury hotel? A law firm specializing in auto accident claims?
Know what answers your website can provide potential users, and tailor your keywords accordingly.
List Your Topics
Once you know exactly what your website has to offer your potential customers, it’s easier to figure out the topics you want to rank for.
Start by making a list of the topics you want to rank for. These should be relevant to your business and can be topics you regularly discuss, or buyer personas that tell you what kind of topics your ideal customer would search for.
Let’s say you’re a blog that offers managed SEO services. Topics for you might include, “SEO,” “organic search,” “ranking factors,” etc.
Monetization vs Niche-ing Down
There are generally two approaches here: the monetization first method and the niche method. They’re pretty much exactly what each name implies.
In the monetization first method, you’ll start your topics list by investigating available monetization methods, choosing the one you like, and structuring your search query list based on searches people would use to find it.
The niche approach is more about what your business is offering than what you’re offering on behalf of someone else.
Finding Your Niche
Using the niche approach involves narrowing down on a niche topic, which is a topic your customer is interested in.
So it’s not a keyword, per se, so much as an umbrella category under which a group of keywords can fall.
For example, if you run a business that sells shoes, keywords for this niche would be closely related words and words on related topics, such as:
It could also include phrases that someone interested in shoes might search for, such as the best shoes for running or the best boots for hiking.
That said, most niche markets will have only two to five keywords with enough traffic to be considered competitive.
Learning Your Niche
The trick here is to learn your niche market like the back of your hand.
This involves knowing your customer and your business. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
By focusing on exactly who you are, who your customer is, and what they want, you can focus on topics that will be most useful to you.
For a complete step by step guide to finding your niche, please check out the following guide:
How to Find Your Niche: Your Step-By-Step Guide
Fill in Those Topics with Keywords
Once you have your topics in mind, it’s time to populate them with keywords.
As we noted, most niche topics will only have a few keywords that have enough traffic to be worth competing for. But before you eliminate keywords, you first need to find them.
Find a Keyword Research Tool
The easiest way to do this is to find a keyword research tool (not to be confused with a keyword planner, like Google Adwords).
A keyword research tool is basically your go-to whenever you’re looking for keywords.
There are a lot of bells and whistles available on various research tools, but here are five main things to look for in a great tool:
With this in mind, a few great research tools are:
If you know anything about keywords, you’ve probably heard some of these names before. They’re well known in the business for a reason–they offer great functionality for your buck.
Start with Seed Keywords
When you sit down to make your list, always start with seed keywords.
These are the baseline keywords most relevant to your business and the foundation from which you’ll draw all your other keywords.
Seed keywords are distinct in that they’re not changed or modified by modifier words. Before you get confused, it’s a lot simpler than you think.
Let’s say your seed keyword is weight loss. Long-tail keywords built from that might include:
In other words: seed keyword + modifier = long-tail keyword.
Mix Head Terms and Long-Tail Keywords
Once you’ve got the hang of crafting seed keywords and long-tail keywords, it can be easy to dive headfirst into long-tail keywords and never emerge.
And hey, long-tail keywords are important.
Long-tail keywords tend to catch searchers later in the buying/conversion cycle, which means they tend to convert better. It makes sense when you think about it–someone searching “shoes” probably isn’t ready to buy yet. Someone searching “best price on Adidas sneakers” is ready to buy.
But you can’t neglect head terms.
In contrast to a long-tail keyword, a head term is a popular keyword with a high search volume. These are considered competitive to rank for and ranking for head terms can help boost your status in the SERPs.
Research Related Terms
Next comes the creative step.
Now that you know about niche topics, head terms, and long-tail keywords, it’s time to expand your horizons and research related search terms.
Remember, research tools tend to be a bit literal–they’ll only give you keywords closely related to your original search.
The easiest way to do this is to open your browser and head to Google. Start by typing in the keywords you already have and see what search terms Google suggests that are related.
It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s a surprisingly effective way to find out what people are actually typing into search engines.
Learn and Understand Keyword Metrics
Once you’ve sunk your teeth into keyword research, you have to understand what you’re seeing.
For example, search volume is a huge metric to keep in mind. It shows you the overall search demand of a keyword (i.e. how many times people in an area typed this keyword into Google).
Or click volume, which is the number of times people click something after searching a keyword.
To illustrate the point, let’s say you search “Donald Trump age”, which has a huge search volume. But once you look at the results, you realize why you won’t get much traffic for this search term–Google gives an instant answer, eliminating the need to click anything.
This brings us to traffic potential. Search volume and click volume show you the traffic for a single keyword. But a single keyword can have a ton of synonyms which can be directed at a single page on your website.
Basically, people have a lot of ways of searching for the same thing. It’s all a matter of phrasing and inference. So a single page on your site could rank for dozens of related keywords.
In other words, take a look at the top-ranking pages for a keyword and see how much search traffic they get in total.
Finally, there’s keyword difficulty, which tells you how competitive a keyword is (i.e. how hard it will be for your site to rank for that keyword).
For example, Ahrefs research tool shows the number of quality backlinks for the top-ranking pages on a given keyword. The more quality backlinks a page has (how many other sites are referencing them as a source) the harder it will be for your site to outrank them.
That said, difficulty alone is not a reason to completely give up on a keyword. You have to balance the difficulty with the potential for business growth. Some keywords will be easy to rank for, but the searchers it brings will never be customers. Some are difficult to rank for but the searchers will convert.
See What You Already Rank For
Part of this process involves knowing where you already are–and what you already rank for.
This isn’t just a matter of knowing thyself, though that is useful. Knowing what you already rank for will tell you what your customers are searching for when they find you, and will help you focus your topics and keywords around relevant subjects.
See How Your Competitors Rank
On a similar note, it’s useful to check up on what your competitors are ranking for.
To be clear: just because your competitor is doing it doesn’t mean that you have to. But understanding what keywords they rank for will help you refine your own list.
For example, if you find that your competitor is ranking for keywords you already have on your list, you should definitely work on ranking for those keywords. But don’t ignore the ones they don’t care about–those are a chance for you to set your business apart.
Some keyword research tools, like SEMRush, allow you to run free reports to figure this out, but you can also manually search in search engines to see where your competitors rank.
Helping You Make Sense of SEO
And there you have it! It takes time and a bit of practice, but as long as you keep this process for keyword research in mind, you’ll be well on your way to dominating your SERPs.
If you’re still getting started with your SEO, we recommend starting here for comprehensive beginner’s tools for starting a website and managing your SEO.
If you need an SEO expert to answer questions, you’ve come to the right place. Use our contact form to get in touch with any questions or terms we may not have discussed on our blog.