Keyword Research: the Fundamental Practice of Good SEO (Chapter 1)

How to do Good Keyword Research
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Last updated: August 2023

Where To Get Started With Keyword Research

Keyword research should be one of the first tasks you perform for any digital marketing campaign. The keywords you choose will determine who sees your website, in what context and where it will rank, so the words and phrases you identify as targets for each page should never be far from your mind when producing web copy, writing a new blog post or optimising pages within your site.

But how do you go about researching the best words and phrases to use? How can you tell whether your keywords are too specific or too generic, and what can you do to find the best phrases for your website? In part one of this keyword research guide we’ll cover the entire A-Z of the best methods of keyword research, and put you on the road to SEO success.

Research relevant key words and key phrases

When it comes to keyword research tips, you have to consider their relevance to your audience. This may sound obvious, but there is no point in optimising your site for a search term or phrase that is not relevant to the products or services that you offer; your goal should be to prioritise quality traffic to your site, rather than just the sheer quantity of visitors. I’d sooner have a single visitor who’s actually looking for the digital marketing services I offer than 100 visitors who are looking for something else.

That one visitor will find what they’re looking for, be engaged with my content and hopefully be very close to making a purchase decision, whereas the 100 would be looking for something that I don’t provide, making a quick getaway from my site, skewing my web analytics and decreasing my engagement rates.

With that basic premise in mind, you need to consider what your potential customers will be searching for. Try to put yourself in their shoes; avoid technical jargon and try to focus on the ‘longer tail’ phrases that are most descriptive of your product or service.

A long tail keyphrase is fairly self-explanatory – they are made of a string of words, usually three to five, and are far more specific than one or two word “short tail” keywords. Long-tail keywords are beneficial to you, as they allow you to target more specific, niche searches.

keyword length impacts both competition and conversion rates

Whilst long-tail keyphrases often have fewer monthly searches than shorter-tail keyphrases, they are usually less competitive and better reflect the search queries your website has the answer to, or more closely match your product features, increasing the keyword relevance of your content and helping you climb upwards in the rankings.

For example, people no longer search for “Cornwall holiday”; instead, they search for exactly what they’re looking for – “luxury holiday cottage to rent in Cornwall”, or “cheap hotel in Bude”. And don’t just take my word for it, according to Moz (an authority in the Search Engine Optimisation world) over 70% of searches now lie in what’s called the ‘long tail’ of search.

Gaining Keyword Inspiration From Your Own Site

Assuming that you aren’t launching a brand new business, your company’s own website can provide you with a wealth of information about the best search terms to target.

Firstly, look at how you’ve divided the content on your site, and the navigation elements you use; all are likely to be rich in relevant keywords. On our site, for example, we list “Content Marketing” under our “Services” menu, and within this page we have the following subheadings:

  • What is content marketing?
  • Why is content marketing important for your business?
  • What are the benefits of content marketing?
  • What will a bespoke content marketing contract include?
  • Why use Bespoke as your content marketing agency?
  • Discuss a digital PR campaign

This gives us a good starting point for both short tail search terms and longer query based questions that searchers may be looking to have answered.

Content marketing and digital PR campaigns are both good candidates for developing keyphrases. My first action would be to copy these primary keywords and list them in a spreadsheet, grouping related keywords so we can start to build up a map of the different areas we’ll want to cover.

At this point I also tend to separate out my list of relevant keywords by brand related search terms and more transactional or service led queries – we can safely exclude phrases like “Bespoke Digital Bristol” from traditional keyphrase research because it is unlikely we will be competing with anyone else for these terms on Google.

I’ll usually also build a list of the primary URLs that I am trying to optimise, be they the home page, product pages, blog URLs or an entire sitemap. This way you can begin to match potential search terms to specific URLs where there is an obvious fit – the phrase “content creation”, for example, should be a target for our ‘Copywriting’ page rather than for our ‘SEO Maintenance’ page.

A key point to remember is to send as clear a signal as possible to the search engines about the content of each page. If you use the same set of keyphrases across multiple pages, the effect of each one is diluted; even though your website may contain many references to “holidays in Cornwall”, it needs to be clear to the search engines exactly which page they ought to send visitors to.

If the search engines can’t easily determine which page provides the content that they feel most closely matches the searcher’s intent, they’re less likely to return any of your pages in the SERPs.

That’s why we’re dividing up our keyphrases; we want to use different groups of keywords for different pages, so that we’re sending search engines a clear signal of what each page is about.

How to group keywords & phrases into silos

If your site has a search function, you may also be able to use it to see what words and phrases active users have been looking for within the content of your site. Not all sites are able to track the use of their search bars, but if you do have access to this data it can provide some valuable insight into your user’s intent.

Gathering Data From Google Search Console

Now that we have some ideas of the keywords we’d like to use, we need to know how people have been finding our site already. This should tell us how effective our keywords have been until now, and may also be a useful source of information on what people are looking for when they click-through to our site. Google Analytics and Google’s Search Console are great tools for helping us to understand user behaviour, so we’ll need to know how to use them.

To view this, go to your website’s property in Search Console and navigate to performance on the main sidebar. From here, you can view the queries that are bringing organic traffic to your site. Remember to set your date range as wide as possible to get as comprehensive an overview as you can.

This feature not only shows you the search terms that have resulted in a click, but also the search terms where you may have only received an impression (an impression is where your URL has been displayed as a search result but not necessarily been clicked on).

Using search console, you can view queries that are bringing users to your website.

What can you get from Google search?

Take each key phrase from your Excel sheet and search for it in Google. This can take some time to begin with, but you can also speed through it once you’re familiar with the process. As you type each query into Google’s search bar, take note of the autocomplete. What other search terms does Google tell you are related to this query? Add any relevant ones to your keyword list.

You can also utilise Answer The Public to do the hard work for you.

Google's search suggestions relating to 'keyword research'

More of these can also be seen at the footer of each SERP:
Google - related searches

Additionally, make sure you’re checking Google’s “people also ask” section. This can help you get a clearer idea of search intent and the sorts of questions searchers might need an answer to.

Google's people also asked section can provide valuable insight for the keyword research process.

Note how this useful feature helps us to begin a new list of search query variants or modifiers that you can add to a primary or longer tail search term, to make it longer still.

For example, if my search term were “Holiday cottage in Cornwall”, variations could be:

Using prepositions & suppositions to vary your search terms
Or, in the “keyword research” results above, my list of variations might include; tool/tools, free, SEO, how to do, tutorial, software, best, meaning & types of. Becoming familiar with the many different functions of Google is useful when working on SEO, and I’ve already created a guide to my favourite tips and tricks for getting the most out of Google if you’re looking to explore this further.

What can you glean from your competitors?

Now it’s time to look at the organic search results themselves. What sites are ranking within the SERPs for your chosen terms, and what variations of it are they optimised for?

Much of this can be seen from the SERPs. By reading the page title and meta description of each listing you will identify a wealth of variations and you’ll quickly see patterns developing for the more popular terms.

Needless to say, you will need to make sure that the sites being returned within the SERPs are in the same marketplace as your own and that the search term is relevant to your business. Hopefully, you will recognise many of the business names and already be familiar with their offering; if not, have a more detailed look at the site to ensure that they are indeed operating in your space.

By visiting the sites appearing on the first page of the SERPs for each term you analyse, you can assess them in a manner similar to how you assessed your own. Look at their content, look at their page titles, navigation elements, business sectors, service pages and blog titles etc. This should give you a new set of keyword ideas, and confirm the ones you already have; we can expect to find keyphrases like “content marketing” on our competitor’s pages, but if they’re using some relevant variations of this, like “influencer outreach” or “content amplification”, then we might want to incorporate these into our own list of keywords.

Researching your competitors’ search terms can be very time consuming, especially if you have a list of a few hundred potentials, but the more thorough you are now, the better the picture you will build and the more effective your keyword research process will be.

What about sponsored listings and paid search results?

Don’t forget to pay attention to the Sponsored Listings or Google Ads results. Other than their presence suggesting that it’s a competitive, high converting keyword, Google Ads results will often contain well-optimised titles that are written to include closely related variations to your primary search term. Again this can be a rich source of relevant keywords for your list and competitive sites to mine for further ideas.

Making Use of Free Keyword Tools

A lot of what we’ve been doing has focused on manually building up lists, but there are some great free tools to help you develop a list of keyphrases.

Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner is a good place to start and Chapter 2 of Backlinko’s Definitive Guide to Keyword Research is another great resource (a brilliant read if you’ve got a few spare hours). Chapter 5 of Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO is also fantastic.

  1. Google Trends
    Google isn’t the only source of information, but Google Trends is a fantastic tool to show how the popularity of your chosen keyword is developing or diminishing over time. The graph displays the relative popularity of the search term over time versus its most popular point – you can’t tell how many people are searching for this term, only whether it’s growing more or less popular. This can still provide valuable information, though. From here we can see that searches for “content marketing” have been consistently growing over the past five years. Google Trends also provides another set of related queries, which are displayed below the graph, providing further keywords for consideration.
  2. Answer The Public
    Answer The Public is a great tool for helping to develop keyword ideas for long tail search terms. Simply provide a short keyword and it will return results for searches that have been made using the same phrase. Because it shows us what questions are being asked about our chosen keyphrase, it can be a goldmine of useful information. Making the most of this tool takes a little practice, but my guide to using Answer The Public is a great place to start.
  3. Übersuggest
    Übersuggest is a great tool for taking your search term and suggesting a range of longer tail variations of it. You’ll quickly see that it delivers back a lot of results, variations beginning with every letter in the alphabet, but within this mass of suggestions there will be some hidden gems.

There are plenty of tools that offer varying levels of keyword research for a monthly subscription fee, with many offering free trials along with additional insight into potential search volumes, keyword difficulty and competition. In addition, the web is full of free keyword research tools. Spend some time getting to know what’s out there until you find the tool that works best for you.

Every digital marketing practitioner will have their own preference, but in my opinion, going to the search engines, your own site and your competitor sites should provide more than enough data to conduct a very thorough set of keyword research. Make sure you don’t over-rely on a single tool, though, as this can drastically skew your results. Using a combination of different sources is a valuable way to cross-check your data, so make sure to draw information from more than one location.

For more help and support with keyword research, get in touch with our team.

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Magnus Linklater SEO Consultant

Author: Magnus Linklater

Magnus is an SEO specialist and online marketing professional with over 25 years of digital and traditional marketing experience.

As the founder of Bespoke Digital, Magnus has worked on technical site audits and content marketing campaigns for hundreds of clients and regularly writes about SEO strategy, tips & tricks.

Find Magnus on LinkedIn

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