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How to do Keyword Research for an Effective SEO Strategy

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Chris Kirksey


how to do keyword research effectively

Keyword research is not a one-time activity, but a persistent mindset – an endless quest to uncover what words your audience whispers.

What is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is the critical first step in an effective SEO strategy. It involves identifying and analyzing words and phrases (keywords) that potential customers use when searching for content related to your business in search engines like Google.

The goal of keyword research is to discover the specific keywords and questions that your target audience is asking online, so you can create optimized content that answers their questions and provides solutions.

Finding keywords that generate substantial search volume and traffic, while having less competition, is key to driving more qualified visitors to your site organically.

Thorough keyword research lays the foundation for an SEO campaign that aligns your content with search intent so you can rank higher and get your pages featured in search results. By researching what language your customers use and what questions they ask online, you can establish the topics and themes to focus your content creation on.

This ensures you satisfy user intent and provide the right information searchers are looking for.

The process involves

  • brainstorming seed keywords
  • leveraging keyword research tools to expand your list
  • analyzing the competitive landscape
  • clustering keywords into topics
  • prioritizing which phrases to target
  • setting aside time for ongoing research every month as the search landscape changes

Why is Keyword Research Important for SEO?

Keyword research is perhaps the most critical component of an effective SEO strategy.

Without proper keyword research, it is very difficult to rank highly or earn featured snippets, because at the end of the day, you’re playing a guessing game.

Here are 5 key reasons why keyword research is essential:

1. It Aligns Your Content with Searcher Intent
Google wants to display pages that closely match what searchers are looking for. Keyword research reveals the precise words, questions, and phrases users type into search bars. 

2. It Informs Your Content Strategy and Topics
The keywords you identify through research should dictate the topics, titles, headlines, and themes you create content around. This ensures your content targets words and phrases with substantial search volume that align with your business goals. 

3. It Helps You Rank for Valuable Search Queries
Not all keywords are created equal. Some drive lots of traffic but little revenue. Others are too competitive to rank for. Keyword research reveals which phrases bring in qualified visitors, have less competition, and offer the highest ROI potential. 

4. It Helps You Promote Your Products/Services More Effectively
When you use keyword research to learn about your audience’s intent and the things they care about, you learn how to better promote your product or service.

5. It Keeps You Ahead of Trends
Regular monthly keyword research helps you stay on top of new trends, questions, and opportunities. You can adapt your content strategy based on the latest data to maintain and improve your rankings. Ongoing research is key.

How to do Keyword Research in 5 Steps

1. Identify Seed Keywords to Kickstart Your Research

When conducting keyword research, you need to start somewhere. That’s where seed keywords come in – these initial keywords are the foundation on which you’ll uncover a wealth of other relevant terms and keyword opportunities.

As an SEO pro, you want to be strategic in selecting seed keywords that are relevant to your content and provide the highest ROI. Here are some tips for finding those all-important seeds:

  • Analyze existing content and pull out main topics and keywords that are performing well. These proven terms should inform your research.
  • Look at Google Trends and keyword planners to spot rising trends and search volumes for terms related to your content. High-potential keywords make fertile seed keywords.
  • Brainstorm primary topics and categories that align with your goals. Include industry-specific jargon and lingo as seeds.
  • Research competitors’ content and identify their top ranking keywords. Consider adding these to your seed list.
  • Use semantic keyword grouping to populate initial seeds. For example, product name, brand names, product descriptors.

The seed keywords you start with will sprout an expansive list of keyword opportunities. 

2. Use Paid Keyword Research Tools for Enhanced Data

As an SEO expert, there will come times when you need more insightful data than free keyword tools can provide. Investing in paid platforms like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Moz unlocks powerful capabilities for comprehensive analysis.

How to do Keyword Research with Ahrefs

  1. Sign up for an Ahrefs account to access their powerful keyword tools. The paid plans are worth the investment for the depth of data you’ll get.
  2. Once logged in, head over to the Keywords Explorer. Start by entering a seed keyword relevant to your content focus. Ahrefs will show monthly search volume, CPC, and keyword difficulty.
  3. Click into individual keywords to see the top ranking domains and pages. This reveals who your primary competitors are for that term. You can also see keyword ideas related to that seed keyword.
  4. Check out the Questions report to uncover popular questions people are searching. These present prime opportunities to rank with detailed, helpful content.
  5. Save keywords to custom lists as you go so you can export and organize later. Group keywords into topics and categories.

Now here’s a pro SEO tip – drill down on those initial results by filtering and sorting. For example, you can filter by keyword difficulty to find hidden gems with low competition. Sort by volume to prioritize high traffic keywords.

How to do Keyword Research with SEMRush

  1. Start by entering a target keyword or phrase into the SEMrush keyword tool. Like Ahrefs, you’ll see detailed metrics like search volume, CPC, and keyword difficulty for that term.
  2. Utilize filters to drill down on the best opportunities — to start, we’re looking for high search volume, low competition phrases. Look for high commercial intent keywords as well.
  3. Use the related keywords report to expand your list. SEMrush surfaces useful long-tail variations of your core term with this feature.
  4. Use the SEO Content Template tool to organize your research. You can see the topics and questions people search around a main keyword. This helps cluster related keywords and create content.
  5. Enter the landing page you want to rank for that keyword in the keyword difficulty tool to see how your page stacks up against the top-ranking page to gauge competitiveness.

How to do Keyword Research with Moz

Moz provides top-notch tools for outsmarting the competition. For astute keyword analysis, their Keyword Explorer is a powerhouse.

  1. Start by entering a target seed keyword.
  2. Drill into keyword suggestions by clicking “Show Related Keywords.” Moz algorithmically generates closely related long-tail variations. Digging into these is key for comprehensive research.
  3. Use the Comparison Graph to compare metrics for multiple keywords at once. Visualizing opportunities in one place makes it easier to identify winners.
  4. Save keyword lists within Keyword Explorer to organize your ongoing research. Group terms by category or priority to inform your content strategy.

NOTE: While paid tools are ideal for keyword discovery, you can also leverage free tools like Google Keyword Planner for additional signals around location and ad pricing data. 

3. Expose Gaps in SERPS with Competitive Analysis

Doing diligent keyword research means going beyond your own site to analyze competitors. Auditing what terms ranking sites are targeting reveals prime gaps you can fill yourself.

Start by making a list of main competitors in your space. Now let’s get tactical – plug your rival’s domains into Ahrefs one by one.

The Organic Keywords report shows all keywords that site ranks for along with its position, traffic, and opportunity score. Scan this list for standout opportunities – terms with high search volume where that site barely ranks on page 1.

You can also filter and sort keywords by opportunity score. This surfaces keywords the domain doesn’t fully dominate yet – clear areas to make your mark.

Drill into individual keywords to see the full first-page ranking sites. These are the sites you need to out-optimize to snag that term for yourself.

With this intelligence, you can swoop in and outrank competitors for their own keywords. Tactical content gap analysis sets you up to win prime SERP real estate.

4. Organize Keywords into Strategic Topic Clusters

At this point you likely have a massive list of keywords. Make sense of them all by clustering related terms into topics and themes. This forms the content buckets you’ll optimize pages around.

Some paid tools like SEMrush have handy clustering features that automatically group keywords. Try inputting a seed keyword and opening the SEO Content Template to see the topic clusters.

If doing this manually, scan your keyword list for common themes. Group closely related keywords under relevant headings like “keyword research tips”, “SEO tools” and “keyword strategy”.

Longer keyword strings containing multiple keywords may fit under several buckets. That’s OK – some terms serve as connectors between topics.

With your keywords organized into groups, you can start mapping out content around those themes. A clustered list transforms keyword research into an actionable content production plan.

Keep a master keyword list, but also break out keywords into topic-specific lists for easy access when creating content. Clustering brings order to the keyword chaos.

5. Focus on the Most Valuable Keyword Opportunities First

With your robust clustered keyword list, now prioritize which terms should be targeted first in content production. Assess keywords based on projected ROI.

  • Search Volume – Prioritize keywords with higher monthly search volume for greater traffic potential.
  • Difficulty – Easier keywords are faster wins. Check difficulty scores in tools like Ahrefs.
  • Click-Through-Rates – Keywords with higher CTR tend to better match searcher intent.
    Conversion Potential – Which keywords align closest to your business goals?

Also consider relevance to your products/services and how competitive each keyword is.

With these factors in mind, sort your master list into:

  1. High Priority – The “A List” keywords with the highest potential value. Focus content efforts here.
  2. Medium Priority – “B List” keywords worth targeting next. Still solid opportunities.
  3. Low Priority – “C List” long-tail keywords that can supplement your content.

Regularly re-evaluate this prioritization as you track keyword performance over time. Double down on what drives results.

Understanding Search Volume and Competition for a Keyword

As you begin your keyword research, you will notice that some words and phrases are more popular than others.

You want to target keywords your audience is searching for, but targeting the highest volume phrases and terms will not always be your best choice. Your ultimate goal is to choose the keywords that provide your web page with the biggest strategic advantage.

Making this choice means you have to understand search volume and competition for a specific keyword.

Search volume refers to the number of times someone has searched for a particular word or phrase. Higher search volumes indicate you will have to work much harder to achieve higher rankings.

This is typically the result of large brands taking up the highest volume keywords. If you’ve only just started a website, it could take you years to rank if you are competing against large companies. This means you need to find keywords with a lower search volume. Yet, you do not want too low volume or you won’t drive visitors to your site.

Keyword research for an effective SEO strategy requires going after long-tail keywords. These are more specific search terms and phrases that typically have lower competition. In many cases, long-tail keywords convert at a higher rate because searches are more intentional, indicating a searcher is closer to buying.

Consider the following example. You are selling shampoo on your website, so in a perfect world, you want to rank at the top for the keyword shampoo. If you search for shampoo, you will see popular beauty stores, some big brands, and big-box retailers ranked at the top. If you want to increase your rankings, you need to research long-tail options. Examples might include phrases like:

  • All-natural shampoo no sulfates
  • Shampoo for curly hair without parabens
  • Best price shampoo for color-treated hair

More Free and Paid Tools for Keyword Research

With an understanding of keyword volume and competition and how to target the right keywords, you can begin your research. Several tools exist to help you choose and analyze keywords and phrases. Here are some of the best free and paid tools for keyword research:

Google Keyword Planner

Google’s Keyword Planner is the place where many start their keyword research. This free tool gives you estimates for volume and traffic for any keywords you are thinking about targeting and you can use the planner to get keyword ideas. The major drawback of the Google Keyword Planner is that they categorize their search volume data by combining keywords into different ranges of search volume.

Google Trends

You can use Google Trends two ways to help with your keyword research. First, you can enter a specific keyword you are thinking about and review the percentage volume. Second, you can see the long-term growth in the popularity of a specific keyword. Google Trends is a must-have if you want to provide evergreen content on your website and it also helps you monitor seasonal changes in keyword popularity.


This free keyword research tool is quick, easy to use, and it gives you loads of keyword ideas on one page. Soovle is a scraper that provides keywords from Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, and more.

Keyword Snatcher

If you aren’t yet ready to explore data about your keywords, but you need ideas, you must use Keyword Snatcher. Typically you get about 2,000 ideas for one search. You can also narrow results by the number of words, making it really simple to focus on long-tail keywords for your topic.

Keywords Everywhere

This free keyword research tool is a browser add-on for Chrome or Firefox. Keywords Everywhere provide users with monthly search volume, cost per click, and competitive data for keywords from more than 15 different sites. It’s a great extension to use with other keyword research tools such as Moz, Ubersuggest, Soolve, and more.


Thorough, ongoing keyword research should form the foundation of your SEO strategy. Taking the time to research and analyze your target keywords will help align your content to searcher intent, driving more qualified organic traffic.

By following the research process outlined in this guide, you now have a data-driven methodology for discovering new keyword opportunities as they emerge. Maintain comprehensive keyword lists segmented by priority that connect to your overarching content strategy.

Make time each month to repeat your keyword research, even if it’s just analyzing a few new seed keywords. Consistency is key to staying ahead of the game. New conversational keywords and questions will arise that you can capitalize on with optimized content.

The companies dominating search have mastered rigorous keyword analysis. With the steps in this guide, you now have an inside track on conducting research like the top SEO pros. Know your high-value keywords, understand user intent, and create content that ranks. By tapping into keyword intelligence, you will elevate your strategy and leave competitors in the dust.

But if you don’t want to head up all this work yourself, you can always enlist the help of experts who know it best. Get in touch with our team to discuss a detailed SEO content plan that will help your business dominate the SERPs.

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