How to Use Keyword Research for Successful SEO – a Start-To-Finish Guide

17 Min.
keyword seo
Last updated on 11/02/2020

What are the most common mistakes businesses make in online marketing? My go-to answers to this question: you're not doing any keyword research and you're creating content nobody is looking for - that's why you're not achieving any results. Welcome to the world of keyword research. A world where a lack of preparation costs you budget, time, and resources. In this article, I'll guide you step by step through the process of keyword research.

The good news: While keyword research may take some time to carry out, many websites are full of untapped potential. The following start-up was able to increase its traffic threefold with minimal effort. It was only by doing keyword research that the company realized it was already ranking for keywords with a high search volume. They were just missing the appropriate content:

Traffic by keyword research
Increase in traffic after keyword research

To start off: Basics of keyword research

Before we get to the tools and techniques used for keyword research, I'd like to first introduce you to the basics of this practice.

What are keywords?

Whenever we search engine optimizers talk about keywords, we mean the keywords and phrases that users, i.e. your potential customers, enter into their chosen search engine.

Both Google and various online tools provide data on how often those terms are searched for per month. This search volume helps us online marketers to distinguish significant from unimportant keywords.

Ultimately, keyword research is a must for any online company wanting to build organic traffic. This way you can find out in advance if investing in suitable texts and content is worth the time and effort. As we all know, time is money.

Types of keywords

In search engine optimization, keywords are divided into different categories. Each category has its own distinctive qualities. Behind each keyword there's a different user intent for the search and therefore different results. The following rough classification helps you understand what search volume or what kind of traffic you can expect to see in the different categories:

KeywordCharacteristics / Properties
Short tail keywordsGroups of words limited to 1-3 words. These groups are short and pertinent, have a large search volume and usually have high competition. Example: Pizza.
Long tail keywordsGroups of words that already deal with a topic in a much more specific way. They have a significantly lower search volume. In return, there is relatively less competition and higher conversion rates. Example: Why does pizza make you fat?
Local keywords (Geo targeting keywords)Keywords that refer to a place or a geographical position. Example: Pizza delivery service in Berlin.
Semantic keywordsKeywords that resemble a keyword, are a synonym of it or are arranged in a different order.
Brand keywordsKeywords that explicitly refer to a brand, product or company name. Example: Domino's Pizza.
Competitor keywordsKeywords that refer to the competition's brands, products or services. Examples for RAIDBOXES: WPEngine WordPress Premium Web hosting
Commercial keywords / Transactional keywordsKeywords with a commercial reference. These keyword groups indicate the searcher is interested in a product, is considering purchasing it or is perhaps already comparing offers.

This subject area is vast. So vast that every online marketer handles these categories slightly differently. For more information on search queries, see Google's Search Quality Guidelines starting from page 66.

Search intent – Which keywords are relevant for my business?

Search engines have made it their business to always give the user the best answer to a question. This is no easy tasks with a pool of thousands of possible answers. In order to provide their users with the most relevant results, search engines must be able to deduce what the searcher is aiming for with their search query.

In the world of online marketing, this is known as the search intent.

When doing keyword research as a website operator, you should always ask yourself what kind of information the visitor is looking for and adapt your content to the visitor's aim.

I keep seeing outdated SEO methods, like creating doorway pages with the hope of ranking in other districts. Or the creation of hundreds of subpages with each district of a large city. Not only are these methods spam, they risk getting in the way of your real site ranking. Moreover, it's certainly not in your customers' interest if they're forwarded to the wrong address. Nor if they receive false information about a product. And this is by no means in the interest of the search engines.

How to Use Keyword Research for Successful SEO – a Start-To-Finish Guide

Take the keyword "assemble PC" as an example. Only shopping results appear. For Google, the search intent behind this term is clear:

Search intention Keyword
Google tries to recognize the search intent of the keyword

But just by changing our search query to "PC assembly tips", we reveal a completely different intention for our search. Google now provides us with informative content:

Search intention Information
The changed search intent for information

As the search intent will determine the future content for your topics, it's advisable to first take a look at the search results. This way you get a sense of what kind of content the user wants.

An online shop with a PC configurator could miss valuable traffic opportunities if it relies solely on the marketing of its PC configurator. This would simply not rank for informative search queries.

Step by step to keyword research

There are all sorts of methods for performing keyword research. Even if you'd rather be investing your time in content promotion or creating new content, it's essential to first carry out some keyword research. I highly recommend taking your time to conduct your keyword research thoroughly and carefully, however, as it will significantly influence the success of your content.

In this tutorial, we'll be creating a mind map with relevant keywords. The whole thing will look something like this:

image mindmap keyword research
The goal of your research: a mind map with your relevant keywords.

In the brackets on the mind map you can see the search volume of related search terms. The advantage of this method is that our keywords are sorted by search volume and also by tool. This makes it easier for us to structure the keywords later on.

Tip: Keywords from your mind map that don't make it into your content are excellent for separate blog posts or subpages later on. There you can strengthen the reference to your most important keywords (main topic) by means of internal links.

After our keyword research, we'll structure the keywords from the mind map as follows:

image content structure by keyword research
Structure of your researched keywords

In this example, the job reference is the "seed keyword", which will form the main heading (H1) on our site. Related keywords with the highest search volume will form the subheadings (H2). Visitors to a website usually only scan for certain information. Subheadings are a perfect way to guide them through your content.

Search engines also benefit from this structure, as they can better "understand" the content of your website. These topics can then be expanded with further subtopics (H3).

Keywords without a high search volume might still match the topics of our subheadings. These keywords give us ideas for later content.

The advantage of this method: You don't have to be an expert in a topic. Based on the keyword research and the keyword structure created from it, you can immediately recognize what content is relevant for your users. You just have to concentrate on working through the "keywords" or pass on this structure to suitable authors.

Step 1: Brainstorming - collecting ideas for keywords

For this guide I assume that you've already got some ideas or instructions for which keywords you want to optimize.

If not, open a separate document and make notes on potential topics you could write about. Rough bullet points will do. This could be hobbies or topics that interest you. Or problems you or someone around you has been confronted with in the past months and that you were able to solve. Or it could be purchases you've made and the criteria for them.

If the future content is about services your company offers, roughly jot down these services and products. Don't just think about the products you want to sell here, but also consider the questions that will ultimately lead to your service. After all, you could be the solution to your users' problems.

Then enter these into Google's search box. Google's autocomplete function: When entering the search terms, the Google Suggest Feature will already give you ideas as to what keywords in combination with your service are also being searched for by other people. Use these suggestions as inspiration for your keyword research and product range.

Google Autosuggest KW testimonial
Use the Google Suggest feature of Google Search

By the way, further suggestions are made for that keyword at the bottom of the search results page. These could also contain useful ideas for your keyword research:

Related search terms in SERPs
Google shows you similar search queries

Step 2: Keyword mind map with FreeMind

FreeMind is open source software for creating mind maps. The program is available for free for MacOS and Windows. You can download it here: http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page.

  1. Open FreeMind and write your keyword in the middle. From there you can create a new tab by pressing the "INSERT" key (MacOS: Tabulator). To maintain an overview, subdivide these by search intent or platform.
  2. Organize your keywords according to the tools or subtopics you use. Always sort your found keywords by the highest search volume.
  3. Completed topics can be deleted later with a marker so you don't lose the overview!
Structure Keyword sources Mindmap
The structure of the keyword sources in a mind map

Step 3: Take a first look at the competition and search results

After we've entered our search term into Google, we'll take a close look at the search results. You can get a lot information about a keyword just from the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).

Search intent: What kind of content dominates the search results? Is it mostly products, eCommerce websites, and shopping ads? Ranking with a pure content page will prove difficult.

Competition: How "strong" are the domains in the first five positions? Are the results domains with high authority (e.g. Wikipedia) or are they rather private websites, news portals and forums?

Are the results or sites optimized? Good meta descriptions, well-designed landing pages or long texts can be indicators for successful search engine optimization.

If you use a backlink tool: Do high-quality backlinks link to these URLs?

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Structured data: Is further information on the search term displayed directly in the search results or even answered? This can also be an indicator for successful search engine optimization. If so, you need to emulate the competition with:

  • Review stars (Google stars) in the search results
  • Search queries answered directly in the search results
  • "FAQ" / "How To" boxes under the search field
  • "Recipes" (Rich Cards) directly in the search results

So-called Rich Snippets are possible through structured data and these can be used to calculate the CTR (click through rate) of the search results. If no operator in the niche uses structured data, you can also take this as an opportunity to stand out more in search results or even appear in prominent positions:

structured data
Example of Rich Snippets in the food scene
rich cards
Example of Rich Cards in Google

Step 4: Check the keyword potential

If a quick look at the search results indicates only low to medium competition for a keyword, then the next step is to check how profitable the keyword is. For this we need a tool for keyword research.

Paid tools are always more reliable than free tools. These usually also have a larger and more up-to-date keyword database. Below are some examples of online tools.

The following metrics are important:

  • Search volume: shows you how many users search for your search term per month.
  • Cost per click (CPC): how much money advertisers pay on average for a click on an ad for this keyword. High click prices are an indicator of strong competition or for niches where high profits are possible.
  • Search trend: defines whether the keyword has gained or lost importance in the past months.

Ubersuggest

Ubersuggest shows you all the data you need for your keyword research. The user interface may seem confusing at first glance with all its figures and graphics. But for our purposes, you'll only need a few of the numbers and functions:

Keyword tool Ubersuggest by neilpatel
The keyword tool "Ubersuggest" by Neil Patel

Ubersuggest can even analyze domains for your most profitable keywords and find out which keywords your competition has optimized. We'll come back to this kind of keyword research later.

In the tab "Keyword Ideas", you can see more suggestions for related keywords. The results are sorted by search volume:

Keyword ideas in Ubersuggest
Ubersuggest shows you more keyword ideas.

Since these keyword ideas have a high search volume, you should also include them in your content. It appears these topics are relevant for a large number of users. Write down the suggestions relevant for your business in your mind map. They'll later form the subheadings or topics in your content.

SEMrush (Free version)

From a personal point of view, SEMrush is my favorite tool. Mainly because of its huge keyword database and the comprehensive data on websites and their traffic. The cheapest plan costs 99.50 euros per month. What's not advertised anywhere is that SEMrush also offers free membership. For most operators of small websites, this free version is completely sufficient.

Keyword overview semrush
My personal recommendation: the SEO tool SEMrush.

The free membership includes:

  • Limited access to almost all SEO tools (onpage optimization etc.)
  • Ability to view data such as search volume, CPC etc.
  • 10 results each for a domain's keywords or related search terms

Tip: Searches can be repeated as often as you like. With the right filters, you'll always get different results, even in the free version. You just have to choose the right search criteria.

The "Keyword Wizard" is also useful. It suggests further related and relevant keywords including search volume. From the screenshot you can see how big the difference in keyword ideas is compared to a free tool:

Keyword ideas from semrush
The Keyword Wizard in SEMrush

Note down all the relevant keywords in your mind map. Set yourself the goal of always writing the most detailed article on a topic that leaves no questions unanswered. The result should be THE resource online, which is considered an expert post on this topic. Such an article deserves first position in the search results. That should be what you're aiming for.

Use Google Suggest as a keyword tool

By the way, the most powerful of all keyword research tools is right in front of our eyes the whole time - Google Search! To be more precise: The Google Suggest feature of the search box. Although the feature doesn't provide any search volume data, the suggestions can certainly keep up with keyword research tools. That's because many tools are actually based on the Google Suggest feature.

The feature suggest additions to your search query:

  1. Open an incognito tab in a browser of your choice
  2. Go to google.com
  3. If you don't want to sell a local service/product, make sure you block access to your location to avoid local keyword suggestions.
  4. Enter your keyword and the letter "a" in the search box
  5. Write down relevant suggestions for your keyword in your mind map
  6. Continue with the rest of the alphabet
Local Google Search
Blocking access to your location
Google autosuggest example
How to use Google Suggest as a keyword tool

This process does take some time. The advantage is you'll only be shown relevant search terms which are regularly being searched for by other people in the search engine. What data is more reliable than the data provided by Google itself?

Usually there are a number of long tail or question keywords where the competition is relatively weak. Such keywords can be implemented in the form of an FAQ (e.g. by structured data). This is a unique opportunity to display your answers directly in the search results.

Write down relevant keywords in your mind map for later use - perform a search for each letter of the alphabet.

Tip: This process can also be followed on other Google products (e.g. YouTube) to get more content ideas for other content formats.

YouTube search autosuggest
Autocomplete feature on YouTube

Tip 2: You can speed up this process by using paid tools like HyperSuggest to do it. The tool works in the same way but saves you valuable time. The free version only contains 20 results per query, however.

HyperSuggest
The paid tool "HyperSuggest" reduces your workload.

Google Trends

When it comes to keywords with a high search volume (brands, products, films, celebrities), Google Trends is a fantastic tool to investigate the popularity of a search query:

Google Trends Example
Google Trends for keywords with high search volume.

You can see from the statistics in the example how interest has remained constant over time. In addition, under "Similar search queries" you'll find further keyword ideas for the search term. With a bit of luck, there are even suggestions among them where interest has only been growing in recent months. If your competitors haven't worked with the keywords yet: perfect!

The disadvantage of this method is that it often only works with popular search terms, i.e. those with a high search volume. For niches with low search volume, it's not really possible to find any relevant information.

BONUS: Identify keyword ideas based on the competition

Unfortunately, very few companies actively use this method of keyword research. In my opinion, it is the most effective way of getting ideas for new sources of traffic.

You absolutely need an online tool able to show the rankings of your competitors. The larger the keyword database, the better the selection of suggestions.

I use the "Organic Research" tab in SEMrush. Of course, you can also use the free traffic analyzer from Ubersuggest.

Taking advantage of the competition's laziness

The truth is, hardly any operator really knows which keywords they are ranking for. The most important tool, the search console from Google, is not actively used by most people. Most operators do, of course, know about the most important keywords and have clear ideas for which "big" keywords they want to rank. All the "smaller" search queries are quickly forgotten about - or are not even on the radar.

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These are mostly keywords briefly mentioned by the competition or those which rank passively but aren't especially prominent on the website. The beauty of these keywords is that the inattention of your competition can be your biggest chance to build traffic.

How to find out your competition's ranking

First enter the URLs of your competitors into a keyword tool of your choice. In the case shown from SEMrush, we're interested in positions 4 to 20. Of course, keyword ideas can still be found in lower positions but it helps immensely to limit the number of possible positions at first:

SEMrush Alternative
Analyze keywords of the competition in SEMrush

At the same time, limit the search volume to avoid suggestions for keywords where it's not worth creating content for. It's up to you where to the place that limit, I personally start with a search volume of 200.

Tip: Play with the search filters. If you don't get any matching results, widen your search criteria. This way more results can be found.

Now search the results for topics that also apply to your keyword or service. Assess the ranking URL according to its content:

  • Is this a specially created URL for this search term? If yes: How good is the content on this topic? Are you in a position to create better content?
  • Was the ranking URL optimized for a different keyword? If yes: Is the keyword on this URL dealt with extensively or even at all?

Always keep the search intent in mind. If you find an interesting keyword that has received too little attention from the competition, then take a look at the search results. Perhaps there are other competitors who've done better. You can also use them for your competition keyword research, giving you access to more keyword ideas.

Basically, this process can be repeated endlessly:

  • You can use the competition of your competitors for your analysis.
  • If you're marketing a local service, it makes sense to take a look at other cities. So you can see how companies build up their traffic there.

Note down important keywords in your mind map or keep them in mind to create your own landing pages on this topic.

BONUS: Get keyword ideas from the Search Console

For the last part of this tutorial, I'd like you to answer the following two questions truthfully: "Do you know which keywords your website ranks for? Do you know which keywords generate your traffic?"

If either answer is "no", then you need to go to the Search Console via https://search.google.com/search-console/ right now. If you've not done it yet, verify your website and wait a few days.

search console
The performance of your website, as seen in the Google Search Console

Most website operators only focus on keywords with high search volume or those they already optimize in their SEO. At the same time, many websites build up rankings for additional keywords. It's not uncommon for top URLs with hundreds of keywords to rank high with one page - without the content having been optimized for these keywords. And all this quite passively. With a bit of luck, you'll find keywords here that still have a high search volume, but are just missing the "optimal" content.

In particular for those sites not yet able to rank for a main term, these keywords are a good starting point to get initial visitors and to lay the foundation for further rankings.

Under the menu item Performance you'll get insights into the performance of your website in Google search. Hide clicks / CTR and show only the positions. At the bottom of the page you can determine how many results you want to display per page. Set this value to 500 and sort the positions by ascending rankings. As in the case with SEMrush, you then focus on keywords where your website is ranked in the first ten positions. After that, you can widen the criteria.

Positionings Search Console
Positioning in the Search Console

In the example above, the website ranks on the topic "vitiligo" (skin disease) for many keywords, even though there isn't appropriate content on these topics available. You may find keywords with a high search volume here.

What is the search volume for the term?

Unfortunately, Google doesn't provide any data on search volume in the Search Console. As Google no longer provides usable data in the Keyword Planner, you can't avoid buying an SEO tool to get the search volume. Alternatively, you can enter the terms one by one in tools like Ubersuggest.

What you can do, however, is export keywords from the Search Console to a table and then insert them into a low-cost SEO tool. The search volume of the entire list can then be displayed. For example, in SERanking (Cost: ca. €5 / month).

  1. In the Search Console, under "Services", click on the "Export Data" icon
  2. Save the Excel file
  3. Insert the exported keywords into an SEO tool of your choice and check the search volume of each term.
SERanking Keyword Research
Check keyword search volume with SERanking

Find worthwhile keywords

As in the previous step, you'll search for keywords with the following qualities:

  1. Good search volume (>100)
  2. Good existing initial rankings
  3. Match the content of your website and you think would make a great addition
    to your site
  4. In line with your services or products or which could offer entry into new, interesting niches

Increase your website ranking

Look closely at the content of each URL and be critical:

  • Is the topic being dealt with in detail?
  • Are you solving your visitor's problem? (keyword search intent)
  • Do links go from thematically matching pages into this subpage?
  • Do you need to deal with the topic (keyword) more intensively? For example, regarding the length of text or the quality of questions answered in the article.
  • Should you link the topic (keyword) on your own website more?
  • Do other domains link to this subpage?

Step by step you can optimize the most important subpages and increase their visibility in Google & Co.

Tools to support your keyword research

To conduct successful keyword research, you need tools that provide keywords and their monthly search volume. And you need a way to structure those keywords.

Free tools:

Paid tools:

Which tools do you prefer to use for your keyword research, and why?

Do you have questions about keyword research or the article? Feel free to use the comment function. You want to be kept up to date on new SEO and online marketing blog posts? Then follow us on Twitter, Facebook , or subscribe to our newsletter.

Picture: Hasan Albari

What started as a passion has become Dominik's profession. Today, as a search engine optimizer, he advises companies across Europe in the implementation of onpage and offpage measures. Or implements them himself. As an up-and-coming blogger, Dominik shares his knowledge about search engine optimization in his SEO blog.

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