What is the most common mistake that self-employed people and businesses make in online marketing? They don't do any keyword research. This leads to content that no one is looking for - this way you don't achieve results on Google and others. This step-by-step guide will help you to carry out a keyword analysis to get ahead of your competitors.
The good news is that although keyword research may take a lot of time, it is worth the effort. Most websites are full of potential that remains unused. Some companies, agencies and freelancers have doubled their traffic and more after extensive keyword research.
This happens, for example, when research reveals that you are already ranking for search terms with a high search volume, but the appropriate content is still missing:
Basics of Keyword Research
Before I show you tools and possible techniques you can use to do keyword research, I want to get you started with the basics.
What are Keywords?
Whenever we talk about keywords in search engine optimization (SEO), we are referring to the keywords and groups of words that users enter into the search engine of their choice.
Both Google and various online tools provide data on how often those search terms are searched for per month. This is also called search volume. This search volume helps you in online marketing to distinguish between significant and insignificant keywords. So that you use and write content that is actually searched for.
Check SEO of your Website
Do you generally want to know how your websites perform in search engine optimization before you start working on your keyword strategy? Then first read my tutorial on the SEO audit. It explains step by step how you can achieve better rankings on Google.
This makes keyword research a must for everyone who wants to build organic traffic. This way you can find out in advance whether it is worth the effort to invest in suitable texts and content. And time is money, as we all know.
Types of Keywords
In search engine optimization, keywords are divided into different categories. Each category influences the user's search intention and what kind of results are displayed in the search results. If you are doing a keyword research for the first time, it is enough to know the following three types of keywords:
|Short Tail Keywords||Search terms that are limited to one or two words, short and relevant. They have a high search volume and therefore usually have a lot of competition. For example: "pizza".|
|Long Tail Keywords||Search terms that are much more specific to a topic. They have a much lower search volume, but comparatively less competition and higher conversion rates. For example: "How thick does pizza dough have to be?|
|Local Keywords (Geo Targeting Keywords)||Search terms that refer to a place or geographical location. For example: "Pizza delivery service in Berlin".|
You can find more information on keyword categories in Google's Search Quality Guidelines from page 66 (PDF).
Search Intention - Content that is being Searched For
Search engines have made it their business to always provide users with the best answer to a question. This is not so easy with a pool of thousands of possible answers. In order to deliver the most relevant results to searchers, search engines have developed ways to infer the following: What kind of result does a user expect? This enables a search engine to place advertisements that are even better tailored to the user - and thus earn more money.
In the world of search engine optimization, this is also called search intent.
If you run a website, then you should always ask yourself during keyword research what information the searchers want - and only use those keywords to which you can offer a solution or answer.
Since 2020, search engines such as Google and Bing have increasingly made adjustments to their algorithms, which for the first time use machine learning to differentiate between the same word meanings. At the end of 2019, Google introduced such recognition for the first time with the BERT update.
The following types of search intentions exist (source: Semrush):
- Information-oriented: Users want to find an answer to a specific question
- Transaction-oriented: Users want to perform an action (conversion)
- Commercial: Users want to know more about brands or services
- Navigation-oriented: You want to find a specific site or subpage again
Practical Examples - How to Fulfil the Search Intention
Don'ts - You're guaranteed to burn money with these measures:
- Creating content that you find relevant but that is not interesting to your future visitors (such as participation in competitions or training, awards).
- Creating satellite pages. These are cloned pages in which only the local keyword is changed (for example, from "Berlin" to "Munich"). This is purely out of the hope of ranking in another city or district.
- Skyscraper content for a search intent (for example, a transactional keyword) for which long content is not relevant because searchers are expecting a product or service.
Do's - How to do it right:
- Tailor content to a specific search intention. If all search results for a search term are products, then also offer a product for this keyword.
- Try to fill your website with content that complements your theme. Use the keywords from the keyword research.
- Don't skimp on the quality of a text. Content that is written by experts usually has a more lasting and qualitative effect than texts that are bought cheaply on a text platform. This means that such content usually performs better in the long term and needs to be updated less frequently. This is referred to as evergreen content.
Practical Example: Which Keyword is Relevant for your Business?
Since the search intention determines the future content of your topic, it is advisable to first take a look at the search results.
Let's take the keyword "assemble PC" as an example. Only webshops appear that offer a generator on the website. The search intention behind this term is clear for Google: "transaction-oriented":
By changing the search query to "PC compilation tips", a completely different intention suddenly emerges. Google now provides informative content instead:
With short search queries like the ones just mentioned, you get a feel for what kind of content is desired by the users.
An online shop with a PC configurator could miss valuable traffic opportunities if it relies solely on marketing its configurator. This would simply not rank for informative search queries. So it makes sense to add informative content on the topic of "tips" to the website - if necessary on a separate sub-page.
Research before Content Creation
It is important to internalize this mechanism. In the previous example, a guide on how toassemble a PCwould be a wasted effort because the search is dominated by other content. See also the content in our ebook on content marketing and content strategy.
Step by Step to Keyword Research
There are all kinds of methods for conducting keyword research. In this tutorial, I will work with you to create a mind map of relevant keywords. The whole thing will look something like this:
In the brackets of the mind map you can see the search volume of the keywords. The advantage of this method is that the keywords are sorted by search volume, tool or search intention. This makes it easier for you to structure the keywords later.
Optimize Internal Linking
Keywords from your mind map that do not make it into your content are excellent for separate blog posts or sub-pages later on. There, the reference to your most important keywords (main topic) can be strengthened by means of internal linking.
After our keyword research, we will put the keywords from this mind map into the following structure:
In this example, plant fertilizer is the "seed keyword" that will form the main heading (H1) on our example page. Related keywords with the highest search volume will form the subheadings (H2). These H2 headings are also important: visitors of a web page usually only scans for specific information. Subheadings are a perfect guide to get your content started.
Search engines also benefit from this structure, as they can better assign the successive paragraphs to the keyword in your headline. These topics can then be expanded with further sub-topics (H3 or H4). Such subheadings help you later to supplement your topic with meaningful content.
The advantage of this method is that you do not have to be an expert in a topic. Based on the keyword research and the structure developed with it, you are immediately aware of what content is being searched for by real people. You only have to concentrate on providing the content for these keywords.
Step 1 - Gather Keyword Ideas
In this guide, I assume that you already have a rough idea of which seed keyword (H1) you want to optimize for. If this is not the case, open a separate document and make notes on potential topics you want to write about. Rough keywords are sufficient.
- Hobbies or topics that interest you
- Problems that you or your environment have faced in the past months and that you have been able to resolve
- Purchasing decisions in the past
- Services in your company
But don't just think about the products you want to sell yourself. But also think about your competitors and the questions that could lead to visitors dealing with your product. Two examples from different industries: "How is a property appraised?" - "What sports activities are recommended after this procedure".
Then enter your ideas into Google's input mask. Google's Autocomplete or Google Suggest feature will suggest additions as you type. You can use these additions as inspiration for keywords that are searched for in combination with your service:
At the end of the search results you will find further suggestions for the keyword from the input mask. These may also contain useful suggestions for your further keyword research. More about this later in this tutorial.
Step 2 - Keyword Overview
The form of your keyword overview is up to you. Some use mind maps, others prefer tables such as Excel. Tables are usually preferred by search engine optimisers because the data can be better filtered in the tool.
Both Mindmup (online) and FreeMind (offline) can be used free of charge to create a mind map. The complete workflow looks like this:
- Open your mind map and write down your main topic in the middle. This keyword will have the highest search volume.
- Now we build our themes starting from this keyword. Use the tabulator key to create a new tab. Order your keywords according to the tools used or the search intention.
- Always sort your found keywords according to the highest search volume.
- You can cross out completed topics later with a marker so that you don't lose track of them.
Here are two examples of what the result might look like:
Step 3 - Ideas from the Keyword Analysis
In the first step, you were already able to gather initial ideas for content. In the next step, we will supplement our mind map with keyword recommendations from our SEO tools. I'll show you which tools you can use to find such suggestions in a moment. And this is what concrete content ideas could look like:
Step 4 - Competition and Search Results
In the final step of our keyword research, we evaluate each individual keyword from our mind map to see whether it is worth the effort to write content for this keyword. We do this on the basis of a competitor analysis. Semrush has written a very good guide on this: Competitor Analysis in Search Engine optimization.
After entering our search term in Google's input mask, we take a comprehensive look at the search results presented. Already from the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page), a lot of information about a keyword can be gathered:
What kind of content dominates the search results? Is it predominantly products, e-commerce websites and shopping ads? Then it will be difficult to achieve rankings with a pure content site . Ask yourself: Can you serve the search intent at all? You can find more information on this in Semrush's article on search intent.
How "strong" are the domains in the first five positions? Are the results high authority domains (for example Wikipedia) or rather private websites, news portals and forums? Are the results or pages optimized?
Good meta descriptions, well-designed landing pages or long texts can be indicators of a successful search engine optimization and increase the demands on your content.
Is further information on the search term displayed directly in the search results or even answered? This can also be an indicator of successful search engine optimization. As a website operator, you must do the same as the competition in this case:
- 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 made possible by structured data and can strongly influence the CTR(click through rate) of search results. If no one in the niche uses structured data, then you can also see this as an opportunity to stand out more in the search results or even appear in prominent positions:
Tools for your Keyword Research
If a quick look at the search results shows that it could be a keyword with weak to medium competition, then the next step is to check how profitable the keyword is. For this we need a keyword research tool.
Paid tools are always more reliable than free tools. These usually have a larger and more up-to-date keyword database. The largest databases are held by the tools Semrush and ahrefs. I'll give you some examples of online tools in a moment. The following parameters are important in each case:
- The search volume shows you how many searches are performed per month for a keyword. A high search volume is desirable, but not always the best choice, as the competition is high and the search intention is not always clear.
- Cost per click (CPC) stands for how much money advertisers pay on average for a click on an ad for that keyword. High click prices are an indicator of strong competition or niches where high profits are possible.
UberSuggest - for low Requirements
UberSuggest shows you all the data you need for your keyword research. In the free version, however, your search is limited to 3 queries per day.
Domains can also be analysed for their most profitable keywords. This gives you the opportunity to find out what content you need to write about in order to close the content gap with your nearest competitor.
In the "Keyword Ideas" tab you will see further suggestions for related keywords. The results are sorted according to the monthly search volume:
Since the keyword ideas from the example have a high search volume, you should consider also covering these topics on your website. It seems that these topics are relevant for the majority of users. Write down these suggestions in your mind map.
Semrush (free Variant)
The larger the database of an SEO tool is, the higher the chance that you will get new ideas for previously unknown keywords. A tool like UberSuggest is usually no longer sufficient. Then tools like Semrush, Sistrix (for the German-speaking area) or Ahrefs come into play. Because more data also requires more information about the traffic of the competition.
The cheapest memberships for such tools usually start at 100 Euros per month. There is a limited free membership for Semrush, which is completely sufficient for the first beginnings in keyword research. It includes:
- Limited Access to almost all SEO Tools (Site Audit etc.)
- View Data such as Search Volume or CPC
- Analysis of the Difficulty to Rank this Keyword (Keyword Difficulty)
- Strength of the Backlinks of a Domain in the SERPs
Up to ten searches can be carried out per day. With the right filters, you will always get different results even in the free version, you just have to select the right search criteria. In addition, you have access to the "Keyword Wizard":
This will give you many more suggestions for potentially interesting keywords and their search volume. Write down all relevant keywords from this step in your mind map.
Posts by Experts
Set yourself the goal of always writing the most detailed article on a topic that does not leave out any (!) questions. The result should be THE resource on the web that is considered an expert contribution on the respective topic. Such an article deserves the first place in the search results, which is exactly what you should aim for when writing new content.
Use Google Auto Suggest as a Keyword Tool
The most powerful of all keyword research tools has been right in front of your eyes all along. And it's even free - Google Search itself! To be precise: The Auto Suggest feature of the input screen.
Although this tool does not provide any data on search volume, the suggestions can certainly keep up with the results of other tools. The suggestions are sorted by search volume. This is how you use Google Auto Suggest for your keyword research:
- Open an incognito tab in a browser of your choice. The search should not be falsified by cookies or your history. Log out of all Google accounts.
- Go to google.com.
- If you don't want to sell a local product, make sure to block access to your location as shown in the screenshot below - to avoid receiving keyword suggestions from your area.
- Enter the keyword and the letter "a" in the input mask.
- Write down relevant suggestions for your keyword in your mind map.
- Continue with the rest of the alphabet.
This process takes a little time, but has the advantage that you are only shown relevant search terms that are frequently searched for by other people. What data is more reliable than that provided by Google itself?
Usually, you will find a whole series of specific long-tail or question keywords with weak competition. Note down relevant keywords for future use in your mind map. This process can also be applied to other Google products, such as YouTube:
This way you can find out more content ideas for other content types.
Automated Keyword Research
You can speed up your process by using tools like Hypersuggest. The tool does the work for multiple platforms and with a wide range of questions, so you can reach your goal faster. However, the free version only includes 20 results per query.
When it comes to high volume keywords (brands, products, movies, celebrities), Google Trends is a wonderful tool to study the popularity of a search query:
The statistics in the example show that interest in "fertilizer" has grown in recent years. In addition, you will find further keyword ideas for the search term under "Similar search queries". With a bit of luck, you may even find suggestions that have only become interesting in recent months.
The disadvantage of this method is that Google Trends often only works with popular search terms. Specifically with those that have a high search volume. For niches with low search volume, it is hardly possible to find relevant information.
Competitions' Keyword Ideas
Unfortunately, this method of keyword research is actively used by very few companies. In my opinion, it is the most effective way to get ideas for new traffic sources.
You absolutely need a research tool that is able to display the rankings of your competitors. The larger the keyword database, the higher the chance of correctly mapping the traffic of the competition.
I use Semrush for this purpose in this tutorial. To do this, go to the menu item "Organic Research". Of course, you can also use the free Traffic Analyzer from UberSuggest.
Taking Advantage of the Competition's Laziness
The truth is, few companies know which of their keywords generate traffic for their websites. And if they do, only the most important keywords are actively pursued.
Of course, most operators always have a vague idea about which "big" keywords they want to rank for. However, the search queries with low search volumes are quickly forgotten - or they are unknown.
However, these keywords can also be interesting for your company. A tool like Semrush shows that the competition already ranks for this keyword. But you don't have to be discouraged by this immediately, because it is usually the case that the competition has often only mentioned the keyword briefly in the content - and has therefore passively built up a ranking for the keyword. But in terms of content, the keyword is not very important.
The good thing about keywords like these is that your competition's carelessness can be your biggest opportunity to build your own traffic.
Find out the Rankings of your Competitors
First enter the URL of your competitors into a keyword tool of your choice. We filter for positions 3 to 20. If no results are found, you can expand the filter to positions 20 to 30.
Depending on how extensive the suggestions are, you can filter the results with additional criteria. A minimum search volume (less than 150) means that only those keywords are suggested for which it is worth creating content. Where you personally set the limit for your effort is, of course, up to you.
Test the Search Filters
Play around with the search filters in your research. If you don't get any matching results, reduce the stringency of your search criteria. This way you can find more results.
Then analyze the keywords of your competitors for weak points:
- Is the keyword (position 4 to 20) sufficiently covered on the website? Can you create better content for this keyword?
- Is the search intention of the keyword on the competitor URL fulfilled?
- Is this a specially created URL for this search term? If yes, to what extent has this sub-page been optimized for search engines?
Always keep the search intention in mind. If you have found an interesting keyword that has received too little attention from the competition, then also take a look at the other search results.
There may be websites for the same keyword that are already so highly optimized that you decide not to optimize for this keyword. However, you can use these domains again for your competitor keyword research, which in turn gives you access to further keyword ideas.
Basically, this process can be repeated an infinite number of times. Write down important keywords in your mind map again.
Strengthen Local Traffic
If you are marketing a local service, it makes sense to look at the competition in other cities. This way you can see how companies build their traffic there. See also the Local SEO guide.
Keyword Ideas from the Search Console
In the last section of this tutorial, I would like you to answer the following two questions honestly:
- Do you know which keywords your website is ranking for?
- Do you know which keywords generate your traffic?
If your answer is "no", go to the Google Search Console at https://search.google.com/search-console/. If not already done, verify your website and wait a few days for the first data.
Most people who run a website only focus on keywords that have a high search volume. Or on keywords that they already optimize in the course of their search engine optimization. In the process, many websites build up rankings for additional keywords without ever notifying you.
It is not uncommon for top websites to rank for hundreds of other keywords without the content ever having been optimized for these keywords. And this quite passively. With a little luck, keywords can be found here that also have a high search volume, but for which only the "optimal" content is missing.
Especially for new websites that have not yet built up the necessary authority to rank quickly for a significant keyword, these keywords are a good start to reach the first visitors and thus lay the foundation for further rankings.
In the "Performance" menu, you get insights into the performance of your websites in Google search. You will be informed about the most clicks and the most important search queries. Hide the data on impressions / CTR and have only the positions displayed. At the end of the page you can define how many results you want to display per site. Set this value to 500. Set this value to 500. Sort the positions by ascending rankings and export the list.
As in the example of the competitor analysis, note down the keywords in positions 4 to 20 and the URL that ranks for them. Now you can use a tool like Semrush to check the search volume of these keywords. In order to analyze whether there is an opportunity to further expand the keyword.
An example: The website from the previous illustration has a lot of content on the topic of "labor law". It ranks 6th and 8th with the keywords "Christmas bonus repayment" and "Christmas bonus on termination", although there is no optimized web page for this. By increasing content for these keywords, we can improve rankings, reach new customers, and even increase our traffic.
Add Content - Increase the Ranking of your Pages
Look carefully at the content of each URL and judge critically:
- Does the topic (keyword) need to be treated more intensively, in terms of text length and content quality?
- Do I solve the problem of my visitors (regarding search intention)?
- Do internal links from thematically appropriate pages go to this sub-page?
- Do other domains link to your subpage?
You can read more tips on content auditing in my article Step by Step to the SEO Audit.
Further Tools for Keyword Research
To carry out successful keyword research, you need tools that show you keywords with their monthly search volume. And you need a way to structure the keywords you find.
- FreeMind (Mindmap)
- Google Trends
- SemaGER (find semantic terms, for the German-speaking area)
- Xovi Keyword Tool
- Sistrix Keyword Discovery
- Ubersuggest by NeilPatel
I recommend that you carry out keyword research conscientiously and carefully. It is not insignificant for the success of your website. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments.
Help with Keyword Research
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A Comment on "Using keyword research to achieve SEO success: step-by-step guide"
This article is great. Proper keyword analysis is very important. In the start I only used to look at the total trafffic of any keyword to choose. Thats why I chosed the keyword SEO for my very first website. Today, I know that it will take my 50 years to rank higher for that keyword and my decision was wrong.