SEO Keyword research is the foundation of every successful SEO campaign. However, there isn’t a ‘standard’ approach to performing keyword research. Strategies may vary depending on the nature of your website, traffic goals, conversion KPIs, budget and resources.
A website that has a high authority may easily rank for difficult keywords while a brand new site will need a different SEO strategy.
In this guide, we’ll cover strategies that you can easily adjust to suit your goals and resources.
Keyword research is a process that determines phrases that people are searching on Google or other search engines. The keywords are then used to optimize pages on a website so that they rank higher on Google.
In a keyword research process, it is important to consider the search phrase, traffic, and SEO difficulty on the respective keywords. A good keyword is one that has a reasonable amount of traffic, not too competitive, and makes sense when applied to your website.
Keyword research is a crucial part of SEO. Without proper keyword research, any subsequent works are like grasping in the dark. Here are the reasons why keyword research is important.
You need to be aware that blindly optimizing for random keywords may lead to possibilities of high ranking but no traffic, or traffic without conversions.
For example, if you’re running an Italian Restaurant and you try to rank for ‘pasta’ you will be attracting users who are seeking informational content rather than customers looking for a dine out. A hair salon will also be getting bad conversion if it’s targeting irrelevant keywords like ‘best shavers for men’ as the keyword is more suitable for a business that sells shavers.
Therefore, keyword research is essential to ensure that only the right traffic is directed to your site. An article that targets ‘choosing a guitar’ will be a good fit for a business selling guitars while a page optimized with ‘best guitars in Singapore’ will naturally draw in local traffic from Singapore.
Search intent of keywords can affect bounce rate. If you’re ranking for unrelated keywords, users will click into your site but leave very quickly. This increases the bounce rate and reduces the time spent on your websites. These numbers lead to losing the overall ranking on Google.
Proper keyword research helps you establish what are the right search phrases that you need to target. These keywords are then used to optimize blog articles, images or video that draws highly-targeted traffic.
You can also gain better insight into consumer sentiments and behaviours through keyword research. The insights obtained during keyword research allows you to create content that answers the questions or information sought by the consumers.
Usually, you will uncover other search phrases when using keyword research tools or other strategies. Google is good at giving hints on what your audience is also searching for. For example, typing in ‘pet foods Singapore’ also returns these related keywords at the bottom of the search result.
You can then focus and expand on these keywords if they are aligned with your business. Google also provides a search section, Related Questions (also known as) that helps in discovering questions that your customers could be asking.
These questions can be turned into blog articles, or included in an FAQ page to draw visitors to your website. Answering these questions help your brand to gain authority and trust amongst the audience.
Google tends to reward articles or content that best matches the search intent of users. In order to do that, you will need to get the keyword research done right.
For example, you have identified a keyword with high traffic like ‘how to hire a maid in Singapore’. The next step is to find out what are the other pages that are ranking on Google and how to create better content.
Better content implies one that matches the search intent of the users, and you will have an idea of what content is favoured by Google by inspecting the results on the first page. Generally, it means a page that answers all the questions and doubts of a user.
In this example, it’s clear that Google is favouring high-quality blog articles that are optimized with the keyword.
There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to keyword research. Over the years, Google’s search algorithm has evolved, and it’s much more intelligent than ever. One prominent development is its ability to recognize the search intent of the users and match the search phrases with relevant results.
The term search intent refers to the purposes behind the users when they are searching on Google. Users expect to find what they are looking for from the results delivered on the search engine.
Search intent has fuelled how Google’s algorithm has evolved in line with a more dynamic consumer journey. According to a published report by Google, individuals showcase very different interaction with a brand before and after a purchase.
Therefore, it’s becoming more important than ever to understand what your customers are looking for when they are searching for particular terms.
For example, a page that is optimized with ‘milk powder for baby’ should not lead to fresh milk or milk products for adults. A blog post ranking for ‘how to cut your hair at home’, should contain instructional content on cutting a hair at home and not a list of barbers in the neighbourhood.
Google is getting incredibly effective in recognizing search intent that it’s becoming a crucial factor in SEO. Without having content that matches the search intent, it wouldn’t rank despite optimizing with keywords, backlinks and other traditional SEO signals.
Here is how search intent is reflected in queries made on Google.
Informational queries are search phrases that signal the user is interested in learning about a specific topic or solving a problem. Therefore, the content developed on such queries should be informational and answer the queries.
Usually, informational queries can be a single keyword, or preceded with search terms like ‘what is’ or ‘how to’.
Here some examples of informational queries.
A navigational query is a search phrase that contains a brand or a specific name of the website. When a user makes a navigational query, he or she already has in mind on the site to be visited.
For example, ‘Adidas Singapore’ is a navigational query with the main website of the brand in Singapore being the likeliest destination.
It is not recommended to compete on navigational queries that are not your brand. While you may still rank for navigational queries, users are unlikely to visit a 3rd party website to fulfil such queries, and that will result in a low click-through rate.
Transactional queries are motivated by users who are keen to perform specific actions. It’s made when the user is hoping to purchase an item, downloading software, signing up for a program or any actions that are of commercial values.
Some examples are
Usually, users who are searching with transactional queries are almost ready to purchase. By optimizing the page to match the purchase intent of the user, you will have a high chance of converting the traffic.
Some of the search queries reflect the user’s intent in conducting a deeper study into a product or service. Therefore, a piece of content that answers the curiosity of the user is the best match. When properly done, the landing page stands a high chance of converting the user into a customer.
Here are a few examples of commercial investigation queries:
For businesses serving the local community, you will want to make local queries a priority. These queries originate from users searching for products or services within the vicinity.
Some examples are:
Another concept of keyword research that you need to understand is the comparison of short tail and long tail keywords and phrases.
Short tail keywords are terms like ‘headphone’ or ‘laptop’. They are very generic in nature, high traffic but also very difficult to rank.
Long-tail keywords are made of 4 or more search terms. Search terms like ‘how to replace batteries in Koss headphones’ and ‘best headphones for PUBG mobile’ are long tails.
Despite having lower traffic, long-tail keywords are easier to rank. They also have a more precise user intent compared to short-tail keywords.
A user searching for the term ‘headphone’ could be seeking the history of headphones, popular brands, or how headphone works. However, users searching for ‘best headphone for PUBG mobile’ are looking for recommendations of a headphone that works well with the PUBG game on the mobile.
Long-tail keywords are more likely to convert, and they are less costly to optimize. This is because long tails are more specific and usually with lesser competition.
Keyword themes are groups of related keywords that align with the services or product your website is offering. The group of keywords play an important role in shaping the structure of the website and also helps search engines to understand the context of the website.
Generally, keyword themes are structured in a top-down approach, starting with a main topical theme. The keyword ‘basketball’ can be a topical theme.
Then, the main theme is further separated into a few secondary themes that are grouped in silos.
Each of the secondary themes can be expanded with more related keywords. For example, ‘basketball shoes’ can be expanded into:
The same process is repeated for ‘basketball training’ and ‘basketball for beginners’.
Without an organized structure of keywords in multiple silos, search engines will have a tough time of differentiating the various topics on your website.
When you’re performing keyword research, you ought to take keyword difficulty into account. Depending on the keyword difficulty, it may take longer to rank for a particular keyword.
As far as SEO is concerned, keyword difficulty is a metric used to define the competitiveness of a particular phrase. Some keywords are easier to rank while others could take years before breaking into the first page of Google.
Keyword difficulty gives an SEO consultant a good idea of how much effort it needs to rank a particular keyword on Google. It can also determine whether it’s worthwhile to spend for the cost of ranking difficult keywords.
There isn’t a single standard that defines the keyword difficulty. Instead, SEO consultants determine the difficulty of keywords from various sources.
Keyword tools, which are used for keyword research, often provide keyword difficulty scores. The score ranges from 1 to 100 with a higher number indicating that it’s harder to rank for the particular keyword.
The keyword difficulty score takes into account the number of competing pages that are ranking for the same keywords. Usually, short-tail keywords that draw in large numbers of traffic have tougher competitions.
Besides dependence on keyword scores on the tools, you will need to assess if the search result is populated with authority sites. For example, if you’re trying to rank for an electronics gadget keyword, you will want to avoid competing with sites like TechRadar, CNET or PCGamer.
These sites have been established for years, if not decades. Millions of dollars have been invested in content and off-page SEO signals, and it isn’t easy to go head-to-head with them for the same keywords.
In order to do so, you will need to beef up various aspects of your site. Some of them include:
Finding a keyword with a low difficulty score isn’t decisive when it comes to ranking the content. Sometimes, you will need to consider if there are synonyms for the particular keyword.
For example, you could be targeting the term ‘getting started with meditation’ for people who wanted to pick up meditation.
The keyword tool indicates that it has a difficulty score of 56.
However, searching for the exact phrase on Google return results including terms like ‘meditation for beginners’ and ‘beginners’ guide to meditation’.
The important point is Google is smart enough to understand synonym and will return relevant results from pages with higher authority, even if it’s not a perfect-matched keyword.
Therefore, your strategy is to create in-depth and relevant content instead of ‘strategic keyword placements’. Aggressive keyword placements or keyword stuffing is actually Black Hat and can be penalized by Google.
We’ve mentioned above that searcher intent plays a vital role in determining a page’s ranking on Google. If you’re trying to rank for informational keywords like ‘how to bake a marble cake’, make sure the content IS about baking a marble cake.
You can’t rank on Google if you’re publishing an article about baking ovens and peppering the keyword on marble cake here and there. Google rewards article that does the best job in answering the user’s search intent (with all other factors being equal).
Keyword difficulty scores aren’t everything. You can still rank for a high difficulty keyword if you have a strong and healthy backlink profile.
Backlinks are links from other sites pointing to your website. They help Google to determine the authoritativeness of your website.
However, getting a higher number of backlinks doesn’t necessarily work in your favour. Google’s algorithm considers factors like the authoritativeness of the linking domain, the anchor text, and if the link is buried deep within the site’s structure.
Getting links from PBNs or guest posting for backlinks is frowned upon by Google. When link acquisition is not in accordance with Google’s policy, your website can be penalized.
On the other hand, proper link building by professional SEO firms can help you to rank even on high difficulty keywords.
Before you start, establish your goal for the keyword research. Are you trying to increase the visibility of a product landing page? Or build awareness of your brand through a search engine?
Having a clear objective in mind helps you to identify the seed keywords where they will be expanded later.
From the few seed keywords, you will then compile a list of related keywords that have a reasonable amount of traffic and competition.
Use a systematic approach as like establishing one or more keyword themes.
We’ve highlighted the benefits of long-tail keywords. They are low competition, low cost and more targeted.
Ensure that you’re also focusing on uncovering long-tail keywords that your audience are searching on the internet.
Always check on the competitions even on seemingly easy keywords. Do a quick search on Google and see what sites are ranking on the first page.
If high authority sites dominate more than half of the results, you may want to shift your focus to other keywords.
You will need to put yourself into the shoes of the audience. Think hard on what the users are expecting when they are searching for the respective keywords.
Getting the search intent right is essential to create relevant content that satisfies the query. It’s an important factor in getting a high ranking on Google.
You will need a keyword strategy, and that means putting what we’ve mentioned above together. Understand your customers, discover keywords that they’re likely to be using, which ones are suitable for SEO reputation management, analyse the competitors and study the intent when such searches are done.
The results will shed light on which keywords are priorities and will bear results in the shortest time.
Once you have a clear strategy on which keywords are potential high-ranker, you will want to start building landing pages based on the keywords.
Create content that satisfies the query and make it better than any of the competing pages. Doing so will increase the chance of ranking for the said keyword.
Initially, finding keywords seems to be a difficult chore. However, there are many ways where you could discover new keywords.
You can start by brainstorming on topics that are related to your niche and derive the keyword from it. For a digital marketing agency like us, our list of topics will be something like this.
If you’re brainstorming for a pet store business, your list of topics will probably cover:
Wikipedia is also a good source of ideas for keywords as it covers basically any imaginable topics.
Search for a keyword like ‘pet’ on Wikipedia and check out the table of contents. you will have a better idea on popular topics that are related to pets and find keywords from there.
Reddit claimed to be the ‘front page of the internet’ and with more than 430 million users, it has every right to do so. It’s also a great place to hunt for keywords.
Chances are, you will find your niche in one of the many subreddits. Check out what people are asking on Reddit and topics that are trending.
If you’re in the health industry and dealing with back pain, you will get keyword ideas by visiting the subreddit. Keywords can be questions asked by real users, and if such questions are asked on Reddit, it’s likely that such queries will also appear on Google.
Both Google and YouTube have an interesting autofill feature. As you type a keyword, it attempts to offer matches that are often queried by real users. Using autofill is helpful if you’re looking for long-tail keywords.
Here’s what it looks like on Google.
Besides Reddit, there are also other local or niche-specific forums that you can visit and hunt for keywords.
One of the top forums for digital marketers is the Warrior Forum. Check out the trending discussions on forum, or questions that are usually raised. Often, you can turn such topics into a blog article based on the identified keywords.
If you feel like it, you can also check out what are the keywords targeted by your competitors. Some SEO tools will provide you reports on keywords ranked by your competitors’ domain.
Do note that even if you’re going to target the same keywords of your competitors, you will want to create unique, engaging and better content to rank on Google.
Businesses that are operating within a country or region should focus on getting regional keywords.
A business dealing with pet supplies in Singapore will be better targeting ‘Singapore pet supplies’ instead of just ‘pet supplies’.
Focusing on local SEO ensures the content is likely to appear on searches within the country.
Some products or services are in-demand in certain seasons, and the keywords should reflect that.
If you’re operating an online gift shop, you can target keywords like
Google Search Console, which allows the webmaster to monitor the site’s performance, is also an excellent place to hunt for keywords.
Log in to Google Search Console, select Performance on the dashboard, and you will find queries that lead to your page.
You can optimize existing pages with the keywords, or build new ones for new keywords.
Google Analytics allows you to monitor the traffic on your website. You can also use it to mine for keywords.
Log in to Google Analytics and navigate through Dashboard → Acquisition→ All Traffic → Channels.
Click on organic on the displayed table and you will find a list of keywords used in queries leading to your site.
The problem isn’t about a shortage of keywords but how to pick one that is potentially easy to rank, generates traffic and lead to conversions.
Any keywords that you choose need to have reasonable search volumes. Short-tail keywords may have hundreds of monthly searches or more while long-tails are likely to hover in tens or a couple of hundreds of searches.
Avoid keywords that nobody is searching at all. For example, no one is interested in ‘organic turtle food’.
We’ve covered keyword difficulty in depth. It is a combination of various factors like competitors vying for the same keyword, authoritativeness and the search intent.
An SEO campaign starts with identifying seed keywords. Seed keywords are the main money keywords of the industry. For example, ‘lasik Singapore’ is a seed keyword.
The problem with seed keywords is that they are very difficult to rank for new websites.
If you’re building a new website, you will want to go for keywords with lesser difficulty as they are relatively easier to rank. This means you will need to identify long tail keywords like ‘lasik clinic in Singapore’.
Long tail keywords are also preferable as they are more focused and has clearer search intent. Someone who’s searching for the term ‘lasik clinic’ is very likely to make an appointment.
Click-through rate is the ratio between how many times a page appear on search and the action of users clicking into it.
Naturally, you will want to choose keywords that have a better click-through rate or optimize existing ones.
Some keyword tools return parameters like a number of searchers and estimated traffic when ranking on the first page of Google.
A simple calculation will give you the organic click-through rate of the keywords.
CPC or cost-per-click is an indicator of the estimated bids of the particular keywords for advertisement.
It’s also a telling sign of how competitive the keyword will be on Google. You can find out the CPC on Google Keyword Planner or certain keyword tools.
If you’re planning for the long term, you ought to check out the keyword trends. A keyword that has a lot of searches right now may not be so in the future.
On the same note, you can be working on a keyword that is likely to see positive growth in searches in the coming years.
To find out the trend of keywords, go to Google Trends and search for the primary keyword.Here’s an example for bone broth.
The interest in bone broth grew and peaked in early 2019, but it’s uncertain if it will remain an interest in the future.
Sometimes, you will find keywords that have very low competition. However, it’s important to determine if these keywords are relevant to your niche.
If you’re selling pet foods online, it doesn’t make sense to rank for ‘bone broth’, which is obviously for humans.
Keyword research and analysis is a tedious process but it can be aided with keyword tools. Keyword tools provide results and parameters like search traffic, SEO difficult, competition and CPC.
There are many paid and free keyword tools available.
A highly popular keyword tool that allows SEO marketers to search keywords and explore related phrases for the niche. The free version of Moz Keyword Explorer allows up to 10 searches a month, while the paid version has no limits.
Google Keyword Planner is provided as a tool on Google Ads. It's available for free and returns keyword results with average monthly searches. Note that this tool doesn't return an accurate number of monthly searches for the keywords.
Google Trends is a useful tool that lets you check the historical trends of specific keywords. You can filter the result based on countries and compare the interests in different keywords.
AnswerThePublic is a unique keyword research tool that returns possible topics that real people are searching for in a visually connected presentation. Daily limits are imposed on the free version while the paid subscription allows unlimited searches and more features.
SpyFu is a comprehensive keyword tool that returns various parameters, such as cost per click, volume and difficulty. It’s geared towards Google Adwords with useful data like top advertisers and recommended keywords for ads placements.
You will find trending topics from ExplodingTopics.com. It’s a free site that allows you to search or browse keywords that are rapidly growing in the market.
Deviating from conventional software, Keywords Everywhere is an extension for Chrome and Firefox. It extracts phrases from ‘People also search for’ and “Related’ keywords on Google search results and populate it with metrics like volume and CPC.
Ubersuggest is a keyword search tool that is now owned by popular SEO expert Neil Patel. It gives you insights into volumes, keyword ideas, trends, CPC and SEO difficulties. You can also get content ideas from results with a high number of engagements on social media.
SEMrush is a comprehensive SEO solution that also features a keyword research tool. It’s great for discovering competitive keywords, keyword ideas and spotting long-tail keywords for content.
Ahref is another highly popular tool among SEO marketers. It features Keyword Explorer, which provides the necessary metrics (search volume, difficulty, CPC) for your SEO keyword strategy.
It also provides the SEO report which indicates the true traffic potential of the keyword.
This is a simple tool that generates the bulk of related phrases from the primary keyword fed. It’s free, but no SEO metrics are appended to the results. Suitable for brainstorming in the earlier part of keyword research analysis.
We hope that you have realized the importance of keyword research in any SEO campaign. It’s important to understand the right approach to keyword research, particularly on users' search intent.
Identifying the right keywords requires due considerations on various metrics. It’s easy to start searching for keywords for your business with some of the tools we’ve mentioned.
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