his guide shows in detail how to do thorough and meaningful keyword research. Keyword research helps you identify the terms, phrases, questions and answers that are important to your visitors and customers, and help you achieve your business goals. This could be more page views, more leads or more sales of your products and services. With keyword research, you develop effective strategies to improve or expand your content, to achieve higher rankings, to be found for a wider range of terms, and to gain more relevant organic traffic for your website.
Keyword Research for SEO
The following step-by-step guide consists of the following parts:
1. What is keyword research?
2. How to do keyword research
3. Tools for keyword research
4. Rate your organic keyword list
5. Classify keywords – categorize, sort and group organic keywords
6. Assess the chances of your organic keywords
7. From keyword research to action plan
8. Regularly review and refine keyword research
1. What is keyword research?
Keyword research is a process for identifying search engine queries that are relevant to your company and your customers. In addition to finding the search phrases, keyword research also includes their sorting and prioritization based on logical groups that provide information on how you can change existing content on your website or create new one in order to attract more relevant visitors.
Why keyword research is (still) important for SEO
Although some SEO experts take the view that keywords are no longer important or will be less of a focus in the future, they are still crucial – not only for placement in search engines, but also for understanding the intent behind a search query . As long as users search using search engines by typing words in a search box or starting a voice search using an “assistant”, it is important to know the following:
Which search queries users are performing.
How important the terms used for this are for your business.
How to create the best content to serve search intent.
Even if search trends change, keywords continue to play a role in searching for answers.
So much is true: The “individual” keywords of the old school and the optimization of individual pages for individual keywords have fallen by the wayside. But by using groups of related keywords and determining their relative popularity, you not only discover opportunities to drive more organic traffic, you also understand the intentions of your potential visitors better. You can better meet their needs by optimizing your website and possibly your product selection, navigation, user interface, etc. accordingly.
Groups of related keywords – the basics
Some refer to groups of related keywords as topics or subject areas. At its core, these are groups of individual keywords that express similar needs or intentions of the searchers. Therefore, the result of a keyword search should never be just a list of keywords, but a number of different segments of related keywords.
With some topics it is possible to cover all relevant needs with a single piece of content. In this case, a single page is “optimized” for the entire group of keywords. In other cases, the topic is so broad that it is worth devoting an entire section of the website to covering the different search intentions with separate pieces of content.
For example, if you wrote a post on “how do I fry an egg”, a single article might answer the search intentions for all keywords related to that topic. Examples:
How do I fry an egg
How do I fry an egg sunny side up
How to fry an egg with flip
How do I fry an egg for a sandwich
How do I fry an egg in the microwave
How do I fry an egg overeasy
How do I fry an egg well?
How do I fry an egg yolk halfway through
How do I fry an egg with oil
How do I fry an egg without oil
If you have a keyword group around the topic “What caused the decline of the Roman Empire?” it is unlikely that you could satisfy all of your search intentions with a single piece of content. The topic would likely require a wider range and amount of content.
Keyword and search trends
Some SEO experts believe that short keywords, also called “head” keywords, will no longer play a role with the increasing importance of voice search. Voice searches tend to use long searches in natural language. In addition to voice searches, search queries also get longer over time.
Nevertheless, the shorter “head” keywords can form the basis for your keyword research and help you to find a large number of longer keyword variants.
One reason for this is that at least for the time being there are no separate search results or databases for voice search.
For example, Google returns the same results for a voice search that you would get if you typed the same phrase on the web or app. For many long-tail queries, Google simply analyzes the most important terms it contains and returns the results.
For example, someone might start a search by saying, “Ok Google, what are the best running shoes for flat feet?” It can immediately be seen that Google returns the same results for this query as for the shorter variant “best running shoes flat feet”, which corresponds more to written search habits.
So just because some use a longer query in natural language, it is no less important to know that there are searches related to “best running shoes flat feet”.
Note: This does not mean that you should intensively optimize a website for the exact phrase “best running shoes flat feet”. Rather, the high search volume of this query tells you this: If you want to direct search traffic to your website for many variations of search terms that are based on the same search intent, you should create an excellent resource that best serves people with this search intent.
2. How to do keyword research
Keyword research for SEO is about finding all possible variations of keywords that could be relevant to your website, content, products and services, etc. – or those that are relevant to your ideal customers or users, without being directly related to your current offer.
An example of keywords that are of interest to website users but are not directly related to the products offered would be marketing words for a company that sells small business accounting software. In this case, marketing keywords are not relevant to the current website. But they are relevant for their target group.
After you have created a first list of all possibly relevant keywords (most tools generate long lists of keywords that are or may not be relevant), you need to narrow this list down to the terms that are really relevant for your website and its potential users . Next, the terms have to be grouped, sorted and prioritized.
Note that we’re going to focus on organic organic keyword research here. Keyword research for pay-per-click ads (PPC) is a separate topic. Despite the overlap, there can be significant differences, especially in terms of competition. When you run a very small, new website and compete on certain keywords with websites like Wikipedia and Amazon , creating visibility is a much longer-term task. In the short term, these terms will then have a lower priority in your organic search strategy. If you're considering PPC ads, on the other hand, you're simply faced with the decision of whether you can and want to bid on these keywords.
The first step in your keyword research for SEO is to put together your initial keyword list. There are numerous suitable sources for this. The choice is yours, but in most cases you can cover most of the way with the ones listed below.
When I compile my first list, I try to include at least the following for each keyword:
The monthly search volume
Die Keyword Difficulty
The density of competition
The Cost Per Click (CPC)
My current rank in the search result
To compare data from different sources, you may need to “normalize”. For example, some websites rank competitiveness or keyword difficulty on a scale from 0 to 1, while others use a scale from 0 to 100. If you combine this data in a table, you must then multiply the corresponding values by 100 or divide by 100 so that they are at least roughly comparable.
Familiarize yourself with customers and websites
The first step in doing new keyword research and creating a keyword list should be to familiarize yourself with the company and website in question. This is especially important to note if you are an external consultant or agency, as you will probably never understand the company and its customers as well as those who deal with both on a daily basis.
If you are an internal SEO officer doing keyword research for a new company or business, it is absolutely critical to understand the products or services offered, and more importantly, the needs and problems of current stakeholders. This includes users and customers as well as internal actors in the company. Without this understanding, it is hardly possible, especially in complex or highly technical industries, to create a complete keyword list and to correctly assess the relevance of the individual keywords.
Ideas for a first keyword inventory:
Spend at least a few hours exploring and navigating the website. Write down keywords that might be important.
Send a first keyword inventory questionnaire to the customer or stakeholder asking questions and requesting information, for example:
A list of business goals.
Is there a seasonality in your business or traffic? Offers or content change depending on the season?
Write down what you think are the most important keywords.
Will new categories of products, services or content be introduced or discontinued in the near future?
List your target groups.
List your main competitors.
In which geographic locations are you active?
Consider interviewing marketing managers, salespeople, product specialists, or even current / potential website visitors and customers to find out what words are used to describe the products and services and what problems customers and website visitors want to solve by searching.
By involving team members, customers, your content team, and others in a keyword brainstorming process, you can generate more and more relevant keywords than you would have thought of. It also increases the personal commitment of those involved to contribute to good keyword research and to find the most relevant keywords. Conduct brief brainstorming sessions to learn what terms stakeholders think is important based on their understanding of the website.
Search engine user and visitor personas
You may not currently have finished search engine personas, but many companies have already created customer personas. These can help you get new keyword ideas. Read your keywords through the personas filter to see if they match the terms your target audience would use to find deals like yours.
Let's take the example of an electronics company that created a persona or an avatar for its ideal customer. Although the website sells a huge selection of computer and electronic components and cables, it's good to know that the company's ideal customer is not the average B2C customer looking for a suitable cable for their Blu-ray player. Rather, the ideal customer is an IT expert who takes care of electronics for corporations. With this knowledge, I can filter out search queries that clearly come from end users and search for individual articles. I can also use it to filter information searches. For the ideal customer, for example, the search query “Which topology means the least wiring effort?” relevant from my first keyword list, but not ”
Existing keyword lists
If you are working on a new project and someone has already put together a keyword list for the website, it makes sense to use this list as the basis for new keyword research , provided the website has not changed fundamentally since the first keyword research .
If you've already created keyword lists for pay-per-click advertising like Google Ads, these are another great place to start. As mentioned, not all of these keywords may be ideal in terms of your ability to compete for organic rankings. Obvious terms for inclusion in your list are those that are already generating conversions.
You can access PPC data on Google Ads in your Google Analytics account if your Google Analytics and Google Ads accounts are connected. Open Google Analytics and navigate to Acquisition> Google Ads> Search Queries . Export the data for the period you want to analyze.
The most meaningful time frame for the analysis depends on how many hits and conversions the website receives (usually the shorter the time, the higher the number of hits), the seasonality, the range of the keywords and other factors.
Simply export the data in a spreadsheet format of your choice: Excel (XLSX), CSV or Google spreadsheets.
Exclude brand terms, as your website is likely to be “optimized” for it by itself. Look for terms with positive metrics such as a low bounce rate (relevant to users) and good values for conversions, transactions and / or sales (critical to the success of the website). It can make sense to look at terms with poor conversion rates to determine whether they are relevant to the company at all. If so, there may be business reasons or usability issues that are responsible for the lack of conversions. Then add the terms to your list anyway.
The following graphic shows the brand-related terms in orange, for example. As can be clearly seen, they have good traffic, interaction and conversion numbers. The red-colored keyword receives a lot of traffic and generates more page views per session than other terms, but does not convert. You should take a closer look at this to check its relevance. The green keyword may be worth looking for as it has a higher conversion rate than most others.
Tips for Google Ads and Google Analytics
Once you have created the list of keywords that are relevant for your SEO planning from your PPC data, enter them into a keyword tool such as Google Ads or SEMrush . This gives you the average monthly search volume, keyword difficulty and other metrics before adding the keywords to your main list.
Be sure to check out the Search Queries report in Google Analytics. These are the terms that Google users actually entered before clicking on an ad. The keyword report, on the other hand, contains the terms on which advertising bids are placed in Google Ads for this website.
If you're wondering how to get search volume and forecasts from Google Ads, see the “Google Ads” section below. Match types such as “phrase match” and “broad match” in Google Ads make an ad appear for significantly more terms than the ones that are actually bid. Reminder: We want to use the keywords that users are actually looking for.
Some of the terms from your PPC keyword lists are probably too competitive to hope for organic rankings for them in the short term. But maybe you can bid on them within a limited geographic region if there is no prospect of a national ranking. For example, it may make sense to bid on a keyword like “lawyer” or “lawyer” in your city. However, if you look at the search results, you will find that the top 5 websites are huge nationwide websites. Such a broad term may not be suitable to give it a high priority. With something more specific like “Uber Accident Lawyer NYC” you have far better chances.
Keywords from Google Analytics
Perhaps you do not believe that Google Analytics gives you meaningful data for keywords, especially organic keywords, because the tool hides the vast majority of terms behind a “not provided”.
However, there are tools like Best Keyword Research Tools that can be used to turn data that Google has not provided back into meaningful data. So far, you may have assumed that keywords that are already generating traffic do not necessarily belong on a keyword list. But if they are clearly relevant to your website, you can very well use them as starting keywords to enter into other tools to get more related keywords.
Keywords from the Google Search Console
If you have no way of uncovering your keywords held back by Google Analytics, the Google Search Console is another source for keywords that currently bring traffic to your website. The tool only shows you the best 1,000 keywords, but this is a very good place to start collecting keyword ideas. All the more so if you are just beginning your keyword research and are not yet familiar with the website in question. This is still not your final keyword list, but good input for the further search for related keywords.
If you are not familiar with the Google Search Console: You can find this data under Performance> Search queries and you can simply download it as a table.
Generate keyword ideas based on your website (s)
In addition to the above sources for keywords that are already driving organic traffic to your website, there are other tools that recommend new keywords based on a website and content analysis. Others show you the entire universe of keywords for which your website is currently ranked in Google, regardless of whether these rankings bring traffic. Let's look at a few of them.
Google Ads (formerly known as AdWords) is more pay-per-click oriented, but is still a very good source of keyword ideas. To use the service to its fullest, you need access to an account that actually spends money on Google Ads. If you do not have access to such an account, Google will only give the search volume of the keywords as a rough order of magnitude and you will not receive any exact data. The following examples show this.
In the first example (an account that doesn't invest any money in Google ads) for the keyword “keyword research”, Google just gives a traffic range between 1,000 and 10,000 queries per month. This is a fairly broad spectrum and does not give you an exact picture of the traffic potential for this term.
Compare this to the following example from an account spending money on Google Ads. The user receives a much more precise estimate of the search queries per month: there are 5,400.
To get all the right keyword recommendations for your website, go to the Keyword Planner under “Tools and Settings”, select “Discover new keywords” and enter your URL. Google Ads returns a list of terms that the tool considers relevant to your website. This list is just a starting point – not all keywords on it will actually be relevant.
You can then export all of these terms to a spreadsheet and later add them to your master list of all keywords.
You can also use Google Ads to get relative search volume data for terms that you already have on your list. This also makes sense later after you have generated all of your keyword ideas. In this case, select “Get search volume and forecasts” instead of “Discover new keywords”.
There you simply enter your list of keywords for which you want to receive data.
Google will give you the average monthly searches, competition metrics, etc. for the terms you entered. You can now export them to your primary keyword list.
To get all the keywords with which your website is currently visible in Google, simply enter your domain in the search field of the SEMrush tool, scroll down to the section “Organic top keywords” and select “Show full report “. Note that you must sign up for a free trial or have a SEMrush subscription to complete these steps.
Depending on how much time you invest and how deep you want to research, you can filter this list in different ways. For example, my own account is limited to the first 10,000 keywords in the list, and in this case more than 75,000 keywords are found. Use filters here to filter out obvious groups of irrelevant terms.
For example, if you want to exclude all brand-related terms from the list because you can find them anyway, use the filters. Here I exclude “rush” because it removes terms that contain “SEMrush”, “SEMrush.com” or other variations thereof.
Note: There are likely to be terms in the results that are not relevant. You can try to exclude them now or sort them out later during “Keyword Rating”
Keyword research with competitors
While it's always useful to search your own website for possible keywords, searching competitor websites can be even more useful. Searching for terms that will make your competitors visible and not you, or even those that are both visible, can definitely help you build your keyword list.
How to find and define keyword competitors
This is often a stumbling block, especially for managers in internal teams or for advisors to customers. The customer often insists that a certain list of websites is his “competitor”. However, these business competitors are often not major organic search competitors.
You can certainly include some of these competitors in researching possible keywords. But more important is finding competitors in web search – websites that are found for the same terms and types of terms as the website for which you are creating your keyword list. A company may not see Amazon as a competitor from a business perspective, but if the mail order company searches for a relevant term above its own website, it is a real competitor in web search.
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