Last updated on January 12, 2024.
Which keywords do you want to rank for? To answer this question, a lot of SEOs like to follow their gut instinct. When starting out, this isn’t fundamentally wrong. But if you want to get the most out of keyword research and discover keywords with major potential, you need to take a systematic approach.
Systematic keyword research and analysis will give you the terms that your target group is searching for on Google, giving you the basis for developing a content strategy for your website.
This article will take you step by step through the process of keyword research and give you useful tips and strategies for finding relevant keywords for your website. We’ll also show you how Seobility’s free Keyword Research Tool can help you with this.
You can find an introduction to the tool’s features in the article “New: Seobility Keyword Research Tool.”
Tip Signing up for a free Seobility Basic plan will let you carry out up to 5 checks per day. And during the free 14-day trial period for Seobility Premium, you’ll have as many as 50 queries per day.
If you’re already familiar with the basics of keyword research, you can jump to the hands-on section here.
Table of Contents
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research means looking for search terms that your target group will enter into a search engine to accomplish their search intent: Buying something, conducting research, finding information, being entertained, or navigating to a specific website (or part of a website). By knowing these search terms, you can offer tailor-made content on your website to draw searchers to your site and, for example, convert them to customers.
Keyword research is typically based on a combination of creative processes and tool use. These tools have the advantage of providing keywords that you may not have found just by putting on your thinking cap, or that might be overlooked by other approaches. They’ll also save you a lot of time, since a tool is typically faster than searching Google manually.
Another major advantage: Tools provide qualitative and quantitative data about the value of keywords that can’t be found in Google search or anywhere else, such as data about the competition for a keyword, the search volume, cost-per-click prices and link data. This makes it easier to assess whether it’s worth optimizing for a keyword, or whether it’s too expensive compared to the potential return.
Why You Need Keyword Research
Keyword research is important for search engine optimization for several reasons.
- Better visibility: Building the right keywords into your web pages increases the probability that these pages will receive a higher ranking for precisely those keywords. From a quantitative perspective, that potentially means more traffic, for one thing.
- Higher quality traffic: When it comes to SEO, however, more traffic isn’t the end in itself. Only the right keywords and keyword combinations will bring qualified or high-quality traffic to your website. More visitors alone don’t necessarily mean more sales. What’s decisive is having the right visitors.
A top ranking for the term “bike” (search volume: 368,000) may bring you a lot of visitors. But it’s not clear what those searchers want to find. Are they looking for an online bicycle shop, or the Wikipedia article about bicycles? In our experience, ranking for the phrase “lightweight trekking bike 27 inch frame under 1,000 euros” is significantly more profitable for an online shop that sells exactly this type of bicycle. People searching for this phrase already have their credit cards out and are ready to make a purchase.
- Understanding of the target group: Keyword analysis gives you valuable information about the needs, interests and intentions of your target groups. With this knowledge, you can better customize your content for them. In addition, you’ll get valuable insights for your content plan and usually for your product range and service portfolio as well.
Let’s stick with the “bicycle” example. Somebody’s who’s interested in lightweight trekking bikes may also be looking for information on trekking tours – and especially on which trekking bike is best for each type of trekking route. Keyword research can reveal the connection.
- Competitor analysis: You can also get a quicker idea of the competition you’re up against by seeing what keywords your competitors are using to drive traffic to their sites (which is typically part of keyword research). This analysis will help you identify niche keywords that are relatively less competitive and rewarding targets for content and product pages – as well as keywords that you absolutely must rank for in your niche.
- More efficient resource usage: With targeted keyword research, you can better utilize your SEO resources by concentrating on keywords that have more value for your organization. Nobody can rank on everything in the long term. Keyword research in general, and content production in particular, require significant investment of time and money. With the insights gained from keyword research, you can prioritize your use of each of these and also justify necessary compromises. For a short-tail keyword like “bicycle,” the pages that rank will typically be those with lots of links and high domain authority. Experience shows that it is unrealistic for a new website to compete with this.
How Keyword Research Works
Before we get down to business, it’s worth taking a look at the overall process of keyword research. Depending on your needs, it can be very simple – or highly complex. It depends on whether you’re doing keyword research for a few (dozen) keywords or whether your project requires research and categorization of thousands of keywords, as is the case with online shops that carry a lot of products. In this article, we’ll focus on the basic process, which is the same for any type of website.
- Step 1: The first step in keyword research is to identify your “seed keywords.” Those are the main keywords related to your products and services, and the starting point for deeper research.
- Step 2: Tools provide you with extensive lists of relevant keywords related to your seed keywords.
- Step 3: The next step is to prioritize the keywords in these lists to extract ideal keywords, and then to structure them into meaningful keyword clusters.
- Step 4: As you develop your content plan, determine what content needs to be produced for the most valuable or useful keywords.
Step 1: Identify the Right Seed Keywords
Keyword research always begins with the question: “What should I be optimizing for, anyway?” Usually, no tool can answer this question for you. Ultimately you know best what the goals of your website are.
Based on these goals, you’ll derive your main keywords or “seed keywords”. This basic list (ideally) covers your website’s most important topic areas. It forms the foundation for more in-depth keyword research.
The good news: You don’t need any tools to create your first seed keyword list. Seed keywords are found using classic techniques.
Perhaps you know your subject so well that you can simply draw relevant terms from your own experience. Alternatively, you can sit down with your customers, colleagues and partners to create an initial list of keywords. The following questions might help you with brainstorming:
- Target group analysis: Who are the primary target groups of your products? What are their needs? How do these target groups search for what you’re offering them?
- Identifying and categorizing core themes: What primary themes emerge from your products and services? How can these core themes be categorized?
- Questions and answers: Which questions related to the core themes are the target groups asking?
These questions should give you a sizable list of keywords and additional questions that your potential customers have. This list will be the basis of your keyword research. If that’s not enough, we have a few more creative ideas for you:
Conversations with your customers will inevitably lead to discussions about problems that need to be solved. Be sure to take notes in these situations, as discussions can easily lead to content such as FAQs and how-to guides. Actively asking questions can also provide valuable information.
Support or sales inquiries also provide important clues to what visitors/customers are looking for.
Reviews and ratings, whether in comments, forums, newsletters or social media, are gold mines for creative keyword research. Don’t just look at your competitors’ own sites, but wherever customers and other interested people are talking about your competitors’ products and services, such as forums, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Regardless of your competitors, these platforms are always an interesting research resource in general.
Ideas for keywords and topics can also be found in relevant technical print media. Take a walk sometime to a well-organized bookstore with a large selection of technical journals and magazines. It’s fun, and it will give you ideas that your competitors don’t have because they often limit themselves to online research.
At the end of the process, you should have an extensive list of seed keywords to use as a basis for keyword research.
Step 2: How to Find Relevant Keywords
The next step is to identify relevant search terms associated with your seed keywords. These might be variations of the keyword, similar or related terms, or more specific long-tail keywords.
To provide an example of the process below, let’s imagine a sample project. We’ll assume that we’re starting with a new online shop offering foosball tables for sale. As a break from the heavy SEO work, it’s nice to have a little fun with your colleagues in the office every now and then to recharge your batteries for new ideas 🙂
So the seed keyword is “buy foosball table.” Now using the keyword research tool, we need to find out which variations and sub-keywords there are and how much potential each one has. You’re welcome to follow these steps, using your own seed keyword.
Find similar keywords and variations
First enter your seed keyword in the keyword research tool and choose “similar keywords” as the analysis:
After clicking on the “Keyword Research” button, the tool will show you a list of keywords similar to your seed keyword:
Now you can select all the terms that might be interesting for your website. The data to the right of each keyword gives you valuable information about the keyword’s potential, the underlying search intent, and how difficult it might be to rank for that term:
- Search volume: This is the estimated number of searches per month. For example, the phrase “foosball table for sale” is searched for an average of 2,900 times a month. The higher the search volume, the more traffic you can potentially attract to your website with that keyword. However, there’s usually a lot of competition for high-volume keywords, making it harder to achieve a high ranking.
- Search intent: Here you can find out the search intent behind a keyword. Do searchers want to buy something, find information on a topic, learn about a product, or simply navigate to a website? If multiple intents are served in the search results, you will see multiple entries here.
- Competition: Here you can see whether the competition for a keyword is high, average or low. According to the keyword research tool’s estimate, competition for the phrase “buy foosball table” is high. There are a lot of websites that want to get on the first page for that search.
- CPC (cost per click): This is the approximate cost of a web ad for the phrase in Google Ads. It’s how much you would have to pay if a user clicks on your ad in the search results. In general, the higher the number of advertisers that bid for a keyword, the higher the CPC will be.
Terms with a high CPC and little competition are particularly valuable (but also rare).
These are the low-hanging fruit. It’s usually worth creating a page for them. This makes sense because advertisers seem to be willing to pay more for search terms (higher CPC), and if these terms have less competition, it’s all the easier to rank for them. That’s why such discoveries should be a high priority. The same applies to terms with high search volume but little competition.
The “Related searches” tab provides additional keyword variations. These are terms from the “Related searches” section that are displayed at the end of Google search results:
These related searches are a bit more general and are good for additional content ideas.
Tip: You can add promising keywords from the Keyword Research Tool directly to your Seobility rank tracking:
I went ahead and selected several additional keyword ideas and then added them to my project by clicking “Save selected search terms”.
The advantage of this is that Seobility will immediately start monitoring the positions of these terms and will inform you of the success of your SEO work, tailored to your keyword list.
Alternatively, you can use the ‘Export CSV’ function to download the keyword lists for further analysis and clustering (more on this in step 3).
But for now, back to the research part.
The “Auto complete” tab returns additional queries based on Google Search’s autocomplete suggestions.
Another interesting research resource is the “People also ask” tab. Here you’ll find common questions that search engine users ask in relation to the keyword.
The question “Which foosball table is the best” seems particularly interesting for content such as an article or post that answers this question in detail.
All these analysis options allow us to quickly find relevant keywords. Even if you don’t do anything further, this step alone will give you a wide range of options to optimize for. Just enter the seed keyword and you’ve got a starting point for the next steps. But wait – there’s more.
Your competitors are already ranking where you’d like to rank. This also means that they have information that you don’t yet have. Fortunately, the Keyword Research Tool offers some features to analyze the ranking performance of these sites. You can use this data to add valuable terms to your keyword list.
Especially interesting are keywords your own website doesn’t yet rank for, but your competition does. You can find these terms by using the “Competitor analysis” function of the Keyword Research Tool.
To do this, enter your domain (or another domain) in “Your domain” (1) and then enter up to two competitors as Domain A and B. Then select “Gap” as the analysis (2).
And look: A top ranking domain for the keyword “buy foosball table” doesn’t yet rank for “foosball football table” compared to the two competitors (3).
The ‘Intersections’ analysis, on the other hand, provides terms for which all three analyzed domains rank. This is particularly useful as you can enter the top 3 domains for a keyword to get a list of the top keywords for which all 3 competitors rank in that area. This is particularly helpful if your site is targeting the same topic but isn’t yet in the top 3.
In our example, this approach helped us discover some of the top brands that consumers are interested in.
If the data from the gap and intersection analysis isn’t enough for you, you can get even more data on each individual competitor in the “URL/Domain” tab. Here you can see in detail which keywords a particular competitor is ranking for in organic search results.
Competitor analysis is an important process in keyword research because it allows you to see what’s already working well for your competitors.
Your analysis should always include finding out why your competitors are currently ranking so well. Take a closer look at the top 3-5. Can you see a strategy, especially when you compare the leaders (in terms of ranking)? For example, are they focusing on long-tail keywords that are more specific and easier to rank for?
But sometimes it’s quite simple: If you’re not targeting a keyword and all your competitors are, then it should probably be one of your top priorities!
Step 3: Analyze and Prioritize Your Keywords
Now that your keyword search is complete, you probably have one or more long keyword lists. It’s not uncommon for them to contain thousands of entries. That’s why the next step is to select the best keywords. After all, no one can create content for every possible topic at the same time.
For the following examples, I’ve chosen the topic “trekking bikes”, because it gives a lot more results.
Let’s say your website/online shop is new. The site offers a range of trekking bikes for sale and now you want to produce content on trekking bikes to show Google that your company is an expert in this field.
A search for keywords similar to the seed keyword “trekking bike” returns a total of 524 variations.
The big question now is: “What do I do with all these keywords?”
As mentioned above, it’s important to find the best keywords for your website. This means high potential keywords where you have a good chance of attracting as much relevant traffic as possible to your website.
The filter function in the Keyword Research Tool allows you to filter your keyword list by search volume, search intent, CPC, competition and number of words:
For ultimate flexibility, though, use the “CSV Export” function, which I’ll use for this example.
Once you’ve exported the CSV file, you’ll have the full power of the spreadsheet at your disposal, letting you sort and filter your keyword list as much as you like.
About Keyword Priority
Beginners in particular often wonder what the best filtering criteria are. However, experience shows that choosing keywords/topics based on your own editorial skills leads to better results. The priority of your own keywords is highly individual and every website owner has their own objectives, both for the whole website and for individual areas and sub-pages. Your business goals and the resources available for technology, content and links will largely determine how you conduct your analysis.
Here are a few strategic tips based on experience that may be helpful as guidelines:
- If the search volume is high and there’s stiff competition for the keyword, you should only target it if you have the resources for both content and link building. For highly competitive search terms (such as “hotel London,” “loan comparison,” “cheap flights,” “buy bicycle,” “buy foosball table”) it can take years to get to page one or even number one.
- A brand new website or one that doesn’t yet have sufficient domain popularity (i.e. many high-quality links from different domains) will only rank for search terms with low search volume at first. Only over time, it will start to rank for more competitive keywords. So it’s not worth prioritizing a keyword like “buy foosball table” right off the bat. Instead, it makes sense for a new website to start by trying long-tail keywords with low search volume and limited competition. From there, you can gradually work your way up to more difficult keywords. (Of course, it makes sense to optimize for “buy foosball table” if you’ve actually recently started selling foosball tables, but more for business reasons than for SEO).
- How long does it take to rank for competitive terms? Old hands at SEO know that time itself is (or can be) one of the most important ranking factors. Waiting periods of 18 to 24 months to rank for competitive keywords are not uncommon – and that’s assuming you’re constantly working on new content, updates and links.
- Established sites with a certain history and a relatively high number of links compared to their competitors may see a much faster improvement. But even then, it sometimes takes a while if they try to rank for new topic areas. For example, if an online shop has been selling pool tables for 10 years and then adds foosball tables to its product range, it doesn’t automatically mean that the new search terms will get top rankings. You have to earn Google’s trust for each new topic area.
- Start by focusing on terms and combinations for which your competitors don’t offer much quality content. This will often get you closer to your goals than thoroughly analyzing the values from keyword research tools. Especially for beginners, it’s important to have those first small successes. Each one will keep you motivated and make it more likely that you’ll keep at it.
- Give priority to search terms and topics that serve informational search intent. Search terms with a purchase intent are usually more difficult to claim.
- Don’t spend 100% of your resources on your one dream keyword. In the beginning, 90% of your resources should go to the easier keywords and 10% to the difficult ones. Over time, the ratio should shift towards the harder keywords.
- But despite this recommendation, keep trying to rank for more difficult terms as well. Sometimes you just get lucky.
Group Keywords in Topic Clusters
Keyword analysis isn’t just about prioritizing your keywords. It’s also about organizing them effectively by topic, or forming “topic clusters”. A cluster can then be used as the basis for one or more posts or articles. Ideally, you would do all this by hand. Thanks to the AI boom, however, there’s now a long list of tools that can help you with this task, especially for clustering long lists of keywords. The Keyword Clustering Tool, for example, is a recent entrant into the field.
In this example, I uploaded 524 keywords (the tool’s limit is 2,919) and clicked on “Create Clusters.”
Clicking the button “Download All Clustered Topics” gives you an Excel file, which I then uploaded to Google Sheets:
This list is already much easier to read. Of course, we don’t want to rely 100% on the AI, so let’s take another look at the list. Do all the groupings make sense?
Since I’m primarily looking for good topics for editorial content, I’ve chosen a handful of interesting clusters:
Clustering radically simplifies the search for topics. After 10 minutes or so, I’ve reduced the list to these clusters and discovered the following potential article topics:
- What’s the best touring bike in 2023?
- Trekking Bikes: Buying Guide
- The best e-trekking bikes in 2023
This results in three topics to start with for which the new site can now try to achieve a first page ranking.
Step 4: Develop a Content Plan
Once you’ve analyzed and prioritized your keyword lists, you’ll have keyword clusters to use as the basis for your content. So now it’s time to create a content plan.
A content plan is basically a list of what topics you want to create for your website next, and in what order. Content plans are an important topic that definitely deserves its own article. For now, here are a handful of quick tips to help you ramp up your content production:
- You can look at each cluster keyword as a seed keyword for the post or article you’re planning, and carry out another round of keyword research to derive the subtopics that need to be addressed in the article.
- It’s not enough to just use the keywords identified in your research for a post or article. What’s more important is taking a careful look at the SERPs for each topic and analyzing users’ search intent more deeply (building on the search intent category you get from the Keyword Research Tool) before producing content. We describe this process in detail in the article “Search Intent: How to optimize your content for searchers’ needs” here on our blog.
- Analyzing users’ search intent will give you a good idea of which points your new post or article should address and in what format the article should appear.
We spoke to Shannon Kelly Ash – Content Marketing Lead at saas.group – about this and she also emphasized the importance of paying attention to search intent in keyword research and content planning:
This way, you can align your content with the buyer’s journey and make sure that you provide a relevant piece of content (or transactional page) for each stage of the journey.
Would you like more information about how to create a content plan? Let us know in the comments!
Additional Tools for Keyword Research
There are many tools available for keyword research. Each has its own database and may have slightly different features. Here are a few more tips for finding topics.
Google Trends categorizes searches by time period and by location or region. With this information, you can get a comprehensive view of how the popularity of certain keywords varies by season and the geographic distribution of queries.
Most importantly, you’ll be able to see how search volume changes over time. Here in the screenshot for the term ” foosball table “, you can clearly recognize that it’s a “luxury good” with strong seasonal variations, so that significantly more traffic can be expected around the holiday season. The traffic peaks are in the pre-Christmas period at the end of November and beginning of December (1).
The tool displays additional information about search queries, such as “Related queries” (2). You can download these with a single click and evaluate them yourself:
In this case, I’ve imported the downloaded file relatedQueries.csv into a Google Sheet. Tornado, Harvard, and Sportcraft are popular brands. We can also see that foosball fans are also looking for air hockey and ping pong tables and dart boards. No surprise there!
It’s almost always worth using Google Trends, as you’ll often find keywords in the Trends database that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.
Google Keyword Planner
Google’s Keyword Planner is a classic tool for keyword research. It’s the central tool for Google Ads, after all. So it’s worth incorporating this tool in your analysis.
These days, no topic is complete without mentioning OpenAI’s chatbot. It’s refreshingly helpful for keyword research, but don’t forget that ChatGPT is not a specialized keyword tool. The data it spits out can’t possibly be up-to-date or accurate, as ChatGPT doesn’t have access to Google’s database.
It’s interesting that ChatGPT suggests some new ideas for keywords. However, the results are limited to a few keywords and don’t provide a deep insight into a topic area like a specialized tool can.
What’s really surprising, though, is that even though ChatGPT claims not to have access to CPC data, it can still send you data if you ask for it:
As you can see, ChatGPT isn’t afraid to just take a guess. We’ll leave it up to you to analyze how close ChatGPT comes to the figures published by Google.
Doing keyword research for the first time to create a content plan can feel a little like looking for 10 tiny needles in 20 different haystacks.
But while the keyword research process may feel complex and time-consuming at first, it’s not as bad as it seems – thanks to the many helpful tools that are available today. Once you’ve been through the process a time or two, it starts to go a lot faster. The fun part is when you start ranking for your keywords. You’re most likely to achieve this if you use keyword research as a source of inspiration and focus as much as possible on your content and the process of creating it. Don’t forget: Always focus on users’ search intent, because that’s the surest and fastest way to success 🙂PS: Get blog updates straight to your inbox!