Keyword Research For SEO: The Ultimate Guide 
Did you know that 90.63% of indexed pages get zero traffic from Google Search?
It’s not necessarily because their content is bad or low quality. But in most cases, it’s just not properly optimized for the right keywords.
The right search keywords are relevant to your target audience’s interests, have a decent search volume, and, most importantly, aren’t too difficult to rank for.
To find such keywords, you must conduct thorough keyword research, which is the backbone of SEO. If you target the wrong keywords, other SEO strategies like on-page optimization, link building, and technical SEO become ineffective.
We’ve written this guide to ensure this doesn’t happen to your website.
In this article, you’ll learn the fundamentals of keyword research for SEO and how you can find and use the right search keywords to consistently drive organic search traffic.
Let’s get started.
What Is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is the process of finding relevant, high-traffic, and low-competition keywords your target audience uses to search for information on Google Search and other search engines.
These keywords are associated with your product, the problems it solves, and the general needs of your customers.
For example, the target audience of an email marketing company might use the following search keywords.
- Email marketing software
- How to write emails
- How to write sales emails
- How to build an email list
- Create email autoresponder
- What is an email sequence
Similarly, the ideal users of a project management solution might use keywords such as:
- Best project management software
- How to create a project plan
- What is kanban
- Project management tips
Conducting thorough keyword research means you first need to find relevant keywords, analyze them for ranking potential, and finally prioritize them according to your business goals.
We’ll talk about each of these stages in more detail later in the article.
What Is The Purpose Of Keyword Research?
Keyword research directs your SEO strategy and helps you understand exactly what you need to do to drive relevant traffic to your site.
Why can’t you just create content based on your experience?
Because that’s like shooting arrows in the dark. You might have a decent idea of what your audience wants based on your experience, but you can’t determine the exact keywords they use to search for those topics.
Plus, without keyword research, there’s no way to know if a keyword is even worth your time, effort, and resources. And finally, unless you perform in-depth keyword research, you won’t understand what your audience actually wants and what content formats you can create to answer their queries.
In short, there is no SEO without keyword research because you can’t create an on-page SEO, link building, or content marketing strategy unless you know your target keywords.
Researching The Types Of SEO Keywords
Before we dive into the process of keyword research, let’s talk about the various types of keywords. Understanding them is crucial to building a cohesive keyword research strategy.
Parent keywords are 1-2 word high-level terminologies with very high search volumes and intense competition. Here are a few examples of parent keywords
- Email marketing
- Project management
As you can see, these keywords are more like broad topics or names of different niches/industries. Most people search for them when they’re looking for more information.
You might think their high search volume means you should target them in your keyword strategy. But you shouldn’t because you won’t be able to compete with the high-authority sites ranking for these terms.
Instead, you should use these keywords to explore your topic using a keyword research tool and find more profitable keywords with lower competition.
These are 2-3 word search queries with lower search volumes than Parent Keywords. Here are a few examples
- Science fiction books
- Life insurance
- Running shoes
- Kids t-shirts
As you can see, short-tail keywords are a bit more specific and have slightly lower search volumes than Parent Keywords. But, they’re still quite competitive, and ranking for them is difficult for new sites. However, as your site’s search authority increases, you can start ranking for relevant short-tail keywords.
Long-tail keywords are descriptive phrases searchers use to look for specific information online. They usually have low search volumes (under 1000 searches) but are easy to rank for because of low competition.
Here are a few examples.
- Email marketing tips for saas marketers
- Affordable vacation places in cape town
- Cheap running shoes for women over 50
- How to make 1000 dollars per month freelancing
- Best life insurance plans for senior citizens
Don’t underestimate long-tail keywords because of their low search volumes. You can easily rank for them since all the big brands are after the more competitive keywords. But once you rank for a few relevant long-tail keywords, you automatically cover several short-tail and head keywords in your content, and Google starts ranking you for multiple closely related topics.
This is why we strongly recommend our clients, especially those with low search authority, prioritize long-tail keywords in their SEO strategy.
Let me explain this in more detail.
Our Keyword Research Philosophy | Start With Long-Tail Keywords, Build Authority, And Grow
Here at InboundJunction, the experience of working with countless product companies over the years has taught us a valuable lesson: SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you’re new, you can lose thousands of dollars in SEO without any results trying to rank for highly competitive parent keywords dominated by some of the highest authority sites in your niche.
So, instead of going for the home run, it’s your patience and consistency that’ll bring you sustainable SEO success.
Here’s what we advocate.
Always start with low volume and low competition long-tail keywords that most of your competitors aren’t targeting.
Why? Because long-tail keywords are low-hanging SEO fruits that can help you quickly drive search traffic and start building your topical authority.
Instead of directly targeting the more competitive keywords, slowly build your authority by ranking for closely related long-tail keywords.
Here’s what happens.
When you keep publishing great content optimized for long-tail keywords, your search authority grows, and Google starts seeing your site as a credible source. As a result, your content starts ranking for other variations of your target long-tail keywords.
For example, let’s say your primary target long-tail keyword is “email marketing tips for ecommerce” with a search volume of 500 searches per month.
By targeting it with great content, Google will start ranking you for other related keywords such as:
- Ecommerce email marketing tips
- How to do eCommerce email marketing
- Email marketing ideas for eCommerce
- Email marketing tips for online stores
Let’s say all of those keywords have less than 500 searches per month. But when you rank for all of them, your site starts getting 1500-2000 visitors per month.
Here’s another benefit of this approach.
Optimizing for long-tail means, you’re automatically covering short-tail and parent keywords. So, once you start ranking multiple long-tail keywords and your authority grows, your ranking for competitive keywords also starts going up automatically.
And finally, long-tail keywords usually drive more action because the user’s search intent is much clearer (I’ll cover this in more detail later). For example, the keyword “shoes” might have millions of searches, but you don’t know what the searcher really wants.
In comparison, “Best walking shoes for flat feet” clearly shows what the searcher wants. If you rank for this keyword, you can bet most of your traffic will take action.
So, let me sum up our approach in the following bullet points.
- Identify relevant and less competitive low-mid traffic long-tail keywords.
- Publishing excellent content around those keywords.
- Start ranking for long-tail keywords to build search authority for our topic.
- Get high-authority links for your content optimized for long-tail keywords.
- Use your growing authority to gradually move towards the more competitive keywords.
In short, targeting long-tail keywords is a sustainable and affordable keyword research strategy that keeps bearing fruits for years. So, long-tail is the way to go unless you’ve got lots of money to burn.
How To Conduct Keyword Research For SEO?
Keyword research is a multi-step process where you find, analyze, and prioritize search keywords for your SEO strategy.
Let’s break it down and discuss each step in more detail.
Step 1: Find SEO Keyword Ideas
The first step of the keyword research process is to brainstorm keyword ideas you can potentially use in your SEO strategy.
But instead of coming up with random ideas, we’ll use different search tools to find relevant keywords.
Start your keyword research by simply typing your main topic in Google Search and seeing what comes up. For example, let’s say you’re looking for keyword ideas for your screen recording app.
Analyze the first 10-20 results and note the keywords they’ve used to optimize their titles. So, most of the top results for “screen recording” have used keywords like screen recorder, screen recording app, free screen recorder, record screen for free, online screen recorder, screen recording software, etc.
This quick analysis will give you a fair idea of the keywords the top-ranking pages are optimized for.
People Also Ask
Now scroll down the search results page to the People Also Ask section. This section in Google Search lists the most common questions people are searching for about a topic.
These questions contain long-tail keywords you can explore later for your content strategy. For example, “how do I record my screen?” or “record my screen on Windows 7 for free” are ideal keywords for creating step-by-step guides and tutorials.
As you click on a question in People Also Ask, more relevant questions pop up at the end of the list, giving you an unlimited resource to understand and research your audience.
Google Related Searches
Now scroll to the bottom of the search page to find more keywords in the Related Searches section.
These are keywords Google considers closely related to your main topic. To find more ideas, click any keyword from this list and analyze its People Also Ask and Related Searches sections.
For example, here are the related searches for the first keyword in the screenshot above, “screen recording windows 10”.
Repeat the process as many times as you want to find new ideas.
Google Search Autocomplete
When you type a keyword in Google Search, it shares suggestions based on the most relevant and frequently searched topics.
Want more ideas? Add words like for, in, on, etc., to find new angles to your topic.
This simple technique can help you find numerous relevant keyword ideas that you can use at some point in your SEO strategy.
Google Keyword Planner
Keyword Planner is Google’s free keyword research tool for advertisers, but you can also use it to generate keyword ideas for SEO.
Here’s how to use it
- Create a free Google Ads account
- Go to Keyword Planner from the Tools and Settings section in your account dashboard.
- Choose Discover New Keywords.
- Enter a broad keyword that describes your niche (e.g., social media marketing) to find dozens of keyword ideas.
These keywords are closely related to your parent keyword, and you can shortlist the most relevant ones for further analysis.
Reddit And Niche-Specific Forums
Besides Google Search, discussion forums like Quora, Reddit, LinkedIn Groups, etc., are also excellent sources of new and unique keywords. You’ll find hundreds of threads with discussions between real people using different words to describe their needs and problems.
For example, when searching for the topic “lose weight,” I found this subreddit with dozens of threads.
Here are some interesting keywords I found while going through one of the threads.
These are relevant keywords for any weight loss site. But there’s an easier way to find them. Instead of manually looking, you can use a free Reddit research tool like HigherVisibility. Just search for your subreddit name on this site to get a complete list of the most frequently used keywords and their search volumes.
Quora is another great place to find long-tail keywords because people use it to frequently ask and answer questions on all kinds of topics.
SaaS Review Sites
For software companies, SaaS review sites like G2, Capterra, TrustPilot, etc., are excellent sources of relevant long-tail keywords.
Here’s how to do it.
- Go to Capterra
- Search for your top competitor and go to its review page.
- Let’s say our top competitor is Loom, a leading screen recording app.
On this page, start with the product’s introduction and note the keywords they’ve used to describe it.
Then scroll down to find its most prominent features and the categories Capterra has used for it.
Since Capterra has used these keywords for your top competitor, they’re also relevant to your SEO strategy.
Step 2: Research Competitor Keywords
Apart from the methods we’ve discussed so far, researching competitor keywords is among the best ways to find profitable keyword ideas. It’s one of the first things we do for our clients as part of our SEO services.
To perform competitor analysis, you’ll need a premium keyword research tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs. Let me quickly demonstrate how to find the keywords your competitors are ranking for.
- Sign in to your Ahrefs account
- Search for your competitor’s URL (Hootsuite in this case)
- In the Site Explorer report, click on Organic Keywords
- This takes you to the organic keywords report, where you can find all the keywords your competitor ranks for.
Shortlist the most relevant keywords from this list and move to the next step.
Step 3: Analyze And Shortlist Keywords
So, we’ve discussed several ways to generate keyword ideas for your SEO strategy. But which keywords are worth targeting? We’ll have to analyze the shortlisted keywords on the following parameters to find the answer.
Search volume is the estimated number of times people search for a keyword in Google Search. Ideally, you’d want to target high search volume keywords. But they’re usually very competitive because all the big players are already investing thousands of dollars to rank for them.
So, the better approach is to target low-mid traffic range long-tail keywords.
Don’t Ignore “Zero Search Volume” Keywords
When you conduct keyword research in Ahrefs, SEMRush, or any other keyword research tool, sometimes you’ll find relevant long-tail keywords with zero or negligible search volume numbers.
Don’t let those numbers fool you because no tool is perfect.
If you think a “zero search volume” long-tail keyword is super relevant to your audience’s needs, if it’s a question they regularly ask you, or it’s a topic that covers a key point about your product, don’t ignore it just because a tool tells you it doesn’t get any traffic.
We’ve repeatedly seen extra long-tail keywords drive highly relevant traffic to our client sites and earn them priceless search rankings because everyone else ignores those keywords.
Ranking Difficulty And Competition
Search volume doesn’t tell you the whole story.
You must also analyze a keyword’s ranking difficulty and competition to determine if it’s worth targeting.
What is keyword competition? It’s simply a measure of how much work you need to put in to enter a keyword’s top ten search results.
Keyword research tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush represent it with a Keyword Difficulty Score. Here’s an example from one of the keywords in the Ahrefs keyword report.
As you can see, the search volume for the keyword “best time to post on tiktok” is 118K per month which is a lot. Plus, its Keyword Difficulty (KD) is 40 (out of 100), which isn’t very high.
How is this score calculated? It’s measured based on the authority of the sites ranking for this keyword in the top ten results. If the currently ranking pages are high-authority and have lots of backlinks, this score goes up.
In that case, you’ll need more backlinks than your competitors and wait for your site to gain authority to outrank them.
But for this keyword, the KD score of 40 is quite manageable. So this might be a great keyword to target for a social media marketing company.
But there’s one more thing to consider.
Click Through Rate (CTR)
Organic search CTR is the percentage of users who click the search results of a keyword. Why is it important? Because according to a study by SimilarWeb and SparkToro in 2020, nearly 65% of all organic searches generate zero clicks.
This is happening because Google is increasingly answering user queries on its search pages. So the user doesn’t have to click on a search result to get their answer.
For example, if you search “what is content marketing”, here’s what the result page shows.
As you can see, Google shows you the definition of content marketing on the top, plus you can find more information from the “People Also Search For” and “People Also Ask” sections. In most cases, you won’t need to click a result to get the information you want.
You don’t want to be ranking for a keyword with a low search CTR.
So, when evaluating keywords, make sure they have
- A decent search volume
- Low-mid level competition
- Mid-high search CTR
To find all this information, you’ll need to use a premium keyword research tool.
Step 4: Understand Keyword Search Intent
One of the most crucial factors to consider evaluating keywords is search intent.
What does it mean?
Search intent is the reason why a user searches for a keyword. If your page is aligned with the search intent of a keyword, Google will rank it. Otherwise, you’ll be nowhere in the SERPS even with the most perfectly optimized content.
Search keywords usually have one of the following search intent types.
Navigational – the user is only exploring the topic
Informational – the user wants specific information on the topic
Commercial – the user is exploring different products
Transactional – the user wants to buy a specific product
How do you determine the search intent of a keyword? Simply Google it to see the pages currently ranking for it.
For example, let’s see the results for the keyword “email marketing software”
As you can see, all the top ranking pages are listicles that review different email marketing software. So, according to Google, the searcher’s intent is to learn about different email marketing software.
If you optimize your product’s homepage for this keyword, you won’t be able to rank for it because it doesn’t align with the intent.
To rank, you’ll need to publish a listicle that positions your product as the best along with other options.
In comparison, the keyword “email marketing tips” has informational intent.
Here the searcher is only looking to improve their email marketing skills and learn new information. This is why all the top-ranking pages are blog posts on this topic.
So, when shortlisting keywords, also identify their search intent so that you know what content format and angle you should use to cover this keyword.
Step 5: Use The Content Marketing Funnel To Prioritize Keywords
Based on the search internet of your keywords, you need to organize and prioritize them for content production.
The best way to do this is by using the content marketing funnel which has three stages.
Top Of The Funnel (ToFU) – Targets navigational and informational keywords
Middle Of The Funnel (MoFU) – Targets commercial keywords
Bottom Of The Funnel (BoFU) – Targets transactional keywords
ToFU content drives the most traffic to your site because it targets high search volume informational keywords. However, ToFU traffic rarely drives sales.
This is why you need to prioritize MoFU and BoFU content which covers commercial and transactional keywords.
This approach has two benefits.
- Prioritizing long-tail MoFU and BoFU keywords helps you quickly rank for keywords that drive leads and sales.
- When you start creating ToFU content later, it supplies traffic to MoFU and BoFU stages resulting in more conversions.
We’ve described this strategy in much more detail in our guide to creating content marketing funnels.
Are You Ready To Perform Keyword Research?
The fundamentals of keyword research I’ve shared in this post are enough to help you get started. So, without waiting to learn everything, start playing with a keyword research tool because you’ll learn more about it as you explore keywords.
But if you want an expert to find proven keywords for your SEO strategy, contact us to schedule a free call where we can discuss your business goals and help you design a keyword research strategy.