Of all the terms that are bandied about when SEO is discussed, keyword research might be the most abstract. It is multifaceted and different approaches yield different results. In our role as an SEO agency, keyword research is our bread and butter.
Keyword research is a task utilised by SEO professionals, in order to discover what search terms real internet users are using, and in what quantity. These searches can be in regard to products, services, or general information.
Keyword research can include utilising keyword research tools to gather data on your own or a competitor's website, or manually checking the search engine results page (SERP) to find what those who are ranking for certain keywords are doing to earn their position.
Keyword research is vital for finding out what keywords to target for potential customers and users to find your content. Keyword research can reveal information on what internet users want. It can also provide guidance to SEO users, for example, those creating digital PR campaigns, on how to draw in an audience.
Keyword research influences the content of a website, the direction new pieces of copy go in, and can inform on the newest trends and ideas in the area you operate in. Keyword research can also provide information and guidance for different platforms, including social media like Youtube and Instagram, to support all of your marketing endeavours.
By identifying the best keyword for the niche you are creating content about, you are signalling to Google that your website is an authority on this topic. As a result, Google will rank you higher and more people will find your page.
Keyword research can help you to discover market trends you might have missed, and help you to curate the topics your website content should cover in order to rank well on Google.
Through keyword research, you can rank keywords by their popularity, search volume, and search intent. By ensuring your webpage appeals to the right customers, and including a well-placed call to action, you can easily acquire new customers that have found you through Google.
There are four kinds of keywords, each relating to a different type of enquiry. Each of these kinds of keywords can provide different benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to get an in-depth understanding of them all so you know which is the best fit for your content and website.
Short-tail keywords are search enquiries that only contain 1–3 words. They can also be known as a “head term”. Due to their brevity, they cover a lot more possibilities and earn a lot higher search volumes.
An example of a short-tail keyword would be “house plants”.
As seen in this example captured from Ahrefs, “house plants” has a very high search volume of 32,000.
Short-tail keywords work best as the title for a pillar page and peppered within the content of the page.
Even though short-tail keywords can generate a lot of traffic, it's not always of the highest quality. As it's a generic search, it can be difficult to match the user intent with your content, which can result in low conversion rates and a higher bounce rate. It is also more challenging to rank for short-tail keywords because they are often very competitive.
Long-tail keywords are search enquiries that contain more than three words. Because they are more detailed searches, they bring up more concentrated results. This means their search volumes tend to be smaller, as fewer people search for these compared to short-tail keywords.
An example of a long-tail keyword could be “house plants for dark rooms”.
While at first glance, this more niche keyword may not seem as impressive—it only has a search volume of 500 after all—long-tail keywords are more focused than short-tail keywords, giving search engines (and you) more information and giving you a better chance of understanding their search intent. Long-tail keywords, therefore, deliver more specialised results that are more likely to address user intent and, as a result, will attract higher-quality traffic.
Long-tail keywords often work great as titles and in sub-pillars and blogs—something with a bit more detail than a pillar page. Long-tail keywords will often result in fewer site visits, but they're often easier to rank for and the visitors you do attract will be the right ones.
Difficult to rank for
Easier to rank for
High competition/keyword difficulty
Lower competition/keyword difficulty
High search volume
Lower search volume
Usually 1-3 words
Usually 4-6 words
Can generate high volume if ranked for
Contains short-tail keywords
Questions are keywords that contain interrogative words such as who, what, where, when, why, and how. Question keywords are a great opportunity to get a featured snippet, which is great for SEO purposes. Earning a featured snippet shows that Google (or other search engines with their version of featured snippets) believes your website to be trustworthy and authoritative.
When your content is displayed as a featured snippet, the page often receives more organic traffic and has a stronger edge over other results. This is because people are more likely to click on the snippet than to scroll down to additional search results since it is more eye-catching and provides a direct solution.
Questions can be difficult to rank for because everyone is trying to rank for them, but they can be a massive boon for your website’s SEO if you do.
Intent-targeting keywords are focused on where the customer is on their buyer journey. These keywords are crucial for businesses that provide products or services—targeting the right intent keywords can drive customers exactly where they need to be and help to direct them through your sales funnel.
User intent can fall into one of four main categories: Informational, commercial, transactional, and navigational.
It’s obvious that keywords are important, but understanding the intent of those keywords is a crucial part of SEO. It’s no good targeting a transactional keyword on an informational page. But assessing what category a keyword’s intent falls into can be tricky.
Informational keywords include interrogative language such as questions and qualifiers, for example, “why is it good to have houseplants?”.
People who are searching with informational keywords want just that—information. They don’t want heavy sales pitches or recommendations.
Although they also have the intention to make a purchase, they may not be sat with their card out. These individuals need more time and convincing that your product or service is the one they want. Because of this, you may even hear this type of keyword intent referred as ‘commercial investigating’.
Commercial keywords often include qualifiers such as “best” —they are keywords that show a user’s interests and purchasing potential before any decisions have been made.
These are worthwhile terms to target as users are moving towards making a purchase, but are still trying to decide what it is they want and the best place to get it.
When someone is looking to make a purchase right away, they are searching with transactional intent. This type of keyword usually indicates that they already have a clear idea of what they want to buy and are simply want to go straight to the product/service page.
Transactional keywords will often be specific product names such as ‘iPhone 12 Pro’ or, in our examples, a certain type of houseplant.
The people searching keywords with navigational intent know where they want to go, usually to a particular website. For instance, people who look up ‘b and q’ or ‘B&Q’ online typically intend to visit the company’s website.
Ranking for a navigational phrase like this is usually only beneficial if your website is the one people are looking for. Targeting navigational keywords for other brands won’t deliver a lot of quality traffic to your site and the users will be able to quickly see you’re not what they’re looking for.
Coming up with great keywords is an important and often overlooked part of keyword research. It can be tricky to narrow down which keywords will draw in the search users that will benefit most from your website, while staying true to the webpage’s intentions. Here are six tips for generating awesome keywords for your website.
Consider who your target audience is and what they might be searching for. Imagine yourself in your audience’s shoes. What words or phrases would they use to find your products, services, or content?
Use long-tail keywords to narrow down your niche. Long-tail keywords are more specific and can help customers really hone in on your website. There is usually less competition for long-tail keywords, which also makes it easier for potential customers to find you.
Once you think you’ve found some good keywords, use research tools such as Google Keyword Planner to see how many people are searching for that term (search volume) and how many other websites are targeting it. Ideally, target the highly relevant keywords that have high search volume and low competition.
Check out the competition—literally! Find out what keywords your competitors are targeting. This can give you ideas on what keywords you should be targeting and even how to go about it.
Use variety. Using a combination of long-tail keywords, short-tail keywords, location keywords, and product keywords will maximise your reach.
Keep your content relevant. Don’t try to shoehorn keywords into a page they don’t quite fit. Produce your content so that you can include your keywords naturally.
There are many keyword research tools that can be used to make life easier when creating content for your website. It’s difficult to pick favourites, but here are some of the most popular keyword research tools available.
Google Keyword Planner: This is a tool, from Google, that is completely free and helps you to identify highly relevant keywords, the search volume of those keywords, and the overall competition level.
SEMrush: SEMrush is a paid tool that is popular with SEOs all over the world. It has a range of features, including in-depth keyword research, analysis, and auditing.
Ahrefs: Ahrefs is another popular paid tool that has options for keyword research, backlink analysis, and content analysis.
Moz Keyword Explorer: Moz is also a paid tool that offers a similar range as SEMrush and Ahrefs, but also specialises in SERP analysis.
Keyword Tool: Keyword Tool is free and offers keyword suggestions for a range of platforms, including Amazon, Youtube, and Bing.
Ubersuggest: Coming from the mind and brand of legendary Neil Patel, Ubersuggest is also free, and can offer backlink analysis and content ideas.
Google Trends: This free tool offers the unique opportunity to see how keyword search volume has changed over time, and how popular specific keywords are.
Choosing your keywords can seem daunting. There are countless options, after all. But there are a few different things to consider while choosing that will help you to find the best ones.
It might seem obvious, but it needs to be said; there is no point in targeting a keyword that no one is searching for. That being said, don’t immediately discount keywords that don’t have a high search volume.
It’s all about finding the balance. Great keywords have high search traffic, but low competition on other sites. The closer the keywords align with the niche you're targeting, the more likely this will be.
It is vital to ensure that your content matches the intent behind your keyword. If the keyword is highly transactional, it will need to be used on a page that supports that. People searching for a transactional keyword don’t want to be overwhelmed with information—they want to complete their transaction. Similarly, if someone is searching for an informational keyword, they don’t want to be given a heavy sales pitch.
Most keyword research tools offer information on the difficulty of ranking for that keyword. Though it could be said that anyone can rank for any keyword, given enough time and effort, sometimes that time and effort also ends up costing a lot of money. Instead, opt for more accessible keywords that better suit your niche, and may be only slightly different from the high-ranking/highly competitive ones.
Analysing keyword competition is a crucial aspect of keyword research. It involves assessing your competition’s website and content, to see which keywords they are targeting and what type of pages they’re creating. The intent of this is to use these keywords to create content that will outperform theirs—with a higher ranking in the search results, more clicks, and more conversions.
The data from a keyword analysis can inform the content you have on your own site. This could be in an overhaul of existing content or as inspiration for new content. But it’s vital to remember that the content has to be highly relevant to the keywords and vice versa. The search engines know when it is not and will punish you for it in the SERPS by refusing to rank your website at all, let alone on the first page.
Analysing competitor's keywords isn’t something you can do on your own—you’ll need to use one of the above tools, or others like SpyFu and BuzzSumo, to generate the data needed. The layout and operation of each tool is slightly different, so definitely get familiar with whichever one you choose, but the end result should be a collection of keywords you should target.
Now that you’ve generated a huge list of keywords, from research and competitor analysis, it’s time to incorporate them into your content. But using every single keyword on every single page would actually be very damaging in SEO terms. Instead, opt to use one main keyword, along with two or three related or supporting keywords per page.
So it’s important to organise and prioritise your keywords and plan out exactly where on your website they will go. But prioritisation is a balancing act—we’ve broken down three aspects of keywords to consider when choosing which ones to target.
Highly relevant keywords are prized by search engines because they make it easier for search users to find exactly what they want, whether that’s a product or service, or information. But a highly relevant keyword with high competition and low search volume will be a difficult one to rank for.
An ideal keyword has low competition—we don’t want every other website out there targeting them too, as that will make it impossible to rank. But a low competition that isn’t relevant, or has low search volume, won’t be super useful when it comes to SERP rankings or clicks.
Keywords that have high search volume come with the audience included—they show that people are actively searching for this word or phrase, and they’re doing it a lot. But unless the keyword is also highly relevant, it won’t be of much use. There’s not much logic in drawing in audiences with a promise of one thing, only to deliver something quite different.
Incorporating keywords into content isn’t a matter of using them every other word—in fact, that would be considered “keyword stuffing” which is frowned upon by search engines. Instead, there are strategic places within a page where a keyword will make all the difference.
The meta title, also known as a title tag, is what is shown on the SERP and browser tabs as the title for a webpage. This is the first thing search engines read about your page, as well as most internet users, so is a prime location for a keyword.
A meta description is a short paragraph, shown on the SERP underneath the meta title. It is like a little advertisement, showcasing the page’s key points and luring in audiences. That is why it is so important to include a keyword, so audiences know the page will match exactly what they are searching for.
Heading tags are used within the body of a page to add structure and direction for users. Search engines read these heading tags to gain an understanding of how a page is structured and what it contains, so it’s crucial to include the keywords you are targeting within them. Whether it’s an H1 or an H6, including keywords in the page headings can make all the difference for SEO.
And finally, the content itself will need to contain the keywords you’re targeting. This should come naturally, as you will be talking about the subject at hand. Historically, SEOs would have advised 1-2 keywords per 100 words of copy.
That isn’t the case these days, the emphasis being more on the quality than the quantity of keywords within a page. But the most important aspect is to ensure these keywords fit in naturally—search engines and people can tell when keywords are shoehorned in, and neither likes it very much.
Keyword research isn’t just a one-time task—it is ongoing and ever-evolving. Thankfully, many of the keyword research tools we spoke of earlier include options to monitor keywords and website SERP positions. Keyword monitoring is vital for the following reasons:
1. Improving current on-page SEO
2. Tracking competitors
3. Keeping up-to-date on industry trends
4. Stopping disasters before they happen
5. Increasing social media presence
By monitoring where your webpage is ranking for certain keywords, where your competitor is ranking, and generally staying informed, you are better situated to jump onto emerging trends and keep your new content fresh and current.
While keyword research is vital for any SEO campaign, it is also possible to make SEO-shattering mistakes. We’ve compiled some of the most common keyword research mistakes, how to avoid them, and if it’s possible to recover from them.
We already covered why search intent is important, but let’s cover what can happen when it is neglected. Neglecting search intent can result in pages of content that is angled in the wrong direction, utilises inappropriate keywords, and overall seems to be trying to mislead search engines and users about its contents (whether intentionally or not). This can result in search engines not ranking or even listing the page, and the whole website taking a significant SEO hit.
It is possible to recover from search intent issues. By remedying the keywords and search intent, over time search engines will see that the page is valid and the SERP standing will recover. But the hit sales, conversions, and visitor numbers can take in the meantime makes it vital to not let this issue happen in the first place.
Whether a case of beginners meaning well, or misplaced cocky self-assurance, it can be tempting to pluck keywords out of thin air and run with them. If you’re writing a page about houseplants, it makes sense to have the keyword as “houseplants”, right?
This is where good keyword research will show you that “houseplants” alone is an incredibly broad keyword with intense competition, and the chances of ranking for it are incredibly slim. Instead, use one of the many more niche keywords that better suit the page content and will draw in the right audiences.
While it’s true that it is a mistake to not use a keyword research tool, it’s also true that the most basic form of keyword research is often missed. Checking the SERP can reveal what pages are ranking for that keyword, and how your competitors are structuring their pages. This can give you valuable insights into how you should structure your page, and what to include in it.
Keyword research is as vital a part of creating onsite content as being a witty and articulate writer. It is intrinsic and so should be treated as such. In much the same way you wouldn’t add the chocolate chips when the cookies are already baked, keyword research needs to be done at the beginning of the endeavour as it will influence the content as a whole.
Sure, when talking about SEO, Google is the search engine that is most commonly meant. But it isn’t the only way your customers could be searching for your product, services, or info. And we don’t just mean they might use Bing.
More and more people are turning to Youtube, Tiktok, Reddit, and Instagram to search for whatever it is they want. Keywords that work well on Google may not translate to other platforms, so if you use any of these websites for marketing it is vital to include them in your keyword research.
While some people do search for awkward phrases like “houseplants London” or “pots house plants”, search engines are clever enough to understand that not everyone does. Google, and its competitors, will be able to understand if you add an “in” or “for”.
In fact, using exact match keywords can result in clunky content that is unpleasant to read—meaning audiences are likely to go elsewhere, negatively impacting your bounce rate.
We mentioned earlier that using one main keyword and a few related terms is the way to go. This is because using related or supporting terms creates topical authority—essentially, tells search engines that you are an authority over a whole topic, not just a niche subject.
Instead, if you’re writing a page guiding new house plant owners towards their first purchases, including keywords that cover the best houseplants for beginners as well as other things a new owner might need will ensure you drive more traffic to your own website.
Now that you have all the information you might need for keyword research, you can go forth and create all the pages of fully optimised content that you might need. But if all of this seems too complicated, you could always hire an SEO agency to help with your keyword research endeavours.
The fact of the matter is, keyword research isn’t as simple as one might expect. There are many aspects of keyword research to consider, and if it’s not something you’re familiar with, it can take a long time to complete—let alone implement as part of the rest of your content marketing strategy.