Getting Started with Keyword Research

If you’re trying to boost organic traffic to your website, you need to know what types of things people are searching for that relate to your site. And, if you want to know that, keyword research is the best place to start.

According to Internet Live Stats, Google processes over 3.5 billion searches every day. All of these searches start with a user entering a phrase, such as “top project management software” or “best places to eat in Atlanta.” In each case, there is some specific reason that prompted the user to search for that phrase.

Sometimes that reason is just pure curiosity, but often the searcher is looking for information to be used when making a buying decision. As such, traffic that comes to a site as a result of these searches may be more prone to view or click on ads related to that same query, depending on the nature of the targeted keyword.

Finding Initial Ideas

The first step in keyword research is to come up with a list of potential topics or search terms. There are a variety of tools and strategies you can use to do this, but many people choose to start by brainstorming. What general themes do you think people are interested in? What types of content are doing well on your site, and are there related topics you could write about? Do you have any content gaps that could be filled?

In addition, there are a number of tools (both free and paid) that offer keyword suggestions and alternatives. If you’re new to keyword research, you may want to start with free options such as the AdWords Keyword Planner or KeywordTool.io. For a list of other helpful resources, check out Tools to Help Find Ad Opportunities for Your Site.

What to Look for When Doing Keyword Research

Once you’re armed with a list of potential keywords, it’s time to dig a little deeper to see which ones have the best potential. There’s no magical formula for picking keywords that are guaranteed to send droves of traffic to your site, but there are lots of things you can look for to increase the likelihood of your site ranking higher in Google and other search engines for a particular search term.

Search Volume – Look for phrases with good search volume. Sure, you might be able to get ranked first in Google for an obscure keyword, but if no one is searching for it, what does it matter? With that in mind, “good” means different things to different people. A keyword with an estimated volume of only 30 searches a month may end up being a fantastic opportunity if it aligns well with your site and you think you can rank well for it in Google.

Keyword Competitiveness – This is a measure of how many other sites are targeting the same keyword and how likely you are to be able to rank above the others. A lot of keyword tools have developed scales that let you get a fair idea of how competitive a keyword is with a single glance, but even with that guidance, it’s a good idea to actually do a manual check to see what your instinct and personal experience tell you.

Suggested CPC Bid – With this value, you can get a general idea of how much advertisers are willing to pay for a click-through on an ad targeting the keyword in question.

If you find a keyword with good search volume, low competitiveness and a high suggested CPC bid, it’s almost like hitting the keyword jackpot. So, don’t be discouraged if these types of discoveries are few and far between. Instead, be open to try keywords that look good in one or two of these areas – especially if the two areas are search volume and keyword competitiveness.

Even when you do find phrases that look like great opportunities with respect to these measures, keep in mind that keyword research is both an art and a science. To rank well, the keyword will also need to be a good match for your site and its overall target focus. Plus, you’ll need to be able to produce high-quality content that matches the user’s intent when searching on that phrase. For some phrases, that’s a lot easier said than done.

A Working Example

To give an idea of how the thought process works for determining how much potential a keyword has, let’s look at a basic example. Suppose you were thinking about creating some content focused on chicken salad recipes. First, you could check out the phrase in the AdWords Keyword Planner or some other keyword research tool. Here, we used SEMrush to look at the keyword in more detail.

Chicken Salad Recipes - SEMrush

With over 40,000 searches per month, the search volume definitely looks promising. Note that SEMrush also gives information on related keywords as well as phrases that contain our original keyword. This can be very useful information since it may point us in a direction to refine our keyword if we decide this one shouldn’t be pursued at this time. For instance, easy chicken salad recipe still has a pretty high search volume and it may not be quite as competitive as the more general chicken salad recipes.

SEMrush has a field titled Competition but this measure is estimating advertiser competition rather than organic search competition. So, while this value may be useful for other reasons, it’s not the one we want to look out right now to measure competitiveness for the keyword.

We do want to pay attention to the CPC given here. It’s only $0.89, which isn’t that great. However, since the search volume for this phrase is so high, we’d be more than willing to overlook that if we thought we could rank well in Google search results for the term.

As mentioned earlier, there are keyword research tools that rate how competitive a keyword is in organic search, but since we plan to do a manual check anyway, we’ll jump straight to that part now. To do a manual check, open up an incognito window in your browser and type the keyword into Google Search. The screenshot below shows the top six search results.

chicken salad recipes Google Search

This isn’t looking too great now. All of the sites shown are from high-authority domains such as foodnetwork.com and allrecipes.com. If you continue reading down the list of search results not shown here, you’d see names like bettycrocker.com, southernliving.com and so forth. In other words, we can already tell there is some pretty tough competition for this keyword.

If you aren’t sure about one or more of the top-level domains listed in the search results, you can use a tool like SimilarWeb to get more information about it. For instance, thepioneerwoman.com is ranked #5 for this search. Not familiar with the site and wondering how strong it is? According to SimilarWeb, it’s pretty solid with a steady 5-6 million monthly visits.

thepioneerwoman.com SimilarWeb

At this point, you’d probably want to start looking for other options unless you have an excellent food-centric site that can go toe-to-toe with the ones that are currently dominating search results for this keyword. But, since we want to walk through a complete example, we’ll look at one more thing.

If we had noticed any weakness in the domains for the top 10-20 search results, the next step would be to investigate the quality of the actual results. That is, actually click on the top search results and review them as impartially as you can. Ask yourself:

  • How fast is each site?
  • Are the sites mobile friendly?
  • Is the content engaging and well-written?
  • Is it something you would recommend to others?
  • Most importantly, can your site produce better content on the same topic?

Then, use your answers here to determine if it’s worth the effort to try to compete for the keyword you’re analyzing.

Over time, you’ll start to develop a better sense of how much potential a keyword has by looking at the numbers mentioned above and taking a quick glance at Google search results –so the process will start to go a lot faster with practice.

One thing to remember: Keyword research is not meant to replace spending the time to create quality content. Instead, it’s meant to complement it. That is, if the content targeting a keyword isn’t useful in some way to readers, it probably isn’t going to be ranked highly in search engines. So, if you find a phrase with a lot of potential, be sure to maximize that potential by producing excellent content that focuses on it!