Keywords are the words and phrases that people use when searching for information and content online. They also represent the ideas and topics that define what a webpage’s content is all about.
Google uses keywords to help judge the relevance of a page’s content to a user’s search query. The more relevant your content is to a keyword the more likely someone is to find it online. Read our guide to keywords in SEO for the full details on what keywords are (what they are, how they work, their history, etc.).
Finding the right keywords for your website is one of the most important things you can do in your ongoing SEO efforts. Target the wrong keywords and you’ll waste time and money without realizing it. Usually not until after the time and money have been spent.
To avoid finding and using the wrong keywords you need to do keyword research.
This guide is designed to help website owners, SEO beginners, multichannel marketers, agencies and other digital marketers…
- Learn exactly what keyword research is
- Evaluate your current keywords and their performance
- Find existing opportunities and low hanging fruit
- Organize your keyword research effort
- Find brand new keywords for your site
- Actually choose the right keywords for a website
- Gain insight into the keywords your competitors are using
- Take advantage a keyword research shortcut with WooRank’s Keyword Tool
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is the process of finding the words and phrases people use when searching for information and content online that is relevant to your website and business. When it comes to digital marketing, keyword research will form the foundation of your content, conversion optimization, link building and other SEO efforts.
Finding and ranking for the right keywords will make or break your website. Keyword research will show you not only the right keywords to target, but also what your customers want and need from your products. Keyword research will help you not only sell more products, but also help you support and retain more customers.
How to do Keyword Research for SEO
Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to get down to the process of finding your current opportunities, discovering new keywords and choosing the right ones for your business.
We’ll also get a bit into how you’ll want to use your keywords as well as a few tools and extra resources we’ve found helpful in our own keyword research.
The first 2 steps will only apply to those who already have a website that’s been up and running for a while. The other 4 will apply to anyone’s website.
1. Evaluate your current performance
The first step in keyword research for an existing website is to get the lay of the land so to speak. This means learning what keywords your site already ranks for. The best place to start is Google itself with Google Search Console.
If your site has been around for a while, it should be ranking for at least a few keywords:
The useful information comes from the Performance report in the new Search Console.
There are 2 important benefits to starting with Google Search Console data:
You get to see how people are using Google and what keywords they use when searching for information relevant to your business: what questions they ask, what problems they need solutions for, what information they’re interested in, how they use your products, etc.
You get to see how Google sees your content’s expertise, authority and trustworthiness (EAT) on the topics you want to target.
Search Console will also offer up insights about content that can provide more value to your SEO with just a few tweaks.
The main downside to your site’s Search Console data is that it doesn’t include search volume — you don’t know how many people are using these queries — and you’re limited to 1000 queries. For many sites this is no big deal, but can be an issue for those really big websites (ecommerce, news, big content publishers, etc.).
2. Find existing keyword opportunities
Let’s take a look at the Performance report for an ecommerce website that sells homegoods:
Looking at this data, 2 good keyword opportunities stick: "floral bedding" and “cotton bedspreads”.
Here’s how we know they’re good existing opportunities:
The site already has a relatively high number of impressions
These queries already send a relatively high amount of traffic, but…
The website’s pages rank outside the first page of Google results
When you start optimizing, keywords like these should be your top priority. Since our homegoods shop already ranks relatively well and gets a good amount of traffic for these keywords they could see some dramatically increased benefits with just a few on-page tweaks, a few more backlinks, optimizing the page’s load time or doing some internal link building.
This is a much easier and simpler process than creating and promoting brand new content for keywords you don’t already rank for or don’t have any visibility for your site.
Besides Search Console, WooRank customers and trial users can also use data from their Keyword Tool suggested keywords section to uncover these opportunities.
We’ll cover this feature in more detail later on this guide.
3. Create keyword "buckets" by relevant topics
This is the first step in finding and optimizing for new keywords for your website, whether it’s a site that’s brand new or one that’s been around for a while. Creating these buckets will define your content and SEO strategy going forward.
There are 2 approaches to take in this step. Which one you should choose will depend on how your business works.
This is a pretty straightforward option. Define your buckets by your business’ services, products and/or categories.
Let’s take a look at the navigation menu for a dentist’s office in St. Louis, Missouri:
A quick glance at the services this office provides gives an idea of some high-level buckets to create:
- Preventative care
- Restorative procedures
- Cosmetic treatments
- Periodontal care
Opening the preventative care section gives us further keyword grouping to target within that category:
The monetization-first approach can help ensure that your SEO efforts are always aligned with the more revenue-focused efforts in your business.
The niche-first approach starts with the overall niche (industry, business type, topical focus) of your website and drilling down to longer and longer tail keywords until you find opportunities for your site.
For example, a website that publishes music reviews would start with the "music review" keyword. You can then use different keyword research tools to find new keywords based off of this niche. Or you could go straight to the source and find new keyword topics from Google.
Search on Google for "music review" and then scroll down to the bottom of the page:
Right there we have 2 new keyword buckets: "indie music reviews" and “rock albums reviews”. To drill down on the rock album niche, click on the “rock album reviews” link and scroll to the bottom of those search results:
With one search and one click we’ve gone from no keywords to 2 keyword groupings, 1 of which now has 3 new keywords for our music blog.
Now these are fairly broad terms that will be highly competitive and probably hard to rank for without serious SEO and link building efforts. With the niche-first method, just keep clicking until you uncover related searches you have a realistic shot of ranking for.
Of course, if you’re one of the big players in your niche (like Spotify or Pitchfork for our music review blog) you can go ahead and target those highly competitive keywords.
4. Find new keyword ideas
Now that you’ve got a starter list of existing keywords and the list of topics your website will target, it’s time to uncover new keyword possibilities to help people find your content. You can do this step by continuing the niche-down method until you’ve filled a spreadsheet with keyword possibilities.
But that can cause you to miss out on important data about search volume.
To help streamline and scale the process, you’ll need to use a dedicated keyword research tool. Luckily there are lots of free ones out there. One good place to start is Google itself with Google Ad’s Keyword Planner.
Whether you’re going the monetization-first or niche-first approach, the process is the same: click on "Find new keywords" and enter your topics. Here’s what I’d enter when doing keyword research for my UK-based pet shop:
The Keyword Planner results for these topics show 1,641 related keywords that people use in Google to search for information on dog toys.
Since I have a relatively new website, I’m going to sort these results by "Competition" to show the easier keywords first:
You’ll notice straight off that there are some limitations with this data. First of all, Google only displays a very broad range of monthly search volume — you have to meet a certain minimum ad spend threshold to get exact data. You also need to remember that all of this data is for Google Ads pay-per-click advertisers. So while the queries and volumes are applicable, the competition data is based on how many advertisers are bidding on that term.
However, it can correlate to organic competition and is a good place to start.
Offline sources of new keywords
Not all sources of keywords are online, however. One of your best sources of keywords is your very own in-house sales, marketing and customer support teams.
If you’re using buyer personas (and you likely are) start there. You’ve already defined their desired outcomes, tasks, problems and questions. Incorporate these into your list of keywords.
Ask your support team to keep notes (or voice recordings) on the calls they field from customers and potential customers. Create a list of every question people ask about your products, even if they are just general questions like "what’s the benefit of using a product like this at all?" If people are calling you up to ask, or asking a sales representative during an outbound call, you know people are Googling it as well.
If you’re willing to spring for one, a paid tool will offer you the added benefit of extra data surrounding your new keywords’ estimated search volume, ranking difficulty and competitors. This data is extremely helpful in eliminating keywords that you probably won’t ever be able to rank for.
Here’s an example of keyword analysis from Ahrefs, a paid tool:
If I were running a baking blog or related site, this would be an intriguing keyword for me:
Low difficulty means my newer site has a better chance of ranking
High volume means lots of opportunities for new users
The vast majority of clicks go to organic results (not paid), meaning higher ROI
5. Choose the right keywords
Choosing the right keywords isn’t based entirely on difficulty and search volume. Your keywords also need to align with your overall marketing strategy: how will you attract people at each phase of the buying cycle and help move them to the next phase?
All good keyword research should, therefore, incorporate keywords for all search intents in each bucket you come up with.
So, for example, a general contractor located in Cambridge, UK would have a keyword profile including:
- "How to choose the right contractor for your job"
- "What does a general contractor do"
- "Why do I need a general contractor"
- "Home repairs cambridge"
- "Insurance repairs cambridge"
- "Electrical work cambridge"
The first 3 keywords are used by people just at the very beginning of the process of hiring a contractor, or deciding if they even need one. The other 3 are used by people actively trying to find the service provider in their area.
Both sets of keywords are necessary to bring full value to a business’ website. Attracting informational queries will build brand awareness and trust and generate leads to be closed by your sales team. Transactional and commercial investigation queries will bring highly qualified users to your site in the moment they are looking to make a purchase.
Even for content publishers (sites that only publish content and don’t sell any products) targeting each type of keyword can be very valuable for affiliate or leadgen agreements and partnerships.
6. Check out your competitors
Your competitors are also doing keyword research. Chances are they’ve found some unique keyword opportunities that you didn’t. Luckily for you there’s no reason you can’t steal them.
In SEO, you have 2 types of competitors:
- Your direct competitors — the people you are fighting for sales.
- Everyone who ranks (or wants to rank) for your target keywords.
By entering your seed keywords into Google you can discover the latter and then comb through their sites — blogs, category pages, etc. — to uncover the terms they’re targeting.
The same goes for your direct competitors. This gives you the added benefit of uncovering their content strategy to gain insight into their messaging, brand position and product strength and benefits.
If you’ve got larger competitors, you can uncover enough keywords to build out your own profile, enough to functionally skip the first 5 steps in the keyword research process. You should still do your own research, though, since you can uncover keywords your competitors haven’t.
Jump Starting Your Keyword Research
WooRank customers and trial users can find existing keyword opportunities right in the Keyword Tool data for their Projects. When adding keywords to Keyword Tool, the keyword suggestion feature will suggest that users add keywords for which the tracked site already ranks.
Keywords that appear in this list, the tracked site ranks somewhere in the top 100 results for people who searched for that keyword in the specified Google domain.
Finding the best of existing opportunities
The keyword suggestion feature cuts through the noise that you get with other keyword research tools (even Google Search Console) to find you the best opportunities for your website.
For each keyword in the top 100, Keyword Tool gives you the relevant data to pick the right keywords for you:
Volume: Also referred to as "estimated monthly volume", this is a general calculation of how many times people searched for this keyword in the selected Google domain. This tells you how many people your site could potentially reach by targeting this keyword.
Position: The actual position we found your site ranking in Google search results for the given keyword. As we covered above, keywords for which you already appear in search results are good opportunities for SEO.
CPC: CPC stands for "cost per click". It’s the amount of money someone running a Google Ads campaign paid when a searcher clicked on an ad showing for the keyword. CPC doesn’t have a direct relationship with SEO, but it gives you all sorts of insight into commercial value, search intent, potential ROI and how much competition you can expect for that keyword.
- URL: This is the specific page on a website that is ranking for the keyword. Again, this information can function as a shortcut when it comes time to choose which pages to optimize around keywords and when you’re trying to align page content and search intent.
Learn about using Keyword Tool to jumpstart a website’s keyword research in more detail in our blog post about the keyword suggestion feature.