If you want your website to rank higher on Google’s search results, you’ll need to optimize the on-page and off-page aspects of your website according to SEO best practices.
With that being said, at the core of any SEO strategy is keyword research. Knowing how to find profitable keywords that will attract the right traffic to your website is key to improving your website’s visibility, attracting more qualified traffic, and, ultimately, growing your business.
Without keyword research, you risk wasting your time and resources creating content that nobody is searching for and optimizing your website in the wrong direction. Yet, the process of finding these profitable keywords can be easier said than done and often very time-consuming.
Yet, the challenge of conducting your next keyword research shouldn’t frustrate you, as you’ve come to the right place!
In this ultimate guide to keyword research in 2023, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about how to find profitable keywords that are relevant to your business. By the end of this guide, you’d have learned about:
- Different types of keywords in SEO and content marketing
- Various techniques for finding profitable keywords
- How to analyze and evaluate potential keywords
- Keyword mapping, prioritization, and implementation
Without further ado, let’s begin this guide from the very basic: what actually is keyword research?
What is keyword research?
Keyword research, in a nutshell, is the process of identifying and analyzing the words and phrases that your target audience uses to search for information related to your website (or your business/product/service.)
The goal of keyword research is to find the most profitable keywords that are also relevant to your business, and in practice, keyword research can be used in three main ways:
- SEO strategy: Identify keywords that your target audience is searching for so you can optimize your website’s content, meta tags, and other on-page elements to include this target keyword.
- Content creation: Identify not only the words/phrases your target audience is searching for, but the intent behind these keywords. This will help you in creating high-quality, relevant content covering the topics or themes that your target audience is actually interested in.
- PPC advertising: Finding profitable keywords is also critical in PPC advertising. Proper keyword research allows you to implement accurate targeting to your ad campaigns so you can make sure your ads reach the right audience to ensure cost-effectiveness.
The importance and benefits of keyword research
Keyword research is the core foundation of any SEO, content marketing, and PPC advertising strategies, and in practice can provide the business with the following benefits:
- Helps you understand your target audience: proper keyword research will help you understand what your target audience is searching for and the intent behind these searches. This information will provide you with valuable insights into how you should create content that can provide value to them and solve their pain points.
- Improves your website’s visibility: by ranking higher on relevant keywords, you will improve your site’s visibility in front of your target audience. Including relevant keywords in your content makes it easier for Google and other search engines to understand what your website is about, and the context of your content, and boost its search ranking.
- Attracts more qualified traffic: targeting the right keywords allows you to attract more qualified traffic to your site, those who have the highest potential to purchase your products or services, or those who have shown genuine interest.
- Competitive advantage: proper keyword research also helps you stay ahead of your competition, either by using keyword research for competitive analysis purposes so you can gain more insights into what your competitors are doing, and by ranking higher on relevant search results to leave your competition behind.
Key principles and best practices for keyword research
There are obviously a lot of potential keywords we can target, so finding the right ones for your website or business can be very time-consuming in practice.
To narrow down the potential keywords we can target, in general, there are three main principles to withhold:
- Find words and phrases your target audience is frequently searching for. This requires two things:
- Knowing who your target audience is and their goals, preferences, pain points, and behaviors
- Finding keywords with high search volume that are relevant to this specific audience
- The target keywords must be relevant to your business. It must align with your business’s objectives and be relevant to the product/service you offer. Not all keywords that are popular with your target audience will be relevant to your business.
- Assess your available resources (including budget) and timeline, and evaluate whether the competition for the identified keyword(s) is manageable. The competition for popular keywords will obviously be more difficult, and sometimes pursuing them may not just be worth it.
To maintain these three principles, we can follow these best practices:
- Know and understand your target audience: before you even begin researching keywords, it’s critical to understand who your target audience is and what they are searching for. Perform market research, and competitive analysis, and develop your buyer persona to properly understand their pain points and interests.
- Analyze your competitors: knowing who your competitors are is a very important part of keyword research. Identify what keywords your business’s competitors are targeting and their strategies to rank for those keywords. Analyze and identify potential gaps and opportunities so you can plan your own strategies.
- Leverage a variety of tools: nowadays, there are a wide variety of keyword research and SEO tools available, from the free Google Keyword Planner to paid tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, and Moz. To get the best possible results, you may want to mix and match different tools and compare the results so you can identify the most profitable keywords for your business.
- Diversify with long-tail keywords: too many times, we put too much focus on generic, short-tail keywords when performing keyword research. However, don’t underestimate the power of long-tail keywords. While they may have lower search volumes than short-tail keywords, they often have less competition and can be more profitable. Diversify your list of target keywords with these long-tail keywords so you can also diversify your content.
Understanding different types of keywords
Before we start delving into the actual keyword research process, let’s first discuss the different types of keywords available.
We can categorize keywords based on their unique characteristics and the typical intent behind the search, and some of the most common types are:
- Short-tail keywords: also known as “generic,” “broad,” or “head” keywords, short-tail keywords are usually only one to three words long. Due to their generic nature, they also typically have high search volumes. “Shoes” or “car insurance” are examples of very basic short-tail keywords. They are generally very hard to rank for due to the competition, but at the same time can drive very significant traffic to your website if you happen to rank for them.
- Long-tail keywords: the opposite of short-tail keywords, these keywords are longer (more than four words long) and more specific. They typically have lower search volumes than short-tail keywords, but at the same time, they are less competitive and easier to rank for. “Best running shoes for women” or “affordable car insurance for new drivers” are examples of long-tail keywords.
- Branded keywords: as the name suggests, branded keywords are those that include a business’s brand name or its variations. For example, “iPhone”, or “Nike shoes” are examples of branded keywords. This type of keyword is often used by those who have a specific intent about a product or service (find information, compare products, make a purchase, etc.)
Keyword types based on search intent
We can also categorize keywords based on search intent— the reason behind a user’s search query, which can be divided into four types:
- Informational keywords: keywords used by searchers who are looking for information about a specific question or topic. They are often used by people in the early stages of their buyer’s journey and usually start with “how to,” “what is, “the best way to, or “tips for,” for example, “best way to lose weight,” or “what is SEO?”
- Navigational keywords: keywords used by those who are looking to visit a specific website or page, but type the domain name in the search bar instead of the full URL.Thus, these keywords often come in the form of branded keywords, for example, “Netflix,” “Facebook login,” or similar ones.
- Transactional keywords: these are keywords used by people who are looking to make a purchase or take a specific action. Transactional keywords often include words like “order,’ “buy,” or “discount,” among others. For example, “buy yoga pants,” “order pizza,” or “discount code for tickets.”
- Commercial keywords: commercial keywords are mainly used by those who are comparing different products or services when they are in the research phase for a purchase. Usually include words like “reviews,” “compare,” “best,” or “top,” like “best running shoes for 5k,” or “compare gaming laptops.”
Understanding these different keyword types and categorizations will help you choose the most profitable keywords for your business in different scenarios and for different purposes, so you can create personalized content that is tailored to your audience effectively.
Different techniques and methods to find profitable keywords
Now that we’ve understood the basics of keyword research, its benefits, and the different types of keywords available, it’s time to learn how to find profitable keywords for your website.
There are a wide variety of keyword research techniques available, some will be more effective in certain scenarios (i.e., in finding specific types of keywords) than others.
With that being said, here are some of the most common and effective ones available:
If you have multiple people familiar with SEO or content marketing in your team, then involving them in a brainstorming session can be a great approach. Technically you can also brainstorm on your own with techniques like mind mapping or reverse engineering.
Here are some typical steps you can follow when using brainstorming to find profitable keywords for your website:
- Identify your main topics: list the main topics you think are relevant to your business or to your product/service. This list doesn’t have to be set in stone, and you can always go back to it later, so you don’t have to worry too much about it. Just start with broad topics or specific niches related to your business.
- List related keywords: once you have identified your main topics, start brainstorming for keywords related to these topics. You can start with related phrases, synonyms, or variations of the main topic. For example, let’s say your main topic is “healthy recipes,” then possible related keywords are “low-fat recipes,” “gluten-free recipes,” or “vegan recipes.”
- Use Thesaurus: use a Thesaurus (even online ones will do) to help you find additional related words, synonyms, and variation of words you might not have initially thought of.
- Consider long-tail keywords: don’t put too much focus on generic and broad keywords, but consider including long-tail keywords in the brainstorming process. As discussed, long-tail keywords typically have less competition and may help you in targeting niche audience.
- Segment your keywords: once you have your list of keywords, you can group them by theme or topic you’ve planned above. Or, you can also segment based on criteria of your choice.
- Analyze keyword metrics: use various tools to anlayze matrics like search volume, keyword difficulty (competition), and other important metrics for each keyword. These metrics will give you valuable insights into which keywords are most relevant and profitable for your business.
- Leveraging Google Suggest
Google Suggest is a relatively new feature of Google search in which you’ll get suggestions when you type a query on the search box, like this:
As you can see, Google will suggest popular search terms related to the initial query “what is SEO,” which is based on the real-time search data and user search patterns collected by Google.
Analyzing these suggestions can actually help us identify words and phrases related to your initial keyword. In the example above, we enter “what is SEO” as the keyword (we call this “seed keyword”), and we get “what is seo and sem” as the suggestion. Here we get “SEM” as a possible related keyword that may be popular among users. We also get “what is SEO in digital marketing,” and thus we can consider “digital marketing” as our target keyword.
To fine-tune your research using Google Suggest, you can add additional phrases or words in front of or after your initial query. For example, we can add the word “local” to the search for “what is SEO,” and Google may offer different suggestions.
Overall, Google Suggest is a simple-to-use, free, but can be a powerful tool for keyword research that you should leverage. It is especially helpful in helping you identify popular long-tail keywords, and can also help you find content ideas and identify keyword variations.
- Customer research
A good target keyword is one that aligns well with your target audience’s needs and pain points. So, it’s very important to gather as much information as you can about your target audience.
Customer research is an effective keyword research approach if you already have a sizable customer base. You’d want to know what terminology and language your target audience is when searching for products or services like yours, or when searching for information related to your niche.
Here are some ways you can use to conduct customer research:
- Interviews and surveys: inviting existing customers for interviews, or sending surveys (both online and offline,) can be effective for collecting information about your customer’s behavior, language, and preferences. Be specific in your surveys. For example, you can ask what words and phrases they’d use when searching for products or services similar to yours, and ask them about their desires and pain points.
- Focus groups: gathering a group of customers and involving them in focus groups can also be effective in understanding your target audience’s search queries and terminology. You can also use focus group discussions as an opportunity to get feedback on your product/service, as well as your marketing efforts to identify areas where you can improve.
- Customer reviews: you can also analyze customer reviews, testimonials, feedback, and even complaints to gather information about the terminology and language your customers use when discussing your product or service, as well as their needs and pain points.
- Competitive analysis
Also called “reverse engineering,” this method involves analyzing the keyword strategies of your competitors, essentially reverse-engineering their keyword research process to identify profitable keywords for your own campaign.
To perform this method, you can follow these steps:
- Identify your competitors: first things first, identify competitors who are ranking well for main keywords related to your niche or industry (this should be relatively easy to identify.) You can simply perform a Google search for this keyword and identify the top-ranking websites and any business competitors you’ve recognized on the first page of search results. Alternatively, you can use tools like SEMRush or Ahfrefs for this purpose.
- Analyze their content: browse the identified competitors’ content or platform and analyze their content. Look at the titles, headings, and content body to identify the keywords they are using. You can also use this opportunity to analyze their overall content strategy.
- Identify gaps and opportunities: look for gaps in your competitors’ content and keyword strategies that you may be able to capitalize on. For example, if you find any keywords or topics that are relevant to your brand but are not yet targeted by your competitors, you can take advantage of this and focus your effort on this keyword.
- Backlink analysis: you can also use keyword research tools like Ahrefs to perform backlink analysis. Not only this can give you ideas about potential backlink sources, but you may also be able to identify any keywords your competitors are not yet targeting in their backlink strategy.
Using these insights from the result of your competitor analysis, you can then develop your own keyword strategy to find the most profitable keywords. Leverage tools like SEMRush, Moz, or Ahrefs to help you in this competitive analysis process, so you can also improve your own SEO performance and drive more organic traffic to your website.
- Leveraging keyword research tools
Leveraging keyword research tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, or even free tools like Google Keyword Planner can be incredibly helpful in identifying profitable keywords, as well as in analyzing metrics such as search volume, relevance, and competition (keyword difficulty.)
While there are varying tools available in the market, with most of them you can follow these steps to perform your keyword research:
- Choose your keyword research tool: pretty obvious, start by choosing your keyword research tool of choice. There are various SEO/keyword research tools available in the market with various price points (even free ones) and unique features, so make sure to choose the right tool according to your needs.
- Enter your seed keyword: enter your main words or phrases (the seed keywords) into the search bar.
- Analyze the results: the keyword research tool will generate a list of keywords based on the inputted seed keyword. Look at the results to identify the suggested keywords (including long-tail keywords and variations of your seed keywords) that are the right fit for your business.
- Filter and sort: most keyword research tools allow you to easily filter and sort the results generated based on criteria such as keyword difficulty, search volume, relevance, and other metrics. Use these filters to identify the most relevant and profitable keywords for your strategy.
- Analyze keyword difficulty: look for the keyword difficulty/competition level for each keyword to determine whether it’s realistic to compete for this keyword according to your available budget and timeline. If the keyword is too competitive to target, consider targeting a long-tail variation of the keyword.
- Social media monitoring
Social media monitoring is another effective keyword research method, and can also help you gain valuable insights into your customers’ interests, goals, preferences, and the language they use.
You can manually monitor relevant social media platforms, or use tools like HootSuite, Mention, BuzzSumo, and SproutSocial, among others to help you perform social media monitoring with the following steps:
- Identify social media platforms to monitor: social media platforms aren’t made equal, and some may be more relevant to your brand than others. Identify the social media platforms where your target audience is the most active, and we’ll start from there. For example, if you are a B2B business, then monitoring LinkedIn may be more relevant for your business than Twitter or Instagram.
- Find relevant hashtags and keywords: you can use tools like Hootsuite or Sprout Social to monitor hashtags and keywords that are potentially relevant to your industry or niche. You may also want to monitor any mentions of your brand name or your competitors and identity any trends in the terminology or language used.
- Data analysis: once you have collected enough data, start analyzing it to identify patterns and the most commonly used phrases and words. Start listing any keywords that may be relevant to your business, product/service, or industry.
- Refine and prioritize: once you’ve identified the keywords to target, refine and prioritize the list. You can use keyword research tools to filter the keywords based on search volume, keyword difficulty, relevance, and others and refine the list based on these metrics.
These six keyword research methods we’ve shared above obviously aren’t the only ones available, and you can definitely experiment with other methods as you see fit. Yet, these six are some of the most effective and reliable methods available, so you can always use them as your keyword research foundation.
In the next section, we will discuss how we should analyze and evaluate the identified keywords so you can create a comprehensive strategy around them.
Analyzing and evaluating keywords
After you’ve done your keyword research and created the list of keywords to target, the next step is to evaluate the keywords to determine:
- Whether they are worth pursuing in your SEO strategy
- If yes, how should you develop a specific strategy to target this keyword
- How should this specific keyword sits in your priority?
For this purpose, we can consider several metrics:
- Keyword Difficulty
Keyword Difficulty, or KD, is a metric that measures the competition level of a specific keyword: how hard it is to rank for a specific keyword in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages.)
You can measure Keyword Difficulty with tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, Moz, or other SEO tools, and they typically will rate KD on a scale from 1 to 100: with higher scores indicating the keyword is more competitive.
Each of these keyword research tools may have its own algorithms for measuring keyword difficulty, but typically they will consider the number of competing pages, the authority of these competing pages, content quality/length, and technical factors of their websites.
When choosing target keywords, it’s critical to always evaluate Keyword Difficulty to make sure your time and resources won’t go to waste pursuing target keywords that are unrealistic to compete for.
- Search volume
Search volume refers to how many searches a keyword receives on average per month.
You can use the free Google Keywords Planner to evaluate search volume, but if you want more details, you can also use tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush, or Moz.
In most cases, we’d want to target keywords with higher search volumes since they will offer greater potential for traffic. However, high search volumes would typically correlate with higher Keyword Difficulty (competition). On the other hand, keywords with lower search volumes will be easier to rank for, but they also have a lower potential for traffic.
- Click-through rate (CTR) potential
For search results, the click-through rate (CTR) refers to the percentage of users who click on the search results after performing a search. Higher CTRs generally indicate that a keyword better meets the searcher’s search intent and that the content’s title and/or meta description are compelling.
Some keyword research tools offer an estimate of CTR potential for a keyword, based on search historical data, trends, etc. Although these are only estimates and should be taken with a grain of salt, you can still use CTR potential to your advantage when planning your keyword research and SEO strategies.
- Cost-per-click (CPC)
CPC measures the cost of running an ad campaign for a particular keyword on a PPC (pay-per-click) search advertising platform on Google Ads. Specifically, it’s the amount of money the advertisers must pay for each click on their ads.
Obviously, this metric is more related to PPC marketing than SEO and content marketing. However, it can still be useful for estimating the competitiveness of a keyword and also for evaluating the commercial intent of a keyword. A higher CPC generally indicates that a keyword can generate more sales or leads, but it will also be more competitive.
Mapping, prioritizing, and implementing keywords
Now that you’ve done your keyword research and analyzed the results, the next step is to map out your keywords, define your priorities, and finally incorporate the identified keywords into your content.
Below is a step-by-step guide you can follow to perform keyword mapping:
- Segment your keywords by topic
Once you have your list of keywords (that you’ve evaluated), you can segment them according to common characteristics. For example, you can group them by topic or theme. Segmenting your keywords will make it easier for you to identify which pages on your website should be optimized for each keyword segment and also to plan your content calendar.
Ideally, each theme/topic should represent a specific product, service, or aspect of your business.
- Map your keywords
You can create a spreadsheet, document, or visual map to map out your keywords and assign them to specific pages on your website (or specific sections). This will help you make sure each page will be optimized for the most relevant keywords.
Use columns to list each topic or theme, the relevant keywords to each theme, and the pages/sections on your website that will target each keyword.
- Prioritize your keywords
Prioritize the mapped keywords based on search volume, Keyword Difficulty, relevance, and other key metrics. You can devise a scoring system to prioritize each keyword based on its potential impact on your business goals.
- Refine your mapping
Based on the priorities you’ve defined, refine your mapping to decide which pages you will optimize for each keyword. Assign high-priority keywords to the most relevant pages on your website, and make sure to avoid targeting the same keyword on multiple pages (cannibalization.)
- Implementation and optimization
The basic idea is to include the target keyword and its variations naturally throughout the content’s body, title, headlines, meta description, and alt texts of non-textual content (images, videos, etc.) Do not stuff the content with keywords, but focus on providing value for your human readers. Keyword optimization shouldn’t sacrifice readability and the content’s overall value.
- Monitor and refine
Monitor your keyword rankings and organic traffic, as well as other relevant metrics (click-through rate, bounce rate, etc.), and adjust your keyword research strategy as needed.
Regularly track your SEO performance metrics, and don’t be afraid to refine your strategy as needed. We’ll have a more in-depth discussion regarding updating and adjusting your keyword strategy in the next section.
Monitor, update, and refresh your keyword strategy
An effective keyword strategy should not be static. Your customers’ preferences and needs evolve along with market trends, so they may use different search queries just months or even weeks after your initial SEO campaign.
Thus, it’s important to regularly update, refine, and refuse your SEO strategy, including your keyword research approach.
Here are the basic steps to do so:
- Keep track of keyword performance
Regularly monitor relevant keyword performance metrics, such as:
- Ranking position: your search ranking should gradually improve over time. If it’s stagnating or declining, then you should evaluate other metrics and adjust your strategy.
- Organic traffic: your organic traffic should improve or decline directly proportional to your SERP ranking improvement. If, for example, your ranking increases but your organic traffic stays the same or decreases, then you should identify the root cause ASAP.
- Click-through rate (CTR): CTR is the ratio of clicks to impressions (how many times your website is viewed by people on the SERP.) A higher CTR means your target audience finds your title and meta description in the SERP compelling and relevant.
- Bounce rate: refers to the percentage of visitors who leave your website after viewing only one page. A high bounce rate indicates that your visitors find your website not relevant and/or valuable enough for them to continue consuming your content.
- Time on page: how long visitors spend on your specific page. A longer time indicates the content is relevant and engaging to this user’s search intent.
- Conversion rate: the percentage of visitors to your website who complete a desired action like signing up for your newsletter, signing up for a free trial, or making a purchase.
- ROI: return on investment, refers to the amount of revenue generated from your keyword strategy compared to the amount spent on it
- Stay up to date on SEO trends and updates
Keep track of the latest SEO trends, changes in search engine algorithms, and digital marketing news to ensure that your keyword approach and overall SEO strategy remain effective.
Especially assess whether there are any major changes in the search algorithms that may require updates to SEO best practices. Also, keep track of any new tools or keyword research and implementation techniques you can adopt for better success.
- Adjust keywords
Keep track of the changes in the industry, as well as the evolution of your target audience’s behaviors, and adjust your keyword strategy accordingly.
Remove irrelevant keywords from your keyword map, adjust your prioritization, and, if necessary, repeat the keyword research process to add more keywords to your list. Also, monitor if there are any changes in the search intent and modify existing keywords to better match the adjusted search intent.
Keyword research is a critical part of any SEO and digital marketing strategy, so you shouldn’t underestimate its importance.
Not only proper keyword research can help you identify profitable keywords, but it can also help you understand your target audience, find relevant topics, and improve your overall marketing strategy.
By using the variety of keyword research methods we’ve shared above, you can stay ahead of the competition, improve your content and SEO strategy, and attract more qualified traffic to your website.