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The beginners guide to keyword research.

Introduction Into The Basics Of Keyword Research

Keyword research is essential because you risk making content no one will ever find. You can be the best writer in the world and have the most unique and entertaining content possible, but if no one searches for the keywords you're using, you'll still get zero traffic.

It's 2023. It's time to work smarter, not harder. Our goal in this guide is to give you everything you need to get out there and start researching potential keywords you can use to create user-first content that gets seen.

Keyword research isn't complex. It just takes time. Once you're finished reading this guide, you'll know everything you need to get out there and start finding keywords that offer the most ROI for your needs.

The Basics Of Keyword Research

What Is Keyword Research?

Keyword Research

Keyword research is just as it sounds - the act of researching keywords. When researching any keyword, you're trying to find valuable information about it that you'll then use to decide if it's worth creating content.

Why Is Keyword Research Important

Make sure the keywords you're targeting make sense for you goals.

It's safe to assume that no one wants to spend their time doing something that won't benefit them in return. The main reason keyword research is important is for that exact reason. There are a ton of valuable insights that you can find such as:

  • How many people search for that keyword each month
  • What your competition looks like
  • The overall growth and trend of the keyword
  • The angle your content should take

Before Keyword Research, Ask Questions

Before you get too carried away spending your time on keyword research, you'll want to ask important questions that can help you get started in the right direction. You'll want to ask:

  • What are your customers likely to be searching for?
  • Who is searching?
  • Why are they searching?
  • How many people search for that keyword each month
  • The overall growth and trend of the keyword
  • The search intent or content type your users will be expecting to see

Now, asking these questions alone isn't enough. It's just a starting point. Ultimately, your main goal, once you've gathered an answer to the questions above, will be to find keywords that offer great ROI.

However, your goal should never be to find one keyword you can use to make one piece of content. It should be about finding enough related keywords that you can create a healthy network of related, quality, and informative content to give to your users.

The Elements Of Keyword Research

Search Intent

Search intent

The most important concept to consider when honing in on your target keyword is the search intent. If you're in the mood to bake muffins and Google "best muffin recipe," chances are you want to see results of the best muffin recipes, not websites trying to sell you already-made ones.

Even if you made the best webpage to sell muffins, not considering the search intent can seriously hurt your ability to rank. The main reason it can hurt you is how search engines monitor the behavior of your users. Let's consider the muffin example for a moment.

Suppose you were to make a webpage that sells muffins and target search queries where the user will expect muffin recipes. If your users want pages that share muffin recipes, they will leave your page almost instantly when they see that there isn't any recipe and you're trying to sell them muffins.

Not only will your users be confused and probably somewhat irritated, but even worse, search engines are tracking that users almost always instantly leave your pages. The signal that sends to search engines is that your content isn't helpful, it's subpar, and shouldn't be promoted (meaning you will hurt your ability to show up in search results).

Keyword Relevance

Keyword Relevance

The importance of how relevant the keywords you're targeting are to the niche your business is in can be a bit more difficult to understand than search intent, but not by much.

Search engines more and more are moving towards semantic SEO. Semantic SEO refers to building more in-depth, rich, and helpful content that exhibits proper internal linking and URL structure. The importance of keyword relevance comes from the fact that you should only make a page with a specific purpose.

Each page should be carefully thought out and mapped as to how it helps to flesh your topical map. We'll cover the concept of a topical map in further guides, but for now, just think of it as a comprehensive list of pages that cover every aspect of your industry, detailing the ins and outs of what you do.

Building your website in this way is a scientific way to answer any possible question your customers have and provide them with anything they need at any stage of the buying process. In addition to providing them with any answers, resources, and information they might need, you're also helping search engines to view you as an influential authority in your niche.

In other words, you are sending search engines the signals they need to consider you as a credible source of information. So long as you avoid basic SEO mistakes, you shouldn't have any issues increasing your monthly traffic.


Authority determines the keywords you can rank for.

The higher the authority of a website, the higher it'll rank for any keyword they decide to target. In some cases, it might make sense to go after keywords with less search volume each month if the competition is more reasonable for your current authority level.

Our guide here is about much more than just keyword research. Ultimately, your goal with this guide should be to learn how to target the right keywords for your website's current and future pages. Once you determine which pages to make, fill out your topical map, get writing, and stay consistent.

The best way to judge your authority level is to use any of the numerous SEO tools available. You can open free trial accounts with various platforms or shop around and open an account. We'll discuss multiple SEO tools a bit later in this guide.

Search Volume

Search volume is important for keyword research

Search volume is a huge consideration when conducting keyword research of any kind. Everyone wants to go for the keywords that get 2,000+ searches because ranking #1 would bring in 500-800+ visitors a month. The reality, however, is that these keywords are typically highly competitive, and most websites have no realistic hope of ranking for something that competitive in anything shy of 1 or more years.

It can be done, but some competitors have invested years - and substantial marketing budgets - in securing those rankings. So while you can hope to rank for them eventually, if you're looking for real traffic now, it's best to start with less competitive (and lower search volume) keywords first.

Even keywords that only get 10-30 searches a month are essential to target. We have a client that has gotten customers from a keyword that gets less than five searches a month on average. And, if you follow the Google trend, it has even gotten less than that historically.

Our point is that you can still be highly successful with keywords that don't get two and a half million monthly searches. In all honesty, it's far better to have a lot of quality content that ranks for hundreds of keywords that get 20-80 monthly searches than to rank for a few that get thousands.

First off, aside from being almost impossible, it's also more sustainable. If you ranked for 500-2000 keywords that collectively brought in 2,000+ visitors a month, and most of your keywords brought in 0.25-1% of your monthly visitors, it doesn't matter if you lose a few keywords here and there, or if the search volume slows down for some keywords.

But, if you get most of your traffic from one or two main keywords, chances are high that your competition will be doing everything they can to take that from you, and you'll be far too dependent on a handful of volatile keywords. Ideally, you target a good mix of high and low-competition keywords.

To wrap up, we don't want you to overthink search volume. As long as the keyword has a search volume of at least 5-10, it's worth targeting. However, if you can find another keyword that's just as relevant, within your authority level (your ability to rank), by all means, go for it.

Doing these things will help search engines consider your website a candidate to be an authority. It's easy to improve your authority, but it takes time, and if you want traffic, conversions, and visibility, you will have to either put in the work yourself or hire someone to do it for you.

Finding Keyword Ideas

Inspect Your Competitors

Find out which keywords your competition is targeting.

One of the best places to start your keyword research is by inspecting your competition. Take a look at their sitemap, how they've structured their content and how well it's written, and take notes. What has worked for them? What can you improve on? How can you deliver a better, more original resource to your customers?

Your goal should be to determine which keywords to focus on and acknowledge any areas you know you can improve on to deliver more comprehensive and helpful content. It's not just about gathering keywords here. It's also about taking the best parts of your competitor's pages and compiling them to create a resource powerhouse.


Another great way to start getting a list of keywords you can work from is to think of any relevant ones that come to mind. What services or products do you sell? What are your customers likely to type in Google when searching for services/goods like yours?

For blog content, you can start gathering ideas for content by answering questions you've gotten dozens of times. If you've been in business for a while, chances are there are questions you've been asked so many times you get tired of answering them. These questions are perfect to create blog posts around. Not to mention - depending on your industry, you can always refer new hires or customers to the blog posts as an educational tool.

The main thing about brainstorming is knowing that most of the keywords you come up with aren't going to be usable. The brainstorming process mainly involves getting your ideas down so you can start with a solid foundation. Once you've gathered a list of every relevant keyword you can think of, you'll use some of the SEO tools we'll discuss later in this guide to really start filling out your list.

Keyword Research Tools

Semrush is an amazing keyword research tool to use!

Keyword research tools are a vital part of this process. You can make quality content and rank without them, but in all honesty, it's like shooting a gun in the dark. You can probably hit something, but if you can turn the light and make things ten times easier for yourself, why wouldn't you?

Our list of research tools isn't comprehensive by any means. But it will give you a solid starting point and a decent amount of resources to check out.

We mainly use Semrush in our agency. We use a slew of other paid and free resources and tools, but all of our audits, initial research, and analytics are carried out through Semrush.

Study Your Niche

Even if you know you're a leading expert in your field, studying your niche cannot be overstated. But you should know that it's far more than just knowing about your industry. Knowing your industry is a given.

When conducting a keyword research strategy, your goal again isn't just about making one page, and ranking for one or two keywords. Your goal is to make content that helps and connects with users at each stage of the buying process. In doing so, you'll win over all semantic search engines (Google included).

The way search engines are moving is towards semantic structure and organization. Semantic SEO is about knowing how the different parts of your industry are related and how you can organize your URL structure and content accordingly. It's about understanding how your customers use search engines to interact with your industry.

For instance, using our muffin example from before, if we use Google's autofill suggestions, you can see - in more detail - what users are searching for. Now you know that in addition to making a "best muffin recipe," page, you can also make a similar page for blueberry muffins, diabetic muffins, toddler muffins, and chocolate chip muffins.

Google autofill is a great way to find new keywords

Taking this a step further, you can also record the "People also ask" section on search engines like Bing and Google to find other topics, keywords, and content ideas to use.

People also ask is an excellent way to find keywords

Now you've got that much more data that can be used to help you understand how your users understand and interact with your content. More importantly however, you now know what Google considers to be semantically related.

Using Google's related searches is a great way

In addition, you can also use the "Related searches" section to get more of an idea of what search engines consider to be semantically related. Based on the related searches above, you could make content on moist muffin recipes, muffins that use oil (and by reading between the lines) muffins that don't use oil.

It might seem overwhelming, and you might think you don't want to write content for so many different topics, but it's more than just about that. It's about gathering options that you can use to flesh out a content strategy. The goal of this information should be to research each new concept to find other related aspects that you can use to make content.

The goal of this information should be to research each new concept to find other related aspects that you can use to make content. It might seem overwhelming, and you might be thinking that you don't want to write content for so many different topics, but it's not just about that. It's about gathering options that you can use to flesh out a content strategy.

Overall, you should be writing content even about services and products that you don't offer, because that will be the only way you can complete your topical map. We'll make a guide for topical maps in the future, but all you need to know right now, is that search engines more and more are headed in the direction of topical authority.

The more complete your topical map, the more signals that send to search engines that your website is a force to be reckoned with in your industry, and as long as you aren't doing any blackhat SEO tactics, you are guaranteed to show up well in search results.

Ideas Rather Than Keywords

We'll go into more detail in this section, but for now, just know that the illustration of examplemuffin.com is an example of a very simple, non-comprehensive topical map. Use it as reference throughout this section.

Topical Map Example

In the wild wild west of SEO, people used to be able to throw a keyword on a site a few hundred times, change the color to match the background color, and rank. Times are much different now.

In all reality, while keywords are incredibly important to your ability to show up in search results, what is becoming increasingly more important than keywords are the ideas the keywords express. When you're making content, it should never be made to target a specific keyword. It should instead be used to target an idea and properly explain a certain part of your topical map.

In short, think of a topical map as a resource that covers every single thing about a topic, in detail. For example, the keyword "best muffin recipe" would be a subtopic about the greater topic of muffins or baking.

If the parent topic was muffins, you should have part of your URL structure dedicated to gluten-free muffins, vegan muffins, dairy-free muffins, sugar-free muffins, diabetic muffins, etc. Then each of these subtopics would have their own subtopics.

If our website was examplemuffin.com, below is an example of what part of a topical map might look like.

Ideas are becoming increasingly more important than keywords.

I'll start this example by saying I have not researched the best way to organize a muffin website. That type of research takes a lot of competitive analysis, niche-related research, etc. I've chosen to organize the URLs in the way depicted above to convey the type of URL organization typically seen with a topical map.

Use Google Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner

Google keyword planner is perhaps one of the most underrated keyword research tools. For one, it's completely free, but more importantly, it helps you learn immediately what Google considers to be semantically related.

Not only can you use this tool to help aid you in your Google ads campaigns, but more importantly, it has the largest database for keyword research available online - and it's completely free.

However, the information it allows you to see is quite a bit more limited than other paid tools. It's worth using, and we use it nearly every day in our agency. However, it's mainly used as a second or third reference.

If you want to learn how to do keyword research for yourself, it's an awesome resource to get started, as most of the professional-level SEO tools are anywhere from $100 - $500+ a month, so when you're starting, it can't really be beaten.

Analyzing Potential Keywords

Analyzing potential keywords to determine their ROI

When analyzing potential keywords to determine which ones make the most sense to target, you'll want to be as thorough as possible. Use the tools described above to ensure that you're getting the most ROI for your time spent creating content.

There are so many ways to find keywords worth targeting, and once you do, you'll want to consider the following things.

Which Keyword Variation Should You Go With?

So our example keyword has been "best muffin recipe." Knowing this, there are several variations of that keyword we could target. For example, as you can see in the image below, "best blueberry muffin recipe" brings in nearly 5,000 more monthly searches, so targeting that keyword might make more sense. However, it's not as simple as looking at the search volume.

Search Volume

In most cases, you won't have the domain authority to rank for a keyword with the difficulty the keywords in the image have. Both keywords we've talked about have difficulties of 66% and above, which is nearly impossible unless you already have a very high domain authority and a very large SEO budget.

Long Tail Keywords

In situations where all of the keywords you know you need to be targeting are out of your ability to rank, it might make sense to go the long-tail route. The image above shows keywords dealing with muffins, but the recipes are more specific than "best muffins recipe." Long-tail keywords are more specific versions of a more difficult keyword.

How Will You Structure Your URLs?

Once you're finished with your keyword research, you'll then have to determine how you'll structure your content. We've already discussed your topical map, which is essentially what this is. However, you don't want to make any content until after you've determined the overall URL structure you're going to have.

The last thing you want to do is to have to change the URL of a page after you've made it. Just take the extra time to determine how you want everything organized, and just doing that will clear up a lot of decisions for you regarding which keywords make the most sense to

What Keywords Are Your Competitors Targeting?

This question can be answered without SEO tools like Semrush, but it's much easier and more efficient to use them. Amazingly, you can find out which keywords are working for your competitors. Based on how competitive the landscape looks, you can even decide to opt for less competitive keywords.

If you notice the keywords your competition is targeting have websites entirely out of your range, it might make more sense to take a different path to success.

How To Prioritize Keywords

Once you have a list of keywords you want to rank for, how do you prioritize them? Well, when you're first starting, your website doesn't have the best domain authority, which means you will be very limited in terms of what you can show up for in the search results.

The best way to determine what you should go for when starting would be the keywords that provide the most volume and ideally have a keyword difficulty score of 0, meaning there is virtually no competition.

You'd want to start this low because, assuming you optimize your content properly, you have a proper semantic HTML structure, and your content is quality, you shouldn't have any issue ranking for it.

Securing that victory will bring in a consistent stream of new visitors and send positive signals to search engines, making it easier to rank for harder keywords.

Then, your next piece of content can target a keyword that's a level 1 difficulty. So on and so forth, until you hit a wall. When you hit the wall, you'll find a level of difficulty you can't rank for, so you drop back the keyword difficulty you're targeting and work within that. Create content based on that range, and slowly start to expand out of that level of difficulty.

You will however also want to create content for your end game keywords. These are the keywords you really want to rank for, but aren't going to be able to until after your website has improved enough. The purpose of creating this content comes in the sense that, while you may not rank, your webpage's domain age is increasing. Domain age is one of the criteria search engines use when determining the level of trust they give any page, so getting the clock ticking on those end-game pages is necessary.

Using Keywords Once You've Chosen Them

We'll create content walking you through how to use the keywords once you've gathered your list properly and have decided which ones you will start targeting.

But, for now we'll give you the gist of what needs to be done to increase your chances of ranking.

There are really three main places you need to have your keyword, and honestly, as long as you have that down, that's probably 40% of SEO. It's that easy - as far as on-page optimizations go anyway.


Use Your Keywords In The URL

Arguably the most important place to have your keyword is your URL. However, you almost never want to change old URLs to have them match your chosen keywords. You can absolutely rank if URLs don't match your keywords, but it does make a significant difference if it does!

Title Tag

Make Sure Your Title Tags Contain Your Keywords

The second most important place would be your title tags. Title tags are a bit more of a tricky place to get your keywords because they need to read well for both your users and search engines. A popular approach can be to separate them.

You can use the keyword, a bar, a tagline, a bar, and your business name, for example. It looks something like this:

"Best Muffin Recipes | Simple & Delicious | ExampleMuffin."

Or, as long as you can do it without it sounding odd to your users, you can do what the website in the image above has done - just use it in a sentence.

H1 Tag

Ensure Your Keywords Show Up In The H1 Tags Too

Your H1 tag is by far the most important piece of text on your website. Search engines can't read your content, but they can look at various components of a website to determine what it's about.

Heading tags such as your H1 are components used to structure your webpages, and in order to understand what your page is about they look to your H1 tag. So, if you want to rank for a certain keyword, you need to have it in your H1 tag without any exception.

Don't get us wrong. You can rank without having your keyword in your H1 tag, but it's much harder. Make it easy on yourself, and practice good on-page SEO habits.