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Keyword Research: How To Identify The Right Keywords For SEO

Keyword Research. This is really where it all begins. You’ve probably already audited your site to make sure you’re not shooting yourself in the foot with any technical or obvious content issues that are limiting search visibility, and now you need to really focus on where your efforts will lie in terms of keyword groups to rank for.

Good keyword research can make or break your long-term SEO efforts. It will impact everything from keyword mapping to your link-building strategy.

Like anything, keyword research will take as much time as you let it. There are a lot of great tools to really help you decide on what keywords to target and how to prioritize the high number of keywords that you might find.

This post is all about doing good keyword research. How to find keyword opportunities, how to calculate their opportunity and difficulty to rank, and ultimately, how to deliver this data to your clients.

The Importance of Good Keyword Research

Keyword research will determine the keywords that your SEO efforts focus on. It lays the foundation for your on-page SEO, including mapping, relevancy, and page-specific optimization recommendations, while also dictating what type of link-building you may need to do to stay competitive enough to rank for these keywords.

You can waste a lot of time and money if you build your efforts on bad keyword research – which happens more times than you’d like to know. But don’t worry; we’ll cover some methods and information to make sure you can make the best-informed decisions on what keywords to target.

Different Types of Keywords

It’s important to understand that not all keywords are created equal, and different types of keywords should be categorized and grouped differently depending on their type. Understanding these groups will help you prioritize your keywords after doing the research.

Head Keywords

Head keywords are typically shorter, more general, and higher competition and search volume keywords. Examples include search engine optimization or even link building. While these may be great keywords to rank for, it’s important to understand that they are very general, and the searcher intent may vary considerably between people who are searching for them.

For example, if someone searches for SEO – are they looking to buy SEO services? Or are they looking to learn more about SEO? Maybe they are doing a school project on the topic, and they need to cite some data, or maybe they are looking to get involved in the industry, and they are looking for companies to work with. As you can see, the intent may not be consistent.

Long Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are typically, well, longer and have a more focused intent. An example may be search engine optimization software or link building strategies that work in 2023.

As you can see, these are a little more focused than the head keywords. They have a bit more specific searcher intent. Someone searching for link building strategies that work in 2023 is likely looking for, well, strategies that will work now in terms of link-building for SEO.

Usually, these types of keywords have lower search volume but are also much less competitive. They also typically have a higher conversion rate if you match your content specifically for what they are looking for.

Information Keywords

Information keywords can be both head keywords or long-tail keywords, but the one commonality is that when someone searches for them, they are usually simply looking for information.

Cloth Diapers: That’s an information keyword.

How to cloth diaper: That’s an information keyword.

Should I cloth diaper?:¬†That’s an information keyword.

Similar to head keywords, these usually have higher search volume, and while ranking for them is a great way to get in front of many people and build a high-quality audience, they aren’t going to convert as well as buying keywords.

Buying Keywords

On the other hand, some keywords are very buying-focused. We’ll call these buying keywords. They are action-oriented and typically have a much higher conversion rate.

Cloth diapers for sale: That’s a buying keyword.

Buy cloth diapers online: That’s a buying keyword.

Best cloth diaper: That’s also a buying keyword.

Buying keywords often have buy or purchase within them, but they don’t have to. They can be looking for the best of something or looking for reviews of one product or another. People typically search for these types of keywords further along in the buying process after they have done their preliminary research on a topic.

When someone searches for should I cloth diaper, they are looking for information; once they make a decision on yes or no, they may then search for best cloth diaper for my newborn, which is more action-oriented and will result much better in a conversion.

How To Find Potential Keywords

Now that we understand the importance of keyword research and the differences in types of keywords, we can start actually doing the research and finding some of the keyword data we will need.

Doing good keyword research takes into account the following:

  • The actual keyword
  • The search volume for the location in which we compete.
  • Searcher intent for the keyword
  • Difficulty to rank the keyword
  • Our current rank

The first step, however, is finding the keyword, and that’s what we’ll focus on here. For this, we can use a number of tools.

Google Keyword Planner

The Google Keyword Planner is a great free tool that lets you view keyword and search volume data. It is built primarily for paid search so you can ignore the competitive and cost per click information as it will not apply specifically to organic search (although the CPC is always good to have when chatting about the investment with a client).

keyword research

As you can see from the image, you can input some potential head keywords, and it will provide you with the search volume and additional related keywords. You can go through the list to find ones that match well with your website and business or that of your clients.

Keep the keyword and search volume for each term that is applicable in a spreadsheet, and we’ll come back to the data later.

I’ll provide a detailed video on the Google keyword planner in a later post.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is another great free tool that you can use to identify potential keywords. This tool is similar to SEMRush below in the sense that it will pull keyword data based on your website and where it shows in the search results.

google search console keyword research

You can see from the image above that the Google Search Console has a lot of keyword data for your website. You’ll see where you currently rank and how many impressions and clicks you receive.

I love using this data to identify low-hanging fruit. Are there keywords that you rank on the second page for that have high search volume? If so, chances are with some good on-page optimizations, you’ll move on to the first page.

SEMRush Organic Data

Similar to Google Search Console, you can use SEMRush to find keyword data. The benefit of SEMRush is that you can also use it to find keyword data on your competitors. So, while you may not be ranking for anything yet, you can look to see what the industry leaders are ranking for and try to uncover some long-tail keyword opportunities.

SEM Rush keyword research

One thing to note about SEMRush is that you do need a certain level of traffic for it to pick up the data. If your website is brand new, you likely won’t be able to get any data from SEMRush (but you still can look at competitors). We’ll review SEMRush in more detail as well, but you can check out more SEO Tools over here.

Categorizing Keywords Based On SERP Results

Now that we have a good list of keywords (make sure you run the new keywords back through Google Keyword Planner to get updated search volumes), we can add a section on categorization or special circumstances for the keywords. This usually means that they return something specific or unique on the search engine results page.

Google My Business Keywords

These keywords return a 3-pack Google My Business result. These are usually search terms with an added geo-modifier or keywords that Google associates with a local market. Examples could include “lawyers in Chicago” or simply “family lawyers” depending on where you complete the search.

You’ll notice when I search for “family lawyers” I get a 3-pack map result:

3-pack may keyword research

We’ll be sure to note this in the keyword research document so that we know to optimize the client’s Google My Business profile based on our keyword research as well.

Direct Answer Keywords

Another unique result in the SERPs includes the direct answer box. When I search for “what is tenants insurance” you’ll notice I get the direct answer result above the organic search results. This is something to note as it is an additional opportunity when formatting the content on your website.

direct answers keyword research

We’ll create a direct answers and knowledge graph post for more information on this soon.

Video-Based Keywords

Do some queries and keywords return videos high in the organic search results? If so, this is also something to note, as it is a great opportunity to add additional content to the website in order to help acquire more real estate on the front page.

You’ll notice when I search for the term “how to install a washer” I get both a direct answers box and a video result at the top of the organic search results.

video keyword research

Depending on your industry, there may be a lot of opportunities to develop video content to capture more search traffic.

Calculating Organic Competition

Another step we can take in the keyword research process is to identify how competitive each of our keywords is. There are a few ways you can do this, starting with a gut check from looking at the first page when searching for the keywords. The other ways are easier but rely on paid tools.

Regardless of whether you use the tools to check the difficulty, you should always view the search results page for each keyword to see what type of competition you’re looking for and if there are any recurring sites that you see over and over again.

Moz Keyword Difficulty

This is my favorite way to measure difficulty as it comes with a Moz Pro account that typically most SEO professionals will have. All you need to do is head on over to their Keyword Difficulty Tool and put in your keywords. You can check 400 per day and 20 at a time so you’ll be able to get a lot of competitive data quickly.

moz keyword difficulty keyword research

The tool will return a percentage. You can assume 0% is the easiest and 100% is impossible. It’s important to note that this tool is better when used for relative percentages than as values on their own, meaning it’s better to see which keywords are easier to rank for comparatively to your other keywords vs simply having a competition % for a single keyword and using it as a gauge to add it or not.

Long Tail Pro Keyword Analysis

Long Tail Pro is an excellent tool at finding long-tail keywords in general. We’ll be doing a specific video tutorial on LTP at a later time but for now, lets just focus on its ability to generate a score based on keyword competitiveness.

long tail pro average keyword competition

Similar to Moz, LTP uses a combination of factors, including domain and page authority, inbound link count, and on-page ranking factors for each of the top 10 results to determine how competitive a keyword will be.

Calculating Traffic & ROI

This used to be a lot easier, but now, with the introduction of the direct answers box, video results, the GMB 3-pack map results, and a 4th paid ad above the organic search results, measuring click-through rate can be somewhat of a guessing game.

However, based on this data from Advanced Web Ranking, we’ll estimate the top three results to get 25%, 15%, and 9%, respectively.

If you have a search term that generates 1000 monthly searches and you think you can reach, say, the 2nd organic results, you can estimate and average monthly traffic of 150 visits from that keyword alone (not taking into effect any other keywords that will benefit from your efforts).

Assuming the client has a customer value of $1000 and believes they have a conversion rate on paid clients of .5% of total traffic, then you could estimate that the 2nd organic position could potentially be worth $750 per month in additional business.

Are you following along?

If you think you could get 10-20 keywords in the top three, you could use their averages on conversion rates (it’s important to get these numbers based on real data or at least their estimates, not yours) and the overall search volume to estimate the overall ROI of the campaign.

Preparing a Keyword Research Document

You don’t necessarily have to deliver a keyword research document, but I know a lot of SEO professionals and agencies like to deliver it with their on-page optimization document. This document will include all of the data we found on each given keyword (along with some data inputted from the client).

Important Data For Clients

I think, at the very minimum, the keyword research document should include:

  • The keyword
  • Search volume
  • Special results in SERPs
  • Keyword Difficulty
  • Relevancy Scoring from Client

If you aren’t doing the research for a client, you can leave out the scoring, but it is an important part of the process process.

Keyword Relevancy Scoring

Keyword relevancy scoring is simply having the client score each keyword based on how relevant it is to their core business.

While you, as the SEO professional, may have a better understanding of the searcher intent behind the keywords, the business owner may have a better understanding of whether or not that intent, or the keyword in general, fits with the core business.

A simple 1, 2, or 3 scores for not relevant, somewhat relevant, or highly relevant (respectively) will work very well to weed out keywords that may be a waste of time.

Hopefully, this post has helped you understand the keyword research process a bit better, and you were able to get some take-aways to use in your own business. If you have any questions, simply leave a comment below or send me a note on Twitter, and I’ll be happy to answer!

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Adam Bate

Adam is the older brothers here at SEO Brothers. While he is not deep diving into optimizing websites, he's hanging out with his wife and three children in beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada.


  1. Page One Click on July 17, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    Good read! Lately, I find myself using free keyword research tools, like Ubersuggest, Keywords Everywhere and LSI Graph. It seems the search volumes are all over the place depending on which tool your using. I always fallback to Search Console and Adwords to confirm.

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