Beginner's Guide to Keyword Research
We've just published a major overhaul of our "Beginner's Guide to Keyword Research" at Ahrefs Blog, and I thought it might be useful to give you folks a brief TL;DR here at BigSEO.
Chapter 1: Keyword research basics
Nothing to see here.
You already know what keyword research is and why it is such an important part of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), right? :)
Chapter 2: How to find keyword ideas
We believe this process should be boiled down to the following 4 steps:
• Brainstorm 'seed' keywords – these are words and phrases that define your industry and would likely appear in most searches that your prospective customers will perform online. So if you sell coffee machines, some good seed keywords to start with are "coffee machines," "coffee equipment" and simply "coffee."
• See what keywords your competitors rank for – your seed keywords would help you to identify your competitors. These are websites that already rank in Google for the keywords that you want to rank for. Once you have a list of competing websites, you can see all the keywords that they rank for in Google and the pages that bring them most of their search traffic by using a proper SEO tool. (I recommend to use Ahrefs … for obvious reasons.)
• Use keyword research tools – while your competitors are probably the best source of keyword ideas to get you started… You might also get a lot of value by discovering keywords that none of your competitors have covered yet. Just put your seed keywords into your keyword research tool of choice (I still recommend Ahrefs btw) and it give you a HUUUGE list of search queries that contain your seed keywords in them (or somehow relevant to them).
• Study your niche – while your competitors and keyword research tools will likely give you enough keyword ideas to keep you busy for years to come… You might want to discover emerging trends before they appear in keyword research tools and before your competitors will cover them on their websites. And for that you'll need to study your niche. This means hanging out on places where your target audience is hanging out and learning what bothers them. For example, there's a subreddit
r/Coffee where people are discussing stuff that you won't necessarily find in any keyword research tools.
Chapter 3: How to analyze keywords
Let's talk about keyword metrics and some of the things that (hopefully) you didn't know you don't know.
• Search volume – First and foremost, it's the number of searches of a given search query per month, not the number of unique people searching for it. Also, it's a rounded annual average, which can't possibly match the "impressions" number that you see in Google Search Console for a given search query. And, finally, not all searches will result in actual clicks on the search results.
• Clicks – Tells you the average number of monthly clicks on the search results for a given keyword. Those clicks will be distributed between organic search results and ads. Sometimes the number of clicks might be bigger than the number of searches. That happens when people click multiple search results, rather than clicking just one (or not clicking on anything at all).
• Traffic potential – Pages don't rank for just a single keyword. Whatever keyword you rank for, there likely are many more other search queries that mean exactly the same. And your page will likely rank well for all (most?) of them, and get some clicks from each (most?) of them. And while search volume would often correlate with total traffic to a page, the cases where it does not are much more common than you might think.Here's a good example from my recent tweet.
• Keyword Difficulty – There's absolutely no way that a simple two-digit number will magically predict your chances of ranking for a certain keyword. Don't trust any tool that would advertise their Keyword Difficulty (KD) metric this way. There's no better way to assess keyword difficulty than a manual review of the Search Engine Result Page (SERP). What a KD metric can do is give you some information about the SERP before you even look at it. In Ahrefs ' case – KD refers to an average number of referring domains among the top-ranking pages. Simple and straightforward.
• Cost Per Click (CPC) – If you really care about this metric you'd rather use AdWords. Any third party tool will show you CPC metrics that are pretty outdated. That is because of the nature of this metric. Unlike search volume, the CPC can go up and down pretty much any minute, if someone decides to bid (or not bid) on a certain keyword.
Chapter 4: How to target keywords
Let's say you have a bunch of search queries that are very similar in nature or belong to the same topic. Should you create a dedicated page for each of them? Or should you target all of them with one page?
And what kind of page is likely to rank for a given keyword anyway?
To answer these questions you need to do two things:
• Identify the parent topic
• Identify the search intent
Here's how you do this:
Put your similar keywords in Google one by one and see if there's an overlap between pages that rank for these keywords:
• If you search in Google for "how to make whipped coffee" and "what is whipped coffee" you'll see that the top-ranking pages are basically the same. So you don't need to create a dedicated page for each of these keywords, both can be targeted with one page.
• But if you search for "how to make whipped coffee" and "whipped coffee without sugar" you'll suddenly notice that the SEPRs are quite different. So each of these keywords will require a dedicated page of its own.
2. Search intent
Most articles about search intent teach you about "informational/navigational/transactional" grouping of keywords by search intent. And while it does make certain sense, it is not particularly actionable.
When trying to rank for a certain keyword you should review the pages that already rank there and answer the following three questions:
• What is the right content type? (blog posts, product, category, landing pages, videos, tools, etc)
• What is the right content format? (how-tos, listicles, news articles, opinion pieces, reviews, etc)
• What is the right angle? (this one doesn't have set categories unfortunately)
Nailing the search intent is extremely important for ranking well.
EXAMPLE: We used to target the keyword "backlink checker" with a simple landing page with a "sign up for $7 trial" button, and we never ranked above position #8. But then we turned that page into a free backlink checker tool and our page shot up to #1 in a matter of weeks.
Chapter 5: How to prioritize keywords
Keyword prioritization isn't exactly the final step in the keyword research process. It's more something that you should do as you go through the steps above. As you're looking for keywords, analyzing their metrics, and grouping them, ask yourself:
• What is the estimated traffic potential of this keyword?
• How tough is the competition? What would it take to rank for it?
• Do you already have content about this topic? If not, what will it take to create and promote a competitive page?
• Do you already rank for this keyword? Could you boost traffic by improving your rank by a few positions?
• Is the traffic likely to convert into leads and sales, or will it only bring brand awareness?
That last point is a particularly important one. While search volume, traffic potential, difficulty, and search intent are all important considerations, you also need to consider what traffic from that keyword will be worth to your business.
Here at Ahrefs we came up with a simple "business potential score" on a scale from 0 to 3, where:
3 – Our product is an irreplaceable solution to the problem;
2 – Our product helps quite a bit, but it isn't essential to solving the problem;
1 – Our product can only be mentioned fleetingly;
0 – There's absolutely no way to mention our product.
As a general rule we try to avoid targeting keywords with business potential 0-1 and only focus on keywords in the 2-3 range.
One other mistake that lots of newbie SEO users make when doing keyword research is they focus on low-difficulty keywords only.
You should always have short, medium, and long-term ranking goals. If you only focus on short-term goals, you'll never rank for the most lucrative keywords. If you only focus on medium and long-term goals, it'll take years to get any traffic. You need to find the right balance.
Let's wrap this up
As you can probably tell, most of the ideas and concepts that we're sharing in our "Beginners Guide" aren't new to most seasoned SEO users.
But if you need to train a new employee, which resources do you send their way, to make sure they will get the RIGHT frameworks for performing a proper keyword research?
Hopefully our guide will become your go-to resource for these cases from now on.
PS: I didn't put a link to the full guide published at Ahrefs Blog, and I think you folks know why.
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