The Beginner's Guide to Keyword Research - DigitalWebProperties

Keyword research is one of the most important aspects of content creation. Just think about it for a second: it all starts with the words that the user types down in the search engine. If you don’t use relevant keywords, Google will never be able to display your useful content. ‘But search engines aren’t the only traffic sources’ you might say. Of course they’re not, but while some people use social media, forums and community websites every day, you can be sure that all of them turn to Google when they have a question.

Content that addresses specific topics and questions should be accompanied by a comprehensive keyword research plan. You can write the most interesting and unique article in the world. As long as it isn’t accompanied by relevant keywords and meta-data it will never find its way into relevant SERPs.

Sketch of website optimization steps

“Keyword research is one of the most important, valuable, and high return activities in the search marketing field. Ranking for the right keywords can make or break your website.” – Source: Moz.com

There are dozens of keyword research guides out there. Some are relevant, some not so much (or at least not anymore). That’s because there will never be an “ultimate guide to keyword research”. This is a process so complex and specific that it would be possible to generalize it in one guide. As Google evolved over the years, so has keyword research. 

In the following guide I will present some of the strategies that we, at DigitalWebProperties, use to identify relevant & profitable keywords. But first, let’s find out what valuable keyword actually means.

What Makes a Keyword Valuable?

The first thing you need to do in order to determine the value of a keyword is to take a closer look at your own site. Trying to rank for irrelevant keywords isn’t a sound strategy. You should try to determine what niches and topics are relevant for your site. Take out a piece of paper and start writing down topics that your readers might be interested in. If you think that the phrases you used on your list are relevant you can proceed with the technical and financial aspects of keyword research.

Keyword research illustration

Valuable keywords are usually determined according to three parameters: volume, CPC (cost-per-click) and Competition. Of course, there are also other parameters worth considering, like silo value, seasonality, trends etc, but for the initial stages of your keyword research it is enough to judge CPC, volume and competition. Once you have determined around 30-50 potential keywords you can take a closer look at each.

  • Cost-Per-Click: represents the amount spent for an advertisement that receives a click. It gives you an idea about how many advertisers are paying publishers (website owners) when a relevant ad is clicked and makes it possible to estimate ROI.
  • Competition (according to SemRush): a parameter which determines how difficult it would be for you to appear in the top positions of SERPs by judging pages that are already ranking for that keyword.
  • Volume: estimates number of users who searched for that keyword in a set time-frame.

The Hidden Value of Long Tail Keywords

For a very long time, webmasters tried to rank for keywords such as “SEO” or “marketing”. But as exciting as it can be to rank in the top 5 results for short keywords which get around 5000-10000 searches every day, the truth is that short-tails represent less than 30% of searches performed online. The other 70% consists of searches made with long-tail keywords. That’s because internet users have specific needs that require specific keywords.

Long tail keywords demand graph

In addition to this, long-tail keywords may receive fewer daily searches, but they convert a lot better than short ones. The explanation is simple: the user searches for something extremely specific, finds what he was looking for, and as a result, he converts. Continuing our example with SEO, a person who searches for only this word is probably not ready to convert, but a person searching for “SEO link-building tools” probably will.

Lastly, long-tail keywords are easier to rank for. Short-tail keywords have already been used by huge brands which are extremely difficult to beat, but long-tails don’t receive the same amount of competition. We will come back to this a bit later.

Note: When you are optimizing your content for a long-tail keyword you will automatically start ranking for its shorter version as well (with ‘SEO link-building tools” you will also start ranking for “SEO link-building”, “SEO”, “link-building tools” etc.) 

With these things in mind, let’s take a closer look at the keyword research process and check out some cool strategies.

1. Conducting Keyword Research with SEMRush

SemRush is one of my favorite tools for keyword research and performance monitoring. Keyword research isn’t only about finding cool new phrases to include in your articles. You must monitor the keywords that you are already using to see how your content is performing in comparison to others. Is your content ranking well and for relevant phrases? What can you do to rank even better? From the Organic Search -> Position Changes tab you can check out New & Lost Keywords. 

In addition to this, from the Organic Search -> Positions tab you will see if the keywords that you are already ranking for lost their ranking on Google’s top 20 results. Now that you know where to look for keywords that you are already ranking for, let’s see how you can use SemRush to find new keywords:

#1 Keyword Scrapping

Semrush screenshot of keywords

The first thing you can do would be to simply start searching for short-tail keywords. The software will automatically pull-out a list with relevant phrase match keywords that you can sort according to Volume, CPC, Competition, Trend and Results. As I mentioned before, you should take a look at CPC and Volume first. As long as your CPC is over 0.50the keyword should be profitable.

The only problem with this method is that you will have to brainstorm a lot. In addition to this, you might not find good keywords, because SEMRush only pulls out exact phrase matches. In other words, if you are writing for a tech blog, and searching for the term “tech” on SemRush, you will not be able to find information about keyword such as “smart-phones” etc.

#2 Competitor Analysis

Semrush screenshot of keyword competition

A more efficient way of finding keywords with SEMRush is by spying on your competition. Chances are that you are not the only website on the internet that writes about SEO (or any other topic). So you can find competing websites that are already ranking for valuable keywords. Go back to your Organic search -> Overview Tab and write your site’s URL in the Search Box.

Scroll down and you will see the Main Competitors tab. The competition level is calculated according to the number of overlapping keywords. By clicking on the highlighted “SE Keywords” for each competitor you will be redirected to a page with the website’s keywords. Sort them according to Volume and start extracting relevant ones.

Keyword Difficulty Tool 

SemRush has one more nifty little tool that you should definitely use during your keyword research: the Keyword Difficulty Tool. You must enter each keyword per line (up to a maximum of 100 keywords). The tool is amazing in its simplicity. It will display a percentage (between 0 and 100%) which tells you how hard it would be to seize your competitors in organic search.

Semrush screenshot for keyword difficulty tool

As useful as the tool is, you shouldn’t take it for granted. It would be a good idea to manually check at least the top 5 competitors.

Will my Article Rank Well for the Given Keyword?

Identifying new keywords is important, but before you start writing you have to determine if it’s worth your effort. Take one of your keywords and write it down in SemRush’s search box. From the overview tab you will see an “Organic Search Results” tab. This tab displays the TOP 20 results for that keyword. You have to manually check each and every one of these links to see what makes them rank well in search engines:

  • Is the content very long?
  • Is the website authoritative?
  • Are there many links pointing to that page?
  • Did it receive many social signals?
  • Does it include alternative content (infographics, videos etc.)?

… and the list could go on.

Once you determine what is making that page rank so well, you can start working on your content strategy. You should never try ranking for a keyword if you can’t surpass your competition. SemRush makes scaling competitor extremely effective.

2. Conducting Keyword Research with Keyword Planner

Keyword planner options screenshot

Another tool that I use for keyword research is the Keyword Planner tool. Unlike SemRush, this web-based software makes it possible for me to customize searches according to location, language, keyword filters, date range etc. This makes it possible to accurately determine what keywords are still trending or estimated to perform good in the future. This is something that SemRush doesn’t do. Whenever I feel like I have a keyword that will become popular in searches (example: virtual reality), and I don’t find it in SemRush, I try Google Keyword Planner.

From the tool’s dashboard you have four options:

  • Search for new keyword & ad group ideas
  • Get search volume for a list of keywords or group them into ad groups
  • Get traffic forecasts for a list of keywords
  • Multiply keyword lists to get new keyword ideas.

How to use the keyword planner tool by Google

I generally use the first and fourth options. From the “search for new keyword and ad group ideas” you can begin your search (according to keywords, pages or product categories). Google Keyword Planner displays a small graphic with traffic volume for a pre-defined time and beneath it you will see a list of keywords and ad group ideas sorted according to Avg. monthly searches and relevance.

It’s really important to set the values in your keyword planner right. This is the bread and butter of your campaign. Here’s what every filter does:

  • Landing page: most adwords users choose this option to find keywords relevant for their homepage or pages.
  • Product Category: you should definitely play around with this option as it will allow you to access Google’s internal database of key phrases.
  • Product or Service: although the tool suggests inserting broad keywords, that will pull-out very competitive keywords. It’s a good idea to write two or three slightly different keywords such as “SEO marketing” and “Social networks”.

The targeting option should be set for the country that you are trying to get traffic from. We mostly write for United States audiences. “Negative keywords” refers to keywords that you don’t want on your list.

Keyword planner trends and volumes for keywords

Once you choose your filtering options you can click search – it is possible to change filtering options during the search as well. Now comes the tricky part: the results page. Many so-called SEO experts say that you should jump directly to the Keywords tab. That’s a grave mistake. From the “Ad group ideas” you can check out groups of keywords that belong to the same family. For example, you can click on “SEO company” to check out all the keywords that are relevant to the domain.

Unlike SemRush, which only pulls out exact-phrase keywords. Google Keyword planner will show you all keywords that are relevant for your query (according to the seed keywords). Keep in mind that the Adwords tool was initially designed for advertisers, so it has plenty of features that you won’t need.

Which Keywords are Lucrative?

When I conduct keyword research with Google’s Keyword Planner I look at a few things:

  • Suggested Bid: you should choose keywords that have higher suggested bids. They will definitely bring more lucrative traffic to your site.
  • Competition: this time, competition refers to the number of people who are bidding for that keyword.
  • Search Volume: obviously, the higher, the better.

3. Keyword Research With UberSuggest

keyword suggestions in ubersuggest tool

Ubersuggest is one of the best free keyword suggestion tools available right now. It’s more of a brainstorming tool rather than a research one, because it doesn’t display any metrics such as volume, competition or CPC. However, it does suggest keywords based on web searches, trending topics and more. All you have to do is to type in your keyword and the tool will come up with a number of results. Clicking on the plus will expand the list to more detailed keywords. Finally, you can extract the keywords that you are interested in and use them in your articles.

This pretty much sums up the basic keyword research process. If you are interested in more detailed guides, that will help you create relevant articles with profitable keyword, or if you want to learn how to use rank for multiple keywords with one article, please let me know!

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Ioana Sima

Chief Marketing Officer at DigitalWebProperties
Ioana has been with the DigitalWebProperties team from the very beginning. She started out as a copywriter, and despite the fact that her academic background was completely unrelated to her position within the company, she worked hard to acquire SEO & digital marketing knowledge. She loves being part of the DWP team and says she’s very lucky to be surrounded by such talented individuals.
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