What is SEO keyword research?

The process of collecting data on the performance of keywords and analyzing that data based on its attributes or features. Then using our findings to drive and improve our SEO strategy.

SEO keyword research is the practice of identifying which phrases are most relevant to your website, and optimizing your content to rank for those keywords. This helps search engines understand the topics and themes of your website, and determine whether your content is relevant to a user’s search query. Keyword research is an important part of any SEO strategy, as it helps you understand what your potential customers are searching for, and how to best target your content to reach them. There are several types of search terms that you may want to target, including:

  1. Generic or Short-tail keywords: These are general keywords that are typically 1-2 words long. They tend to have a high search volume, but also high competition.
  2. Broad match or Mid-tail keywords: These are keywords that are a bit more specific, and typically contain 3-4 words. They have a lower search volume than short-tail keywords, but also tend to have lower competition.
  3. Long-tail keywords: These are keywords that are very specific, and typically contain 4 or more words. They have a lower search volume than short-tail or mid-tail keywords, but also tend to have lower competition. Long-tail keywords are often used by users who are closer to making a purchase decision, and are therefore more likely to convert.

The ultimate goal of keyword research is to find the optimal path forward based on a balance between cost and competition vs search volume and conversion probability.

Main types of SEO keywords

Keywords based on scope

  • Generic keywords
  • Broad match keywords
  • Long tail keywords

Keywords based on search intent

  • Informational
  • Navigational
  • Transactional
  • Commercial

Keywords based on search volume

  • Very low volume
  • Low volume
  • Medium volume
  • High volume
  • Very high volume

Keywords by difficulty

  • Very easy – 0-14%
  • Easy – 15-29%
  • Possible – 30-49%
  • Difficult – 50-69%
  • Hard – 70-84%
  • Very hard – 85-100%

Main types of SEO keyword research

1. Foundational keyword research

This is the initial step on your keyword research journey. The goal is to create a keyword map based on general, broad match and long tail keywords for the core topics you wan to rank for. This will include a list of the top keywords by category for each topic you are researching. The framework will serve as your north start guide as you drill down and deepen your research.

2. Topic based keyword research

Here you focus on the topics and subtopics you want to become a topical authority for. You use your north star topic keywords list and do research for each of those. This should include related search terms, variations, questions, position, SERP features, volume, difficulty, and other attributes as needed. Mapping these at a granular level will create a data set that you can analyze and subsequently derive trends and optimization action items.

3. Keyword research based organic position distribution

You have your north star map and a more granular data set with a range of attributes. Now it is time to take a look at those attributes and see what can they tell you.

Organic position distribution is one of the fairly easy numeric distributions that you can act on. You will usually pull the data for your domain, subdomains, subfolders, and a subset of pages. For example your blog posts or a category of blog posts. Then you will organize your data based on the position for each search term your pages are ranking for.

The close to position one each term it is the more clicks it drives. You can look at it as a page of SERP. Position 1-10 is page one, 11-20 pages two, etc. One of the most common action items from this analysis is to take a look at all your keywords that rank on page two of SERP – position 11-20. See what pages are ranking with these keywords and see what you can do to optimize them so they rank a little bit better and get to page one of SERP – positions 1-10. Optimizations here are usually on content, headings, metadata, internal linking, etc.

4. Keyword research based on search intent

Search intent tells us where in the conversion funnel the user resides. Or what is the purpose of the search – why a user conducts a search There are four types of search intent:

  • Informational – these are searches by people looking for information that are in the research phase of their journey
  • Navigational – searches looking for a specific website
  • Transactional – looking to make a purchase and have an idea what they will buy
  • Commercial – close to making a purchase and still researching options

You can use a tool like SEMrush or another enterprise level crawler to to categorize keyword based on the search intent. You can add the search intent dimension to any type of keyword research. Search intent is essentially an attribute of your data set. Splitting your keywords based on search intent help you produce content around each intent type.

For example, information intent keywords usually lead to evergreen blog type content or current trends and news. Navigational intent terms are for your core summary landing pages like your home page. Transactional and commercial intent relate to your service or product pages and collection or category type pages.

5. Keyword variations research

When you create your initial list of core terms to target, your next step should be to add layer to this list by creating sublists with the variations of the keywords. Variations to your core keywords are an important component of your SEO content. Some will occur naturally as you write content and that is ultimately the best way. But being methodical and making sure you incorporate the key ones as you write can make all the difference if competition for your core topics is high.

6. Related keyword research

Related search terms are another category that should be included naturally in your SEO content. Most pages that rank on page one of Google rank of over a thousand keywords because they are thorough and robust resource for users. This comes from writing good user-driven content and an important technical layer to writing this type of content is covering related topics. Find those topics through your keywords research. This keyword research should inform your content production.

7. Question-type keyword research

The vast majority of online searches are with information intent. Many of those a question-like structure. There are main approaches to capturing some of these searches. Those are blog posts and FAQs. Blog posts usually focus on answering single questions in long-form format, exhausting the topic. If you get that right you can rank well for questions and even get a featured snipped at the top of the search engine page. FAQs focus on giving quick short-form answers to common questions. These usually work best in groups of 5 to 10 at the bottom of your home page or other commercial or transactional intent type page. They make the page better for the user by enriching it with related content. This technique is indispensable especially in high competition topics.

8. SERP features keyword research

SERP features are special entities on the search results page that stand out from the rest of the organic results. You cannot optimize for all of them but there there are certain SEO best practices that give your pages a better chance of ranking for them. Ultimately, the best way is to think of your visitors and optimize for them. This is the very essence of SEO and includes everything: content, UX, technically sound website – the whole nine.

One of the more coveted SERP feature is the Featured Snippet. It stand at the very top of the search results page and it displays an exert from the page it features. The exert is usually an answer to a question, a definition, or the like. Google’s algorithms have deemed the exert the best answer for the given query. Featured Snippets usually include thorough blog posts or webpages that exhaust a topic and with that give the best answer to topical questions.

While getting a page to rank for Featured Snippet is not easy and cannot always work, aiming for it is a good technique in itself. Creating good thorough content about the topic at hand and answering every related question on one page makes for good user experience and often good ranking. So even if you do no get the snippet, your page can still do well and bring traffic to your website.

9. Local keyword research

Local keyword research is a little more challenging because the search volumes can be low and most crawlers do not have a good enough index of them.

What are local keywords? Those are terms that include a location like “yoga studio dallas”, or local intent modifier “yoga studio near me”. The game here is two-fold. You want to use a tool to check for exact variations of locally modified searches and create a database with them – to use in content creation. Part two is data pulls of keywords around your main products and services. For these, split them in a vertical fashion by product or service. Make sure you have a main keywords and a supporting cast of related and contextual terms in each vertical database. Use these terms to create your content, use the exact local variations to enrich it, and make sure to use a location in your headings and content – city, metro area, or other commonly used local designation. Using the state is optional in most cases but there are some case where it is needed to avoid ambiguity.

10. Domain-level keyword research

You want to see what keywords your entire website is ranking for and use attributes, like position, impressions, clicks, volume etc to determine what is the optimal path for further optimization. For smaller sites you can start in Google Search Console and get enough data to make some decisions. For larger sites you will need to use an enterprise level crawler, because Search Console does not have enough data. Pull the data and analyze it. Check the bright spots and the not so bright ones and everything in between. One way is to look at what your rank for on page two of search and assess your pages that fall in that category. Chances are if you improve their content in some way you can make them rank on page one and get more clicks. Another way is to compare this data to competitors and see where you are lacking. This is is your fundamental snapshot and you have to continuously evaluate and optimize.

11. Subfolder keyword research

We are drilling down. If you have good website URL structure you will be able to get data on what keywords a specific section, or group of pages under a specific parent, is ranking for. Say you have page grouping for our product, category and blog pages. You would want to see how each group is doing and what types of keywords are bringing traffic to these page groups. So you would want to pull data for each either from Search Console for smaller site or by running the subfolder in a crawler for larger sites. For your product pages you will likely get a list of transactional intent keywords. For your category pages you will likely get a list of commercial intent keywords. For your blog page you will likely get a list of information intent keywords.

12. Page level keyword research

We drilling further down to the page level. Above we showed domain and subfolder level research. Now you are looking at each page individually. This is mostly practical for smaller sites but you can also sample from larger sites and then draw conclusions from the sample. You would want to filter for each page in Search Console or sun it through a crawler to see what keywords it is ranking for how well. This can help you better understand what type of content to add to the page so it can rank better. You may want to add content around keywords that you are not ranking well so you can a boost.

13. Keyword research based on volume

One of the most important attributes in your keyword data sets in volume. Volume is one of you key dimensions when consider which keywords to target. Generic and broad match keywords have higher volumes and usually commercial and transactional intent but they ra difficult to rank for because everyone is going for them. Long tail keywords tend to have lower volumes and usually informational intent but they are easier to rank for. Intent is your second key attribute to consider.

14. Keyword research based on difficulty

The second most important attribute in your keyword data sets is difficulty. This is a percentage score and tells you how difficult or easy it is to rank for specific keyword. Generally, the more generic the keyword is the harder it is to rank for it. This is because there is a lot authoritative websites that are ranking well for it and outperforming them is close to impossible.

The more specific the keyword is, that is the longer tail it has, the easier it is to rank for it. A lot of the commercial and transactional intent terms tend to have higher difficulty score. While long tail information terms can be easier to rank for. Local terms can also be easier to rank because you are usually competing with only local competitors. But even local terms can get difficult to rank for in large dense metro areas with a lot of large competitors.

15. Keyword gap research

Keyword gap research focuses on the keywords your site ranks for, that your competitors also rank for. You can use keyword gap research to find opportunities to create new content that your competitors haven’t thought of, or to find new keywords that you can rank for easily. Keyword gap research is a useful way to discover keywords that your competitors are ranking for, but you aren’t. This can help you to identify new content opportunities and ensure that your site is fully optimized for all of the keywords that are relevant to your niche. It’s also a great way to find new keywords that you may be able to rank that your competitors already have content for. This can be particularly useful if your site is newer or less established than your competitors’ sites, as it can help you to find areas where you can outrank them.

16. Cross-channel keyword research

Cross-channel keyword research involves identifying and analyzing the search terms that people use on different platforms and devices. This helps you understand how people are searching for your products or services, and what types of search terms are most popular. This information can help you create a more effective keyword strategy and improve your overall search visibility. There are a few ways to approach cross-channel keyword research:

  1. Use Google’s Keyword Planner: Google’s Keyword Planner is a free tool that allows you to research keywords and see how they perform on Google. You can use this tool to identify keywords that are relevant to your business and see how they perform on different devices and platforms.
  2. Use other keyword research tools: There are a number of other keyword research tools available, such as SEMrush and Moz. These tools can help you identify keywords that are relevant to your business and see how they perform on different devices and platforms.
  3. Analyze your website’s traffic: You can also analyze your website’s traffic to see which keywords are most popular. This information can help you identify trends and understand how people are searching for your products or services.

Where to get the data?

  • Use your own website data from free tools like Google Search Console and Analytics
  • Use keyword research tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, BrightEdge etc

Why is SEO keyword research important?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) keyword research is important for several reasons:

  1. Helps to identify relevant keywords: SEO keyword research helps businesses to identify the relevant keywords and phrases that people are using to search for their products or services. This knowledge enables businesses to create content that matches what people are searching for, thereby improving their chances of being found by potential customers.
  2. Increases visibility: Using the right keywords in your content can improve your search engine rankings, thereby increasing your visibility to potential customers. This is because search engines use keywords as a key factor in determining the relevance of a webpage to a user’s search query.
  3. Helps to understand user intent: SEO keyword research helps businesses to understand the intent behind a user’s search query. This knowledge enables businesses to create content that meets the user’s needs, thereby improving user engagement and satisfaction.
  4. Improves website traffic: By using the right keywords, businesses can drive more traffic to their website from search engines. This traffic can then be converted into leads or sales, thereby improving the business’s bottom line.

In summary, SEO keyword research is an essential part of any SEO strategy. It helps businesses to identify relevant keywords, improve their search engine rankings, and drive more traffic to their website.