Keyword research should be the basis of any online marketing campaign.
The simple goal of keyword research is to find out what your target audience is searching and what it will take to actually rank for those keywords.
Without knowing what keywords you should be targeting, how will you effectively optimize your website, target phrases for link building, or know what content to develop for your audience?
This post is a three-part series that will cover everything you need to know about keyword research.
In this first section, we’ll go through setting up a spreadsheet for your keyword research and discover the best keywords for both your main website’s search engine optimization and topics for content development.
In the next section, we’ll discuss what data will help you choose the best keywords to target.
The final section will be a compilation of the top posts on keyword research.
Spreadsheet Set Up
The first thing you will want to do is set up a spreadsheet to record your data within.
I’ve set up a basic spreadsheet that you can access. This document has columns for data using all tools mentioned in the first two parts of this blog post.
You can add or delete columns as you wish in order to match your keyword research needs. The columns included are as follows.
- GAKT – Competition (Google AdWords Keyword Planner)
- GAKT – Global Monthly Searches (Google AdWords Keyword Planner)
- GAKT – Local Monthly Searches (Google AdWords Keyword Planner)
- GAKT – Approximate CPC (Google AdWords Keyword Planner)
- SEOmoz KA – Difficulty (Moz Keyword Explorer)
- SEOmoz KA – Competitor 1 (Moz Keyword Explorer)
- SEOmoz KA – Competitor 1 DA (Moz Keyword Explorer)
- SEOmoz KA – Competitor 1 RDLRD (Moz Keyword Explorer)
- SEOmoz KA – Competitor 2 (Moz Keyword Explorer)
- SEOmoz KA – Competitor 2 DA (Moz Keyword Explorer)
- SEOmoz KA – Competitor 2 RDLRD (Moz Keyword Explorer)
- SEOmoz KA – Competitor 3 (Moz Keyword Explorer)
- SEOmoz KA – Competitor 3 DA (Moz Keyword Explorer)
- SEOmoz KA – Competitor 3 RDLRD (Moz Keyword Explorer)
In this section, we’ll cover filling up the columns with keyword and Google AdWords Keyword Tool data.
In the following section, we’ll look at how to narrow down those keywords using the Moz Keyword Analysis tool (or some alternative methods if you are not a Pro member).
Saving the Google Docs Version
If you are signed into your Google account, simply use the File > Save option to save the spreadsheet to your documents and start filling it in with your information.
Downloading Excel and Open Office Versions
If you don’t have Google Docs, or would prefer to save it on your local machine, go to the Google Docs version and use the File > Download As to save it as your desired file type. I’d suggest Excel for best possible functionality.
Section I: Keyword Discovery
The first phase of keyword research involves coming up with new keyword ideas.
Sometimes this is the most difficult part of the process as many people unfamiliar with keyword competition will select very broad words to target such as pizza, hotel, or Los Angeles.
Others will pick obscure phrases that no one will likely search such as SEO/Link Building/Social Media (yes, I’ve seen people trying to similarly over-punctuated phrases).
So the first thing you will need to do is find suitable, related phrases for their business.
You can always start with some simple brainstorming. Look at what the main focuses are on the website and jotting down keywords.
I would suggest doing so in Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet application.
Then, whenever you’re ready to expand on those ideas, continue to some great keyword tools.
Keyword Discovery Tools
The following are a great collection of free and premium tools that will help you discover new keywords related to your website or business.
The free tool from Neil Patel Digital, Ubersuggest, is great for helping you discover new keywords.
To get started, simply enter the keyword or phrase in the tool.
Let’s say we’re researching Social Media Marketing.
Input the phrase and click Look Up.
You’ll get a breakdown of the keyword’s volume, cost per click, and the degree of competition you’ll be facing to rank this keyword.
You’ll also be able to scroll down and see different variations of your keyword phrase.
This gives you a wider view of what you can strive to rank for.
For low budgets, you may want to optimize a low competition, low cost per click option that still gets good results.
Or, you can pick multiple and A/B test them for the best results.
However you use it, this is a great tool to start with.
Google Search Suggestions
Once you have some basic ideas, you can expand upon them by using the freely available suggested search.
Simply visit Google.com and start typing in a keyword in the search box. You will then see ten phrases related to your keyword pop up below as more targeted, suggested searches.
You can continue typing to get more detailed suggestions. As you can see, this will help you with long-tail and, in some cases, even local keyword phrases.
Be sure if you are working with a local client that you change your Google settings to reflect results from their location as Google will assume you are looking for your location.
This is when it is important to be signed out of your Google account for non-personalized recommendations.
To change your location for local keyword suggestions, go to your search settings and add a city/state as your default location.
Just be sure to change it back before doing some local searches for your own personal needs.
Alternative Search Suggestions
Looking for alternative suggested search boxes?
The following search engines have similar suggested search options that appear below the search box when you start typing in keywords.
Depending on your keyword, each search engine will offer different suggestions.
Most people stick with Google as that is the main search engine to target, but it still doesn’t hurt to get additional keyword ideas from elsewhere.
Google AdWords Keyword Tool
The next tool up is the commonly referenced Google AdWords Keyword Planner.
If you have a Google account and, better yet, an AdWords account, I would suggest signing in to those once you arrive on the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to get better results.
To give you an idea, I searched for social media when I was not logged into my account and received 100 keyword ideas.
I searched for it again when logged in and received more than 600.
My suggestion is if you are looking for keywords just for your static website and not interested in the cost per click pricing (CPC), go with the results without logging into Google AdWords.
If you are interested in the CPC pricing and also getting keyword ideas to help with content development, go with the results while logged into Google AdWords.
Here is what each of the columns displayed in the Google AdWords Keyword Tool will tell you about each of the keyword ideas displayed.
- Competition – “The Competition column gives you a sense of how many advertisers are bidding for a particular keyword. This data can help you determine how competitive the ad placement is.”
- Global Monthly Searches – “The approximate 12-month average of user queries for the keyword on Google search.”
- Local Monthly Searches – “If you specified a country or language for your search, this is the approximate 12-month average number of user queries for the keyword for those countries and languages.”
- Approximate CPC – “This is the approximate cost-per-click you might pay if you were to bid on the keyword. The CPC is averaged over all the ad positions.”
You can learn more about the search traffic statistics shown in this tool in Google AdWords Help.
If you want a simple method to see a broader or narrower range of keywords, you can select this option in the filters on the left side of your screen.
You can also select specific Match Types by clicking the “Modify search” tab and scrolling down to the “Plan your budget and get forecasts” option.
Inputting your search term with the added punctuation will change the traffic volume for Global and Local Monthly Searches based on the approximation of traffic that a keyword gets on Google.
- Broad – The sum of the search volumes for the keyword idea, related grammatical forms, synonyms and related words. If you were doing PPC and targeted the broad match for social media, ads would show with any searches including social or media. Organic results would include the same.
- [Exact] The search volume for that keyword idea. If you were doing PPC and targeted the exact match for social media, ads would only show if someone typed in social media but not any other variation of that phrase.
- “Phrase” – The sum of the search volumes for all terms that include that whole phrase. If you were doing PPC and targeted the phrase match for pizza dough, ads would show for anyone who typed in social media, with or without additional keywords such as social media marketing or about social media. Organic results would include only results including the exact phrase social media.
You can learn more about match types (and some additional ones not on this list) in AdWords Help.
You can also see the difference in data based on the three match types using the phrase social media in order of broad, “phrase,” and [exact].
And if you were to use these match types in a search, you would get 419 million results for a broad match search for social media and only 304 million results for a phrase match search for “social media.”
Going back to the generic term social media, you might want to remove certain words from the keyword ideas.
For example, you may not want to target anything about social media jobs, so you could add the word job under the Negative Keywords tab on the left side of the screen.
Now, you’ll need to export your data.
To do so, simply use the Download button under the Review Plan tab and export to your preferred format.
You can then copy the data from the exported spreadsheet to your keyword research spreadsheet.
You can also get this data for the keyword ideas you generated using SEMrush and suggested search by copying and pasting those keywords into the Word or phrase box and checking the box to only show ideas closely related to my search terms.
Then export the data for those keywords and phrases by checking the boxes next to them under the Search Terms section.
At this point, you probably have a lot of great keyword ideas.
In the next section, I will cover how to use the Moz Keyword Analysis Tool (or an alternative method to get the same information if you are not a Pro member) to get additional data and then narrow down your keywords to the ones that you should most likely focus upon for your online marketing strategy.
Section II – Analyzing and Choosing the Best Keywords
Now that you have a base spreadsheet to use for keyword data entry, let’s look at what’s next.
I want to show you some ways to get even more data about each keyword and further narrow down your results.
Please note that this data will take a bit of time to compile, so you might want to run through the keyword list and remove any obvious ones that you don’t want.
I usually go with no more than 100 keywords for this part of the process.
Keyword Analysis with Moz
If you have a Pro membership with Moz (you can always get a 30-day free trial if you have just one keyword research project to do), then you have access to a very nice little tool called Keyword Difficulty & SERP Analysis.
This tool will show you the percentage of difficulty for each keyword, giving you an idea of how hard it will be to rank highly for it.
You will also see the top ten sites ranked for each keyword, each listed with its domain authority and the number of root domains linking to it.
The latter is really the information that will help you decide which keywords to target.
You can put in five words at a time, and you can now pick between keyword, root domain, subdomain, or page.
Using our keyword phrase “social media management,” you can see the results of the difficulty assessment, search volume, organic click-through rates, and the balance of ranking ease and end results (Priority).
While this information is helpful, it’s not really anything we don’t already know. We’ve already decided we like this keyword phrase.
If anything, this is just a double-check that confirms the basics you found in the AdWords Keyword Tool.
Below this information, you’ll find more keyword suggestions and a SERP analysis of the keyword.
The suggestions are fine for more brainstorming, but we’ll come back to the SERP analysis. That’s the real goldmine.
You can also find a short list of mentions for your keyword at the bottom of the page.
This is useful in letting you know who is using the keyword and how recently they’re created content with it.
While this information is nice, the real competitor information can be seen when you click on the SERP full analysis for each keyword, such as these results for social media company.
I like to open them in new tabs for convenience.
This is the part where you can learn a few things.
First off, you can see who you will be trying to beat.
If your website comes up in this list of the top ten, then congratulations – you’re on the first page for a keyword phrase with a highly competitive keyword difficulty of 61%.
If you’re not in these results, you can compare your own website’s domain authority and linking root domains to the stats of the sites ranking in the top ten.
Domain authority is a score from 1 to 100. The higher a website’s domain authority, the more likely it is to rank for the keywords it is optimized for.
The linking root domains is the number of unique domains linking to a website.
You can see that the site with the highest authority and linking root domains doesn’t necessarily win the top spot.
But if you want to make #1, your site may need a domain authority of 28 or higher and hundreds of linking root domains to beat the competition.
Another thing you can learn from this is whether a keyword is drawing commercial or informational results.
This means that you will learn whether your keyword is being searched for commercial purposes (meaning that someone wants to find a product or service) or whether it is being searched for informational purposes (meaning that people are looking for information, not a product or service).
For social media company, the results include seven actual social media consulting companies and agencies.
Comparatively, if I do a full analysis of the keyword phrase “what is social media” you will see that the first page of results is purely informational. All of the results are from highly authoritative domains.
So if you are a social media company, you will probably want to target the phrase social media companies for your main business homepage.
You will also want to create some content based around the phrase what is social media and place it on highly authoritative domains such as YouTube and SlideShare to see if you can get it into the rankings for a phrase searched potentially by a million people monthly.
Alternative to the Moz Tool
If you’re not interested in a premium tool, then you can simply look up each keyword and look at websites ranking on the first page of the results.
If you’re interested in the domain authority stats, you can get some using another Moz tool called Open Site Explorer. You’ll get a limited amount of stats for free accounts though.
Or, you can use the free version of the SEOmoz toolbar – just use that and compare it to your own website’s domain authority.
At least with this information, you can still determine the commercial vs. informational usage of a keyword plus some basic stats to compare against your own website.
Putting It Together in the Spreadsheet
The final part of the process is taking the spreadsheet and interpreting the data.
I like to use the Conditional Formatting in Excel to highlight cells a certain color based on the numerical value in the cell.
You simply highlight the cell range you want to compare, then go to Conditional Formatting > New Rule.
Select the 3-Color Scale Format Style, and change the Lowest Value / Highest Value color when applicable.
Certain fields in your spreadsheet will need to display the fact that a higher number is good whereas a lower number is bad.
For those fields (global & local monthly searches), you will want to leave the color settings as default, as shown below.
Other fields in your spreadsheet will need to display the fact that a higher number is bad whereas a lower number is good.
For those fields (GAKT – Competition, GAKT – Approximate CPC, SEOmoz KA – Difficulty, SEOmoz KA – Competitor DA, SEOmoz KA – Competitor RDLRD), you will want to change the lowest value color setting to green and the highest value color setting to red, as shown below.
Once you’re finished, you can highlight the top row and add a filter by applying the Sort & Filter > Filter option.
I like to start with selecting the filter for the SEOmoz KA – Difficulty column and sorting it from smallest to largest.
This way you get the following (click on the image below to see a larger view):
As you can imagine, having the highlighting and sorting options would be very valuable when looking at a spreadsheet with up to 100 keywords.
You could quickly see which keywords have the most searches and least competition or the least competition but most searches.
You could then move over and look at the actual competition for each keyword if you were shooting for #1 rankings.
Making the Final Keyword Choices
My suggestion when making the final choice of keywords is as follows:
- If your website is commercial (offering products or services), go with keywords that seem to have the most commercial intent based on the current ranking websites. If your website is informational (blogs come to mind), go with keywords that have the most informational intent.
- Look for a “sweet spot” of high search volume in conjunction with low-difficulty/competition.
- Look at keywords with high search volume with top competitors that have lower domain authority and backlinks.
- If your website is already ranking on the first page, but not in the top 5 spots (or beneath other search result areas such as images, local results, etc.) and the keyword has good search volume, focus on getting those keywords and phrases to move up.
Sometimes, it’s not the actual decision that is the most difficult – it is actually compiling the data that takes the most time! Also, don’t forget to take the keywords that are more informational and use them for content topic ideas!
This concludes our method of discovering keyword ideas, analyzing them, and then choosing the best for your website.
We have noticed that there are many various ways to perform keyword research, and you have to try out different analysis methods to see which ones speak to you the best when deciding on keywords.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a master list of the top 40 keyword research posts of the last year.
Section III – 40 Top Keyword Research Posts of 2017
In the first section of the keyword research series here at Kissmetrics, we took a look at keyword discovery and how to use a combination of several tools to discover new keywords and phrases for your website and content.
In the second section, we took those same keywords and analyzed keyword difficulty and competitors to determine which keywords would be best to target.
Since keyword research can be done in a variety of different ways and everyone has to find the way that is easiest for them, the final section is dedicated to the 40 top posts on keyword research in 2017.
This list will guide you to even more keyword research tools, strategies, and keyword optimization.
Mix and match then for the best keyword discovery and analysis for your business and clients.
Keyword Research Process & Guides
- KEYWORD RESEARCH FOR SEO: The Definitive Guide – An in-depth look at how keyword research is the modern day market research. A detailed look at the thoughts, fears, and desires of your target market.
- How To Do Keyword Research for SEO — Ahrefs’ Guide – For high return SEO, focus on your Keyword research with this helpful guide.
- How to Do SEO Keyword Research in 2017 – Continuing the SEO trend, this guide turns toward long-tail keywords and how to find the right ones for your business.
- The Big, Easy Guide to Keyword Research for Businesses – WordStream makes life easy with this step-by-step look at how you can research keywords for your business that aren’t completely useless.
- 3 Keys to Modern Keyword Research: Update Your Strategy and Tools for 2017 – Keyword strategies have changed a lot in the last decade, which means yours should too. If you’re in the market for an update, start with this post.
- How to Do Keyword Research in 2017 – Short, simple, and to the point. A practical guide for the modern marketer.
- Keyword Research Challenges and How to Master Them In 2017 – Technically written in 2016, but still good enough to make our list. Everyone talks about how to find keywords, but we rarely discuss overcoming the challenges that are in our way. Good insight into powering through.
- Keyword Research: The Definitive Guide (2017 Updated) – Are you really doing SEO if you’re not concerned about keywords? According to Blogrex: no.
- How Mobile Keyword Research Will Help You in Search Engine Rankings – Neglect mobile keywords at your peril. Here’s a primer on how to find and implement keywords that will rank your website.
- 5 Keyword Research Tips to Help Your Rankings on Google – With over 65% of searches containing between 3-5 words, finding the right phrase to optimize for is more important now than ever. Use this practical advice to stay competitive.
- A Simple Guide to SEO Keyword Research – Another look at the basics of keyword research and how to do it.
- 4 Practical, Actually Doable Tips for SEO in 2017 – CRM giant salesforce lends some strong words to why you should modernize your keyword strategy. Learn how to avoid keyword stuffing or underutilized phrases with this post.
- 3 Simple and Effective Keyword Research Tips – This post takes a different approach to keywords. Instead of using tools, Copyblogger recommends getting to know your audience – and remembering the nature of language.
- How To Do Local SEO Keyword Research – Tapping into the local market can still be done with keywords. But not if you’re doing it wrong.
- Use Keyword Research to Drive Your Content Operation – A brief look into keywords generated and designed for Google Voice Search.
- The 25 Most Expensive Keywords in AdWords – 2017 Edition! – Sometimes optimizing for a CPC keyword can be expensive. Here’s the top 25 for all of 2017.
- How To Develop A Topic-Centered Keyword Strategy – Yet another way to consider keyword research: topic. Learn how to find the keywords that fit a wide or narrow topic for your blog, then execute it with these tips.
- Why Keyword Research Is the Most Important Part of Digital Marketing – If you’re still on the fence about whether keyword research is important, this avalanche of facts will change your mind.
- The 100 Most Popular Google Keywords [Infographic] – For the data junkie in us all, this infographic shows which keywords were most utilized in 2017. Did one of yours make the top 100?
Keyword Research Tools
- The 7 Best Keyword Research Tools of 2017 – The right keyword tool makes all the difference in the world with digital marketing, which is why AdEspresso compiled this list of seven powerful tools.
- How to Use Keyword Explorer to Identify Competitive Keyword Opportunities – An even more in-depth look at how Moz’s Keyword Explorer can help you find a competitive edge.
- 10 Free Keyword Research Tools to Help Plan Your New Site – Here is my knowledgeable contribution to finding keywords for a new website design. Nothing beats a strong start.
- 105 Experts Reveal Best Tools For Keyword Research in 2017 (With Leaderboard) – Robbie Richards asked 105 experts what their favorite keyword research tools were. The results did not disappoint.
- What is The Best Keyword Research Tool in 2017? – Not only a good look at the best tools of the year, but a compelling case for why and how you should be doing your keyword research.
- The 10 Best Free Keyword Research Tools for Startups – Coming to you from Crazy Egg, Neil Patel is once again laying down some great advice for startups looking to keep their keyword game strong.
- Our 2017 Guide To Keyword Research Tools – MarketMuse adds their opinion to the growing list of keyword research tools. A handy guide to complement the rest of your research.
- Top 8 Tools for Keyword Research in 2017 – A short overview of some of the last year’s most important and useful research tools.
- Top 10 Amazon Keyword Tools to Boost Your Amazon Sales in 2017 – For the Amazon sales teams, this guide is a jewel. Learn how to research and use keywords for this super seller’s platform that can help you win.
- The 2018 Guide to E-commerce Keyword Research – E-commerce is still rapidly expanding, which means the keyword landscape is important. Learn how to stay ahead with this mid-year winner from A Better Lemonade Stand.
- 10 Timeless Keyword Research Tips – Kick it old school with these timeless and enduring keyword research tips.
- Tutorial: Find the Most Important Keywords in Your Market – This helpful tutorial from competitor research leader SpyFu can help you narrow down which are the most important keywords for your business.
- How to do Keyword Research the Smart Way: Targeting Interest and Intent – One of our own, but we think you’ll love it. Learn how to not just research for now, but also for the future thoughts of your audience.
- Goodbye Google Keyword Planner, Hello Keyword Research Using PPC – A reverse look at using PPC strategies to conduct keyword research, instead of doing the keyword research first.
- High-Speed Keyword Research – For the time-pressed marketer who still needs a thorough keyword strategy, the SEO experts from Yoast offer up this helpful guide.
Keywords for Content & Product Development
- The Lazy Writer’s Guide to 30-Minute Keyword Research – Sometimes you need to write keyword-optimized content in a pinch. Here’s a guide that will help you find the right keyword without wasting any time.
- 5 Powerful Keyword Research Tools Compared (And How To Use Them) – Blogging without a proper keyword is like driving with your eyes closed. This guide helps bloggers branch out and use all of the tools at their disposal.
- 10 BEST KEYWORD RESEARCH TOOLS FOR 2017 – Take another dive into keyword research for blogging and SEO with this post from BloggingThing.
- How to Do a Keyword-Driven Content Audit – Content audits can be tedious. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be profitable, or not touch on keywords. Here’s what to look for and how to find it.
- What’s The Best Free Keyword Tool? – We all love free. It can’t be beat! That’s why this guide takes a look at the free keyword research tools of 2017 and helps you find the best.
Keyword Metrics and Ranking Reports
- Agency Analytics – This powerful platform lets you pull metrics and data from over 30 different sites. And it shows you how to use that information to help your SEO.
- Authority Labs – With this reporting tool, you can check your keyword rankings in massive amounts and get the results in a single spreadsheet.
Free e-books on Keyword Research
- Learning SEO from the Experts – Hubspot never fails to impress, especially when it comes to educating the masses on digital marketing. This guide has a lot of basic, helpful insights on keyword research that any marketer can use.
- Search Engine Optimization for beginners – If you’re looking for a one-stop masterclass for all things SEO and keywords, read this e-book. You won’t be able to put it down.
I hope you have enjoyed this guide to keyword research. Now it’s your turn – what is your favorite method of keyword research and the tools you use?
About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.