What Is Keyword Research? (And How To Do It)

Updated June 24, 2022

Keyword research is an important step for website owners. Whether you want people to sign up for your newsletter, buy your product, contact your office or comment on your blog post, you need to have the right keywords so that your website can be found by your target audience. In this article, we explain what keyword research is, its importance and steps to perform effective keyword research.

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What is keyword research?

Keyword research is the process of researching popular online search terms that people type into search engines. Knowing what these search terms are is important so that they can be used strategically in website content to help the website rank higher on the search engine results pages (SERP). Keyword research is a key practice of search engine optimization (SEO).

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Why is keyword research important?

For best practices, keyword research should happen when campaigns, content and future projects are still in the planning stage. SEO experts prioritize keyword research because it helps in the development of other important work. Keyword research is important because you can:

  • Get people to find you: The most important thing a website needs to be successful in is traffic. The right audience is crucial for website goals to be met. Goals could be newsletter sign-ups, selling products or getting in touch with one of the company's representatives to name a few examples. Accordingly, being at the top of the search engine page where a person can easily click on your website should be your top priority, and this is what using the right keywords can do.

  • Write focused content: With the keywords in mind, you can write content that is focused on the keywords you want to rank for. Search engines now favor quality content rather than articles that have been stuffed with keywords. For example, you are more likely to rank well for an article about boats if it has subheadings with the right keywords and is useful to the reader. This is compared to an article that prioritizes keyword density (putting the focus on how many times the keyword is included in the article) but brings no value to the reader.

  • Decide on name features: The right keywords can also help you decide on the names of your product features. Product features are descriptions of your products.

  • Direct your campaigns: Keywords can help you decide on the direction your campaigns should take. With the right keywords in mind, you can create better-branded campaign names, pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, better ad groups and more.

  • Know your audience: Having the right keywords is crucial because it means you have a good understanding of your target market. By researching keywords, you can understand what your target audience needs and how they are searching for it.

  • Understand the demand: Keywords can give you insight into how high the demand for your product, service or content is. Moreover, you will gain an understanding of how high the demand is for certain keywords and how fierce the competition is. Use high-ranking keywords with low competition to have a better chance of ranking high on SERP.

  • Explore the subject: Keyword research provides insight into the subject you are researching. It is a way of exploring the topic and expanding it as you come across the many different words people are using to find information about your topic.

  • Convert traffic: The right keywords will bring the right audience to your website, making it more likely for this traffic to turn into conversions. Conversions are the goals you set for your website. A conversion for a fashion blogger may be getting the audience to sign up for a weekly newsletter or click to buy shop items. For an insurance company, conversions may be getting readers to contact the company to set up an appointment.

Once you have keywords, your research should continue. Language terms may change and new keywords may easily form. So when you are about to write a new article or start the process of creating a new campaign, it is important to do keyword research again to continue to create content and campaigns that are targeted to the right audience.

Related: 7 Ways To Market a Small Business

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How to do keyword research

The following is a step-by-step guide of best practices when doing keyword research:

  1. Start with intent.

  2. Make a list.

  3. Figure out the monthly search volume.

  4. Study the related search terms.

  5. Include long-tail keywords.

  6. Check on the competition.

  7. Establish your keyword list.

1. Start with intent

In the early days of keyword research, SEO experts focused on writing content with words that matched the keyword exactly. Today, more importance is given to the user intent rather than exact matching. For example, “how to build a website” may be a key term for you, but with this term, you are still not sure of exactly what your target audience is looking for.

The best thing to do in this case is to further research to find a better, more specific term, such as “how to build a website using WordPress” or “how to build a website that is mobile-friendly”. The more specific your keyword and content is, the easier it will be to get the right people to come to your website.

One way of finding the intent of your readers is by typing the keyword in the search engine. The minute you start typing, suggestions will come up. These suggestions can be your new keywords.

2. Make a list

Think about what you want to rank for. For a parenting website, for instance, you might wish to rank for "working mom tips," "newborn tips" and more. Make an extensive list of the topics you want to rank for, as this list will be important during your keyword research. Use subcategories for the list. For the parenting blog, for example, put "working mom" related words under one heading and "newborn" related words under another.

A good way of coming up with a good list is to put yourself in your audience's place, also known as getting to know your buyer persona. The latter is an exercise practiced by SEO experts and marketers to find out who the target audience of a particular website is and where they can reach them. To find out who your buyer persona is, you should answer the following questions:

  • Who is already buying your product or reading your blog?

  • Who is following you on social media?

  • Which countries are most of your readers from?

  • What is your competition doing?

  • What problem are you trying to solve for your target audience?

  • What motivates your target audience?

  • What is your audience's goal?

  • How can you help solve your audience's problem and help them reach their goal?

Use the answers from these questions to build an ideal persona who will represent a part of your target audience.

3. Figure out the monthly search volume

Once you have your list of topics, use online tools to learn the monthly search volume of the words on your list. The volume of the words will let you know how important these topics are for your target audience. You might also learn that your audience is using other words to search for your product. For example, you listed “feeding a newborn” as a possible keyword but through analytics, you learn that your audience uses the term “bottle-feeding a newborn” more often.

Besides using the list you made, it is also a good idea to learn what your website already ranks for. Online analytics tools will help you identify the keywords or phrases that are leading people to your website. This is an important step, as you can decide to make these terms a part of your official keyword list to use them for content and other campaigns for your audience to find you.

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4. Study the related search terms

Another step to your keyword research is to study the related search terms box found at the end of the results page. For example, search for “baby clothes.” Click enter and then go to the bottom of the page. There, you will find a list of related search terms such as “organic baby clothes,” “cheap baby clothes, “designer baby clothes” and more. These terms can be right for your target audience, and you may want to use them as part of your keyword list.

5. Include long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are highly-specific phrases that your audience uses to find specific content. For example, “organic baby clothes in Australia” is a long-tail keyword. Since they are so specific, it is important to include long-tail keyword phrases in your keywords list. If a person is using a specific search term, it means the person isn't looking for something generic. If you have that specific content, product or service, then you can achieve conversion.

When compiling your keywords list, it is essential that you have both keywords and long-tail keywords for each subheading of your topics. For example, for the parenting website, under the "working mom" subheading, you would have “working mom” as a keyword, as well as “working from home jobs for mothers” as a long-tail keyword.

6. Check on the competition

Knowing what your competitors are trying to rank for will give you insight into your industry. Moreover, you may find that you can use the keywords your competitors aren't giving as much attention to. For example, you have just launched an online fashion magazine. The keyword “fashion magazine” may drive a great deal of traffic, but it also has high competition. This means that other fashion magazines are using this keyword.

While you cannot begin by competing with magazines that have been online for years, you can take other keywords that have a significant volume but less competition and use those to rank well on search engines. So if “fashion magazine” is a highly-competitive word, you may choose to use “winter fashion magazine”.

7. Establish your keyword list

After you have compiled a long list of possible keywords, narrow down the list to the best terms. Include each word or phrase in your analytics and determine how much monthly search volume they bring. Focus on a balance of volume. Avoid having too many low-volume terms, but also avoid only having high-volume terms. You should have a mix of both.

Once you narrow the list down, then you can start using these keywords in your work. You can start writing blog posts, optimizing pages and creating campaigns that will attract the right people to your website.

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