Keyword research is one of the most critical stages of your inbound marketing journey.
Fail this one and you’ll be creating content for keywords that do not match with what your actual and potential customers are looking for.
Do keyword research right and you’ll have an actual chance to meet the needs of your customers.
Now, this is not rocket science, but you have to be systematic.
That’s why we’ve created a three-step method of our own, which consists of
- Valuation and
We’ve come up with this keyword research method by having read tons of articles by the leading SEO experts and having tested the ideas in our client projects ourselves. In our method,
- You first produce a long list of Keyword Ideas,
- Then you evaluate the usefulness of each one
- And select the ones that are the most useful for your purposes.
The first part is about creativity, not criticism. Just list down whatever you think may serve your purpose and move on. The weeding out part comes in evaluation phase and there you instead should be ruthless.
So let’s dive in.
To start with, think about your Buyer Personas: who are they, what do they regularly look for and which words and phrases do they use to look for that information?
- The Expert type of persona performs general types of searches,
- While his Manager usually wants product details for comparison.
- The Top Management, instead, is interested in the long-term investment-related content.
You may have your industry-specific variations of these personas, but whoever they are, the different personas will use different keywords to search for things. When you take a look at your Buyer Persona document, you should already see a few ideas there.
Types of search intent
Now, the first thing to focus on is the search intent. Traditionally (although that is changing), three main search intents have been recognized:
- Informational, and
Navigational intent is about the user wanting to end up on a website, but not necessarily to buy or know anything.
Informational intent is about the user wanting to know something specific about the keyword he’s using in the search (for example: “what is <keyword>”, or “how to <keyword>”).
Transactional is about the user wanting to interact with something related to the keyword, e.g. register, download or buy.
In this article, we mainly focus on the buying intent.
Keywords for the two other intents should also be researched, but our first focus here is about the buying intent.
Core terms and modifiers
To begin the actual research, take those first transactional ideas as core terms (or seed terms or head terms).
The core terms are also keywords that look obvious: that you may want to rank at #1, but you know that too many sites already share the same desire so competing with them may not be feasible at all.
That’s why you should add modifiers.
These are associated with your core terms and they make up longer phrases that are usually easier to rank for (because not as many sites want to compete with you for those rankings).
For example, if a British client was interested in video production services,
- The keyword research could begin with “video production” as a core term. Even ”video” only might be interesting to look at just to see what all the topics are that are associated just with the word “video”. At this stage the intent is only navigational: the user wants to end up on a specific site and get information.
- Since the persona here is interested in specific services in a specific geographical area, it makes sense to set “video production” as the core term and persona-specific modifiers to create the initial list. For example
- the Expert in that company might be looking for “video production company in London”,
- his Manager might be interested in “video production rates in the UK” and
- the Top Management probably wants to hear about “video marketing ROI (or return on investment)” as compiled by specific research and/or consulting organizations throughout the globe.
Finally: you can, of course, use your imagination to come up with the persona specific keyword ideas, but rather than assuming, just ask your customers directly to verify your own thoughts. What words did they use when they first landed on your site?
Now, open a spreadsheet and note these Buyer Persona specific core term plus modifier combos down as Keyword Ideas (KI:s). Do it by persona, so
- in the first column, note the persona name
- and in the second column the keyword idea.
- Put different keywords in separate rows.
- Third, create a “Status” column and earmark each keyword as an “idea”
Then, check your website analytics: which pages are the most popular? Are there any words that appear in the titles or addresses of the pages that look like keywords? Add them to the KI list with “Analytics” as the Source.
Put your KIs in thesaurus.com and check what synonyms are related to each. Pick the most relevant and note “Thesaurus” as the Source.
Put each of the KIs in Google, scroll down to the bottom of the page where it says “Searches related to <your keyword>”. This is a very important one because compared to just plain ideas and synonyms, related searches are ones that Google users have actually performed. Check what’s behind each related search by clicking on each link and pick the ones that display results among which you would like to rank.
(The reason that I’m seeing the monthly volume and the Pay Per Click rate here is that I’m using Chrome and a plugin called “Keywords Everywhere”)
Go to Wikipedia and search for articles with your keywords. The “Contents” section may already give you another set of ideas, but do check out the whole page and its sections.
Think about what internet forums might be relevant for your purposes. Some of the global ones include Reddit and Quora. Also, you may find your industry-specific forums by searching for “<your keyword> discussion forum”. If you are operating locally, do a similar search with your native language.
In the forum, do a keyword research and consider how the topic is being addressed in the results. It’s important to understand what choice of words people are actually making when discussing your type of services and products.
Finally, browse through the categories and consider using some of the words and word pairs being used in the thread headlines.
Next, go to keywordshitter.com and paste your (selected) words in the search box and hit the “Start job” button. This one’s really abundant so first try with one keyword only and see what it comes up with, and then give it a go with word pairs and groups.
Finally, you may want to try out some of the professional keyword research tools out there. Those include Semrush, Ahrefs and Keyword Explorer, which will all produce you very informative results. They basically behave in a similar fashion, i.e. they find you variations of your keyword ideas.
The second good thing is that they also immediately display a monthly keyword search volume, competition, difficulty, opportunity or another attribute, which you can all copy-paste or export-import to your list.
If you decide to use them, keep two things in mind:
- Their data samples are different. This means that you may get different results for the same keywords from different tools. That’s why you should check out at least a few tools to see their results variation.
- There may not be a free version available or if there is, the free version only allows you to perform a few research rounds per day. The paid plans, in turn, start from around 100 euros a month, though you might want to first test their free trials.
By the end of this phase you will have a long list of KI:s to choose from and it’s time to narrow them down.
Before proceeding, however, remove the duplicates by using the “Remove Duplicates” function in your spreadsheet.
Now is the time to evaluate, valuate, criticize, prune and debate. By the end of this phase, you should have a short list of a few dozen or so keywords to choose from your final list.
First, review the list and change the status to “Exclude” for the ones that you definitely know are not appropriate for your purposes. Filter them out and continue with the rest.
Next, add a column called “Volume“. To get the figures, create an account (unless you already have one) in Google Keyword Planner.
If this is your first time using GKP or you have no Google ad running, a red bar will appear on the top of the page. This can be ignored. It’s just Google’s way of encouraging you to spend money on it.
Click on “Get search volume data and trends“, paste the keyword idea list in the search field, hit the “Get search volume” and copy-paste the range figure from the “Avg. monthly searches” in your “Volume” column. There is also a Download button if you want to export the information.
Alternatively, you can outsource the whole phase to a virtual assistant, because admittedly this is very labor intensive.
I can recommend Virtuaaliassistentit in Finland. Submit your query through their contact form or chat or let me know and I’ll have their representative contact you.
Next, add a “Difficulty” column. This one shows you how difficult or easy it is to rank for each keyword. The closer the value is to zero, the easier it is to rank higher than your competitors.
To get the values, head to Moz’s Keyword Explorer and paste your keywords into the search fields.
Here, there’s a catch: Keyword Explorer only allows you to perform a few searches per day for free. So, unless you do not want to pay, this phase will take some time. Alternatively, this is another reason to outsource the work to a virtual assistant.
Third, research the Click Through Rate. You can get this also from Keyword Explorer as it is indicated by their Opportunity value. Here, the higher the value is to 100, the easier it is to get traffic.
Finally, on your own, record your own “Importance“. Regardless of what the tools say, you know your industry and your customers the best, which is why you may also know those keywords that work or don’t.
It’s up to you what grading you want to use (1-2 or 1-3-9 or 25-50-75-100) as long as you give appropriate weight to each keyword.
By now, you list should begin to look like this:
Now it’s time to choose. There are different methods here.
First, by using the spreadsheet filters, identify your HLSI keywords. They are those that are often looked for (High volume), where difficulty is Low, that have a Strong CTR opportunity, and that are Important for you.
Try to find at least one per persona, so you have an actual keyword to address them with.
Then, you should strive to identify at least a few per each of your Customer Journey phase.
First, pick those that associate your products, services or organization with what people look for early on in their Customer Journey.
Here, they are just starting to look around, finding information, but have no intention to buy yet. These keywords are more informational and navigational, i.e. they point the user to a direction, but will not result in a purchase.
In our example, an Expert might get online and look for “video production companies in <target area>”, “best video marketing campaigns of <previous year> or “how to buy video production services”.
Then, strive to identify whether any of the keywords are related to the consideration phase, where the customer wants to compare his options. These should be the same or similar to your competitors’ keywords so that the customer can compare apples to apples.
Third, consider which are the ones meant for conversions. These are the closest to making a sale or ones which people use to actually buy something up front.
In our “video production” example, they might be cameras, their accessories or research reports that people want to buy from research organizations to organize their buying process or to evaluate their ROI afterward. Pick the ones where your offerings actually meet a purchase intent.
Decision phase keywords are usually related to your specific product or service offerings. The monthly volume might be small, but these are strong candidates to consider because if a customer happens to use them, it means he/she is checking out whether you specifically have an offer, a trial, demo or similar available.
Thus, you could use them for example on a landing page. They might also be ones, where the core term is your or your organization’s name plus a modifier, for example, “feedback about <your company>” or “<your service> experiences”. People love social proof and these might lead the visitor to your testimonials (I hope you have one!) or Facebook page.
Fourth, you might also want to factor in a certain type of well-known industry individuals, who have a strong online presence and who you may want to influence. These are thought leaders, influencers and star performers in your global and/or local industry. They may recommend services and products out of free will or have an agreement with one of the suppliers or an affiliate program that brings them advertising income. They may use specific language and use a certain choice of words to express themselves.
The influencer section also includes the related competitions in your field where your colleagues, competitors and other experts participate. They have a “language” of their own, which may include some of your keywords. The competition organizers are an interesting reference, because their events generate a lot of traffic through their website and in social media. By using the same keywords you can “join” that traffic.
If you still have several options left, you can consider the Purpose.
Head keywords: these are the ones that work well in a headline. They are usually single-word keywords with huge search volume, like “videos” or “services”. Due to the volume, they rarely convert well, but you absolutely need to use them in your content headlines.
Body keywords: these are the 2-3 word combinations that are more specific and convert better, such as “video production” and “service processes”.
Long Tail Keywords: these are the ones you found through Google’s Related Searches, but they are also the longer phrases you may want to pick from your long list of ideas. An LTK might be “video production rates in London” and “service process maturity level definitions”.
While you work on your keyword research list, keep changing the “Status” value for which you set a column in the beginning. Leave ideas as “Idea”:s, and label serious candidates with e.g. “Consider” and the final selections as “Agreed”, or whatever values work for you.
Last: increase relevance
PHEW! So that’s our keyword research method.
Now all you really have left to do is to either
- Optimize your existing pages to match the newly selected keywords or
- Create new content that matches the keywords you do not yet rank for.
The optimization instructions are available in here.
All right. For more information about Keyword Research, you can read this How-to article, this Step-by-step video by Moz or this article by Brian Dean that gets you even deeper into the details.