4-Step Keyword Research Guide,
or how to create a dream list of keywords
It all starts with a word in the search box. This simple inquiring action triggers a chain of events that almost with the speed of light leads to the list with all the possible answers. If you think about it, it is overwhelming how much information is a few seconds away from you — you just have to ask.
Sometimes, you are not even sure what you need, but these vague ideas of yours unearth pretty real pieces of helpful information. It is possible due to the fact that now search engines are more semantic-based than ever. In other words, they understand the intent behind our query.
Here is where the real SEO work begins. It is no secret that keyword research is the corner stone of every SEO campaign. This kind of research has now to be really subtle, which requires lots of work and brainstorming. There are lots of guides out there, sometimes really misleading. I do not claim that my guide is perfect, but I give you the tools and I describe what to do with them to get a result. I hope you can make the most of this guide, and get the very right kind of visitors to your website.
Step 1. Collect the keywords.
At the first stage of your research, you have to collect all the possible keywords to further analyze them and pick the ones that will work best for you. The process may seem to take ages, and the results can be bulky, but there are a few instruments and tricks that can tangibly speed things up.
Identify broad topics.
Open your website or a page that you want to optimize for keywords. For example, if you research for the whole site, go through its navigation and segment the site into the broad topics that best describe the products or services that you offer. There can be brand information, product/service names, product/service category names, and any other information related to what you do that can be interesting and useful for the searcher.
For example, if I take our own website www.link-assistant.com, I will end up with the following directories and seed keywords for them:
|rank monitoring||SEO audit||backlinks||link opportunities||video tutorials|
|keywords||website optimization||link audit||link quality||SEO guides|
As you see, you will end up with a few very broad topics. For one particular part of the website (e.g. a blog) you will have one or two broad topics. Write down 2 or 3 seed keywords that you want to target per each topic — they are the base for your research.
Identify the keywords you already rank for.
If your website is not new, then you most likely rank for some keywords already. Let's get a list of them from Google Search Console. Log in to your account and go to Search Traffic > Search Analytics. Check the Impressions checkbox. Set the Dates filter to show 90 days of historical data. Then click Download to export the report in CSV.
Then, download Rank Tracker or start it if you already have it, and create a project for your site. Go to the Keyword Research module and click Suggest Keywords. Select Google Research Console and import the CSV file you've just downloaded. As a result, you've got the list of keywords you already rank for.
Brainstorm new ideas.
- Rank Tracker's keyword research methods: Keyword Planner, Google Autocomplete, and many more.
Once you have your Rank Tracker project, you can continue to research to make your list of potential keywords comprehensive.
Click the Suggest Keywords button one more time and select the good old Google AdWords Keyword Planner. Fill in your Google AdWords login and password and enter the seed terms that you thought of at the first preparatory stage of our research. Try to use terms related to the same topic at a time to make sure you get relevant suggestions.
Keyword Planner is useful for completing your keyword base. Truly, the tool is great, but it usually gathers the words that are only intimately tied to your basic keywords (everyone searches for these words right now), though ignoring the keywords that are closely, but not directly, related to your broad topics. So what I am trying to say is that you should never use this tool solely, but in a team of other tools.
You can repeat this process using all the twenty (!!) Rank Tracker's keyword research methods. For example, proceed with the Google Autocomplete method. Use your initial keyword list and the keywords you pulled from Google Search Console as the seed terms.
Then, switch to the Competition TF-IDF Explorer that will let you harvest keywords from your top ranking competitors using the TF-IDF analysis.
Try the Amazon Autocomplete research method, especially if you have an e-commerce website. It pulls keyword ideas from the huge Amazon database.
Or, for example, the Common Questions research method that will get for you all the possible questions for your targeted seed keywords that users can ask while searching for something related to your business. When you receive the question suggestions, you can build your content around them.
Remember the "Searches related to" section in Google?
Rank Tracker can pull new keyword suggestions right from there with the help of the Google Related Searches method. It is more or less like Keyword Planner — still, you can dig up something amusing.
Your list with keywords will be constantly enriched; all the suggestions will come along with search volume, competition, expected visits, and KEI. The list will seem really big, but at this stage it is recommended to keep them all — we will do hell of filtering at the later stages.
Whatever you do, you can always find forums where people discuss things related to your business. In other words, while following forum discussions, you can understand what your focus groups are and what they care about.
An easy way to find forums with your target audience is to use the following strings in the search engine: "keyword forum" or "keyword" + "forum":
Once you find the necessary forums, look through the sections it is divided into and read some of the threads to find new topics that make sense for your business and your website.
- Wikipedia table of contents.
Wikipedia can be gold in terms of new topics for a research. Wiki articles are curated by thousands of experts, fans, and people that care about particular things, plus everything is organized into neat categories.
Type in one of your broad topics into the Wiki search and you will end up with one or a few articles. When you open any of them, you will see a table of contents that is divided into sections. That is a goldmine for you. This is what I got when I searched for an "electric guitar":
The article itself usually contains links to related topics:
When you click on this related entry, you will see a new article with a new table of contents. This way you can work through all the possible related topics.
- People also ask.
A "People also ask" box is just an infinity of related questions. Once you click on one of the queries, you receive a few more. After some time, some questions repeat, but on the whole, it is a magic box for new topics.
Step 2. Sieve the data.
By now you should have a list of potential keywords so long that it can take you to the Moon and back. However, not all of these keywords are a good choice for your site. You should select those that have a perfect balance of bringing both traffic and profit. Thus, we have to do some initial filtering in order to proceed to keyword grouping and crafting keywords into your content.
There are two quantitative criteria that can make your list much more refined — the number of words in your phrases and the search volume.
- Short tail vs. long-tail.
Whenever you deal with any keyword research guides, you will definitely see something about short-tail (under three-word phrases) and long-tail keywords (three-and-more-word phrases). It is usually said that short-tail phrases can bring you traffic and no profit (and traffic only happens in case you already rank well), and long-tail — much less traffic and lots of profit.
With short-tail keywords competition will be fierce, but visits will be sporadic and ROI will be rather low. However, if you implement long-tail keywords smartly, the number of visits will be even lower, but the return on your investment will be proportionally higher. You'll be attracting the very right audience that is on the point to convert.
But… There is still one question left. When talking about long-tail keywords, how long is long enough and why? Let me back this one with some scientific data.
There are two insightful research papers on the topic: Web Searcher Interaction With the Dogpile.com Metasearch Engine (published in 2007 but equally useful today), and External to internal search: Associating searching on search engines with searching on sites (a more recent publication from 2015).
These two studies show that about 88% of all search queries used by English speaking people are 1 to 4 words long. Two-word queries are the most frequent. So you see, phrases over 4 words are a bit too long, and most probably they won't bring much less traffic.
- Search volume.
Keyword search volume refers to the volume (or number) of searches for a particular keyword per given period of time.
I would recommend to use Google Keyword Planner to measure your search volume. If you are running an active AdWords campaign, even with the data being imprecise, you still can make relative judgments about your keyword list. For example, if one keyword has more than 3000 searches, and the other — about 1500 searches per month, it is clear that the first keyword is to bring twice as much traffic as the second one.
If you are not an active AdWords campaigner, I know just the hack for you.
- In the Rank Tracker's Keyword Research module, go to Preferences -> Number of Searches.
- Select Get data from: Google Forecast and click OK.
In your dashboard, click Update SEO/PPC data at the top, tick the SEO and PPC analysis box, and click OK. If you update the data for a number of keywords, it may take some time, so in the meantime you can deal with other tasks. But your patience will be rewarded — you will get the exact number of searches, not overwhelming ranges.
Furthermore, keywords with really low search volume (below 50) most likely won't bring any traffic at all, so you can cancel them from your list or tag appropriately.
So, we will do the initial filtering according to the two parameters we have just figured out. We will filter out the keyword phrases that consist of more than four words and have the search volume below 50.
Rank Tracker's Keyword Research module to our help!
- In the Rank Tracker's Keyword Research module, click on the funnel icon at the top right corner of your workspace. A window with filtering options will pop up.
- Under Show results matching… select all; this will ensure you'll only see the records that match all of your filtering conditions once the filter has been applied.
- Click Add filter and select Keyword Length > More than > 4 (four words).
- Click Add filter once more and select # of Searches > Less than > 50 (fifty searches per month per keyword phrase).
- Then click OK. Your workspace will be updated and show only those keyword phrases that are over four words long and have the search volume below 50 searches.
- You can either delete these keywords (Ctrl + A in a filtered view -> right click the selection -> Remove Keywords) or tag them appropriately (right click the selection -> Add tags to selected records -> label them with a meaningful tag, like "Low search volume").
- Remove your filtering conditions by hitting the funnel icon once more and clicking the X button next to every filter you've added. This will reveal the unfiltered keyword list. You can use the Tags column to sort the results, or the Quick Filter bar in the top right corner to display the records that have or do not have certain tags.
See, it took a few minutes to leave out heaps of keywords that most probably will be of no use to you. You can apply other filters to remove or tag other keywords according to different criteria. When you see that you are ready, select the keywords that are to become the semantic core of your website and click Move to Target Keywords Module button in the top options panel.
Step 3. Segment the data.
Believe me, you do not need your keywords to be in chaos. Neatly and logically organized data makes you see things in a more clear way. Thus, I suggest you should expose your keyword list to some segmentation. There are lots of ways to segment your keywords, but the universal ones for all niches are the following dimensions: semantics, searcher intent, search volume, and competition. Let's work with them.
In Rank Tracker go to the Target Keywords module -> the Keyword Map submodule. You can see there so-called buckets — a list of semantic keyword groups that were automatically created for your target terms according to a cutting-age semantic clustering algorithm.
Let's imagine that your website is dedicated to cooking recipes. You can see that the "healthy recipes easy" bucket contains keywords of low competition and has a potential of more than 14,000 expected visits. So you can create a page dedicated to easy healthy recipes, or, if you already have one, you can assign this whole keyword group to this page. This initial semantic segmentation will save you buckets of time.
Operations with keyword groups.
In order to improve the automatically created groups, you can use some of the options that are available to you. You can manually create new semantic groups, merge the existing ones, add new keywords, or move your keywords between groups.
It is also possible to ungroup the buckets and further regroup them according to the degree of their semantic similarity. It means that you can group keywords in large clusters by broad topics (low similarity) or in small, very specific, and closely related clusters (medium or high similarity). And, by the way, you can disable the grouping option whenever you like to.
To ungroup, regroup, or merge several groups, select those you need to change, right-click on them, and in the context menu click Merge groups/ Regroup/ Ungroup keywords from the selected group(s).
To move keywords to a different group, select the keywords to be replaced, right-click on them, and in the context menu hit Move to another keyword group. In the pop-up window you can select one of the existing groups or create a new one.
Segmentation by intent.
When I look at one of my keyword groups "bbq kit", I see the following phrases: "bbq accessories kit", "bbq kit cooler", "bbq kit for dad", "bbq kit amazon", etc. Though all of them are related to the same concept, they convey different kinds of intent. Thus, it is not that efficient to assign all of them to one and the same page.
At this stage of segmentation we need to introduce a new criterion — searcher intent. In order to buy something, people usually go through a few stages:
- Information: "electric guitars" .
First, users are interested in a broader category of the product they need. It is really hard to rank for such keywords due to their high competition. Such queries are purely informational.
- Research: "best electric guitars for beginners" .
Then users try to find out more specific information. The keywords for such queries usually work well for category pages.
- Comparison: "Fender electric guitars" .
Most people try to find a product of high quality at a reasonable price. Here comes the stage of comparison — pros and cons of a product, brand, or store. It is a nice idea to target such keywords with blog posts or reviews to help users make a decision.
- Purchase: "buy Fender Modern Player Telecaster" .
Users know what they want and they are a step away from making a purchase. Such keywords should be targeted with your product pages. It is more or less easy to rank for such long-tail phrases, plus, they convert really well.
So all in all the process looks like this:
Information -> Investigation -> Transaction
Keyword search volume depends largely on which type the keyword belongs to. Try to imagine the relationship with the help of the following chart:
The highest search volume is with informational queries, however, at this initial stage the users are not ready to buy your product or use your service. Queries at the investigation stage have lower search volume, but signal that the user is more ready to make a transaction. Finally, transactional keywords have the lowest search volume, but the users are more ready than ever to make a purchase. As you must have guessed, the queries become longer-tailed along the user intent curve — transactional keywords being the longest (short-tail vs long-tail in effect!).
So the formula for a perfect money keyword should be:
- Max search volume;
- Min competition.
The good thing is that it is not that difficult to tell between informational, investigational, and transactional queries. Depending on their intent, people construct their queries following more or less steady patterns.
Look at the table below. It contains typical lexical indicators for each type.
best ways to
i need to
how do i
how do you
how to … with [product name]
how to build
how to get rid of
how to make
where can i buy
where to buy
where to shop for
with credit card
Fill in the indicators from your own niche, as there can be some specific expressions, and let's do some improvements to our keyword list in Rank Tracker.
- Go to the Keyword Map submodule.
- Click the funnel icon in the top right corner to start the advanced filtering.
- In the dialogue window select "Show results matching any of the following conditions" .
- Add the following filters for all your transactional "indicators" from the table that you have compiled:
- Keyword > contains > [transactional indicator 1]
- Keyword > contains > [transactional indicator 2], etc.
- As a result, you will end up with a list of keyword phrases that contain those words that you specified while filtering.
- Select all these keywords and apply a meaningful tag, like "Transaction". In case you filter according to each type of searcher intent, you can also apply color marks to these keyword groups by choosing Set a Color Marker in the context menu.
Segmentation by search volume and competition.
Now every keyword on your list has two dimensions — semantic grouping and searcher intent, and two metrics — competition and search volume. One more little thing that you need to do — create a new filtering condition, include all your transactional keywords with low and medium competition, sort the keywords in descending order by search volume, and that's it! You have just created a dream list of highly convertible terms.
Step 4. Build a keyword map.
To build a keyword map means to assign your researched keywords to specific landing pages of your website. Does everyone need to do that?
Hell yeah! When you did such a great job making a keyword dream list, you surely want to avoid keyword cannibalization. What is it? Imagine that several pages of your website are relevant to the same search query. In this case, these pages compete with each other in the SERPs for rankings. As a result, the page that can be less important may rank higher than the landing page you specifically target this keyword with.
Thus, keyword mapping will help you to avoid this unpleasant situation with keyword cannibalization and ensure that all your landing pages rank for the right keywords. Plus, it will help to detect page-specific problems. For example, you can see that one of the pages which you assigned a group of keywords to, loses its rankings. This way it is possible to assume that there is an issue with this page and its optimization. You can further investigate and solve the problem surgically or correctively.
And again, Rank Tracker is fully equipped for the creation of a keyword map.
Besides your own expertise in terms of your own website, there is one more factor that you should consider when assigning keywords to landing pages. The factor is Keyword Difficulty.
This metric shows how strong the top ranking pages for any keyword are, and how difficult it is going to be for you to outrank them. In Rank Tracker, the Keyword Difficulty formula takes all the important SEO factors into account: backlinks, social signals, on-page, domain age, etc. The tool calculates the difficulty score for each page ranking in top 10 for the keyword. Then, the average difficulty score for the 10 competitors is calculated — and that's the keyword's overall Keyword Difficulty.
Keyword Difficulty is very important for the process of keyword map building, as it determines whether your landing pages are going to rank well in the SERPs. When you use Keyword Difficulty in combination with the page's SEO authority, you can target the more "difficult" terms with the more authoritative pages.
You can check the Keyword Difficulty of your target keywords the following way:
- Go to the Rank Tracker's Keyword Map submodule, select the keywords you would like to analyze. In case you have hundreds of keywords and want to analyze them all, note that it can take some time.
- Switch to the Keyword Difficulty view in the top right corner of the dashboard.
- Click the Update Keyword Difficulty button on the top.
Once the analysis is done, you will see a difficulty score calculated for each selected keyword.
What you need to do is to target the terms with a higher difficulty score with your most relevant pages — the ones with the most traffic and backlinks. If you are not sure which pages are the most important, use SEO SpyGlass to find out all the links pointing to specific pages of your website.
Ready? Let's assign keywords to landing pages in your Rank Tracker project and build a keyword map for your website.
- Staying in the Keyword Map submodule, select keywords or group(s) that you will be targeting with a single landing page.
- Right-click the selection, and in the context menu choose Assign keywords to a landing page.
- In the pop-up window enter URL of the necessary landing page. When choosing which landing page to assign to this or that keyword, you can simply tick a checkbox to select the page that's currently ranking for that keyword. Or opt for the one with more traffic and authority.
- Repeat these three steps for all your landing pages.
- When everything is done, click on Landing Pages at the top of the list of your keyword groups. You will see your keyword map — the list of landing pages and the keywords you are going to target with each page.
At this point you will see the average Keyword Difficulty and Expected Visits for all the keywords that have been assigned to any given page. Now you can do some final brushing up — move some keywords to more appropriate groups or re-assign some of them to other pages.
That's basically it. You can further monitor how your keyword assignments work for your rankings, and, if necessary, make some corrections.
The good thing about the described procedure is that it is more or less universal for any niche, however, you can apply different criteria for keyword segmentation, for example:
- Branded vs non-branded keywords;
- Geographic location;
- Product line, etc.
You can further combine these dimensions or divide them, however, the process will stay the same — collect the data, sieve it, apply filters, shortlist with tags, and assign the results to the pages. In case you have your own efficient procedure or have tried a similar one, please share your experience with me in the comments.