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How to nail keyword research in 2018

By: Aleksandra Pautaran
June 26th, 2018

Even if you have been dealing with SEO just for a little while, you know that keyword research can be considered as some kind of art, really. So, if you want to occupy your SEO fellas for 5 hours let's say, suggest talking about keyword research methods. I'm telling you, by the time you come, they will still be talking, but most likely, they will not be friends any more 😃.

The whole point is that there is still no sure-fire approach to keyword research. And the whole topic is surrounded with a lot of buzz and controversy. It's like cooking a turkey on Thanksgiving Day, everybody just does it differently. Not that they are all advising you wrong, it's just all about different SEOs preferring different approaches, which are normally based on:

  • An industry
  • A website (authority, the quality of content, the number of pages)
  • Goals and objectives
  • A competitive landscape
  • Budget

Bearing that in mind, I've tried to make this guide kind of "one-size-fits-all" to be flexible and applicable to all the above listed factors. So, without further ado, let's get to the meat of the question kicking off with gathering keywords, certainly.

Collecting keywords

Ok, obviously enough, the very first and right thing to do is trying to collect as many keywords as possible. Don't you worry, we'll arrange a casting for the starring roles further. Still doesn't sound fun? Luckily, there are some tips and tricks that I’m going to share with you to alleviate your sufferings.

  1. Seed keywords

A good thing to start our fishing for keywords with is collecting so-called seed keywords. These are the ones that broadly define your niche. Put yourself in potential customers' shoes and think of the way they could possibly google your product or service. You can also go through your website's navigation and divide each section into some broad topics. Then, come up with a couple of seed keywords for each topic. These ones will be the central elements of your future keyword empire.

  1. Keywords that you already rank for

Just before we start hunting for new keyword ideas for you, it's only logical to spot keywords that already bring you traffic. If your site wasn't made yesterday, I'm sure you have some. Of course, the best place to drag them from is old but gold Google Search Console. The good news is that now you don't need to form a separate file there and then import it to Rank Tracker. Now it can be done directly in the tool!

So, start Rank Tracker and create a project for your site. Move to the Keyword Research module and go to Domain Research. After that, pick Google Search Console in the upper left corner, and hit the Search button. Now the tool is taking some time to drag the list of keywords that have already done a good job for your site within the last 28 days.

  1. Keywords that your competitors rank for

When it comes to SEO, spying on competitors is always a good idea, especially when it comes to such intimate things as keywords. Yes, now you have a possibility to spot the exact keywords that your competitors rank for. By doing that, you can reveal their keyword strategies and enrich yours with some priceless ideas. In other words, this feature is pure gold and has been there only for a month now. So, your sacred duty is to make it your secret weapon. Intrigued? Let me show you how it works.

Just as before, start Rank Tracker and open your project. Then, go to Ranking Keywords under the Keyword Research module and type in your competitor's URL in the field above. You can check either desktop or mobile rankings. After picking one of the following options, click Search. Now give Rank Tracker some time for doing its magic. Once you have a comprehensive list of keywords, you can enjoy a full HD view of your competitor's keyword profile.

The icons you see in the Rank column show that there is a SERP feature that appears for a certain keyword. For instance, if I type "air museums in California" into Google, I can see a featured snippet and Nasa's website in the 1st position, which is exactly what Rank Tracker has just told us.

Defining filtering criteria

Just before we start digging for new keyword opportunities, let me quickly guide you through the process of filtering. That would be logical because you'll need to filter out unwanted keywords after each and every keyword research method that you go for.

Being an SEO, the last thing you probably want on Earth is your keyword list to be the size of the Death Star from Star Wars, right? So, at this stage, we're going to get rid of all the rubbishy keywords that are least likely to bring you traffic and conversions. Keyword difficulty, search volume, and keyword length will be the core metrics to base our filtering on.

  • Search volume

Just want to make sure that you know that search volume is the number of searches a certain word receives throughout a particular time period. Can't help being Capitan obvious and saying that the larger search volume your keyword has, the more traffic it's likely to get. Answering your unspoken question of how to measure search volume, there's a feature in Rank Tracker to help you out.

  1. Simply hit Preferences in the upper left corner and select Number of Searches from the drop-down list.
  2. Then, in the field Get data from, choose Google Forecast and click OK.

  1. Now hit Update SEO/PPC data at the top, then pick SEO and PPC analysis option, log into your Google AdWords account, and click OK. Congrats, now you have the exact number of searches. I would highly suggest excluding low search volume (below 50) keywords from your list because these guys will hardly bring you any traffic.

  • Keyword difficulty

Now let's move on to another parameter that will help us with filtering out all the unwanted staff from our future dream keyword list. Just for your information, Rank Tracker's keyword difficulty metric shows you how hard it's going to be to rank in top 10 results for a certain keyword. Combining it with search volume analysis will be a perfect combo to get super valuable insights into keywords that are both likely to bring you organic visits and comparatively easy to rank for.

While calculating keyword difficulty, Rank Tracker analyses 10 top pages in terms of the following SEO parameters:

  • Page's PageRank
  • Domain PageRank
  • Number of sites that link to page
  • Number of sites that link to domain

With the help of this feature, you can know exactly how hard it's going to be to outshine a certain competitor in this top 10 as well as get the exact keyword difficulty score for each and every keyword. Ok, no more theory, let me show you how it works.

Basically, all you need to do is to pick a keyword and switch to the Keyword Difficulty tab in Rank Tracker's lower screen. After that, click the Update button, and in a couple of moments, you will see your website's page, which ranks for the given keyword in a certain search engine, under the list of your top 10 competitors.

Now that you've analyzed keywords in terms of keyword difficulty, the whole picture is starting to get clearer, but there is still a lot of junk to be thrown away. So, when it comes to filtering, I would say that if keywords have a keyword difficulty score under 33, you need to grab them and run. Those that vary from 34-66 are a bit tricky but still deserve being on the list. Those that are above 66 are definitely not our bros and go to trash with no regrets. Actually, keywords' difficulty scores are very comfortably marked for you with colorful circles from green, which stand for good keyword choices, to red ones, which deserve no time being spent on them.

  • Short-tail/long-tail

I've already touched upon the topic of tails' length earlier in this article. So, just a cheeky little reminder: the longer your keyword is, the less is competition, and on the contrary. According to Ahref's latest study on long-tail keywords, 80% of all search queries are 1-4 words long. Surprisingly enough, the diagram below proves that there's also no particular length that would beat others.

Source: ahrefs

Although 5+ keywords are still quite popular, they're a bit too narrow and will hardly bring you tons of traffic. So, what I suggest doing is cutting them off painlessly.

Well, now that we've defined the criteria of our keyword filtering, let's get our actual keyword X-factor started.

Filtering

Ok, at this stage, what we need to do is to get rid of keyword phrases that have search volume below 50, keyword difficulty over 66, and consist of more than 5 words. Let`s do it!

  1. Click on the funnel icon at the top right corner in the Rank Tracker's Keyword Research module. After that, a window with filtering options will pop up.
  2. Then select all under Show results matching for you to see only the results that match your chosen filtering conditions.
  3. Click Add filter and select # of Searches > More than > 50, then Keyword Length > Less than > 6, and finally Keyword Difficulty > Less than > 66.

  1. After setting all the parameters, hit OK. Now the tool will display only keyword phrases that fit the parameters we've just set.
  2. It's also never late to remove all the filtering conditions. You just need to click the funnel icon once again and hit the X button next to every filter added. By doing that, you'll get back to your unfiltered keyword list.

Well, going through these easy steps will make your keyword list look a bit less scary. But we still have a lot of keywords to collect, remember? So, let's get back to discovering new keyword opportunities for you.

Discover new keywords

Now that you are familiar with the filtering process, it's high time for us to start searching for new keyword opportunities. The success key for assembling a dream team of keywords is carrying out keyword research with multiple search methods. It surprised me how many SEOs out there make a fatal mistake of using only one or a couple of them. With 20 research methods in Rank Tracker, your keyword base has zero chances to be incomplete. Let me quickly guide you through some major ones.

Open your Rank Tracker project, go to Keyword Suggestions, and select Google AdWords Keyword Planner in the upper left corner. After that, you need to enter the seed keywords that we've already figured out. So, log into your Google AdWords account and hit the Search button.

The thing with Keyword Planner is that, as a rule, it only collects keywords that are strongly tied to your basic keywords, and everybody already uses them right now. In this light, I would definitely advice you against using this tool on its own, although it's still super cool.

Now let me draw your attention to Competition TF-IDF Explorer. In a nutshell, TF-IDF is a statistical measure that evaluates how important a certain word is to a document. The importance increases proportionally to the number of times a word is mentioned.

This method allows you to gather your top competitors' keywords using TF-IDF analysis. The algorithm behind is the following: the tool analyses 10 of your top competitors and collects keywords that they have in common.

Now let me show how to make it all happen. Just go to Domain Research under the Keyword Research module, and pick Competition TF-IDF explorer from the drop-down menu in the upper left corner of the tool. Then, type in your keywords and hit Search.

Ok, let's move on to the Google Autocomplete method. In my opinion, it's just priceless, because it really gives you clear understanding of what people type into Google while searching for some products or services related to your business and, which is probably even more important, how they tend to call it.

The feature can be found under the Keyword Research module in Autocomplete tools. You can base your research on the initial list of keywords as well as on the keywords that you providently dragged from Google Search Console.

Can't help admitting the Amazon Autocomplete research method. It works just the same as Google Autocomplete, simply pick an Amazon option like on the screenshot above. This feature can be helpful especially for those who have an e-commerce website.

Another search method that is really worth being included in your keyword research strategy is the Related Questions method. Now this is the point where things get a little bit different. The whole thing with common questions is that they are strongly associated with voice search. And voice search, in its turn, is all about long-tail conversational phrases. With that in mind, it's crystal clear that this kind of keywords needs to be treated differently. And, of course, thoughtful Rank Tracker has the common questions research method to arm you with question ideas.

Simply go to Related Questions in the Keyword Research module, start typing your keywords, hit the Search button, and enjoy a fresh from the oven list of the most frequently asked questions associated with your product or service.

By the way, when it comes to long-tail keywords, they are a lot more specific and, obviously enough, have clearer search intent behind them. What is more, lower search volume also makes them less competitive. So, I can highly suggest you taking them seriously because these keywords are especially likely to bring you relevant traffic and conversions. On top of that, frequently asked questions are super helpful when planning your content because this is exactly what people are interested in.

They say Google's second page is the best place to hide a dead body. Agree 100%. In the age of semantic search, there is hardly anyone who scrolls down to "Searches related to…" section. However, the Google Related Searches method can help digging up some hidden gems for your list.

The feature is super easy to find, it has its own tab in the Keyword Research module. So, go ahead and give it a try.

Keyword Grouping

Now that your keyword list is starting to look more or less presentable, it's high time to give it some structure and put your keywords on separate shelves. What I’m figuratively trying to say is that now we need to group your keywords according to some criteria for turning your promising list of keywords into a dream one.

Just a little disclaimer for you: different SEOs use different metrics for keyword segmentation. However, I would strongly suggest sticking to the following ones:

  • semantics
  • search intent
  • search volume and competition

Semantics

Now that we've defined the core dimensions, let's start off with segmenting your keywords by semantics. Our major task here is to identify contextually and semantically relevant keywords and group them under a single topic for you to assign them to a certain webpage related to this topic. Ok, on to practice.

  1. First, you will need to switch to the Target Keywords module and go to Keyword Map.
  2. Click the Manage the group icon, which is right next to the All keywords tab, and go for Regroup keywords in this group.

  1. In the Semantic similarity field, choose Medium and click OK. Or you may go for the High option if you want your keywords to be extremely contextually relevant.

Now you are nicely supplied with a semantically determined list of keyword groups in order to map them to different pages of your website further, which is a big deal already.

Search intent

The next step is grouping keywords by search intent. Being a website owner, your ultimate goal is probably building a site in a way that every single page will match users' search queries and, what is even more important here, expectations. In order to get into potential customers' brains, you need to understand the difference between three types of search queries, which are: informational, investigational, and transactional.

Informational search intent takes place when a user wants to discover certain information as the answer to a question. Investigational search queries, as a rule, are used to carry out some kind of research or compare certain goods or services. And transactional ones indicate user's willing to do some valuable action like: buying, subscribing, and so on.

No need to think much, the table below will make things clear for you. These are some common indicators, which characterize each type of search queries.

What is more, these phrases above will now help us a lot with filtering your keywords by search intent. Follow me.

  1. Jump to Keyword Map submodule once again, click the funnel icon in the upper right corner, and select "Show results matching any of the following conditions".
  2. Now hit Add filter and set it like this: Keyword > contains > [transactional indicator].
  3. Do just the same with other indicators.

  1. After going through the above listed steps, you'll find yourself armed with a list of keywords that contain the indicators that you've chosen when filtering.
  2. Now it's only right to mark the list with a corresponding tag for your convenience. Just quickly reminding that it can be done by right-clicking a certain word and picking Add tags to the selected record(s) .

Search volume and competition

Obviously enough, the two core metrics to be taken into consideration while carrying out keyword research are search volume and competition. However, in order to simplify things for you, I recommend sticking to Rank Tracker's Keyword Efficiency Index (KEI), which is search volume to competition ratio.

So, what you need to do to segment keywords according to KEI is just to add another filtering condition and set it like this:

Just one last time hit OK. Drumroll… you've nailed it. You've just finished creating a super powerful keyword list. Champagne for everyone!

Building a keyword map

Being through with 100 circles of filtering, segmenting, and sorting, it's high time for a lot more pleasant activity. As you've probably guessed from the title, at this stage we'll be building a keyword map, which means assigning keywords to specific pages of your site. By doing that, you can be sure that your landing pages rank for right keywords. I know you're already tired of reading this article, so let's get straight to business.

  1. In our old trusty Keyword Map submodule, right-click the exact keywords or groups that you're willing to assign to a certain webpage and choose Assign keywords to a landing page.
  2. Now you need to type in a URL of a webpage of your choice.

  1. Repeat the procedure for other landing pages.
  2. Switch to the Landing Pages tab next to Keyword Groups and have a look at your keyword map, which is basically the list of separate landing pages and keywords assigned to them.

P.s. I would recommend assigning more competitive keywords to "stronger" pages like your homepage, for instance. Keywords that you've marked as transactional will fit landing pages where your potential customers can make some valuable action (buy, subscribe, etc.). And, surely, only assign keywords to webpages that are semantically relevant.

Believe it or not, but for now we're finally through with keyword research at least within the frameworks of this article. Now you only need to sit and watch how your keywords perform and make some corrections on the go.

Sneak peak into the upcoming update

And for dessert, let me treat you with a super cool update, which will definitely bring your keyword research to a whole new level. The thing is, there will be a new section called "Keyword List" added to the Keyword Research module. So, what all fuss is about? This submodule will automatically collect 100% of your keyword ideas from the all keyword research activities that you carry out. This new feature will be of the greatest help when it comes to:

  1. A very detailed keyword analysis
    Basically, it means that you'll be able to work on your keywords before the Keyword Map step. That will ensure you to assign only highly profitable keywords to your webpages.
  2. Saving content ideas
    There's no point in moving new keyword ideas straight to your Keyword Map. Soon you'll have a possibility to keep them safe and sound in your Keyword List until it's their turn.
  3. Forming a so-called "negative" keyword list
    Every time keyword research is carried out, you will need to work only on newly arrived keywords, not on all the keywords that you have in your project. Isn't that the best thing ever?

Answering your unspoken question "when?", the feature is scheduled to appear in the tool not later July 17. So, get excited!

I would appreciate a lot if you share with me your keyword research experience or maybe methods that you find cool because the topic is really huge. Ok, no more empty chatter, see you in the comments! And may the force of SEO be with you.


By: Aleksandra Pautaran