Keyword Research: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

Beginners Guide To Keyword Research

As a blogger, I’m sure you’ve come across the term ‘keyword research’. But perhaps you’re not quite sure what it entails?

In short, keyword research involves finding the keywords (or search queries) that represent your site and your blog.

And once your research is done, you can start optimizing your content for those keywords, so it appears in the top search results.

Sure, there are plenty of tactics you can use to boost your rankings but it all starts with this. In time, your efforts could result in a significant increase in traffic to your blog.

Before we cover the keyword research process in depth, we’ll take a look at what keywords are, the different types of search queries that exist, and the difference between short and long tail keywords.

Let’s get started.

What are keywords?

Keywords are words and phrases that describe what your content is about.

In blogging and SEO terms you can think of keywords as the linchpin between what people are searching for – their search queries – and the content you are providing.

In a moment we’ll take a look at the different types of keywords, but first, let’s look at search queries.

What are search queries?

Search queries are the words and phrases that you type into a search box. According to WordStream, there are three types of search queries:

  • Navigational (Go)
  • Informational (Know)
  • Transactional (Do)

Navigational

A navigational search query is often called a ‘Go‘ query because it’s used when people want to find a particular website or webpage. For instance, I’m sure you’ve heard a brand name come up in conversation and thought to yourself I must check their website later. So you enter a specific term, like ‘Blogging Wizard‘, into the search bar:
1 Navigational Query

Note

Google will recognize your search intent is for a quick hit and will only display the top 7 results rather than the usual 10. Try it and see.

Informational – Research related (?):

An informational search query is all about people researching topics and finding answers. Hence it’s also called the ‘Know‘ query.

Some examples of these research queries are:

  • You want answers to questions: “How do I write a blog post?
  • You’re doing research: “What is content marketing?
  • You want to solve or fix a problem yourself (DIY): “How do you restore a page in WordPress?

Transactional – Buyer related ($):

A transactional search query is used when people are ready to make a buying decision or become a lead. These are called ‘Do‘ queries because an action is imminent.

Some examples of these buyer intent searches are:

  • You want the Best, Latest, Fastest, Smallest:
    • Best DSLR camera under £500
  • You want to compare A vs B:
    • Canon T6 vs Nikon D3400
  • You want a Discount or Coupon:
    • Canon EOS discount codes

Notice how these are more specific and punchy.

Short tail vs long tail keywords

I’ll let you in on a secret.

When I started blogging and heard the term ‘keyword’ I thought it referred to a single word. So, when someone asked, “What keyword are you targeting on your page?” I’d give a one-word answer like, “WordPress.”

That’s how I thought it worked back then.

Now I know different. A keyword can be one or more words.

Keywords fall into three categories:

  • Short tail, also called Head
  • Medium tail, also called Body
  • Long tail

The term ‘long tail’ comes from the so-called ‘search demand curve‘ – a graph, that plots all keywords by their search volumes – that has the appearance of long tail:

2 Ahrefs Search Demand Curve

This example, from SEOPressor, highlights the difference between short, medium, and long tail keywords:

3 Long Tail Keyword Chart

  • Short tail keywords usually consist of one or two words; for example, ‘WordPress themes’. These keywords are broad and generic, but often ambiguous, with a high search volume.
  • Middle tail keywords usually consist of three or four words; for example, ‘WordPress themes for blog’. They are more specific than short tail keywords but have less search volume.
  • Long tail keywords usually consist of four or more words; for example, ‘free responsive WordPress themes for blog’. These are more detailed and very specific, but the search volume is even lower.
Note

I’ve used the term ‘usually consist’ because the number of words is not important. It’s the search volume and specificity that determine whether it’s a short or long tail keyword.

You’ll notice the conversion rate increases as the ‘tail’ increases. That’s because long tail keywords have more chance of matching the search query.

It’s easy to be seduced by the high search volume of short tail keywords, but they usually face fierce competition.

Try searching for the three terms above and see how many results you get for each one. Here’s what I found:

Keyword Search Results Average Searches/Month
wordpress themes 10,100,000 164,232
wordpress themes for blog 3,450,000 90
free responsive wordpress themes for blog 423,000 20

Later on we’ll look at evaluating search volume and competition in your keyword research, but for now, you can see it’s better to use medium and long tail keywords.

The keyword research process

Now you know about the different types of search queries and keywords, it’s time to dive into keyword research.

There are four main parts to the Keyword Research Process:

  1. Find the seed
  2. Search for keywords
  3. Check volume and competition
  4. Sort into topics

I recommend using a spreadsheet (Excel or Google) to keep a record of your keywords as you go along. As we move through each step, we’ll take a look at some of the other tools you can use to help you.

Part 1 – Find the seed

To start your keyword research, you’ll need some seeds or ideas. The goal here is to find the words and phrases that your audience and customers are interested in and using.

You need to go hunting. But where?

Go to the places online where your customers hang out. Depending on your niche, it could be:

  • Forums
  • Reviews
  • Wikis
  • Quora
  • Reddit
  • Emails
  • Blog Comments
  • Facebook Groups

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Amazon reviews

Checking customer reviews on Amazon provides plenty of ideas as to what people are interested in. So, for example, if you wanted to find ideas for content marketing, you could check Content Chemistry by Andy Crestodina (which I highly recommend).

Here are a few snippets from the Amazon reviews:

4a Amazon Snippet
4b Amazon Snippet
4c Amazon Snippet
4d Amazon Snippet

When you summarize the highlights from above, you get this list of ideas:

  • Optimizing blog posts
  • Increasing web traffic
  • Writing tips
  • Creating headlines
  • Keyword research
  • Connecting with content creators
  • Connecting with content promoters
  • Connecting with influencers
  • Guest blogging strategy
  • Optimizing landing pages

Not bad for starters!

Quora questions

Use the search bar in Quora to see what questions people are asking about a topic. For example, when you enter the term ‘WordPress plugins’, you’ll see these types of questions:

5a Quora Questions

5b Quora Questions

5c Quora Questions

And if you look on the right-hand side of the screen, you’ll see a Related Questions section:

5d Quora WP

5e Quora List

Wikipedia

Wikis are an excellent source of ideas that are all curated and arranged into categories. Here’s how to use Wikipedia to find some ideas on the topic of cricket.

1) Head over to Wikipedia and type in a broad topic; for example, cricket:

6a Wiki Cricket

2) Look for the “contents” section of the page:

6b Wiki Cricket

3) Take a look at each section, and you’ll find some ideas:

6c Wiki Cricket

4) Some sections link onto other pages so that you can go deeper. For example, ‘Types of match‘ leads onto ‘Forms of cricket‘:

6d Wiki Cricket

5) When you check the Contents section on that page, you get even more ideas. Take a look at all the types of Amateur cricket:

6e Wiki Cricket

Facebook groups

People are always asking and answering questions in online communities like Facebook Groups. Here’s a snapshot of answers from a Freelance Writers Group to the question: “What business or writing skill do you want to master?”

7 Facebook Group

Emails

You can scan through your email outbox to see if any topics come up consistently. These are good ideas for web content. People want answers to questions, so use what you’ve already written.

Part 2 – Search for keywords

Once you’ve gathered your ideas, it’s time to go searching for keywords. There are loads of keyword research tools available, but in this section, we’ll use two:

Let’s take a look at how you can use them.

KWFinder

The KWFinder (aff) tool is available on a limited free plan or a choice of monthly subscription plans.

When you log into your account, you’ll see a simple search bar waiting for you to input your keyword:

8a KWFinder

There are three options:

  • Suggestions uses the KWFinder database and algorithm and is the main option.

8b KWFinder

  • Autocomplete uses the Google Autocomplete feature (sometimes called Google Suggest) to prepend and append your keyword with different letters or words. For example, ‘indoor cricket near me’:

8c KWFinder

  • Questions is similar to Autocomplete and will prepend the main seed keyword with question words. For example, ‘how many overs in indoor cricket’:

8d KWFinder

Note

In this example, there is no search volume trend data.

Using the keyword suggestions

Let’s take the example from earlier and use ‘indoor cricket‘ as our starting point. Next to the keyword, you can enter your Location and Language. For instance, you may want to enter ‘Germany‘ and ‘German‘ if your website is designed for that market.

The results screen is in two halves:

8e KWFinder

The left-hand side shows the keyword suggestions along with some metrics:

8f KWFinder

Here are the metrics with example figures from the first line:

  • Trend – The search volume trend (mini graph) in the last 12 months
  • Search – The average monthly search volume (exact match) in the last 12 months; e.g. 3,455
  • CPC – The average cost per click of the listed keyword in Google Adwords; e.g. $1.13
  • PPC – The level of competition in PPC advertising (min = 0; max = 100); e.g. 4 (low)
  • KD – The SEO difficulty of a keyword (more on this later); e.g. 37 (achievable)

If your results need fine-tuning, you can use the Filter. In the example above, one of the suggestions was ‘indoor sports’, which is not relevant. Using the filter you can exclude the word ‘sports’:

8g KWFinder

And now your results only display cricket related keywords:

8h KWFinder

On the right-hand side, you can see an enlarged KD Score and Trend Graph:

8i KWFinder

Underneath those you can see the Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page) statistics and other important metrics that contribute to the LPS score:

  • Google SERP – These are the top results from Google search for your selected keyword
  • DA – Domain Authority predicts how well a website will rank on search engines
  • PA – Page Authority predicts how well a specific page will rank on search engines
  • MR – MozRank of the URL represents a link popularity score
  • MT – MozTrust of the URL measures trustworthiness of the link
  • Links – The number of external authority-passing links to the URL
  • FB – The number of Facebook shares for the URL
  • LPS – Overall Link Profile Strength of the URL – the higher it is, the harder it is to compete. (min = 0; max = 100)
  • Visits – The estimated visits per month on this SERP position
Warning

Please note that a lot of these metrics have been created by third parties (such as Moz). This means that it’s another company’s interpretation of what Google might think about a page or website.

Ultimately, it’s what Google thinks that matters, so use these metrics as a reference point only. And avoid using them as a factor in the making of any important decision.

We’ll talk about how you can use these metrics later in this post.

Managing your keywords in KWFinder

There are three ways to manage your keywords in KWFinder, no matter which option you use.

  1. Keyword lists management

Lists allow you to keep and categorize the data you find from your keyword research. You can check each suggestion you want to keep and add it to a new or an existing list. For example, this list contains four keyword suggestions:

8j KWFinder

  1. Import your own keywords

You can import your own lists of keywords into KWFinder in various ways:

  • Write the keywords as separate tags
  • Upload your TXT or CSV file
  • Drag-and-drop your file

This is useful for adding the Seeds and Ideas from Step 1 in the Keyword Research Process.

  1. Export your results

You can also export your keywords from either the Suggestions table or your keyword lists. You have the option to export to a CSV file (with or without metrics) or copy to the clipboard.

Answer The Public

Answer The Public is a free research tool that also extends the autocomplete results you see in Google and Bing.

The premise is simple:

You enter your keyword and ask the Seeker (the impatient, bald guy) for content ideas. You also select your preferred language:

9a Answer The Public

The content ideas come in different categories:

  • Questions – what, where, why, which, how.
  • Prepositions – with, to, for, like.
  • Comparisons – like, and, or, vs.
  • Alphabetical – a, b, c, etc.

For ‘indoor cricket‘, the Seeker found – Questions (11), Prepositions (84), Alphabetical (483):

9b Answer The Public

For ‘wordpress themes‘, the results were higher – Questions (136), Prepositions (114), Comparisons (80), Alphabetical (490):

9c Answer The Public

You can download the complete results in a CSV file, using the button in the top-right corner. Or you scroll down the page where you’ll see the results presented in two easier-to-read formats.

The first one is a one-page visualization of the results:

  • Indoor cricket questions

9d Answer The Public

  • WordPress themes comparison

9e Answer The Public

The second option is to see the results listed in sections:

  • Indoor cricket questions

9f Answer The Public

  • WordPresss themes questions

9g Answer The Public

Summary

Answer The Public generates more suggestions and questions than the KWFinder options. Save and use those content ideas to check further in KWFinder where you also have the metrics.

For more tools, check out my comparison of keyword research tools here on Blogging Wizard.

Part 3 – Check volume and competition

By now you should have plenty of keywords, but there’s one crucial step remaining: the evaluation.

  • What’s the point in using a keyword that nobody is searching for?
  • What’s the point in using a keyword if nobody is going to see it?

In short, you’re evaluating Volume (is it worth it?) and Competition (is it achievable?)

Volume

Search volume is always an approximate value. Whether you use a free tool or a premium tool, there will be differences in the search volume results they return. Which is odd, because most keyword research tools get their data from the Google Keyword Planner (GKP) either directly or indirectly.

Ahrefs ran an experiment to show this:

10a Ahrefs Search Volume In Keyword Tools

Note

Ahrefs is not included in the comparison as it uses a combination of clickstream data and GKP data to produce its results.

The underlying reason for this discrepancy is that the search volume in Google Keyword Planner is a rounded annual average, which means they re-calculate it every month. But many of the tools using the GKP data don’t recalculate every month, so their figures become skewed.

If your keyword has a high seasonal variation, and your keyword tool doesn’t recalculate it, then you’re looking at false data. For instance, how many people search for ‘Christmas gifts’ in July?

But there’s more to consider with search volume results:

  • Search Volume is not equal to Search Traffic.

Just because a keyword gets a lot of searches doesn’t mean it gets a lot of traffic; i.e. not everyone clicks on the search results they see.

I know I don’t, and I’m sure you don’t.

Again, Ahrefs illustrates this by comparing the search volume of two keywords: ‘SEO tips‘ and ‘submit website to search engines‘:

10b Ahrefs Comparing Keyword Search Volume

Based on search volume, you’d think that ‘SEO tips’ would get twice as much search traffic than ‘submit website to search engines’ – but it doesn’t.

In fact, Ahrefs discovered that ‘submit website to search engines‘ gets 10x more traffic than ‘SEO tips‘:

10c Ahrefs Total Search Traffic

And that’s because most pages rank for more than one keyword – on average about 1000 longer-tail keywords. [More on this later, in Part 4.]

Summary
  • Search volume is always approximate
  • Be careful of seasonal variations
  • Each page has more than one keyword

Competition

It’s always good to know what the competition is for your keyword. If you remember the KWFinder example from above, it includes a list of ‘competition’ metrics for the top positions in the SERPS.

That’s certainly one way of checking the competition, and it’s a time-saver for you as everything is in one place. But if you want to make your own investigation, you can.

Install and activate the free MozBar:

11a MozBar

Now, when you search Google you should see information from MozBar in the SERPs:

MozBar Google SERPS Link Analysis

Let’s take a look at these metrics:

Page Level Authority – PA

The first score on the MozBar is PA (Page Authority), and that’s because it’s the most important.

Google doesn’t rank sites…it ranks pages.

When you look at the SERPs for the search term ‘wordpress themes’, you can see a lot of high PA scores. But there is one page that has a lower rating:

Search Term WordPress Themes

So, how does it rank on the first page?

It’s probably helped by the next factor.

Domain Authority – DA

Google loves ranking pages from major authority sites like Wikipedia and Amazon. Some of the pages on these sites do have legitimate page authority as well, but often a page can get ranked in the Top 10 just because of its domain authority.

When you evaluate the competition, look at the combination of Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA). In our example above, the PA=32 and the DA=58.

Even so, it’s still low on another factor.

Links

Sandwiched in between the PA and DA on the MozBar is the Links score.

Let’s look at an example:

MozBar Link Score

For a more detailed view you can click on the Link Analysis option, which opens the Moz Link Explorer tool:

MozBar Link Explorer

Not all links are equal, and those coming from high authority sites have more power than those from low authority sites.

Don’t get too hung up about links, just be aware they exist and some high powered links will help your cause.

Content

The final consideration is how well-structured the content is for the keyword, often referred to as On-Page SEO.

Click on one of the results to open its page, and then click on the ‘Page Analysis‘ icon in the MozBar:

11f MozBar

Now you can see the essential on-page elements:

11g MozBar

A well-optimized page will usually have the keyword in some of the following:

  • URL
  • Page Title
  • Main Heading (H1)
  • First paragraph of the page
  • Page subheadings (H2/H3 etc.)

[But it’s not absolutely necessary. And you shouldn’t cram your keyword into those places.]

You should also make some manual checks to see if the content has related keywords elsewhere on the page, and to check how useful the content is; i.e. does it have images/video, references/links to authority sources, related subtopics, and internal links.

Summary
  • Expect to see some high authority sites like Wikipedia and Amazon in the Top 10.
  • Look for weaker pages with low PA that you can target.
  • Optimize your content naturally and build authority over time.

Keyword Difficulty Score

Most keyword research tools include a keyword difficulty score. We saw it earlier in KWFinder:

12 Keyword Difficulty Score

The idea behind this metric is to let you spot low-competition keywords that you can out-rank.  Unfortunately, each vendor calculates its keyword difficulty score differently, although most will involve the factors above like authority, links, and trust.

To illustrate the point, take a look at these three scores for the term ‘wordpress themes’:

Keyword Tool Keyword Difficulty % Score
KWFinder 61.00
Serpstat 78.23
SEMrush 63.78

Overall Evaluation

Evaluating search volume and competition is essential, but it’s also relative. When you start a new site, you start with zero domain authority. It takes time to build authority, but when you create more high-quality content, you’ll gain more high-authority links. Plus your page and domain authority will increase, too.

Part 4 – Sort Into Topics

So, now you have all these keywords what are you going to do with them?

Well the whole idea of keyword research is to find what content you can rank for. Like we said earlier, what’s the point of writing content if nobody is going to see it and read it.

In the bad old days, your next step would have been to stuff as many of your keywords as possible into your content. The reason for that was because Google needed to know what your web page was about. And the best way was to keep repeating the keyword until it understood.

But now, you don’t have to do that.

Google has grown up. And it’s become smarter.

When Google introduced its Hummingbird update in 2013, it said that it wanted to understand the meaning behind search queries (search intent) rather than matching specific words to page content.

  • Pages matching the meaning do better than pages matching just a few words.

When Neil Patel and his team conducted an extensive study of how the Hummingbird algorithm works, they discovered:

The top-ranked blogs did not necessarily have high keyword saturation, keyword representation or lots of high-DA backlinks…

They had strong topic coverage, few gaps in the topics that they covered and comprehensive content within each of their chosen topic categories.

  • Google now prefers detailed content covering topics, rather than short content targeting individual keywords.

For example, previously you may have written four short blog posts:

  • How to upload a WordPress theme
  • How to install a WordPress theme
  • How to update a WordPress theme
  • How to delete a WordPress theme

But now you can write one detailed article:

  • Everything you ever wanted to know about using WordPress themes

Write for topics, not keywords

Don’t worry. You can still use your keywords. It’s just a case of sorting them into topics.

For instance, the term ‘wordpress themes’ is so vast you could dedicate a whole website to it. So you need to break it down into topics.

Here I’ve used some of the ‘how to’ questions from Answer The Public and divided them into three topics:

  • How to Use and Manage a WordPress Theme
    • how to use wordpress themes
    • how to upload a wordpress theme
    • how to install a wordpress theme
    • how to install a wordpress theme manually
    • how to update a wordpress theme
    • how to delete a wordpress theme
  • How to Customize a WordPress Theme
    • how to customize a wordpress theme
    • how to edit a wordpress theme
    • how to modify a wordpress theme
    • how to change wordpress theme
    • how to make a wordpress theme responsive
    • how to change a wordpress theme name
    • how to translate a wordpress theme
  • How to Develop a WordPress Theme
    • how to develop a wordpress theme
    • how to create wordpress themes
    • how to create a wordpress theme from scratch
    • how to design wordpress themes
    • how to sell wordpress themes

This list is by no means exhaustive. It’s a start. But now you have three topics geared towards to different audiences using ‘Informational Search Queries’. (Remember those from earlier?)

  • WordPress Users – those who only want to cover the essentials – Starters
  • WordPress Customizers – those who like to dabble and tinker – Intermediate
  • WordPress Developers – those who want to get serious – Advanced

As you start writing the content for any of these topics you will naturally add more related keywords. That’s good, and it’s what Google wants.

Google is looking for the best answer, with the most relevant and detailed content.

Conclusion

Congratulations – You made it to the end!

Take your time to go back and review each section. Start working your way through the keyword research process, and remember to use keywords as a guide for your content topics, not as the be all and end all of your writing.

 

Disclosure: This post contains several affiliate links. This means we may earn a commission if you make a purchase.

David Hartshorne

David Hartshorne is a freelance writer working with business owners and marketing teams to create detailed, actionable content that resonates with their audience. When he’s not writing about digital marketing and technology, you’ll find him chilling with a thriller in Spain.

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