How To Do Keyword Research for SEO: A Beginners Guide
It can be a bit overwhelming to delve into SEO, and it’s difficult to know where to start. Here I’ll talk through my approach for putting together an initial list of keywords before optimising your website.
Let me start by saying that this is by no means the final word on keyword research and that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the majority of the work we do in SEO. What gets results for one site might not work for the next, and there are heaps of factors that play a part in whether or not a page will rank, and how long it will take.
But for me that’s a positive thing; it means there’s room for creativity, common sense and experimentation, rather than just a laundry list to go through and tick off. It also means we probably won’t be losing our jobs to an algorithm any time soon, which is nice.
To keep things beginner-friendly, I’m going to avoid getting too technical or using jargon and industry-speak. I’ll give acronyms a swerve (ironic, for a post about SEO) and I’ll stick to things anyone can do with free tools and limited know-how.
I’ll show you how to actually use and implement the keyword research in another post, but for now, we’ll focus on how your customers (current and prospective) might be searching for you.
How to find keywords
A lot of SEO campaigns will start with what we call seeding keywords. These will usually come from answering questions about the business, product or service you offer.
These questions could be:
- What words and phrases best describe my product?
- When people are looking for a service I provide, what will they type into a search engine?
- Who are my competitors, and what terms might they be targeting?
The understanding you have about how people are searching for you will form the scaffold for the rest of your research. This can be quite an exhaustive list for now, you can whittle it down later on.
What is search intent? Why is it important?
A big consideration for building your list of seeding keywords is user search intent. That is, the actual intent behind a user’s search query. Are they sat, wallet in hand, shopping for a specific product? Are they just doing a bit of casual research? Are they looking for your opening hours, or are they comparing your prices to a competitor? Those are all common search intents, and your pages might rank for some, but not others. Consider the intent behind each keyword, and you’re already on the right track.
The terms you might think you need to rank for, and what your customers are actually searching for could be quite different. This is why we’re next going to look at some data to see whether your assumptions are well-informed, or if you’re barking up the wrong tree. This is the fun part for me, and almost resembles a round of reverse-Pointless.
It’s essentially pitting ‘what do I call things’ against ‘what do my customers call things?’ to see who comes out on top.
How to use Google Keyword Planner
You’ll need to use Google Keyword Planner for this next part. You might have to do a bit of Google Ads acrobatics to access the tool, but as I write, it’s still completely free to use. It’s worth noting that this data is location-specific, so how you set it up will depend on whether you want to reach a regional, national or international audience.
(If you’re wanting to dive deeper into geographic and multilingual keyword strategy, Gemma Fontané recently gave an awesome talk on the subject at our Sheffield DM Lunch & Learn session).
Google Keyword Planner lets you compare the average number of monthly searches (search volume) for your chosen keywords. Perhaps you make outdoor log burners as a side hustle, but you’re not exactly sure what shoppers are calling your product. Type a few options into the ‘Get search volume and forecasts’ tool and compare.
The higher the search volume, the more traffic you can expect from that search query and hopefully the more sales you’ll make. I’m oversimplifying somewhat, but you get the gist.
You can also use Keyword Planner to reveal options you hadn’t considered. Maybe you sell personalised candles made in your shed with jars you’ve got lying around, but would you think to use terms like ‘handpoured' or ‘upcycled’? Trying out the ‘Discover new keywords’ tool can throw up some new ideas.
You probably won’t now go and make drastic changes to the names of your product lines, but armed with this information you can make more informed choices when writing product copy or title tags on your pages for example. And that’s a key way to optimise your website for SEO; using the terms people are actually searching for to help them find you.
If you’re new to SEO, it’s reassuring to know that it’s data that’s partly driving your decisions and not just assumptions; this will give you the confidence to tinker. Hunches have their place too, but for now, we’ll focus on the numbers.
So play around with synonyms, stalk your competitor’s product pages, scroll down to ‘Related Searches’ on the Google results page, and use autofill in the search box to reveal some different terms. Then run all your keywords through Google Keyword Planner, and look at the average monthly searches, invariably there’ll be some surprises.
TOP TIP: Using autofill can be helpful for populating a list of keywords people are searching for, and might even inspire new product lines or content opportunities
Now you don’t want to live and die by the volume metric, and you shouldn’t abandon terms solely because volume might be a bit low. But this process will help paint a general picture about how people are searching, and help you identify terms you’d maybe overlooked or neglected.
Remember to keep search intent in mind too. Run a quick Google search to see what pages currently rank for your terms, so you can see what Google thinks is the intent behind that query. A good rule of thumb is; if the pages that come up are not what you’re offering, you’re probably not going to rank for that term.
Longtail vs short tail keywords
I know I said I’d avoid jargon but I think it’s worth making the distinction between short and longtail keywords at this point. Longtail keywords are usually longer in length and more specific, but they’ll likely have a smaller search volume.
For example, the average monthly search volumes for ‘craft beer’ in the UK is around 22,200. Meanwhile ‘craft beer bottle shop’ checks in at around 210 per month. The search intent however for the latter is clear; those people are almost certainly searching for a local shop specialising in craft beer. If I’m just searching for ‘craft beer’, it’s quite ambiguous. I might be looking for a subscription service, industry news, information on how to brew it etc. Not only will the competition be higher for ‘craft beer’, there’s the risk of casting too wide a net.
The thinking here is that the more specific a term is, the better it will convert because the searcher has clear intent. As with a lot of SEO practice, it’s not a perfect science, but I’ve seen some real successes from going after these specific, lower volume terms. So don’t be too taken in by high search volumes, because lower volume terms (10-30 searches a month) can be really valuable if they’re specific enough and have a clear intent.
Next you’ll want to spend some time on your website ‘mapping’ your keywords to your pages. Essentially you’re asking yourself whether a page currently exists on your site that fulfils the search intent of that keyword. If the answer is yes, you can assign or ‘map’ it to that page. If not, it might be a content opportunity to look at later on, or even a new product line to consider. You’ll use this map to start making changes to your site later on.
So you’ve made a list of keywords, identified some new ones, compared some search volumes and mapped your terms to pages where you think you can fulfil the search intent. I think that’s a pretty solid foundation for the next stage, which is implementing your keyword research across your site as you begin to optimise your pages, which I’ll likely cover in my next post.
I hope that’s been helpful - I’d love to hear your thoughts, tips and tricks in the comments.
If you are looking for support with your keyword research and SEO strategy, let us complete an SEO audit of your website. We will provide you with an honest assessment of why your site isn't performing as well as it could be.