Keyword Research

Do Keyword Research To Rank Better

Keyword research is to me, still to this day, the most fundamental task you do as an SEO professional. And yet, so many of my students and clients have never done it! In this post, I'll go over:

  • Why it's so important
  • How to do it
  • How to analyze which ones to use on your pages and posts
  • Different uses for the keyword phrases you find

Why Keyword Research Is So Important

When I teach SEO, specifically keyword research and selection, the first thing I emphasize is that "build a website and you'll get traffic" without knowing what topics your target audience needs information on almost guarantees your site will never see the light of the day in search results. In other words, your pages will buried several hundred positions down.

If you don't know the keyword phrases your prospects are using, you can't win them over as customers and clients.

I also tell students and clients that guessing what to use, or using the most popular industry terms is not a keyword strategy. Now that the internet has been around for awhile, the short phrases and one-word terms are pretty much owned by the giant companies in your industry. Some examples:

  • Insurance
  • Shoes
  • Computers
  • Vacations
  • Mobile phones
  • Printers

And so on.

With this in mind, small businesses/solo operators have to be smart and look for what we call "long-tail keyword phrases" that have a lot less competition from large, enterprise web sites, and are easier to get ranked for in search results.

Keyword research shows you:

  • The questions your prospects need answers for
  • Trends in the topics that define your industry
  • Seasonal variations, if any
  • Geographical variations, if any
  • How you can plan your editorial calendar for blog posts

I'm big on structure, and doing keyword research gives you a great deal of discipline and organization around creating a content strategy. Not only that, but if your products and services have a long sales cycle, you need to segment your keyword research into the buyer's journey and create a content strategy based on it.

The bottom line is, use the words and verbs your target audience is plugging into the search engines, and your site will rank better, you'll convert more opportunities into sales and you'll build your reputation as a thought leader in your business vertical.

How Can I Do Keyword Research?

There are a ton of keyword research services and tools out there. Some are free, some are paid. It all boils down to your budget. The good news is that not only are there keyword research tools you can use, but other sites and dashboards also show you valuable keyword terms and phrases you can use.

Here are just two of the many, many keyword research tools out there:

The Google tools are no-cost, but show you very limited data. Wordtracker (which I use) and Wordstream are paid tools, which give you some valuable data to help you make informed decisions about what keywords to use in your pages and posts.

Google Trends

This is a free keyword/topic research service from the search engine. What's really good about it is this:

  • You can get seasonal performance data - think holiday keyword phrases for Christmas, Halloween, etc.
  • You can get geographical demand data for keywords - this is critical if you have a finite service area, or a physical location.
  • You can see if keyword phrases or topics are trending hot.
  • You can compare several keyword phrases performance data easily to make better decisions about which one might work best for ranking your site.

You won't get any numerical data to help you choose phrases, but you'll see a horizontal bar that goes 0 - 100. Low numbers mean not much interest; higher numbers mean a phrase is typed into Google's search bar a lot.

keyword research

trending keywordswhere keyword phrases are popularpopularity for keyword phraseshow popular a keyword is


This is the only paid keyword research tool I use, because I'm a one-woman shop and I don't need a lot of different tools to do client work. Besides, I have a limited budget, just like you!

Wordtracker has some advantages with the paid version:

  • You get a data sample of the volume of a keyword phrase - how many times on average, during a month the phrase is typed into Google
  • You get a data sample of the number of web pages that are using the phrase in both anchor text and title tags. You can use these two numbers to make some very intelligent decisions about whether or not a phrase will help you site rank quicker.
  • You get a competitive rating number that goes 0 - 100. The higher the number, the harder it will be to rank for that keyword phrase.
  • You get a Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI) number that goes 0 - 100. It works opposite of the competitive number; the higher the KEI, the easier it is for a page to rank better for that keyword phrase.
  • You can download the results into Excel for further evaluation.

What you won't get is seasonal or geographical data. I like using Google Trends and Wordtracker together to get a better "big picture" of how a keyword phrase might perform for a web page or blog post.

word tracker keywords

Analyzing The Results Of Your Keyword Research Efforts

Now that you've gathered some information about some phrases you'd like to use, how can you analyze that data to help you pick phrases for each of your pages and posts?

With Google Trends, all you can really go on is number on the horizontal bar. The higher the number, the more popular the phrase is. I would stay away from phrases that are single-dogit, as there probably aren't enough people researching that phrase to make worth your while to optimize a page.

However, if you use Wordtracker, then here is what I recommend doing to cut to the chase and quickly get phrases you can use.

The best way to pick phrases is to use only the Volume and IAAT numbers. And what you want are phrases that have a HIGHER volume and a LOWER IAAT.

It's that simple; don't make it complicated. Oh, and be sure to pick phrases that most accurately describe your products and services.

The other phrases you should be considering are those that ask questions. I address these further in the next section.

Different Content Uses For Your Keyword Research Results

Now that you've compiled a candidate list, you can now assign a content type or function for each phrase. Some of the content types you should develop with them are:

  • Web pages
  • Blog posts
  • Podcasts
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Webinars

Think about creating a mix of these content types, as not everyone wants to read text.

keyword research uses use keywords in blog posts keyword research for content marketing

Remember I said to use keyword phrases that ask questions? These are great for developing interactive content, like videos, webinars and podcasts. Be sure to answer them as completely as possible.

In a nutshell, this is how you do keyword research and use the results. By now, you can see how this task focuses on what's important to prospects. You'll answer their concerns about what you offer, rank better in search results and have a robust content strategy that goes beyond a page or two for your site.

If you'd like to know about keyword research, on-page SEO and troubleshooting ranking issues, set up an SEO training course with me! We'll go over everything you want to know to optimize your site and rank better.

Until next time, keep it safely between the ditches!

All the very best to you,

Nancy McDonald

Screenshots courtesy of author

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