Beware what you type into a search box. Ranking for the right keywords is the main factor that brings more users to your site. But how can you know which keywords are actually right for your website? The answer is simple – Keyword Research (KR).
The main goal of KR is to expand your knowledge about the keywords you can rank for and target your pages with, but it’s not everything. By performing keyword research you can also learn more about your customers overall. You are able to get to know your niche better and constantly follow what are the most popular queries in it, so you can create quality content that will meet your potential customer’s expectations.
This article is not meant to be an ultimate guide on “how to do perfect keyword research” because every SEO that performs KR does it their own way. The following article describes my personal way of thinking during the creation of keyword research.
But before we dive in, we need to start with some dry theory.
Keyword value is one of the main factors you need to consider when you make keyword research.
You can look at the value of a keyword from two perspectives – objective and subjective.
The objective value of a keyword refers to its general parameters provided by various tools, and the subjective perspective can tell you how much a keyword might be worth for your site and your business profile particularly.
There are many parameters that describe the objective value of a keyword, but two of them are the most important. One of them being, of course, the keyword’s popularity – how often users search for it. This is called Search Volume. The second one is Keyword Difficulty, which shows us how hard it will be to achieve high positions for this particular keyword. I’ll describe more keyword metrics later.
To answer the question “how much is a keyword worth for your site particularly?” you need to answer some other questions first. Does this keyword fit to your site? Yes! Will users be satisfied when they get to your site looking for this phrase? Yes! Will the traffic created by this keyword be financially beneficial for you? Yes! Then using this keyword might turn out to be profitable and you can try to optimize your site around this keyword.
Types of Keywords
Remember that not every keyword is the same and we can divide them in a couple of ways:
- Head and Long tail – based on the popularity of a keyword
- Other types – Commercial, Transactional, Informational, and Navigational – mainly referring to the purpose of a keyword
Head & Long Tail
Keywords can be divided into two main groups, depending on how often users search for them. The most common search terms are called head keywords. They might be popular but also most of these queries are very general so it’s much harder to achieve high positions in search results for them.
The second group of search terms is long tail keywords – they are specific and usually longer than head keywords. Long tail keywords should be the main part of a keyword research strategy. They are not as popular as heads, but if we put them all together they take about 70% of all searches around the internet and most of the overall search volume.
Marketers also noticed that long tail phrases convert to profit way better because of the focus on specific product or a phrase. Users that search for “chair” for example are probably just browsing. A person that searches for “dining room white chair” is probably browsing too, but with their wallet basically already open. In long tail keywords, you can also find specific questions like the one I used previously, connected to your niche that can help you in creating valuable for users content.
Keyword’s Purpose Division
Here I want to present another division of keywords focused around the purpose of a particular keyword. We can divide them into four groups – Commercial, Transactional, Informational, and Navigational.
This group of keywords is the widest of the four. This type of keyword is directly connected to your niche. You want to use as many of the most popular and commercial-worthy keywords as you can, but it is more important to remember that you want to stick to keywords that are directly connected to your niche. For example, if you own a website that only sells chairs you don’t want to rank for tables because they have four legs too – they’re not chairs so screw’em. The goal of using these keywords is to bring more users to your site. But you need to realize that the user status is not enough – you want customers. That’s why there is the next type of keywords.
Such keywords are perfect for pages like product listings because they use terms like “buy”, “for sale”, “purchase” and so on. In this group you can also find more specific phrases like “black leather chair.” When users are searching for these phrases you can say that they already have all the information they need – they know what they want and are determined to make a purchase. But what if they are still looking for some information before buying your product?
You can find a lot of keywords with great search volume, but they might not bring your site and your wallet many conversions. Why? Because when users are searching for these phrases they are often searching for information, e.g. to make sure that they want to buy this particular product – read reviews or compare it with other products. These phrases are often in the form of a question, using words like “how”, “what”, “why” and so on. As I said, informational keywords might not bring you the most conversions but why not use the most popular for some blog articles? They are perfect for that, and it will help the overall visibility of your site as well as your brand.
The name might sound a little confusing but this one is the simplest of them all. This type of keyword refers directly to your brand, that’s it. When users are typing the name of your brand into search bar that means they are familiar with it and they’re performing a navigational search to get to the right address. If you have a strong brand it’s fundamental to rank your homepage for phrases connected to it. But if you have just started building your presence on the market, don’t try to rank for your competitor’s brand – it’s a waste of time, you won’t beat them that way.
But you can beat your competitors with proper keyword research, and that’s what I’ll present to you right now. I’ll try to show you a practical guide to my way of thinking during the creation of Keyword Research. To perform Keyword Research I’ll use a tool called Ahrefs.
Ahrefs is a very powerful paid tool but it’s totally worth its price. It’s mainly known as a “backlink checker” but here we will use its other functions. We will use these two features related to keyword research.
First of all, it’s worth mentioning where Ahrefs is taking the data from. The smart people at Ahrefs created their own crawling bot that allows them to collect data from the web. Because their bot is the second most efficient bot beaten only by Googlebot – according to a study about the most active good bots – Ahrefs possesses one of the most impressive databases of keywords, domains, URLs, links, and so on. You can find their database in numbers on their site.
Another aspect I want to present are the keyword metrics provided by Ahrefs.
The two main metrics that I mentioned in the Keyword’s Value section are present here – Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty. Search Volume in Ahrefs is referring to how many searches a particular keyword has in a month. This factor also depends on the seasonality of a particular keyword. For example, phrases like “Christmas Gifts” are more popular closer to Christmas and have bigger Search Volume in that time. It’s worth noting that Ahrefs’s Keyword Difficulty is not linear, so if the scale goes from 0-100 – the number 50 doesn’t refer to the medium difficulty of a keyword – “hard” keywords start with around 30 keyword difficulty. You can find more info about Keyword Difficulty on Ahrefs’s blog.
There are some other keyword metrics provided by Ahrefs:
- CPC – it mainly finds use in paid advertisements and not in organic search like we’re focusing on here. It shows the estimated Cost per Click of a keyword
- Clicks – refers to the overall number of clicks on the search results per month that users perform after typing a particular query in a search box
- CPS (Clicks per Search) – shows how many different search results users click on average while searching for this keyword
- RR (Return Rate) – is a relative value that shows us how often users search for this keyword again.
There are far more options to present in Ahrefs, but I think it will be better to show them with the keyword research example below.
I’ll try to show you my way to make KR. My main tool in this part will, of course, be Ahrefs. And because I used “chair” as an example above, we will use a furniture store as the niche for this keyword research.
The first step in finding beneficial keywords is to identify direct competitors for your site to see which keywords they are ranking, because it’s possible that they already did the lion’s share of keyword research for you.
What do I mean by saying direct competitors? I mean competitors with a business profile the same as yours. If a site is huge and its business profile is way wider than yours, this means their keyword directory is also huge and diverse – they’re not your direct competitor, there is no point in competing with them. You want to compete with sites that are present in the same market as you, that you can realistically beat. When you choose proper direct competitors, you can use the majority of their keyword directories to expand yours.
So let’s do that! Go to Ahrefs’ site explorer and let’s find a direct competitor for our furniture store. But how to do that? One option is to Google one of the obvious main phrases connected to your niche like “furniture store USA” and look at the top results or, if your site is already ranking, for some keywords. You can find your main competitors in Ahrefs’ overview of your site in the Organic search tab – they are chosen by the number of shared keywords with your site.
This time we will use one of the biggest online furniture stores in the USA – Wayfair.com – as a direct competitor. We can move on to Organic search -> Organic keywords. Here you can also see the number of keywords the site is ranking for.
That’s pretty much it for this point, really. You can export their most popular keywords for this site, put it in the sheet and start looking for another website.
One question you might have here is how many keywords should I export? It depends on the competitors you will pick and their keywords. Their top 100 keywords might refer mostly to their brand and in the next 10,000 they might have the real gold of their keyword directory, it all depends – you just need to look carefully.
Now you have an unlimited source of different keyword ideas. When you have your combined sheet remember to delete all duplicates – that’s it.
Side note: If you don’t build your keyword directory from scratch and your site is already ranking for some key phrases – there is also an feature called Content Gap. You can list some of your competitors and your domain and it will list keywords that your competitors are ranking for and your site isn’t. It can be useful during this step.
The second step is a little more interesting. When you have your 2,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 or whatever other number of keywords you put in your sheet, you can start to group them into specific categories which later will refer to particular landing pages on your site. To create these categories you need to find general keywords that a particular category can be focused around. These keywords are known as – fittingly – focus keywords. Thanks to them you’ll be able to create your new site structure or improve the present one.
I think you don’t need any specific tools to find your focus keywords. When you collect keywords from your competitors you’ll go through your keyword sheet many times and you’ll be able to see some “patterns” according to which you can create your focus keywords. And because you will do it on your own, your new site structure can consist of landing pages that are even more valuable than your competitor’s pages.
When you’re done with your categories, the next step in grouping your keywords is to sort them into head and long tail groups. Basic head keywords like “coffee table” or “picture frames” are great for ranking your landing pages. But between long tail keywords you might find valuable phrases that qualify for having their own pages focused around them like blog articles or guides, e.g. “how to decorate a living room” or “how to get rid of old furniture.”
Another important aspect to look at is to not optimize the content around the same keyword on more than one page. It might create content cannibalization and your pages will compete with each other for traffic. Keywords for every page should be unique.
During categorization, you might come to the realization that with your new categories, landing pages, blog, and others, you can create a new Information Architecture for your site. I don’t want to dive deep into this topic, but you’re more than welcome to read about the subject here.
Basically, the point of proper Information Architecture is to help organize your site’s structure – users, as well as bots, can reach the most valuable pages with little to no effort. With your new ideas for pages, creating a well-optimized structure might be easier.
Now you have a nice set of grouped keywords for your landing pages and also a set of topics for your site’s blog. What else can you ask for? More Keywords!
That’s why we will use this magical thing known as Keyword Explorer. The main purpose of this tool is to suggest related keywords to those we type into it.
Most keyword explorers – like, for example, ubersuggest.io – take their keyword ideas from scraping Google Keyword Planner or Google suggestions. These methods are decent but not great – the amount of keywords you will get is not that impressive. For example, at Ubersuggest you will get less than a 1000 keyword suggestions for “chair”.
Other more advanced tools, like Moz’s Keyword Explorer or Ahrefs, use their own database of keywords. Thanks to this method you can get a lot more keyword ideas. For the same word “chair” Ahrefs gives us over a million suggestions.
Ahrefs also provides various options that let you get different types of keyword ideas – let’s take an original phrase like “massage chair”.
Phrase Match – suggestions that contain the exact phrase you put as a focus keyword; for “massage chair” it would be phrases like “best massage chair” or “shiatsu massage chair”.
Have same Terms – it’s very similar to Phrase Match. Keyword ideas that have any terms that you put in your focus phrase in any order. When we take our “massage chair” as an example we will get phrases like “massage therapy chair” or “why is chair massage important in the workplace”.
Also rank for – here Ahrefs takes the top 10 pages that are ranking for your focus keyword and lists all the other keywords that these pages are ranking for. For “massage chair” we’ve got phrases related generally to massage or other massage machines.
Search suggestions – here you’ll find list of keyword ideas that are suggested via Google autocomplete for your focus keyword. Results are similar to Phrase Match.
Newly discovered – keywords from Phrase Match that were added to Ahrefs’ database recently.
Here is one way I like to use these options: you’ve got your Keyword Explorer in one tab, you open a new tab, go to the Site explorer of one of your competitors and get to their Top Pages – pages that have the biggest estimated traffic and you can see their top keywords for these pages.
Then you can put these top keywords into keyword explorer and using options Phrase Match and Have same Terms, you can expand your keyword directory with keywords that your competition might not rank for and outdo them. You can also use the Also rank for option to get keywords from other competing pages that are ranking for this keyword, not only the competitor you took this keyword from, to expand your directory even further.
So you can play around with Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer and its features, put the focus keywords you found during categorizing, and expand your keyword directory as much as you want.
Filtering, Filtering & Filtering
If you went through all of the points that were previously listed you’ll receive an impressive directory of keywords for your site…at least at first glance.
Remember what we said at the beginning? That we want valuable keywords in our KR and valuable doesn’t only mean “popular” keywords, but, more importantly, keywords that are directly related to your business profile.
And here we are – at the most important part of keyword research: Filtering.
So what do you want to get rid of? The answer is “things that just don’t fit.” For example, as we said before, you don’t want keywords that are unrelated to your business profile, duplicates, keywords with typos, or keywords that are just straight up related to porn, and yes, you will find them literally in almost every KR. Let’s go back to our furniture store and try to get a list of key phrases containing our favorite word “chair”.
Here is part of the Top 50 keyword suggestions from Ahrefs for the word “chair” that might end up in our keyword research – take a look.
Now let me help you…
As you can see above there are a couple phrases that are not related to furniture at all and we don’t want any of them in our KR for our furniture store. The bigger your directory is, the more you’ve got to filter out. You can do it during the previous steps, when you are collecting keywords from your competitors or when you are grouping them into categories, or you can focus on this part at the end, like we did here. One thing to remember, you need to filter your keyword directory many times, and when I say many times, I mean MANY times. You want your keyword research to be as clean and valuable as possible.
Aaaand it’s done.
Now you finished your keyword research. It can help you to get satisfying positions in search results. Thanks to proper keyword research you’ll be able to create valuable content on your website… and this is when the work begins. You need to create a page for every keyword or group of keywords you want to rank for, either as a product page, an article, a guide, or whatever kind of page your site is focusing on. That might take some time, so have fun.
And to be clear, I wasn’t paid by Ahrefs to write this article and say these nice words about them – I just enjoy their tools.