What Is Keyword Research? Definition, Benefits, and Tools

Keyword research enables you to get more organic traffic and customers. But what is keyword research exactly, and how do you use it to bring in valuable business traffic?

It doesn’t matter how good your website is at promoting your products and converting customers if no one ever visits it. This is where keyword research comes in.

This guide defines keyword research and discusses best practices for search engine optimization (SEO). It’s important to remember that even if you excel at keyword research, you’ll still need high-quality content that addresses users’ search intent in order to rank. Keyword research helps identify and focus that work.

Key Takeaways

  • Keyword research identifies the terms (called search queries) that people type into search engines like Google. You can use a keyword research tool to find relevant terms to target in website copy, blog posts, social media posts, videos, and paid ads.
  • Benefits include reaching more customers, increasing visibility in organic search results, boosting web traffic, and having an edge over competitors.
  • To target the right keywords, start by brainstorming relevant topics and related terms, then group similar words together and add specific keywords that relate to those topics.
  • When conducting keyword research for search engine optimization (SEO), you can use tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, Moz, SurferSEO, and more to find keyword ideas and monthly search volume.
  • To determine what keywords you should target, look at monthly search volume, keyword difficulty, and trends, and aim to have a mix of long-tail and head terms.
what is keyword research

What Is Keyword Research?

Keyword research identifies the terms (called search queries) that people type into search engines like Google. Doing this helps you figure out what words to use in marketing, from your blog posts to your website copy, so more people can find your business. You can also learn how popular the terms are and how difficult it will be to rank for them by conducting keyword research for SEO.

But why is keyword research for SEO important? If you aren’t targeting the right terms through your content, you won’t get the right people on your website or blog. By targeting the right terms, you can help your website, content, and products appear front and center in the SERP (search engine results page) when a user searches for specific information. Keyword research enables marketers to strategize content creation and marketing campaigns around what customers want instead of guessing or making assumptions about who those customers might be — or what they are searching for.

Benefits of Keyword Research

Keyword research is an important part of any successful search engine optimization strategy. It helps you identify search terms people use when looking for information about your business or industry. It can also help you better understand what potential customers are looking for.

Here are some of the biggest benefits of keyword research:

Increased Visibility

One of the major benefits of keyword research is increased visibility in organic search results. By optimizing your pages with relevant keywords, you can make sure they appear higher up in search engine rankings – meaning more people can find them easily when searching online. This increased visibility will lead to more web traffic and improved brand recognition over time.

Targeted Content

Another benefit of keyword research is that it allows you to create content targeted toward specific customer segments. When researching keywords, consider who might use those terms when searching for products or services like yours, such as their age group or location, so you can ensure you’re targeting the right keywords and creating content that addresses their queries.

Increased Reach

By researching keywords with a decent search volume related to your business, you can expand the reach of your content. This will allow you to attract new customers who may not have heard about your company before and build relationships with existing ones.

Improved User Experience

Optimizing your website for relevant keywords also helps improve user experience. When users can quickly find what they’re looking for thanks to keyword research, they’ll be more likely to stay longer on the page and interact with more content — leading to better engagement and higher conversion rates in the long run.

Competitive Edge

Finally, keyword research gives you an edge over competitors when it comes to organic search rankings. By understanding which terms people use when searching for products or services like yours, you can ensure that your pages appear higher up in search engine results than those of competitors — meaning more potential customers will see your content first!

How to Target the Right Keywords for Your Business

keyword research to target relevant terms

The most successful keyword research starts with understanding your target audience and what they expect when searching for information related to your product or service. Remember that finding a quality mix of simple search terms and long-tail keywords is essential for picking up traffic from your entire audience.

Start With Relevant Topics

You’ll want to conduct a brainstorming session with your team to create a list of relevant terms for your keyword research process. Brainstorm topics that are important and relevant to your business objectives. Add any terms or phrases associated with those topics, so it’s easier to narrow down the keyword ideas later.

Topic Example

In the B2B world, this might mean words that focus on your product or service but also words that your customers commonly use. Let’s say that your business sells gym equipment. When you begin the keyword research process, you might brainstorm keywords like treadmill, barbell, or yoga mat. Also, include potential keywords that relate to your specific product. In our gym equipment example, that might be something like “easy install weight racks” or “portable rowing machine.”

Next, include important topics related to the industry you operate in. This could include broader industry-specific terms and more specific phrases, such as skills and product names. Think past literal words and use customer-facing language they would likely use when looking for a solution.

Industry Terms Example

In the world of gym equipment, you would include an industry term like “aerobic training” and the word a customer would use: “elliptical.” Don’t be afraid to go broad and develop an expansive list here. You’ll trim down the options and prioritize certain keywords later in the research process.

After getting a list together, take some time to group similar keywords. Your goal is to find similarities and identify larger topics that make sense for your future content strategy. For our hypothetical gym equipment business, we’ll group “dumbbell” with “strength training.” Grouping keywords this way will help keep content organized and make it easier for search engines to index pages accurately by telling them exactly what type of information is found in each section written about related topics from an SEO perspective.

Expand From Topics to Specific Keywords

Once you’ve grouped all the brainstormed keywords into categories, it’s time to expand. For each category, think about tightly related keywords to ensure that search engines easily index your content and website pages. Think of it as filling in blanks — use single words or phrases, such as “lightweight barbells” or “drop-proof weights,” to round out a category related to strength training. Consider synonyms, but focus on the words your customers use most frequently.

You can refine your strategy by adding keywords closely related to the words you brainstormed earlier. Autocomplete prompts in Google, the “People Also Ask” section of the SERP, and exploring other platforms like Reddit and Quora can uncover useful ideas.

Many keyword research tools, including Google’s Keyword Planner, use seed keywords to generate lists of related terms. A seed keyword is a phrase or term that describes the general topic your content focuses on. For example, if you are looking for keywords for a website about web development services may have “web development” as its main seed keyword. These keyword tools will help populate additional words to round out your buckets.

Consider SERP Features

It is important to factor in SERP features when brainstorming and choosing keywords. The search engine results page used to be the primary way of driving website traffic, but now we have featured snippets, related question boxes, and news box carousels. Looking at these features helps ensure you target keywords with the potential for increased visibility within the SERP. These features typically have higher clickthrough rates than other parts of the SERP, so targeting them is an advantage for your business.

Avoid Broad Terms

When creating a keyword list, avoid using overly broad, high-volume, single-word terms (also called head terms) such as “business” or “marketing” and instead focus on more specific, relevant keywords that are more likely to target searchers specifically interested in the type of services you provide. Broad terms are much harder to rank for due to high competition, so you probably won’t see increased traffic if you target them solely.

Use Long-Tail Keywords

When you develop your list of topics for keyword research, include long-tail keywords in each bucket. Long-tail keywords are whole phrases that indicate a searcher wants a specific piece of information. Targeting these terms lets you find lower-competition keywords that directly address users’ search queries.

Save to a Keyword List

Once you have brainstormed a list of potential seed keywords, create a keyword list to store all of your findings in one organized place. Label each topic bucket accordingly so it’s easy to reference as needed throughout your SEO strategy or for other marketing initiatives. Store the keyword lists in an easily accessible spreadsheet, such as Google Sheets or Excel, and revisit them regularly to refresh the list with new ideas from customer feedback or data-driven research.

How to Conduct Keyword Research

You’ll likely have far more keyword ideas than you could possibly work into your content strategy. Basic keyword research will help prioritize these so you can generate traffic from the best keywords for your business goals with the least effort.

Use Keyword Research Tools

Using keyword research tools to your advantage can help make the process easier. Keyword research tools provide insights into how many people search for a given keyword and how hotly contested that organic traffic is.

You can use Ahrefs, Semrush, Moz, WriterZen, and SurferSEO to determine which terms will be the easiest/hardest to rank for, how much search volume they get, and how difficult it will be to rank for each term. Once you’ve chosen a keyword research tool, you can assess terms. You can also use Google Keyword Planner, which is especially helpful if you run paid ads. If not, one of the other tools above will be a better option.

Paid keyword research tools offer more comprehensive information than free or limited options, providing insights into the cost per click of various terms and competitor performance. Tools like Ahrefs will also provide information about related keywords or variations on the seed words you have selected that may fit better with user intent analysis processes; this narrows down potential topics quickly. These can be a valuable addition to your toolkit when optimizing campaigns at scale or with difficult-to-rank materials, so deeper analysis can be done before spending resources on efforts targeting them.

Assess Monthly Search Volume

Monthly search volume (MSV) refers to the number of monthly searches for a given keyword. Many keyword tools offer this functionality. It may seem like the obvious choice is to find keywords with high monthly search volume. After all, those keywords will have the largest pool of potential traffic you might capture.

However, keywords with high MSV will be harder to rank for because a lot of online content already addresses the topic. On top of that, keywords with high MSV might capture search volume from people who aren’t a good fit for your product or business, especially in B2B. Prioritize keywords that have both high MSV and high relevance to your business.

Keywords with low MSV aren’t necessarily bad bets, either. A long-tail keyword might have a low MSV, but such high relevance to your target audience that you want every scrap of search traffic you can get on that topic. Target a variety of different keywords to round out your SEO strategy.

Check the Keyword Difficulty

It’s important to consider keyword difficulty as well. This is a score from zero to 100, indicating how hard it is to rank for a given keyword. Moz offers a free keyword difficulty tool to help measure this for both head terms and long-tail keywords. Targeting high-difficulty keywords can sink your SEO strategy since competition is fierce, and sites without high domain authority won’t be able to complete.

But long-tail keywords typically have lower keyword difficulty because they have lower MSV. Because they’re more specific, fewer websites will have content that addresses these searches, which increases your chances of ranking for these terms. If your potential keywords all look difficult, don’t despair. Reevaluate long-tail keyword options and related search terms, and consider your site’s authority on a topic. It may be easier to rank for a keyword than you initially thought.

Google Trends is an online tool that allows you to compare the popularity of different keywords over time. Using this information, you can find keywords with increasing traffic levels and better target keywords your audience is currently searching for. Google Trends also has the functionality to help you look at related keywords. And as trends shift, you can adjust your content strategy accordingly.

Decide Which Keywords to Target

After this keyword research, you’ll have a good idea of which keywords you should target. Combining MSV, keyword difficulty, and trends around these metrics will help you find long-tail keywords that are gaining traction, words that directly relate to your business that are low difficulty, and perhaps even a few high-volume, high-difficulty head words that are worth your time to target.

How to Successfully Rank for Keywords

keyword research

Successfully targeting keywords depends heavily on understanding the intent behind keyword phrases. Generally speaking, there are four main types of user intent: navigational (someone looking for a specific website), transactional (someone looking to buy something online), informational (someone who is in the very early stages of research), and commercial exploration (researching products before buying).

Understanding these different intentions can help marketers better target keywords and create content that satisfies each type of search query.

Consider Intent

When conducting keyword research, consider the intent behind each term. Consider why someone would be searching for the particular term you’re looking at, and try to imagine the search results they’re seeking. Are they looking for price comparisons and a breakdown of features? Maybe they want an in-depth how-to tutorial or a quick explanation of what something means.

Working out this detail can help you prioritize the keywords and the content you need to create. If you already have content that addresses a particular keyword, but not the intent behind that keyword, it likely explains why you’re struggling to rank. This approach really takes off when you pair long-tail keyword research with intent. For these highly specific search queries, you can easily figure out the searcher’s intent and address that clearly in your content.

Intent can also be broken down based on the buying journey. For each keyword, consider where the prospect may be at. Are they just starting their research and looking for general top-of-funnel information? Is this a product they have already identified that they want to buy immediately? Understanding where customers are in this process will help you better target content, so those needing more extensive education can get the details required for making decisions (navigational/informational searches).

At the same time, those further down their decision-making path can be directed quickly toward transactional/commercial exploratory pieces instead, enabling faster conversions.

Research the Competition

Another helpful step in keyword research is understanding how competitors use those same words and phrases. Third-party tools like SurferSEO give you a leg up on this process. Look at competitor content that ranks highly for a given keyword. What did they leave out? What questions did the reader have at the end of the piece? Address those items when you build content for that keyword.

Create High-Quality Content

Matching the keyword and its intent is a major part of building successful content and a key marker of content quality. Content tailored to search intent is far more important than perfectly targeted keywords and H2s. By all means, pay close attention to on-page SEO, but focus on content quality even when you’ve done the SEO keyword research.

Refreshing existing content can be an excellent way to speed up the process. Adjust your existing content to better address intent or go the other direction and address a slightly different keyword with existing content. When you build content that clearly addresses search intent, you’ll see the CTR for related keywords go up, and you can use Google Search Console to identify which pieces of your content are most successful.

Summing Up

Now that we’ve answered the question of what keyword research is, you can identify the best terms for your business. Keyword research fuels organic website traffic, and it starts with a strong SEO keyword research process. Once you’ve brainstormed potential topics and chosen a keyword research tool, take a deep dive into the metrics surrounding your keywords.

Identify which words to target based on difficulty and the likelihood that they’ll drive potential customers to your content. Look at what your competitors are targeting, examine related queries, and consider the intent for each keyword. Ultimately, your business’s ability to generate inbound leads rests on your ability to generate new keyword ideas, target the right keywords, and create content that matters to your target audience. And it all starts with solid keyword research.