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Keyword Research: Definitions, Types, Tools & More in 2023

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Online marketing is a multifaceted effort – it’s not enough to slap together a few Google PPC ads and call it a day if you want your brand to succeed.

More than anything else, keyword research determines whether your ads reach the right people and whether your target audience finds your website when they search for your products.

But what exactly is keyword research, and why is it so important?

Read on – our detailed guide will answer these questions and many more.

What is Keyword Research?

Keyword research involves investigating and refining a list of keywords to target and use in digital marketing.

Think of keyword research as a three-part process:

  • First, you identify keyword topics to research.
  • Next, you research specific keywords for importance and applicability.
  • Lastly, you build and launch a marketing strategy incorporating those keywords.

When done properly, keyword research forms the first major step in content creation.

Why is Keyword Research Important?

Keyword research is a cornerstone of modern digital marketing.

Doing in-depth keyword research before starting a new campaign, writing a new blog, or creating any new content is always a good idea.

But why?

In truth, there are many reasons why keyword research is so fundamental and valuable to digital marketing. Keywords are the base data blocks Google collects information about.

If you know the keywords your target audience members type into Google, you learn:

  • What they’re thinking
  • How they approach your brand’s industry
  • What they’re interested in
  • And more

All of that information is vital when creating new digital marketing materials.

More importantly, keywords help your marketing materials rank highly with Google’s search engine algorithms.

They’re critical for good SEO or search engine optimization.

For example, imagine that you want to create a fresh batch of blog posts for your company website.

However, you need to make sure the blog posts show up on Google and that their topics answer questions your target consumers have.

So, you do a little keyword research.

Once you figure out the right keywords, you can:

  • Make blog posts with titles incorporating those keywords
  • Make content with keywords woven throughout, thus helping those pages rank highly with Google
  • Make content that includes topics and answers your audience members are interested in

Bottom line: keyword research is important for more reasons than one.

Don’t think you can skip it, even if you’re rushing to publish a new blog post – you’ll regret it in the long run.

Keyword Overview: Basics to Understand

Before diving into how to practice keyword research properly, let’s look at some key terms you’ll encounter.

  • Keyword – A word that helps to describe the content on a page. Keywords are usually nouns or verbs.
  • Search result – A webpage produced by Google in response to a user search. SEO algorithms generate search results by looking at keywords to determine whether certain pages are appropriate for user searches.
  • Short-tail keyword – A keyword between one and two words long. Short-tail keywords have the highest average search volume and the most competition.
  • Middle-tail keyword – A keyword between three and four words long. These keywords have average search competitiveness and search volume.
  • Long-tail keyword – A keyword with five words or more. Long-tail keywords have the lowest search volume but the least competition. However, they also have the highest average conversion rate since they tend to be very specific and focused on individual searchers.
  • Search volume – The total number of user search queries for a given keyword in Google.
  • Search intent – The assumed or stated purpose of a Google search (the reason someone types in specific keywords).
  • Keyword strategy – The overall strategy marketers or businesses use to best leverage keyword research results, such as which keywords to target.

Benefits of Keyword Research

Keyword research provides a wide range of benefits to marketers and enterprises that use it well.

In fact, keyword research is so advantageous that there’s no good reason to skip it when developing a new marketing campaign or writing a new blog post.

For example, keyword research provides you with greater marketing insights into your target visitors or customers.

As you understand these targeted individuals more deeply, your marketing campaigns become more effective and tailored to their needs or emotional triggers.

Furthermore, keyword research lets you grow traffic more easily.

Through SEO boosts, keyword research helps your site rank more highly with Google.

When your target visitors search for related keywords, they’re more likely to see your site show up at the top of their search engine results.

Combined, both of these effects often lead to increased customer acquisition, more sales, and related benefits.

How To Do Keyword Research

As you can see, keyword research really isn’t something you can skip.

Instead, it’s best to think of keyword research as a necessary – and potentially informative! – step of the digital marketing process.

But it’s one thing to know why keyword research is beneficial.

It’s another thing to see those benefits yourself.

To ensure your keyword research helps your enterprise survive and thrive in the modern market, take a look at the tips below.

1. Make a List of Topics

First, you need to figure out a starting point of things to write about.

You should create a list of topics you want to research.

Naturally, these topics should be relevant to your business industry or niche.

vector graphic showing an illustration of how to write a blog post

Say that you run a carpentry company and you want to bring people to your brick-and-mortar store.

That means you should research topics related to carpentry, such as:

  • Carpentry tutorials
  • Differences between different types of wood
  • When to repair carpentry items and when to hire experts (like you)
  • And so on

Ideally, you should come up with between five and 10 “topic buckets” based on what you think is most useful for your business.

If you have trouble coming up with topic buckets, put yourself in the shoes of your target audience members.

What do they like? What do they look for?

What are they most likely to think about when they find your brand for the first time?

Answering these questions can give you valuable insights into the minds of your potential customers and help you come up with topic buckets in no time.

2. Find Keywords for Those Topics

Once you have a list of topics, you need to find keywords to fill the “buckets”.

You can brainstorm this step, as well. Let’s pivot to a new example: a blogger who wants to bring more traffic to their site to increase their ad or affiliate marketing revenue.

Consider what keywords are most relevant for such a business owner.

The blogger identifies a topic bucket for “blog layout tips”. That kind of bucket might have keywords like:

  • How to create a new blog
  • How to fix blog layout
  • Blog layout suggestions
  • Blog theme ideas
  • Best blog themes

These are all middle-tail or long-tail keywords. It’s helpful to come up with longer keywords at first because short-tail keywords can often be derived from the longer ones after the fact.

Once you have an initial list of keywords for your topic buckets, you need to use keyword research tools.

There are dozens of different tools available, some paid and some free.

We’ll break down the best keyword research tools to leverage later in this guide.

But no matter which tool you use, they all operate essentially the same way.

You plug keywords into the tools, and the tools provide you with:

  • Search volume for those keywords, or how often people search for them
  • Related keywords (to help you fill out your topic buckets even more)
  • Resonance, which is an estimation of how well a search term relates to a brand, product, or topic

3. Find Related Keywords

Let’s focus more on the related keywords your keyword research tools produce after you input your first batch of search terms.

Related keywords are incredibly important.

They help you fill up your topic buckets, as mentioned above.

But they also help you further understand the search intent of your target audience members.

Recall the blog business owner who wants to improve traffic to their website.

They run a research session for “blog theme ideas”.

They find, thanks to their keyword research tool, that “blog theme ideas” is often related to keywords like:

  • Blog themes for free
  • Blog themes for photos
  • Best paid blog themes

All of these terms provide more insight into their target audience members.

From the keyword searches above, the business owner deduces that their target visitor:

  • Is curious about paid versus free blog themes
  • Wants to know which themes are best for displaying photos compared to longer posts

This is very valuable information.

Armed with this knowledge, our hypothetical blog owner might decide to write lots of posts answering these needs.

4. Define Search Intent for Each

However, good keyword research goes above and beyond the basics.

Depending on your keyword research tool, you may be able to find the search intent for each primary and related keyword.

Search intent is always assumed, but it’s fairly accurate (especially for more common and competitive keywords since Google has more data about searcher actions for them).

For example, the search intent of  “shoes for sale” is fairly obvious: the searcher wants to buy new shoes!

Even so, looking at expected search intent for each keyword you research is a good idea.

The better your idea of your target searchers’ intent, the better prepared you’ll be to make top-tier, high-converting content in response.

5. Analyze Competition

Many quality keyword research tools include analyses of how competitive each keyword is. Why does this matter?

Firstly, highly competitive keywords cost more if you run ads using them. For example, standard Google PPC or pay-per-click ads only require you to pay if a customer clicks on one of your ads. But these ads run on a bidding system. You have to compete with other bids before your ad shows up for specific keywords.

The more competitive a keyword is, the higher the starting and proceeding bids are as well. In addition, competitive keywords might apply to multiple search intents, multiple target audiences, and so on.

While competitive keywords have their places, less competitive keywords might be better in some circumstances. They’re cheaper, easier to use for your Google ads and blogs, and are oftentimes more specific to individual users.

Build Keyword Strategy Based on Results

You should develop a keyword strategy based on the results of your keyword research. Decide:

  • What keywords to target above all else. These keywords should be used in content titles and throughout its copy, for example
  • What secondary keywords to use to enhance SEO
  • What semantic keywords to use to further direct your content toward specific users/your target audience members

In theory, the better results you get, the more effective your strategy is.

Produce Content for Those Keywords

Once you have a strategy in place, it’s time to produce content using your research keywords. You can leverage keywords in lots of digital marketing content, like:

  • Blog posts
  • Online tutorials
  • Product descriptions
  • Website copy
  • YouTube ad or video descriptions
  • And more

Smart keyword use helps your brand be more competitive in its niche, and it’s just as important in the earliest days of your business as it is when you have a committed audience.

Pro Tip: Continuously Analyze Keywords

Keyword research isn’t something you can do once and leave behind. Instead, remember that keyword intent – and keyword competition levels! – constantly change.

What was a good keyword a year ago may not be an excellent keyword any longer.

For the best results, you should continuously analyze keywords and update existing content while finding new, high-ranking keywords for fresh content you put out.

Keyword Research Tools

The keyword research tools you use heavily impact the quality of your research results. They also affect how much information you get with each research session.

Free Keyword Research Tools

Good news; you can use free keyword research tools if you’ve already stretched your marketing budget or have not yet launched your business. Here are some great free keyword research tools to consider.

  • Google Keyword Planner Tool – Google Keyword Planner integrates easily with AdWords/Google Ads. For a free tool, it’s remarkably robust, offering a ton of historical statistics and other information when you input keywords for your research.
  • Google Search Console – While not a dedicated keyword research tool, Search Console is a great place to start if you already use Google Analytics. This free service lets you monitor and maintain your site’s presence by offering limited keyword research functions, plus some other controls.
  • Google Trends – Google returns once again with Trends: a free tool that lets you input multiple keywords simultaneously and filter them by different categories. It’s an excellent free research tool if you want to know how much web interest there is around specific keywords.

Overall, paid keyword research tools produce better results and provide more information than free tools. Check out these recommended keyword research tools when you can spare the cash.

  • Ahrefs – This pricey keyword research tool is highly desirable thanks to its intuitive design, easy user controls, and in-depth research results. It provides an excellent range of relevant keyword suggestions and has the largest database for keywords overall, totaling 5.1 billion distinct keywords across 200 countries.
  • SEMrush – SEMrush is a bit pricey, but well worth it since it lets you compare keywords and domains against each other plus gather information from both Google and Bing search engine results. Its position tracking feature displays how keywords and their competitiveness evolve over time.
  • Exploding Topics Pro – Available in a free and paid model, this tool offers advanced analysis techniques for your keyword search needs. It analyzes many data points from a wide range of sources like shopping queries, standard searches, tech news, online community chatter, and more.
  • Answer the Public – This tool shows raw search engine results and insights by displaying questions people ask related to inputted keywords. The tool is also beneficial since it breaks down results in intuitive graphic displays.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I choose keywords for SEO?

It’s best to choose keywords for SEO by researching keywords related to your site or niche.

Then choose keywords that strike a good balance between competitiveness and specificity for your target audience members.

How many keywords should I use for SEO?

Generally, it’s a good idea to prioritize a single main or primary keyword for each page/content piece.

Include that keyword at least 10 times.

You should also include two or three variations of the primary keyword as well as up to a dozen semantic or related keywords.

Wrapping Up

Keyword research is the best method to discern online searcher intent and ensure your company is well-positioned to capture target traffic over time.

Good keyword research truly can make your brand stand out from the competition, especially if your company operates in a crowded niche.

Still have questions or want to know more about how keyword research works?

Leave a comment or check out our other guides today.