In this chapter I’ll cover the fundamentals of keyword research.
First, you’ll learn exactly what keyword research is (and why it’s important for SEO).
I’ll also show you how keyword research helped grow my site’s search engine traffic to 170k+ unique visitors per month.
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is the process of discovering words and phrases (aka “keywords”) that people use in search engines, like Google, Bing and YouTube.
Why is Keyword Research Important for SEO?
Keyword research impacts every other SEO task that you perform, including finding content topics, on-page SEO, email outreach, and content promotion.
That’s why keyword research is usually the first step of any SEO campaign.
Put another way:
Keywords are like a compass for your SEO campaigns: they tell you where to go and whether or not you’re making progress.
As a bonus, researching keywords help you better understand your target audience. That’s because keyword research gives you insight into what customers are searching for… and the exact words and phrases that they use.
In other words: keyword research is market research for the 21st century.
How Keyword Research Helped My Site’s Traffic Grow
Today, my site generates 302,749 visitors every month:
And 200,706 of those visitors (66.29%) come from Google:
Obviously, there are a lot of factors that went into my site’s success with SEO, including content, on-site optimization, link building and technical SEO.
But the #1 factor that contributed to my site’s traffic growth was keyword research.
A while back I used the process in this guide to uncover a low-competition keyword: mobile SEO.
Note: These topics aren’t keywords. They’re broad topics that you’ll later use to drill down to specific keywords.
Which is exactly what you’re going to learn how to do right now…
Wikipedia Table of Contents
Wikipedia is an overlooked keyword research goldmine.
Where else can you find articles curated by thousands of industry experts… all organized into neat little categories?
Here’s how to use Wikipedia to find keyword ideas.
First, head over to Wikipedia and type in a broad keyword:
That will take you to the Wikipedia entry for that broad topic.
Then, look for the “contents” section of the page. This section lists out the subtopics covered on that page.
And some of the subtopics listed here are awesome keywords that would be tough to find any other way:
You can also click on some of the internal links on the page to check out the Table of Contents of other, closely related entries.
For example, on the coffee entry we have a link to “Coffee Preparation”:
When you click on that link, you’ll notice that the table of contents for the Coffee Preparation page has even more keywords that you can add to your list:
Searches Related To
Another cool way to find keywords is to check out the “Searches Related to” section at the bottom of Google’s search results.
For example, let’s say one of your topics was “content marketing”.
Well, you’d want to search for that keyword in Google.
And scroll to the bottom of the page. You’ll find a list of 8 keywords that are closely related to your search term.
Just like with Google Suggest, these are keyword ideas that come straight from Google. So you don’t need to guess whether or not they’re popular. Google is literally telling you: “Tons of people search for these keywords.”
Pro Tip: Click on one of the “Searches Related To” keywords.
Then, scroll to the bottom of THOSE results. This will give you a new list of related keywords. Rinse and repeat.
Find Keywords on Reddit
Chances are your target audience hangs out on Reddit.
Which means you can usually find lots of keyword ideas on this platform.
Let’s say that you run a site that sells organic dog food.
You’d head over to Reddit. Then search for a broad topic that your target audience is interested in… and something that’s related to what you sell.
Then, choose a subreddit where your audience probably hangs out:
Finally, keep an eye out for threads that have lots of comments, like this:
In this case you’d add “dog food allergies” to your keyword ideas list.
Pro Tip: “Keyworddit” is a free SEO tool that scans Reddit for words and phrases that people use… and sorts those phrases by monthly search volume.
Use Google and YouTube Suggest
Now that you have a list of topics, type each one of them into Google.
And see what terms that Google Suggests to you.
These are great keywords to add to your list.
Because if Google suggests a keyword, you KNOW that lots of people are searching for it.
But you don’t need to stop with Google Suggest.
You can also find keyword suggestions with YouTube Suggest:
Find Popular Topics Using Forums
Forums are like having live focus groups at your fingertips 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The easiest way to find forums where your target audience hangs out is to use these search strings in Google:
Most people in SEO (myself included) divide keywords into three main categories: head, body and the long tail.
Here’s a breakdown of each keyword type:
These are usually single-word keywords with lots of search volume…and competition. Examples of head terms are keywords like “insurance” or “vitamins”. Because searcher intent is all over the place (someone searching for “insurance” might be looking for a car insurance quote, a list of life insurance companies or a definition of the word), Head Terms usually don’t convert very well.
Body keywords are 2-3 word phrases that get decent search volume (at least 2,000 searches per month), but are more specific than Head Keywords. Keywords like “life insurance” or “order vitamins online” are examples of Body Keywords. These almost always have less competition than Head Terms.
Long Tail Keywords
Long tail keywords are long, 4+ word phrases that are usually very specific. Phrases like “affordable life insurance for senior citizens” and “order vitamin D capsules online” are examples of long tail keywords. These terms don’t get a lot of search volume individually (usually around 10-200 searches per month). But when you add them together, long tails make up the majority of searches online. And because they don’t get searches for that much, long tail terms usually aren’t very competitive.
There’s no “best” keyword category to focus on. All 3 have their pros and cons.
But when it comes to competition, long tails are usually the least competitive of the bunch.
Authority of Sites on Google’s First Page
Here’s a quick way to evaluate a keyword’s competition level.
First, search for your keyword in Google.
Then, look at the sites ranking on the first page.
(Not individual pages)
If the first page is made up of uber authority sites (like Wikipedia), then you might want to cross that keyword off from your list:
But if you see a handful of smaller blogs on page 1, that’s a sign that you have a shot to hit the first page too.
Keyword Difficulty Inside of Keyword Tools
The vast majority of keyword research tools have some sort of keyword competition feature, including SEMrush:
We recently tested a bunch of them. And we found that they all size up keyword difficulty based on a combination of page authority and domain authority. YET they all tend to come up with completely different keyword difficulty scores.
Bottom Line? If your favorite keyword tool includes a keyword difficulty feature, go with that. It may not be perfect. But they do tend to give you a general idea of how competitive a keyword is to rank for.
Believe it or not, but there’s an entire tool dedicated to keyword difficulty: CanIRank.
What I like about this tool is that it doesn’t just spit out a keyword difficulty number. Instead, it evaluates a keyword’s competition level relative to your website.
For example, I recently popped the keyword “SEO” into CanIRank.
And the tool looked at Google’s first page competition compared to my site’s authority. And it gave me a “Ranking Probability” of 90%:
Chapter 5:How to Choose a Keyword
Now that you have a list of keywords, how do you know which one to pick?
Unfortunately, there’s no tool out there that will tell you: “This is the best keyword on your list”.
Instead, you need to size up each keyword based on a handful of different factors. Then, pick the keyword that’s the best fit for your business.
As you might expect, that’s exactly what I’m going to show you how to do in this chapter.
This is pretty straightforward.
The more people search for a keyword, the more traffic you can get from it.
The question is:
What’s a “good” search volume?
Short answer: it depends.
The long answer:
Search volumes vary A LOT between different industries.
For example, a long tail keyword in the fitness niche (like: “best ab exercises”) gets 10K-100K searches per month:
But a long tail keyword in a B2B space like digital marketing (like: “best seo software”) only gets 100-1K monthly searches.
That’s why you want to figure out what a “high” and “low” search volume number is in your niche.
Then, choose keywords based on what’s “normal” for your industry.
It’s no secret that the number of Google searchers that click on an organic search result is way down.
And it’s no wonder why.
Featured Snippets make it so you don’t need to click on anything to get an answer:
Plus, Google now packs the search results with more ads than ever before:
The bottom line?
Search volume only gives you part of the story. To get a full estimate of how many clicks you’ll get from a first page Google ranking, you also need to estimate organic CTR.
Here are two simple ways to do it…
First, you can look at the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for your keyword.
If you see a lot of stuff on the first page (like a Featured Snippet and multiple Google Ads), then you know that you’re not going to get a ton of clicks… even if you rank #1.
Second, you can use a tool.
Ahrefs and Moz pro both estimate organic CTR.
With all that said:
I wouldn’t avoid a keyword just because it has a low CTR. If lots of people search for that term, it might still be worth going after.
If your site is new (or doesn’t have a ton of links yet), target low-competition terms at first.
Then, as your site grows in authority, you can start to target more competitive stuff.
When I first launched Backlinko, I targeted almost 100% long tail keywords (like: “how to get backlinks”).
And because I didn’t have a ton of sites to compete with, I was able to get some organic traffic rolling in within a few weeks. Which helped me achieve some early SEO success.
Today, my site has backlinks from over 20k different domains:
So I can target more competitive keywords (like: “YouTube SEO”).
CPC (cost per click) is a single metric that answers one important question:
Do people searching for this keyword actually spend money?
So yeah, search volume is nice and all.
But if that keyword has zero commercial intent, then there’s no point in targeting that term.
Plus, you can sometimes get a great ROI from a keyword that doesn’t get that many searches… if the CPC is high enough.
For example, one of my target keywords is “link building services”.
According to Ahrefs, this keyword gets 400 searches per month.
So if I ONLY looked at search volume, I’d say: “This is a horrible keyword”.
That’s why it’s super important to ALSO look at CPC.
The CPC on that keyword is $25.00.
Which means that people are spending $25 every time someone searching for that keyword clicks on an ad.
So even though the search volume for that term isn’t that high, the CPC more than makes up for it.
Based on CPC (and the fact that the keyword wasn’t super competitive) I decided to create content optimized around that term.
And that blog post now ranks in the top 3 for my target keyword.
Here’s where you look at how likely it is that someone searching for a keyword will become a customer.
Yup, CPC helps you figure this out. But it doesn’t tell the entire story.
For example, a few weeks ago I came across the keyword: “backlink checker”.
On the surface, this is a great keyword.
It gets a decent amount of searches:
And has a $4.01 CPC:
It’s also not that competitive.
So this keyword is a winner, right?
Well… not really.
You see, Backlinko is an SEO training company. Which means I don’t sell a backlink analysis tool. So even if I DID rank #1 for “backlink checker”, it wouldn’t do me much good.
Contrast that with a keyword like “YouTube SEO”.
This keyword’s CPC is only $2.22.
But considering that I sell a YouTube training course, this term is a 10/10 in terms of business fit.
Which is why I wrote a piece of content around that keyword:
Finally, you want to see if your keyword is growing fast… or dying slow.
Sure, a #1 ranking is great. But it’s still only one spot in the SERPs.
That’s why I created a YouTube video optimized for that keyword…
…a video that also ranks on Google’s first page.
Bottom line? If you find an amazing keyword, you want to take up as much first page real estate as you can. First, create content on that topic on your own site. Then, publish keyword-optimized content on authority sites, like YouTube, LinkedIn, Medium and more.