A Simple Guide to SEO Keyword Research for Newbies

A Simple Guide to SEO Keyword Research for Newbies

As a site owner, you want people to visit your website. After all, you’re putting a lot of time, energy, and money into running it. And for most of us, our websites are part of our business. So getting an optimal ROI is critical for keeping our websites, and often our businesses, profitable.

However, driving traffic to your site is much more complex than putting great words on a page. Rather, we must make it readable and indexable by search engines. Because search engines use keywords to categorize web pages, it’s critical that we use the right ones in the right way.  But first, we must identify those keywords. This is the essence of SEO keyword research.

The Fundamentals of Keyword Research

Doing SEO keyword research is essential if you want to maximize traffic. That’s because Google and other search engines consider how relevant your content is to the topic. In other words, you can’t choose keywords relevant to men’s shoes if you write about dog food.

What is SEO keyword research?

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Keyword research is a process by which marketers, businesses, and content creators identify words and phrases that are relevant to their target audience. These terms should ask the question that your article will answer or announce the topic of your content. At the same time, the keywords you choose should be the best choices to avoid excessive competition, especially when you’re starting out.

Keep in mind that SEO keyword research often finds keywords that you aren’t expecting or that you wouldn’t have chosen yourself. Think about it – how many ways can we say that somebody is pregnant? They may be “expecting,” “ready to hatch,” “have one on the way,” or even “have a bun in the oven.” You should choose the ones which are most appropriate to your audience. Similarly, you’ll find the keywords which include the word “pregnant” to be the most competitive and the most dominated by medical sites.

Why is SEO keyword research important?

It helps you find the keywords that your target audience uses to search for information on search engines. These can be both basic terms and more technical ones, often depending on what questions they have. By targeting those search phrases, you can make your site more visible and increase your chances of getting more organic traffic.

In short, proper SEO keyword research helps in marketing your business well. It drives the right traffic to your website, where you can convert them into customers.

Key considerations when doing keyword research

Not every relevant keyword is the best one to use for your website. There are several factors to consider when you choose primary and secondary keywords for a particular piece of content. Keep in mind that the balance may be different from one topic to another. Either way, you want a good balance that brings in the right people to your content when they need to see the content.

Keywords vs. topics

Just because a keyword SEEMS to be relevant doesn’t mean that it is. There are some terms that have different meanings across industries, and sometimes a word can change meaning along with context. Therefore, you want to make sure that you use the right keywords, and use them properly, to match the content.

The 4 Types of keywords based on intent

The 4 Types of keywords based on intent

When you choose keywords, make sure that they match the stage of the buyer journey (their “intent”). They might be looking for information generally, know exactly what they’re looking for, honing in on specific information like product reviews, or be ready to buy.

As you choose the right keywords, you need to consider which stage you’re trying to appeal to. For instance, you’ll choose different keywords if you’re writing a product review than you will for general information articles on the same topic.

There will also be some keywords that work for more than one stage. For instance, your brand name is a keyword that works for all stages, and a model or product name works at multiple levels. Generic or category words like “computer” or “shoes” work across even more content types.

Keyword difficulty

Just because a keyword works well for your topic and the stage of a buyer’s journey you’re targeting doesn’t make it a good choice for a piece of content. That’s because some keywords are highly competitive, and you’ll have trouble ranking on the first page of Google. Instead of getting frustrated, pick something that’s less competitive yet still highly visible and appropriate for your topic. That may be easier than you realize.

Short vs. long-tail keywords

Another consideration for SEO Keyword research is whether you want to use short-tail or long-tail keywords. Briefly, a short tail keyword is a single word or a short phrase, such as “dog food.” On the other hand, a long-tail keyword expresses an entire thought will be several words long. So, instead of searching for “dog food,” you’ll search “dog food for puppies.” This narrows the options so that the searcher gets more relevant information. After all, if you have a puppy, then you don’t care about dog food for senior animals.

Search volume

As you narrow down the keyword options for your article, think about search volume. You’ll see this in a search engine marketing platform or other SEO keyword research tools. The term search volume refers to how often people use a keyword in their search. Therefore, the higher your search volume, the more popular that information will be. Ideally, you’ll Keywords with relatively high search volumes and low competition in comparison. This is not always possible, however.

Site authority

Next, take your potential keywords and look at the top results. For each of those top results, consider whether or not the website has a lot of authority. To continue our dogs example, a search for information on golden retrievers generally will immediately display articles by the American Kennel Club and from various breed organizations. In both cases, the sites will have high levels of authority.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a website in the Los Angeles area, then there will be less competition. At the same time, site authority will typically be lower because each will talk about their particular dogs. If you write an article about golden retrievers, you will have more trouble competing with the AKC than a local breeder. Similarly, you can reduce competition by changing your keywords to the ones which the AKC is not using as heavily.

SERP results

Knowing how many search results there are for your targeted keyword will help you choose the best ones. That’s because results are a good indicator of both relevance and competition. After all, the more relevant results you see for a particular keyword, the greater the competition. Similarly, if most articles for a particular keyword discuss something a little different, you may need to differentiate by using a long-tail keyword.

How to do keyword research for SEO for newbies?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information so far, or you don’t know where to start, don’t worry. Doing SEO keyword research is easy if you understand the process and have the right tools.

Further Reading: The Insider’s Beginners Guide to SEO: 7 Expert Tips to Get Started the Right Way

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Before you can start SEO keyword research, you need to know what you’re looking for. Most industries have multiple keywords which are specialized and a few more that might be shared with related sectors. Depending on your intended audience, you may need a different mixture of these keywords across your website. Here’s how to identify the best keywords, whether you are writing a few short pieces of content or want to run a large blog.

First, start with seed keywords related to your business niche. These are frequently obvious. For instance, if you’re reading my blog, then you have some interest in marketing. And people who follow me know that social media marketing is one of my specialties. Simply by writing these sentences, I’ve already defined two starter or seed keywords that I can use to expand the list.

Next, list out all the possible topics that address your target audience’s pain points or are in some way relevant to your audience. Start with the pain points that your products or services address head-on, and then expand your ideas to potential secondary issues. Similarly, there are industry or lifestyle issues that your audience may care about and which are somewhat relevant to your products.

Once you have developed a list of ideas, use free keyword search tools like Google keyword planner and enter those topics for more keyword ideas. Chances are that you’ll find new keywords which you haven’t considered yet. That’s especially true with long-tail keywords because you don’t always consider the questions people ask. Similarly, look for related search terms for wider topical coverage.

Finally, use Google Trends to see the ups and downs in search interest for the topics or keywords. This way, you can avoid using keywords that won’t get enough traffic. Then, you can concentrate on the most effective keywords.

2. Identify your competitors and check the keywords they are targeting

It’s easy to perform competitor keyword research using some of the tools discussed further below. These tools can help you develop new keywords for your site based on existing content. But you can also analyze your competitor’s keywords. Chances are they have already done their homework. It’s easy to inform your keyword research strategy with your competitors’ keyword data by seeing what works well for them and where they fall short.

Once you’ve found keywords you think will work, check SERP features like featured snippets, local results, list snippets, video snippets, etc., to gauge the competitive landscape.

3. Create a list of potential keywords to target

Create a list of relevant keywords based on your research after factoring in search volume, keyword, competitive research, keyword difficulty, and site authority of your competitor. Ideally, you’ll find some keywords which have a decent amount of search volume but are not so competitive that it’s hard to break in.

As a newbie site, go for the low-hanging fruits. These are usually long-tail keywords that are comparatively easier in terms of keywords difficulty. Over time, your site authority will increase, and it’ll be easier for you to pursue highly competitive keywords. Meanwhile, you’ll attract significant traffic to your website.

remember, each top will have a different set of keywords. Because your website will not treat just one topic but instead will cover a cluster of related ones, it’s important to keep everything in the same place. This will reduce confusion later and also make it easier to track results over time.

Often, it’s easiest to organize your keyword list into a spreadsheet. Each column can represent a different topic. Then, when you finish your SEO keyword research for a while, you can incorporate relevant keywords into your content calendar.

5. Create content around the topics and keywords

Using one or two keywords per article, create high-quality content that is useful and engaging for your target audience. Ideally, this content should answer customer’s questions about your products and services, while also providing education about your industry as a whole. The less that your client base understands about the industry upfront, the more important it is for you to set the stage with top-notch content.

Further Reading: What is SEO Content? 8 Tips for Creating Content That Ranks for 2023

6. Consider search Intent and buying funnel while creating content

Turning your SEO keyword research into gold requires more effort than simply cranking out content. Make sure you factor in the sales funnel when creating content, so that each step in the buyer journey is covered. Similarly, each piece of content should be suitable for a particular phase. For example, content for the awareness stage should be more informational, and content for the consideration stage should be more persuasive. This way, you’ll meet each potential customer where they are.

7. Optimize content for SEO

Optimize content for SEO

Finally, finding the right keywords and tailoring content for each stage of the buyer journey is only half of the struggle. Instead, you need to optimize the content for best performance on the search engines. While keywords are part of this equation, there are several other considerations.

Optimize your content with relevant keywords

Typically, you will have one or two keywords per article. However, some niches require more than this. Discovering the sweet spot in terms of keywords is one reason why we analyze the competition.

Optimize your content for readability

Generally speaking, content that’s well-written ultimately performs better on search engines than poor-quality content. That’s because an article that is easy to understand will hold people’s interest more easily and for a longer period of time. As people spend more time on your site, it will increase the dwell time. This is one of the major criteria which search engines consider for ranking.

Adding links helps you to establish the authority of your content and give credit to any sources you have consulted. Similarly, internal linking encourages people to keep reading and thereby gain more information while increasing your domain’s dwell time.

Make sure you have meta tags and meta descriptions

Your meta description will help Google rank your page, but it also helps people decide if they want to read your article or not. Meta Tags help create a map of your article and make it easier to read for both the algorithm and your audience.

Further Reading: The 6 Meta Tags That Can Help Improve Your SEO

8. Monitor and track keyword performance

Monitor and track your keyword performance using free tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics or paid tools like Ahrefs and SemRush. Most site owners start with free tools, especially because they can learn what works best for them without incurring a lot of risks. Over time, you may find that the complexity of your site makes buying into a paid tool worthwhile.

Simply running your site through these tools might make you think that you’re looking for a needle in a haystack. However, once you learn how to use the tools, it’s easy to track organic traffic, conversions, and other metrics related to your keywords. The best options will give you a graph or chart, which can help you see results change over time.

Also, be sure to analyze the data on your Google Search Console account to identify which keywords are performing well and which ones need more optimization. These results can change over time, especially as your competition changes strategies. Algorithm changes and other adjustments can also affect which keywords perform the best over time.

Beyond simply telling you what content needs improvement, tracking performance also helps to refine your keyword strategy and create content that is more relevant to your target audience. As industry trends shift, customers will have different questions than they did initially, and you must always be ready to meet the challenge.

Further Reading: How to Perform Your Own 9 Step SEO Audit

Free keyword research tools for newbies

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At this point, I’ve already talked a lot about the need to use tools for SEO keyword research. I have an extensive article about keyword research and other SEO tools, which you can check out. But in the meantime, here’s a summary of some basic tools and how they can help.

  • Google Trends: This is a quick way to find out what searches people are running. You can get results based on geography and other refinements. The results serve up general information.
  • Google Ads Keyword Planner: Use keyword Planner to find keywords that are relevant to your topics. You will also get a sense of which ones are more competitive and which ones are much easier to work with.
  • Answer the Public: This tool mines the data from Google and other search engines to find out what people want to know at any given time. You can also ask its database about questions in your niche.
  • QuestionDB: A similar tool to Answer the Public, but it uses data from Reddit.
  • Keyword Surfer: A Chrome extension that analyzes Autocomplete results to discover what people are talking about. You will also get information about traffic and search volume, along with competitive analysis.
  • Keyword Sheeter: Provides a quick list of related keywords when you enter the first one into their tool. You can also buy more features.

Further Reading: The 15 Best Free SEO Tools You Need to Know in 2023

Eventually, you may find that the basic tools are not enough for your SEO keyword research needs. You may also find that it’s beneficial to have one tool which performs many different functions. If you need to scale your keyword research, check out these premium tools:

  • SEMrush: An all-in-one search engine marketing suite. You can use this to plan advertising campaigns, track your results, and much more.
  • Ahrefs: A direct competitor to SEMrush, which has similar features.
  • MOZ: Internet marketing dashboard, which has especially good features for local SEO.
  • Ubersuggest: Freemium feature that can take you far beyond your SEO keyword research and help you plan ad campaigns.
  • Serpstat: Another comprehensive dashboard that helps you organize and plan your campaigns. This includes a quality keyword planner with grouping.

As you can see, there are lots of tools available. Many of the paid tools have free trials, so when you’re ready to move beyond free resources, you can try them before you buy. However, you can master SEO keyword research with the free options.


Learning how to do SEO keyword research can easily seem daunting. However, it’s easy to learn with practice and the right tools. Better yet, you’ll quickly learn to find the perfect keywords for your content, then craft a winning strategy.

Hero Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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