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keyword research

There’s a lot of information on the internet about keywords — what they are, how to find them, if we should even spend time finding them.

But surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), there still seems to be a lot of confusion on the topic. We’re here to help!

In today’s post we’ll tackle keywords, in all their convoluted glory, and provide you with a foolproof process to discover and use the right ones for your company.

Do Keywords Still Play an Important Role in Digital Marketing?

Yes, they do. But they play a different role than they did in the early days of marketing a business online. Back then, a tactic dubbed “keyword stuffing” was a popular way to game the system and rank higher in search engine results.

We’re sure you’ve heard the term. You might have even participated in the practice. Keyword stuffing is exactly what it sounds like: attempting to fit as many keywords onto a webpage as possible without any regard for readability or user intent.

This tactic no longer works — and probably for the best. In fact, if you use it, you’ll most likely be penalized by Google and the other search engines.

But that doesn’t mean keywords have gone the way of the dodo. Quite the opposite actually! Keywords are still important because they’re the words and phrases your audience is looking for. They’re the topics they want to know more about.

And by researching keywords in your niche that relate to your business, you’ll become discoverable to your ideal audience by appearing in the search results for their queries.

Beyond just SEO, keyword research is also vital to creating both successful PPC campaigns and entire content marketing strategies. Have you ever sat in front of your computer wondering what to blog about or what to say in your next Adwords campaign? We certainly have.

Fortunately, thorough keyword research eliminates the guesswork when it comes to content and ad creation. Simply analyze your list of top keywords and choose one (we’ll show you how in a minute). This is now the topic for your next blog post or PPC ad.

Since you already know that your audience is searching for these terms, you’ll have a much better chance of driving organic traffic to your articles and getting your ads clicked if you include the right keywords.

keyword research

How to Discover Valuable Keywords

We’ve established that keyword research — when done correctly — is vital to many different marketing tasks. But how do you do the kind of keyword research that drives results? Let’s discuss that now:

Know Your Audience

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, this advice should come as no surprise to you. Effective marketing starts with a solid understanding of the people you’re trying to attract. Always.

You need to know the words and phrases they’re searching for. More than that, you need to understand the intent behind those words and phrases. What is your audience really after? Are they looking to buy something or learn more information on a specific topic?

With the latest Google updates, knowing exactly what your audience has in mind when they type a specific query into the search bar is essential.

Make a List of “Seed” Keywords

If you understand your audience, you should have have at least a general idea of what they’re searching for in relation to you company.

For example, let’s say you operate a business in the biking industry, selling high-end bikes and accessories to professional bikers and serious hobbyists. Off the top of our heads, we can quickly come up with a few ideas of things they might search for:

  • Top-rated bike helmets
  • Off-road bike tires
  • Gadgets for bikes

These are called “seed” keywords and phrases and it’s usually fairly easy to come up with a large list of them —  if you have a good feel for your industry and the products and/or services you sell.

As you begin to create your list of keywords, create a dedicated spreadsheet where you can add all your findings. This will keep you organized once you’ve amassed a few hundred (or even a few thousand) potential keywords.

keyword research

Employ the Use of Dedicated Keyword Research Tools

Okay, got your list of seed keywords? Next, let’s put that list to use!

Using any of the reliable keyword research tools out there (there are plenty of them, but we list a few of our favorites in a later section of this guide), start to punch in your seed keywords and see what the algorithm spits out.

There really isn’t a tried-and-true best method here. Simply type your seed keywords into your keyword research tool of choice and analyze the results.

Not everything the tools suggests will be worth your time. But you’re bound to get an abundance of ideas you weren’t able to think of on your own. Add these to your expanding keyword research spreadsheet.

Study the Competition

If you’re in business, you have competitors. And a great way to leverage the competition in your favor is to study and use the keywords they’re already ranking for.

Again, there are specific tools you can use to help you do this and we’ll discuss those in a later section. But for now, just know that researching your competition’s keyword strategy could be a quick win for your company.

So check up on them and add their keywords to your list.

Double Down

One often neglected keyword research technique is to study the terms you already rank for. After all, these keywords have proven to be effective since you’re already ranking for them.

Use a tool like Google’s Search Console and take a look at the “Search Analytics” report.

Take note of the keywords you’re ranking well for. This is valuable information. With it, you can craft more content around the top topics to increase your rankings, and put each one through a keyword research tool (just like we described above) to get even more related keyword ideas.

While Conducting Keyword Research, Do This:

As you build your complete list of potential keywords and save them to your dedicated spreadsheet, take special note of a few important metrics inside your keyword research tool:

Search Volume

Search volume tells you how many times a specific keyword is typed into Google every month. Your findings can be refined to only reflect data in certain physical locations (like the USA) if needed.

Keep in mind that these monthly numbers will be yearly averages. So while a search for “Easter Eggs” may show a solid monthly search volume, most of these searches are probably entered right around Easter.

This is important to realize when crafting your keyword strategy.


The competition for specific keywords, known as keyword difficulty, is another important metric to understand and take note of.

Keyword difficulty tells you how hard it will be to rank for the specific keyword in question. When managing the SEO and PPC efforts for your company, you’ll need to take this metric into account.

A high level of competition does NOT mean you should abandon a keyword. But you should realize that competitive keywords will take much more work and time to rank for. Whether you ultimately use the keyword or not will depend on its value to your business.

Cost Per Click

This metric is geared more towards those running PPC ads rather than those researching keywords for SEO purposes.

The cost per click is an estimate of how much you’ll need to pay for someone to click on your PPC ad. Unless you have an unlimited budget, this is, obviously, an important number to know.

As you take note of these specific metrics, begin to prioritize the keywords that could lead to the greatest returns for your marketing efforts. Simply mark the ones with the greatest potential in your spreadsheet so that you can easily refer to them later.

keyword research

Organize and Refine Your Keyword List

Once you’ve compiled a large list of relevant keywords and taken note of a few key metrics for each, it’s time to organize.


First, group together keywords and phrases that are similar. For example, if you operate an ecommerce store selling sports equipment, you could group “regulation basketball hoops” and “better free throw technique” together. But “aluminum baseball bats” would go in a different category.


Now, we want to break down our groupings even further. We need to begin to establish and define the intent (remember intent?) a searcher will have when they type our specific keywords into Google. What are they really looking for?

Referring back to our previous example, someone searching for the phrase “regulation basketball hoops” is most likely looking to purchase a regulation basketball hoop. They could be looking for information on the correct, regulation size of basketball hoop, sure. But the searcher probably has a “purchase” mentality.

On the other hand, a query of “better free throw technique” is probably a search for information on the topic rather than a product to buy. They want to read an article or watch a YouTube video.

This distinction between “purchase” and “research” mentalities is important. While both kinds of intent can drive traffic to your ads and web pages, the people coming in will want different things. And selling a product to someone simply looking for information is much, much harder than selling to someone who wants to buy exactly what you have.


The length of your phrases is also worth taking into consideration. Professional SEO experts typically separate length into three categories: the head, the body, and the tail.

  • The head is composed of one-word phrases such as “shoes.” These words typically receive A LOT of traffic, but because the terms are so broad, are often quite difficult to rank for and don’t usually provide high conversion rates.
  • The body is made up of two to three word phrases like “men’s black shoes.” These terms are more specific and generally offer higher potential conversion rates. But they can still be competitive, depending on your industry.
  • The tail, also known as “long tail keywords,” are phrases that contain four words or more. These are hyper specific keywords, such as “men’s black leather Calvin Klein shoes.” As you can see, this searcher has a very good idea of what he wants. While the search traffic for this specific phrase will be a lot lower, so will the competition. Plus, the likelihood of conversions will be much greater.

We recommend you put most of your effort into body and long tail keywords. You’ll have a much better chance of ranking in Google’s search results this way, and you’ll experience much higher conversion rates.

How to Use Your Top Keywords

At this point, you understand why keywords are still so important to your company’s digital marketing strategy and how to discover relevant ones. You also know how to organize all your collected keywords effectively.

Now you’re ready to start using these bad boys!

Analyze your spreadsheet. Though it’s probably filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of keyword ideas, there will definitely be a few you’ll want to focus on initially.

First, look for keywords that will provide the greatest business value for your company. Which ones, if you were to rank for, would greatly increase your profits and success? These are the keywords and phrases you want to start with.

Next, look for keywords with a healthy search volume and a reasonable competition level. You’re looking for the ones that get a good amount of traffic, but won’t be such a bear to rank for.

Finally, determine your goal for each keyword. Are you planning to write a blog post on a specific topic in order to drive traffic to your website and begin nurturing a relationship with potential prospects? Include a relevant keyword (and a few related ones) in that post.

Or maybe you’re creating a PPC ad and, ideally, you’d like everyone who clicks on it to buy your product. Make sure the keywords you choose match the searcher’s intention. Meaning, choose “purchase” keywords rather than “research” keywords.

Keyword Research Tools Worth Consideration

The strategic use of a few SEO specific tools will enable you to conduct thorough keyword research. There are tons of options and a quick Google search will reward you with many blog articles discussing the pros and cons of each.

Below we’ve compiled a list of a few highly-rated SEO and keyword research tools for your consideration:

Complete SEO Software Suites

If you want a SEO tool that can do it all — help you conduct keyword research, analyze your competitors, give you other valuable insights and more — a complete SEO software suite is the way to go. Here are a few worth considering:


Ahrefs is the tool of choice for many professional SEOs, which isn’t surprising. The software packs a serious punch. But most marketers agree, it really excels in its ability to help users find and capitalize on backlink opportunities. Start a seven-day trial here.


SEMrush is another very popular SEO tool and is arguably the best suited for those running high-dollar ad campaigns. Why? Because its keyword research features are so robust. From keyword ideas to metrics, SEMrush is a great option. Your free trial starts here.


Moz has been around for longer than both the two previously mentioned tools. It was also founded by Rand Fishkin, the “wizard of moz” and popular internet marketing guru. Where Moz really succeeds is in the free tools they offer. If you’re on a shoestring budget, we recommend checking out the free Moz offerings first!

Keyword Research Tools

If you just need a keyword research tool and don’t want to spend extra money or time learning how to use an advanced SEO suite, there are a few options:


KWFinder is part of the Mangools suite of services and is a popular keyword research tool. It’s especially suited to those who value ease of use and simplicity: its interface is clean and intuitive. To start your keyword research for free, go here.

Long Tail Pro

Long Tail Pro, another keyword research tool, is highly valued by its users for its ability to discover low-competition keywords and phrases. If targeting under-used keywords is a large part of your strategy, Long Tail Pro is worth a look.


SpyFu offers a lot more than just keyword research. But what it’s really known for is its ability to discover the competition’s top keywords so that you can use them too — hence the name SpyFu. This tool also gives you unlimited search results and data exports; something few other SEO softwares do. Try SpyFu here.

Budget Friendly

On a tight budget? There are plenty of services that will help you conduct deep keyword research without breaking the bank. Here are a few of our favorites:


Serpstat is an all-in-one SEO tool that’s been growing in popularity the last few years. We’re not surprised. It’s offers a ton of features at a very attractive and flexible price point. Many of the Serpstat features can be used for free. But if you need more, their paid plans start at just $19 a month. Give it a go here.

Answer the Public

Answer the Public is a free keyword research tool, though they do have a paid plan that offers more functionality. Operating under the notion that “we’re all searching for something,” AtP displays their keyword search results in the form of questions.

For example, if you type in “baseball bat,” the tool will give you, “when was the baseball bat made,” “can a baseball bat break a car window,” and many more questions as a result. You can then answer these questions in your content creation efforts and drive traffic to your site.


Owned by another world-renown digital marketer, Neil Patel, UberSuggest is a free keyword research tool. Simply type your seed keywords into the search bar and UberSuggest will generate many other, related ideas for you. Each result also includes valuable information like search volume, competition level, and cost per click. Use it for free here.

Improve Your Marketing with Deep Keyword Research

Thorough keyword research is an important aspect of modern digital marketing. And now you know how to conduct it effectively and which tools to invest in to help you with the process.

By discovering what your audience is searching for, you’ll be able to learn a lot about them. You can then use this information to craft targeted content that will greatly improve your marketing efforts.

So get to it! Follow this guide and find the right keywords. Then apply them to your website, PPC ads and content marketing pieces to enhance your company’s discoverability.

We’d love to hear your experiences with keyword research. Has it helped your business? Have you used any of the tools mentioned above? Let us know in the comments.

Jacob Thomas is a freelance copywriter and content marketer based in Bend, OR. His professional writing approach has helped numerous businesses gain more traffic, leads, and sales. To contact Jacob, visit

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