As a business owner, you likely know how important it is to get prospective customers to visit your website. Part of attracting your target audience to your site is through search engine optimization (SEO). Using the right keywords can help you stay relevant to consumers’ search queries, thereby increasing their chances of landing on your website or blog.
However, SEO shouldn’t be a trial-and-error guessing game. To drive real results, you should understand which terms are the most effective in attracting your audience. This is where keyword research — and the appropriate keyword research tools — comes into play.
Ready to take your SEO game to the next level? In this article, we’ll share:
- What keyword research is and how it can help you drive more organic traffic to your website.
- How to conduct your own keyword research in six straightforward steps, from brainstorming to competitor analysis.
- Our favorite free and paid keyword research tools and how you can use them to help your business website rank higher in search engines.
What is keyword research?
The first step in any effective SEO strategy is keyword research. This will help you identify the most popular search terms and phrases being used by your target audience. Once you know what your prospective customers are searching for, you can start to build your content strategy around the keywords you have identified. These keywords can be used to optimize existing pages on your site, but by tapping into the needs and interests of your target audience, they may also inspire new topic ideas for future content. Content optimized for popular keywords will rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs), boosting your brand visibility and driving more high-value traffic to your website.
Related article: Is SEO Worth It for Small Businesses?
Why keyword research is important
Researching keywords is crucial for anyone who wants to drive traffic to their website. Not only does it help you better understand market demand, it also helps your content stand out among others. In addition to identifying the search terms that are favored by one’s target audience, the most effective SEO strategies use keyword research to remain competitive in the market. By analyzing your competitors’ keyword strategies, you can discover which keywords are generating the most traffic for their site and optimize your own content for the same high-value keywords. You may also discover gaps in their keyword strategy that you can take advantage of to reach audiences your competitors are missing out on.
By identifying and utilizing popular keywords, you drive more organic traffic to your website. The more people find your website with your carefully selected keywords, the more your traffic (and your business) will grow.
Related article: 10 Beginner SEO Tasks You Can Do This Afternoon
How to do keyword research for your website
New to keyword research? Here are some steps to get you started:
1. List relevant topics and identify potential keywords
Brainstorm some topics that pertain to your business so you can narrow them down into possible keywords and keyword phrases. A website analytics software such as Google Analytics can inspire ideas for potential keywords by identifying related search terms that your website is already ranking for. You can also put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer to come up with searchable terms and phrases that might rank you high on results pages. What would you search for if you were looking for the goods or services offered by your business?
Jot down anything you come up with during this initial brainstorming phase. While you may not end up targeting every keyword on your list, it will provide a useful starting point for keyword research. Think of these preliminary keywords, often called “seed keywords,” as the roots of your keyword strategy from which all other keywords can branch off.
2. Research related terms
Head over to Google, enter in the keywords and phrases you listed above, and identify any other common terms you see. Be sure to make note of the “searches related to” section at the bottom of the page for further insight. These results can tell you what other topics your target audience might be interested in and what search terms they are using to explore them.
To attract people to your site, you’ll have to first understand which terms users are frequently searching for. For instance, two words might have the same meaning, but one of the meanings can be more popularly searched than the other, driving results only pertaining to that more popular definition. In other words, using keyword research tools will allow you to choose the right phrases to help your content rank in search engine result pages (SERPs).
3. Mix up keyword types
You don’t want to only target individual keywords or short key phrases with just a few words. These kinds of search terms, often called head keywords, are often too competitive to rank for and too vague to drive valuable traffic to your site.
Imagine, for example, that you own an arts and crafts store. If your business sells watercolors and canvases, it might seem reasonable to target “painting” as a keyword. But it is impossible to predict search intent from the word “painting” alone. Users who search for “painting” could certainly be looking for art supplies — but they may also be looking to hire painters for their house, take a painting class, or simply learn more about art history.
Instead of focusing on broad and highly competitive head keywords, try experimenting with more specific long-tail keywords. For your arts and crafts store, these may be phrases such as “watercolor paint set for kids” or “acid free dye-based ink for stamping.” Because of their specificity, long-tail keywords tend to have lower search volumes than more generic search terms. But don’t let low search volumes dissuade you from targeting long-tail keywords. Because they enable searchers to weed out irrelevant results and allow businesses to reach a precise target audience, these highly specific search phrases actually make up the majority of organic web traffic.
4. Analyze competitor rankings
If your competitors’ content is outranking yours for the same keywords, it might be time to reevaluate your list. Ask yourself how you might go one step further with your keyword phrases, and what additional terms you can include that your competitors haven’t included. That way, you have everything they have and more.
Pay attention not only to what keywords your competitors are targeting, but also how competitive these keywords are. Highly competitive keywords generally signal the most popular and effective search terms for an industry. However, they are also notoriously difficult to rank for. The more competitive a keyword is, the more competitor sites you will need to beat out to secure a top spot in search engine rankings. Long-tail keywords often have lower search volumes due to their extreme specificity, but this also makes it easier to rank for them and yield gains from your SEO efforts. Conducting a competitive keyword analysis can help you determine which terms to target with the resources you are able to invest.
5. Utilize keyword search tools
From identifying popular search terms to performing a competitive analysis, keyword research can feel like a massive undertaking. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. With the right keyword research tool, you can quickly capture and interpret keyword data for your target market. These tools aggregate metrics from search engines across the web to suggest relevant keywords, identify search trends, and evaluate competition to help you craft a keyword strategy that will improve your search engine rankings and bring high-value, organic traffic to your website.
12 keyword research tools to help with keyword research
Now that you know the steps for researching possible keywords, check out these free and paid tools to help you put your knowledge into action:
Google Search Console
Google Search Console (GSC) gives business owners the tools to measure their site’s search traffic and optimize content with in-depth search analytics. To use GSC, you’ll need to create an account using your primary domain. The tool will then begin collecting all data associated with your website. The premier feature “Performance Report” lists out the pages on your site that receive the most clicks from Google users.
Soovle is a free tool that allows business owners to explore high-ranking keywords on multiple search engines. This is a vital tool for brainstorming new keywords. You can grab inspiration from sites like YouTube, Amazon, and Wikipedia. Soovle doesn’t require a login and you can use the tool as often as you require it.
KeywordTool.io is a great alternative to Google Keyword Planner. The free version of KeywordTool generates over 750 longtail keywords for each search term. One impressive feature is KeywordTool’s ability to generate a competitor’s list of keywords based on the site’s content. You can utilize KeywordTool for free without having to create an account.
Answer the Public
Answer the Public is a search listening tool that gathers data from the autocomplete features of search engines such as Google then provides you with this data once you enter in a keyword. Answer the Public provides free search capabilities with the option to upgrade. The unique thing about Answer the Public is that it helps you gain access to the mind of your consumers, giving you insider access to additional content ideas.
Freemium tools are those that have free options with premium features if you need additional keyword research assistance. Most of these tools will allow you to utilize the standard features for free with an option to sign up for unlimited searches or additional resources.
SEMRush believes getting insight from your competitors is the key to growth. Instead of entering a single keyword and receiving a list of ideas, SEMRush displays your competitor’s ranked keywords, which can better equip your site to establish new trends. You can get started with SEMRush for a seven-day free trial with access to each SEMRush toolkit. After seven days, you can choose from a Pro plan for $119.95/month (best for in-house teams and those new to marketing), a Guru plan for $229.95/month (for growing agencies and marketing consultants), or a Business plan for $449.95/month (suited for larger enterprises).
Jaxxy is a keyword and research platform that was developed by affiliate marketers to offer users unique and untouched keywords so your business can break into a new niche. Simply sign up and receive 30 free searches with a Starter account. When you need additional searches, Jaxxy offers a Pro version for $49/month and an Enterprise version for $99/month.
Ahrefs KW generator
Ahrefs Keyword Generator helps you find relevant keywords among over 8 billion entries. This generator’s free version will give you the first 100 keywords out of millions online. If you want access to all of them, Ahrefs Keyword Generator provides a $7 for 7-day trial then will run at $99/month for the Lite version or $179/month for the Standard version. The most striking feature is the site’s “Keyword Difficulty.” Keywords are given a number from 1 to 100, so the higher their number, the more difficult it is for their keyword to rank on the search results.
Ubersuggest seeks to bring more traffic directly to your website by providing insight into your industry competitor’s SEO strategies, as well as advanced keyword suggestions and content ideas. Ubersuggest allows you to view how those in your industry are utilizing backlinks, making it easier to ask others to link their content to your website. Create a free account to gain access to additional keywords and personalized SEO suggestions. Once you’re ready to upgrade, plans start at $29/per month for an individual subscription or $290 total for lifetime access.
Longtail Pro markets itself as the best keyword research tool for longtail keyword options. Longtail Pro finds less competitive longtail keywords to rank for while giving you the tools to rank organically in search engines. Features of Longtail Pro include SERP analysis, backlink analysis, and a site audit. The Annual Starter plan is $297 per year, the Annual Pro is $537 per year, and the Annual Agency is $1177 per year. You’ll receive four months free if you pay annually.
Powered by OpenAI, GrowthBar seeks to provide users with the tools they need to rank well on Google. GrowthBar is an SEO and content tool that generates content outlines filled with the top-ranking keywords, links, images, titles, and more that you can fit into your own content strategy. Depending on the number of websites you have and how many outlines you’ll utilize, the Standard plan is at $29/month, the Pro plan is $79/month, and the Agency plan is $129/month.
Majestic established itself as an SEO backlink checker and link builder tool that shows you what websites will link back to your own. However, its Keyword Generator — which is available to all paid subscribers — has become a unique and helpful tool in the keyword research space. From Majestic’s website, it states its uniqueness through its process: “Rather than scraping third party data, the Majestic Keyword Generator uses AI-based NLP algorithms to mine the extensive dataset that is our backlink database.” Majestic offers users a different view of seed keyword lists than other tools. The Lite plan is $49/month, the Pro plan is $99/month, and the API plan is $399 per month.
Serpstat is an SEO platform that combines backlink analysis, complete SERP research, a site audit, a keyword research tool, and more. With Serpstat, you can view additional details about your competitors’ keywords and how visible they are to your consumers by utilizing the competitor graph feature. Serpstat’s Lite plan starts at $55/month.
Improving your SEO
Getting your website on SERPs can seem like a daunting task, but by following these steps and using these tools, you’ll help generate organic traffic to your site and stand out among competitors.
If keyword research still seems like decoding hieroglyphics, Lightning Media Partners can help. No websites are alike, so we tailor our SEO audit service to your business’s needs, solving real problems and chasing real opportunities.
Thank you to Trystan Crichton and Helen Eckhard, who also contributed to this article.
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