This is a fast guide to keyword research. I use other methods such as examining Quora questions, analyzing Amazon book titles, and researching Reddit queries. I also use different tools depending on the type of content, the competition, and the niche. But this guide will show you how to get some great ideas fast.
Here are two ways to approach blog posts:
- Research visitor-intent specific keywords to optimise your posts for these keywords
- Write viral content with irresistible headlines. Forget about keywords.
Both approaches work for different reasons. The ideal situation is to write content that combines both approaches. That’s how marketers should approach content marketing in 2018. The game is changing. We’ve moved from keyword-stuffing to keyword-targeting and finally, to topic-targeting.
Content or Backlinks
Marketers and SEOs will tell you that their method of researching and writing blog posts works best because Google is now focusing on X over Y. Many of these people promoting these methods are protecting their own self-interests.
Ahrefs, the backlink checker and keyword research tool, is a favourite of content marketers and SEOs all over the world. It's an excellent product. But Ahrefs target market is people looking for a backlink monitoring and discovery platform. So naturally, the company pushes the notion that backlinks are the most important factor in ranking a blog post. Tim Soulo (head of marketing at Ahrefs) wrote a lengthy, controversial blog post about how the only ranking factor worth worrying about was backlinks. He since took this post down as the SEO community rallied against him. He’s entitled to his opinion, and he’s a great marketer. But the point is that he's marketing a product which focuses on backlinks. So it’s in his interest to tell the world that this is the only factor to care about.
I’ve ranked several websites on the first page of Google and in the first position on Google for my target keywords using content and keyword research alone. The websites had little or no backlinks. And some have stayed on the top of Google for 2-3 years.
You’re probably wondering if they are low competition. Some are. But many are high competition phrases and I was up against sites with huge numbers of backlinks. It still worked.
This was not a one-off stroke of luck. I’ve repeated this many times. It's not bragging. My successes are modest but the point I'm trying to make is that content based on targeted keywords still works really well in 2018.
Keyword Research Tools
I've tested every keyword research tool that exists. Moz, Ahrefs, SEMrush, Majestic, KWfinder, Keysearch, Raven SEO tools, SpyFu, and more. All are awesome products and each has its own strengths. But no tool has a 100% overlap of features with that of another. Your choice of keyword checker will depend on your workflow or your appreciation of a particular user interface.
Ahrefs, to start with, has one of the most appealing interfaces. It’s a pleasure to use and the information is nicely presented. The backlink and organic research tools are incredible. But I use the keyword research service as a backup. I find it a little awkward to use and the results are not satisfactory.
My favourite keyword research tools are KWFinder and KeySearch. Two similar products with slightly different ways of searching and displaying information. By the way, I always use at least two tools. Each tool has it’s own strengths and weaknesses and there is no ‘right’ answer or 100% correct result.
How To Use The Keyword Tools
I keep an excel spreadsheet where I note blog post ideas.
In another sheet, I make a list of keywords around one topic. Each sheet will have phrases based on a single idea.
My keyword selection begins as an unstructured quest for ideas. I'm trying to find ideas and using my gut feeling for inspiration. For each keyword, I decide whether I’d like to write about that topic. It doesn’t have to be super exciting, but something I can definitely talk at length about, cultivate, and hopefully become excited about.
Having picked a phrase, I then run it through KWfinder and KeySearch. I'm looking for Keyword Difficulty scores of less than 40. If you have a highly authoritative site then you can go for more difficult words. The rest of us will need to hit the easier options.
While I was researching keywords for the Brand Monitoring Tools post I realized that my target phrase was difficult. However, I decided that “Brand Monitoring Tools” as a title worked best for clarity.
I used the methods outlined below to find related keywords and found “Find out who's talking about you”. This is an easy phrase to rank for and although the search volume is low, I added this phrase to the title. Not only does it complement the target keyword but it clarifies it too.
Fast Analysis With KWfinder
KWfinder offers a piece of companion software called SerpChecker. I use SerpChecker to analyse the competition by discovering who ranks for what keywords anywhere in the world. Your results in Google will always be skewed by your location and your search history. Serpchecker removes these influences. Another reason why reason I prefer this tool over Ahrefs, for example, for initial keyword discovery is that I can see the both the Moz and Majestic ranking factors in the results. Facebook and G+ likes are also included, so you get an idea of how popular the URL is on social media, and its ‘shareability’.
I check to see if any of the URLs in the top 10 are ‘weaker’ than the rest and if I can beat them. Check for sites with low Page Authority (PA), and Trust Flow (TF). These two factors are important because you can rank ahead of sites with low values of these factors even if the other factors are high.
Amazon has a very high Domain Authority (DA) as it’s a highly trusted site with millions of visitors, backlinks, and content pages. However, as is often the case, the individual pages have low PA.
Trust Flow indicates the trust value of links pointing to that URL. If a post or product page has a lot of spammy or low-value domains pointing to it, then Majestic will give it a lower TF.
Next, I take each domain from the list and enter it in one Serpstat, SEO Powersuite, Ahrefs, or SEMrush. Don't spend your money on all of these products as they are quite expensive. Ahrefs and SEMrush have free (limited versions). I think that SEO Powersuite is a complete product offering a suite of tools, but it’s also more complicated to use. It’s a desktop only software which has its advantages (security, for one) and disadvantages. My current favourite is Serpstat. In many ways, it beats Ahrefs and SEMrush, even though these two products have been around a lot longer.
Content Clusters With Serpstat
Here's an example to show you how I'd use Serpstat to gather some nice phrases for my blog post. I pick a website that's ranking well on Google for the term ‘keyword topic clustering for SEO'. It happens to be a blog post by Hubspot, the Internet Marketing company. I add the URL (https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/topic-clusters) into Serpstat's URL analysis tool.
Serpstat returns the keywords that this URL ranks for in Google. I used Google.com as the search engine but Google's UK, AU, DE and a few other country-level domains are available too.
At this point I can pick a keyword to focus on. “what is cluster marketing” looks interesting. Serpstat gives me some more phrases based on this choice. The phrase “what is cluster analysis in marketing research” is easy to rank for.
I double-check this in KWfinder. The volume is low. Only 10 searches per month but that's not a problem. Any blog post that ranks for the phrase above will rank for related keywords. The total search volume could be much higher.
One of Serpstat’s standout tools is the Cluster Research tool. You can find this in the section of the SEO research menu.
Select a keyword and click Cluster Research to find semantically related phrases related to the main keyword. It works a little like LSIGraph but it’s much more powerful. It’s one of my favourite ways of finding phrases to use in my content. Sometimes it turns up better keywords than my original query.
Serpstat shows the search volume for each keyword phrase, the Cost Per Click (CPC) in dollars, the Pay Per Click (PPC) competition, and the Connection Strength. The CPC and PPC values are handy for understanding the amounts of money advertisers are paying for these keywords. The Connection strength is an interesting one. Serpstat created this number to show the
Keyword Analysis With SEMrush
Under Domain Analytics > Organic Research in SEMrush, I add the URL and the software shows me the keywords that this particular URL is ranking for. This is information that you can use to build your own keyword lists. SEMrush has a Keyword Competition metric which shows the difficulty of ranking for that phrase. Anything under 70 should be OK for a newish site targeting a new keyword phrase. More established sites can go after KC scores of over 70. You’ll find that weaker sites do not rank highly for words with KC scores of over 80.
Look for lower KC keywords that the site has ranked highly for. You can also see the search volume based on different geographical locations.
Long Tail Keywords With Keysearch
Keysearch is a new player in the SEO world. What I like about it is the fact that I can bulk check filtered keywords. This saves a lot of time. KWfinder, on the other hand, forces you to click each result to find it's difficulty level. Keysearch reminds me of Long Tail Pro, but without that app's current flaws (LTP recently moved from a fantastic desktop app to the cloud. It's not a tool I'd recommend right now but it was and hopefully will be again, one of the best keyword research tools).
Enter words and phrases in the top left text box. The Keyword Planner selection will be the best engine for searching in most cases. If you want to go deeper Keysearch gives you the ability to search using Google Suggest, Bing Suggest, YouTube Suggest, Amazon Suggest, Competitor Keywords, and Other Ad Networks. You can also import keyword lists and import CSV files directly from Google Keyword Planner.
I filter keywords using target words and negative words to get more specific results. I also select a minimum volume to reduce the number of results. Once I'm happy with the number of results (keeping in mind that Serpstat sets a limit for daily searches), I select all words and do a Bulk Check. I then sort by score. The easiest results will appear at the top. With a bit of luck, some juicy low-competition keywords with high search volume will pop up.
Latent Semantic Indexing
At any stage in the process, I will use a great free tool called LSIGraph
LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing. LSI keywords are words and phrases related to the original search. Google uses these words to get a better idea of the topic of your post, page, or website. The old school SEO method was to use keyword stuffing, whereby the writer targets a keyword phrase over and over again in an article. This practice is one that will get you into trouble these days.
Google is changing its focus from pure keywords to topics. So if you want to rank for a keyword, write comprehensive posts about the topic using related phrases and ideas to give the search engine a better understanding of the theme of your post.
I put the key phrase ‘keyword research’ into LSI Graph I get back a list of LSI keywords such as
- Google keyword tool
- Free keyword research tools
- Seo keyword tools
Now, if I want to rank for ‘keyword research' I should write about keyword tools, free tools, how to perform keyword research, SEO keywords, LSI phrases, YouTube keywords, and so on. You get the idea.
Implement a content strategy where you integrate LSI keywords into your articles. It's a sure way of not only providing Google with a better grasp of your content but giving the reader a better experience. In the end, Google wants to give the reader the best answer and the best experience.
I often use Google's Autocomplete feature to get some good ideas. Type part of your keyword into the search box and see what comes up. The phrases that Google suggests can sometimes be used as killer titles or headlines.
Crafting a Headline
Once I've written the post I decide on a title. Using keywords in the Title and the URL is an important part of your strategy. Even if the search engines begin to give less weight to the headline, it helps the user's experience by showing exactly what the content is about.
Use SEOmofo to look at how the title will appear in the SERP.
You don't want the headline to appear truncated. The original title for this blog post was “How I do Keyword Research for Blog Posts – Step By Step Guide” but there's a good chance that this title will appear truncated, as in the image above. Other SERP preview tools might show the complete title but Google tends to show between 60-64 characters. I try to make my headlines 60 characters maximum.
In the above example, I removed the word ‘Guide' and the headline appears in its entirety.
Next, pop the blog post title into the Headline Analyzer. The original blog headline scored 60 but when I removed the word ‘Guide' the score jumped to 64. More catchy titles involve less ‘common' words like I, how, & do. But in this case, I'd prefer to use those words to show a more personal touch. The headline analyzer tool also has a SERP preview feature. In the end, I chose a different headline but this gives you a good idea of how to use the free analyzer.
Summary Step By Step
- Use Serpchecker or SEMrush to find sites ranking around the main target keyword
- Plug each of the sites on the front page into Serpstat and Ahrefs
- Gather a list of relevant keywords.
- Add a few of these keywords into LSIgraph
- Enter phrases into Google's search box to get Autocomplete ideas
- Use Keysearch to find long tail keywords and bulk check their difficulty level.
- Build up a list of low-competition, high search volume keywords to use in your title, headings, and throughout the text.
Keyword research is a time-consuming process. There isn't a single method that works every time. There's no magic bullet. To do proper research takes time but you have plenty of tools are your disposal.