Get in touch with our team
Feature image for 22.05.2024


34 min read

Keyword research for SEO: The essential guide

This article was updated on: 03.06.2024

Keyword research forms the foundation of your on-page SEO work. It informs you on the content you should create and any existing content that requires optimising to reach your target audience to drive high-quality traffic and organic revenue to your website. 

These processes are all about investigating search demand. Before you create content on your site, it’s important to understand which terms users are searching for online – and what they’re actually looking to find when they enter them into a search engine like Google.

Written by SEO specialist, Suzannah Page, this guide explains the fundamentals of keyword research and offers some practical tips based on years of industry experience. Along the way, we’ll explore what keyword research is, important definitions and metrics to look out for, the tools that make it all possible, the process of identifying the right keywords, and some more advanced keyword research approaches to help level up your SEO game.

What is keyword research 

Keyword research is the process of finding keywords that your target audience is using on search engines. The aim is to identify queries that lots of users are searching for and target these terms through the content you create for your website. 

The output of keyword research is a list of relevant target keywords and data – from average monthly search volumes to keyword difficulties and current rankings. You can then target these terms by using them in the content you create, which will hopefully rank in the search engine results pages (SERPs), capture SERP features and attract users to click through to the site.

Why is keyword research important?

Knowledge of the search terms people use can help inform your website’s content strategy, giving inspiration for future service pages, product pages, category pages and blog content strategies

Equally, if the content is clear, accurate and relevant, using these keywords will help search engines better understand what your site is about and rank it more highly. None of this would be possible without keyword research.

Despite it no longer being a fail-safe way to rank highly in Google, keyword research is still an extremely valuable exercise.

Introduction of Google’s Panda Update to combat ‘keyword stuffing’

When Google was still in its infancy, people were able to abuse the system and engage in what is known as ‘keyword stuffing’. This involved filling a page with the keywords that people were searching for in the hope that Google would see this as proof of its relevance.

To address this manipulation tactic, Google introduced the Panda Update in 2011. This algorithm update aimed to penalise websites with poor quality, keyword-stuffed content. Websites caught in the act were hit with search penalties. In total, 12% of all searches were affected by the update.

Clearly, then, keyword stuffing is no longer a viable tactic in SEO. However, it still remains imperative that we have a clear and comprehensive picture of what our target audiences are searching for. These insights empower us to write using terminology that resonates with potential customers – and, in doing so, naturally optimise our pages to help them rank for relevant terms in search.

Important keyword metrics and definitions

Before we go any further, it will be useful to provide you with some important definitions and keyword metrics that you’ll come across in your reading and when you start to carry out your own keyword research.

Target keyword

A target keyword is a word or phrase that you are optimising a particular page on your site to rank for. The goal of keyword research is to make decisions about a page’s target keywords, determining which terms will be emphasised in the headings, copy, and metadata in the hope that it will rank for them.

For example, the target keywords for this blog post include ‘what is keyword research’ and ‘keyword research tips’.

Search intent

Search intent is the reason why a user searches for a keyword. It reflects the goal that a searcher is trying to achieve. When a search engine provides someone with a list of results, it is attempting to satisfy the search intent behind their query. 

Broadly speaking, keywords can be informational, navigational, commercial and transactional. We’ll take a closer look at each of these below. 

Search volume

Search volume is the average number of times that users search for a keyword each month. When looking for this data, it’s helpful to know how many monthly searches there are in a particular country. With this information, we can target keywords that will attract as many users as possible from our chosen market(s). 

Keyword difficulty

Keyword difficulty refers to how competitive the SERPs for a particular keyword are and how difficult it will be to rank for it. 

Keyword difficulty is ranked on a scale from 0-100 with 0 being the easiest and 100 being the most difficult to rank for. Generally speaking, the scale can be broken down into low, medium, difficult and very difficult scores. However, different tools will calculate this score slightly differently.

Keyword difficulty scoresMeaning
0-20 (low)Keywords within this range will be easy to rank for. 
21-40 (Medium)Keywords within this range will be hard to rank for but if your website has authority then it is achievable. 
41-60 (Difficult) 
61-100 (Very difficult)These keywords are highly competitive and will be hard to rank for. 

Certain keywords have lots of established, authoritative sites ranking for them, making it a real challenge to gain a position on page one. For example, ‘keyword research tips’ fits into this category with an Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty of 73, so achieving a top ranking for this term is no mean feat!

Unless you have an authoritative site, it is advisable to target the low and medium-difficulty keywords so you have the opportunity to rank and target relevant users who are more likely to convert. 


Clicks refer to the average number of times users click through to sites from the SERPs for a keyword each month. Some search terms will attract multiple clicks per user whilst others tend to see limited numbers of people clicking through.

Even if you are focused on organic marketing strategies, it can be a good idea to pay attention to the cost per click (CPC) of keywords. This figure can be a good indicator of commercially valuable keywords. 

For example, the search term “SEO agency” has a CPC of $6.00 but a keyword difficulty of 64. Whilst this is a commercially valuable term, it is incredibly competitive meaning it will be hard to rank for. Instead, targeting a term such as “SEO agency manchester” which also has a CPC of $6.00 and keyword difficulty of 28 would be more achievable.

Different types of keywords 

Head terms

A head term is a highly popular and competitive query that has plenty of search volume behind it.

‘Keyword research’ is an example of a head keyword with 7,100 monthly searches in the UK. The process of keyword research begins with a short-head term or seed keyword like this, after which you’ll discover lots of other related terms.

LSI keywords

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords are phrases or words that are semantically related to the target keyword. For example, if you wanted your page to rank for coffee, LSI keywords could be ‘espresso’, ‘cappuccino’, ‘coffee grinder’, and ‘coffee beans’. 

There is a lot of debate within the industry about the relevancy of LSI keywords and they have even been debunked by John Mueller, a Search Advocate from Google:

With the advancements in natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning, search engines place greater focus on user intent and context, rather than solely depending on LSI keywords. 

Latent semantic indexing is a relatively old technology and it was previously used for finding results when data sets were much smaller. It is no longer suitable for scouring the internet as it is today. Instead of using latent semantic indexing, Google relies on its Knowledge Graph, NLP, AI and machine learning algorithms.

Although Google doesn’t explicitly use LSI keywords, it does still factor in semantics and semantic keywords. It is advisable to use terminology that is semantically related to the core topic focus of a page, as this demonstrates domain knowledge and expertise. 

Types of keywords by search volume 

An effective SEO strategy will target a mix of both long-tail and short-tail keywords (also known as head terms), enabling you to reach a wide range of users at each stage of the conversion funnel. Let’s explore these two types of keywords and contextualise where they fit into your SEO activity.

Short-tail keywords

Short-tail keywords, also known as head terms or fat head keywords, typically contain between 1 and 3 words. These keywords have very high search volumes and are commonly used as the “seed” keyword during keyword research. 

Ranking well for these terms will typically require extremely relevant, optimised content, a substantial number of authoritative backlinks passing PageRank to the URL – and often for the site as a whole to have high authority (this can be measured using Ahrefs Domain Rating or SEMrush Authority Score).

For that reason, it is not advisable to focus all your efforts on trying to target these keywords. Instead, you should opt for a balanced approach that also pays due attention to long-tail keywords. 

Long-tail keywords 

Long-tail keywords are terms with relatively low search volumes. They tend to be longer, more specific, and less competitive than other keywords. However, the definition of this type of keyword rests on its position within the protracted long-tail section to the right of the search demand curve (see below).

‘Why does local seo matter’ (10 monthly UK searches) is an example of a long-tail keyword.

There are many benefits to targeting long-tail keywords through the content you produce. By their nature, these lower search volume keywords are more specific. While this may sound like a drawback, it’s something you can use to your advantage. Although they have a low search volume, they are generally easier to rank for and can attract users with more specific intent which in turn, can lead to more conversions. 

This coupled with the fact that they come with lower competition makes them an incredibly viable strategy to utilise in order to drive your traffic up and ultimately revenue up too. 

Types of keywords by search intent

Search intent, also known as user intent, is the main reason why a user inputs their query into a search engine. For example, are they looking for a quick answer to a question or a comprehensive guide on a topic? Alternatively, could they be in the market to buy a product?

The most common types of search intent include informational, navigational, commercial, transactional and local queries. 


Informational search intent refers to keywords where users want to find out more information on something. When considering the buyer journey as defined by the AIDA model, informational keywords would most often sit within the awareness stage.

That said, there are certain exceptions where informational queries form a part of the user journey further down the funnel, closer to the action phase. 

For instance, imagine a potential customer searching for ‘what is the difference between trail and road running shoes?’ By this stage, they’ve become aware of (and interested in) running shoes as a product; they may even have a particular brand in mind already. If they land on your article exploring the differences between these two types of shoes, you’ll be in a strong position to nudge them on to the desire phase and maybe even make a purchase.

Other examples of informational keywords could include: 

  • ‘How to make a latte’ 
  • ‘Why are lattes served in tall glasses?’
  • ‘Calories in coffee’
  • ‘Tips for making a latte’.

Informational keywords are best suited for blog and resource pages, but can also be used for FAQ pages and sections on other types of web pages. SERPs for informational keywords often include featured snippets which provide users with a quick snapshot of information. 

For example, if you search ‘how to make a latte’, a featured snippet appears which contains most of the information for this query. 

Navigational intent refers to keywords that users search for when they want to find a specific website or page on that website. 

These types of queries often contain brand-specific terms and are typically used within the “interest” stage of the buying journey.

Navigational searches may also less commonly be made in the awareness or action phases, such as in the case of a repeat customer searching for a brand’s website in order to make a purchase there and then.

Examples of informational keywords could include: 

  • ‘Facebook login’
  • ‘YouTube’
  • ‘Careers at Apple’.

It is highly likely that your website will already rank organically for these types of terms. If you find that it isn’t, you should try to incorporate them within your title tags, meta descriptions, header tags and naturally throughout the content on the appropriate web page. 

In certain instances, an inability to rank for the navigational queries relating to your brand can be a symptom of a lack of wider brand awareness (a scenario that we often find with start-ups). As you grow your brand over time, Google will situate it within its Knowledge Graph, coming to associate your organisation’s brand name with the website and therefore rank you for relevant branded navigational keywords.


Commercial keywords are used when a user wants to investigate specific brands, products or services. 

Whilst they signal a user has the intent to buy, commercial keywords suggest that they’re not exactly sure what they want to buy. Commercial searches typically take place during the “consideration” stage of the buying journey or at the ‘desire’ stage of the AIDA model.

Commercial keywords usually include phrases such as: 

  • ‘Best’
  • ‘Cheap’ 
  • ‘Versus’ 
  • ‘Top’. 

These keywords are best utilised within articles, case studies, reviews, buying guides and blog posts. They allow you to provide the user with more information about your product or service, with the intention of guiding them further down the conversion funnel. 


Transactional searches are made when a user is looking to make a purchase or complete an action such as signing up for a product, downloading software or using a service. 

Essentially, transactional keywords are the ones users use when they’re ready to convert. These keywords would be positioned in the ‘action’ part of the AIDA model.

Transactional keywords usually include phrases such as: 

  • ‘Buy’
  • ‘Subscribe’ 
  • ‘Download’
  • ‘Register’
  • ‘Watch’.

Local queries 

Local search queries are those that users use when they want to find a service, product or amenity near them. Locational queries will often include phrases such as: 

  • ‘Near me’ 
  • ‘Coffee shop in [location]’.

Localised keywords don’t fit into one single search intent category. In many ways, they can span across all four types of search intent.

Best keyword research tools

When it comes to finding the best keyword research tool, there are myriad options to choose from. Most SEOs have their own personal favourites, but each tool offers something slightly different. 

To make sure you are getting the most out of your keyword research, we could recommend using a combination of a few of these tools to give you access to a variety of data points and insights through your keyword research.  

We’ll explore some of the most popular keyword research tools available below. 


No blog section on keyword research tools could go without mentioning Ahrefs. The Keywords Explorer is just part of what this SEO and backlink analysis platform has to offer.

When you search for a head term, you’ll initially see an overview page with search volume by region, KD, clicks, seasonal search trends, and a whole raft of other information:

From here, you can explore more potential target keywords using the features down the left-hand side. ‘Phrase match’, for example, produces a list of other keywords that contain your seed keyword – as its name suggests, ‘questions’ highlights all of the available question keywords based on your term.


Semrush is another example of a paid SEO platform that offers much more than just a keyword research tool. Within the main Keyword Overview tab, you’ll find similar data on your seed keyword as in the equivalent Ahrefs page:

You can explore potential target keywords related to this initial term by clicking on the Keyword Magic Tool, which includes options such as ‘exact match’ and ‘related’ keywords.


Like the other two premium tools we’ve looked at here, the keyword research element of Moz is just one of the ways it can help you with SEO. It functions in much the same way as other keyword analysis tools, with an Overview page for your seed keyword and the option to dig deeper using Keyword Suggestions:

When searching for target keywords, Moz provides the standard functionality to filter by questions and closely or broadly related terms, plus another useful setting: ‘exclude your query term to get broader ideas’. 

Keyword Planner is designed to help users with paid Google ad campaigns, not SEO. That being said, this simple keyword research tool still allows you to find terms and their search volumes, as well as providing a graph to show seasonality (how search volume changes throughout the year). The data comes from Google itself, so it’s more reliable than third-party tools – albeit that many tool providers incorporate Keyword Planner data into their own search volume estimations.

To begin your search, simply enter a head term in the search bar to generate a list of related keywords:

Bear in mind that the ‘competition’ column refers to the competitiveness of Google ad placements. Therefore it should not be used as part of your keyword research process.


Wordtracker offers both a paid premium service and a free option. The free service provides you with a limited number of free searches per month to give you some initial insight into the tool. This platform allows you to search for your seed keyword, and then filter the related keywords by volume and competition:

Here, the competition metric focuses on the difficulty of ranking for the term in organic search, which can help to inform your decision about which keywords to target.

Keyword Surfer 

Keyword Surfer is a free Chrome extension keyword research tool that provides estimations of search volume within Google SERPs. Every time you load the results for a keyword, search volume data for your target market will appear to the right of the term in the search bar:

You won’t want to use this as your main platform for keyword analysis, but it’s a handy add-on to have alongside other tools – we have access to more sophisticated, paid software at Impression and many of us still use Keyword Surfer for a quick snapshot of search volume on the fly.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console (GSC) can be used to assist you with your keyword research and on-page optimisation for pages that have already been indexed. 

One way you can use this tool is by finding high-impression keywords. You can do this through the Performance Report by scrolling down and clicking on the queries tab. When analysing these keywords, you want to pay close attention to the ones which have a high number of impressions but a low number of clicks. You should then look to optimise the corresponding pages so that they better target these keywords.

Another way you can leverage GSC is by finding low-hanging fruit keywords. Again you will need to head to the Performance Reportand and scroll down to the “queries” tab. Export this data along with the clicks, impressions and position figures. Next you need to filter the queries for those in positions 10 to 20.  

You will then be left with keywords that your website is ranking for on the second page of Google. 

H3: Keyword research tool summary

ToolBest forFree version?
AhrefsAn all-in-one toolset Free Keyword Generator limited to 150 keyword suggestions; Keyword Difficulty Checker and SERP analysis for the first 10 results
SemrushAn all-in-one toolset Create and manage one project and track 10 keywords. 
MozAn all-in-one toolset 3 free searches a day
Google Ads Keyword PlannerBuilding strong keyword lists and PPC campaignCompletely free 
WordtrackerContent marketing and keyword research3 free searches a day 
Keyword surferA quick snapshot of search volume data for keywordsCompletely free 
Google Search ConsoleAnalysing keywords that drive impressions and clicks to existing pagesCompletely free

How to do keyword research for beginners

Think about what you are conducting keyword research for

Keyword research is a relatively easy process but the requirements for it will change depending on what you are conducting keyword research for. 

For example, if you are carrying out keyword research for a single page or blog you might have quite a narrow focus and organising these keywords will be a simple task. Whereas if you are conducting keyword research for a site-wide audit, then you are likely going to need a keyword research mapping document to help organise your findings. 

Create a keyword targeting map (if needed)

When carrying out keyword research on a large scale – either for a section of a site or the entire domain – it’s useful to create a keyword targeting map. This is a spreadsheet containing the targeting for all of the pages in question. For each URL, you can include:

  • The page name
  • The URL
  • The target keywords and search volumes
  • The total search volume of these keywords
  • The title tag
  • The meta description
An example of the type of keyword targeting map you could use.

The content creation process is much simpler if you have a well-organised keyword targeting map to work from. If multiple writers are working on a project, it also helps to keep everyone on the same page whilst providing full visibility for those who are overseeing and proofreading the content.

Identify the seed keywords

To begin your keyword research you will need to source your seed keywords. These keywords will be your short-tail keywords which will be very competitive with lots of search volume. 

These seed keywords should be the core topics that a business wants to show up for in the SERPs. You need to try and include keywords that most identify with the business. 

For instance, a cybersecurity company might associate their business with ‘data breach prevention’ and ‘penetration testing’, as these are general services that they offer. Likewise, a local Nottingham coffee shop might want to rank for ‘coffee shop’ or ‘barista training’. 

If you are working with a client, getting feedback directly from them about what they feel their seed keywords are is certainly a great place to start because they will have the best insight into their industry. Developing an SEO strategy in-house? Try speaking to customer-interfacing members of the organisation for insights into the language that your target audience uses.

At the same time, keyword research needs to be data-driven and there are an array of tools out there that let people know what keywords a site is ranking most for. If you are working on an existing website, you can base these seed keywords on current rankings and those of competitors using tools like Ahrefs and Google Search Console. 

Through keyword research, we’ll take this seed keyword and expand on it to establish a list of target keywords for a particular page. When we repeat this process across an entire site or site area and add a new section for each page on our keyword targeting map.  

Expand on each seed keyword

The next step in keyword research is to branch out from the seed keywords and create groups of potential keywords to target that are related to the core search queries.

To branch out, we would recommend using multiple research methods to discover dozens, if not hundreds of keywords for each seed keyword group. Ahrefs and SEMrush are good tools for this. 

Taking the example of  ‘barista training’, we have put this into Ahrefs. As you can see from the screenshot below, it suggests a list of keywords that use similar terms, along with search volume, keyword difficulty and even an estimated number of clicks through to pages on the SERPs.

Another great tool in the SEO toolbox is If you’ve ever typed anything into Google, you’ll know that the search engine’s autocomplete function predicts what you’re going to ask based on what other people have searched for. reverse-engineered this function and created a platform that suggests variations of whatever search query you put in, dividing the queries into question categories ranging between ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’ and more. Not only is the end product visually engaging, but it also provides a huge insight into variations of keywords that other tools may not have picked up on.

Analyse the search intent of your keywords

Now it’s time to check the search intent behind all of the potential target keywords you’ve identified. Manually check the SERPs for each term, evaluating whether the content aligns with what you’re planning to produce.

Think of this as the all-important filtering stage in your keyword research process. You’ll only retain the keywords that match up with your proposed content in terms of search intent, discounting all of the others.

As you start to refine your list of target keywords, you’ll learn more about the type and format of content that is ranking highly, which can help to inform your content creation. For example, you might find that listicles or long-form content tend to do well and base the structure of your blog post around that. However, if you’re looking to launch a new service page and the top-ranking pages for a keyword are informational rather than commercial investigation or transactional, then its search intent is off. 

By the end of this phase, you’ll have a list of target keywords with the correct search intent. When you search for these terms, the high-ranking content in each case should be the same type as the page you’re going to create.

Assign keywords to selected pages

Once you’ve created a list of seed keywords, as well as related ones, it’s time to segment these search queries into more granular categories. 

Whether you’re creating a website from scratch or updating a current one, you will need to optimise each page for a certain set of keywords. There will inevitably be some content overlap between the pages. But for the most part, you should avoid using the same keywords across multiple pages as this can cause keyword cannibalization

In some cases, having multiple pages showing in the SERPs for the same keyword can be detrimental to performance. As a general rule of thumb, it is advised to only target one distinct keyword. In this situation, Google will be forced to decide which one it believes is the most relevant. This can result in lower conversion rates, a dispersal of external links, lower content quality overall and consequently pages not ranking as high as they potentially could. 

Segmenting your keywords into more granular categories and assigning them to pages by intent is the best way to avoid the possibility of keyword cannibalisation. You can then begin to design a site hierarchy around this. For example, if a keyword is for acquisitional intent, it might be suitable to include it as the focus keyword for a category page. Likewise, a conversion keyword will be more suited to a product page. Create a plan of how to use every keyword and build content around it.

Create the content or optimise your existing content

Now you have your keywords and you’ve assigned them to their relevant pages, you’ll need to begin writing or optimising your existing content. 

To ensure that the content is clear to both search engines and users, you should look to include your primary and secondary keywords strategically throughout the web page. 

  • Body content
  • Page title (H1)
  • Subheadings (H2s, H3s etc)
  • Page URL
  • Metadata (including title tags and meta descriptions)
  • Image file names (if applicable)
  • Internal links within your website which direct to the content you are producing/optimising

As we’ve discussed, your keywords should be used naturally and you should avoid overusing them. If you do, you may be penalised for keyword stuffing which will do more harm than good. 

Keep track of your keywords

The final step in keyword research is to keep track of how each page is performing. Even the best plans may not always lead to success, so it’s important to regularly review your keyword targeting to see if certain pages could be better optimised. 

A tool we like to use at Impression is SEOmonitor. It is a rank-tracking and SERP analytics platform that gives you up-to-date feedback on ranking trends for your target keywords.

Tools like these allow SEOs to track their keyword performance and make any necessary changes. For instance, if a page used to rank number 1 for ‘artificial grass installation’ but has been steadily dropping and is now in position 8, the SEO should analyse the page and its competitors to see what changes can be enacted to better service user intent. This could be expanding thin content, updating a guide to reflect recent trends or simply improving the page speed.

Keyword research tips

Target long-tail keywords

As we’ve explored, long-tail keywords are specific, less competitive phrases that have the potential to attract valuable traffic. These keywords are often overlooked because of their low search volume. However, Search Engine Land estimates that 70% of searches consist of long-tail keywords.

Despite their lower search volume, long-tail keywords can have better conversion rates and they work best for voice search optimisation. You’ll also 

This can be an incredibly useful tactic in positioning your brand as an authoritative voice in the field and attracting high-quality leads to your business. 

Target variations of your keywords

Targeting synonyms and semantically related keywords is a great way to leverage your content rather than just focusing solely on one keyword. 

Using the same keywords repeatedly throughout your content can make it sound forced and unnatural. By including variations of your keyword, you’ll broaden the scope of your content, potentially increasing its reach and avoiding what search engines may perceive as keyword stuffing. 

Whilst this can be a useful approach, you should always ensure that your content is still relevant and targeting your original keywords. Otherwise, you put yourself at risk of over-optimising your content and diluting its quality.   

Target queries and questions to capture SERP features

As well as targeting long-tail keywords, another approach you could consider is targeting SERP features. Providing your content is optimised appropriately, targeting SERP features such as featured snippets and People Also Ask (PAA) questions can be a good way to get your web page to the top of the search results. 

Looking for opportunities where your competitors rank for SERP features and you don’t is a good approach. Keyword research tools like the ones mentioned above have features which allow you to filter and organise keywords based on search volume, keyword difficulty and SERP features. This can help you to rule out any search terms which may be unachievable whilst highlighting feasible opportunities. 

Another way to identify opportunities to capture these features is by analysing the SERP features directly on the SERP or by using tools such as AlsoAsked. This tool allows you to type in your target keyword and see all the PAA opportunities in one handy spider diagram. However, unlike the keyword tools, this method won’t necessarily provide you with the data to make an informed decision based on the difficulty of capturing them.   

Optimise existing content

This keyword research tip is useful for optimising your existing content to maximise organic traffic. Open up Google Search Console and view the Performance report for a particular page, then sort the queries by impressions from high to low as shown below:

Here, we’re looking for keywords with high numbers of impressions but relatively few clicks. In the example above, ‘bing serp’ fits this description perfectly. 

The goal is to optimise the content to target this new keyword, perhaps by introducing a new section to the post. We know that Google already views the page as relevant, so your chances of improving its rank for the term with some optimisation are favourable.

Include a mix of short and long-tail keywords

When looking to target different types of keywords, it can be a good approach to focus on utilising a mix of both short and long-tail keywords. 

As we know, short-tail keywords are highly competitive. Although they are competitive, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and target them. However, you should instead focus your efforts on targeting the low-competition long-tail keywords. Time invested in these will be more likely to lead to conversions and you will likely include the more competitive short-tail keywords naturally through your copy in the process. 

By targeting relevant long-tail keywords, you will hopefully improve your overall rankings, and you may end up ranking for the short-tail keywords further down the line. 

More advanced keyword research tips

In the approach we’ve looked at so far, the focus has been solely on average search volumes. It’s possible to find out how a keyword’s search volume has changed over time using a free tool like Google Trends. By discovering keywords that are increasing in popularity, you can create content that ranks whilst the SERPs are less competitive and ride the wave as search volume rises.

To give you an example, UK Google searches for ‘vaccine’ rose dramatically in 2020, particularly when seen in the context of the past five years leading up to then:

The key is to find trending keywords when they’re still on the up and produce content as early as possible. Remember that the average search volume data may not look like much now, but these numbers could shoot up over time if you identify the right trends.

Useful tip: the AI assistant within Ahrefs Keyword Explorer can be used to identify emerging trends related to a particular topic, which can then be cross-referenced with Google Trends data.

Content gap analysis

Another technique is to look at what keywords your competitors are targeting through what is known as content gap analysis. 

Content gap analysis is a useful approach if you’re looking to create a new blogging strategy for a site or expand on the cross-section of keywords that its service pages rank for. However, this keyword research technique is only possible if you have access to a paid tool like Ahrefs. 

The underlying principle is to discover keywords that competitors are ranking for, but you aren’t. In Ahrefs, you start by providing the URL of your site and those of your competitors:

The Content Gap tool in Ahrefs will compare 3-5 competitor domains and find every keyword that at least 2 competitors rank for that your client’s domain does not.

The tool will then produce a long list of search terms along with your competitors’ rankings for each of them. You can then explore these keywords to find those which are relevant to your offering, helping you to plug the gaps in your content strategy.

The effect of semantic SEO on keyword research

Semantic SEO is the process of optimising content for context and meaning, not just keywords. Previously search engines evaluated pages based on keywords. Simply repeating this keyword numerous times throughout your copy could signal to Google that your page was relevant and deserving of a place in the SERPs. 

However, the introduction of Google’s Hummingbird and BERT algorithm updates changed the way that the search engine interprets these keywords in search queries. Through natural language processing (NLP), Google is capable of understanding the context of words in a search string. This means instead of just identifying keywords in your copy, Google now reviews and understands the topic as a whole. 

Semantic SEO focuses on the demonstration of experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trust (E-E-A-T), which are key concepts in Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines. Although E-E-A-T does not directly influence rankings, Google considers various signals that are in line with E-E-A-T principles. It then uses these to assess a website’s quality. Therefore, if your content is written in line with these principles, it is likely to perform well in search results.

Investing time and effort into semantic SEO strategy is one of the best ways you can do this. While traditional keyword research remains an invaluable tool for SEO, semantic keyword research takes it a step further – with the end goal of showcasing comprehensive domain knowledge in relation to Google’s Knowledge Graph. In this way, semantic SEO aims to enhance the scope and depth of your content, providing more accurate and relevant results for users and search engines.

Through advancements in AI and natural language processing, search engines are becoming better equipped to understand the wider context and intent of content. This shift in focus will likely result in greater emphasis being placed on the semantics behind content, rather than a solely keyword-focused approach.

AI and the future of keyword research

AI presents many opportunities within digital marketing, particularly concerning content strategy, content creation and keyword research. 

As we’ve just explored, the move towards prioritising intent over simplistic keyword matching places greater emphasis on semantic SEO and AI helps to facilitate this. By utilising AI systems, search engines can get a better grasp on user intent whilst also bringing an element of personalisation to the service. By analysing additional data such as location and search history, AI is also capable of anticipating and predicting the preferences of future users. 

For SEO strategies, the advancements in AI allow us to process and analyse large amounts of data. Not only does this enable us to take a more holistic approach to keyword research it also allows us to get deeper insights into search intent, identify semantic relationships and uncover predictions for future trends. 

Furthermore, AI can help us identify gaps, uncover relevant topics and assist us with scaling up our content through ideation and creation. Capitalising on AI software can facilitate and enhance your SEO strategies. Despite these advancements, human input is still vital in crafting compelling narratives for our audience. 

Keyword research is a crucial aspect of SEO that forms the bedrock of successful marketing strategies. By identifying the most effective and relevant keywords, you will be able to optimise and create content on your website that positions your business in front of your audience.

Without a thorough and well-planned keyword research strategy, your content may be misaligned with the intent of your audience, reducing your chances of ranking well in search engine results pages.

Unlock the potential of keyword research with Impression

We can assist you in discovering valuable opportunities for your business by carrying out strategic keyword research for your website. By understanding your audience’s needs and wants, we can collaborate with you to develop a successful content SEO strategy that aligns with your business objectives and KPIs. If you’d like to find out more about the SEO services we offer, contact our team of SEO specialists today.

Keyword research frequently asked questions

What are the factors to consider for keyword research?

When conducting keyword research and narrowing down your findings your top considerations should be keyword relevance, the intent of the keyword, the search volume and the difficulty of that keyword. 

How many keywords should I use for SEO?

You should aim to target one primary keyword per page on your website. This primary keyword can be supported by several secondary keywords however, these should be unique on each page.   

Are too many keywords bad for SEO?

Targeting a wide range of keywords across your website will help your pages rank, providing the keywords have been used appropriately. If you overuse keywords or engage in ‘keyword stuffing’ this could signal spam to Google, which will have the opposite effect. 

How much search volume is good for keywords?

Keyword search volume varies greatly by a few factors such as industry, subject matter, seasonality and competition so there is not a definitive ‘good’ search volume. Because of this, the best approach is to target a good balance of low and medium-volume keywords.