Keyword Research Guide: How to Choose and Use Keywords

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Can your website handle loads of online traffic?

Because that’s what this keyword research guide is about to bring you.

Keyword research is an often overlooked aspect of SEO (search engine optimization) because finding the right keyword takes time.

It’s a tricky balance between how often a keyword is searched and how difficult it is to rank for that keyword.

In this guide, you’ll learn the basics of keyword research, including how to choose keywords, tools to track keyword rankings, and how to put them to work.

Let’s get started.

1. The Benefits of Keyword Research

The Benefits of Keyword Research

The obvious outcome of keyword research is high search rankings on Google SERPs (search engine results pages), but it goes so much deeper than this.

Keyword research that’s done right will tell you:

  • What people are searching for
  • How many people are searching for it
  • In what format they want to get the information

Knowing what’s important to your audience is one of the biggest benefits of keyword research — here’s why:

You’ll be able to find the right keywords.

Keywords can attract lots of traffic, but the right keywords attract an engaged audience who are much more likely to convert.

For example, certain keywords will bring you lots of quick search traffic where searchers want a quick answer — once they’ve got it they’ll leave your site.

This means little to no conversions despite heavy traffic.

However, the right keywords will bring an engaged audience to your site who are looking to get involved either by purchasing something, signing up for your mailing list, or giving your company a call.

Your conversion rate will soar.

Your conversion rate is more important than your traffic, so you need the right keywords to attract the right traffic that leads to conversions.

So, knowing what’s important to your audience will help you lift your conversion rates — and that's the biggest benefit of keyword research.

Now you know the benefits of conducting keyword research, let’s get into the basics.

it's simple

2. The Basics of Keyword Research

Like with all things, there are certain concepts you’ll need to understand to get started.

For keyword research, knowing about niches, search intent, various metrics, and types of keywords will help you in keeping your search simple.

2.1. Know Your Niche

It’s important to know which niche your business falls into — this means you need to know what specific area or industry your business is categorized as.

This way you can define a specific area to target which will strengthen your chances of success.

You’ll be able to identify the relevant keywords potential customers are using to find products, services, and information in your niche.

Here’s how you define the niche of your website:

  • Start by choosing a broad topic or market you’re passionate about. This way you’ll love your work and you’ll always go the extra mile. Example: Fine Art
  • Then make a list of your skills or expertise and see how these fit into the market you’re passionate about. Example: You have a marketing degree
  • Look at the demographics in this industry to come up with an idea of who your target audience is. Example: 60% middle-aged art collectors; 40% art collectors in their 20s
  • Go beyond the demographics and find out the ethics and beliefs of your target audience. Example: The younger art collectors are more likely to shop online
  • By now, you’ll start noticing problems in your niche or gaps that you can fill with your expertise. Example: Paintings are typically marketed and sold in person by galleries
  • Come up with a solution in the form of a business plan. Example: You will market and sell paintings online for art collectors in their 20s

From this example, you’ve narrowed a broad industry that you’re passionate about into a specific niche where your skills will solve a problem for your target audience.

Great tip: Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, go with a niche where there is already competition that is experiencing success ― this shows that there is demand

We always recommend starting with what you’re passionate about, but if you’re feeling unsure, here’s an article about the most profitable niches in 2023.

2.2. Search Intent

Search Intent

Search intent is the reason for a searcher’s query or the objective they’re trying to accomplish.

When you’re doing keyword research, it’s important to understand the search intent behind the keywords you’re thinking of targeting.

This will help you figure out:

  • What content searchers want
  • What format they want it in
  • What angle your content should take

For example, when you type “How to fix iPhone” into Google’s search bar, this is what the results page looks like:

 Google’s search bar

As you can see by looking at the top results, searchers are looking for easy tutorials in video format that are very quick to watch.

But when you type “Fix iPhone” which is really similar, the results are completely different:

 Google’s search bar

Here, searchers are looking for iPhone repair services rather than ways to fix it themselves.

Type keywords from your niche into Google to see what kinds of results come up ― this will tell you the search intent of the customers you’re targeting.

When doing this, take note of the meta titles of the top-ranking pages.

Try to make your meta title similar to theirs ― but not exactly the same!

For example, if all of the titles have the year “2023” in them, adding 2023 somewhere in your title is a good idea.

These are the four types of search intent:

  • Informational ― the searcher wants to learn general information about a topic, for example: What does do?
  • Navigational ― the searcher is trying to navigate to a specific web page or place

For example, here’s what happens if you search for YouTube:

search for YouTube

The search intent for this navigational query is so clear that Google hasn’t even offered any featured questions or ads, because Google knows that you know where you want to go.

  • Commercial ― the searcher is researching in preparation for a purchase. They may do this by searching for a review on the topic Commercial searches often have a lot more Ads at the top of the results pages.
  • Transactional ― the searcher is looking to make a purchase

You should create content that appeals to all types of search intent.

It’s tempting to only target transactional searchers, but targeting the other three will not only bring more online traffic to your website but will also guide site visitors into your sales funnel and towards converting.

2.3. Metrics to look out for

Metrics to look out for

There are loads of search metrics that you need to consider when you do keyword research.

Before we dive into how to use them, here are some quick definitions of the main metrics to look out for:

  • Search volume ― the number of times a keyword is searched in a set period (usually a month)
  • Keyword / SEO difficulty ― how difficult it is to rank for a keyword in an organic (unpaid) search according to the search authority of its competition
  • Search authority is a score out of 100 that represents a domain’s reputation with Google and therefore how likely it is to rank highly on the SERPs.
  • Trend data ― how monthly search volume changes from month to month to determine patterns in the data

2.4. The Search Demand Curve

There are 3 types of keywords that you can target, here’s how they look on the search demand curve:

Search Demand Curve

Source: AvuireMedia

As you can see, the search demand curve is divided into Head, Middle, and Long-tail Keywords — understanding these will help you target keywords strategically.

Let’s look at these three types of keywords and some examples (with metrics obtained from Ubersuggest) of what they might look like.

2.5. Head Keywords

Sometimes called ‘fat head’, these keywords are usually single words that have extremely high search volume and high competition or difficulty.

Despite their search volume, this small group makes up 18.5% of searches.

They’re vague terms such as “coffee” where the search intent is unclear.

One would then ask: Is the searcher looking for a definition of coffee, a place to buy coffee, instructions to make coffee, or for the origin of coffee?

Because the search intent is unclear, head keywords generally have low conversion rates — customers using head keywords are typically nowhere near making a buying decision.

In fact, keywords of five or fewer characters have a conversion rate of around 1%.

An example of a head keyword is “dog” with a keyword difficulty of 81 and a monthly search volume of 74 000.

An example of a head keyword is “dog”

Google has no idea what the search intent of this word is and the top results include:

  • A Wikipedia article defining “dog”
  • Videos of cute dogs
  • News articles about dogs
  • Lists of dog breeds
  • Local stores that sell dog food and toys
  • Local dog shelters
  • An article titled “What Makes Dogs so Special and Successful?”

So this search intent is seriously unclear.

2.6. Middle Keywords

Accounting for just 11.5% of keywords, these usually have 2-3 words and land somewhere in the middle in terms of search volume and competition.

The search intent is a bit more clear with these, so there’s a slightly higher conversion rate.

These keywords might broadly define a niche in your industry but not exactly what the user intends to find in that niche.

“Dog food” is a middle keyword that has a search volume of 5400 per month and an SEO difficulty of 37.

“Dog food” a middle keyword

The search intent is more clear and Google’s results are mostly places to buy dog food.

Because the search intent is commercial, there are lots of Google Ads in the results.

2.7. Long-tail Keywords

Finally, long-tail keywords are phrases of at least 4 words that have a very clear search intent.

They make up about 70% of keywords searched.

Because they’re specific, they’ve got low search rates and low competition.

This type of keyword is the most common keyword type used in voice searches.

Targeting long-tail keywords is an effective strategy because the clear search intent means the user is extremely close to making a decision.

This means that the conversion rates for these keywords are much higher at an average of 36%.

The long-tail keyword “dog food for sensitive stomachs" has a monthly search volume of 30 and a difficulty of 36.

The longtail keyword “dog food for sensitive stomach

The results are specific and include dog foods that claim to be good for sensitive stomachs — which matches with the searcher’s intent exactly.

It’s best to focus on all 3 types of keywords, but you’ll need to be strategic about it!

You don’t want to target a head keyword with so much competition that you’ll never rank.

But you also don’t want to target a long-tail keyword that gets no search volume at all.

In the next section, we’ll teach you how to choose keywords wisely so you can avoid these situations and strike the perfect balance.

3. How to Choose Keywords

The very first thing you need to do is come up with some keywords that relate to your niche and gather search metrics for them.

Here are some tips to get you started!

3.1. Using Google Search Bar for Keyword Discovery

To choose keywords that rank well on Google, a great place to start is Google itself!

Do a few Google searches to see which keywords your competition is using ― and remember to make sure the keywords you’re considering match their search intent.

You can use the Google search bar as a keyword research tool — just type your terms in to get some ideas of what’s being searched:

most searched keywords

You can use an asterisk (*) before, between, or after words, and Google will tell you the most searched keywords.

You can use the featured questions that Google offers under “People also ask” to find great long-tail keywords.

At first, Google will only give you a few questions, but as you click on them, more questions will appear.

All of a sudden, you’ll have a fantastic list of long-tail keywords to work with:

 long-tail keywords

3.2. Be Where Your Audience Is

Be Where Your Audience Is

Placing yourself in your audience's shoes allows you to find all the unanswered questions in your niche.

Do this by getting involved on forums and social networks that your audience uses ― pay attention to what they’re discussing and the questions that they’re asking.

Are there any unanswered questions that you can create content for?

You’ll be ahead of keyword trends by knowing what your audience wants to know about.

The best part is that being ahead of the trends means you’ll have little to no competition.

3.2.1. How Lauren Pope Plugged into Her Audience

Lauren Pope, a content marketer and SEO professional, shared on her LinkedIn how she benefitted from plugging into her audience:

Lauren Pope
Lauren Pope on LinkedIn

Source: Lauren Pope on LinkedIn

Lauren’s audience has been hanging out on TikTok where a term emerged that has no guides on Google’s first page.

She found this out by being present on a Reddit page where her audience was asking about “Big 6 Astrology”.

Lauren saw a gap where she could create content to answer this question and shoot to the top of Google SERPs.

Then she did the same thing with the term “Venus Triad” which also emerged on TikTok:

Lauren Pope
Venus Triad

Source: Lauren Pope on LinkedIn

Lauren’s astrology blog is a great case study that shows why it’s beneficial to be where your audience is.

It teaches us that sometimes it’s worth stepping outside of the box — the “keyword/topic might've looked like a dud” if she had stuck to typical SEO methods.

As you can see, her astrology blog is a huge success thanks to these keyword phrases that Lauren found from hanging out with her audience:

Lauren Pope
Lauren Pope on LinkedIn

Source: Lauren Pope on LinkedIn

Clearly, being close to your audience is a great way to find content ideas that speak directly to what they want to know.

3.3. Free Tools to Supercharge Your Search

Eventually, you may reach a point where you’ll need a bit of extra help.

Keywords Everywhere, Ubersuggest and AnswerThePublic are three keyword tools that we recommend to supercharge your keyword searches.

Keywords Everywhere and Ubersuggest are both Google Chrome extensions that appear on screen to give you real-time results as you search.

And AnswerThePublic is a nifty tool that tells you what the public is asking so you know what answers they want.

3.3.1. Keywords Everywhere

Keywords Everywhere

Source: Keywords Everywhere

This is a great keyword research tool that offers a free plan.

After installation, you’ll see a “K” (the Keywords Everywhere icon) in the top right corner of your browser — meaning that you’re good to go.

Results will appear on your SERPs as well as in the search bar while you type.

Here are some of the insights Keywords Everywhere will tell you:

  • Related keywords
  • “People also search for”
  • Long-tail keywords
  • Google and YouTube trend charts
  • YouTube insights and tags

This will give you even more keyword ideas on top of Google’s asterisk trick and featured questions that we mentioned earlier.

Keywords Everywhere

Source: Keywords Everywhere

And, if you type in a specific URL you’ll get insight into:

  • The keywords used
  • The keyword density
  • Estimates on the monthly traffic
  • Top 500 keywords

This is an easy way to keep tabs on (and get ideas from) your competition!

If you’d like to get even more insights from Keywords Everywhere, you can purchase credits starting at $10 for 100 000 credits (1 credit = 1 keyword).

Once you’ve used Keywords Everywhere, you should have even more keyword ideas and even more insight about the ones you had before.

3.3.2. Ubersuggest


Source: Ubersuggest

This tool is the brainchild of online marketing genius Neil Patel.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Patel made Ubersuggest’s free offering even more generous.

Once you’ve installed this extension, an orange “U” will appear in the top right of your browser alongside the Keywords Everywhere icon, “K”.

Now, when you type a search into Google you’ll be able to see:

  • Monthly search volume
  • Cost per click
  • The average number of backlinks in the top 10 ranking pages
  • The average domain score of the top 10 ranking pages
  • “People also search for...”

If this isn’t enough, you can click “View all” on the right-hand side of your search bar to see:

  • SEO difficulty
  • Paid difficulty
  • Monthly search trends (on mobile and desktop)
  • The number of people who click on SEO results, paid results, or don’t click on any results
  • The age range of your searchers

Below each meta title, you’ll be able to see the domain score, social media shares, and links of a page.

If you click on the word “Links”, you’ll get a list of all the sites linking to that page (its backlinks).

This way you’ll know which backlinks your competition has and you can approach those websites for backlinks of your own.

If you want more information about any of the on-page metrics, simply click on them.

You’ll be redirected to Ubersuggest’s website where you’ll find in-depth analytics relating to that keyword.

3.3.3. AnswerThePublic


Source: AnswerThePublic

This is a really easy-to-use tool that offers very basic insights so you can get into the minds of your audience.

Simply go to AnswerThePublic’s website and type your keyword into their search bar.

You’ll get lists (presented as visualizations) of questions, comparisons, and prepositions that contain your keyword.

You’ll also get lists of search queries in alphabetical order and get a list of related searches containing your keyword.

It’s much easier to use if you select “Data” so your results will be presented in list form, rather than visualizations.

You won’t get any search metrics from AnswerThePublic, but it’s a useful place to look for unanswered questions.

This way, you can plug into your audience without having to spend hours hanging out on their social media platforms.

Between these three tools, you should be able to get everything you need for your keyword research.

But, if you’re on the hunt for a little more, we’ve got another tool we think you’d like.

3.4. Ahrefs Keyword Explorer


Source: Ahrefs

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer is a paid-for keyword research tool that offers a $7 trial that you can use for 7 days.

If you’re not looking to pay more, we think 7 days is plenty of time to create your whole keyword strategy.

You can use Ahrefs to:

  • Come up with keyword ideas
  • Gather metrics for your keyword ideas
  • Do an in-depth analysis of a specific keyword

Unlike the other tools we’ve mentioned, Ahrefs is not a browser extension, so you’ll have to work on their website.

When you type your seed keywords into their Keywords Explorer, you’ll be redirected to an overview page with a menu on the left side.

To get the most out of this, Ahrefs lets you use up to 10 seed keywords at a time.

Under the title “Keyword Ideas” you’ll be able to select:

  • Phrase match ― shows keyword phrases that contain the same seed keyword
  • Having the same terms ― shows keyword phrases that contain the terms that make up your seed keyword in any order
  • Also rank for ― shows other keywords that the top 10 ranking pages for your keyword also rank for
  • Search suggestions ― shows keywords that would appear as suggestions while you type in Google’s search bar

Or you can view them altogether by clicking “All”.

They’ll appear in a neat table with all of the basic metrics you’ll need ― you can even filter by metric to cherry-pick keywords.

You can get even more, extremely in-depth metrics by clicking the “get metrics button” that appears in each row of the table.


Source: Ahrefs

Later, we’ll talk about how to gather your keywords in a spreadsheet, but you won’t need to do this with Ahrefs’ table feature.

Ahrefs also tells you:

  • The click rate — this is worked out by dividing the number of clicks by the number of searches
  • The return rate is how often people search for that keyword again
  • Average of clicks per search where searchers might click on more than one result

This last metric indicates your chances of getting the click even if your website isn’t in the number one position.

Another cool metric Ahrefs gives you is the parent topic which refers to a more popular keyword that contains many long-tail keywords.

If you rank highly for the parent topic, you’ll rank highly for all of the lesser keywords it contains.

This massive amount of data should help you find great keywords and get in-depth metrics for the keywords you’re interested in.

As you can see, Ahrefs can add a lot of value to your keyword research.

If you’re interested in using it for more than 7 days, Ahrefs pricing starts at $99.

4. Putting Your Keywords to Work

Now you’ve got your list of keywords ready, it’s time to put them to work so you can rank higher, and most importantly, give your audience what they want!

At this point, you should have a list of keywords that you’ve gathered from the methods we’ve walked you through.

These should be a combination of the head, body, and long-tail keywords for which you’ve checked the search intent.

4.1. What to Do

4.1.1. Organize Your keywords and Metrics into a Spreadsheet

Being meticulously organized is the only way to keep keyword research simple.

If a bridal store was doing keyword research, here’s what their spreadsheet might look like:


Put your keywords on a spreadsheet, and input all of the metrics you’ve found along the way.

Seeing these metrics on one page alongside your keywords will help you figure out which ones you need to prioritize, as well as how to group them.

Remember, your website can rank for many different keywords across its pages, so don’t be afraid if you have a diverse set of keywords in your spreadsheet.

4.1.2. Sort Keywords into Broad Topics

 organize your keywords

Now it’s time to organize your keywords into broad topics.

This is where a good mind map will come in handy.

For example, if your blog is about fishing, you can have broad topics such as:

  • Fish species
  • Places to fish
  • Fishing equipment
  • Rules and laws about fishing

Or, if you’re in marketing your topics might look like this:

You can format the cells of your spreadsheet into different colors indicating which topic they fall under.

Continuing with the bridal shop example, the keywords that fall into bridal fashion are highlighted here:


4.1.3. Select Subjects for Your Posts

Looking at each broad topic and the keywords that fall into it, start coming up with subjects for posts.

These should come naturally from looking at the keywords you’ve got in front of you and being aware of what your audience is searching for.

Looking at the bridal shop’s keywords relating to bridal fashion, they might choose to write a post about bridal footwear and another about wedding dresses.

4.1.4. Group Keywords Under Each Subject

Group Keywords Under Each Subject

A lot of people make the mistake of having just one subject for each keyword, which means they’ll write a post for each keyword.

We advise that you choose around two main keywords to target per subject, and have a set of long-tail keywords for that same subject.

So, each subject is dealing with a few keywords.

Don’t worry though, you can use the same keyword in multiple subjects.

This means your posts will be targeting multiple keywords and will, therefore, have a greater chance of ranking well.

The bridal shop can group these keywords into their bridal footwear post:


4.1.5. Create posts for each subject

After all their hard work, the bridal shop can start writing “The Best Shoes for a Bride on her Wedding Day”.

To be effective with your chosen keywords, they need to appear in your:

  • Meta title
  • Meta description
  • Page URL
  • Page title (H1)
  • H2, H3, etc. (various headings on the page)
  • Body content

The meta title is the thing Google pays the most attention to ― it's best to include your keyword at the beginning of your meta title.

The meta description has little to do with ranking position but has a huge influence on whether or not you get clicks.

Use your meta description to tell searchers what your post has to do with the keywords they’re searching and how it answers their query.

We’ll discuss how not to include keywords in your body content below, but try to use variations, synonyms, and antonyms of your keyword throughout.

Google gives a slight boost to highlighted/bold text when it crawls your pages, so highlighting some instances of your keywords is a good idea.

4.2. What Not to Do

What Not to Do

We can’t leave you without some warnings about things you seriously should not do.

Keyword research is hard work, and making these mistakes can completely ruin your strategy!

4.2.1. Targeting One Keyword

Targeting One Keyword

Firstly, don’t limit your posts to only target one keyword.

Your chances of ranking will be far lower if you’re only going after one keyword.

Remember, Google SERPs are unpredictable, and you can never be 100% sure that a keyword will rank well ― so don’t put all your eggs in one basket!

Organize them into topics, then into subjects with main and subordinate keywords, and write a post per subject — not keyword.

4.2.2. Punching Above your Weight

 Punching Above your Weight

When you’re looking at keyword metrics you need to know your place.

Choosing keywords with a very high search volume, even if their difficulty is low, would usually be a good strategy.

But newcomers who have not yet built up their domain authority will be squashed by bigger sites also trying to rank for that keyword.

So, if you’ve got a smaller audience, don’t punch above your weight!

Aim for keywords with lower search volume and low keyword difficulty.

Over time your domain will gain authority with Google, and you can get in with the heavyweights!

4.2.3. Keyword Stuffing

Game Over

We’ve saved the most important no-no for last.

Don’t, under any circumstances, partake in keyword stuffing!

We know you’re excited about the great keywords you’ve found using our methods, but remember that less is often more!

Keyword stuffing is when a page is loaded with words and numbers in an attempt to manipulate Google SERPs.

The quality of the posts drops drastically because keywords or keyword phrases are repeated unnaturally.

In other cases, words are listed or popped into a post in an out-of-context manner.

The low-quality content that results from keyword stuffing is the exact opposite of what Google wants to give its searchers.

This can kill your SEO by building a bad reputation with Google ― you’ll have the opposite of domain authority, and your posts will never rank highly.

You should focus on delivering high-quality content that provides loads of value by fulfilling the search intent of your keywords and giving your audience what they want.

Use your keywords throughout, but only where they fit the context!

You can also use similar words or phrases.

5. Conclusion

Now you know everything there is to know about keyword research!

From search intent to searching skills, this guide has covered it all ― and we’re sure you’re itching to get started.

If you combine what you’ve learned from our guide with high-quality content posted regularly, your success is almost guaranteed!

Get started today, we can’t wait to see your hard work pay off in the rankings!

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