Even with other forms of traffic generation available to marketers, organic SEO is still one of the most popular ways to get visitors to your site.
This is mainly because it’s easy to do and doesn’t cost much if anything to be able to take advantage of it.
However, long gone are the days when you can just shove a load of keywords into an article and rank for it. Neither can you just write articles in the hope that they will rank.
Instead you need to take a critical stance and find keywords that are both easy (well, easier) to rank for and that also provide the ability to bring in traffic.
What are keywords?
Just in case you’re not sure, keywords are basically words and phrases that people search for in search engines. Articles that contain these keywords or related keywords will then be shown by the search engine when you search.
E.g. if someone searches for “how to treat a skin rash” and your article contains those words, then you’re more likely to be shown in the rankings.
Why does keyword research matter?
If there’s one truism when it comes to search engines, it’s that the vast majority of people do not go past the first page of results.
That means that not only do you have to compete with other websites, you have to compete with them for just 10 positions.
This is where keyword research comes in. It allows you to find what are called Long Tail Keywords (usually made up of 3 or more words).
These long tail keywords usually have low searches per month, meaning the traffic from them is lower, but they are also usually easier to rank for and there’s a large amount of them for every niche.
This combination, sometimes referred to as “low hanging fruit”, can be used to generate content that over time can have a drastic effect on your traffic.
Not only that, but the long tail searches are usually more targeted than broader single keywords. Searching for “dogs” could be for anything dog related, but searching for “dog training tips” is quite specific.
How can you find keywords?
There are two issues when it comes to finding keywords to use on your site: finding them in the first place, and making sure they are actually useful.
When it comes to finding keywords, you could probably get a bunch of them just off the top of your head. And that’s great, they can be used, but what about more obscure ones, ones you’ve forgotten about or what if you don’t know the niche that well?
In that case you’re going to need a keyword research tool to help you.
Not only can a research tool help you find new and exciting keywords, but some of them can also help you find out which keywords are actually worth your time.
There’s nothing worse than writing an article based on a keyword only to find out that 1 person a year searches for it, or that the competition for the keyword is so high that you have zero chance for ranking for it.
Some terms you need to understand
Understanding keyword research is key to effectively using it, and there are a number of different terms that you need to understand.
This is usually what people focus on when learning keyword research and it is usually a mistake.
Most tools list competition for a keyword, but it’s not based on how hard it is to rank for a keyword organically, but instead on how hard it is to rank for a PPC (Pay Per Click) advert.
This means that a high competition keyword, might be easy to rank for via SEO and a low competition keyword might be so hard you never rank for it.
Competition is a great way to gauge interest in a keyword, but shouldn’t be your sole metric for figuring out whether to use that keyword.
Decent keyword research tools will provide this metric for you and it’s a great one to look at. Clever people (that’s not me by the way) have figured out different alogrithms and so forth that work out how hard it would be to rank organically for a keyword.
Keyword Difficulty (KD) rates this value, normally on a 1 -100 range, where 100 is almost impossible to rank for.
SEMrush defines KD as:
An estimate of how difficult it would be to rank well in organic search results for a particular keyword. The higher the percentage, the harder it is to achieve high rankings for the given keyword
Searches Per Month
I remember when I was starting out and I thought that if I used a keyword with 3000 searches per month, that I would get that number in traffic.
Sadly that’s not the case, as that number is the number of people searching for the term a month, not necessarily clicking on any results. As well as that the click distribution on the results page differs for each result, with the number one slot getting the lion’s share of clicks.
Page Authority (PA)
This metric, developed by MOZ, tries to quantify how successful a page will rank. If you’re seeing a search results page full of low PA articles, you could say that you have a better chance of ranking, simply by improving the on page SEO for your own article.
Domain Authority (DA)
DA, also created by MOZ, provides metrics not on a single page, but on the domain overall. For example, a site like eBay will have a higher DA than a site you made yesterday.
These are keywords used to generate other keywords. They can as broad or as narrow as you want, though the narrowness will often affect what new keywords are returned.
It’s not about one metric over another
You can’t take each of these metrics individually; you have to examine them together. As well as that, further research will be required.
For example, even if you have a keyword with a fairly high search volume and low competition and low KD score, you might think you’re onto a winner. And it will certainly merit further research.
However, you might find that the websites occupying the first page of search results have high Page Authority and Domain Authority and are just going to be hard to beat.
This doesn’t mean you can’t try for the keyword, especially if the content is simply good for your visitors, but perhaps it should be lower than your priority list if you’re focused on building traffic.
Keyword research tools
There are a number of free and premium tools out there that can help you in your quest for quality keywords.
This tool is probably one you are familiar with as it’s the one that most newbie marketers are pointed to begin with.
Not only does it come from Google, but it’s free, which is why you would think it’s a great tool to find keywords with.
Of course, it doesn’t provide detailed metrics, and is focused on Competition (thus adverts), so it can’t give a detailed overview of the keyword. However, for finding new keyword possibilities, it’s pretty good.
Since its launch this was a great way to find related keywords, simply by typing in a partial keyword in Google Search and seeing what the autocomplete came up with. The results are based on actual searches so you know they are valid keywords.
The main issue with this tool is that you have to manually search.
One of the first tools based off of Google Instant’s Autocomplete Suggestions, Übersuggest makes it really easy to find all of the autosuggestions for a particular keyword.
Again, this tool has no metrics, but great for producing a seed keyword list.
This tool is very similar to Übersuggest, but it does offer a CSV output which is handy!
I only recently came across this beautiful keyword research tool, and it’s certainly one I’m going to continue to use. Like Übersuggest it uses Googles Auto Complete system, but it adds in a more visual way to find keywords.
As well as that it turns your keywords into questions, which can be very easily turned into article titles that matter to your visitors.
Without metrics you will likely still need to do more research or use another tool, but for finding keywords it’s a pleasure to use.
When it comes to metrics, SEMRush is one of the big hitters in the keyword research tool arena.
It can take a single keyword and provide a list of phrase match keywords and a list of related keywords – turning one keyword into thousands!
It also provides metrics for advertisement data, lists the search results for at a glance competition analysis and even provides example adverts!
The individual reports also provide Keyword Difficulty data.
Beyond that SEMrush has numerous tools that can be used to examine your site (or your competitors) sites to find what keywords that site is using, how much traffic it gets, what backlinks it has and so much more stuff.
This sort of tools is where keyword research gets serious. It will give you enough data to make an informed choice as whether or not to target a specific keyword, as well as generating tons of keywords to use or research.
A tool made by Swiss Made Marketing, SECockpit is another detailed keyword research tool that provides a lot of metrics enabling you to find great keywords.
Though not as detailed as SEMRush, it has more than enough going for it to make it a valuable tool in your arsenal.
This tool is quite similar to SECockpit, but rather than being online, it is installed on your computer. While a superb tool, I found Long Tail Pro to be one of the weaker tools, as it relies on you assigning your own MOZ and Google accounts to it. The lack of an online version makes it harder for the marketer on the go to work as well. Other than that it does provide excellent keyword research.
Its free version is similar to Übersuggest et al, in that it provides a long list of data that seems (I might be wrong) to be based off of the Autocomplete tool.
The Pro version offers more detailed results including search volume and competition level.
Buzzsumo focuses mainly on the social aspect of keywords, listing sites that rank for a keyword and the social shares it has gotten.
It has more though, in that it can also list backlinks and do a content analysis if you go Pro.
For marketers that focus a lot of effort on the social side of generating traffic, then Buzzsumo is definitely the best option. Its free version is quite limited though.
As one of the biggest and most loved tools out there, MOZ has tons of different features that make it perfect for keyword research.
It also shows its metrics in different ways than the other tools, making it a very easy to use keyword research tool.
Google Trends provides information on where and when a keyword is searched for, as well as some basic related keyword information. Combine it with other free tools and it’s great for gauging interest in a topic and when would be the perfect time to release an article or promote a topic on social media.
The Bottom Line
Keyword research is vitally important in modern online marketing, as it allows you to find the right keywords that can be used to generate traffic and interest in your site, without resorting to a wasteful scattershot method.
Researching your keywords will save you a lot of wasted effort (as well as time, money and heartache!).
The best free tool in my opinion is Google’s Keyword Planner. It might be basic, but you can find a heck of a lot of keywords from it. You’ll still need to do due diligence with each keyword though and will likely need to use multiple other free tools if you want to be absolutely sure that the keyword is right for you.
The best premium tool would have to be SEMRush – it offers pretty much everything you will need to research niches, keywords and your competitors at an affordable price.