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How to Do Keyword Research for SEO

Conducting comprehensive Keyword Research for SEO is perhaps the most critical first step to develop an effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. The specific keywords and phrases that you choose to target and optimize around will largely determine whether your SEO efforts attract substantial organic traffic that converts, or simply get lost amongst the oversaturated competitive noise.

Walk through this in-depth beginner's guide to learn proven methods for researching, discovering, analyzing and selecting the most powerful and commercially-viable keywords to focus on for your Keyword Research for SEO strategy for your site, product or brand.

Understand the Core Concepts: Difficulty, Volume and Intent

Before diving into specific keyword research tactics, it's important to understand three key concepts related to identifying the best SEO keywords and phrases to target:

Difficulty Level

This refers to how competitive it is to rank for a given keyword. High difficulty means lots of other sites and content competing for the top spots in search results. Low difficulty means less competition trying to rank.

Search Volume

This indicates how frequently a keyword is searched per month. High volume keywords get lots of traffic but tend to be more difficult to rank for. Low volume long-tail keywords are easier to rank for but bring less visitors.

Searcher Intent

This describes what the searcher wants or expects to find when searching for a given term. The clearer you can identify intent around potential SEO keywords, the better chance of providing that value and converting visitors.

Your goal is to find the right balance between difficulty, volume and intent that matches your niche, resources and business goals.

Leverage Free Keyword Research Tools

Thankfully there are a wide variety of free keyword research tools available to aid in the discovery and competitive analysis process. Here are some top options:

Google Keyword Planner

Google's own tool shows monthly search volumes and suggests related keywords to target as well. However, it lacks any difficulty or competition data.


Ahrefs offers excellent keyword difficulty scores and volumes without needing a paid subscription. It's one of the best free resources for basic SEO keyword research.

Answer the Public

This neat tool automatically generates lots of unique long-tail keyword questions based on what real people are searching for online. It's fantastic for discovering fresh optimized phrases faster.

Taking the time to dig into these free resources allows you to find promising low-competition long-tail keywords to pursue as well as identify higher volume and difficulty targets with potential.

Research What Your Competitors are Already Ranking Forp

An easy shortcut for keyword discovery is investigating what terms and topics your top-ranking competitors within your space are already successfully targeting and ranking content for.

Use a tool like Ahrefs to analyze their site and identify the specific pages, posts and content that is driving the most organic search traffic. Reverse engineer what keywords those assets are ranking for. Make lists of ones that seem within your reach to feasibly outrank them for by creating even better, more useful content.

Shift Focus to Informative Long-Tail Keywords

A smart keyword research strategy is to place more emphasis on targeting multiple long-tail keywords rather than just the highly competitive short head terms. Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific multi-word keyword phrases like "keto vegan recipes under 30 minutes" or "how to stain oak cabinets espresso".

These long phrases have much lower competition and conversions because they closely match users' specific search intent. Try to identify clusters of related long-tail variants around topics that would attract your ideal audience. Craft lots of very useful content optimized specifically for ranking for those less common but more targeted phrases.

Structure Content Around Keyword Clusters

Unless you have expansive content creation resources, there's only so much content you will be able to produce around a single target keyword. That's why one proven tactic is to identify and build out comprehensive clusters of related keyword topics that make strategic sense for your goals.

For example, an outdoor lifestyle blog could target clusters of keywords around hiking tips, outdoor gear, camping recipes, eco-travel destinations, leave no trace principles etc. A home improvement site could target wood staining techniques, different types of wood stains, how to stain wood furniture, stain color ideas etc. Owning these niches by thoroughly covering these topics from multiple angles drives more sustained organic traffic over time.

Compare Paid Search Keyword Data for Insights

Another helpful tip is to analyze what keyword terms your competitors are actively bidding on and trying to rank content for within paid search advertising channels like Google Ads. Typically businesses have done research to identify keywords with high commercial intent that would convert once ranking content or ads for them.

Google Ads dashboards provide additional data including search volume and average cost-per-click bids for given keywords that grant further insight into which ones may be most valuable for your SEO strategy as well based on what your competitors have learned.

While proper keyword research undoubtedly requires significant effort invested upfront, it lays the foundation for an effective ongoing SEO campaign. Use the free tools and smarter keyword selection strategies outlined here during both your initial discovery phase as well as later optimization to keep driving targeted organic traffic to your site over the long term. Choosing the optimal keywords and phrases to target from the start is the most critical step, so take the time to do it right.


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