What is Keyword Research?

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Keyword research is the in-depth process of investigating the best keywords to target for a given SEO project. Even businesses in the same niche can have differing terms that would suit them to rank. The process is labor-intensive and involves using a number of different tools and some serious brain power. The goal is not just to rank for a bunch of keywords, you want to find the ones with high buyer intent. Meaning the terms that are most used by the people who are at the buy point of the buyer’s cycle. For example, if you’re in the research phase of shopping for a new air purifier you might search air filter reviews or best air filters for dog owners. These are informational keywords. These would be great for an informational blog post. But if you are selling the air filter itself high intent terms would use a transactional term in it, like “buy” or “air filters near me” or “air filters for sale”.


The different types of keywords

There are 3 main types of keywords we use in SEO; Branded, Short Tail and Long Tail. I’m going to quickly explain what each one is and give some examples of each.


Branded Keywords

Branded Keywords are keywords related directly to your brand name. So if you’re Joe’s Plumbing, the term Joe’s Plumbing would be a branded keyword. These are typically pretty easy to rank for. There’s often not a lot of competition in the local SERPs unless there’s like 20 Joe’s Plumbing in your immediate area. And in that case, come up with a new business name.

Short Tail Keywords

These are short, usually one or 2 word keywords. So keeping on with the plumbing example, a term like best plumber, or licenses plumber would be short tail keywords. These can be great, or not so great. They also tend to have a lot of competition. This can change if we add a geographic modifier to the term, but this would make it venture into long-tail territory. I tend to try and avoid going too crazy with these terms when dealing with local searches. Now if you are a national brand that sells Shearling Coats, you would want to eventually work up to ranking for shearling coats, or buy shearling coats. But I digress.

Long Tail Keywords

Long tails are search terms that are 3 plus words. These are a lot of times the real bread and butter terms. People tend to get more specific with searches now so a lot of great traffic comes from good long tails. For our plumbing example, the best plumber in Springfield, Massachusetts is a long tail with a geo modifier that is a great keyword. Others might be an emergency plumber in Northampton MA. And going back to our e-commerce hypothetical while it would take a lot of work and money to rank for shearling coats, if we target something longer and more specific like “men’s brown shearling bomber jackets” we have both an easier path to ranking for it, and also the searches might yield more conversions because of the specificity.


A word about Geographic modifiers in Keywords

For local-based businesses it is important that Google understands where you are located and the area you service. This is done through listings and citations but also by using geo-modifiers. A geo-modifier integrates location-based keywords. So if you’re trying to rank nationally for cold-pressed juices because you have an e-commerce store that ships nationally, you’d nix the geo terms. But if you own a small cold press juice bar in Hadley you would want to implement the geo terms like “cold press juice in Hadley, MA” for example.


How I analyze keywords

Choosing the right keywords to SEO a website for comes down to several different factors. I use various tools to discover the main list of keywords. I use Ahrefs, Keysearch, Spyfu, Google Keyword Planner, and of course competitor research. I also just use my own mind by thinking in terms of a potential lead and what they might search for to find the best solution to their challenge.

A few of the metrics I look at are Keyword Difficulty and monthly search volume. But even search volume can be deceptive. Over 15% of all searches are brand new. So some really solid keywords can appear to have no search volume even if they do. A great SEO I follow online did an interesting test. She found many long tail keywords that have 0 search volume, then wrote articles to rank for that term and showed many of the 0 volume terms are getting her hundreds of clicks per month.

Keyword Difficulty is a bit more straightforward. It gives a solid understanding of how hard it will be to rank for that keyword. This typically means to rank for those kinds of terms we need to do some advanced things like topical mapping and overall all having more authority.


How are the Keywords used?

Once the research is done I go through and categorize the terms. Clustering the ones closest together and mapping them to your website. Then these keywords are integrated into your on-page SEO, so your meta titles, descriptions, on-page content, headers, alt text for images, internal link anchor text, backlink anchor texts, and they influence blog articles that should be written.

Over time I track these keywords and see which ones give the best click-through rate.

Keywords are also a huge part of any Google Ads PPC campaign as well. The main thing with PPC is targeting the right terms. So this master keyword list can be used for both organic SEO and PPC campaigns to great success.

If you’re looking for a great SEO to help you grow your business we should talk.



Gabriel Bertolo

I've been building websites, doing SEO and Marketing for over 10 years. My passions include; UX Design, Wordpress Design, Local SEO, Branding, Copywriting and Conversion Rate Optimization. I have either been quoted by or have had my work featured in Forbes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, MECLabs, Business Insider, Shopify's Blog and more.

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