Keywords are the foundation of search. Billions of keywords are used by people every day to find specific information online. Keywords are also used by search engines to sort and show the most relevant information to the user based on his request.

If you want to have a successful blog, or online business you better make sure your website ranks for appropriate phrases with correct search intent behind them.

Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend creating amazing content – it will be buried on the last page of Google. And no one goes there.

How do you make sure your website shows up for relevant keywords with high conversion rate? Simple.

You find those keywords during the keyword research process. Keyword research is one of the fundamental aspects of search engine optimization. In fact, I recommend you do keyword research before building your website.

While the process may seem easy at first, there are certain nuances beginners may not know about. So in this guide I am going to explain how to do the most basic keyword research.

But first…

Why keyword research is important?

The beauty of online marketing is how much valuable data on markets you can gather within a few simple clicks. It’s one thing to brainstorm topics and ideas when planning your website.

But it’s an entirely different process when you can access real data at no cost to find out exactly how people are searching for your type of content, or service.

So why keyword research is so important? Here’s a few reasons.

  • It provides an insight on how to structure your website. A properly structured website ensures easier crawling and indexing for robots, and provides great user experience for the end user.
  • It filters out keywords with low commercial value. By finding keywords with proper search intent you’ll know exactly what to focus on first.
  • It gives ideas for new content. By digging deeper in to the mind of your audience you’ll be able to answer specific questions by writing relevant content.
  • It allows you to find low competitive keywords you can easily rank for with little SEO effort. By targeting keywords with little competition you can start seeing results much quicker.

Short tail and long tail keywords

If you’re new to keyword research then there are two types of keywords you need to know about: short tail keywords and long tail keywords.

Short tail keywords generally consist of one, or two words. These keywords have large search volume, high competition, indistinguishable search intent, and low conversion rate because of that. An example of a short tail keyword would be “blogging” which gets around 4 million monthly searches.

Long tails keywords generally consist of three, or more words. Long tails have significantly lower search volume, lower competition, clear user search intent and higher conversion rate.

An example of a long tail keyword would be “how to start a mom blog and make money” which gets only 40 monthly searches.

The biggest mistake any beginner can make is to focus on short tail keywords for massive traffic. However, more than 70 percent of all search traffic come from highly specific long tail keywords. In fact, 15 percent of daily searches are new and unique according to Google.

Here’s a graph illustrating this principle.

Short tail vs. long tail keywords grapth.

Another important statistic to be aware of is how ranking position affects click-through-rate. This is valuable for estimating how much traffic your website may get. For example, if a search term gets 5,000 monthly searches and your website shows up on the 6th place in SERPS then you can expect roughly 200 visitors per month from that keyword.

Here’s a graph that illustrates distribution of CTR between positions in Google SERPs.

Organic SEO click-through-rate by position in Google's SERPS.

Based on this statistics it’s recommended to choose keywords with at least 1,000 monthly searches. Although, I think that it’s worth going after keywords with search volume below the thousand mark if the keyword has strong transactional intent.

Now with all the important statistics out of the way we can move on to the actual keyword research.

Seed keywords

For this tutorial let’s pretend I want to start a pet food store. What would my keyword research process look like?

The first step is to gather as many broad keywords as possible. These are called seed keywords. The goal is to find all the possible variations and topics in this market.

To do that I’ll use a tool called Ubersuggest. Let’s see what kind of keyword ideas it generates.

Keyword list from Ubersuggest for "pet food".

Just by glancing over these keyword suggestions I can conclude that the most popular pets are cats and dogs. However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore all other pets. My next step is to find out which animals people keep as pets. This can be done by a simple search.

Here’s what Google came up with.

A list of pet animals in Google SERP.

As you can see there are plenty of keyword opportunities to go after. Now if I was a real pet store owner I would only pick animals I actually sell pet food for.

Next, I’ve established that people also look for specific pet food brands. Simple Google search can give us a list of top performing corporations. Each of these corporations own multiple brands. All these brands are potential keyword opportunities.

Top pet food companies by revenue.

Another way of finding relevant seed keywords is simply by typing your main keyword into Google’s search box and NOT pressing enter. These suggestions are keywords people are actually typing into the search box. And they can even be location based which is perfect if you’re planning to do local SEO.

Pet Food Google search box suggestions.

By combining all of the data above I’ve managed to find three distinct patterns. People generally search for pet food products by type of pets, brands and types of food (wet, dry, canned etc.)

Once I have a decent list of seed keywords it’s time to dig deeper to find commercially valuable keywords with low competition.

Digging for keywords with transactional intent

Previously, you could do this task using Google’s Keyword Planner. However, that is no longer the case as Google have decided to restrict it to Adwords customers only. Instead, I recommend using a free browser extension called Keywords Everywhere which is available for Chrome and Firefox.

With this tool you’ll be able to see basic information such as search volume, competition and cost per click (you’ve probably noticed this data show up in the Google’s suggestions on the screenshot above).

Competition and cost per click are only relevant if you’re planning to do PPC advertising. For our purposes we only need the search volume metric.

Now our task is to try and come up with a bigger keyword list where user search intent is clearly obvious.

Let’s go after “dog food” and see what Keywords Everywhere shows us.

Keyword list for term "dog food" in Keywords Everywhere Firefox extension.

Now we see familiar patterns here. Notice that a lot of people are searching for huge retail brands to buy dog food from.

If I was doing PPC advertising I’d be adding keywords containing popular retail stores like “amazon”, “walmart”, “petsmart” etc.” as negative keywords to prevent my ads from showing.

Since these type of keywords are navigational they serve no interest to us because people usually are not interested in other places. They just want to arrive at their desired destination.

By including these queries as negative keywords I would save a lot of money.

For SEO the only interesting keywords here are “dog food prices”, “dog food reviews” and “dog food near me”. Now, reviews might be hit or miss. However, if I was building a website for a pet store food, I would definitely include a review section where customers could leave comments and ratings under products.

Comments serve as user generated content, which means product pages would always stay “fresh” (as long as people keep adding new comments), and search engines love fresh content. In addition, this would increase the average time on page which is a metric Google uses as a ranking factor.

If you ever need a good example of how to implement this correctly just go to Amazon.

Now moving on to the next tool.

Let’s go to Soovle and see what ideas we can find there.

Soovle "dog food" results.

The most interesting keywords here are “dog food online”, “dog food coupons”, “dog food delivery”. Clearly, this process would be much faster and easier with a proper keyword research tool, but for beginners they are too costly. So here’s what I came up with so far.

Dog food keyword research spreadsheet.

Now that we have a list of keywords that seem to have the most value for our fictional pet store it’s time to start building a list of long tails.

How to generate long tails

The next step would be to combine different types of modifiers with our core keywords to generate a massive list of long tail keywords. You can either do this using Microsoft Excel if you know how to combine cells, or a simple online tool like Kombinator.

How to combine keywords to generate long tails.

Now just these basic combinations have generated over 100 keywords. And if you think that’s a lot – you’re wrong. Huge online retail stores rank for billions of different keywords. Ideally you do this for each type of keyword with all modifiers to end up with thousands of keywords.

This is the most basic keyword research process both for SEO and PPC.

For PPC all these combinations should be placed within their own ad groups with relevant ads and landing pages. And to get the most out of your ad money you should implement conversion tracking to know exactly which keywords drive sales.

PPC can also be used to discover high converting keywords with good search volume. Once you have enough data for a particular keyword you can start optimizing pages for organic results for that keyword to increase sales and cut down on ad costs.

For SEO these combinations don’t make much sense as there’s little search volume. However, the idea is to create landing pages for each of the seed keywords and include all the words that indicate transactional intent on those pages. Since these long tails don’t have much competition ranking for them would not be difficult. Especially if your website already has some domain authority.

Here’s how I would plan out the structure of my website to include words with transactional keywords.

Site structure for long tails with transactional intent.

And you can see these SEO strategies implemented by top retail chains that sell pet food like Chewy, Petco, Walmart etc.

SERPS for "dry dog food prices"

Long tail for content marketing

Keyword research is not only used to find long tails with transactional intent. It’s also used for discovering ideas for content marketing. It’s always a good idea to have a some kind of a blog where you can share tips and connect with your audience. For this purpose you need to create articles, videos, or podcasts which are optimized for long tails with informational search intent.

The best tool to come up such long tails is called AnswerThePublic. Basically this tool provides a mind map for a phrase where you can visualize relevant and interesting ideas.

Answer The Public results for "dog food".

What’s also good is that Keywords Everywhere fully support this website and you can filter out keywords with low volume and focus on those that are worth pursuing.

Answer The Public supported by Keywords Everywhere.

With this tool you can create a small lists of keywords which you can include within content on your blog. That way your articles will not just be helpful for your customers, but it should also rank for multiple long tail phrases. Combined  these articles can bring a significant amount of traffic.

Even though these articles may not have good conversion rates they still can end up helping with brand awareness and link building.

That’s keyword research in a nutshell. But before I take off I want to give you a list of keyword research tools you might want to check out if you’re serious about SEO and PPC.

List of keyword research tools

Clearly, keyword research tools can significantly save time during the keyword research process as most paid tools provides a lot of valuable data besides search volume and cost per click.

However, as I’ve already mentioned the majority of them are quite expensive. Even more so if you don’t plan to use them every day. With all that said here’s a list of all keyword research tools I know about so far. This includes tools already mentioned in this guide.

If you ever decide to use any of the paid ones, feel free to come back to this article and share your thoughts in the comments.

In a nutshell

Keyword research is an extremely important step in both search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising. By gathering relevant keyword data you’ll be able to properly structure your website for better search engine visibility, and find long tail keywords for content marketing.

If you’re going the PPC route you can generate tens of thousands of keywords with low competition and high conversion rate. The process may seem difficult at first. But it’s not when you have multiple keyword research tools at your disposal – both free and premium.

Hopefully, this keyword research guide was helpful and now you have better understanding of what keyword research is really like.

Do you have any other tips or strategies when it comes to keyword research? Share them in the comments!