written by
Vicky Smith

SEO Keyword Research - The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

Research Marketing 7 min read

SEO keyword research is an important part of optimising any content you write for the web. However, solid keyword research is something that is often overlooked even by SEO experts.

This article outlines why SEO keyword research is important, and provides a clear, step-by-step guide of keyword research best-practices.

Why is SEO keyword research important?

SEO keyword research is important because quite simply, it helps you to make sure that you are using the right keywords for your target audience.

Keyword research helps you to avoid falling into the trap of using industry terminology or jargon – words and phrases that might be common in your industry to experts or providers, but that customers may not be using to search for you. You should always make sure you are using the keywords and phrases that your customers use.

Keyword research also helps you to stay competitive. Avoiding keywords and phrases that are used by your competition means that you are much more likely to rank well in search engines.

A good SEO keyword research strategy should be based on:

  • A solid planning phase
  • Importance
  • Search volume
  • Competition
  • Click-through rate

Ideal keyword criteria:

You should aim for keywords with high importance, high search volume, low competition, and high click-through rates.

Step 1 - A solid plan for SEO keyword research

The first place to start when it comes to SEO keyword research is the creation of a solid plan.

Start by listing all of the words and phrases you think people are using to find you in search engines. Think about all variations of your keyword, as well as short and long versions.

If you’re struggling to come up with keyword variations, you can always type a chosen search term into Google and look at the suggested related search terms:

seo keyword research keyword variations
Google's suggested keyword variations

You can also use online tools to help come up with keyword variations such as Google Keyword Planner, Keywords Everywhere or Keyword Shitter.

You should make sure to use both short and long (long-tail) keywords. Whilst shorter keywords tend to receive a higher volume of searches, long-tail keywords tend to have higher click-through and conversion rates and can produce a better return on investment.

The more keyword variations you can find and test, the more likely you are to come up with the perfect set of keywords or phrases that match our ideal criteria above.

Step 2 – Importance

Once you have compiled a list of potential relevant search words or phrases, you should begin by ranking them according to importance. It can be useful to allocate a score of 1-10 to each keyword. 1 being the least important and 10 being the most important.

What is keyword importance?

Keyword importance refers to how well the keyword correlates to your business goals.

Take Cambray as an example. We are a digital marketing agency based in Cheltenham. Our main goal as a business is to win new customers who are looking for local digital marketing services. Therefore we would place high importance to keywords such as ‘Digital marketing Cheltenham’ and this keyword would receive a score of 10 for importance.

However, we might also want to rank well for this article, based around the search phrase of ‘SEO keyword research’ or similar. Although this doesn't directly win us new customers, it does position Cambray as an expert to readers who want to self-educate – which might help to win us additional business in the longer term.

In this example, the phrase ‘SEO keyword research’ isn't directly central to our business goal, but it is useful and relevant, and it does have a purpose in terms of our overall strategy. Therefore, we might give it an importance score of a 7 or 8.

This helpful Moz article helps further explain keyword importance.

Working with external SEO agencies can often mean that the above step is skipped. This is because the importance score is dependent on your unique business goals. Always ensure that the SEO provider you work with is going to ask for your input and take this into consideration.

Step 3 – Search volume

Now we have a list of potential keywords, all ranked by importance in terms of our business goals, we can look at search volume.

Search volume is the most commonly used metric for keywords and phrases. This tells you the average number of monthly searches for your chosen keywords or phrases.

You want to be sure to choose keywords or phrases with a high volume of monthly searches. This increases the chance that your content will be viewed by more people. If you base your content around keywords with little or no monthly search volume, it is unlikely that it will be read or viewed.

You can use tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner to tell you this, although Google only provides an estimation. Other tools such as Moz and SEMrush are able to be much more specific about keyword monthly search volume.

seo keyword research volume
Google's Keyword Planner average monthly search function

Search volume is an important metric, but should not be used in isolation. Search volume is only one aspect of SEO keyword research. It should be combined with other metrics to make sure you're using the best keywords or phrases.

Step 4 – Keyword competition

The next step in SEO keyword research is to look at the competition of your chosen keywords and phrases.

Keyword competition shows you how difficult it will be to rank for your chosen keyword or phrase in search engines. If a larger business ranks well for your chosen keyword, it may be difficult to compete and your site will appear far lower in search engine results.

But if you choose a keyword or phrase that has less competition - perhaps it isn't used by many larger businesses – you will be much more likely to rank well.

Tools such as Google Keyword Planner do this effectively by ranking the competitiveness of keywords into ‘Low’ ‘Medium’ and ‘High’. You should aim for keywords with low competition in order to increase your chance of ranking well in search engines.

Step 5 – Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Once you have determined the competitiveness of your chosen keywords and phrases, it is important to consider the click-through rate associated with each.

Click-through rate refers to the likelihood that someone will click through to your page after you appear in search engine results. It is an important metric because even if your site is reaching one of the top 3 spots in search engine results, if nobody is clicking through to your page, you still will not be able to reach them.

CTR is a metric that is really well measured by Moz. According to Moz’s Rand Fishkin,

“[Moz] looks at the SERP [Search engine results page] features that appear in a set of results (e.g. an image block, AdWords ads, a featured snippet, or knowledge graph) and then calculates…what percent of searchers are likely to click on the organic, web results.”

Moz does this with a score from 1-100. A score of 50 equates to an estimated 50% click-through rate.

You should always take CTR into account when researching keywords as this makes it more likely that your content will actually reach readers.

Step 6 – Take everything into account

You should now have something that looks like this:

SEO keyword research compiled into one spreadsheet

Keeping a spreadsheet with all available keyword data helps you to view everything 'at a glance.' You should now be able to make an informed decision about which keywords and phrases to use in your content.

To summarise:

You should aim for keywords with high importance, high search volume, low competition, and high click-through rates.

How can we help?

Researching keywords and improving your site’s ranking through SEO is difficult. It takes time and effort to increase your search engine rankings organically.

Why not let us manage your SEO for you? Cambray’s SEO team has worked for some household names such as Domino’s, Virgin, Costa Coffee and Heineken.

Contact Cambray today for a free 20-minute consultation to find out how we can help you to sell more and grow your business. Alternatively, fill in the contact form below to receive a call from one of our experts.

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