A Complete Guide to Keyword Research

On-page SEO, Resources

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By Billie Geena

You know your business offers an amazing service or product, but do your potential customers know that? The key to getting found online is understanding what people are searching for and optimising your website to rank for those terms. But where do you start with keyword research?

What Is Keyword Research and Why Is It Important?

Keyword research is the process of identifying the words and phrases that your target audience uses to search for content related to your business. Conducting thorough keyword research is vital for any content marketing strategy. It helps you:

  • Determine the search terms and topics that are most relevant to your audience. By focusing on these high-value keywords, you can create content that ranks well in search engines and drives qualified traffic to your site.  
  • Gain valuable insights into your customers’ needs, questions, and pain points. The keywords people search for reveal a lot about what they care about and the types of solutions or information they’re looking for. You can then create content that addresses these needs and provides real value.
  • Optimize your content for search engines like Google. When you know the keywords your audience uses, you can sprinkle them naturally throughout your content. This helps search engines understand what your content is about so they can rank it higher in the search results.  
  • Discover new content opportunities. The long-tail keywords (more specific search terms) that come up in your research can lead to exciting new topics to cover in your content that your competitors may be missing.  
  • Align your content with the different stages of the buyer’s journey. Some keywords indicate that the searcher is just starting to research a topic, while others show they’re closer to making a purchase. You can create content and content clusters for each stage.

In summary, investing time in keyword research pays off in the long run through more traffic, better search rankings, and content that truly resonates with your audience. Make it an ongoing practice, and your content marketing efforts will thrive.

Understanding Search Intent: Informational vs Transactional Keywords

When researching keywords, it’s important to understand the intent behind the search. Are people looking for information? Or are they looking to make a purchase or complete a transaction?  

Informational Keywords

Informational keywords indicate the searcher is looking to learn something or research a topic.  These are often broader, more open-ended terms.  For example, ‘keyword research’ or ‘social media marketing’.  With informational keywords, you want to provide value by educating the searcher.  Your content should aim to inform and answer their questions.  

Transactional Keywords  

Transactional keywords show the searcher intends to complete an action, like make a purchase, download something or sign up for a service.  These keywords will be more specific, like ‘social media marketing courses’ or ‘keyword research tools’.  For transactional keywords, you need to give the searcher what they’re looking for by providing recommendations, reviews, comparisons or ways to complete the transaction.  

Aligning Keywords to Business Goals and User Needs

So you’ve done your keyword research and have a big list of terms people are searching for. That’s great, but now it’s time to narrow down to the keywords that actually matter for your business. Not all search volume is created equal. Some keywords may get lots of searches but not actually drive qualified traffic and leads.

It’s easy to get caught up in high search volume keywords, but you need to consider relevance and intent. Are people searching for those terms actually looking for what you offer? Just because a keyword gets searched a lot doesn’t mean it’s right for your content or product. 

Relevance over search volume

Focus on keywords relevant to your services and solutions. If you’re a dog trainer, “puppy training” is more relevant than just “dogs” or “pets,” even if the latter get more searches. Think about the problems your target audience needs to solve. What words would they use to find solutions?

Search intent

Consider the intent behind the search. Are people looking to buy something (transactional), find information (informational), or just browse (commercial)? Transactional keywords like “buy puppy food” or “dog trainer cost” show intent to purchase, so focus on those. Informational keywords such as “how to potty train a puppy” or “best dog food brands” indicate someone needs help or advice.

Clustering keywords

Group related keywords, topics and themes to create content clusters. This helps provide relevancy and depth to your content. For example, a ‘digital marketing’ cluster could include keywords like ‘social media marketing’, ‘SEO’, ‘email marketing’, ‘pay-per-click’. Develop content and internal linking around each cluster.

The Power of Long-Tail Keywords

Don’t ignore long-tail keywords, like “affordable dog trainer in Sheffield” or “potty training tips for dachshund puppies.”  These ultra-specific searches often convert better because they closely match what you offer. And while search volume is lower for each, combined long-tail keywords can drive a lot of traffic.

At the end of the day, choose keywords that balance search volume and relevance. Aim for terms that lots of your ideal customers are actually searching for to find solutions like yours. Quality over quantity. With the right keywords targeted at the right audiences, you’ll drive more qualified visitors to your site and ultimately more leads or sales.

Long-tail keywords are more specific search terms that target niche audiences. While short, highly competitive keywords might get more search volume, long-tail keywords could drive more qualified traffic to your site.

As a business owner, you know your services and products inside and out. But do your potential customers? Long-tail keywords help searchers find exactly what they need by matching their specific intent.  

Targeting niche audiences 

Rather than trying to rank for a broad term like “digital marketing”, focus on long-tail keywords like “social media marketing for small businesses” or “SEO services for ecommerce sites”. These terms have less competition but attract audiences actively looking for your offerings.

Highly qualified traffic

Searchers using long-tail keywords have a clear intent and purpose. They’re further down the buying funnel, so the traffic is primed to convert into leads or sales. While short keywords might get lots of clicks, long-tail keywords drive visitors who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer.

Align with your content

Are you publishing blog posts, videos, or other content on your site? Use long-tail keywords to optimize this content and make it more discoverable in search engines. For example, if you have a blog post on “How to use social media for small business marketing”, target the long-tail keyword “small business social media marketing strategy” for that content.  

Long-tail keywords are a powerful way to reach new audiences, improve your SEO, and boost qualified traffic to your website. While short keywords shouldn’t be ignored, a long-tail keyword strategy should be an important part of your overall SEO and content marketing plans. By optimizing for searchers’ specific intents, you’ll gain a competitive advantage and build a loyal customer base.

Tools for Keyword Research

To conduct effective keyword research, you need the right tools and strategies. Let’s look at some of the options available and how to make the most of them.

Google Keyword Planner 

This free tool provides search volume data to help determine potential traffic for target keywords. Simply enter a seed keyword to see suggested related keywords and estimates of their monthly searches. Compare different keywords to find the right balance of high volume and low competition. 


For more in-depth keyword research, SEMrush is an excellent paid tool. It offers search volume, cost-per-click and difficulty metrics to assess keyword viability. You can also see what keywords your competitors are ranking for and identify opportunities. SEMrush’s content explorer finds keywords within your niche to build out your content clusters.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free tool from Google that gives you insights into how your website is performing in Google Search. You’ll see what keywords and search terms are connected to your site. This will help you understand what content you have and if it needs optimising. It can provide a wealth of information including keywords, page speed and technical SEO. Read our full guide on using Google Search Console!

Competitor Keyword Analysis

See what keywords your competitors rank for to find opportunities in your niche. You can then develop better content by covering those keywords in a more in-depth way. Some competitors may not have optimized their pages well, so you can outrank them by creating high-quality, relevant content.

Using the right tools and keyword research strategies will set you up for success. Keep your target audience and their intent in mind, build content clusters, tap into long-tail keywords, and analyze the competition. With practice, conducting effective keyword research will become second nature.

Creating Keyword-Focused Content Clusters

Conducting competitor keyword analysis is essential to gain valuable insights into your competitors and identify keyword opportunities. This helps you understand what keywords and search terms your competitors are already ranking for so you can determine how to outrank them or find alternative, related keywords to target.

Competitor keyword analysis involves a few simple steps:

Identify your competitors 

First, determine who your main competitors are. These may be direct competitors offering very similar products or services, or indirect competitors targeting the same audience or customer needs. Search for them on Google and note the keywords and phrases that appear in their page titles, headings, content, and meta descriptions.

Analyse their rankings

See where your competitors rank in the search results for the keywords you found. Are they ranking on page one for most terms? Focus on keywords they rank highly for, as these likely get a lot of search traffic that you could gain a share of. Also look for any gaps where you could potentially outrank them.  

Study their content  

Analyse the content on your competitors’ sites, especially for pages that rank well. Note the topics, themes, and keywords they focus on. See if there are any opportunities to create better, more comprehensive content. Look for content clusters where you could add related content. The more good content you have, the more keywords you can rank for. You must prioritise good content thought; creating lots of content does not guarantee rankings or SEO success.

Identify long-tail keywords  

Search for longer, more specific keywords and phrases, known as “long-tail” keywords. These are more targeted, so they can convert better.  Your competitors may not be targeting these niche terms, presenting an opportunity. Long-tail keywords also tend to be less competitive, so you may rank more easily for them.

Compare with your own keywords  

Compare the keywords you found with the keywords you’re currently targeting. Look for overlaps and gaps. You may find new keywords to add, or determine some you’re targeting are too competitive. You can then adjust your keyword strategy accordingly.  

Competitor keyword analysis provides valuable insights to help shape your SEO and content strategies.  Regularly revisiting this analysis will ensure you stay ahead of the competition and continue optimizing your keyword targeting.

Grouping Keywords to create an SEO strategy

To develop a solid keyword strategy, you need to organize your keywords into focused content clusters. These clusters should align with your business offerings and the topics/services you want to rank for. Let’s look at how to create keyword-focused content clusters.

Within your business, you likely have main service or product categories – group keywords related to each of these categories. For example, if you offer web design, SEO and social media marketing services, create a content cluster for each. Look for keywords related to ‘web design services’, ‘search engine optimisation’ and ‘social media marketing agency’. 

For each cluster, determine if the keywords indicate a commercial, informational or transactional intent. Commercial keywords imply someone is looking to buy something e.g. ‘web design services’. Informational keywords indicate the person wants to learn something e.g. ‘how to optimise your website for search engines’. Transactional keywords show the intention to complete an action e.g. ‘hire a social media marketing company’. You need a mix of keywords across the clusters.

Don’t forget long-tail keywords, containing 3 or more words. They are more specific, so attract higher quality traffic. E.g. ‘affordable social media marketing for small businesses’. Long-tail keywords are a goldmine, so spend time uncovering them.

Within each cluster, create pillar content like blog posts, videos or lead magnets. Optimise this content for a mix of keywords, including long-tail versions. The content should provide value for readers and encourage them to use your services. Update the content regularly to keep it ranking well.   

Build internal links between related content in each cluster. This helps search engines see how the content is connected, which strengthens rankings. Also get external websites to link to your content, which passes authority to your site.   

By researching your keywords, organising them into targeted content clusters and creating optimised content and link building strategies for each cluster, you can develop a comprehensive approach to ranking well in search engines. The key is providing value to searchers and consistently improving your content and link equity over time.

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