You might have heard of the term ‘keyword research’, but what exactly does it mean? In this guide, we’ve looked at what keyword research actually is and how it can help your business. We'll also clue you in on how to do keyword research, the best tools out there, and our top keyword research tips for beginners.

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is a practice used by marketers to determine what a brand’s target audience is interested in by looking at what they're searching for. It involves analysing Google search volume, user intent, and business opportunity and should form a part of both your organic and paid marketing strategies.

Understanding keyword research

You might know what keyword research is, but there’s much more to know about it than that. If you really want to get stuck in, you'll need to know just why it’s important, the metrics you might use look at, and the types of terms you should target.

Why is keyword research important?

Keyword research is a crucial part of your overall marketing plan, mostly because it allows you to answer two core questions:

  1. What are my target consumers searching for?
  2. How many people are interested in a certain topic?

Being able to answer these questions gives you an indication of what your customers really want. You can then develop direction when it comes to the type of content you produce, and the ad campaigns you run.

Keyword research metrics

When conducting keyword research, you’ll come across various metrics such as volume, difficulty, and CPC. As a quick overview, we’ve put together a beginner’s description for each one:

  • Search volume: Search volume represents the amount of times that particular term is searched every month in your chosen area. You can choose to analyse search volume in the UK, in another country, or globally. Search volume is given as an average monthly figure, taken from data over the last 12-24 months. This makes data more stable, rather than fluctuating each month.
  • Keyword difficulty: You might see this term and begin to think it refers to the difficulty level of incorporating a keyword within your copywriting. However, it actually signifies how challenging it is to achieve a top ten ranking position for that particular keyword.
  • Cost per click: Cost-per-click (CPC) is relevant for paid media and PPC campaigns. It's fairly simple to interpret and literally refers to the amount of money you would pay per click if you ran a campaign targeting that particular keyword. Values across different keyword research tools often fluctuate with volatility, but Google AdWords is considered to be the most reliable source.

What type of search terms should you target?

Keyword research is largely about working out which search terms are worth targeting. There are two types of keywords – head terms and longtail keywords. Let's look at the difference between them and why you might target each:

  • Head terms: A head term is a word or short phrase that refers to a broad topic of conversation, such as 'refrigerator', 'cars’ or 'pet food'. As you can imaging, the monthly search volume for a head term is very high (in the thousands). Ranking for such a high-volume term can be an attractive proposition, and will invariably bring consumers to your site. However, because the term is so broad, not all traffic will be relevant.
  • Longtail keywords: In contrast to head terms, longtail keywords are more specific and are typically 3+ words long. Examples would be ‘black French door refrigerator’, 'used electric cars' or 'organic cat food'.

    Because they're more specific they don’t carry such a high search volume. While not carrying the same weight as a head term, ranking for a longtail keyword can be beneficial. That's because it often indicates that a consumer knows exactly what they want, and that you can offer it to them. With a longtail keyword, your site traffic will be more relevant and you’ll be more likely to convert.

How to do keyword research

Now you’ve got to grips with the intricacies of keyword research, it’s time to look at exactly how you can put it into practice and drive growth. We’ve outlined a simple plan below:

  • Log in to your chosen keyword research tool, and select the option that allows you to explore potential keywords.
  • You'll be presented with a search bar. Here, you should enter a core term or idea that you want to generate keyword research from. This is where we'd use our previous example of 'refrigerator'.
  • Navigate to the search criteria you want, i.e. matching terms or related terms, and you'll see a long list of keywords. There may be multiple pages but take the time to look thoroughly.
  • If there are pages upon pages of keywords, it can be helpful to narrow down the results further. Your keyword research tool will allow you to input related secondary terms, your list will only present relevant results that you're interested in.
  • Once you've generated a relevant results page, go through the keywords and select those that you want to rank for. When you're happy, export your keywords into a handy spreadsheet – easy peasy!

Conducting competitor keyword research

We know it’s important to have a strong understanding of what keywords you should be targeting for blogs, landing pages, and category pages. Along with your normal research, it can be helpful to be aware of which terms your competitors are ranking for. Not only does this give you an indication of what your rivals are performing well at, but it can also offer inspiration for your own on-site content.

Competitor keyword research: step-by-step

We’ve outlined the basics of competitor keyword research for beginners:

  • The first step should be to log in to your chosen tool and navigate to the 'keyword gap' portal (or similar). As the name suggests, this area will allow you to see the ‘keyword gaps’ you have on your own site.
  • You'll be taken to a screen where you can enter your competitors’ domain names alongside your own.
  • Once you’ve entered each domain, select 'compare'. You'll then be presented with a screen outlining all the keywords your competitors are ranking for. Navigate to the option that displays terms you don’t rank for.
  • There may well be thousands of keywords listed. However, there’s no need to manually go through each page. Simply find the search bar, and enter a topic or word to generate more relevant results.
  • Select each resulting term that your website could rank for, and export as a spreadsheet. From here, you have a resource detailing the keywords that your competitors are ranking for that you can now target too.

The best keyword research tools for beginners

There are so many resources online, but it can be hard to pick between the best keyword research tools – particularly when it comes to cost. To give you a helping hand, we’ve outlined the most widely used free and premium platforms.

The best free keyword research tools

If you’re a new business or freelance marketer you might not need the power of a premium tool. Instead, you should be able to get along just fine with the help of free solutions and there are plenty of excellent options out there. We’ve picked our top 3 free tools for you to try out:

  • Google Keyword Planner: This is an excellent keyword research tool to lay the groundwork for a direct and targeted PPC campaign. You can reveal the average monthly searches for each search term, as well as the competition level and average cost per click. All you need to get started is an AdWords account, which is also free.
  • AnswerThePublic: Using Google search data, this tool offers creative insight that helps with content planning. When you input a keyword, you’ll be presented with an entire spectrum of related questions, preposition terms, and comparisons. The great thing is, you can start using this keyword research tool for free. You can then get even more insights with paid versions.
  • Google Search Console: If you’re looking to track website performance as well as the keywords you already rank for, this keyword research tool could be exactly what you need. To achieve even more effective reporting, consider linking your Google Search Console account to your Google Analytics profile, to measure website performance on an even bigger scale.

The best premium keyword research tools

Free tools are absolutely fine if you’re a small business or don’t rely on heavy usage. But if you’ve become proficient in keyword research and feel you might get the most out of additional features, there’s certainly benefits to paying for a premium tool:

  • Ahrefs: This is an advanced keyword research tool. It allows you to generate search volume and ranking difficulty data for relevant keywords, as well as showing the parent topic each falls under. You can also choose to specifically search for matching terms, related terms, or questions that consumers are asking.
  • SEMrush: This tool initially presents a detailed dashboard that reports domain performance as a whole. But you can then break this down to generate appropriate keywords, as well as conduct competitor keyword research. This allows you to see which terms your competitors are ranking for that you could also target yourself.
  • Moz: This is a great tool for identifying and analysing organic opportunities and finding head and longtail terms your website could be ranking for. Simply enter a core term, and discover high-potential suggestions for content campaigns.

Keyword research tips for beginners

Now you’ve developed an understanding of what keyword research is, how to do it, and the tools available, you’re almost ready to get going. To finish off, we’ve listed 3 of the most important tips to remember:

1. Don’t focus too hard on volume

As highlighted, there is plenty of value in focussing on longtail keywords. It's true that they might not have monthly search volumes in the thousands. But by being more specific and direct, consumers are often ready to make a purchase, which makes them easier to convert.

2. Consider the search intent

You might spot a keyword with great search volume, but take a moment to consider what the consumer’s intent is. What do they intend to get from the site they visit? Even if you rank for that keyword, if you can't offer what they're looking for they'll be more likely to leave your site. Make sure all keywords you rank for are relevant and offer value to consumers.

3. Are you already ranking?

When conducting keyword research, it can be helpful to get an idea of the search landscape your website already occupies. By analysing what keywords you already rank for, you’ll get a little indication of what users are engaging with most. You can audit your website performance by using Google Search Console.

Keyword research is a crucial element of your overall marketing strategy. It allows you to develop direction and pinpoint areas that are going to bring your website success. Discover even more expert guidance around setting up a business and marketing your brand.