Head of SEO & Content
Keyword research is one of the pillars of SEO content strategy. Perhaps the most fundamental pillar because it is where the organic positioning work begins.
It is true that before we have to have delimited the topics we want to talk about but, equally, keyword research may mean that we have to open up the field or vice versa.
It will be at that moment when you realise whether your content plan idea made sense or needs to be adapted to the demands of the audience.
Because something very important that you have to engrave in your head is that SEO is more science than literature. Literature helps, but it alone will not get you to rank your content.
It’s not just about writing well, it’s about finding your space and once there, providing useful content for the user. Well-written content will help because no one will trust poorly written content and we have already mentioned that user experience and trust is key to SEO.
But, as always, I like to start with the basics. Let’s go there and then continue with the best tools and the most interesting strategies to achieve a competent keyword research.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is a process of searching for keywords, related keywords, volumes and level of competition for the topics we are going to write about.
Keyword research can be used to create an extensive content plan, but it can also be used to research a single word or topic.
When we do keyword research we are checking the performance of one or several keywords and what possibilities we have of positioning it.
In other words, imagine, for example, that you have a travel agency and you want to make a content plan. The first step is to define what you want to sell. It could be, for example, trips for stag and hen parties, honeymoons, backpacker-style trips, luxury trips, weekend getaways, etc…
You can also define the geographical scope, for example honeymoons in Tanzania or weekend getaways in Spain.
It doesn’t make sense if you are a travel agency focused on Spain to research keywords from other countries or if you are specialised in luxury, to create content for backpackers.
Of course, this is also where creativity comes in. Even if it is not directly related to what you are selling, useful travel information such as vaccinations and visas, gastronomy, wardrobe tips, etc… can help you achieve your goals.
Perhaps this is also the most important thing, a keyword research should be subject to specific objectives. But we will talk about this in the next point.
What is it for?
Keyword research is used to find the right keywords to generate traffic and/or conversions for your site.
This is another aspect that you should be clear about when doing your research. If you only need traffic, you will have more words at your disposal than if you need conversions, whether sales, downloads or whatever your goal is.
In any case, it is important to keep in mind that good keyword research takes into account the user’s entire sales funnel.
When you make your content strategy, even if your goal is, going back to the previous example, to sell travel, it is not enough to use transactional or descriptive words of the trip.
Everything that requires an action from the user on your site requires trust and with keyword research we can see how we can gain that trust. What are they looking for, what are they interested in (related to our field) and how can we tell them:
-Hey, we’re here, we can help you!
This is why it is also good to offer information that, although it will not generate conversions, will make them start to become familiar with our brand.
Subsequently, the user will come back to us when he/she is decided to buy/download what we are offering (thanks to SEO work on different keywords) and we will multiply our chances of conversion.
Of course, you can’t forget that SEO is a job that takes time. First to position your keywords, then for the user to go through the whole process.
If you want immediate results, then opt for SEM and not SEO. It’s like the difference between buying tomatoes and planting a tomato plant. The tomato plant will be cheaper in the long run, but you have to let it grow.
Free keyword research tools
Having introduced the subject, let’s get down to business: how to do keyword research?
Well, first of all, it depends on whether you have the resources to pay for a tool or whether you have to use a free tool.
You can do good keyword research with free tools. The only problem is that it will be much slower and less reliable. Even so, if you don’t have enough resources at the moment, there are options available to you.
I am going to tell you about the four most interesting ones.
Answerthepublic is perhaps the easiest and most intuitive of all. Translated as “your audience answers”, it allows you to see at a glance which questions and long tail keywords have the most searches.
Just enter your keyword, database country and language to see different graphs. The first graph has to do with questions, the second with prepositions and the third with comparisons.
You will see that there are different options with a green dot that increases in intensity as the volumes get higher. In other words, the more intense the green dot, the more people are searching for that particular question.
In addition, you can see the list, both alphabetically and by preposition, to know which keywords would be good for you to consider.
Sounds good, so what’s the problem? In this case, mainly that we can’t see the real search volume of each keyword and, on the other hand, that the intensity of the green that indicates it is in relation to other words related to our main keyword.
Let me explain. You can only see which long tail keywords are better in relation to a specific keyword, but you cannot compare their search volume in relation to a different keyword that we add later.
Going back to travel, we can see if there are more searches for “when to travel to Italy” or “what to take to travel to Italy”, but you won’t know if the words related to travel to Italy have more searches than those related to travel to France or Tanzania.
However, this is something we can do with the following free tool.
Ubbersugest is quite an interesting tool if you can’t pay. It has almost all the functionalities we need, but it is quite slow and tends to give a lot of errors.
Personally, I used it a lot before I could switch to paid tools.
You have several options that may interest you, such as seeing the main keywords of any domain in its Domain Analysis section (it can help you to study the competition), the main SEO pages or, what interests us at this point: keyword suggestions.
In this case we will have data on volume and difficulty (SD), which will make it easier to make decisions. In addition, you will see the average cost per click if we go to SEM and a small graph of search trends.
As in the case of Answerthepublic, we will be able to see comparisons, questions, related or with prepositions, to make sure we make the right choice.
On the downside, in the free version you have a maximum of 3 searches per day, so it’s easy to fall short. A few years ago you could search as much as you wanted, but recently their model has changed.
A classic when it comes to keyword research is the Google Ads keyword planner. In this case, the problem is that you need to have an active Google Ads account to be able to use this functionality.
In addition, you need to create an advertising campaign (although it is not necessary to start one).
Just by entering the website you will get the most interesting keywords. Later you can enter your own keywords and see the search volume and other recommendations from Google.
In this case, you have to take into account that this is a tool designed for SEM, but it can be useful to see the volumes that Google handles, which are more reliable than those of any other tool.
The problem is that the daily clicks are calculated with respect to the ad and the investment, so the results will be somewhat different.
Finally, there is a tool that will also be quite useful. It is Google Trends. In this case, we are dealing with a completely free tool with which we can consult the search trends for a keyword.
So that we understand it, there are words that are searched for more during a certain time of the year, while during the rest of the year searches decrease. This is obvious with holidays such as Christmas or moments such as elections, but it can also be used to check how a crisis has affected the economy or when the recovery begins.
Álvaro Vázquez, in his article on how the tourism sector can recover from the COVID impact, gave some very illustrative examples.
With Google Trends you can see the trend of a word over time. This way you will know if it is a seasonal word or if it maintains a constant volume of interest throughout the year. You can also compare several different keywords.
If you have doubts between two keywords, you will be able to see the volume of each one not in a static way but in a sustained way over time to know, for example, if one is growing or declining compared to another term.
SEO is constantly changing and being able to anticipate words that are going to have a good search spike is a good strategy.
Leaving aside the free tools, with paid tools we can do keyword research in a much easier way. There are quite a few different tools that we can use and, in addition, they have a lot of different functionalities, but I am going to talk about my two favourites.
In addition, the two free tools we talked about in the previous point have their own paid version. Personally, I’ve only used the free version, so I can’t tell you if it’s worth it or not.
The ones I do use, and practically on a daily basis, are SEMrush and Ahrefs. They are super broad and complete tools that have a lot of interesting options to control and monitor your projects, especially in everything related to SEO.
However, this is not a tutorial, so I’m just going to talk about the most interesting features to do your keyword research.
In the Keyword Overview section you can research up to 100 keywords at once, making it a useful and effective tool. For each keyword, you will get its national and international volume, competition, cost per click, estimated difficulty, trend, etc…
If we use the Keyword Magic Tool section we will be able to see it in a long list, being able to select between questions, exact match, phrase match, related, etc… with the possibility of including advanced filters.
In the competition section I have to point out the keyword gap. This functionality is ideal for finding opportunities that we may have missed. Just add the domains of our direct competitors and we can see in graph and list the keywords that we share, those shared by our competitors and the opportunities that we have not yet used.
Nor can I forget the Position Tracking report, through which you can monitor the keywords you have used, what position they are in, what volume the keyword has and what estimated traffic it is generating.
In short, this is an all-in-one SEO tool that will help us a lot to refine when selecting the right keywords.
Very similar to SEMrush is Ahrefs. It is always important to compare between the two (if you have them) because sometimes the data differs from each other and can help you get an idea. Keep in mind that although they are quite reliable, the data are estimates based on algorithms and nobody knows what exactly is going to happen the following month.
In this case, our focus is on its Keyword Explorer tab. One of the clear advantages of Ahrefs over SEMrush is that we can also search for performance on Amazon, Youtube or even Yandex, so it can be more useful in specific cases.
Youtube, for example, is the second most used search engine in the world, so having a specific content strategy for the video portal can work very well in certain cases.
The keyword search section is similar to the data we can find in SEMrush but it has some differences that I am going to discuss. The most important is that it calculates the backlinks you would need to place the keyword in the Top 10.
It also calculates the clicks that have occurred separating those from SEM and SEO, as well as the first result at that time.
On the other hand, in the right column we have the keyword options that we have already discussed in SEMrush to see related words. We can also see trends, volume, etc… with each one.
We can also see some graphs with the history of the top 10, seeing what positions the pages that currently occupy it have had, when they entered, etc… which is quite interesting to draw conclusions. Below the graph you can also see the results.
It is always interesting to see what content is in the top positions to get other related keywords and words from the semantic field that will help us when developing SEO content.
Competition, yes or no?
As I mentioned, with the above tools you can see which keywords your competitors are ranking for. You can also pull out related keywords that they have not yet used or indexed.
So, is it a good idea to use your competitors’ keywords? This is a question that has several nuances.
If we find keywords that interest us, with a volume in line with what we are looking for and that do not have strong competition, my advice is to go for them.
However, in 2021 this is not common. The easy or “free” keywords will be very long tail words and will probably have very low search volumes.
In SEO you have to be ambitious, so I recommend going after your competitors’ keywords as well. See what they have achieved and see how you can improve it. Remember that you have to be useful to the user.
If you manage to be more useful, you will have taken the first step to put yourself above and not only position, but gain market share to your direct competition.
Of course, the loading speed, the number of backlinks, the server, etc… will also influence the positioning. But, of course, if the content is not better, you will not be able to steal those positions.
Therefore, try to find a balance and compete for those words for which you are sure you can provide more to the user. If this is not the case, try to make your way through the spaces that are available. With good keyword research, you will find those spaces even in the most competitive sectors.
Keyword research volumes
Volume is another important aspect. Keyword research is not just about choosing the words with the highest search volume, you have to be strategic.
It would be great to be able to go for a keyword with thousands of searches per month from scratch, but I can tell you that you are not going to get anything. At least if you don’t have the budget to get a hundred quality backlinks on a sustained basis.
If our website has a good domain authority, keywords already positioned and a certain age, it will be easier to position words with higher volumes. Otherwise, we will have to go little by little, starting with low volumes until we are positioning and gaining traffic little by little.
Then, once there is a good foundation with a lot of content related to a high volume keyword, we can go for it. You can also go before and then create related content to try to position it, but be clear that if you have just created your website you will not be able to position a highly competitive term.
Also, keep in mind that even if a term is easy to rank for, quality is key. If the user does not find what he/she needs, Google will end up penalising you, you will lose position and it will be even more difficult to achieve it with the keyword you are really interested in.
Follow your intuition
Finally, let me give you some advice. Using the tools is all very well and having all the data is all very well, but there is a qualitative aspect that you can’t forget.
Business intelligence is also very important when it comes to keyword research and that’s where your intuition comes in. If you have two keywords with similar searches and you don’t know which one to choose, both of them suitable for your business, let yourself go.
If you feel that a keyword that seems a little worse will work better than the one that seems a little better, also let yourself go. When it comes to writing, all these aspects are reflected in the text and end up being transmitted to the person who reads it.
I have already said it, but I repeat it, if we connect with the user, we have done most of the work. So dare to connect. Don’t forget the data, but at the same time, leave some room to dream. That’s the only way to make it big.