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How To Do Keyword Research [2018 Guide]

No doubt that keyword research is one of the essential SEO tactics providing your marketing success.

There are plenty of extensive articles giving detailed instructions on how to perform professional keyword research helpful when you want to rank high for thousands of targeted search terms and improve your traffic from Google.

keyword research guide

But you know what… Each of such guides gives you different instructions.

They are not entirely wrong, the problem is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to doing keyword research.

The difference in the approaches will vary based on:

  • Your website, its authority, number of pages, quality of content, etc.;
  • Your goals and objectives, like branding, exposure, traffic, leads, and sales;
  • Your budget, resources, and deadlines;
  • Your industry and competitive landscape.

That is why it might be hard for you to find a random step-by-step guide for your particular case.

So, what I’m going to do is give you a keyword research scheme that can be easily adjusted to any of your goals and resources.

You can be sure that the tactics and methods you’ll see below will considerably improve your traffic from Google.

1. Starting with seed keywords

seed keywords
Photo by Christian Joudrey on Unsplash

Your keyword research grounds on seed keywords. They define your niche and help you identify the competitors.

Supposing you already have a product or business that you want to promote online. Need to come up with seed keywords? Just describe that product with your own words or think how other people might search for it.

For example, if you are launching an online store selling iPhone accessories, the Google searches or keywords you would first think of are:

  • iPhone accessories;
  • gadgets for iPhone;
  • iPhone add-ons.

Not too complicated, yea?

But what should you do when starting an affiliate marketing website, that is, you have no idea which niche to pick or which products to promote?

Of course, the question of “picking a niche” deserves another big detailed guide of its own. However, you can approach the issue as follows:

1. The ‘monetisation first’ approach

Start by exploring available monetization methods. Pick a product or an offer that you like. And then think of search queries that people might be using to find it on Google.

For example, stores like Amazon very often have popular affiliate programs. Actually, all you need to do is browse their website until you find a product or a category of products you’re willing to promote.

You can also try another option. Scout affiliate marketplace sites like ClickBank or CJ, that connect product owners with affiliates.

Besides, you can surely review the products and services that you’re using yourself and see if there is an opportunity to become an affiliate.

2. “Niche down” approach

Here you can start with a broad keyword and niche down until you see a promising opportunity.

For example, if you choose something like “software” as your super broad niche, your keyword research tool will give you millions of keyword ideas for that seed keyword.

Of course, you want to “niche down,” so you need to focus on longer and more specific keywords that have the word “software” in them. You can use the words filter in your favorite tool to narrow down that giant list of keyword ideas to a few words like “music making software free”, “gifts for software engineers”, “animation making software free”, and so on.

I know that these niche ideas are far from being perfect, but if you invest more time into them, you’ll inevitably stumble upon something awesome.

2. Generate keyword ideas

keyword ideas
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Now, when you have your seed keywords figured out, the next step is to generate a long list of relevant keyword ideas, while getting a good understanding of what people in your niche are searching for in Google.

Here are some good ways to do it.

1. Check out what keywords you already rank for

Supposing your website has been around for awhile. That means you should already be ranking in Google for a few hundred keywords. Get to know what they are. This is a perfect way to start your keyword research.

A good source of this information is a “Search Analytics” reports available in Google Search Console:

 “Search Analytics” report

What does Search Console show you? It displays your average position for each of the keywords you rank for plus shows how many impressions and clicks this brings you. Unfortunately, they don’t show the monthly search volume and you’re limited to 1000 keywords only.

2. Study what keywords your competitors are ranking for

There are big chances that your competitors have already done all the tedious keyword research work and you may use it to save your time and efforts. You can just research the keywords that they rank for and pick out the best ones.

Don’t know who your competitors are? Put your seed keywords into Google and see who ranks on the front page. That’s it.

That’s curious, but sometimes even one single competitor can supply you with so many keyword ideas that your SEO team will be busy for months.

You have just closed the “competitive research loop”:

  • You have put your seed keyword into Google and saw who ranks on top;
  • You have found their best keywords;
  • Maybe you even went further and found more relevant websites;
  • It’s time to go back to either step 1 or 2.

The point is that you can get almost unlimited keyword ideas repeating this process over and over again.

Please don’t forget to tap into related industries. You might discover a lot of great keywords there. And they won’t necessarily relate to the product or service you are offering, but can still bring targeted visitors to your website.

3. Use keyword research tools

keyword research tools
Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

It’s often enough to do good competitor research to fill your spreadsheet with a bag of relevant keyword ideas.

But this strategy is not quite suitable for niche industry leaders. You need to look for some unique keywords that none of your competitors are targeting yet.

The best way to do it is to use a good keyword research tool. There is a vast choice of them on the market.

No matter what tool you will choose, let it be keyword generator, for instance, there’s no any specific workflow for finding great keyword ideas. You just enter your seed keywords and play with the reports and filters until you stumble upon something cool.

Most of the tools pull their keyword suggestions from the following sources:

  • They scrap keyword ideas right from Google Keyword Planner;
  • They scrap Google auto-suggest;
  • They scrap “similar searches” in Google.

No doubt that these methods are great, but they rarely give you more than a couple hundred suggestions. Of course, you can always use advanced keyword research tools like Ahrefs, Moz, and SEMrush. They operate their own keyword database, therefore will give you many more keyword ideas.

4. Study your niche thoroughly

Study your niche
Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash
Keyword research strategies mentioned above are really effective and provide you with the almost unlimited amount of keyword ideas. But sometimes all you need to do is study your niche well adding a bit of common sense. You’ll see that you are able to discover some great keywords that no one in your niche is targeting yet.

Not sure where to start? Here are some tips that should help:

  • Get in the potential customers’ shoes. Do you know who they are and what bothers them?
  • Talk to your loyal customers to get to know them better, study the language they use.
  • Participate in all your niche communities and social networks.

For example, if you’re selling sportswear, you may try to target some of the “out of the box” keywords:

  • how to survive a hard workout;
  • how to look sexy sweating in the gym;
  • what do you think about when training;
  • best casual style for long training;
  • reduce muscle tension while training.

Maybe people searching for these things are not looking to buy sportswear, but it will be relatively easy for you to sell it to them.

5. Time to group your list of keywords

group your list of keywords
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Well, you have generated a ton of promising keyword ideas and identified the very best ones. I guess it’s time to bring some structure to your list.

You can group your keywords by:

  1. Parent topic. Find keywords that are semantically and contextually related and group them under a “parent topic” to target with a single page.
  2. Group by intent. After you have grouped semantically related keywords by “parent topic” and mapped them to different pages of your website, the next step is to group these “pages” by the so-called “searchers’ intent.” In other words, your goal is to decipher the expectation under the search query people put into Google. This could be quite challenging sometimes. For instance, when people search for “flowers”, what’s the searchers’ intent behind it? Most likely they want to see some pictures of flowers or learn more about flowers. The best way of figuring out the intent behind the search query is to Google it and see what comes up first.
  3. Group by business value. This is similar to grouping by intent. But this time, you need to identify which intent drives the best ROI for your business. If your primary goal is traffic and brand awareness, you might focus on keywords that will bring plenty of visitors but won’t necessarily convert into leads or sales. If your marketing budgets are unlimited, you can apply all the tips, tricks, and life hacks at once. But most businesses can’t afford such kind of luxury, which means they have to think well which keywords will drive their business and which ones will drive only their vanity metrics.

Most of the marketers will focus on keywords with commercial intent because they drive sales and grow your business.

6. Prioritise

keyword prioritization
Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

In fact, prioritization is not the “final step” in your keyword research process. It is, rather something you do naturally as you move through the above-mentioned steps.

While you’re generating keyword ideas, analyzing their metrics, and grouping them, you need to keep in mind the following things:

  • What is the estimated traffic potential of a keyword or keywords group?
  • Is the competition tough? Would it be difficult to rank for it?
  • How many resources are you ready to invest in building a competitive page and promoting it?
  • What’s the traffic ROI? Does it only bring brand awareness or convert into leads and sales?

BTW, you can add dedicated columns to your keyword research spreadsheet to give scores to each keyword idea. Then, based on these scores, it should be easier to pick the most promising of them that might bring you the best ROI.

The takeaway is: it’s not about the easiest to rank for keywords that you should be looking for. It’s the ones with the best ROI.

Have any more keyword research tips?

This was my brief guide to keyword research. As you remember, its main goal was to tell you about the process that could be applied universally to any website or industry.

I am sure you have something to add to this article. I would be happy to read your favorite tips and tricks that deserve to be on the list.

About the author

Helga Moreno

Helga Moreno is a passionate content creator and marketer at Ahrefs bold enough to believe that if there’s a book that she wants to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then she must write it herself.

How To Do Keyword Research [2018 Guide]
5 (100%) 5 votes
2018-01-18T14:02:32-05:00 December 20th, 2017|


  1. Pamela Orange January 15, 2018 at 3:50 am - Reply

    Great post. I personally use Long Tail Pro and Keyword Canine. LTP is a bit slow but Keyword Canine is much faster as it’s web based. Though SEMrush is good for spying on your competitor’s keywords.

  2. NOU March 25, 2018 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the heads up.

    We were used to the old method of the direct plug of keywords into GKT and used the lower keyword volume as the intents.

    Just about to write a new blog post on my blog and decided to check out for any latest keyword research method, and here I am.

    I must have to say this, you made my day, Pamela!

    I once used that AnswerThePublic tool but didn’t believe the reports it brought to me then. But since you made mention of it in your article, I will go back to it.

    Thanks again, Pamela.

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