An Apprentice’s Guide To Keyword Research For SEO

  • Posted by Martin Nolan
  • On November 25, 2019
  • SEO,

As part of our learning process for SEO we always ask apprentices to write a blog about the subject area they've just learnt and practised. The idea behind this is that:

  1. It forces them to think of it as a step-by-step process
  2. It makes them constantly question whether that's right and look it
  3. It starts helping them refine how they might communicate that to a client

Here's Lewis's version of how to conduct keyword research (for beginners). We're pretty proud of it and thought it was worth sharing.

Note: In the interest of transparency it's probably worth declaring we've tidied this up from a formatting point of view and also helped out in terms of copy. As it's only been 2 weeks we thought this was only fair.

What are Keywords?

“You must know what a thing is before you can learn how to do a thing” - M Nolan, Broadplace SEO, 2019

Before you can learn how to do keyword research you need to learn what keywords are. The most basic definition of keywords are the terms that someone types into a search engine. So when you’re typing “How to cash my winning lottery ticket” that’s a keyword. Or if you just type “Lottery” that’s a keyword. Which brings me to the next thing you need to know:

Long Tail Vs Short Tail

In the example we gave above:

“How to cash my winning lottery ticket” Vs “Lottery”

The longtail keyword would be “How to cash my winning lottery ticket”. They’re typically more than two words but I guess what sets them apart is that they tend to be lower volume and less competitive.

Shorter tail keywords are the opposite. Highly competitive, high volume and you’re less likely to rank for them. 

Why are Keywords important for SEO

“If you don’t know what people are looking for. How can you help them find you” - Ancient SEO proverb

In a nutshell, keyword research is really important because it helps you to understand what people are looking for and how many of them are looking for it. Think of this as market research but for SEOs.

So by the end of the process, you’ll have:

  • - A clear idea of what people are searching for
  • - How many are searching for it
  • - And the types of content that is appearing

Take that and mix it all together and you’ve got the foundations of a content strategy.

So how do you actually do keyword research then

Now we’ve got defining what keywords are out the way I guess it’s time to move onto how you actually do keyword research as a beginner. So here we go...

Starting with a Seed Term 

A seed term is a term by which you start your keyword research from - it’s sort of in the name, right?

There’s a few things to look out for in a seed term:

  • - They need to be broad. You don’t want to narrow down your pool of ideas.
  • - You want to try to identify variations. For example, if you were writing a post about ice-cream, you might also want to consider gelato as a seed term.

In terms of getting a seed term the place to start is in Google. Add in the chrome extension “Keyword Surfer” and you’re armed with a couple of handy tools to start finding your seed terms.

Then it’s a case of just running a couple of searches like this:

SERPS layout

The tool will give the overall searches a month. But also some related terms from which you can identify:

  • - Terms to build out your seed list from
  • - Some related terms you may want to use for other bits of KW research

 

Expanding on the Seed List

Once you’ve got the Seed term it’s about expanding on it. 

To do that I use Ahrefs which is a paid tool. You go to the top click on keywords explorer and you will be left with the following screen.

From there you enter your list of Seed Terms. There’s a couple of things to check before you click on the little magnifying glass.

  • - You’ve got it set to Google
  • - The location in the drop-down is set to the United Kingdom

Which should leave you with something like the below.

Then click on the little magnifying glass and that should take should take you to a screen like this:

You’ll notice some filters at the top and some filters in the left-hand sidebar. Let's just talk through the important ones.

Filters at the top:

KD - Ahrefs forecasted difficulty to rank for that term

Volume - The estimated number of searches

Clicks - Estimated clicks that that keyword delivers

SF - The features in the SERPs

Filters on the left:

All Keyword Ideas - Every related topic and search term

Phrase Match - Keywords that contain the phrase you entered in it

Search Suggestions - Those suggestions at the bottom of Google

Questions - Just filtering all the results by questions

For the purposes of this demo, we are just going to filter this by phrase match until you’re left with a screen like this:

Exporting and filtering your Search Terms

As you can see from the image above there were over 1,000 terms. Which is far too many and pretty hard to identify anything worth going after.

So to make the list more manageable and actionable I exported all of this data into a Google Sheet. I then applied a filter to them all and started removing terms that we wouldn’t realistically target using text contains.

A couple of things that I looked for were:

  • - Brand terms
  • - Commercial type terms like services/agencies/ buy (I’m looking to write a blog post so they didn’t make sense)

Once I had the list down to a more manageable amount I had to “Qualify” each keyword. This process involves looking at the keyword and asking yourself what is it that the searcher wants as a result of this query and how can I categorise this so I can group similar Keywords.

To do that I added 3 columns like this:

  • - Modifier 1: These tend to be a prefix to a sentence that changes the meaning of it
  • - Core Topic: What that searcher is looking for
  • - Modifier 2: A word that changes the meaning of the sentence even more

So if we take the example below and break it down:

“what is keyword research SEO”

"What is" would be the first modifier. The core topic would be something along the lines of “Definition” because they’re clearly looking for a definition. "SEO" would be the second modifier because they’re purely looking for how to do it for SEO.

What do you do when you can’t tell what the search is about?

Google is your most powerful tool when trying to Qualify each Keyword as you can see exactly what Google is ranking for each specific Keyword which allows you to understand what the searcher is likely searching for.

Once you’re finished it’s time to figure out intent & types of content performing

Once the list is more manageable the next step is to see what the user wants and what content is performing. 

To do this you make another 2 columns. 

  • - One for intent. 
  • - One for content performing.

The intent is just asking what the user wants to do here. Are they buying? Are they looking for information? Are they trying to whittle down results? 

Then we mark each search appropriately. 

Once again Google is your most powerful tool. If you run a search and see:

  • - A lot of landing pages for companies it’s probably transactional
  • - A lot of lists type blogs then they are probably trying to whittle down the results
  • - An answer box or guide type blog then they are probably after information

While you’re doing that, it's also worth noting down the type of results that are appearing. Whether they’re:

  • - Guide style content
  • - Video
  • - Lists
  • - Comparisons
  • - Forums
  • - Tools
  • - Etc 

Once that’s done you’re left with a spreadsheet that looks like the this:

 

From this you’ve now got:

  • - An easy filterable list grouped by topic
  • - An idea of what people are searching for
  • - The types of content that are performing
  • - The volume and difficulty to rank

So basically I’ve not got a list of topics and keywords that I can start deciding on what to target the blog post around.

Now I just need to learn how to do that properly but I guess that’s for Week 3 or 4.

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