Keyword research is a huge part of controlling your business’ brand and creating content that attracts visitors and leads. Knowing which keywords you need to pursue to get the most impact is crucial for your inbound marketing and building your brand with customers online — whether your customers are individuals or businesses.
If marketing is a dark hallway, then keywords can be considered a flashlight to tell us where to go. It tells us what our buyer personas are looking for, which phrases are trending, which are harder to rank for… the list goes on and on.
The SEO Impact of Keywords
Keywords have everything to do with your SEO strategy actually. With Google RankBrain, Google actively keeps user intent in mind when searching through content so that it can answer queries as accurately as possible.
So many details are interpreted in the algorithm, like location and related topics, that if you're not being specific in your content, Google's going to write you off as not valuable.
Keyword research is central to everything businesses do online and is the initial step in improving SEO. While SEO itself is the process of attracting more visitors from search engines, keywords are the driving force for this attraction.
This will set the framework for the rest of your content creation approach.
Types of Keywords
A great thing about keywords is that you can play around with the context of them. There are actually a variety of keyword types that can assist you with targeting user intent. Depending on the volume, difficulty, and audience that you're aiming for, you'll want to use a mix of keywords to cast the right net.
Here are five of the most common keyword types that you'll want to leverage:
1. Short Tail
Short tail keywords typically consist of three words or less. They're typically top-of-funnel, high volume, and high competition.
When it comes to users, these are typically the first terms or phrases they use when performing research. Short tail keywords represent the general idea or value of a topic. They aren't the most reliable if you're looking to pinpoint intent, but they cast a pretty wide net to pull in traffic.
For example, the word "tires" is a short tail keyword.
2. Long Tail
Long tail keywords are very niche and very specific.
You're looking at three or more words when considering long tails, which means you're working in a much shallower pool of volume. Despite the low traffic, you're much more likely to attract people who are further along in their buyer's journey and close to making a purchase.
These keywords are better equipped to bring in leads who are doing very specific research on a product or industry.
Using the same example, a good long tail keyword would be "all season tires for 2019 Ford Fusion." It's definitely a lot more specific than a general "tires," right? You're much more likely to find the tire you're looking for with this long tail keyword.
3. Short Term Fresh
These are the words that are super relevant now, but probably won't be later down the line. They're more trendy and have an expiration date.
AKA, short term.
Let's use "Oscars 2020."
If you were to watch the search volume of this keyword, you'd see it spike pretty hard during the time around the 2020 Academy Awards live showing, but it'll drop dramatically shortly after the awards season ends.
Short term keywords are great for topical content, but should be used with the understanding that it will only drive traffic for a limited time.
4. Long Term Evergreen
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have keywords that will last for the indefinite future. They're relevant all the time, uninfluenced by season, year, or current events. When you publish anything with a long term keyword as the primary keyword, you can count on it still being relevant years later.
Returning to our theme of tires, you can count "snow tires" as an evergreen phrase. As long as people are driving cars in the north, there will be a demand for tires equipped to handle snow.
Until we all have our personal flying cars, that is.
Have you heard of local SEO? There are certain best practices you can use to attract business within your local area, and geo-targeting keywords is at the top of the list.
These are location specific terms or phrases that users search for when they're trying find a product or service nearby. Think "tire replacements near me" or "tire sales in Tampa."
If you were a tire sales business in the Tampa Bay area, you'd definitely want to be ranking for these keywords since the people searching for them are ready to make a sale.
These common types of keywords will help get you in front of the right audiences, making them invaluable to your strategies. Let's dive deeper into exactly what they can offer.
Why Is Keyword Research Important?
Throwback to when we said keywords were essential to optimizing your content. It's not enough to just plug keywords in wherever you think they should fit. They should be implemented strategically in order to bring in the right type of audience.
Keyword research is a tried and true way of breaking down search intent into a set of different topics and ideas that your target audience cares about. Nowadays, targeting one specific intent isn't good enough.
You'll want to cover related subjects as well in order to make sure you're covering your bases. Performing keyword research helps you locate those bases.
By using the right tools, you can identify which topics are the most popular in your audience and how they got there. Through your research, you'll understand what topics rank high on SERPs and decide which keywords are going to serve you best while writing content about those topics.
What Are Keyword Research Tools? 4 Aspects to Look At When Using Them
They're exactly what they sound like: tools that help your keyword research. They're actually a great asset to your entire SEO strategy since they provide a great deal of information.
There are several different components that you should evaluate when you dive into your keyword research tool. We'll elaborate on what four of them mean to you:
1. Monthly Search Volume
The monthly search volume component in your keyword research tool is relatively self-explanatory. It analyzes the average search volume for the number of times that keyword has been searched by people.
While having a high search volume is great, is it really necessary?
Since all that search volume indicates is how often a keyword is searched for, it was valued as the go-to metric for deciding which keywords to use. However, it doesn't indicate what kind of leads may be generated from it or how strong of a ranking opportunity you will have in comparison to your competitors.
You should dive a little deeper into your keyword research and evaluate the quality and conversion opportunity of a keyword over monthly search volume alone.
2. Difficulty and Competition
This component is used as an ideal measurement for a keyword’s ranking difficulty and offers an outlook on a keyword's competition. Obviously the lower the difficulty, the less competition, which makes that keyword easier to rank for. If a lot of people are searching that keyword, then that's icing on the cake.
You should ideally aim for a low difficulty keyword that has a moderate to high search volume.
If you're using the right keyword research tools, you'll be able to track ranking. This feature will define where you are currently ranking for a specific keyword in the SERPs.
Some tools offer the ability to identify which keywords will help you rank higher than others. This is usually done by factoring in search volume and competition.
4. Long Tail Opportunities
We discussed the value of long tail keywords earlier, and most tools acknowledge their worth also.
With so many variations of long tail keywords, some keyword research tools can recommend variations that best fit the content it will be used for.
How to Perform Keyword Research (the Right Way)
Keyword research is definitely something you want to be methodical and strategic about. It starts off as a stab in the dark, which can be intimidating, but the further down the tunnel you go, the brighter the light at the end of the tunnel becomes.
Here are the steps you should take to make sure you don't get lost on a wild goose chase hunting for the "perfect" keyword:
1. Identify Popular Topics.
When it comes to research, it's always best to start broad and then work your way down into a narrower funnel. By starting with big picture, general ideas, you'll be able to identify and highlight interesting topics that are worth pursuing.
Come up with a list of topic buckets that are related to your business or your audience. Think about what your business writes about frequently. What comes up most often? Who are your buyer personas? What are they interested in?
Research the monthly search volume of the topics you come up with. By examining how many people are looking at these ideas, you'll be able to get a pretty good grasp of what's popular in your crowd of choice.
2. Build a List of Related Keywords.
The natural next step is to find keywords that fall into those topic buckets, right? This is where you can start being a bit more specific in ideating. These are the keywords that you're going to actually be trying to rank for in SERPs, so performing thorough research at this stage is important.
A great way to spark inspiration at the beginning stages is to just search some of your topic buckets from the first step and find more specific recommendations. Google's autocomplete and People Also Search For features are a great resource for pulling different terms and variations.
From there, you can dive deeper to discover search volume, difficulty, and other related keywords through your keyword research tool of choice.
Repeat this step for each of the topic buckets you created until you have a pretty healthy list of keywords for each.
3. Use a Mix of Keyword Types.
This is where knowing your keyword types comes in handy. If you want a page to be seen as valuable by search engines, then you'll need to provide them with plenty of content to prove it. And that content should be bolstered by a mix of primary, secondary, and semantically related keywords.
For each topic bucket, you'll want to find short tail, long tail, and geo-targeting keywords that will help you rank well. Deciding whether you need short term or evergreen keywords is dependent on the nature or purpose of the page and the topic being covered, so be sure to do your research on relevance.
By mixing your keywords, you'll be able to create a solid, sustainable keyword strategy that can easily fuel any content marketing strategy you have in place. The more popular short tail keywords will help search engines identify what the content is about, while the long tail keywords will work to bring in less competitive, more specific traffic.
4. Watch Your Competitors.
It's always a good idea to keep an eye on your competition. Since you're both looking to win over the same audience, you know that their keyword efforts are built to draw in the same prospects that you're targeting. That being said, just because your competitors are doing it, that doesn't mean it's working.
So, what's the point, right?
Well, as much as you can learn from what is working for them, you can also key into keywords and strategies that you should avoid. Look into what keywords they're ranking for and which ones they're ignoring. You can draw inspiration from the ones they're using, and there may be hidden opportunities to leverage the ones that they're not.
5 of the Best Free Keyword Research Tools
We can't express enough how valuable tools can be when performing keyword research. Without them, the entire process can be tedious, difficult, and exhausting. Also, it'll be incredibly difficult to discover a keyword's metrics, let alone several.
That's why we recommend using these free keyword research tools to help enable your SEO efforts:
1. Google Ads: Keyword Planner
What's better than pulling research directly from the source?
This tool gets all of its information from Google and lays out information in a clear and organized fashion. Enter a keyword, category, or website into the search box and you'll receive a list of suggestions of related keywords along with monthly search volume and competition. If you're using Google Ads, you can also learn the suggested bid of each keyword.
It's a fantastic resource if you're performing keyword research on a budget and need accurate data to help you along.
2. Answer the Public
Answer the Public is a pretty unique tool. While it doesn't provide any useful metrics, you will receive every variation of a keyword that's been searched on Google. Impressive, right?
This tool takes your preferred keyword and finds questions, prepositions, comparisons, alphabeticals, and related searches that are related to it. Basically, it offers you every possible use case scenario of the phrase. Like Google autocomplete on steroids.
Answer the Public is great for when you're trying to develop long tail keywords. Its pitch of queries (who, what, when, where, and so on) can act as inspiration for other related search terms as well.
3. Keyword Tool.io
Keyword Tool.io pulls its suggestions from Google's autocomplete feature at amazing speeds. It functions similar to Answer the Public, but not quite at the same scale.
One of its greatest differentiators is the option to choose the country or region you want to pull popular searches from. This is incredibly useful if you're looking for keyword ideas in a specific language.
It also pulls keywords from YouTube, Bing, Amazon, eBay, and other large, high-traffic websites, giving you a more varied pool of audiences and interests.
4. Bulk Keyword Generator
This keyword research tool is best for local SEO. Bulk Keyword Generator has two easy steps that will produce a list of keyword suggestions for you based on industry and location.
To start, choose a business category from the dropdown and choose from the suggested list of services and products related to that industry. This is where having your list of topic buckets would be useful.
Next, the tool will have you enter the locations you're interested in. We recommend entering as many variations of your local area as possible.
It will generate a bulk list of keywords relevant to the industry and services you're looking to rank for with geo-targeting keywords added. You won't receive any volume or difficulty results, but it's a useful tool for ideating and building a list of keywords to further assess.
Ubersuggest works best in tandem with the Google Keyword Planner. While the Keyword Planner scrapes the web for suggestions, Ubersuggest will offer you a few more that Keyword Planner might miss and offer more comprehensive data about analytics.
For example, Ubersuggest will show whether the search volume for a keyword is high, indicating that you may want to use a different one. It also offers insight on the webpage that's ranking high for a particular keyword, like its backlink count and domain score. You can even get demographic metrics.
While it may not create a list quite as enormous as some of the other tools mentioned, it offers a great deal of data that most of the other free options can't compete with.
5 of the Best Paid Keyword Research Tools
As much as we all may love free stuff, sometimes it's worth it to invest in quality products if you know you're going to get your money's worth. They're a bit more comprehensive than the prior tools, offering more analytics and functionality.
Here are our top five recommendations for paid keyword research tools to help your strategy along:
1. Moz Pro
Moz Pro stands out from the pack because its award-winning team developed many of the SEO metrics that other brands can only simulate. It gives you the deepest and most accurate insights available on your keywords and SEO because it was forged by world-class experts.
What Moz Pro sacrifices in terms of a fleshed-out feature ecosystem with social media, content, and the kitchen sink, it makes up for with uncanny accuracy on core SEO issues, including keyword research. Its approach to SEO analysis means less "reporting,” more actionable insights.
Moz Pro outpaces the others in two important areas: local keyword rankings and mobile search. These are both growing into indispensable parts of keyword research and SEO strategy, and the Moz Pro suite comes with features to help you make your SERPs position even more secure.
The great community around Moz Pro is one of its top selling points. The product is constantly evolving to take advantage of the latest industry information and user insights. You can learn a lot from Moz, and working with Moz Pro will keep you in the loop.
Price: Starting at $99/mo. or $79/mo. if you choose to pay annually.
SEMrush has grown into a leading name in keyword research tools in a relatively short time thanks to widespread adoption by bloggers and entrepreneurs. It offers a collection of features for SEO, paid search, social media, and web content that hang well together. One might even say it straddles the line between pure keyword research tools and a full-scale marketing strategy platform.
With its ability to perform a complete technical SEO audit on your site with a click of a button, it will really get you off to the right start quickly. You can derive hundreds of valuable semantic keywords at the start of your project while tracking your results and competitors throughout.
Its ability to get you up and running fast, combined with insight into the total inbound marketing ecosystem, sets SEMrush apart. While it doesn’t have the sheer depth of data offered by Ahrefs, it will give you greater agility and versatility so you can do more with your SEO campaigns.
Price: Starting at $99.95/mo.
Ahrefs Keywords Explorer is what fans of the big data choose. Its keyword database is the biggest on the market. That’s how you can discover all the sweet spots in your niche. And clickstream data processing will keep them accurate in terms of search volume, clicks, and other metrics.
No more guesswork on how many visitors each keyword can bring. Check out the estimates of clicks and clicks per search on the dashboard. These are Ahrefs’ exclusive metrics and are essential for picking keywords with a high traffic potential.
Site Explorer is a go-to tool when you want to sneak a peek at your competitors’ sensitive data. It reveals anything from what keywords work for them to how much they pay for PPC campaigns.
Compare their keyword data with yours in Content Gap to see what you’re missing out on. And don’t forget to set email alerts to track keywords that competitors rank for on desktop and mobile devices.
Ahrefs goes beyond when it comes to backlinking. The health of your link portfolio will be clearer than ever, as you can see how many pages, IPs, and subnets refer to a page and what the TLD breakdown is.
Price: Starting at $99/mo.
When it comes to competitive research, SpyFu is one of the originals. It focuses on giving you a complete picture of what your competitors are doing and even helps you identify those rivals by scouring the SEO and paid traffic activity on dozens of adjacent websites.
Even trying out its free online analysis goes a long way toward showing you what it can do. SpyFu lets you see the competitive landscape from every angle, building your content and link building strategy on the weak points in others’ armor. This accelerates the whole process.
Not a bad choice, but perhaps no longer the best in keyword research tools.
Price: Starting at $39/mo.
As we move to the end of the list, we hit Wordtracker, an entry most SEO experts have heard about at one time or another. Thousands of people around the world are truly “ride or die” for this tool, since it prides itself on keyword suggestions Keyword Planner misses.
Wordtracker is a powerful package that not only works well, but can also save you money on your SEO toolkit. This is because it offers customized keyword results for Google, YouTube, and Amazon from a single dashboard. It also provides full visibility into SEO competition.
Users love how Wordtracker blows the lid off Keyword Planner results by offering actual (not grouped) keywords and actual (not banded) results. Because it grants easy insights into your related and lateral keywords, it can serve well as an “all-in-one” research solution.
Price: Starting at $27/mo.
Are you pumped to search for the right keywords to drive ROI in your business (or your client’s business)? We definitely are. Case in point: there’s a lot of great resources out there that you’re not taking advantage of.
If you’re ready to maximize the impact you make on your business’s blog, then do so, and make sure to tell us all about your success!