keyword research methodology

Keyword Research Methodology: 7 Key Steps for Great SEO

Did you know that, according to official statistics, Google processes over 40,000 search queries every single second? This translates to more than 3.5 billion searches per day, and the astonishing 1.2 trillion per year.

For businesses, this means that a smart Search Engine Optimization strategy is an absolute must if they want to be seen on the Internet. And today, we will zoom in on SEO’s most important ingredient: keywords, providing an efficient keyword research methodology that actually works.

linkedin keyword research

Step 1: Understanding the concept of keywords

As we already mentioned, keywords are the main ingredient of Search Engine Optimization. They are the common language between search engines, users, and content publishers so they can communicate with each other.

Without them, algorithms wouldn’t be able to detect what a piece of content is about. And, as a consecuence, they wouldn’t know how and where to position this content among Google’s pages.

Which means that they will typically put it on the last pages of search results. You know, that shadowy place after the second page of search results that nobody ever goes to! 

Meme source: quickmeme.com

For this reason, before you actually start researching any keywords for your business, the first step of our keyword research methodology will be to understand the concept of keywords. In other words, how each player – Google, the user, and the content publisher sees them from his point of view.

keyword research methodology

1.1 The User‘s Perspective

Users that go to a search engine to look for information use keywords to tell Google what exactly they expect to see in the results.

For example, if you are looking for the best restaurants in Madrid, you might type something like “best restaurants in Madrid”, or “top Madrid restaurants”. Keywords from the perspective of the user are better known as search terms.

google search terms

In conclusion, people who research information use search terms to find what they are looking for. Every time you type something on Google, the engine takes this combination of words, and interprets it though its complex algorithms to deliver you the most relevant results possible.

1.2. The Publishers Perspective

When a person types something on Google, the search engine will return millions of results, of which the best ones will show up on the first page. For example, if he types “best restaurants in Madrid”, Google will return the content that most adequately responds to this particular query.

In this context, when I am referring to a publisher, I mean all websites, blogs, social platforms, etc. that publish indexable content on the Internet. Indexable simply means that you give a green light for Google to show it to users when relevant.

From the perspective of the publisher, lets say, your website, Google will look into your content (and millions of other ones) to see if it answers to the query of the user in the best way possible.

For example, if you have an article on the “best restaurants in Spain”, but the user is only looking for restaurants in Madrid, your content will probably not be relevant enough to show up on the first page.

However, if your article actually zooms in on the best restaurants in Madrid, and it is more optimized, comprehensive and detailed than other similar ones, you will show up on the first page.

1.3. The Search Engine‘s Perspective

And of course, we have the perspective of the search engine, in this case Google. As we already explained, Google will try to match the main keyword used in the content of the publisher with the keyword that the user typed on the search bar, as precisely as possible.

For the search engine, this means analyzing millions and billions of websites and pieces of content to find out which one matches a users query in the most relevant way possible.

Step 2: Keyword length

The second step of our keyword research methodology is to understand and evaluate keyword length. In other words, where is the sweet spot of keywords that will position you on the first page of Google?

Not all keywords are created equal. A keyword can consist of only one word, or multiple words chained in a phrase. Let’s see the difference: 

2.1 Short-tail keywords

Short-tail keywords typically consist of only one, in some cases two words. They are usually very high in volume, which means that a lot of people are typing them on Google to search for something.

However, the problem with these keywords is that they are very, very generic. For example, let’s say that you go to Google and type the word “smartphones“:

short tail keywords

If you only type “smartphones”, without nothing else to indicate what are you expecting from the search results, Google doesn’t exactly know what results to show you.

Search engines have been struggling for years to understand what users are searching for when they type generic keywords such as “smartphones“.

Do they want to buy a smartphone? Are they looking to sell their smartphone? Do they want to look at pictures of smartphones? Or maybe just to inform themselves on the latest smartphone models?

The possibilities are endless. When users type a generic keyword, only they know what search query is exactly in their head. Google, on another hand, is left to its own interpretation. And this is why this step to deciphering keyword length is so important for an efficient keyword research methodology.

In conclusion, the point is that short-term keywords are not great for SEO because the competition is high. And the chances for many companies of showing up on the first page are practically zero.

2.2. Mid-tail keywords

These keywords are usually the sweet spot for the majority of blogs and websites out there. Of course, unless your website is completely new, and you are just starting to build up your authority.

If this is the case, the better option would be long-tail keywords, but we will see them in the next section.

Mid-tail keywords generally consist of two or three words, depending on the context of the search term. Don’t get caught in the number of words itself; what actually defines mid-tail keywords is their range of specificity.

In this case, the mid-tail keyword gives us significantly more information than just typing “smartphones”, such as:

  • Dog food – the specific product that the user is looking for;
  • Price – what aspect of the product he is particularly interested in.

This information helps Google learn more about the search intent of the user. And, as a consequence, the search engine is able to provide better results for that keyword. Mid-tail keywords are great because they combine two 2 important things:

  • Volume – in other words, enough people are searching for these terms on Google. So, the time you spend on your blog post will be well worth it.
  • Competition – the majority of them are competitive, but not impossible to overpass with the right content strategy.
2.3. Long-tail keywords

To finish this step of our keyword research methodology, lets discuss long-tail keywords.

These keywords are on the other extreme of the spectrum: they are very, very specific. They usually consist of more than 3 words, for example 4, 5, or more. However, because they are so specific, not many people look them up on Google, which means that they have a low search volume.

Some examples for long-tail keywords include:

  • laptop HP Envy 13 sn0001 model;
  • PCI-DSS security regulations for hotels;
  • new Peugeot 508 model 2019;

And so on! You get the point.

long tail keywords

The good part about these keywords is that they usually have very little competition, and a higher conversion rate.

This means that people who look for “new Peugeout 508 model 2020”, and your article happens to write exactly about that, will go straight to your content.

Step 3: Understanding search intent

The last step before diving into the practical part of our keyword research methodology is to understand search intent. In other words, what result does a user intent to achieve when going to a search engine?

When a user goes to Google, he usually does it to search for something specific in mind. From looking for the best gifts for mother’s day to hunting for a flight deal to Italy, we have millions of personal reasons to search for that something.

As a publisher, you will need to understand the different types of search intent. Why? Because this will help you decide how to focus your content to achieve your goals. 

company tagline examples

Some terms have a clear purchase intent, and might be more relevant to use in ads than blog posts. Others, for example, are rather informational, and are just perfect for blog posts. 

Every time a user types something on Google, the search engine tries to analyze the intent behind it. Is the person looking to make a purchase, find a restaurant, or learn more about a topic? By understanding search intent, Google will be able to provide more precise and accurate results for a certain keyword.

And, as a business, understanding search intent is also a key step to having a clear keyword research methodology in mind. Without taking this into account, your content will probably not reach its full potential.

So, let’s see the different types of search intent:

3.1. Informational

informational search intent

Keyword research methodology: Informational search intent

This search intent implies that the user is looking for information on a specific topic. It could be formulated like a question, such as “what are the 7 colours of the rainbow?”, or like a phrase “the 7 colours of the rainbow”.

In both cases, the user wants to get informed or learn more about something, but he usually doesn’t have the intention to purchase. Or at least not at this very moment of searching.

Other examples of informational searches include:

  • “What is Big Data?”
  • “How does Artificial Intelligence work?”
  • “Technology behind self-driving cars”

And so on. Keywords with informational search intent are typically the best for blog posts. Why? Well, because even though the user does not have an intention to purchase yet, he is showing certain interest in the topic that you have written about.

By providing useful content, you can build a strategy in which you can spike up his interest into buying further down the road. Even if he doesn’t end up buying, you will still increase your brand awareness, and build your authority as an expert on that topic.

3.2. Navigational

navigational search intent

Keyword research methodology: Navigational search intent

Keywords with navigational intent are great for generating content based on brand awareness. In other words, articles and insights that talks about your brand in particular.

For example, announcing new features, promoting case studies, or just providing helpful guides on how people can use your technology. However, especially if your brand is not quite popular, they will probably not going to bring you a lot of organic traffic.

At least, not as much as a regular keyword would do. However, I would definitely use them in my Google ads!

3.3. Transactional

Keyword research methodology: Transactional search intent

Keywords with transactional intent show that the users are researching with the specific intention of making a purchase. These terms are typically more appropriate for ads rather than blogging.

However, depending on the term, you could also use it as the main keyword for your blog post to reach users at the bottom of the sales funnel.

These terms indicate that the user is in buying mode, but he is polishing up the details on how to buy, or where is the best place to buy from. Some examples include:

  • “Buy new samsung galaxy”
  • “Shops for cocktail dresses”
  • “Semrush premium plan”
  • “Zara shop near me”
  • “Google ads coupon”
3.4. Commercial investigation

search intent commercial investigation

Keyword research methodology: Commercial investigation search intent

In conclusion, keywords with Informational intent are usually going to be your best bet for blogging and building a long-term content strategy that is valuable for users.

Anything else gets more on the commercial side, and the purpose of useful content should not have the pure intention of selling a product. The point is to add value for your audience, even if it means not having them purchase your product immediately.

Step 4: Keyword Research

And now that we have covered the most essential steps of our keyword research methodology prior to the actual keyword research, it is time to start with the practical part!

linkedin ad copy

We already discussed the fact that keywords are the language of search engines. But of course, not all keywords have the same weight to the search engine.

Let’s say that you are writing a blog post of 2000 words on the best brands for dog food. Obviously, you will say a lot of things in this long article, and more specifically, over 2000 different words.

The point is, algorithms will not read your post and process it the way humans do. They will only see a bunch of words that may or may not point out to what your topic is about.

For this reason, you will need to select and focus on a single main keyword that will serve as a guidance for search engines to understand what you are talking about in your piece of content.

keyword research methodology

The thing is, if you want to position your article in the top places of search engines, you can’t simply select any random keyword that comes to your mind.

There is a process that we need to follow to filter the keywords that have a good potential for your content in particular. Of course, the keywords that have a good potential for one website might differ for the perfect ones for another website.

This will also depend on your goals and business model. For this reason, you will need a tool to help you find these high-potential keywords.

Selecting a tool that works for you

There are hundreds of tools and apps on the market to help you do your keyword research. The majority of them are paid or freemium. In other words, free for limited, basic actions, but will ask you to upgrade as soon as you need something more.

And of course, my goal isn’t to bash on these tools. On the contrary, some of them are really good, and I am even an affiliate to one of them (Semrush). However, as a beginner, you don’t need a paid tool to help you research and position your content. All you need is the Google Ads’ Keyword Planner:

google keyword planner

Keyword Planner is a tool that comes for free when creating an account for Google Ads. It helps you discover new keywords and research trends, and estimate monthly volume to discover how many people are typing this keyword on Google each month.

Yes, the features of this tool can be quite limited compared to other tools like Semrush and KWFinder. However, I think it is the most precise one because of one very simple reason: it is the official Google tool.

And Google will always have more data of its own search engine than any other tool on the market. Besides, the features it has are absolutely enough to get you started. You can create a Google Ads account for free, and start using the Keyword Planner right away!

Once you are done completing your Google Ads profile, go to Tools & Settings in the upper right corner, and click on Keyword Planner:

keyword planner

Keyword research methodology: Research with Keyword Planner

Then, click on the left box that says Discover new keywords.

Next, start by typing the first thing that comes to your mind – related to your blog topic, of course. Because I want to give you a practical example, let’s imagine that I have a blog on how to take care of guinea pigs. And I am researching on possible topics for blog posts.

Keyword research methodology – practical example

If I have absolutely no idea on what to write about, I can simply type “guinea pigs”, and see what ideas Google will suggest for me. Or maybe, I want to write on something more specific, and I am just looking for the right keywords to do so.

For example, maybe I want to write about what different guinea pig noises mean.

So, I will just go ahead and type “guinea pig noises“. Also, notice that you can adjust the language and the country of your search. For example, if I select Spain, Google will give me the monthly searches for a specific keyword only for Spain.

However, I suggest that you don’t limit the estimated volume to a specific country. After all, there are no country borders on the Internet, and you want to get a general idea of how many people are searching for that keyword. 

Then, click on Get results below, and Google’s Keyword Planner will return you a list of keyword ideas with their estimated search volume and competition:

keyword research methodology

As you can see on the image above, Google is giving me keyword ideas related to the topic that I typed beforehand. For example, I can see that there are 9900 monthly searches for keywords such as “guinea pig noises”, and “guinea pig sounds”.

On another hand, keywords such as “guinea pig sounds meaning” only has 590 searches. This means that, according to Google’s approximate estimation, this keyword is typed only 590 times each month worldwide:

Of course, keep in mind that this is only an average estimation, and the actual number might be much higher. However, Google will never give you the exact number.

Now, how do we choose the right keywords? Being able to answer to this question is key for successfully implementing the right keyword research methodology.

Obviously, a keyword with 10,000 searches means that I can get up to 10,000 visits on my blog post if I manage to get it to the first positions of Google.

So, it is much more tempting than a keyword that only has 320 searches, such as the “guinea pig noises soundboard” that we see above. However, it is not as easy as that. Let’s see why:

Step 5: Domain authority

And here is how we come to the next step of our keyword research methodology: understanding domain authority, and how it interferes with our keyword research.

domain authority

Domain authority score is a competitive metric that was first introduced by the analytics company Moz to determine the probability of your website ranking higher on Google.

It describes the authority and trustworthiness of your web to search engines. Now, keep in mind that this metric is fictitional, and many experts are arguing on whether it actually means anything. And if the score that companies like Moz or Semrush calculate is true:

domain authority score

The thing is, the exact number and whether it is precise doesn’t really matter. What actually matters is understanding the true meaning behind it.

You see, when Google evaluates the quality and relevance of your content, one thing that it takes into account for the final ranking is the authority and trustworthiness of your website.

Obviously, building up your authority as an expert on a topic is not something that happens in one day. Nor convincing Google that it can trust your website and your content.

There isn’t a shortcut to this either.

Authority and trustworthiness start to build up gradually if you consistently provide good content over the next months and years.

So, you can’t cut on that time!

In fact, domain names that are older than 3 years are considered more trustworthy and well-established than “younger” ones. The point is, all this means that you can’t go for keywords that are too high in volume if your website or blog isn’t well-established yet.

Also, if you are curious about your current domain authority score, just visit the link in the beginning of the section. 🙂

Step 6: Competition

The next step of our keyword research methodology is to competition. And how we should understand it from the perspective of publishing search engine optimized content.

Next to each keyword in the Keyword Planner, you will notice that there is one column that indicates the competition for that keyword:

In the case of “guinea pig noises”, the tool says that the competition is low. However, don’t get fooled by this, as it can be untrue in my cases.

The reason why is because the tool doesn’t consider the competition when it comes to organic content. It calculates it based on how many people are bidding for this keyword in their ads, which is a whole another topic.

However, the rule of thumb is that any keyword with over 1,000 monthly searches is competitive, because many well-established websites will go for it in intent to get more traffic at once, with a single blog post.

So, here are my recommendations on what keywords to go for depending on where you are at in your journey, and according to the keyword research methodology.

  • Websites “younger” than 6 months – if you are just starting, and your website and/or blog is only 1-6 months old, I would start with keywords that have less than 300 monthly volume searches.
  • Websites between 6 & 12 months – at this stage, you are ready to level up and move on to keywords with more volume, between 300 and 600 monthly volume searches.
  • And Websites older than 12 months – and last but not least, we have “more experienced” websites and blogs that have already established some authority on Google. Now, you can try positioning for keywords with 600 – 1000 monthly searches, or more.

However, avoid jumping too harshly from keywords with 500 monthly searches to 5,000. Unless you are pretty sure that you don’t have a lot of competition for a certain keyword. After all, you will kind of feel it when you are ready to rank for more competitive keywords.

This will happen when you start to see that you have been consistently ranking for various keywords over a good period of time. For example, 2-3 months, or even more. Keep in mind that a piece of content can take up to 8 months to actually start bringing organic traffic.

Step 7: Getting keyword ideas

Of course, at some point of your keyword research, you will notice that you are getting out of ideas. This is completely normal. And for this reason, we arrive at our last step of the keyword research methodology: getting keyword ideas.

As we already discussed, the Keyword Planner is a great tool for generating keyword ideas, and evaluating their potential to bring high-quality traffic to our website.

However, a lot of times it can be somewhat limited. Especially in those cases when you can’t come up with specific ideas for blog topics, and you only have a very general idea on what you want to write about. So, here are some additional ideas:

Google Suggestions

The Search Engine Results Pages (SERP), or in other words, the pages of results that come up when you type a search term, are an absolute golden mine when it comes to free keyword research.

They give you something that many tools don’t: the most popular searches that users make on Google related to a specific topic.

google suggestions

Yes, looking up the keyword volume on the Keyword Planner is great. However, this tool only shows you the keyword itself. Usually, accompanied by a few short-tail and long-tail versions in the list.

However, going straight to Google will actually show you the exact phrase that users type in the search engine bar. This is great because you can see the most popular queries within a certain context. As a result, you will have a much better understanding of what and how your audience searches on Google.

LSI keywords

Next on our keyword research methodology ideas are LSI keywords. Google uses Latent Semantic Indexing as a mathematical technique to detect the way words are grouped together in predictable patterns.

In other words, LSI keywords are the ones that are semantically related to your main keyword. They help the search engine understand context within a search query.

Let’s say that I go to Google and type in “chicken soup”. In the section Searches related to chicken soup, the search engine returns me the following LSI keywords (you can usually find them at the bottom of the page):

lsi keywords

Content publishers usually use LSI keywords to provide more context on the topic that they are writing about in their article or blog post.

For example, if the focus keyword of your article is “chicken soup”, including keywords from the LSI section in your blog post will help you rank higher for your main keyword as Google understands your content better.

Google Ads campaigns

Advertisers spend millions of dollars on Search Engine Marketing to show up on top of Google’s first page for the best keywords. And of course, it’s not only the money – behind the scenes, there are hours and hours of research that go into the process.

For you, this is a great and completely free opportunity to catch popular keywords without a tool.

Let´s say that you are blogging about fashion and you want to write an article about how, or where, women can shop for cheap. Just type a couple of possible keywords that come to your mind, and see what ads appear.

buy cheap dresses

Keyword research methodology: Google Ads campaigns

From this one, you get keyword such as “cheap clothing” and “women’s fashion at great prices”. Looking at ads related to your topic can be a great way to get some keyword ideas. These companies already did their research beforehand, so you can be sure that their ads aren’t full of random keywords!

People Also Ask Box

The People Also Ask box provides users with selected search results that Google considers to deliver the quickest and most straightforward answers.

This box is designed with the purpose of showing and answering specific questions related to the keyword that the user typed on Google. In case the user finds a satisfying answer and wants more information, he can click on the featured blog post or page for more details.

personal finance

The People also ask box can be very interesting from an SEO strategy perspective.

The main reason why is because it helps you understand what is it that people are looking for. What kind of information to they want to know? What issue are they trying to solve?

You can later use this information to write relevant content that provide helpful answers to the questions that people have concerning a specific topic.

Conclusion

And these were the most important steps when it comes to implementing a successful keyword research methodology! To wrap things up, let’s summarize the factors that you will need to take into account when selecting a keyword for your content:

  • Volume – does the keyword have enough volume to compensate for the time you will spend writing the article? Or maybe it has too much volume? High volume keywords usually mean that you will have a lot of competition as well.
  • Competition – are there a lot of other blogs and websites that are trying to position for this keyword? In the next chapter, we will see some excellent techniques to identify and evaluate competitors.
  • Authority – has your blog been long enough on the “search market” to build up its authority in front of Google and its users? Or is it less than 6 months old?
  • Industry – of course, the niche that you want to position for is also essential for evaluating your keyword possibilities. Highly competitive niches such as Personal Finance or Health & Fitness are more difficult to position for even with low volume keywords.

These factors and questions will help you get a better understanding on how to approach keywords.

And that was all from me for today, folks! I hope you enjoyed my article on the 7 steps to follow a great keyword research methodology. Thank you for taking the time to read it, and I hope to see you in the next one!


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