The Ultimate Keyword Research Checklist for Good SEO
Do you know how to do keyword research? If you answer in the negative then you’re missing out on one of the most important SEO tasks. No worries. We’ve compiled the steps that you can follow and came up with this ultimate keyword checklist for good SEO. If you do know the topic, consider this a refresher.
We recently did an exhaustive piece on the best SaaS keyword research tools for SEO where we touched on SEO techniques and the importance as well as benefits of keyword research. In this article, we’ll give you directions on how to choose keywords and guidance for effective keyword research.
Our aim is to give you a good understanding and a ready reference on what to do when it comes to keyword research. Keep in mind that keywords are essential to your marketing strategies, your website’s messaging and content, and eventually to the success of your business.
Table of Contents
- The Role of SEO Keywords
- Types of Keywords
- Core Indicators When Doing Keyword Research
- Keyword Research Checklist
- Efforts Pay Off
The Role of SEO Keywords
On its own, a “keyword” is self-explanatory. In the context of today’s connected world, keywords are the terms used by people to search for information over the internet. For businesses, keywords are the cornerstone of search engine optimization (SEO).
Businesses will adhere and apply tested SEO strategies and techniques so that when people look for something and type in keywords in a particular niche or industry, their business, company, product, service or website will appear at the top of search engine results pages (SERP). People are likely to flock to these top-ranking websites to seek answers to their queries or buy what they need.
In an SEO setting, businesses will specifically target certain keywords where they rank high. They will spread these keywords throughout their web pages and content to increase the chances of people finding their business through search engines. That was the role of keywords then, and even now.
Now, however, search engines have become much more sophisticated and would choose keywords for their relevance rather than density. While keywords then were fundamental factors for ranking websites, nowadays they form part of the overall SEO strategy that include great user experience and engaging quality content that is optimized for mobile.
Undoubtedly, keywords will continue its role as a crucial SEO component for helping rank websites. It will also carry the task of linking SEO with consumers and directing the latter to sites with the best information or item they’re searching for.
Types of Keywords
Before we go to our checklist, it is important to know the different types of keywords. This way you’ll be able to focus your digital marketing such as PPC ads or SEO to improve your site’s traffic and rankings. There are several types of keywords but we’ll jot down some of the most used such as the top three in our lineup which are based on the number of words.
- Short-Tail Keywords. One to two words usually having the highest search volume and most competition, SEO-wise. Because the search intent is unclear, these keywords are poor targets for conversion. Some examples include:
- Medium-Tail Keywords. Three to four words long with average competition and moderate search volume. The search intent for these keywords is clearer; hence, they are more targeted and have higher conversion rate compared to short-tail keywords.
- baby cat food
- nearby downtown restaurant
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- Long-Tail Keywords. Usually five words or more, they are keywords with the lowest search volume and least competition. They are good to target to improve site traffic and SEO rankings because of their specific search intent.
- baby cat food served in small packs
- nearby downtown restaurant serving Chinese food
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- Evergreen Keywords. These are keywords that maintain their freshness and relevance in search engines because of high user interest. You can optimize your content for evergreen keywords since they will continually attract search traffic over the long term.
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- Transactional Keywords. In digital marketing, these are normally used to engage visitors who are ready to take action like buying a product or hiring a service. They are also referred to as “buyer keywords” and usually start with words such as purchase, buy, best, and top or include words like for sale, near me, reviews and to buy.
- cars for sale near Chicago
- top SEO tools for small business
- photo editing software reviews
- buy flowers online
- Informational Keywords. These are phrases that typically ask queries to seek answers and information. Keywords will usually start with the 5Ws and 1H – who, what, when, where, why, and how. There can be other question words like should, does, do, and can.
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- Trending Keywords. Sudden upticks in user interest can produce trending keywords that you can optimize and base your content on. These keywords usually revolve around the latest news, viral topics, or much awaited seasonal events.
- Black Friday deals
- Lakers vs. Rockets
- BTS concert tour dates
- Europe heat wave
There are other keyword types including PPC keywords, semantic SEO keywords, organic keywords, generic keywords, focus keywords, branded keywords, etc. These are best left for another, more expansive article.
The point to knowing the various types of keywords is that you’ll be able to improve the off-page and on-page SEO for your content as well as guide your digital marketing strategies. Moreover, you’ll have an idea of what to search for when you start doing keyword research.
Core Indicators When Doing Keyword Research
Keyword research for SEO is not as complicated as it is sometimes portrayed to be. It all boils down to finding specific phrases and words people use to look for information. You just need to figure out two things – the search or traffic volume and the competition for your target keywords.
These two keyword indicators can easily be analyzed and rooted out using keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, SEMrush, and other similar software platforms. Search volume and competitiveness will feature prominently in our checklist but just to give you an idea of the insights they give you, let’s go over them quickly.
Keyword search volume is defined as the number of times a particular keyword is searched in a specific period of time. In other words, you’ll get to know how many times a specific keyword was looked up in, say, a month’s time.
Knowing what keywords are popular, garner high interest, and drive interest for the month, for the next months, or the following months (keyword research tools can give search volume forecast), then you can craft your content and marketing strategies around those keywords.
Take note that keyword search volume can be seasonal or steady. In which case, you’ll have to align your content with seasonal keywords (i.e. Valentines gifts, Christmas items) or evergreen keywords (like those we tackled earlier).
Keyword competition or competitiveness is a measure of how difficult or hard it will be to rank for a given keyword. The competition for a certain keyword varies depending on the industry and keyword popularity.
Determining keyword competitiveness is done by scoring from 1 – 100 where the higher score is the more competitive keyword. Through a competitive analysis tool that gathers metrics from SERPs on a chosen keyword, you’ll know if that keyword is already ranked for by your competitors.
It you create content around that highly competitive keyword, it would be difficult for your site to rank. That keyword would not be worth wasting your time and effort pursuing, so you might want to target medium competition keywords and work your content with them.
With all the above in mind, we’re primed to go over our keyword research checklist.
Keyword Research Checklist
Keep this checklist as a handy reference that you can go back to for instructions and directions anytime you need to apply quality SEO keywords for your website.
1. Study Your Niche
Before you go searching and analyzing the best keywords for your content and website that you can rank for, you need to understand your niche. You can’t be selling everything to everybody. That is not a sound business strategy and, in fact, a formula for failure.
Even large global conglomerates with thousands of items in their products mix have certain demographics or part of the population they cater to. Marketers and established businesses know this but for a newbie business owner, you’ve got to find and target your market niche. How do you do this?
Image credit: Sistrix.com
Sistrix, a provider of SEO resources and tools, offers five steps to identifying your niche as well as understanding your audience. These include:
- Undertake market research – This will help you define and understand your target audience, learn how large the market is for your services or products, and know who your ideal customers are. Resources and tools you can use for market research include consumer surveys, Google Trends, and Statista.com, among others.
- Review your competition – By studying your competition you’ll learn about specific brands that are gaining traction, the content they’re creating, and what works and don’t work for them. A keyword research tool with competitor analysis is enough to give you these and more insights.
- Look at your website data – Site and web analytics tools like Google Analytics can provide you with useful information such as demographics of your website visitors, what pages they go to, and what products they click on.
- Find the right keywords – You’ll be needing keyword research this early to find your market niche and customer, proving how vital keywords are. You can look at keyword search volume to discover the terms and phrases used by your target audience to look for products or services that you provide.
- Ask your customers – The best sources for knowing your niche is to ask clients and customers themselves. Through informal interviews or simple surveys, you’ll know what your audience needs or wants and get more specific info like their age, gender, education, profession, etc.
Notice that the two keyword metrics that we’ve earlier taken up – search volume and competition – already come into play. They will be further utilized as we go further in our checklist.
2. Define Your SEO Goals
You don’t go into battle without knowing your mission. In the same vein, you don’t just go about doing random keyword search without first determining your SEO goals. Ask yourself the following:
- What is the primary goal of my business?
- What makes my business and products or services unique or special?
- Who am I trying to connect or reach? (Could be answered by checklist #1)
- What is the purpose of my website and what do I aim to achieve with it?
There may be some other matters that you can come up with and reflect on. Take time to answer those questions in earnest and in detail because they will become the foundation of your keyword strategy.
SEO goals are crucial because it will pave a clearer direction to your strategy and a better focus on your target. You will not be left in the dark, feeling your way through. Goals also allow you to measure your progress objectively and make corrections if you veer off course.
For keyword research, your purpose surely is to rank for certain keywords in your niche, attract more traffic, and grow your business. Since there is clarity and focus to your intention, you can now determine how to get there. Ahrefs provides an illustrative SEO goal pyramid:
Image credit: Ahrefs.com
The point is to break things down into manageable pieces, sort of stepping stones as you go up to achieve your overall goal. The Ahrefs article explains the process this way: “As you complete process goals, you’re well-positioned to meet your performance goals. As you complete your performance goals, you’re likely to achieve your outcome goal.”
Recognize, though, that your SEO goals should be parallel with your business mission. Ranking does not happen overnight, it takes time and continuing improvements. And the efforts and resources you put in will determine your outcome goal.
Be grounded enough to realize what rank level you can achieve in relation with your SEO investments, size of your business, and the challenges you will encounter. Knowing these realities will better equip you to achieve your mission.
With your niche and goals established, you’re now ready to dive into making a keyword lists.
3. Make a Keyword List
This is no ordinary, random list. You’re making a keyword list that is effective and which will work for you. Hence, you will be putting in extra effort and time and will be updating it regularly.
It’s essential that you come up with an effective keyword list because that is your initial activity – among your process goals – to eventually reach your outcome goal which is to rank in search engine results.
Furthermore, a good keyword list will enable you to come up with relevant content that you can spread out over a time period. It’s sort of an editorial calendar of content so you don’t run out of fresh, new ideas.
As you create your list, preferably in a spreadsheet, just think like your target or potential customers (you’ve identified them earlier as your niche) and be guided by your mission (you also set this out in the preceding section). It helps to think in questions:
- What are your target customers looking for?
- What do they need, want, or desire during special occasions?
- How does your product or service address or solve their needs?
- What could be the terms and phrases they use when looking for a product?
Definitely, you want your product or business to be found when people use certain terms and phrases. For example, if you sell headphones you can start with the following keywords:
- over ear headphones
- on ear headphones
- closed back headphones
- open back headphones
- noise cancelling headphones
- bluetooth headphones
- wireless headphones
- wired headphones with mic
- audiophile headphones
- branded headphones
- high-end headphones
- sports earbuds
- waterproof earbuds
- wireless earbuds
With our example, you’re targeting music lovers (wide demographics), audiophiles, movie lovers, musicians, music/recording studios, audio/video production companies, composers/arrangers/songwriters, DJs, light and sound rentals, radio hosts and anchors, call center agents, help desk reps, etc.
Your knowledge of the types of keywords will be very useful in coming up with as many items in your keyword list. To further populate your list, you can use keyword explorer tools which you’ll also be using for the next step.
4. Explore the Keywords in Your List
Now that you have your keywords list, it’s time to do some digging into those keywords.
You’ll be doing keyword research and there are many tools to help you with this task. The first one you turn to is free, widely accessible, and the default search engine for most. That’s Google, of course.
Type in one by one the keywords in your list and Google will already give your suggestions while you’re still typing. Putting in over ear headphones in the search bar and you’ll be presented with several suggestions. Entering the keywords in and you get to know the leading websites ranking for those particular keywords including retail stores, online gear shops, headphone brands, and reviews and rating sites.
Do check out the “People ask section” because those are important transactional or informational keywords – people asking if over ear headphones are worth it or if they are better than on ear headphones. These are keywords with search intent, meaning they are looking to make a purchase.
Likewise worth looking into are the “images for over ear headphones” (or whatever the keyword is). Popular keywords usually describe these images such as wired, bluetooth, noise cancelling, etc. which validate the keywords in your list. The “related searches” will also provide you with sought-after keywords.
Using keyword research tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz and others, you’ll be given richer insights into your keywords and even more keywords suggestions. These tools (usually with their higher-priced plans) can come up with 1000 keywords in a typical list complete with details for each keyword or phrases such as search volume, intent, difficulty, trend, cost-per-click, and more.
Having all the important information about your keywords, you can now embark on long-tail keywords. We’ll discuss its significance in the next step of our checklist.
5. Find Long-Tail Keywords
In your keyword research, try to find long-tail keywords. They have less competition and get less traffic, making it easier for you to rank for those types of keywords. As we’ve learned earlier, long-tail keywords have more terms and are more specific, giving it better conversion value.
Using our example in Section 3, simply searching for headphones will most likely give you results from big name retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and Target that sell these gadgets or branded manufacturers like JBL, Sony, or Bose. These company websites already rank for the word headphones and you’ll find it hard to squeeze into their territory on page one of search results. Unfortunately, over 90% of Google users never bother to click on page two. In short, established domains own the keyword.
Long-tail keywords are often seen as the “secret weapon” for SEO keywords. You have better chances of ranking if you optimize your content for long-tail keywords like the following:
- affordable wireless bluetooth headphones
- best noise cancelling headphones for audiophiles
- best bone conduction headphones
- are headphones better than earbuds
- are beats headphones the best among leading brands
- true waterproof workout headphones
- top 10 budget wireless headphones for music lovers
You get the point. While it appears counter intuitive since search is narrowed and becomes more focused thus limiting your audience, your content and website are more likely to land on the top of SERPs. And you gain organic search traffic to boot as well as customers with purchase intent.
Most keyword research tools have features to generate long-tail keywords from head terms or seed words. There are also free online long-tail keywords generator like those from Keyword Tool and Small SEO Tools. However, the number of keywords they can produce is limited and lacking in details, unless you subscribe to their paid plans.
6. Analyze Competitive Keywords
Free online tool Similarweb.com showing the top keywords for a certain website.
Your competition becomes the basis if you should pursue long-tail keywords or not. Aside from that, however, you should do competitor keyword analysis to determine the SEO strategies of your competitors, find out the keywords they rank for, discover their strengths and weaknesses, and understand how you fare in comparison.
By studying competitive keywords, you may find opportunities to enhance your rankings, uncover parts of your SEO processes and strategies that you can improve, and uncover keywords that your rivals are not targeting. In essence, you’re trying to stay competitive and in the running.
So how do you go about this? Competitor research is usually one of the backbone components of all-in-one SEO platforms, joining other tools like site audit, rank tracker, backlink analysis, and keyword research. It’s as easy typing in the domain or URL of a particular company or website, and the platform can show you any or all of the following:
- sources of competitor traffic
- audience demographics
- competitor’s SEO strategies and PPC keywords
- top organic keywords
- value of keywords that competitors rank for
- analysis of competitor ads
- social media engagements
- competitor online mentions
- competitor rank and positions over time
Deep insights like the above are normally offered through premium SaaS SEO tools like Serpstat, SpyFu, and KWFinder. But you can first opt for surface-level data that can be provided by free web-based tools such as SimilarWeb, Google Trends, and Siteliner.
7. Examine Keyword Search Intent
Search intent is also known as keyword intent or user intent. It’s the motivation that drives the user to search for something in the internet using terms or keywords. It is an important aspect of SEO because you are able to understand the intention behind the keyword.
Knowing user intent you are then able to target the most relevant keywords for your campaigns and content. For the most part, user intent comes in the form of a search query using a search engine to find specific answers. Again, our knowledge of the types of keywords comes to the fore because there are three types of search intent based on them. These are navigational, informational, and commercial.
Navigational Intent. This is a keyword that contains the name of a company or brand and the searcher wants to access the right website or web page.
- facebook login
- netflix signup
- adidas sneakers
- photoshop online
- As much as possible, ensure that site content always bear your products, brand, business or company name.
- When it comes to search terms, branded names edge out unbranded ones.
Informational Intent. The searcher uses terms to find information on a certain topic without necessarily intending to buy something.
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- Don’t disregard informational intent even if there is no clear sign of purchasing.
- Always come up with comprehensive content for your niche in order to establish domain authority and increase visibility in search engines.
Commercial Intent. Also called transactional intent, these are keywords used by searchers who are ready to purchase something.
- used cars for sale near me
- buy wireless headphones online
- affordable home theater systems
- airlines promo prices
- There are lots of competitions to rank for commercial keywords so these need focus and commitment.
- Unclear terms like those with reviews, top 10, or best may not have strong commercial intent but can still be classified as such in your keywords list.
Having a grasp of keyword search intent will help you optimize content that answers specific queries, prime said content for conversion, and get nearer to your performance goal which is to rank. Now let’s direct your attention to keywords that will rank for you.
8. Decide Which Keywords to Target
If you followed all the previous steps and reached this far, then your spreadsheet should be filled by now with terms and phrases, and brimming with information about competitors and the keyword search intent of your niche audience.
The time is ripe to lay down a keyword strategy and evaluate which keywords to target for your target market. Think about your business – what is it you offer or what is your main product or service? You probably have a good idea of this after defining your niche in the very first section and after examining keyword search volume and keyword competition. Your primary keyword or head keyword is who or what you are. Below are examples:
- marketing consultant
- web designer
- store supervisor
Your primary keyword, let’s say photographer, is the one that best describes your service or business. Photographer or photography must henceforth be located in relevant areas of your website such as in the About Us page, contact page, or in the articles of your blog.
But photographer is a highly-competitive head keyword. You’re looking to target keywords with high search volume but low competition and CPC. You’ll now be searching for mid-tail keywords such as your specialization:
- wedding photographer
- portrait photographer
- travel photographer
- landscape photographer
You can make it more specific with long-tail variants:
- wedding photographer in Los Angeles area (localized)
- travel photographer for Asian destinations (regionalized)
- photography store for quality used cameras and accessories
- professional portrait photography for yearbooks and annual reports
Expanding from head keywords for photography and targeting keyphrases that specify the nature of your business increases your chances of being indexed for that particular service. It can help searchers or potential clients to find you especially if you’re in their area.
To sum up this section of our keyword research checklist, be guided by the following:
- Pinpoint head keywords that is descriptive of your business or target market.
- Build on these keywords to come up with long-tail keywords.
- Mix and match keywords for the right combination of volume and competitiveness.
- Monitor keyword performance vis-à-vis site performance and do adjustments if needed.
The last item above – monitoring and adjusting – is the substance of the remaining two steps in our checklist, so read on.
9. Test, Evaluate, and Improve
Image credit: SERanking.com with their keyword tracking tool.
All the steps you followed from the start of this article and the efforts you put in should give you some good reasons to rejoice, though it may not always be the case. Chin up. Keyword strategy is a work in progress which is why metrics are given to you in ranges – monthly, quarterly, yearly.
You crafted great content – a series of well-researched, quality articles pertaining to travel photography such as the basics, tips and tutorials, what to bring on location, common mistakes of travel photographers, great nature destinations, where to find affordable lodgings, best time of the year to travel to certain places, etc.
You’ve optimized the articles accordingly, composing them with keywords and phrases that your target audience – travelers, tourists, backpackers, adventurers, photographers, photography enthusiasts and hobbyist – might use in their query.
After a while, inspect your rankings – did those articles appear in the first page of SERPs? If they did, give yourself a nice cold bottle of beer. If your content landed in the second or third pages, go ahead and finish that frothy beverage then go through any of the three ways to assess content performance.
- Go to Google and check the keywords and phrases you used to optimize your articles.
- Refer to Google Search Console to see the queries that you’re ranking for.
- Utilize a keyword tracking tool (such as that of SE Ranking pictured above) to see how you’re doing over a certain period. If there are dips in performance you can apply changes right away.
Still not hitting page one? Then repeat. Put a more interesting angle or hook to your articles. Be more specific in your approach and target a particular niche like travel photographers or photography clubs. Be more focused with long-tail keywords. Then monitor again, test and evaluate again, and do more improvements until you arrive on page one.
Keeping an eye on site and keyword performance is a meticulous task and you need all the help of those handy SEO analytics tools to make the job easier for you. What matters is you are able to reckon if your efforts are giving you expected returns and placing you closer to your outcome goal.
10. Update and Refresh Content
Nothing stays as it is. Trends come and go. Consumer preferences vary over time. You should be quick to adapt and refresh your content or update your keyword research as regularly as needed. Remember that your competitors also have their ears close to the ground monitoring for hot news, trending topics, and popular subjects, and adapting accordingly. You don’t want to appear like a novice and be left behind.
Again, refer to keyword research tools to see keyword trends. Be proactive and anticipate seasonal trends like the holidays so you can prepare appropriate content early. There are also social listening and online mention tools to keep you aware of the pulse of Internet audiences.
Likewise, searchers might be using different keywords or search terms and being creative in their phrases. This could put you off course seeing that the usual keywords that you are targeting and ranking for no longer works. Be vigilant of changes although with a solid SEO keyword strategy in place you’re now in a much better position to weather any challenges that come your way.
While keywords are not prone to changes overnight, it helps to be nimble and ready when changes do come. You have been preparing for that with this keyword research checklist for SEO.
Efforts Pay Off
There will be different circumstances and requirements for bloggers, marketers, website owners and others, but proven SEO strategies and techniques will stay the same. Will you go head on with competitive keywords? Will you stick with long-tail keywords for better traffic? How long will you pursue a target keyword for your niche?
These and other decisions will be dictated by your particular needs and situation. One of the items in our checklist says “test, evaluate, and improve.” It means try and modify until you make a hit. You don’t find gold in one dig; you survey the field for indicators and go dig in the best areas. Same with keywords, you’ll be given the ideal steps and best direction but the final decision will be all yours. Eventually, persistent efforts will produce desired results.
Just stay close to the keyword research checklist we’ve outlined. Keyword research is both art and science, and they require creativity and patience. There won’t be high-ranking and consistently huge traffic websites if the efforts of their webmasters and owners didn’t pay off. So, stay the course!