Keyword Research

Guides in this series


In this chapter you will learn what keyword research is, as well as the strategies, tools, and techniques that are used in keyword research to come up with a quality keyword and content strategy.

What is keyword research?

At its core definition, keyword research is the process of finding the best keywords and phrases to use when writing content for your website. 

However this definition may obscure the skill and work required when finding these ideal keywords. Keyword research is more than finding general words that describe what you do. It involves finding out about your target audience and what they are searching for, then looking at the likelihood of ranking, the returns / volume gained, and the relevance of each keyword.

This chapter covers these techniques in detail. For a demonstration of these techniques read our DIY guide to SEO, or for an in-progress case study, read SEO case study: SPOTBOT.

Why is keyword research so vitally important?

Search engine optimization (SEO) takes time and effort so making sure you know which keywords to use will ensure no time and effort is wasted. If you are hiring someone to do your SEO or content writing – like us! – then time and effort translates into money spent. Hence we consider this part of the job to be the most fundamental and important.

A good keyword strategy is the fundamental core of successful content writing and copywriting. Success in this case may be defined as content which drives results. 

Great keyword strategy + great content = a better Google rank = more and better quality website visitors = better conversion to your product or brand. 

Some unexpected benefits of keyword research

The process of finding the best keywords involves doing a deep analysis of your business goals, marketing goals, and – most importantly – your audience. And not just information about who your audience are, but also what their exact intentions are when searching the web.

This process of researching and pairing your business and audience can yield some unexpected insights which translate into directions and opportunities you might not have previously considered.

How is keyword research performed?

The what: your business goals

Seeing as keyword research involves first finding out about your business and marketing goals, we provide an initial questionnaire to help determine them. 

The who: your target audience

Once we know a bit more about your business, then we can move on to finding out more about your target audience. We can determine this information partly by asking you directly in an interview or questionnaire, and partly through our knowledge of how people search. 

The why: user intent

We know who your target audience is, but they might not be searching for what you offer, or at least not using the keywords you might expect them to. We have to uncover all the possible keywords that might drive traffic – not just any traffic, but useful traffic – to your website.

Before embarking on building the long lists of possible keywords it is important to make a list of all the different kinds of users, and what their intentions are when searching the web. This list can be used to match these users with content on your website which converts them into customers.

The how: the keywords and content

Now we can move onto building lists of keywords. These lists can sometimes be very long – even running into the hundreds and thousands of words and phrases – so much sorting, grouping and filtering is required to come up with a coherent and actionable keyword strategy.

The keyword strategy forms the basis of the content strategy. Once you know which keywords to use, you can once again put yourself in the shoes of a person who may be using a particular keyword when searching to ascertain what their intent might be. When we know their intent we can write content that fulfils that intent.

How is keyword data obtained?

SEO suites and keyword research tools

Google keeps actual keyword search data – such as search volumes – a secret, but several firms have tools which attempt – and succeed with a fair degree of accuracy – to determine various metrics associated with keywords. Several keyword research tools are available. These tools are either standalone, or are provided as part of a suite of tools. Some examples of SEO software suites are:

These tools obtain their data via several means, most notably clickstream data. They store massive data sets on individual keywords, and metrics associated with each keyword, such as search volume and difficulty, allowing you to rapidly obtain this data at a moment’s notice.

In addition, these tools also attempt to ascertain which keywords a particular domain is ranking for which is useful for competitor analysis.


Google Search

Yes, itself is a keyword research tool. By looking at the autocomplete suggestions in the search bar you can obtain a quick glimpse into the keywords Google considers most relevant to the seed keyword you’ve entered.

In some searches a “People also ask” box appears at the top. These questions are based on actual questions asked by people searching, and can be used to inspire article topics.

Google Search Console

Google’s own web service, Search Console, is a vital keyword research tool, much more accurate and useful in certain contexts than any third party tool.

The 3 pillars of keyword research: volume, difficulty, and relevance

When performing keyword research, each keyword is given scores for three factors: volume, difficulty, and relevance. The task of scoring these factors for each keyword is an essential one, and forms the bulk of keyword research work, which is to say that once we have these scores for our keywords, we are almost done.

Firstly, a quick explanation of what these scores are before moving on to a real world example.

Volume aka Search Volume aka Popularity

For any given keyword we can ascertain how many searches are performed on a monthly basis.

Usually – especially for small business websites – it is important to score for a particular region rather than globally.

The volume score is determined using SEO suites and software keyword research tools.

Difficulty aka Rankability

Keywords in competitive areas are more difficult to rank for than keywords in non-competitive areas. 

Difficulty translates as the amount of work required to rank, which of course translates to how much money you might have to spend on ranking for a particular keyword.

When choosing which keywords you should be trying to rank for we set a threshold for difficulty based partially on your current domain authority (factors such as age of website, and the number of backlinks) and your budget.

Like the volume score, the difficulty score is also determined using third-party SEO tools especially designed for this purpose. This score is usually rated from 0 to 100, with 100 being the most difficult.


The relevance score is based on our assessment of how relevant a keyword is to your business or marketing goal. 

Unlike the other two scores – volume and difficulty – which are generated by SEO software, this score is based on our opinion. We assign a relevance score for each keyword to determine how closely this keyword, and the intent behind it, matches your business or marketing goal.

A fourth metric: priority

Also based on our expert opinion, we may assign a 4th metric: priority, based on the other three metrics (volume, difficulty, relevance).

If a particular keyword has high volume, is easy to rank for (ie. not too competitive), and is very relevant to the business or marketing goal, then it can be assigned a high priority score.

With a top priority score, the priority metric is basically saying “this keyword is the one we should focus on first and foremost”.

Image of keyword research for SEO
Example of data extracted from a keyword research tool, with additional relevance and priority scores.

Next step: Content strategy

Once we have our lists of keywords we can begin to analyse them to determine clusters of related topics. These clusters can be used to structure the website, and they will inform our writing strategy. These techniques together are called content strategy.

Read more about SEO content writing and copywriting.

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