The SEO Keyword Research Master Guide

The SEO Keyword Research Master GuideWinning Traffic Through Keyword Research.

The power of keyword research

If you’re here, you may already have an idea of how powerful SEO keyword research can be. You may already know that keyword research is the foundation of winning SEO.

In fact, you could almost say it’s necessary for the majority of SEO campaigns.

The “magic of SEO” happens because, when you know what people are searching for, you can make the answer appear the exact moment they search for it.

On the other hand, if you don’t know what people are searching for — and/or you don’t create content for it — then you don’t know if there is any demand for what you publish. It’s like throwing darts blindfolded. You have no idea if you’ll hit anything.

Most of the time, this gamble fails.

But when done right — and combined with other solid SEO processes (including link building) — keyword research helps you to produce a repeatable content process that consistently earns traffic over time.

This site used keyword research to help inform content strategy. Wins like this aren’t always guaranteed, but they become much more likely when smart keyword research informs content strategy.

Keyword research benefits

Ultimately, keyword research helps you understand exactly what content to create to best help your business goals and target relevant traffic.

There are literally billions of possible keyword combinations out there, and in every language too. Even if you tried, it would be impossible to target them all.

Fortunately, people tend to search for the same things — or often very similar things — for which you can group keywords together. When done right, keyword research helps you find the best keywords for your particular website.

“Winning” keyword research helps you to find phrases and topics which:

  1. Are most relevantto your business
  2. Have sufficiently high search volume
  3. Have low competition(e.g. are rankable)

You can see how these factors play together in the diagram below.

Keyword research helps you find additional and related keywords that your audience searches for, which you can use to expand your content roadmap or product offerings.

The keyword research matrix

  1. Discover valuable keyword phrases and topics

You think you know what you want to rank for, but are you certain? Do you know all the ways people are searching that might lead to your website?

For example, if you sell “wholesale wine glasses” this might be a good term to target. Keyword research can help you uncover other relevant terms such as:

  • wholesale wine glasses bulk
  • cheap wine glasses
  • 8 oz wine glasses bulk
  • Etc., etc

If you run a wine glass business, how valuable would ranking on the first page of Google be for each of these terms?

You might have been able to guess some of these, but a smart keyword research strategy can help you uncover thousands of these keyword opportunities at scale.

  1. Find keywords with sufficient search volume

Truth be told, while there are billions of possibly relevant keyword combinations out there, not all of them are worth going after.

In the wine glass example above, would it be worth it to create content for each of these keywords? To find out, it helps if we attach a search volume to each keyword phrase.

We’ll cover this in greater detail later, but “search volume” is roughly the number of times these phrases are searched for in Google each month.

Keyword Phrase Search Volume
wholesale wine glasses 600
wholesale wine glasses bulk 50
cheap wine glasses 1500
8 oz wine glasses bulk 10

‘As you can see, search volume can vary wildly from one phrase to the next. Our original phrase, “wholesale wine glasses”, has decent search volume, but we’ve discovered “cheap wine glasses” blows it out of the water.

At the same time, “8 oz wine glasses bulk” doesn’t seem very popular by comparison. On the other hand, if your business sells these types of glasses, earning only a few clicks a month might be hugely valuable.

This is a good time to talk about the “long tail” of keyword research, and the 80/20 rule. Only about 20% of the keywords people search for will be popular “head” terms. The majority of keyword phrases will be less-frequent, long-tail keywords.

  1. Find keywords you can actually rank for

Finding popular keywords is great, but it’s a double-edged sword. That’s because the more popular and valuable a keyword is, the more competition there is to rank #1.

The key is finding the sweet spot of keywords that are valuable to your business, but not so competitive that you don’t have a chance of ranking for them.

“Cheap wine glasses” may be a great keyword phrase, but because it has such a high monthly search volume, it’s likely lots of established and popular sites are also trying to rank for it.

If you’re a smaller site just starting out, this can make it difficult to rank for your most desirable keywords.

The trick is to find those keywords with high demand and low competition. Let’s look at our table of keywords one more time, but also add a column for “Keyword Difficulty.”

Keyword Phrase Search Volume Keyword Difficulty
wholesale wine glasses 600 35
wholesale wine glasses bulk 50 36
cheap wine glasses 1500 46
8 oz wine glasses bulk 10 38

‘Surprise! “Wholesale wine glasses” is actually the least competitive of all the phrases we’ve considered so far. “Cheap wine glasses” has more volume, but it is also harder to rank for.

There are other considerations we should include while building a keyword list, including language, seasonality, and click-through rates. We’ll cover these in more detail in Chapter 3.

  1. Crafting a complete content strategy from keyword research

Once you have a list of relevant keywords to target, you can create a plan for building content around those keywords. This is your content strategy or content roadmap.

With keyword research, you can start to answer questions like:

  1. What are my main topics, and what are my child-topics?
  2. When can I target multiple keywords on a single page, and when should I split them into separate pages?
  3. What kind of content do users expect when searching for each phrase?
  4. Where does each phrase fall in my visitor’s journey (i.e. awareness > interest > purchase)?

So far, we’ve touched on finding keywords for a single topic or page. Using this guide, we’ll walk you through a process you can use to discover hundreds or thousands of relevant, potential topics. We’ll also cover powerful competitive analysis techniques so that you can uncover all the valuable keywords that every one of your competitors ranks for, allowing you to craft a completely dominating content strategy.

Ready to dive in? Get started with uncovering seed keyword ideas.

Build A Winning Keyword Strategy

Craft a keyword research strategy in real-time alongside SEO pro, Cyrus Shepard, with this on-demand webinar.

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“The biggest mistake I see people making with keyword research is simply not doing it… Now that Google has evolved and is providing search results based on the intent of the search query, keyword research is more important than ever.

We’re not simply matching keyword to keyword any more. We have to understand how potential customers are searching — and specifically, the intent of their search query — so that we’re able to create content and optimize that content to show up well for those searches. That can’t be done without keyword research.”

Greg Gifford — VP of Search, Search Lab

Ready to dive in?

Starting with seed keywords

Last Updated: May 25, 2021

Before beginning any keyword research process, you need a starting point. Or several starting points. These are your “seed keywords.”

Your seed keywords are used to grow the list that will become your keyword strategy.

When coming up with seed keywords, you often start with your best guess. Here are questions you can ask yourself to help you brainstorm:

  1. What’s my website about?
  2. What do I sell?
  3. What keywords do I thinkI want to rank for?
  4. What keyword ads would I buy?
  5. If someone were just beginning to research the topic of my site, what words would they use to start?

Write your answers down. You’re going to use them really soon.

Getting specific

When choosing seed keywords, it often helps to get specific. If you run a motorcycle shop in Ohio, you might think “motorcycle” would be a great keyword, but in reality, it’s so broad and so competitive it likely wouldn’t do you any good. Instead, try being more specific.

Poor seed keyword: motorcycle

Good seed keywords: motorcycle repair manuals, used motorcycle parts

Seed keywords for existing sites

If you have an existing website, a powerful place to find seed keywords is uncovering keyword phrases you already rank for. These are phrases Google already finds relevant to your website, and you’re going to have an easier time ranking for phrases related to these seeds.

Note: If you are building a new website and/or don’t have any ranking keywords yet, see the section on seed keyword for brand new sites and topics.

There are two quick ways to find seed keywords you already rank for.

  1. Seed keywords via Keyword Explorer

One of the more powerful uses of Keyword Explorer is its ability to show you the ranking keywords for any website, including your own.

  1. Navigate to the Ranking Keywords report
  2. Choose “root domain” (or subdomain/exact URL, depending on your needs)
  3. Enter your website or URL
  4. Select keywords ranking #4-20 (adjust this based on your preferences)
  5. By default, the United States market is selected, but Keyword Explorer also supports the UK, Canada, and Australia
  6. Hit “Analyze”

When you get results, the next part is very important: Sort the results by “Monthly Volume” (highest to lowest).

In this example, we used a site that sells motorcycle parts. Now we can select high-volume, ranking seed keywords that are most relevant to the website.

Note that we selected keyword phrases ranking #4-20, meaning we’re filtering out keywords we already rank highly for. It’s fine to adjust this filter to any setting you want. By using this process, we hope to find seed keywords:

  • with a good amount of search volume
  • that are relevant to our site
  • that we don’t already rank highly for

In this case, we found terrific seed words like “motorcycle accessories” and “bell helmets.” We also want to ignore ranking keywords that may be irrelevant to our business such as “arai helmets” (assuming we don’t sell them).

  1. Seed keywords via Google Search Console

You can also find your ranking keywords in Google Search Console. Simply navigate to the Performance Report to view all your ranking queries.

Here are some top-ranking seed keywords for Moz.

Pro tip: Filter for Positions 1-10 and sort by impressions to find your most valuable seed keywords.

  1. Seed keywords from your competitors

You can also easily grab top-ranking seed keywords from your competitors.

There are two different sets of competitors you want to research:

  1. Your current, actual competitors
  2. Your desired, future competitors

In other words, we want to research competitors for 1) keywords we already rank for and 2) keywords we want to rank for in the future. (If you’re a brand new site, or entering a new market, you might want to focus specifically on number two.)

You might think you know who your competitors are in search, but do you know exactly who competes for every keyword you rank for? Fortunately, there’s an easy way to find out.

First, head to the free Domain SEO Analysis tool.

Simply enter your URL, scroll to the bottom, and see the true competitors that compete for the same keywords as your domain, ranked by visibility. Here are the top search competitors for Moz.

We want to pick out the competitors that cover similar topics as Moz, such as Ahrefs or Search Engine Land.

Next, simply enter these domains into Keyword Explorer (like you did earlier in step one) and find the top-ranking keyword opportunities for each site.

Seed keywords for new sites and topics

If you’re planning content for a brand new website, or want to branch out into new topics on your website, then you’ll be getting most of your data from third party sources.

Never fear — this is a terrific place to start.

The easiest first step when gathering seed keywords for a new topic is simply to Google the specific keyword phrases that you want to rank for. In this case, we’ll search Google for “motorcycle repair manuals.”

If you can, try to ignore large sites (like Amazon or Wikipedia) that rank for everything, and try to find sites that specifically focus on your keyword topic.

Next, we’ll simply punch these sites into Keyword Explorer’s “Ranking Keywords” report. This report shows you all the keyword phrases the site or page ranks for.

Try looking at metrics for both the “exact page” and “root domain” to find the most helpful keywords.

To get the most out of this report, it often helps to limit results to keywords ranking in the top 1-10, and to sort your keywords by volume (high to low).

Using this technique, we start to find some amazing keywords we might not have thought of otherwise, such as:

  • Haynes motorcycle manuals
  • Motorcycle service manuals
  • Shop manuals
  • … and more

At this step, you’ll typically want to ignore most site-branded terms. For example, if you were looking at “Moz” as a competitor, you likely don’t want to try ranking for any branded keyword that contains “Moz.”

Be sure to export your seed phrases or record them in a spreadsheet.

Additional tools to discover seed keywords

Seed keywords are everywhere. You often have to get creative to find them, but the better your initial seed keyword list, the better your final keyword strategy will be.

Here are a few terrific places to discover seed keywords.

  1. Google related searches

Search any keyword phrase, scroll to the bottom, and Google will show you a list of related keyword phrases.

These are gold.

We also recommend this nifty Chrome extension to extract even more Google related searches.

  1. People also ask

While these tend to be a bit more specific, you can also harvest seed keyword ideas from Google’s “People also ask” boxes.

  1. Google Keyword Planner

Google’s own keyword tool for its profitable Adwords platform provides a wealth of keyword ideas.

One caveat: many of the metrics are geared towards paid search ads, and not extremely reliable for organic campaigns.

  1. Answer the Public

The always popular Answer the Public is a favorite starting point for many keyword research projects. The free plan is so generous, we had to include it here.

  1. Google Trends

Another Google tool that provides interesting insights and related queries for any keyword, Google Trends will even show you historic keyword data and break interest down by geographic region.


“Industry books and podcasts are both excellent places to find new topics that might not show up in traffic-based keyword research. Books tend to be good places to uncover high-level ideas and understand the structure across a large topic, and podcasts tend to be a good place to uncover topics that have little-to-no search volume, but are important to your audience.”

Kane Jamison — Founder, Content Harmony

Using keyword difficulty to filter seed keywords

Invariably, when hunting for seed keywords, you’re going to find a lot of VERY competitive keywords — keywords you may not be able to rank for.

To save time down the road, it’s helpful to select seed keywords that fall within your site’s keyword difficulty potential. This means you might actually have a shot at ranking.

To find your site’s keyword difficulty potential, simply run a ranking keyword report for your domain. Use the following settings:

  1. Search using “Root Domain”
  2. Set “Ranking” to 1-3 (keywords you rank highly for)
  3. Set “Volume” to anything over zero (in this case, greater than 101 searches per month)
  4. Sort by “Difficulty” (high to low)
  5. Ignore any branded terms

In this example, we can see that our highest ranking keyword difficulty score for semi-competitive keywords is 54 for “cheap cycle parts.”

This means we might set our keyword difficulty potential between 45-55, meaning these are keywords we could potentially rank for. Any seed keywords that fall above this range we’d typically ignore.

How many seed keywords do you need?

At this point you should have a nice list of 5-50 seed keywords to work with, depending on how deep you want to go.

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Regards, Coyalita

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