Why is Keyword Research Important?
Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Ryan Robinson. Interested in contributing content to the Clearscope blog? Email Travis Dailey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is your content performing as well as you want?
Perhaps you’re writing insightful articles, offering actionable takeaways, and posting consistently. But you’re not seeing results: your search engine traffic is more like a trickle than a flood.
The missing piece to your puzzle is strategic keyword research.
You probably know you “should” be doing keyword research before creating content for your website. But maybe you’re a little foggy on what exactly keyword research is or why it’s important.
Today, that’s all going to change. I’ll take you through exactly what keyword research is and why it’s relevant for your business. I’ll also tell you about the best (free!) keyword research tools to get started with and give you my top tips for picking the right keywords.
Ready to get started? Let’s dig in.
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research might sound a little complicated or technical, but it’s really very straightforward.
Keyword research means finding out what your target audience is already looking for online.
Instead of having a stab in the dark at creating content you hope they’ll like, you can create the content that your ideal customers already want.
Let’s say you run an online store selling running shoes. A keyword might be something like “shoes” – but it’s much more often a phrase, like “running shoes for beginners.”
You can then create content that’s designed to meet the needs of people searching for running shoes for beginners. This should rank well on Google's SERP (search engine results page) when people search for that keyword, bringing in lots of traffic – and hopefully, lots of new customers.
Why is Keyword Research Important?
Not convinced about the importance of keyword research? Hopefully, I can change your mind! Keyword research helps you with:
Finding Great Content Opportunities
In a crowded online niche? Keyword research can help you identify under-served keywords. Creating content around these could bring in searchers that few other businesses are competing for, meaning that keyword research is a hugely important part of your content strategy.
Coming Up With New Ideas for Content
Are you always struggling to come up with blog post ideas for your weekly publishing goals? Keyword research is a fast and easy way to break through writer’s block and come up with loads of different topics to write about. Plus, you’ll likely be more motivated with your content marketing when you know it’s set to bring in lots of traffic and potential customers.
Knowing Your Competition
What are your competitors writing about? SEO keyword research is one way to get to know the other businesses in your niche. You can use keyword research to help differentiate your website and your digital marketing strategy from theirs, potentially helping you get more search traffic.
Delivering What Your Audience Wants
Keyword research is still invaluable even if you have a large and loyal existing audience. It lets you make sure you’re delivering exactly what your audience wants: information that’s truly useful to them. Part of keyword research is “search intent” – understanding why your audience is searching for a particular phrase. Do they just want information when they type their Google search or are they looking to buy?
4 Best Free Keyword Research Tools
Now you know the why of keyword research, it’s time to think about the how. You can discover keywords (along with search volumes – which we’ll come onto later) using simple, free tools.
I’ve picked my favorites in a few different categories:
Best Beginner-Friendly: Free Keyword Research Tool by Ryan Robinson
I’ve been hard at work perfecting my own Free Keyword Research Tool to solve a big problem in the blogging industry that I’ve struggled with since first starting a blog. Whenever a new keyword tool comes up and becomes popular, it switches from being free to paid (or only keeps a free version with major limitations). My tool was built to be free forever.
I also wanted it to be really easy to use, even if you’re just starting out. All you need to do is go to the webpage, type in a relevant word or phrase for your online business, and click “Go.”
You’ll see plenty of research-based ideas, related to your initial keyword, and ordered by volume. Scroll down to explore more keywords and you might spot ideas you’d not have thought of – like “best sneakers for flat feet” (search volume 2.9k, difficulty medium).
This tool gives you everything you need to get started with keyword research. Use it to come up with a list of keywords for your next few blog posts, and you’ll soon start seeing the results in terms of your search engine traffic. You can keep putting in as many seed keywords (starting words or phrases) as you want.
You can also use the “Ideas” tab to get dozens of AI-powered blog topic ideas that are related to your chosen keyword: a great way to speed up the content creation process.
Tip: By default, the country view is for the US, but you can easily select other countries from a dropdown menu to view regional search volume and difficulty for your keyword phrases.
Best In-Depth: Clearscope’s Keyword Discovery Tool
Once you’re ready to dig a little deeper with keywords, try Clearscope’s Keyword Discovery Tool. It’s included for free if you have a Clearscope account. (Plenty of content creators use Clearscope as one of their favorite SEO tools for content optimization, but not all of them realize that you can use Clearscope to come up with keywords in the first place.)
To access the tool, just head to the Keyword Discovery feature in Clearscope. You’ll see keywords listed by monthly searches, a competition score, and an average CPC (cost per click) – the CPC is relevant if you plan to run ads for that keyword.
Best for Long-Tail Keyword Ideas: Twinword Ideas
Struggling for ideas? Twinword is great at finding related keywords, grouping these by topic to make it easy to drill down. The “relevance” score lets you know how closely related the suggestion is to your starting word or phrase.
The free version of Twinword limits how many queries you can run each day, so if you want to research a lot of articles, you’ll likely want to sign up for a monthly subscription.
Best for Advertisers: Google’s Keyword Planner
Google has its own keyword planner, which is aimed at businesses wanting to run ads using Google Ads, rather than those only looking to use organic search. (You can sign up for an account for free, however: you don’t need to run ads to use the tool.)
Google’s keyword planner’s “Discover New Keywords” feature lets you easily find relevant keyword ideas. You can choose to filter the results by country, and you can refine the keywords by deciding to target a specific gender, brand or non-brand, and so on, as well as viewing a number of different metrics.
If you’re planning to run paid ads, Google’s Keyword Planner is a must, as it also lets you see how much you’ll need to bid for different keywords when carrying out PPC advertising.
Bonus: More Keyword Tools to Help You Get the Most from Your Keyword Research
Some other great tools that you might want to use alongside a good keyword research tool include:
Google Analytics – free analytics software to let you see which posts are getting the most traffic (from search engines and from other sources like social media).
SEMRush – paid tool with a “Keyword Magic Tool” for keyword research, as well as lots of insights into your competitors’ search traffic, backlinks, and more.
Ahrefs – an all-in-one SEO toolset that helps you to find keywords, as well as letting you see the backlinks and keyword rankings for competitors.
Google Trends – a fun tool that lets you instantly and visually see how the search volume for particular keywords has changed over time (for instance, some keywords have a high search volume at specific times of the year).
3 Tips for Choosing the Right Keywords
A long list of keywords from a keyword planner might look a little daunting. How do you know which keywords are worth targeting? Here are three tips to keep in mind when choosing the best keywords.
Understanding Short-Tail vs. Long-Tail Keywords
“Short-tail” keywords are one or two words. They get loads of searches, but they’re not usually going to convert into paying customers. They’re also incredibly hard to rank for.
“Long-tail” keywords are much more specific, and are usually three or more words. Each individual long-tail keyword doesn’t get nearly so much traffic … but taken together, these types of search terms make up most web searches. They also have much higher conversion rates, leading to more traffic becoming subscribers to your newsletter or customers for your products.
You want to target long-tail keywords, not short-tail keywords, when choosing which keywords to use, as long-tail keywords help you create conversion-oriented content.
Choosing the Right Search Volume
All keywords have a search volume: the average number of people searching for that keyword each month.
Don’t target keywords with a huge search volume: those are likely to be too competitive for you to easily rank for. If the search volume is, say, 100,000+, that’s much too high.
You also want to avoid targeting keywords that get next to no traffic. A keyword with only 10 monthly searches likely isn’t worth it for your business.
A good place to start is by looking for keywords with around 500–2,000 monthly searches. These are likely to be achievable for you, and they’ll drive traffic that’s significant enough to make a difference to your business.
Picking Keywords That Aren’t Too Competitive
Some keywords are already very popular, with lots of websites having excellent, targeted content for those keywords. If you come across a keyword that has the right amount of volume but that is very competitive (compared with other keywords with a similar volume), then you might find it next to impossible to reach the first page of Google for that keyword.
There’s no magic number in terms of competitiveness, and different tools display this differently. If you’re using my Keyword Research Tool, I’d suggest looking for keywords with a “low” or “medium” level of competition (keyword difficulty).
In general, if you’re struggling to decide between two keywords of roughly equal search volume and one is less competitive than the other, go with the low-competition one.
Ready to Get Started with Keyword Research?
Now, it’s over to you. Pick one of the tools above to try out and give keyword research a go.
Aim to create a list of 5 to 10 suitable keywords to target in your upcoming blog posts or landing pages. You should find this makes it much easier to plan and create optimized content for your target audience.
One quick tip: Make sure you use your keyword in the title or headline of your content. It’ll make a big difference to how likely you are to rank for that keyword. For more inspiration on writing effective (SEO-friendly) headlines, try my free blog title generator.
Then, once you’re ready, there are lots more to know about content optimization and on-page search engine optimization (SEO) to make the most of your specific keywords as part of your broader SEO strategy.
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