Keyword research, in its basic form, is the idea of finding the words and phrases people search for when they use a search engine. Advanced keyword research is a nuanced and faceted form of finding those words and phrases (typically with the intent to rank in the top 10 on Google).
When we began doing bulk keyword research for Content at Scale clients, new problems smacked us in the face.
These problems aren’t ones you see covered in the typical marketing and SEO blogs. This lack of available content motivated us to provide a detailed guide on agency-level issues. So if you’re an agency owner or site project manager, you’ll likely see the kind of high-level keyword issues we’ve run into.
NOTE: We use “KW” for “keyword” throughout this article.
What are Keywords?
Including keywords in your content can help it rank higher on search engines, like Google.
Keywords are one of the most important parts of search engine optimization. They help you rank for search terms that your audience is searching.
Your research should go beyond simply looking at what your competitors are doing. You should look at all the possible relevant search terms, perform some analysis on each one, and then pick the ones that make the most sense for your site.
As you read on, you will learn advanced keyword research strategies using different tools. A good place to start is understanding some basic terminologies, which we will cover now before moving on to different keyword research techniques.
Advanced Keyword Research Tools
Before we begin with the strategies and deep research, we have to begin with the tools of the trade.
Low-cost Tool: Ubersuggest
Love him or not, Niel Patel created a decent freemium SEO tool in UberSuggest. One of the best ways to use it is to use the Chrome plugin to see the keywords a particular page ranks for and targets. For free, it’s a fantastic way to see whether or not a topic (notice we didn’t say “keyword”) is worth going after.
Example: You want to target “best places to go shopping for shoes in Miami.”
It’s a super long-tail keyword, which is (potentially) great. But after searching that term, clicking on the first 3-5 results, and firing up the UberSuggest plugin you realize all of the results are only getting 100 visits/mo tops. There just aren’t enough keywords to make the topic worthwhile.
Mid-range Tool: SEMrush
SEMrush is a fantastic tool. It’s on the pricier end, but not as expensive as Ahrefs. That said, both of these tools go neck and neck.
This tool is great for a few reasons, but we’ll give you one, so we can quickly get into the advanced research strategies. SEMrush does two things we found helpful for deep research, and they’re related.
- Organizing keywords by the URL, to help avoid KW variations during content gap analyses:You’re doing a content gap and see a ton of KWs around “power usage.” You see things like: “How many kw does a refrigerator use,” “how much power does a fridge use,” and “power use for Whirlpool fridge”. With SEMrush, you see all of those fridge keywords and the specific URL that ranks for all of them. As far as we see, SEMrush is the only tool that quickly helps sort dozens of keywords that are attributed to a single post during research, not looking at that page. Ahrefs gives you the keywords and the site that ranks, but not the specific URL.
- Keyword categories:Intent is the name of the game (more on that later). SEMrush has a few categories that it automatically labels keywords generated during research. These categories include “informational” and “buyer” keywords (among others). This is vital to the type of content you write, what the searcher intends to find when they get on your page, and the monetization strategy.
High-end Tool: Ahrefs
Many consider Ahrefs the crown jewel of SEO. It’s powerful, and if you know how to use it, worth the $200-$1000/mo (or more).
If you’ve been in SEO for any amount of time you’ve heard of it, and likely either want it or have it already. It does a ton. The biggest powers are:
- So much keyword data.
- Comprehensive site health reports
- Many small features that really become “go-tos” for hardcore advanced kewy
8 Keyword Terms to Understand
Keyword research is one of the most important pieces of SEO.
In order to build an effective content marketing strategy that will drive organic search traffic and rank for keywords, keyword analysis and research is crucial.
A Keyword Strategy is based on what people are searching for on Google.
These are the keywords and phrases that users type into Google.
There are 3 main types of searches:
- Informational: These are KWs where the searcher wants to gain knowledge. Remember the “how many watts does a fridge use” example? They don’t want to buy a fridge, but they do want to know about the power usage.
- Transactional: Also known as “buyer intent” keywords these are things like “golf shoes” or “best [insert item here].” Anything term that implies the searcher is researching or actively in the market for something is likely a buyer intent keyword.
- Navigational: Here, the searcher knows something about the page/site they want to go to, but doesn’t put in the exact URL. For instance, we knew we wanted to link to Side Hustle’s content audit, so we searched “content audit side hustle” and it took us right to it.
- Geographical: You’ve searched for “directions to…city, restaurant, attraction” before, so this one is easily understood.
(It’s important to note the potential cross-over in intent. One example, of many, is transactional + geographical. You’ll see loads of keywords for “best [product] in New York” and other cities, countries, and states.)
Key point: If you know the intent of a searcher, you can tailor the content you create to better align with their specific needs. This, in turn, helps you attract more qualified users.
2. Long-Tail Keywords
Long-tail keywords are an excellent way to get more specific about the topic you’re searching for. By using longer, more specific search queries, you can zero in on exactly what you’re looking for.
If I’m looking to sell refrigerators, you can’t easily target “fridge” or “refrigerator” on your site. BUT there are hundreds (if not thousands) of makes and models, brands, and informational keywords to target that include a longer phrase.
Take a look at the “easy” transactional keywords for the broad term “refrigerator” we did in SEMrush:
Let’s say an agency has a client that’s a nationwide appliance rental store. Seems like content highlighting their selection of black fridges is some very low-hanging, long-tail fruit. And that’s only a small screenshot of more than 1000 easy keywords— for a single appliance.
And that’s a visual demonstration of long-tail power.
3. Branded Keywords
Branded searches are a good way to find ideas for specific companies or services. These queries often contain the name of the brand or service in them.
Brand KWs are helpful if users are searching for specific companies or services. For instance, if you have a SaaS/software with a big-named rival, trying to rank for branded keywords is a good idea. Team this up with long-tail for the best results (i.e. “[brand] reviews,” “[brand] alternatives,” or “[brand] vs [other brand]).
4. Non-Branded Keywords
Non-branded keywords are a great way to increase your reach for a specific topic. By not mentioning any brands or services, you allow yourself to be more visible to potential customers.
5. Natural Language Processing (NLP)
In short, Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a phrase describing a program, or algorithm’s ability to understand human communication (either spoken or written).
It’s a term primarily used in AI research, but also in search algorithms (namely Google’s). If an article is written specifically to include a large number of KWs (aka keyword stuffing), NLP programs sniff that out and penalize said page.
On the other hand, if a piece of content speaks clearly, in a way most people understand, the algo (allegedly) picks up on this.
NOTE: What the SERPs do with this intel is shrouded in mystery. We don’t exactly know how big of a ranking factor NLP is, but it’s fairly safe to say (although still not a sure thing) that if your content is clearly written for a bot—it’s likely to get tagged by an NLP check.
6. Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is part of NLP, in a sense. An LSI is a program meant to analyze content for groupings of words. (Imagine it’s like a multi-tentacled word bot attempting to figure out what your post is about by seeing how the words all work together.)
NOTE: As an example, Content at Scale’s AI flow uses NLP and LSI to construct content that’s easy to read for people while grouping topics and KWs together in a way that helps SERPs determine what the page is trying to communicate. Many portions of the post you’re reading used our AI Machine (as we affectionately call it).
7. Topical or Keyword Clusters
Here is where the advanced keyword research gets exciting, as well as cumbersome. While search engines evaluate individual pages, there is a clear correlation (at least in many people’s opinion) about the overall “topical authority” of a site. This authority comes through covering a topic well over the entire site. The search terms you find often require several individual posts, because the topics don’t directly relate, yet loosely correlate on the same broad topic.
These groupings of terms are called “keyword clusters.”
For example, many have attributed massive traffic gains to removing content that is too far from their niche or focus (through a content audit). Others found quick rankings by saturating their site with content surrounding a few very similar topics (with less authority and links than those targeting the same terms).
8. Low Competition Keywords
As mentioned, most of the tools we use for advanced keyword research have levels of difficulty. These are based on how hard a certain search term is to get on the first page of SERPS (the top 10 results). We use these tools to find low-competition terms, which are easier to rank with fewer links and effort.
There are two approaches here: a fine-toothed comb approach, or bulk publish and track.
The fine-toothed comb is where you’ll take each potential term and dive deeper into that keyword’s viability. For instance, you’d take a long-tail fridge keyword then do an “allintitle” search in Google to see how many other articles use that full phrase in the title of their article.
Take the two screenshots below. The KW “black refrigerator with ice maker” has 1100 results with exactly that phrase in the title. But the phrase “refrigerators with sabbath mode” only has 4 articles, on all the internet, with that phrase in the title.
And this leads us to discussing our research strategy.
Advanced Keyword Research (Our 3-Step Process)
Step One: Find and Filter
Finding a ton of keywords is the easiest part of the process. There are two ways we do it for clients (and our own sites) that differ based on the amount of the content currently on the site in question.
- New/young sites with little/no content: Choose primary topics that fit into the business model of the site and do “broad” and “phrase” match searches in either/or/both Ahrefs and SEMrush. This process likely yields 10s of thousands of potential keywords.
- Established sites with ranking content: Here we do a content gap analysis with at least three competitor sites, to see the types of keywords targeted by similar entities. This takes a bit more time, because the results vary. For instance, you need inputs (competitors) who are actively ranking for 1000s of KWs for this to work.
NOTE: There is a lot of nuance here. Sometimes established sites will have big topics/categories they’ve never covered, allowing us to use the broad search strategy. Essentially, we bang at a keyword with Ahrefs and SEMrush open until we have a list of multi-thousands of viable keywords.
And once we find that list of keywords, it’s time to filter the keywords and sort them into the articles our AI will write and the team with optimize. Remember. You don’t want to have keyword cannibalization, and if you plan on writing a bulk strategy—this is very easy to do. Before you know it you have 5+ articles targeting the wattage of a fridge.
There are a few ways we filter and sort:
- Filter by desired intent: Many of our own sites go after informational keywords for ad revenue. If you’re an affiliate site, transactional keywords will be more important. If you’re a business trying to take market share, brand KWs. Make sense?
- Further filter with certain terms that highlight low competition keywords: One of our favorite strategies is to search certain terms included in keywords. For informational KWs, things like “what,” “why,” “is,” and “good” work great. Buyer intent would be things like “versus” and “best.” Branded KW filter words are things like “alternatives.”
- Organize “main” keywords: If we’re still talking fridges, we’ll find all of the main keywords making decisions about the primary topics for articles. For instance, does “matte black fridge” need it’s own URL or does that go on another article.
Shoutout: Our incredible developer (Kamran) wrote a simple program that takes the .csv and filters the keywords to find/group those that are essentially the same, saving us literally hours every time we research.
Step Two: Write, and Publish
After the list is clean and sorted, we upload it into our Content Machine. The Machine analyzes the topic, crawling the internet to learn about it. It then composes necessary headlines, compiles the list of keywords and topics that improve the NLP and LSI of the article, and determines the appropriate length of the content.
Finally, the AI writes the article, title, and meta description. Our team of writers then goes in to ensure the writing is clear, and the topic is well covered (based on the findings of the machine).
Here are a couple of screenshots highlighting the things we do to optimize content.
And when we say “publish” we mean bulk. The time saved by the AI giving us 1000-2000 words of organized NLP content means our great writers are able to prepare and optimize a lot more content than a typical freelance or staff writer. 20, 50, or 100+ articles per month aren’t only possible—it’s what we do on a regular basis for clients and our own site portfolio.
Step Three: Track, Evaluate, Iterate
Earlier, when we talked about the fine-toothed comb and bulk approaches, we presented it as an either/or. But that’s not really the case. It’s more like we do one (bulk publish) then we do the other.
Here’s why via illustration:
You outsource an article on a topic you estimate bringing in 1000 visits/day, if it ranks for the target keywords. The article is $200 and 2000 words of fantastic work and it’s a great read. There is no certainty it will rank. Ever. Even with a full link building campaign, that article could be relegated to page 2 or 3 on Google for all time.
Consider stock trading. There’s day-trading or short-term trading. Then there are the long players and index average investors. One hopes to pick the right stock that’ll double their portfolio that quarter. The other knows if they invest in enough of the market, they’ll receive the same return as the whole market (7% per year on average).
Instead of investing in “best refrigerators” we publish dozens of articles surrounding the topic of fridges. And as we track their performance, we:
- Benefit from the winners while mitigating losses from the posts that don’t rank.
- Get more points of data to improve those posts that aren’t ranking (potentially getting them in the top, too).
- Save time, energy, and money.
How is this advanced keyword research?
Simple, the finish line isn’t when you hit “publish,” it’s when a site achieves the desired results (like topical authority). After you publish 50 articles on certain topics, you’ll notice things like an article ranking 24th for a keyword you don’t even cover in the article. Once you add content about that topic, the article rises for most of the target keywords.
There’s no way you can do that without regular tracking and iterating on your current content.
Keyword Research FAQs
What is Keyword Research?
Keywords are the words or phrases that users type into search engines to find what they are looking for. By researching the best and the most relevant words or phrases, you can better optimize your content for your audience.
Why is Keyword Research So Important in SEO?
The terms, questions, and phrases that people use to search on Google are called “keywords.” The keyword(s) you include in your content helps search engines like Google understand what search queries you want your content to show up in.
Keyword research helps you understand your audience better, allowing you to create content that appeals to them.
As you can see, advanced keyword research can uncover hidden gems that you may not have found using other methods. By taking the time to do this type of research, you can ensure that your website or blog is getting the traffic it deserves!