Keyword Research for SEO – The Complete Guide to Keywords

Search engines have evolved so much since Google first appeared on the scene.

But, after countless core updates and several new algorithms, Google’s mission remains the same – to find the best answers to search queries.

Those search queries are known in search engine optimization (SEO) as keywords.

Keywords are the big constant in SEO. If you don’t target the right keywords and optimize for them the right way, your content will not be found by the right people.

With Google processing 8.5 billion searches a day, 15 percent of which are new, you have your work cut out in deciding which ones to target for your business…

Unless you have a keyword research process and use the right tools.

This is your ultimate guide to keywords. After reading, you will know:

  • What keywords are.
  • Why it’s crucial to conduct keyword research.
  • What a keyword plan is and why you need one.
  • How you can quickly rank for a keyword.

Let’s dive right in.

Table of Contents

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What Are Keywords?

Keywords are the words and phrases that you use to search for information online in a search engine like Google, Yahoo, Firefox, or Bing.

Keywords can be single words:

keyword research

Or longer phrases:

keyword research

Search engines use keywords to determine which web pages have content that closely matches the information the searcher is looking for. The page the search engine deems to be the most relevant – or matches the searcher’s intent – appears first on the search engine results page (SERP):

keyword research

The SERP typically lists the 10 best results for a search. It can also include other features like:

  1. Featured snippet, which is a highlighted, short but descriptive answer to the search query that is shown at the top of the SERP:
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  1. People Also Ask carousel, which is a box that shows questions related to the primary search that searchers also commonly ask on the subject:
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  1. Related searches, which are keywords searches that are closely related to your primary search: 
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Keywords often include industry-specific terminology. For instance, someone seeking a new vehicle might type “top-notch luxury automobiles” into an online search engine.

Keywords are used to optimize web content around topics your target audience (customers/readers) are actively searching Google for. Likewise, you also use keywords to tell Google what your web content is about so the search engine can categorize and rank it for the right searches. 

The process of finding keywords to target with your content and PPC campaigns is known as keyword research.

Why is It Important to Conduct Keyword Research?

When strategically targeted, keywords help attract the right traffic to your website. This raises the likelihood that potential clients will find your content.

To find keywords relevant to your business, think about what questions customers may have regarding your offering.

Keyword research tells you which terms you should target when creating content. Including keywords in your content optimizes it for the right searches and ensures it drives relevant organic traffic to your site.

Overall, understanding how keywords work and how best to leverage them within both organic SEO efforts as well as paid campaigns is key if you want your website or business to succeed online. 

Keywords are the main ingredient in any SEO campaign. But researching a list of keywords and targeting them without a plan will not bring qualified traffic to your site. For that, you need a keyword plan.

What is a Keyword Plan?

A keyword plan lays out the keywords you’ll target and how you use them in your content. It is the foundation of any successful SEO campaign as it determines which search queries:

  • Are most relevant to your business.
  • Are easiest to rank high for. 

When creating a keyword plan, start by researching and listing relevant topics and phrases related to your business or industry. Use keyword research tools such as Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, or Semrush to help identify these. 

Once you’ve identified potential keywords, gather them in a spreadsheet, prioritizing them based on their relevance and competitiveness within the market. These three things are critical for that:

1. Searcher Intent

Also called user intent or audience intent, searcher intent is the reason (intent) behind a person conducting a search in a search engine. Search intent may be: 

  • Commercial – when a person is researching before buying something. An example is “best keyword research tool” 
  • Navigational – when a searcher is looking for a specific page, like “Ahrefs login.”
  • Informational – when a person wants to learn about something. For example, they will search Google for “what is a keyword plan?
  • Transactional – when a person wants to buy something. Typical searches associated with buying include “buy”, “coupon”, “sign up”, “discount”, and “shipping.”

Because it’s what Google uses to determine the type of content the searcher is looking for, search intent is the number one factor you must pay attention to when analyzing keywords and creating a keyword plan. 

2. Keyword Search Volume

Keyword search volume is the average number of times a keyword is searched in Google. Calculated as a monthly average, it tells you the level of interest there is in a keyword. 

That said, search volume does equate to the amount of traffic you will drive to your website if you rank number one for the keyword as many other factors determine which result gets the click.

Keywords with the highest search volume are highly desired for the high traffic potential. But they are usually very competitive and hard to rank for as everyone – including the large authority sites – targets them. 

Low search volume keywords will not bring as much traffic to your website but they are usually more specific and, thus, bring more qualified traffic to your website.

3. Keyword Difficulty

Keyword difficulty is the measure of how difficult it likely is to rank in search engines for a keyword. It is determined by analyzing the top-ranking pages for that keyword, specifically looking at the number and quality of backlinks they have and the depth and quality of the content on the page.

keyword research

Unless your website boasts a lot of high-quality backlinks and has authority on the topic, you want to target keywords with a low difficulty score. Otherwise, your pages will struggle to rank and, as a result, will not drive any traffic to your website.

So a good keyword plan will have a table that lists all the keywords and beside them columns for keyword search volume, keyword difficulty, search intent, and content type. 

How you categorize and prioritize your keywords depends on your SEO strategy and goals. Many businesses, however, map keywords according to their buyer’s journey, which is the process or stages a person goes through on their way to the purchase. 

Priority in terms of content creation typically by keyword difficulty, with those deemed easiest to rank for targeted first. Doing that helps to establish some traction on the SERPs, which helps to build the authority necessary to rank for higher-value, harder to rank for keywords.

What is the Fastest Way to Rank for a Keyword?

A number one ranking for a target keyword is the ultimate goal of SEO. But as anyone who has done SEO professionally will tell you, achieving a high ranking for a high-value keyword is tough. Maintaining that ranking is just as hard.

Some keywords are easy to rank for because they are useless for SEO purposes. In contrast, you want to rank for keywords that will bring traffic to your site. That traffic needs to be sizable and topically relevant.

How much traffic is sizable depends on the product or service you’re selling, the type of customer you’re targeting, and your SEO strategy. For most people, average monthly traffic in the low hundreds is sizable enough.

With that in mind, the easiest keywords to rank for will be those with medium to high search volume and low keyword difficulty. While such keywords do exist, finding them is hard because everyone is looking for them. 

High keyword difficulty normally means high SERP competition. Using a keyword research tool, you can easily determine the keyword difficulty. 

Besides keyword difficulty, some SEO tools — like Moz — have browser extensions that show other metrics you can use to determine how easy it will be to rank for a keyword. My favorite metric is domain authority (also called domain rating):

keyword research

If you run a new gardening site that doesn’t have much content published, you’ll have a hard time ranking for “what is hot composting?“, whose SERP is shown above. The ranking page from The Spruce has a DA of 76, which is very high. That page likely has many backlinks pointing to it already. 

You are best served targeting a related keyword that is not searched for as much but whose search intent is clear. Finding those keywords is easy. Just scroll down to the bottom of the SERP. There you will find “Related searches“:

related searches for hot composting in winter

I think ‘hot composting in winter’ is a challenge many gardeners face. A blog post on that will be very helpful for gardeners. So I will analyze that keyword to determine how hard the keyword will be to rank for:

keyword research

Sure enough, while the search volume is lower, the ranking pages don’t have much authority. The top-ranking page has a DA of 30, which means it does not have that many if any backlinks pointing to it. You could probably beat this page if you create an in-depth, high-quality blog targeting the keyword.

As you will see, long-tail keywords are the easiest to rank for. That’s because they have a low search volume and less competition. The bigger sites with high DA tend to go after high-volume keywords with higher traffic potential. So the more long-tail a keyword is, the easier it will be to rank for. 

Target Long-Tail Keywords

In contrast to general or “seed” keywords, long-tail keywords are more specific phrases that contain three or more words. They usually have lower search volume but higher conversion rates than shorter, generic terms because they are more targeted. 

Example: Instead of targeting “shoes” you might target “women’s running shoes size 8.“

Long-tail keywords are not targeted as frequently, which you can see from the sites ranking for them in Google. A good sign that tells you a keyword will be easy to rank for is when a forum like Quora or Reddit ranks in the top three:

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As you can see, the keyword “what is the most important thing you have learned in life” is extremely long-tail. 

Besides focusing on less competitive topics within the same niche, you can also find ways to differentiate yourself from other sites through better quality content such as original research or case studies related to your industry/topic area.

Follow On-Page SEO Best Practices

To set your blog post up for success on search engines, it’s important to add your target keyword to the most important page elements. These are the:

  • URL.
  • SEO title and meta description.
  • H1 headings and sub-headers (H2s, H3s, H4s, etc.)
  • Body text.
  • Image alt text.
  • Conclusion.

Note that you want to use the target keyword sensibly. Over-using keywords amounts to keyword stuffing, which can earn you a Google penalty. One way of getting around the problem is to use related keywords in instances where you would have used your target keyword.

Build Links to Your Content

Backlinks have long been proven as a top ranking factor for web content. Relevant links from high-authority websites pointing to your pages are a trust signal Google uses to determine the relevance and quality of a page. So building links is an effective tactic to quickly rank for a keyword.

Link building involves getting external websites (with high domain authority) to link back to yours. This can happen either directly, such as through guest blogging, or indirectly via social media shares, organic mentions, or simply because your piece is high-quality and worth linking to. This helps build credibility with Google’s algorithm while driving extra traffic to your website.

What is the Best Keyword Strategy for SEO Success?

Keyword research is the foundation of any successful SEO strategy. Knowing what keywords to target and how to optimize for them can make or break your website’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). 

With so many elements in play, it can be challenging to decide on the optimal keyword approach for achieving SEO success. You’ll boost your chances of ranking high for your target keywords and driving the right traffic to your website if you follow the tips below:

1. Consider Search Intent

Google wants to match searchers with the most relevant web pages. So you not will rank for a keyword unless you align your piece of content with search intent. 

2. Target Low-Competition Keywords

Once you have established search intent and determined the type of content you should create to successfully rank for the keyword, analyze the level of competition for the keyword.

Start by targeting low-competition, long-tail keywords with lower search volumes. These are usually easier to rank for than highly competitive short-tail phrases with higher average search volumes. 

Once you rank for those long-tail keywords, move on to more competitive ones. The authority you will have built up will help you rank higher for the most sought-after keyphrases in your niche. But only target a high search volume keyword if it makes sense from a business perspective.

Key Takeaway: To ensure success in SEO, it’s vital to conduct keyword research and create an optimization plan based on search intent and competition level. Target low-competition, long-tail keywords first before gradually moving up the ladder to more competitive phrases – this will give you a good “foot in the door” for higher-value keywords.

FAQs: Keywords in SEO

How do you do keyword research for an article?

To do keyword research for an article, start by determining the intended audience and topic of discussion. With that determined, use a keyword tool to find relevant, high search volume keywords that are related to your topic but have low competition. 

From this list, decide on your target keyword and secondary ones that you can incorporate into your article in a natural way.

What is the purpose of keyword research?

Conducting keyword research helps you find the search terms people use when looking for information related to your niche or business. By using those keywords or addressing them in your content, you can drive relevant traffic to your website.

What makes a good keyword for research?

A good keyword for research and targeting in your content is a keyword that has a high search volume and reasonably low competition. Such a keyword must also have a high conversion value, which means it must have a high potential to convert into a customer, subscriber, or any conversion goal that makes sense to target for your business or site.


Keyword research is a vital component of any successful SEO strategy. But identifying the most relevant keywords to draw visitors to your site and boost conversions takes an intentional keyword research process. 

With careful keyword and SERP analysis, you can create an effective plan that will drive targeted traffic and boost your search engine rankings for high-value keywords. By understanding your users’ buyers’ journey, you can also determine which keywords to target with what type of content, which raises your chances of successful conversions.

Looking for Content?

Creating lots of great content — and scaling your content marketing — has never been easier.

With Content at Scale, you can add 1, 20, 50, or even 100 keywords that you want to rank for. Then, within minutes, CAS will write high-quality long-form blog posts for each keyword — from start to finish!

creating content in content at scale

That means everything: title, meta description, introduction, all the way to the conclusion, with minor human intervention. Just like THIS post! That means you can get content published daily to your blog for as low as $0.01/word.

Ready to try it out? Check out how simple it is to scale your content marketing.

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About the author

Julia McCoy

Julia McCoy is an 8x author and a leading strategist around creating exceptional content and presence that lasts online. As the VP of Marketing at Content at Scale, she helps marketers achieve insane ROI (3-10x their time back at 1/3rd the cost) in a new era of AI as a baseline for content production. She's been named in the top 30 of all content marketers worldwide, is the founder of Content Hacker, and recently exited her 100-person writing agency with a desire to help marketers, teams, and entrepreneurs find the keys of online success and revenue growth without breaking.

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