Keyword Research

In This Guide: Master the Fundamentals of Keyword Research and Uncover Powerful Strategies to Optimize Your SEO Efforts for Success

April 24, 2023

Keyword research is an essential yet potentially time consuming part of SEO. Thankfully, AI can do a lot of heavy lifting here because of the amount of data that needs to be processed. This is a fairly large step, so let's look at a few of the ways that AI can help out with this process.

But first things first eager beavers.

What is keyword research?

Keywords are the phrases that people enter into search engines (like Google) when looking for information on a topic.

Keyword research involves examining search engine query data, understanding the intent of searchers, and analyzing trends in the language used. AI can help automate the process of collecting data and providing insights into keyword opportunities.

Why is keyword research important?

It might sound obvious, but if you create content that no one is searching for, you're unlikely to receive any traffic from search engines. And considering around 93% of all web traffic comes via a search engine, it's important to make sure you're creating content that the people want.

A lot of companies make this mistake - which is why around 90% of pages on the internet don't get any traffic from Google.

 How to Get Organic Traffic From Google

When done right, keyword research helps you:

  • Understand your industry and target audience better.
  • Deliver content that your target audience craves.
  • Increase relevant organic traffic to your website.
  • Provides insight into your competitors strategies.

All great things when looking to scale your business.

In this guide, we’ll cover three essential steps of keyword research:

  • Finding keywords: how to find relevant keywords with keyword research tools
  • Analyzing keywords: how to know which keywords to prioritize
  • Targeting keywords: how to identify primary keywords and the intent behind them

Finding keywords

Any keyword research starts with intimate knowledge about your ideal customer. We cover this in more detail in the Basics of AI SEO section of this guide, but in general ask yourself questions like:

  • What are their problems?
  • What solutions can you provide?
  • What might they type into that little search bar to find answers to those problems?

Once you have a good understanding of who you are targeting, using keyword research tools are essential to help you find new phrases and terms that your customers use when searching for products/services like yours.

Starting with seed words...

Seed keywords

A "seed" keyword is a broad keyword related to your industry that can be used to generate more keyword ideas.

Keyword research starts with identifying what these "seed" keywords are.

They define your area of expertise, and help you find out who you are competing against. Generating seed keywords is pretty easy - just think what terms would people type into a search engine in order to find your products or services.

Let's say you were a store selling pasta and pasta making supplies. Let's call it "Peter's Pasta Palace" - because I can't resist alliteration.

In this example, Peter's seed keywords might look something like this:

  • pasta
  • spaghetti
  • pasta sauce
  • home pasta maker
  • pasta flour

Google Keyword Research

Keyword research tools will ask for a seed keyword to kick off the keyword research phase - generating a huge list of keyword ideas to create content around.

Don't spend too much time worrying about your seed keywords. They are just the starting point for what comes next. It won't take long to identify them; once you have a few general concepts related to your website's subject, move forward to the next phase.

Competitor keywords

Just because the competition is doing something, doesn't mean you need to. 

Keywords are no different. 

What is important for them isn't necessarily important for you. Having said this, understanding the keywords that your competitors are aiming to rank for is an excellent way to evaluate and build your list of keywords.

If your competitor is ranking for keywords that are also on your list, then it makes sense that you want to work on beating them for those terms. But don't overlook the ones that your competition doesn't seem to focus on - these could be that low hanging fruit for you to capture your audience.

The goal is to strike the right balance of wanting to rank for extremely competitive keywords, and identifying long-tail keywords that are more specific, but have higher intent and lower competition.

Unsure who you are competing against? 

No worries - finding this out can be as simple as a Google search for your seed keywords, and analyzing the first page.

If the top-ranking websites for your seed keywords don't resemble your site (in our example there were mainly department stores ranking for "pasta maker" for example), being more specific in your search normally helps to find the competition.

In our example, Peter is selling pasta-making equipment on his website. Because of this he will likely find more relevant competitors in the search results for “pasta maker” rather than “pasta.” That’s because there are mostly e-commerce stores ranking on the first example and a lot of recipes ranking for "pasta".

Once you find a competitor, there are a bunch of tools available to help analyze what is working well for them.

Moz does a great free SEO Competitive Analysis Tool to help you find other competitors, keyword gaps, and content opportunities. Our report looked like this:

Moz Competitor Analysis

Other keyword research tools like Ahrefs Webmaster Tools allow you to run a bunch of free reports that show you the top keywords for the domain you enter. This is a quick way to get a sense of the types of terms your competitors are ranking for, and any keyword gaps.

Ahrefs webmaster tool

Tip: if you are creating content inside Mark and have entered your keywords, under the Competitors tab you can see what the competition is doing to rank on the first page of Google. By analyzing what got them there, it becomes a lot easier to start outranking them.

MarkCopy competitor analysis tool

Keyword Gap

Some keyword research tools like take competitor analysis a step further with Keyword Gap Analysis. This functionality allows you to compare your keywords with the keywords of your competitors.

By doing this, you can identify words and phrases that you do not yet hold a position for in search engine results.

SEMrush Keyword Gap is a free tool that you can use to do exactly this.

Semrush keyword gap tool

After hitting Compare, scroll down to the keyword list and check out:

  • Missing: keywords your competitors are ranking for, but you don’t.
  • Weak: keywords that your competitors rank higher than you on.

Chances are, you will discover some excellent keywords to target here.

Analyzing keywords

Ok, so by this point thanks to keyword research tools, we should have a seemingly never-ending supply of seed keywords, keywords that our competitors are ranking on, and keywords gaps that we might want to target.


But wait - how do we know which keywords to prioritize? After all, we're talking about potentially thousands of keywords here?

Once upon a time this required you to be master of Excel spreadsheets, but now we can use SEO tools to quickly analyze keywords, and prioritize them based on:

  • Search Volume: how popular the keyword is.
  • Keyword difficulty: how hard it is to rank for that keyword.
  • Cost Per Click (CPC): what people are willing to pay to rank on that keyword

Search Volume

Search Volume tells us how often a keyword is searched for per month (on average). The more popular the keyword, the greater the chance you will increase your organic traffic if you rank well for that keyword.

There are a few important things to look at when analyzing search volume:

  • Search Volume will show the quantity of searches, not the amount of people searching – this might sound obvious at first, but in some instances you might search for a keyword multiple times a month (e.g., “Manchester United score”, or "New York train timetable").
  • Search Volume is calculated annually, but displayed as a monthly average – total annual search volume / 12 = monthly search volume. So it’s important to look at the trend of a keyword as well to account for seasonality.
  • Search Volume is normally country-specific unless you have specified global search volume – this is key for identifying opportunities in your area which may be more difficult in other areas.

Most keyword research tools have a search volume filter that allows you to focus on keyword ideas with a certain level of popularity.

This can be used for two main purposes.

  • Removing super high-volume keywords with high competition – if your website is fairly new, it's probably not a good idea to get sucked into the popularity contest. Just because a keyword has a crazy amount of volume, doesn’t mean it is the right keyword for you to target. These keywords will have too much competition on them at this point.
  • Identifying lower-volume keywords with lower competition – finding low-volume keywords with less competition is a great strategy to start generating a little bit of traffic. On the other hand, if you target too narrow of a search term, you might not get any visitors.

For a lot of SEO strategies, this is where people start looking for highly specific search terms, with lower competition, but enough traffic for it to be valuable to target.

We call words in this Goldilocks zone - long-tail keywords.

Long Tail Keywords

I get it. 

It's tempting to go after keywords with 100k, or even 5k searches a month - but it's important to realize that they only make up a small part of all the searches on the web. And targeting these keywords may be risky as they may indicate ambiguous intent, meaning the visitors you draw to your site may not necessarily be looking for what your page provides.

Consider one of Peter's seed keywords earlier - pasta.

Keyword Research Example Pasta

Are you interested in nutritional information? The history of pasta? Pasta recipes? The best Italian restaurants near you? Google has over 2.5 billion hits of varied information to throw at you to cover all possibilities.

This is a good indicator that the term we are searching for is too broad.

Long-tail keywords on the other hand can be more helpful than the "popular" words, as they’re often more specific and more likely to have higher buying intent behind them.

Even better, they also account for 70% of all website traffic.

The Search Demand Curve

So look out for the gems hiding in the long-tail. These are the ones that generally have higher conversion, because searchers are more specific in their searches. 

For example, someone searching for "pasta" could be looking for anything in the pasta-sphere.

Compare that to someone searching for the "best pasta maker with ravioli attachment" - this person is ready to ditch the rolling pin immediately.

Search Volume Trends

As mentioned earlier, search volume is calculated annually, and displayed as a monthly average. This means that trends (eg: the latest video game release or blockbuster movie) and seasonality (eg: halloween costumes, mulled wine recipes), are not taken into account.

If you haven't signed up already, Google Trends is an excellent free tool that helps you track how a topic is trending. It makes comparisons between topics a whole lot easier. Each data point is divided by the total searches of the geography and time range it covers, to compare how popular they are, relative to each other.

Keyword Difficulty

Keyword research tools use a metric called keyword difficulty (KD) to let you know how hard it will be to rank in the top 10 organic search results for a keyword. It should come as no surprise that keywords with the highest search volumes usually have the highest difficulty scores.

Most express this difficulty on a scale from 0 to 100. The higher the number, the harder it is to rank for the keyword.

What is interesting from here though is that different keyword research tools have different ways of evaluating difficulty. There are a bunch of different factors to take into consideration before boiling down your ranking to a number:

  • Search intent
  • Content quality
  • Competitors
  • Number of quality backlinks
  • Domain Rating

Some think backlinks are more important, some domain rating; everyone has a different way of looking at it. What is reasonably consistent though is that the above factors are all important to consider.

This is why targeting long-tail keywords is such an important strategy.

Having said this, it is important not to disregard high KD keywords, as SEO is a long term strategy. The sooner you start to throw those high KD words in the mix, the sooner you'll see results.

Cost per click (CPC)

This is more of a metric for those in search engine advertising (SEA) than SEO, but it's still a good indicator of the keywords value.

Google Ads Informational CPC

Google ads CPC

Compare the two screenshots above, for seemingly similar queries:

  • pasta maker
  • best home pasta maker

Because "pasta maker" likely has more informational search intent (more on search intent in Targeting keywords), the CPC is a lot lower than "best home pasta maker".

Even though the average monthly searches for the latter are much much less than the former, advertisers notice that this long-tail keyword has commercial intent, and is much more likely to result in a sale.

It's important to note that CPC is a lot more unpredictable than search volume. Although the search volume remains reasonably consistent, CPC is determined by what companies are willing to pay for a particular ad slot - so by nature it’s a roller coaster.

SEO tools aren’t particularly accurate when it comes to CPC information. You're better off going to Google Ads to retrieve real time data. 

The best part - it's free.

Targeting keywords

Keyword targeting involves identifying and using specific keywords and phrases throughout your content. 

These targeted keywords should align with the intent of your target audience as well as the topics and themes of your website.

Find your Primary Keyword

A single subject can include (and should in a lot of cases) numerous keywords. With this strategy you can rank for numerous keywords with one piece of content that effectively covers the topic.

  • Primary Keywords - are the best representation of your topic. It will have the highest search volume, and should be used in the key elements of the page (such as the URL, title tag, heading, meta description, image tags, etc.).
  • Secondary Keywords - are keywords that you would also like to target, but are not necessarily your main focus. There will often be a few secondary keywords incorporated in longer pieces of content, such as "how to" guides, or ebooks. These secondary keywords will have lower competition than the primary.

A quick look at a keyword research tool, or Google Trends will help guide you as to which are the primary keywords (with higher search volume), and which are the secondary.

Primary vs Secondary SEO Keywords

In the above example, "how to make pasta" would be the primary keyword, whilst "easy homemade pasta" and "pasta maker" would be secondary keywords.

"Easy homemade pasta" feels like it would effortlessly fall into any piece of content with "how to make pasta" as the primary keyword, but "pasta maker" might feel like a bit of a stretch - depending on the type of content you're making.

Identifying the primary keyword is essential in SEO as it helps improve your search engine ranking, target the right audience, provide focus for your content, as well as guide your content strategy.

Understanding search intent

Before we can compete for a keyword, it's important to know why a person was searching for a particular topic.

Understanding the search intent is crucial for creating relevant and engaging content that meets audience expectations.

Intent traditionally falls into four categories:

  • Informational: searches for general information on a topic. Example: "How to make pasta at home", "How much pasta is too much pasta?"
  • Navigational: searches for a specific page. Example: "Italian restaurant near me", "De Cecco website"
  • Commercial: searches doing research before buying something. Example: "Best pasta machine for home use", "Pasta maker reviews"
  • Transactional: searches with buying intent. Example: "Buy pasta online," "Order pasta maker from Amazon"

Understanding the four categories intent falls into (alongside other keyword metrics such as search volume, CPC, and difficulty), will allow you to create and deliver the right content, at the right time, to the right audience.

How do we identify intent?

Thankfully, the SERP leaves intent clues.

And there's no better intent detective than Inspector Google. To understand the intent, you simply need to look at the SERP provided by Google.

For example:

  • If you see Advertisements, the intent is Transactional.
  • If you see words like: buy, cheap, for sale - the intent behind the search is most likely to purchase.

Google Shopping ads

  • If you see Reviews or Best Of lists, the intent is Commercial. Commercial information will often be paired with or be seen next to Transactional information.
  • If you see words like: best, compare, reviews - the intent behind the search is most likely to perform research before buying.

Google ads hopping buying intent

  • If you see the People Also Ask or Knowledge Panel, then the intent is Informational.
  • If you see words like: how, what, why, tutorial, guide, or a single word - the intent behind the search is more generic.

Google SERP Informational intent with People Also Ask

  • If you see Site links (links from the same domain that are clustered together under a web result) on the top results, the intent is Navigational.
  • If you see a specific brand name - the intent is likely to find that specific brand website.

Google SERP Branding Keyword

AI-powered keyword research tools can help analyze search intent, much faster than manual methods. More on keyword research tools later in this section.

Keyword research tools

There are so many keyword research tools that use AI to analyze large amounts of data and provide insights on search terms, search volume, and competition.

We're going to try and cover a few of the most popular ones available.

Google tools

Ah Google - of course it needs its own section. Best part - they're all free.

  • Google Keyword Planner: This tool allows you to research keywords and see their search volumes, competition levels, and other data that can help with keyword targeting and content creation. Most SEO tools in the market get their data from here.
  • Google Analytics: This tool provides data and insights about website traffic, user behavior, and conversions. It can help track the effectiveness of SEO strategies and identify opportunities for optimization.
  • Google Search Console: This tool allows website owners to monitor and maintain their site's presence in Google search results. It provides information about search traffic, crawl errors, and indexing issues, and can help identify technical SEO issues that need to be addressed.
  • Google Trends: This tool helps identify popular search topics and trends, and can help with keyword research and content planning.
  • Google AdWords: While not specifically an SEO tool, AdWords can help with keyword research, and understanding user behavior - which can inform SEO strategies.

Popular tools

There is an endless sea of free SEO tools, most of which have very similar functionality. The list below is by no stretch of the imagination an exhaustive list, but these tools are some of the more popular in the market.

They all offer some tools that are free, some that are free with limits, and paid tools.

  • SEMrush: A popular SEO tool that offers a wide range of features, including keyword research, competitor analysis, site audit, and rank tracking. SEMrush also provides a content analysis tool and a backlink analyzer to help improve website visibility and ranking. Mark integrates with SEMrush to bring their SEO functionality inside our platform - helping with keyword research and content creation at the same time.
  • Ahrefs: A comprehensive SEO tool that provides insights into backlinks, organic search traffic, keyword rankings, and competitor analysis. Ahrefs also offers a keyword explorer tool, site audit capabilities, and content analysis features.
  • Moz: An SEO tool that offers features such as keyword research, site audit, rank tracking, and link building. Moz also provides a proprietary metric called Domain Authority, which measures the likelihood of a website ranking in search engine results pages.
  • AnswerThePublic: A keyword research tool that generates questions and phrases related to a particular keyword or topic. AnswerThePublic can help with content planning and optimization by identifying popular questions and topics related to a keyword.

Each of these tools can provide valuable insights and capabilities to help with different aspects of keyword research.

Choosing the right tool depends on your specific needs and goals, but using one or more of these tools in conjunction with best practices and a comprehensive SEO strategy can help dramatically improve your website's visibility and ranking.

Key Takeaways

  • Keyword research is a vital part of SEO - without it is near impossible to rank well in search engine results pages. Thankfully there are a bunch of free tools out there to help you with this.
  • To start your keyword research, create your seed keywords list - everything grows from there
  • Competitors are a great place to look for keywords to target, and content gaps for you to exploit.
  • Analyzing search volume to identify long-tail keywords (keywords with lower competition but higher intent) is a great strategy to gain a small amount of traffic quickly
  • Targeting primary and secondary keywords simultaneously can help you rank on multiple keywords at a time.
  • Understanding search intent is vital for creating content that meets audience expectations.