The Basics of Keyword Research

Getting started in SEO with keyword research

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a big topic. There’s lots to learn if you want to become an expert – algorithms, metadata, ranking factors, E.E.A.T. – the list goes on.

You don’t need to know everything about SEO right this minute. But, if you own a website and you’re thinking about SEO, there’s one key thing you need to master: keyword research.

Keyword research is how we connect the content on our websites with the search terms that customers are looking for. That’s important, because more than half of web traffic comes from Google and other web services.

When you know what people are looking for, you can create content to match, and keyword research is how we bridge that gap.

We’ve put together the following guide to help you understand keyword research. We’ll cover the basics and give you everything you need to get started!

Written By: Jessica Gordon 
Published: December 18, 2023

minute Read

Getting started in SEO with keyword research

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a big topic. There’s lots to learn if you want to become an expert – algorithms, metadata, ranking factors, E.E.A.T. – the list goes on.

You don’t need to know everything about SEO right this minute. But, if you own a website and you’re thinking about SEO, there’s one key thing you need to master: keyword research.

Keyword research is how we connect the content on our websites with the search terms that customers are looking for. That’s important, because more than half of web traffic comes from Google and other web services.

When you know what people are looking for, you can create content to match, and keyword research is how we bridge that gap.

We’ve put together the following guide to help you understand keyword research. We’ll cover the basics and give you everything you need to get started!

Key takeaways:

  • Keyword research helps you understand what people are searching for. You can use this information to tailor your website content and marketing campaigns.
  • There are hundreds of billions of web pages in the Google Search Index. Everyone is trying to get noticed, and the right keywords can put your website ahead of the competition. 
  • Keywords should be relevant to your business and relevant to your customers’ search intent.
  • Keyword difficulty is a measure of competition, and it can tell you how likely you are to rank for certain keywords and phrases.
  • You should have a mix of both short-tail and long-tail keywords. This strategy will ensure you get the best results.
  • Keywords play a role in your link building strategy.
  • It’s more important to create grammatically correct content, rather than trying to shoehorn an exact key phrase into your website.

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is the process of determining how potential customers search for your products and/or services on search engines, such as Google.

Keywords play a critical role in how search engines work. Whenever you want to find something, you load up Google and type in a few key words or phrases. Google then uses these keywords to search its database and provide links to websites that contain the information you’re looking for.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re looking for a local plumber – the key phrase may be “plumber in Brisbane.” You will then be shown links to relevant websites on the search engine results page (SERP).

The aim of keyword research is to:

  • Understand what your target audience is looking for
  • Understand how your target audience uses search engines
  • Incorporate key phrases into your website content and marketing
  • Boost your rankings in the organic search results
  • Attract more traffic to your website
  • Increase conversions on your website

Building a solid research process is the best way to grow your business in the long-term. Performing keyword research gives you a better understanding of your customers and informs your SEO strategy (as well as your broader marketing efforts).

Why keyword research matters

Google’s database contains billions of web pages. There’s so much information to choose from, so Google needs a way to decide which results are relevant to the user.

No one knows exactly how Google operates. Its algorithm is top secret. But we have figured out a few things about the algorithm, and keyword relevancy has remained a consistent factor in how web pages are ranked.

So that’s what it comes down to. Google takes the key words and phrases from the user’s search query and compares them to the words and phrases used by web pages that are stored in its database. If a web page contains keywords that are a good match to the search query, that web page will be displayed in the search results.

But Google is always changing. Customers are always changing. The way we use the internet is always changing.

That means you can’t just “take a guess” and hope you’ve managed to write content that uses the correct keywords. Instead of hoping and praying, we perform keyword research. 

Keyword research dramatically improves your chances of appearing on the coveted first page of Google. It also helps you:

  • Add value for your customers with targeted, informative content
  • Identify gaps in the market and launch new products or services
  • Gain a better understanding of the industry and current trends
  • Gain insights to help you create targeted marketing campaigns
  • Become an authority in your field and improve your brand’s reputation

With the right key phrases, your web pages can continue to gain authority and climb above your competitors!

How do you find the right keywords?

There are over 200 million active websites worldwide. Depending on your industry, you may have tens, hundreds or thousands of competitors. Many of those competitors will be performing their own keyword research.

This makes Google’s organic search results one of the most competitive spaces on Earth, so you need to approach it with a plan in mind.

Plucking keywords out of thin air won’t get you the results you’re looking for. There’s a range of factors that make a keyword or phrase a winner. Here’s what to look for:

1. Relevance

The number one consideration is relevance. The keywords you choose need to be relevant to your target audience, your products or services, and the customer’s search intent.

Google has gotten very good at identifying when the content of your website lines up with your core keywords. Keywords that align with the content on the page are useful. Keywords that are irrelevant to your customers or to your content are not useful.

When performing keyword research, the first thing you should do is get rid of any keywords and phrases that are irrelevant.

For example, a women’s clothing brand may discover that “men’s shirts” is a popular keyword for other clothing brands. But you only sell womens’ clothing, so the keyword is irrelevant to your website. You would need to remove this phrase from your list of potential keywords.

What is keyword stuffing?

Keyword stuffing often goes hand in hand with irrelevant, poorly-researched SEO strategies. There’s such a thing as too many keywords, and it’s important to get the balance right. 

The best advice we can give you is to read your content out loud. If it sounds like you’re repeating the same phrase too many times, you probably are!

The ideal number of keywords depends on the type and length of your content. If it’s a short product description, don’t use the same keyword more than twice. Alternatively, if it’s a 1,000-word guide, you can include the keyword up to 4 times.

We prefer to take a “less is more” approach to keywords. Keywords should be featured in crucial spots, like the page’s title, meta description and header tags, but they shouldn’t be stuffed into the body of the text where they don’t belong.

2. Competition

Your competitors can help with your keyword research!

Look for competitor web pages that already rank well in the SERPs. Visit those pages and see if you can figure out which keywords and phrases they’re targeting. If a competitor’s website shows up on the first page of Google, you can take some inspiration from their keyword strategy!

This can be done manually by entering your keywords into Google and seeing which competitors show up. But there are also dedicated SEO tools that can provide insight into your competitors, like Semrush and Ahrefs.

If you aren’t an SEO expert then you probably don’t need to invest in a professional tool to begin with. It’s perfectly okay to start with something like Google’s Keyword Planner.

Keyword Planner gives you suggestions and insights into relevant keywords. Importantly, it can also provide relevant keywords using a URL. That means you can use Keyword Planner to figure out which keywords your competitors may be targeting.

Go to Keyword Planner and enter products, services or competing URLs that are relevant to your business, and the tool will give you:

  • A list of keywords in order of relevance
  • Average monthly searches
  • 3-month change
  • Year-over-year (YoY) change
  • Competition – low, medium or high
  • Advertising costs and stats

Here’s a quick look at how Keyword Planner displays information:

So, you can input a competitor’s page and see which keywords come up. If there are any keywords that fit, you can use them in your own content!

3. Search intent

Search intent relates to the goal of the person that’s performing the search. We want to know why they’re searching.

There are four types of search intent:

  • Informational – users are searching for general information (e.g. “When was the bicycle invented?”)
  • Navigational – users are looking for a specific web page (e.g. searching for “Facebook” on a Google)
  • Transactional – users are ready to shop and make an instant purchase (e.g. “Buy men’s shirts”)
  • Commercial – users want to compare products or services for a future purchase (e.g. “Reviews of men’s shirts”)

Small changes to keywords can represent major changes to the user’s search intent. For example, if a person searches for “buy Apple watch,” they will have a different intent from someone who types in “Apple watch review.”

You already know the purpose of your website and the types of outcomes you want. You can pair your business plan with Google Analytics reporting to learn more about your visitors and their browsing behaviours.

Figure out why users are visiting your website, and make sure your keywords are relevant to their search intent.

4. Long-tail keywords

Keywords come in all shapes and sizes. They can be everything from a single word through to a full sentence or question.

Short and sweet keywords are worth keeping. The only drawback is that short keywords are often less specific. That makes them highly competitive and difficult to rank for.

When you’re starting out with SEO, targeting short-tail keywords is a challenge. We normally recommend that you begin by targeting long-tail keywords.

Long-tail keywords are longer, more specific key phrases. Because these phrases are specific, they often have low competition, so it’s easier to write content (such as a blog) that will rank for the phrase.

This is useful because it increases the overall visibility of your website. The more visitors your website has, the more likely you are to generate leads and sales. In turn, this helps to increase your authority in Google’s eyes, which can have a positive impact on the rankings for the rest of your site.

You can use Keyword Planner to find long-tail keywords. You can also perform a quick Google search and scroll down to the “Related searches” section.

Here’s an example. We searched for the phrase “long tail keyword.” The related searches provide insight into some of the things other users have searched for:

Of course, you’ll still need to make sure the keywords are relevant. There’s no point in targeting a long-tail keyword if it’s irrelevant to your business. But these phrases are a great starting point, and they’re often suitable for things like blog content.

5. Search difficulty

Ranking for a keyword isn’t as simple as writing a blog and hoping for the best.

There are probably hundreds of competitors trying to rank for the same words and phrases. Google considers dozens of factors when deciding which websites are the most relevant to the user.

We call this competition search difficulty, and it’s often expressed as “keyword difficulty” (KD) when using tools like Semrush.

Keyword difficulty is an unofficial score that gives you an idea of how hard it is to rank for a particular keyword or phrase. Difficulty is essentially a measure of competition. Some SEO tools rate keyword difficulty on an Easy, Medium and Hard scale. Others use a 0-100 numerical scale:

  • 0-14 = Very easy 
  • 15-29 = Easy
  • 30-49 = Medium
  • 50-69 = Medium to hard
  • 70-84 = Very hard
  • 85-100 = Extreme

You don’t need to rule out a keyword because of a high KD score. If you’re prepared to invest long-term efforts into writing content, optimising your website and building backlinks, it’s possible to rank for almost any keyword.

If you’re just getting started, or if you don’t have lots of time to spend creating content, it’s better to aim for low KD keywords. These are easier to rank for. Once you get your website ranking for a few low difficulty keywords, you can start aiming a little higher.

Backlinks and anchor text

Keywords aren’t just for your internal web pages. When a link to your website appears on external sites, it can give your rankings a boost. We call this a backlink. Obtaining backlinks is a crucial part of your link-building strategy.

When other websites place a link to your site, the hyperlink usually appears as clickable text, rather than a URL. This text that’s used is called “anchor text.”

Google assesses the anchor text that’s used to link to your website. This anchor text tells Google a little bit about the content on your website. That means anchor text needs to align with the keywords that have been used on the web page you are linking to.

Let’s say you sell skincare and cosmetics. A lifestyle blogger writes a review article about your products and includes a link to your website. Their link uses the anchor text “best beauty products” with a link to your online store.

You sell beauty products, so this anchor text aligns with your website, and Google will provide a small rankings boost!

On the other hand, if the lifestyle blogger uses unrelated anchor text, Google may not provide a rankings boost.

If you’re investing time and energy into link building, it’s a good idea to make sure external websites are using helpful anchor text. This is usually as simple as contacting the webmaster and asking them to change how they refer to your brand.

Adding secondary keywords

When performing keyword research, we tend to break our keywords into “primary” and “secondary” categories. Primary keywords are the main phrases you want to rank for. These tend to be short, broad keywords that will attract the most attention from customers.

Competition for primary keywords is often high. To help grow your website and visibility, you can include secondary keywords when creating new content and web pages.

Secondary keywords are phrases that are similar or related to your primary keyword. They may not be your main target, but they play a supporting role in increasing your website’s visibility and traffic.

For instance, if you sell tableware, your main keyword may be “coffee cups.” You can help Google and customers find your website more easily by including related secondary keywords such as “coffee mugs,” “mugs,” “tea cups,” or “ceramic cups.”

Secondary keywords can be found in the same ways that you find your primary keywords. Google’s Keyword Planner is especially useful for identifying similar phrases that may be worth targeting.

Modifying keywords to improve readability

We have one last tip before we go. During your keyword research, you will uncover a range of key phrases. Sometimes, implementing them word-for-word in your content can be a challenge. 

For example, “electrician services Melbourne” may be on the list of potential keywords. That phrase would be almost impossible to use in a sentence without sounding unnatural.

Sounding unnatural is the enemy when you want to improve your website’s search rankings. Google has gotten very good at detecting well-written content, so it’s better to write in a grammatically correct way, rather than shoehorning a keyword into a sentence.

If putting your keyword into a sentence causes your spell check to raise an eyebrow, you can make small modifications. Google is clever and will understand variants such as “electrician services in Melbourne.”

You don’t have to choose between SEO and your customers. With common sense and quality content, you can tick all the boxes at once.

Creating killer SEO campaigns with keyword research

If you’re serious about growing your website, keyword research is a fantastic starting point.

When you use relevant key phrases in your SEO and marketing efforts, it can improve the visibility of your website and help you reach thousands of new customers.

Keyword research can seem daunting. It’s easy to create a long list of potential phrases, but narrowing them down can be a bigger challenge.

If you need a bit of help getting your SEO strategy off the mark, have a chat with Gordon Digital!

We’re a team of SEO experts that specialise in helping businesses kick their goals. We design tailored SEO strategies that suit your business, customers, competitors, products and ambitions. If you’re dreaming of growing your business, we’d love to put together an SEO strategy that helps you get there.

Contact us to find out more, or book a strategy session today!

Jessica Gordon

Jessica Gordon is the founder and managing director of Gordon Digital a Brisbane based digital marketing agency that provides tailored digital marketing solutions that include SEO, Google Ads, Social Media Ads and Conversion-Focussed Websites to SME's across Australia since 2015. Gordon Digital stands out in a crowd for one simple yet profound reason: We redefine transparency and embrace radical honesty.