If you want to create web pages that rank on Google, keyword research is a requirement.
Finding, collecting, and analyzing keywords is a fundamental part of search engine optimization. Knowing which keywords your site should target is the first part of creating a content plan to capitalize on organic search. And understanding how to choose keywords is the first step toward growing organic traffic to your business’ website.
If you’ve never done keyword research before, this is the guide for you. We’ve created actionable, step-by-step walkthroughs to help you go from empty hands to ready-to-plan keywords in no time.
Create a List of Seed Keywords
Before you dive into a keyword research tool, there’s some prep work you’ll need to do.
You’ll need to create a list of seed keywords to start the research process. These are broad, high-level terms that longer keywords and key phrases build upon. You’ll use these in your keyword research tool, along with include and exclude filters to find hundreds or thousands of related terms.
For example, let’s say you’re doing keyword research for a lawyer wanting to attract more motor vehicle accident cases. Your seed keywords could be the following:
When you enter these terms into your research tool, you’ll see how other terms can build upon them. For example, the seed crash could be the root of both car crash and stock market crash. One is ideal for our example website, and the other is definitely not.
That’s where the second piece of prep work comes in.
As you think of seeds, you can also note some initial modifiers. These terms will help you weed out irrelevant keywords and narrow the set down to ones that are related to your website’s primary topics.
For our personal injury lawyer example, you could note down some of the following modifiers:
As you work through keyword research, you may add a few more terms. But it’s a good idea to prepare a few in advance.
Certain sites have standard modifiers that they’ll use in most rounds of keyword research. SEOs for ecommerce sites, for instance, will use terms like top, best, vs, and versus to find transactional keywords.
Generate Keyword Ideas
Once you have your seed keywords ready, it’s time to move on to your keyword research tool.
For the rest of these steps, we’ll use Ahrefs for our examples. It’s an industry-standard SEO tool that’s easy to use and has a ton of keyword data.
To get started with keyword research using Ahrefs, go to their Keywords Explorer tool or sign up here.
The metrics in the walkthrough above will be important criteria for evaluating keywords later. But so far, we’ve only looked at the metrics for the seed keywords. To generate a massive amount of keyword ideas, use Ahrefs’ Matching Terms report.
With those six seeds, Ahrefs returns over 4 million long-tail keyword suggestions.
Some of those are going to be relevant to a personal injury lawyer but wreck it ralph doesn’t fit.
This is where we can turn to Ahrefs’ filtering tools to sculpt the keyword set into something more manageable. Filtering by monthly search volumes, keyword difficulty, and include and exclude keyword phrases can help you find relevant keywords more easily than sifting through millions of junk terms.
Ahrefs only allows you to use 99 include and exclude filter terms at a time, so you’ll need to think carefully about the ones you use.
Fortunately, you can use wildcards to set broader filters. For example, instead of entering lawyer and lawyers into the include filter, you can just enter lawyer*. This tells Ahrefs to include both the singular and the plural version of the word.
In the example above, we also used a filter to eliminate certain junk characters. This helps to get rid of useless or low-volume keywords. You can copy those terms from the list below:
With the initial set of potential keywords you’ve generated, you’re ready to start shortlisting keywords.
When you select topics to add to your target keyword list, there are three operations to perform:
- Analyze each keyword for search intent
- Analyze the relevance of each keyword
- Assess the ranking difficulty for each potential keyword
The next three steps in the keyword research process cover each of these operations.
Analyze the Search Results for Search Intent
Each time someone searches for a keyword, they have an underlying motivation. Over time, Google tries to identify this need and serve up results that match the searcher’s reason for using that keyword—their search intent.
SEOs usually sort search intents into four different categories:
- Navigational: When people search for a specific website
- Informational: When people search for an answer to their question or details on a given topic
- Investigational: When people search for information on how to do something
- Transactional: When people search for a product or service to purchase
Some search intents may not match the type of content for your website. For instance, terms with commercial intent might not fit a lawyer’s marketing plan. Or attorney advertising rules may bar them from making content directly comparing other lawyers.
Trying to target a term that has a defined intent with a page that does not match the intent often results in a page that fails to rank.
You can prequalify your keywords for intent before shortlisting them to avoid this problem.
You can also keep your eye out for terms with local intent. If your business depends on local customers, such as our example of a personal injury lawyer, these terms might make your shortlist.
Analyze Keywords for Topical Relevance and Business Value
The previous step helps you shortlist keywords based on whether it has an intent that you can service. In this step, you’ll go a layer deeper and ask yourself if the keyword is relevant to your business or to topics you want to cover.
For example, aviation accident attorney has a fairly high search volume, and the search intent matches something a lawyer might want. But if the law firm doesn’t handle those cases, then the keyword isn’t a relevant one to target.
Assessing for search intent, topicality, and business value are all important, but there’s still one other factor to consider before adding a keyword to your shortlist.
Assess Keywords for Ranking Difficulty
The next question to ask when shortlisting is whether or not your site can rank for the keyword given the competition.
Ahrefs uses a metric called Keyword Difficulty (KD) to show you the relative difficulty of ranking for the term. It’s based on the number of backlinks the pages ranking at the top of the results hold for a given keyword. The higher the difficulty, the harder it may be to rank.
Just because a keyword has a high difficulty score does not mean you should discount it.
For example, a car accident attorney should still have a car accident lawsuit service page despite difficulty score. People may not always find it through search, but they’ll expect it on your website.
Once you’ve assessed a keyword’s intent, relevance, and difficulty, you’re all set to add that term to your shortlist.
Finding Competitor Keywords
A supplementary way to find keywords that may be relevant to you is by looking at your competitors’ rankings.
To do that, you can use Ahrefs’ content gap tool.
Adding keywords that your competitor’s domains rank for can be a quick way to add relevant terms to your shortlist.
You can take the keywords you exported from the Content Gap report and run them through Keywords Explorer. Then you can qualify each keyword using the steps above to add them to your list.
Competitor keyword research is usually included in a comprehensive keyword research process, but it’s sometimes useful to do it on its own.
Exporting Keywords and Planning Content
Now that you’ve created your shortlist, you’re ready to export it and begin planning content for your website.
With the qualified list of keywords you generated, you’re ready to develop your plan for new pages and blog posts on your website.
One important thing to consider when planning is whether the keywords you want to target should result in one page or two. For example, a page about car accident attorneys can rank for car accident lawyer and car accident attorney.
Creating two pages wastes your effort and can result in keyword cannibalization. This happens when Google can’t decide which of two similar pages it should rank.
You can take the keywords you’ve exported and use Ahrefs’s SERP similarity tool to tell if two different keywords are a part of the same topic or if they need to be separate pages.
Determining if a set of keywords should be one page or two can be a time-consuming process. But it’s worth it to avoid wasting time trying to resolve cannibalization issues down the road.
Keyword research is a hugely important part of an SEO-driven marketing plan.
Taking the time to learn how to do it can help put your website on the path to growth. If you don’t have the time to get into the weeds, consider working with a professional SEO agency. At Rankings.io, we help lawyers get the best results from their marketing efforts. Contact us today to see how we can help.