What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is the process of finding the right words and phrases people use when searching online. It helps make sure your content shows up higher in search results, so more people can find and read what you’ve written.
Do Customer Research Before Keyword Research
A 10-minute conversation with a real customer will give you more insight into how they think and search than an entire day of looking at keyword data.
Knowing what people need and want guides the entire keyword research process.
Many professionals dive right into finding the most relevant keywords for their legal services before doing customer research and miss an essential step: customer research.
Conducting customer research will give you valuable insights into how their mind works, how they rank order their priorities, and the language they use when they start looking for solutions.
Here’s a secret.
The single most powerful competitive advantage you can get is to know your customers better than anyone else.
Why is Keyword Research Important?
If customer research is the foundation of marketing, keyword research is the foundation of SEO.
Keyword research gives you a way to tap into the masses to understand all the thousands of ways people search online, how often, and where to focus to help the right people to achieve your business goals.
How to Do Keyword Research for SEO
Keyword research and analysis is part art, part science. No matter how advanced tools are, they can’t predict demand with perfect precision.
We take an approach to identify everything people in your total addressable market search for.
Here’s how we approach it. If you have questions, let us know.
Step 1: Create a List of Seed Keywords
A seed keyword is the root term or phrase present across a set of searches people make.
For example, seed keywords for a personal injury attorney would be things like:
<div class="callout callout-info"><p class="p_margin-small"><strong>Tip:</strong></p><p>Notes from customer interviews and examining <a href="https://rankings.io/seo-competitor-analysis-law-firm/">what’s working for your competitors</a> are great ways to brainstorm seed keyword ideas if you’re just getting started.</p></div>
Step 2: Research Keywords Using Ahrefs
Next, input your seed terms into a tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.
Step 3: Run a Matching Terms Report
We use the Matching Terms report in Ahrefs to begin tapping into thousands of ways people search for a topic.
The Matching Terms report will show you every keyword in Ahrefs’ database of over 12.8 billion keywords that contain our seed keywords. In this case, we found over 5 million terms searched within the United States alone.
In the Matching Terms report, we have two modes:
- Terms Match: Keywords that contain all the words from your query in any order.
- Phrase Match: Keywords that contain your seed keywords in the order they’re written.
For our seed keywords, we’ll get keyword ideas like these using Terms Match:
And using the Phrase Match report, we’ll get a similar list:
This happens because our seed terms were all single words except for one: <span class="inline-code">personal injury</span> .
As you’ve no doubt noticed, when we take this approach, we inevitably end up with a lot of data that’s irrelevant.
We could sculpt things to get more relevant from the get-go by using seed terms like:
Using these seeds would cull the results down to 750,000—which is 85% less than our original data set.
Seems better. Right?
It is if you don’t care about capturing keywords like:
See the problem?
If we narrow things in earlier in the process, we cut ourselves off from other relevant terms we might want to consider when trying to generate more cases for the firm.
So how do we tame all the noise and ignore terms like <span class="inline-code">wreck it ralph</span>?
That’s where the include and exclude filters in Ahrefs come in.
Step 4: Use Filters to Remove Irrelevant Terms
Using filters, we can begin to sculpt our data to get rid of junk.
There are two main types of filters available: include and exclude.
The include filter lets us only show keywords that contain our seed keyword AND contain terms we add to the include filter.
For example, we could add a term like “lawyer” to our include filter, and it would only show us terms that contain one of our seed keywords AND lawyer.
We can add multiple terms to the include filter using commas to separate them.
We like to save ourselves some trouble, though, and use something called wildcards. Wildcards enable us to short-circuit things and find all terms that follow a particular pattern.
For example, instead of adding both <span class="inline-code">lawyer</span> and <span class="inline-code">lawyers</span>, we can just use <span class="inline-code">lawyer*</span> and it’ll cover both. Or even <span class="inline-code">law*</span> to cover lawyer, lawyers, law firm, and law firms.
For example, our include filter becomes:
Once we apply this filter, it gets us results that are a lot more targeted.
The exclude filter lets us only show keywords that contain our seed keyword AND DO NOT contain terms we add to the exclude filter.
A common way we use this filter is to exclude irrelevant terms en masse. We have a few sets of these we apply depending on the circumstance.
- Special characters
- Other local terms
Commonly Excluded Special Characters
<div class="callout callout-warning"><p class="p_margin-small"><strong>Note:</strong></p><p>If you want local results for your own area, remove the term from the lists before excluding them. For example, a firm based out of Scottsdale would likely want to remove <span class="inline-code">scottsdale</span>, <span class="inline-code">arizona</span>, <span class="inline-code">az</span>, and other cities in Arizona they want to target.</p></div>
You can also remove a lot of local terms that we don’t cover with our filters using the SERP Features filter.
- Open the SERP features menu.
- Select the “Not on SERP” radio option.
- Click Apply at the bottom.
- Click Show results.
<div class="callout callout-success"><p class="p_margin-small"><strong>The Anti-Local Strategy & When to Use It</strong></p><p>Most firms likely won’t want to exclude all local keywords, but sometimes it can be helpful to identify topics you can compete for before local map packs begin appearing.</p><p>Why would you want to do that?</p><p>If you’re in a highly competitive geography, you know how hard (and fickle) it can be to rank in the map pack right away.</p><p>You give yourself an opportunity to generate leads and cases earlier in a customer’s research process by finding opportunities to capture traffic before map packs start showing up.</p></div>
All Words & Any Word Modes for Filters
It’s worth pointing out that each filter has two additional options that affect the underlying logic:
- All words
- Any word
When you select “All words,” you’re telling the filter to include any keyword that contains all of the words you add to the filter.
In our previous examples, we used the “Any words” option.
Using the seed keywords we’ve already been working with, here are some examples to explain how the “All Words” option works:
Let’s say you’re a firm that only takes on catastrophic injury cases and only want keywords that contained <span class="inline-code">law*</span> and <span class="inline-code">train</span>.
In that case, you’d add each of these to the include filter and set the mode to “All words.”
If we were doing this, we’d also run the data a second time to get everything containing <span class="inline-code">attorn*</span> and <span class="inline-code">train</span>.
The Exclude filter does not have an All words or Any words option. Instead, it excludes all terms that contain any word in a comma-separated list you add to it.
Step 5: Export Every Remotely Relevant Keyword
This is where we diverge from the general approach of most agencies. We export absolutely everything that’s remotely relevant to your industry.
Because that’s the only way to accurately assess your Total Addressable Market.
This usually results in a set of massive CSV files containing hundreds of thousands of keywords.
If that seems like way too much data to go through and do anything meaningful with…it is.
But we have a solution.
Step 6: Process Keyword Data into Clusters
We have a proprietary topic clustering algorithm we’ve tuned specifically for the legal industry.
This algorithm ingests hundreds of thousands of keywords, gets real time results from Google, and clusters them together based on the similarity they share with each other on Google.
This gives us the ability to work with the data in a more efficient way by consolidating it.
It’s still a lot of data, though.
We solved that with a second algorithm that calculates a personalized priority score for the domain. You can think of it like keyword difficulty if it were uniquely calculated based on your own law firm’s website.
Step 7: Analyze Keyword Data
Once we have all of our keyword data clustered and prioritized, we’re ready to start analyzing it. This is where keyword research ends, and content planning begins.
In the next chapter, I’ll cover how to develop a coherent content strategy for your law firm that drives the right type of traffic to your website that’s ready to convert and become a client.