How To Do Killer Keyword Research With Absolute Ease

Keyword Research
Till long after I became a seasoned copywriter, I had terrible trouble with the most essential thing I needed to know: keyword research. 
There were just too many keywords everywhere, and too many theories by too many experts. I threw it all out and began again with my “common sense” – and my life began to work!

I think the basic problem with keyword research is the fact that it is still called “keyword research.” In them gone days, Google, being a rather simplistic machine, only knew how to rank blog posts by the specific “keywords” (i.e., search terms) they were optimized for.
Now we have a sophisticated, nearly-human Google that understands synonyms of a word, and knows what people really mean when they use some search words of their own to look for information.
So, let’s replace the term “keyword” in “keyword research” and simply call it “topic research.” That would be easier to fathom, and more appropriate lingo for the times we now live in.

Contents ...

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What is keyword research and why do you need to do it at all?

For convenience let's call them keywords (although we mean topics)

In deference to all the people who still know the idea of “keyword research,” I am sticking to that terminology throughout this article. But for those who’ve understood the idea, we are now in the era of “topic research,” so feel free to use whichever variation of the term feels good.

Keyword research is about discovering people's vocabulary

Now, what is keyword research? Let me illustrate this with an example. Let’s say you are a great Italian cuisine aficionado and want to build a website full of Italian make-at-home recipes. You decide to write a blog on “basic Italian cooking strategies,” … but alas, hardly anyone calls it “strategies.” They search either for “Italian cooking methods” or “Italian cooking techniques.”
If you’re caught using the wrong language and vocabulary to what most people commonly use to search online, your blog post will not be found by them. Neither will Google know what you mean by “strategies,” and therefore, won’t know which search results page to place your blog post on.

We're looking for the vocabulary that the majority of people use

Common sense dictates that only if we use the language and vocabulary of the majority of people searching online will both Google and people find it easy to discover the value of our blog post.
And the word “majority” here promises us that we will get a lot of organic traffic from Google if we use the correct search terms.
This is the simplest way I could think of to explain the essence of keyword research. There could be a whole lot of other nuances given to this topic, and they could all be correct. But learning is best when things are kept simple.

Two definitions of keyword research that are insightful

Brian Clark, the founder of Copyblogger, always has the right words to write his definitions, and here is his understanding of keyword research:

Brian Clark

"Keyword research is cool. It allows you to gaze directly into people’s minds. Being able to take a look at the words and phrases people use when looking for things online is invaluable. Rather than listening to people say what they think they might do, you get to observe what they actually did. And when aggregated, you get a nice view of the words people most often use when thinking about and searching for a certain topic."

Another opinion explains how “keywords” and “topics” are becoming more and more interchangeable in SEO terms – it’s from the Rachel Leist writing in the Hubspot blog:

Rachel Leist

"Keyword research tells you what topics people care about and, assuming you use the right SEO tool, how popular those topics actually are among your audience. The operative term here is topics — by researching keywords that are getting a high volume of searches per month, you can identify and sort your content into topics that you want to create content on. Then, you can use these topics to dictate which keywords you look for and target."

This is the sum total of what keyword research is and why it is important … it’s because we bloggers must echo the language and vocabulary of our target audiences or we won’t get visibility.

The 8 smart steps to take for a solid keyword research process

Here is my list of 8 smart steps to take (in sequence) to do your keyword research for your brand blog. Just follow this pattern, because I have demystified this whole topic for both amateur bloggers and advanced SEO bloggers (especially those like me who have had trouble getting the hang of it). 
8 Steps To Keyword Research
(Please use this infographic with credits intact.) 

1. Choosing the right seed keywords is where success starts

Begin the search with some business-related seed keywords

What are seed keywords? Think of these as “ideas” or “broad topic categories” you want your blog to cover. For example, I am a Content Strategist, a Brand Specialist, and an SEO Copywriter. My blog categories broadly would be “blogging,” “branding,” “copywriting,” “content marketing,” and “SEO,” …

You can split your business area into categories based on the products and services you offer, what you are an expert at, or how you think your market is divided. 

An example of how to categorize your own seed keywords

If, for instance, you have a site dedicated to green tea, the best categories for you may be to slice your keyword categories according that what your business model is.

If you are a green tea connoisseur, divide the teas from different geographies.

If you’re a natural health practitioner, you may want to divide your green tea variations by the various health benefits.

If you are a tea production consultant, you may categorize the stages by which green tea is produced.

You know what you want to sell to customers. Choose the right categorization of your niche into the broad categories that best help you sell.

Breaking up your blog categories is vital to how your business will sell online and get you the correct customers, right? That’s why the selection of these broad topic categories (also called seed keywords) is extremely vital as the first step of keyword research.

A smart tool for collecting seed keywords

Did you know? There is a tool for collecting seed keywords called (you guessed it!) It’s a very simple yet powerful tool that lets you first set a search scenario and question, and then ask your friends to answer it as if they were using a search engine. For example, if you sell cars in Aberdeen, Scotland, you may set up a simple scenario such as, “You are thinking of changing your car. What would you search for?” Send out the URL of your scenario to potential customers and ask them to fill in all their inputs.

The tool is free to use, and there’s a great tutorial on how to set up your scenarios for the best results, so go ahead and test it out!

Seed Keyword Tool

2. Get the best keyword variations via a smart keyword tool

Take your seed keywords to Google Auto-Suggest

After you have a good collection of seed keywords, you need many blog post ideas related to those keywords. A rather easy way to get loads of variations of keyword ideas related to your seed keywords is to simply type the seed keyword into Google and see what it “auto-suggests”. (Whenever you enter any search term in Google, you’ll find a drop-down list of auto-suggested related keywords).

For example, if I just type into Google the seed keyword “blogging” here’s what all I get … “blogging for beginners”, “blogging for money”, “blogging business”, “blogging notes”, “types of blogging”, “blogging tutorial”, “how to start blogging” … but that’s not all.

Get endless keyword ideas from Google Auto-Suggest

If I plug one of these related keywords again into Google, I will get more detailed keyword ideas. For example, if I plug in “blogging business”, I get “blogging business ideas”, “business blog examples”, “blogging for small businesses”, and so on. 

Now, what’s more, if I add a letter of the alphabet after the term “blogging business” I’ll get more keywords related to “blogging business” starting with that letter. For example “blogging business a” would get me “blogging business advantage“, “blog business analyst“, “blog business at home”, “blogging as business”, “business blog articles” …

I can do this by adding every letter of the alphabet after “blogging business” to get myself loads of related keyword ideas. (Psst … you can do this manually, or you can use a supersmart tool I use … described below).

Keyword Research with GoogleAuto-Suggest

I can do this by adding every letter of the alphabet after “blogging business” to get myself loads of related keyword ideas. (Psst … you can do this manually, or you can use a supersmart tool Keyword Researcher Pro).

A great tool to harvest Google's Auto-Suggest keywords

I chanced upon a rather less-known keyword tool that has now become my staple for keyword research. It’s Keyword Researcher Pro from CleverGizmos. It’s an incredible tool that lets me handle keyword research and much more. Watch the video below, where the tool creator explains it all.

(There’s one thing you don’t get: keyword search data. But you could put the bulk keywords list you get into any other tool to get data – which, in any case, varies unreliably from tool to tool!

The product is free for download and trial  … and even if you decide to buy, it’s a one-time cost that’s a fraction of what you may pay monthly for the most expensive keyword tools in the market!

3. Try to get hundreds of long-tail keywords to blog about

Your aim should be to go on a hunt for the "longtails"

You may have heard a lot from SEO experts about “long-tail” keywords. What are these? They are, in simple language, long keyword phrases that get more and more detailed as they get longer.

For example, “sports shoes” is a head-word – a broad and general keyword. Such head words usually have way too much competition for us to attempt writing about them. But “sports shoes for runners” is a more extended version with added detail. That would be a mid-length keyword.

But then, you may have a keyword like “sports shoes for women running a marathon.” Now, that’s a long-tail keyword because it is so long and, therefore, so detailed. It may have far less traffic potential than a head-word, but it would also be less competitive and easy to rank for. 

Another example to get you going in the right direction

Here’s another example for “dog food ” and its longtail variations …

Long-Tail Keywords Graph
(Infographic credits:

Collect non-similar longtail keywords in hundreds

When you are a beginner blogger using keyword research to get blog post ideas, you will do yourself no end of good aiming to write on as many long-tail keywords as possible.

There will be no limit to the number of such long-tails you can find … and, who knows, you may start ranking high for many of them and get loads of that free traffic from Google that you covet.

4. Aim at question keywords to answer through your blog 

Even better than longtails are the "question keywords"

We’ve covered long-tail keywords as the best to target. But what’s even better than that? It’s Question Keywords!

Consider this: someone types into Google the long-tail keyword “sports shoes for women marathon runners.” What if, instead, they framed their search as a question? For example, “Which brand makes half sizes in sports shoes for women marathoners?” Even the tiny bit of generic stuff we would have to write about on “sports shoes for women marathon runners” disappears from our blog post outline.

Question keywords allow ultra-targeted blog posts as answers

When we are asked directly and clearly, we know the exact question to answer: “Which brand makes half sizes in sports shoes for women marathoners?” So all we need is to research all brands of women marathoners’ shoes and see if there are brands that make sizes 4.5 or 5.5 or 6.5 instead of just 4, 5, 6, and so on.

Then we have to list the brands that do offer half sizes. You get the drift? Question keywords are not only long-tail. They even tell us precisely what answer is looked for. So wherever possible, pick long-tails that are Question Keywords. There will be no two ways to answer questions, and you’ll always give the kind of high-value answer the searcher is seeking.

A video on how to scale question keywords research

Here is a must-see video where the expert Robbie Richards explains why question keywords must be part of your strategy.

A tool that mines question keywords exclusively

On any Google Search Results Page for any seed keyword, you’ll find a small section called “People Also Ask,” which features some top-level question keywords people have searched for on Google for the related topic. But when you click any of those questions, you not only get short answers (which you can delve into), but you also open up the next level of questions… click one of those second-level questions, and another third level of questions pops up.

It’s a concertina-like structure of questions that go deeper and deeper into the topic. Now happily, a tool called AlsoAsked gets all these questions mined for you! Look at their introduction video below to understand this terrific tool’s features. 

To find a special gift waiting for you on this page, click the button below to take a peek, before you read on … 

5. Sift by keyword data to find your best opportunity keywords

Use data-driven keyword choices to finalize your list

When you look at the keyword ideas lists that most keyword tools throw up, these keywords will be accompanied by some data. There may be many extraneous columns you can ignore since we are on a quest to simplify this whole keyword research process.

Keyword Difficulty

The three important columns of data to look for in keyword research

The important columns to look at are just three.

First, see the search volume per month for each keyword. You can decide if you want to pick keywords with at least some minimum volume of monthly searches that sounds good to you.

Then see the CPC (Cost Per Click) bid amount. This is the highest bid amount someone is willing to pay for ad space on the Google Search Results page. Don’t think the bid amount should be low to signify low competition. If the bid amount is high, it shows the keyword has healthy traffic potential. No one throws money at a dud keyword.

The third column is the Keyword Difficulty column (sometimes the acronym used is “KD”). This Difficulty Score is usually computed by the tool based on how easy it may be to rank your blog post for that keyword. So the lower the KD score, the easier it will be to rank your blog post if you write for that keyword. Beginner bloggers, therefore, need to look for lower KD score keywords.

Beware ... every keyword tool has a habit of giving its own data

Here’s a massive caveat, though. Every tool will give you its data and claim it to be closest and most true to Google’s figures. But that’s a load of nonsense. There are such significant variations between one tool and another that it makes you wonder who is more accurate than who.

So read the data, and get a general feel of the keywords search count, CPC bid, and KD score. Then if your intuition says the keyword is a reasonably healthy opportunity for you to go with, write that blog post for it.

How to use Google Trends as a keyword research tool

You may have heard that Google also has a free-to-use tool called Google Trends. If you put in a keyword here (and its alternatives), it will show you the comparative popularity of these terms over time, so you know if a keyword has longevity or has just been a flash in the pan. Sam Oh from Ahrefs has an interesting video on how to use Google Trends to look for good keywords in many ways.

This is a great video if you want to use an additional tool to validate your keyword choices. So long as your head is clear, your thinking is kept simple, and you don’t get entangled easily in the endless strands of the “keyword research” web, you can watch as many videos as you like to learn more. When your head starts to spin, stop watching!

6. Study the real search intent behind your viable keyword

Search intent is everything in keyword research

In SEO-land, experts ask you to examine the “search intent” behind any keyword to give the searcher a relevant blog post to answer what is being sought. Why do they think search intent is needed to be studied? Let’s take an example.

Say a person searches in Google for “content marketing courses.” Another searcher types in “content marketing agency.” Do they both have the same search intent? No! The first searcher wants to learn content marketing. The second searcher wants to outsource content marketing to an agency. 

The occasional dilemma of "fractured search intent"

Not always is search intent so clearly different. Sometimes, you may get a search keyword like “cost of apples” when you don’t know whether the person meant the fruit or the computers. This leads to something called “fractured search intent” … it’s good to know how Google (and you) should handle such queries, so there’s more of it in the example video below.

Should you go with the popular "4-types-of-search-intent" model?

SEO experts usually refer to 4 types of search intent – Informational (where people are seeking more knowledge); Commercial (where people are looking to buy something); Transactional (where people are looking to take some action); and Navigational (where people are looking for a destination).

But I have never had success looking at search intent this way. The simplest way for me is to ask myself, “If someone typed this search term, what is he looking to gain?” If someone’s intended gain seems clear, I will write to tell the person how to get the gain from that search. If someone’s intended gain seems unclear, I will still write to tell the person how to get a gain from that search. GAIN, for me, is the real intent behind any and all search intent!

A terrific video on how to handle "fractured search intent"

Sam Oh of Ahrefs has a good video of what fractured search intents are, how Google handles these, and how you can too. You must learn from this video if you want to know more about confused search intent signals from some keywords.

Some search intent signals are mixed because search keywords are a bit vague (especially the short-length keywords). But sometimes, we marketers use intent-related jargon that may mix us up. This video shows you how to detangle yourself from all this.

In the final analysis, all this talk of fractured search intent is because we want to know if we can rank for the confusing keyword. Do we have a good opportunity to rank if search intent is undecipherable? Watch this video and find out!

7. Do SERP competition analysis to hone content strategy

Follow up keyword selections with SERP Analysis for each keyword

Once you’ve done your keyword research, and decided on a particular keyword to write a blog post around, how do you determine what content strategy is best to put together your article? As we said earlier, knowing the search intent (or what a person wants to gain from reading that blog post) will give us some clues. 

But that’s not enough because every blog post on Google that wants to write on that keyword is probably following the same reasoning. So how do we pip the other blog posts to bag the top rank on Google’s Search Results Page?

We can do ourselves a lot of good by analyzing the first Google SERP (Search Results Page) for the keyword we have chosen. We have to see what kinds of articles Google has already ranked on that page. Notably, we should see the first three to five blog posts on that page.

The idea behind SERP Analysis is to identify content gaps

A more detailed idea of how to do SERP Analysis is in this video by the expert Robbie Richards:

Trying to understand Google's mind through the SERP Analysis

If we study what those articles have covered – what sub-topics and text, what questions and answers, what kinds of stats and charts, etc. – we’d get a fair idea of what Google thinks is the best way to fulfill the search intent of the searcher. But don’t stop with just seeing what others have written and write on the same structure or ideas.

Look for gaps in their articles – areas they have thinly covered – so you can write a more valuable article than others have. The game here is what I call “From Gap To Goal.”

How SERP Analysis tools work ... a good walkthough

You may have heard of the tool SERanking. Well, they have a tool inside their tool called the SERP Analyzer. I picked up their video tour of the SERP Analyzer for you to watch because it will not only tell you how their tool works … you can get insights on what factors it considers when it gives you the SERP analysis results.

Most tools have too many features packed into them, resulting in very confusing depth for the average blogger or content marketer. But it still helps to watch what they can do because it may give one or two key insights to take away.

8. Keyword clusters are your multi-barrel rocket launchers

The highly productive pillar-and-clusters model

Google has become smarter and smarter over time, so it now can group topics and keywords together based on similar search intent. How should we then use this power that Google has acquired for our own benefit?  Keyword clustering is the answer. It’s like deploying a multi-barrel rocket launcher like the armies use.

Keyword clusters are groups of keywords that add up to near-similar purchase intent. For example, “satin gowns,” “satin wedding gowns,” and, “white gowns satin,” are different keyword phrases, but they all represent searchers who want to buy satin gowns. If your brand sells satin gowns, and you only try to rank for the first keyword, you end up with limited traffic and market share.

If you instead get your web page ranking for your primary keyword and those many long-tail variants and related subtopics, your page will often end up ranking for 10x-20x the number of keywords … and pick up all that lovely traffic. It helps if the cluster posts are built around a pillar post that serves as an index for the whole cluster. 

The pillar-and-clusters model visualized for you

Search Engine Journal has developed the graphic below to show how a site with many categories in its blog may look if it adopts the pillar-and-cluster model of keyword-related blogging for business.

They say: “Keyword clusters are a more advanced SEO strategy and can give you the edge you need to win in competitive verticals. This is because they respond to Google’s two biggest superpowers: Natural language processing and unmatched indexing. When you execute keyword clustering with your landing pages, you show Google that your website is an authority in your industry and demonstrates strong breadth and depth of content.”

Google now understands millions of keyword phrases and the nuanced differences between similar-sounding search queries. So, covering all bases with the pillar-and-cluster model yields excellent dividends.

Pillar-and-Clusters Model

(Infographic credits: Search Engine Journal)

The pillar-and-clusters model takes time to create but is worth it

Of course, building enough blog posts for all those keyword pillar-and-clusters combinations will take more time and effort.

But the results will be worth it because with keyword clusters you get all these benefits: improved rankings for both long-tail and short-tail keywords, more organic traffic, quicker rank improvements, greater internal linking, and quicker authority status for your brand.

Pro tips to take away in summary ...

1. Nobody, not even the most prolific expert blogger, ever gets everything right to succeed phenomenally in one stroke. You can learn keyword research from others, but eventually, you must discover what works for you. 

2. Don’t try – or expect to succeed – in one go. It may take time to find your path, but once you do, there can be no stopping you. Use your common sense and intuition to see what your audiences may be looking for because you know your audience better than anyone else.

3. Feel free to use my list of eminently practical steps to fix your keyword research problem areas. These are ideas I have used to grow my own and my clients’ businesses, and they can help grow yours too.

The important takeaway from all this is that keyword research is not about trying to find individual blog topics. It has to be done with a larger strategy where all the keywords and their blog posts work harmoniously to build traffic to your business according to targets you set.

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Shobha Ponnappa

"I am committed to elevating my clients' branding and content marketing to a dominant position because I believe that a strong and distinctive brand identity, coupled with high-quality content, can be a game-changer for businesses. I've done it over and over for 40+ years and 125+ clients."

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