How to do keyword research

By Leon Tranter | SEO

Nov 20
how to do keyword research

Keywords are an extremely important part of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you don’t know what keywords you are trying to rank for, how can you rank for them? Identifying the best keywords to go for is crucial to your SEO success. And there are bunch of things that go into this process. So let’s find out how to do keyword research!

What are keywords again?

It might sound like a dumb question, but a lot of people don’t understand what keywords are. A keyword is simply a phrase of one or more words that someone enters into a search engine.

Keyword is a bad name because a keyword is very often more than one word. “Marketing” is a keyword, but so is “digital marketing strategy”. So maybe “keyphrase” would have been a better name. Anyway.

Different types of keywords

There are many different types of keywords. In fact, there are many different ways to divide up keywords into different types of keywords! Let’s go through some of them.

Short and long tail keywords

The most common way to divide up keywords is into short, medium and long tail. This refers to how many searches there are every month for those keywords.
Some people think this therefore also means how “long” the keyword is – how many words there are in the phrase. Completely wrong! Keyword length is not the same as search volume.

While you will generally find that keywords with fewer words have higher search volume (e.g. “marketing” probably has a lot more searches than “unusual digital marketing strategies for 2018”), that is not always the case

There would be a lot fewer searches for some made-up nonsense single word than there would be for a common phrase with a few words in it (such as “how to lose weight quickly”).

So short versus long tail has nothing to do with the length of the phrase – it describes the number of searches for that phrase every month (regardless of how many words it is).

There is no golden rule for how many searches per month constitutes a short, medium or long tail keyword.

Keyword intent

Another way of looking at keywords is in terms of intent. Why are people searching? Are they just trying to find a website (Navigational)? Are they wanting to research and learn (Informational)? Or are they looking to buy or book something (Transactional)?

Transactional are the most valuable terms to rank for, by a long way. People are either ready to buy something or very close to buying or booking something. So as you can imagine, competition for those words will be fiercer.

You will find more and better websites trying to rank for those keywords, even those with a low search volume. Because SEO specialists are working hard to siphon free traffic to websites with affiliate marketing links.

For that reason, I don’t recommend trying hard to rank for many of those keywords.

A lot of people try and fail to rank for transactional intent keywords. I would rather have an easy time ranking for Informational keywords, and then turn people from browsers to buyers by building trust with them over email and eventually promoting relevant products to them!

That’s the smart way to do affiliate marketing if you ask me.

How to do keyword research

To do keyword research, you’ll probably need some tools. There are some free ones and some expensive paid ones. The paid ones are probably better, but there are some really good free ones, and they’re catching up to the paid ones!

So I use them.

Answer the Public

This is a great free tool that is good if you just want to quickly come up with some ideas.

Just go to answerthepublic, watch the angry old man for a minute (he’s funny), then put in a phrase you want to do research on. Start with something pretty general. For example, “affiliate marketing” or “lose weight” or “paleo diet”.

answer the public keyword research

This crazy old man has all the keyword answers!

Wait a few seconds, and it will generate a bunch of visualisations. I don’t like them – I switch to Data view. Then you basically get a big list that you can browse through.

What’s even better, is that you can export this list to CSV, and then load it up on Excel (or dump it into Google Sheets and save it into the cloud, which is what I do).

The disadvantage of Answer the Public is that it doesn’t give you any information about the searches (though there is a way to do that, we’ll get there soon). The advantages are that it’s free, and the data is all real searches!

Many keyword tools and planners are based on Google keyword data. And the sneaky secret is, those are not real searches. Those are keywords that people buy Google search ads on. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that many people are searching for them!

I’m not 100% certain but I’m pretty sure Answer the Public’s data points come from collecting all the Google Related Searches for a topic (and Google Related Searches for those phrases and so on).

So you know they’re real things that people are searching for.’


This is a really cool free tool that keeps getting better and better. Neil Patel bought it a little while ago, and he has been adding features to it continuously. Maybe he wants to put Ahrefs and SEMRush out of business! At the rate he is going, he may well.

You can go to the Ubersuggest website, put in a keyword, and it will give you data on how many searches it has, the average CPC (Cost Per Click) for paid ads to that keyword, and an estimation of how difficult it is to rank for that keyword (on a scale of 1 to 100).

It will also show a graph of how popular that keyword is over time.

ubersuggest search volume history

Ubersuggest shows search volume over time

There is also data for a few related popular keywords. And if you want more, you can click the “View All Keyword Ideas” button and it will give you a table with lots and lots of data.

You can then export it to CSV which can be useful if you’re a spreadsheet nerd like me.

Keywords Everywhere

There is a really powerful tool that I recommend you get called Keywords Everywhere. It is actually a Chrome (or Firefox) extension. So you install it into your browser and it lives and runs there.

To get it to work, you need to put in your email and they will send you an API key. Then you install the extension, open it, go to Change Settings, and paste in the API key from the email they send you.

Then it will work automatically.

The main thing this does is modify the Google search results to show keyword data for whatever you searched for. It will show monthly search volume, average CPC data and “difficulty” (estimated SEO difficulty I guess? It’s not very specific) for that keyword and a bunch of related keywords.

This is really nifty and can make the process much easier. You don’t even need to go to Ubersuggest if you don’t want to (though Ubersuggest has some other features like search volume history, and they are adding new features all the time).

But one of the really cool things about it is that because it’s a browser extension, it can modify the pages of all sorts of other tools you may be already using.

For example, once you’ve installed it, go do a query in Answer the Public again. Switch to data view, and now you will see the Keywords Everywhere data next to all the keyword suggestions! Amazing!

The only sad thing is those data points are lost when you export to CSV. Oh well. You can’t have everything I guess. One day I might write a program to export my own CSV with the keywords and all the Keywords Everywhere data…

So that’s basically how it works

You start with a keyword, use some tools to come up with some more ideas, and look at the keyword data. You want to target keywords with a low difficulty but higher search volume (but not too high, or they’ll be too competitive – you can go for those ones later when your domain is stronger).

There are some more advanced concepts as well, such as the Keyword Golden Ratio and Keyword Cannibalization if you want to learn more and take this topic to the next level.

Don’t forget to Include them in your content plan

Keyword Research isn’t a random activity you do now and then because you feel like it. It is an important part of your content strategy and content planning.

I’ve written in more detail about those processes. But basically, once you have your main topics and categories chosen, you do a bunch of keyword research and come up with the best article ideas.

Don’t just focus on the keyword research data. Make sure they are articles that you would like to write about and you think people would actually want to read about!

Then you put those article ideas into your content plan, and you have a list of content ideas for whenever it is time to produce more content.

If you want to know more, read my articles on content strategy and planning your blog content.


I hope you found this article on keyword research helpful! Do you have any other tips or suggestions? Or are you still confused and need some more advice? Leave a comment or question below!