The Definitive Guide
CHAPTER 1: Keyword Research Basics
In this chapter I’ll cover the fundamentals of keyword research.
First, you’ll learn exactly what keyword research is (and why it’s important for SEO).
I’ll also show you how keyword research helped grow my site’s search engine traffic to 150k+ unique visitors per month.
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is the process of discovering words and phrases that people use in search engines with the ultimate goal of optimizing content around those terms.
Why is Keyword Research Important for SEO?
That’s why keyword research is usually the first step of any SEO campaign.
Put another way:
Keywords are like a compass for your SEO campaigns: they tell you where to go and whether or not you’re making progress.
As a bonus, researching keywords help you figure out the thoughts, fears, and desires of your target market. That’s because keywords research gives you tremendous insight into what potential customers searching for… and the exact words and phrases that they use.
In fact, keyword research is just market research for the 21st century.
CHAPTER 2: How to Find Keyword Ideas
Now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of keyword research.
Specifically, it’s time to generate a list of keywords.
And in this chapter I’m going to show you proven strategies that you can use to come up with keyword ideas.
Let’s dive right in.
1 -Brainstorm a List of Topics
2 – Use Google and YouTube Suggest
3 – Searches Related To
4 – Find Keywords on Reddit
5 – Wikipedia Table of Contents
6 – Find Popular Topics Using Forums
CHAPTER 3: keyword research tools
This chapter is all about tools.
Can you find keywords without a tool?
But a tool makes the entire process A LOT easier.
With that, here are the keyword research tools that I personally use and recommend.
1 – Ubersuggest
2 – Keywords everywhere
3 – LSI Graph
4 – Answer the public
5 – Google keyword planner
6 – SEMrush
CHAPTER 3: keyword difficulty
How do you know if a keyword is too competitive to rank for?
It’s a good question to ask.
Because if you choose a keyword that’s super competitive, you might have trouble getting past Google’s third page.
But if you can find a keyword without a ton of competition, you have a good chance of cracking the top 3.
With that, here’s how to figure out a keyword’s SEO difficulty.
Long Tails Are (Usually) Less Competitive
If your site is brand new.
Or if you want to focus 100% on keywords that aren’t competitive.
Then you DEFINITELY want to target long tail keywords.
Most people in SEO (myself included) divide keywords into three main categories: head, body and the (long) tail.
Here’s a breakdown of each keyword type:
These are usually single-word keywords with lots of search volume…and competition. Examples of head terms are keywords like “insurance” or “vitamins”. Because searcher intent is all over the place (someone searching for “insurance” might be looking for a car insurance quote, a list of life insurance companies or a definition of the word), Head Terms usually don’t convert very well.
Body keywords are 2-3 word phrases that get decent search volume (at least 2,000 searches per month), but are more specific than Head Keywords. Keywords like “life insurance” or “order vitamins online” are examples of Body Keywords. These almost always have less competition than Head Terms.
Long Tail Keywords
Long tail keywords are long, 4+ word phrases that are usually very specific. Phrases like “affordable life insurance for senior citizens” and “order vitamin D capsules online” are examples of long tail keywords. These terms don’t get a lot of search volume individually (usually around 10-200 searches per month). But when you add them together, long tails make up the majority of searches online. And because they don’t get searches for that much, long tail terms usually aren’t very competitive.
There’s no “best” keyword category to focus on. All 3 have their pros and cons.
But when it comes to competition, long tails are usually the least competitive of the bunch.
Authority of Sites on Google’s First Page
Here’s a quick way to evaluate a keyword’s competition level.
First, search for your keyword in Google.
Then, look at the sites ranking on the first page.
(Not individual pages)
If the first page is made up of uber authority sites (like Wikipedia), then you might want to cross that keyword off from your list:
But if you see a handful of smaller blogs on page 1, that’s a sign that you have a shot to hit the first page too.
Keyword Difficulty Inside of Keyword Tools
The vast majority of keyword research tools have some sort of keyword competition feature, including SEMRush:
And Moz Pro:
I’ve tested all of them. And I find that they all size up keyword difficulty based on a combination of page authority and domain authority. So they all tend to come up with the same competition numbers.
Bottom Line? If your favorite keyword tool includes a keyword difficulty feature, go with that. You probably don’t need to invest in another tool just to see how competitive a keyword is.
Believe it or not, but there’s an entire tool dedicated to keyword difficulty: CanIRank.
What I like about this tool is that it doesn’t just spit out a keyword difficulty number. Instead, it evaluates a keyword’s competition level relative to your website.
For example, I recently popped the keyword “SEO” into CanIRank.
And the tool looked at Google’s first page competition compared to my site’s authority. And it gave me a “Ranking Probability” of 90%:
CHAPTER 5:How to Choose a Keyword
Now that you have a list of keywords, how do you know which one to pick?
Unfortunately, there’s no tool out there that will tell you: “This is the best keyword on your list”.
Instead, you need to size up each keyword based on a handful of different factors. Then, pick the keyword that’s the best fit for your business.
As you might expect, that’s exactly what I’m going to show you how to do in this chapter.
This is pretty straightforward.
The more people search for a keyword, the more traffic you can get from it.
The question is:
What’s a “good” search volume?
Short answer: it depends.
The long answer:
Search volumes between industries are VERY different.
For example, a long tail keyword in the fitness niche (like: “best ab exercises”) gets 10K-100K searches per month:
But a long tail keyword in a B2B space like digital marketing (like: “best seo software”) only gets 100-1K monthly searches.
That’s why you want to figure out what a “high” and “low” search volume number is in your niche.
Then, choose keywords based on what’s normal for your industry.
It’s no secret that the number of Google searchers that click on an organic search result is way down.
And it’s no wonder why.
Featured Snippets make it so you don’t need to click on anything to get an answer:
Plus, Google now packs the search results with more ads than ever before:
The bottom line?
Search volume only gives you part of the story. To get a full estimate of how many clicks you’ll get from a first page Google ranking, you also need to estimate organic CTR.
Here are two simple ways to do it…
First, you can look at the SERPs (Search Engine Result Page) for your keyword.
If you see a lot of stuff on the first page (like a Featured Snippet and multiple Google Adwords ads), then you know that you’re not going to get a ton of clicks… even if you rank #1.
Second, you can use a tool.
Ahrefs and Moz pro both estimate organic CTR.
With all that said:
I wouldn’t avoid a keyword just because it has a low CTR. If lots of people search for that term, it might still be worth going after.
I covered this in Chapter 4.
But to recap:
If your site is new (or doesn’t have a ton of links yet), target low-competition terms at first.
Then, as your site grows in authority, you can start to target more competitive stuff.
When I first launched Backlinko, I targeted almost 100% long tail keywords (like: “how to get backlinks”).
And because I didn’t have a ton of sites to compete with, I was able to crack the first page within a few weeks. Which helped me achieve some early SEO success.
Today, my site has backlinks from over 19k different domains:
So I can target more competitive keywords (like: “voice search”).
CPC (cost per click) is a single metric that answers one important question:
Do people searching for this keyword actually spend money?
So yeah, search volume is nice and all.
But if the person searching for that keyword is broke, then there’s no point in targeting that term.
Plus, you can sometimes get a great ROI from a keyword that doesn’t get that many searches… if the CPC is high enough.
For example, one of my target keywords is “link building services”.
According to the Google Keyword Planner, this keyword gets around 10-100 searches per month.
So if I ONLY looked at search volume, I’d say: “This is a horrible keyword”.
That’s why it’s super important to ALSO look at CPC.
The CPC on that keyword is $7.15.
Which means that people are spending $7.15 every time someone searching for that keyword clicks on an ad.
So even though the search volume for that term isn’t that high, the CPC more than makes up for it.
Based on CPC (and the fact that the keyword wasn’t super competitive) I decided to create content optimized around that term.
And that blog post now ranks in the top 3 for my target keyword.
Here’s where you look at how likely it is that someone searching for a keyword will become a customer.
Yup, CPC helps you figure this out. But it doesn’t tell the entire story.
For example, a few weeks ago I came across the keyword: “backlink checker”.
On the surface, this is a great keyword.
It gets a decent amount of searches:
And has a $4.01 CPC:
It’s also not that competitive.
So this keyword is a winner, right?
Well… not really.
You see, Backlinko is an SEO training company. Which means I don’t sell a backlink analysis tool. So even if I DID rank #1 for that keyword, it wouldn’t do me much good.
Contrast that with a keyword like “YouTube SEO”.
This keyword’s CPC is only $2.22.
But considering that I sell a YouTube training course, this term is a 10/10 in terms of business fit.
Which is why I wrote a piece of content around that keyword:
Finally, you want to see if your keyword is growing fast… or dying slow.
And the best way to do that? Google Trends.
For example, last year I was considering the keyword: “voice search SEO”.
But I decided to pop that keyword into Google Trends before pulling the trigger.
As you can see, interest in that keyword is growing fast.
Which is why I optimized this page around that term.
Even though that piece of content only brings in about 1k monthly search engine visitors per month today…
…the trend tells me that traffic to this post should increase over time.
CHAPTER 6: Advanced Tips and Strategies
Now that you’ve mastered the basics of keyword research, it’s time to cover some cool advanced stuff.
Specifically, I’m going to reveal a bunch of tactical keyword research tips that you can implement right away.
So without further ado, let’s dive right into the tips.
Let’s say that you found the PERFECT keyword.
And you rank in the top 3 for that term.
You’re pretty much done, right?
Actually… not really.
As it turns out, you can get even MORE traction from that keyword with Barnacle SEO.
Barnacle SEO is the practice of using other sites’ authority to rank on the first page.
For example, one of my best keywords (in terms of conversions) is: YouTube SEO.
Like I mentioned earlier, I wrote a post about YouTube SEO. And that post ranks #1 in Google for that keyword.
Sure, a #1 ranking is great. But it’s still only one spot in the SERPs.
That’s why I created a YouTube video optimized for that keyword…
…a video that also ranks on Google’s first page.
Bottom line? If you find an amazing keyword, you want to take up as much first page real estate as you can. First, create content on that topic on your own site. Then, publish keyword-optimized content on authority sites, like YouTube, LinkedIn, Medium and more.
GSC Keyword Research
The Google Search Console is a goldmine of keyword ideas.
Here’s how it works:
First, login to your GSC account and head over to the “Performance Report”.
This report shows you the terms that bring in the most clicks from Google search.
Then, sort the list by “Impressions”.
This shows you keywords that get lots of impressions… but not necessarily clicks.
Finally, create a piece of content optimized around that same keyword.
Why is this a powerful strategy?
These are keywords that you KNOW people are searching for. You also know that Google sees your site as a good fit in the search results.
You just need to publish content that’s super focused on that specific keyword (or optimize a piece of existing content around that keyword) and you’re set.
Optimize Content around Synonyms and Related Keywords
Yes, you want to optimize your page around your main keyword.
But don’t stop there.
You can get even more search engine traffic to your page by optimizing it around synonyms and closely related terms.
I’ll show you how this works with a real life example.
Earlier this year I published this post on my blog.
As you can probably guess, my target keyword for that page is: “build backlinks”.
But I also made sure to sprinkle in variations of that keyword, like: “get backlinks”.
In the end, I was able to rank in the top 5 for my main keyword…
…and lots of keyword variations.
Ahrefs Content Gap
Content Gap has quickly become one of my favorite features in Ahrefs.
Here’s how it works:
Just like with SEMRush, you can use Ahrefs to see the exact keywords another site ranks for.
And with Ahrefs Content Gap, you can take this type of competitor analysis to the next level.
Head over to Ahrefs content gap. And put in 2-3 competing sites.
This will show you keywords that at least 2 of your competitors rank for… but you don’t.
And because multiple competitors rank for these terms, you know that you also have a good chance of cracking the top 10.
Analyze Keywords Based on Searcher Intent
In other words, ask yourself:
What does someone searching for this keyword want to see?
Are they looking to buy? For information? Or are they looking for a specific page (like a login page)?
I recently created a post that ranks #3 for the keyword “BuzzStream”.
Even though that keyword gets around 2k searches/month, that post only brings in 194 monthly visitors.
Well, as it turns out, “BuzzStream” is a navigational keyword.
Which means that most people that search for that keyword are looking for the website… not information about BuzzStream.
So yeah, that keyword looked great at first glance. But because it’s a navigational keyword, VERY few people click on anything but the first result. Which is why that post gets so little traffic.
That’s why I recommend looking at the Searcher Intent of a keyword.
If the Searcher Intent is “Navigational”, then you may want to avoid that term… even if it has great CPC and monthly search volume numbers.
(As you just saw, this is a lesson I had to learn the hard way)
But if Searcher Intent is “Informational”, then a piece of content optimized around that term could do GREAT.
Find “Shoulder Keywords”
Most people ONLY optimize their site around keywords that are very closely related to what they sell.
And it’s a BIG mistake for two main reasons:
1. Keywords that people use to find your products are usually super competitive.
2. There are thousands of keywords that your potential customer searches for when they’re not searching for that you sell.
And if you can get in front of your customer with an awesome piece of content, they’re SUPER likely to buy from you down the road.
For example, like I mentioned earlier, I run an SEO training company.
But I don’t optimize every page on my site around commercial terms.
(Like “SEO training” and “SEO courses”).
Instead, I rank for keywords that my customers search for when they’re not looking for SEO training.
(Keywords like: “link building”, “on-page SEO” and “SEO Tools”).
I call these keywords “Shoulder Keywords”.
These keywords aren’t directly related to what you sell. But they’re keywords that your customers search for. Which makes them worth going after.
How about another example?
Let’s say you run an Ecommerce site that sells basketball hoops.
Obviously, you’d want to optimize some of your pages around terms like “buy basketball hoops online”.
But don’t stop there.
After all, someone interested in buying a basketball hoop may also search for:
- How to shoot a better free throw
- Slam dunk highlights
- How to get recruited by college scouts
- Nutrition for basketball players
- How to improve a vertical jump
So you’d want to create content around these “Shoulder Keywords” too.
Check Out This Tutorial
I think you’ll agree that we covered A LOT in today’s guide.
You’ll be happy to hear that I recently created a video that takes the content from this guide… and condenses it into a step-by-step tutorial.
Check out the short video:
In this video you’ll see the 5-step keyword research process that I personally use.