Keyword Research for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Keyword research involves finding and analysing keywords your ideal website visitors enter into search engines. It enables you to target the most effective keywords when creating content. The goal of keyword research is to:

  • Understand your sector and target audience
  • Adapt your content to the needs of your audience
  • Drive relevant organic search traffic to your website

Benefits of keyword research

Improved targeting

Effective keyword research can provide insights into current search trends and help you create content around the keywords for which your audience is searching. It can also help you undercover keywords which you did not realise existed. For example, if you are an eCommerce consultancy (like us), keyword research can help you discover other relevant terms such as:

  • ecommerce agency
  • ecommerce expert
  • ecommerce business expert
  • Etc.

These key phrases could generate significant traffic if your website were on page 1.

Drive traffic by targeting relevant high-traffic keywords

Keyword research will help you understand the traffic potential of keywords pertinent to your business. This means you can spend your time creating content targeted at keywords with the potential to make a real difference.

Furthermore, by including the appropriate keywords in your copy, you will stand a better chance of appearing for searches relevant to your business and driving targeted traffic to your website. From there, you can provide them with calls to action to complete a conversion event, e.g. make a purchase or leave contact details.

Process of selecting keywords

Keyword research has the following stages:

  1. Planning and generating seed keywords. What are you trying to achieve?
  2. Finding keywords. Find relevant keywords with keyword research tools
  3. Analysing keywords. Prioritise keywords using key metrics and criteria
  4. Organising keywords. Organising keywords into topic groups and identifying primary and secondary keywords.

Step 1 – Planning

Before researching keywords, you must understand your customers and their goals when searching. Questions to answer include:

  • What is my website about?
  • What do I sell?
  • What searches do I want to rank for?
  • What keywords do I use for search ads?
  • If someone were beginning to research my site’s topic, what words would they use to start?

Once you have decided on these things, brainstorm ‘seed’ keywords around your chosen product or service. Seed keywords are popular keywords from your niche used as a steppingstone to finding more keyword ideas. For example, if you are selling camping equipment, your seed keywords might be:

  • Sleeping bag
  • Tent
  • camping stove
  • Hiking boots

Create a list of seed keywords by using your industry knowledge and looking at your Google search console for phrases your site is already ranking. Furthermore, researching the keywords that send traffic to your competitors is a great way to accelerate your keyword research.

If you need to build a list of competitors, search Google for one or more of your seed keywords. Once you find a suitable competitor website, you can analyse it with a competitive intelligence tool like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to understand their traffic and the keywords these pages target.

Step 2: Finding Keywords

Use Keyword research tools

The best way to flesh out your keyword list is to use a keyword research tool. A good keyword tool will help you discover thousands of keyword ideas and provide essential metrics that will be useful when analysing and grouping your keywords.

 Free keyword research tools include:

Create a keyword list

For each seed keyword, use a tool to create a list of keywords and place these in a separate tab on a spreadsheet. This will be your keyword list.

Step 3: Analysing keywords

By now, you should have an extensive list of keywords in a spreadsheet divided into topics. The next step is to decide the keywords for which to create content.

To inform this decision, it is helpful to prioritise your keywords and place them into an actual content strategy. You may have thousands of potential keywords to pursue but only limited time and/or resources to devote to them.

Prioritising keywords is a balancing act between many competing forces: relevance, volume, competition, click-through rate (CTR), and more.

The more valuable a keyword is, the more people compete for it. Conversely, when fewer people compete for a keyword, it is easier to rank for.

Here are several considerations when prioritising your keywords for content mapping.

Once you have created your long list of keywords, you need to narrow this list down by removing relevant and unsuitable keywords.

  • Relevancy. Using your industry knowledge and your knowledge of your user’s intent, remove irrelevant keywords.
  • Search volume. Filter out high-volume, high-competition keywords for which you are unlikely to rank.

Removing irrelevant keywords

Here are some questions you must be able to answer “yes” to before considering any keyword:

  • Is it relevant?
  • Is this something my audience cares about?
  • Does it fulfil a need?
  • Can I offer solutions around this keyword?
  • Can I create content around this keyword that adds value?

If the answer is no, strike it off your list. Irrelevant keywords can include:

  • Competitors brand names (you will never rank for these)
  • Brand + used (if selling new products)
  • Brand + second hand

Search volume

All keyword research tools have a search volume filter to let you filter for keywords with a specific search volume. It has two main uses:

  • Filtering out very high-volume keywords. Unless you are a popular brand with a well-established website, you probably don’t want to look at keywords with 10K+ monthly searches because they are likely too competitive for you.
  • Filtering out very low keywords. It is not worth your time specifically optimising your content for searches that only get one or two monthly searches.

For most businesses, it is best to avoid trying to rank for very popular keywords, as these will be very competitive. Instead, try and rank for a range of lower popularity keywords. Keywords can be divided into very popular terms (the search head), which make up about 20% of search volume, and many less popular terms, which make up 80% of traffic.

The trick is finding keywords where ranking would be valuable to your business but not so competitive that you do not have a chance of ranking for them.

What’s a “good” monthly volume? It depends. A higher number is typically better, but it also means more competition. Many lower-to-medium volume keywords (long-tail keywords) can add up to much search traffic. Ultimately, the right keywords for your business are typically more important than any volume number.

Google Ads Cost Per Click (CPC) and Competition

Cost Per Click (CPC) of a keyword is how much advertisers are happy to pay for a click on an ad at the top of SERPs for a particular keyword. CPC is a useful proxy for a keyword’s value.

Google Ads also gives a Competition metric that measures advertiser competition.

Step 4. Organising keywords

Keyword Research isn’t only about finding the right keywords. It is also about finding related or semantic keywords to group together.

A very important step in analysing keywords is identifying what kind of page you must create to maximise your chances of ranking. And if you can use that page to target relevant keywords all at once. Or perhaps make a few additional pages to target some keywords individually.

Which keyword to group together?

When creating website content, you are typically faced with two keyword challenges:

  • When to create separate pages for each keyword vs. grouping them together
  • Which related keywords should you include with each topic?

Here are a few criteria to consider when grouping keywords

Search volume

Take a look at the search volume data for your keywords. If the search volume is low, creating a separate page will not be worth it.

Is it a separate topic?

Some related keywords are so similar that you might think they discuss the same thing. However, to be sure that Google thinks the same thing, you can search for the two keywords and see how much overlap between ranking results.

Common sense

Web pages should always be created with the user in mind, so ask yourself whether having a separate page for a topic makes sense.

How to group Keywords together

When planning content, you start with your main keyword, but it helps to have a list of 5-20 other related keywords to help build out your content.

These closely related keywords help inform what the content is about, can become your subject headings, and generally provide additional structure and meaning to your content.

How do you choose the most important, relevant phrases from a list of potentially hundreds of semantic keywords?


First and foremost, your chosen related keywords must be relevant to your main focus keyword. Relevance is often the easiest to figure out because we’ve already done all the work in the steps above.


When deciding which related semantic keywords to use, you can use volume metrics to filter out lower-value keyword opportunities.

Step 5: Targeting Keywords

The last step of keyword research is determining how to target the keywords you want to rank for.

One topic around which you will create content will contain multiple keywords. This means you can rank for several keywords with one piece of content that addresses the topic thoroughly. That said, you still need to decide on primary and secondary keywords for your topic.

  • Primary keyword. This keyword is the best representation of the topic, i.e., it has the highest search volume. It will be used in the page’s key elements, e.g., URL, title tag, and heading.
  • Secondary keyword. These are one or more of the highest-ranking keywords within the topic.



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