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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Keywords: The Step-by-Step Guide to Keyword Research

Learn How to Identify Your Most Important and Lucrative SEO Keywords

Thanks for your interest in our SEO keywords guide. There’s probably a good chance that you found this guide through an online search on Google. Well, this is exactly what this primer is all about: you will learn proven and tested processes that will help you research and identify your target keywords and phrases. BTW – when I mention Google throughout this guide, I also mean other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo!

Why Keyword Research?

First things first. If you’re serious about getting your site found on Google, you have to invest time into performing keyword research in a scientific way. Researching keywords that will drive organic search traffic to a website is a huge part of our flagship two-day SEO training, and even though we spend a fair amount of time on keyword research during our classes, I still feel that it’s not enough time. I hope that this guide will provide additional value to our students and anyone reading this primer.

By performing this research in a systematic and scientific approach, you’ll eliminate the guesswork. When I ask our workshop attendees if they’ve performed keyword research, usually about 20% tell me that they did. Out of the 20% who did perform the research in some form or shape, only about half of them did it in what I would consider a scientific way. Getting your keywords right is only the beginning of your strategy. It’s sort of like planning a trip. Before you board a plane, you probably would like to know whether you’re going to London, Paris or Berlin.

Knowing your keywords and how many people are actually using these keywords to search for things on Google on a monthly basis is key to succeeding with your overall digital marketing strategy, but it’s only the beginning. Putting the keywords to work and getting those page number one rankings on Google requires time, resources and knowledge. While this guide will hopefully help you select the right keywords, I also invite you to learn more about our non-technical, self-paced, online SEO training course. The online course allows anyone to implement a powerful digital marketing strategy. No prior SEO knowledge or coding is required. Students also get access to all of our process templates and you’ll be able to start implementing the newly-learned strategies immediately.

[Improve Your Digital Marketing: In-person and Online SEO Training Courses

What Are SEO Keywords?

So what’s a keyword anyhow? An SEO keyword, or phrase, is a combination of one or more words strung together that people type into Google when searching for something.

As you can see from the example below, if you search in Google for the keyword seo training denver, Google returns a search engine results page (SERP) which includes a number of other pieces of content that you’re competing against (blue box), paid AdWords listings (yellow box) and then the organic (aka natural) search results (green box):

Google SERP

In this case, the search term seo training denver consists of three words strung together which puts it into the long-tail keyword category. Usually, search terms of one or two words strung together are classified as a short-tail keyword and search terms of three and more words strung together are considered a long-tail keyword.

Usually, higher search volumes are associated with short-tail keywords. These keywords are often used during the general research phase and are most often very competitive and quite hard to rank for.

People using long-tail keywords often know exactly what they’re looking for and if they find the right service or product on Google, they are likely to convert into a paying customer:

Short-tail vs Long-tail SEO Keywords

During the keyword research exercise at our classes, we often see students make the mistake of only adding short-tail keywords to their list of target SEO keywords. If you pursue this strategy, it may take a long time for you to see any kind of results. I’ll share more information on this topic as we dive deeper into the actual research phase.

Knowing Your Target Audience Is Essential

It’s essential to know and understand who your target audience is as part of your digital marketing strategy or else you’re just guessing. Before taking on new customers, we ask them to complete our standard onboarding checklist. I invite you to make a copy of this Google doc and use it as you see fit. As part of filling out the checklist, new customers also create basic buyer-persona profiles. The buyer-persona profiles, along with the other information that we’ll receive, allows us to better understand who’s performing the search on Google, their motivation, what stage of the customer journey they’re in, etc. Before investing time into the keyword research process, I definitely recommend that you complete this checklist. Otherwise, you may be shooting in the dark.

Tools, Tools, Tools

Love it or hate it, but you will need some tools to find those keywords. There are many free keyword research tools out there but you’ll definitely get a lot of mileage out of the research if you’re willing and able to invest in paid tools.

As part of your keyword research efforts, I recommend that you use one, or all, of the following tools:

I seem to discover new tools on a nearly daily basis. Here’s a list of additional tools that I recommend you check out:

There are many more paid tools out there and I suggest that you do some research in order to find the tool that best fits your needs.

Picking the Right Tool for Keyword Research

Keyword research is a tools-driven process and Google’s Keyword Planner is usually my preferred tool. It is part of the Google Ads tools suite and it will provide you with the most up-to-date keyword data. However, it will require you to set up a Google Ads account and to run an active campaign. Click here to learn more about Google Ads and how to create a campaign so that you’re able to take advantage of the full range of data that this tool provides.

If you don’t want to set up a Google Ads account in order to be able to use Keyword Planner, you may want to try out Twinword. I’m currently beta-testing this new tool and really like it. In July of 2018, I had the pleasure of recording a 10-minute demo of the tool with Denise Wilhaus, Product Marketer at Twinword. I hope you’ll find some time to view the recording:

If You Could Pick Only One Keyword…

At the beginning of the keyword research portion of our classes, I ask students if their website could rank number one on Google for only one search term, what would it be?

This exercise truly gets people thinking about the overarching keyword that they would use in an elevator pitch to describe what their company is all about. Once you’ve successfully explained the overall concept of your company to your fellow elevator rider, you’d probably use a different set of words to describe specific services or products that you’re offering. This is how you need to think when starting your keyword research exercise.

If my neighbor Jim would ask me what I do, this is what I would tell him: I run an SEO company in Denver and Boulder, Colorado. We offer highly effective and affordable SEO packages and no long term contracts are required to work with us. Our goal is to prove to our customers, month-after-month, that they selected the right partner. We also offer in-person and online SEO training courses.  

Let’s take a closer look at the keywords that I highlighted in blue:

  • SEO company in Denver: After performing keyword research, which I’ll explain how to do shortly, I know for a fact that, on a monthly basis, about 70 people are searching exactly for this keyword on Google. There are a lot of other short-tail search terms such as Denver SEO or SEO Denver with much higher search volumes. However, since we just recently opened an office in Denver, we decided to pick this long-tail keyword since it will be easier for us to rank higher in a shorter amount of time than for the more competitive short-tail keywords. This isn’t the only keyword that we’re optimizing for, and that in a broad sense describes who we are and what we do, but given the circumstances, it’s probably the keyword we’ll spend the most effort on in the short term.
  • Affordable SEO packages: In this case, I did my research and I know for a fact that about 320 people, on a monthly basis, search for the keyword affordable SEO packages in the USA alone. Although it’s considered a long-tail keyword, it’s a highly competitive keyword and it takes quite a bit of work to rank on page number one on Google. It’s well worth the effort though because we usually convert an interested customer into a committed customer. With a team of nearly 50 Colorado-based digital marketing experts, we truly offer some of the most effective solutions. If someone gets to our website and ends up speaking with us after doing a search on Google for this keyword, there’s a really good chance that they will become a customer.
  • SEO training: This is another highly competitive but very lucrative keyword. About 1,300 people on a monthly basis are searching exactly for this keyword in the USA. Since we’re offering one of the top-rated two-day certification classes here in the Denver area, and also a self-paced online training, we have exactly what these people are searching for.

Once you have a clear idea about the overarching keywords that in a broad sense describe who you are and what you do, it’s time to do some research to find a set of closely-related keywords that you’ll want to include in your list of target keywords. Only using the same keyword over and over again will be seen as keyword stuffing by Google and your site may get penalized for this practice by the search giant.

A Quick Word About Branded Search Terms

Although potentially tempting, don’t optimize your website for keywords that include your company’s name. If someone is searching for your company using your company’s name, Google is smart enough to usually return your website as the number one listing in their search results.

Of course, it makes sense to use branded search terms such as nike running shoes if you’re an eCommerce site who sells Nike products, etc.  

A Quick Word About Location-Specific SEO Keywords

Finding the right keywords and phrases for your company will depend on a number of things, including but not limited to the size of your company, the geographical location that you’re targeting, the number of products and/or services you’re selling, etc.

For example, Google may show very different results in relation to a search for seo training vs seo training denver.

Instead of just searching for that they are interested in, people will often also include what is called a geolocator. If your business is a local business, serving customers in a specific town or city, make sure to research if your target audience is including a geolocator in their online searches.

If your business is primarily a web-based e-commerce business, with no specific geographically dispersed office locations, geo-targeting is most-likely not that important for you.

Using Google’s Keyword Planner for Keyword Research

As mentioned above, let’s take a look at how to perform research for the keyword seo training. Our digital marketing and SEO courses now attract attendees from all over the USA so I’ll use this search term as the seed keyword to get started with Google’s Keyword Planner. If you’re not familiar with this tool, I recommend that you read the information provided by Google.

As you can see from the screenshot below, after performing a search for the keyword seo training, I now know that on average 1,300 people in the USA are searching for exactly this keyword. Since the Keyword Planner tool is part of the Google Ads tools suite, the tool will also provide with additional information that will help you decide whether or not you’d like to add this keyword to your Ads campaign:

Google Keyword Planner Keyword Research