Keyword research for a powerful SEO strategy [2021 Beginner’s guide]

Woman sitting on floor working on laptop

You’ve read my Beginner’s Guide to On-Page Search Engine Optimisation in 2021, and you’re ready to start optimising your website to get that sweet, sweet organic content. But wait, you know how to place your keywords into your HTML codes and alt-text, but which keywords should you use, and how do you find them? 

Have no worries! In this guide, I’ll be leading you through all the ins and outs of SEO keyword researching, including researching your target audiences’ search engine usage and queries, how to find the best keywords for your business, keyword analytics, keyword competition, and how to use them! 

What is Keyword Research?

In my On-Page SEO guide, I explained that all SEO strategies aim to increase a website’s organic traffic via optimised SEO strategies to boost the search engine results page (SERP) ranking. Search engine’s job is to answer search queries from their users. To find the best answers, search engines will crawl websites to determine their contents and rankings depending on how well they answer the queries. The keywords you include in your website is a way to help search engines decide this by signalling which topics your content covers. 

The main focus of your SEO strategy should be to create valuable and engaging content for your target audience (Google claims this too) and not for search engines. However, for your target audience to find your website, you still need to keep in mind how they use search engines and which keywords and key phrases they use to find information. Here is where keyword research comes in. Keyword research allows you to understand your target audience better and what content they want to see!

My favourite free keyword research tools include UbersuggestGoogle’s Keyword PlannerGoogle Trends, Keywordtool, Wordstream, SEMrush, Moz Keyword Explorer, and Ahrefs Keyword Generator.

Target Audiences and How They Use Search Engines

An essential part of any business is knowing who their target audience is and how your business can benefit them. Having this knowledge is crucial when it comes to keyword research as it gives you a starting point. That means that it’s not up to a business to determine which keywords they want to rank for, but the target audience. Your job in the initial part of keyword researching is to determine how and why your target audience use search engines. 

Let’s say you run a plant shop and you want to start researching what your target audience searches for when looking for plant information, services, and products. As a shop, you might want to try to rank high for search terms like “rare plants” and see that Google has 883,000,000 search results for the term. That’s a high number of search results to beat to get a high SERP ranking. Customers who enjoy rare plants are probably more interested in plants than the average first-time plant buyer. They are probably more specific in their search terms (names or types of specific rare plants) and interested in things like plant care. 

Your goal here is to go deeper into the wormhole of search terms your customers are more likely to use. With this knowledge, you are more equipped to create content and content topics for them. 

Answer The Public is by far my favourite search term tool!

Woman working online via laptop on desk surrounded by books, phone and picture frames
Photo by Vlada Karpovich on

How to find your competitors’ keywords

The next step is to research who is ranking high for your search terms. If you already have content, you should see where you rank and compare your content to those with higher rankings. It is important to remember that SERPs also show search engine ads placed at the top of SERPs. These are not your competition when you work on SEO, as paid ads will always come above organic content. 

Your goal in this step is to see who your competition are, and what keywords, search terms, and topics they use. In some cases, you might want to surpass your competition in the given search terms and keywords, but in other cases, you might decide to use different but still relevant search terms with a lower result number. To investigate this and your competition further, you can use the SEO tools I have listed further down. 

When you determine who your competitors are, you also need to keep in mind that places like B&Q and IKEA might come up, as they sell plants too. These businesses are rarely a direct competition for businesses like plant shops as they are broader brands and doesn’t necessarily attract your target audience. 

My favourite free SEO competitor tools include Similarweb and SpyFu.

How to find the best keywords for your business

Now that you’ve finished the first steps, we move over to your keywords. Using the different SEO tools I’ve mentioned so far, you can find your most frequently used keywords and ranking keywords. Evaluate if these are the keywords you want to rank for and if your content is high enough quality and answers your audience’s queries well enough to rank higher on the SERP.

Again, using SEO tools, you can use the keywords and search terms you found in your audience research, competition research, and your own evaluation to find related keywords, their search volume, and ranking competition.

Most of the tools I have listed will give you different information about the given and suggested keywords. Search volume is an estimated number of how many searched the keywords have had in a set time, often monthly. Keyword difficulty/competition is measured based on how many results the search engines provide for the keywords. Generally, you want to find relevant keywords with a higher search volume and a lower keyword difficulty/competition. Meaning the keyword is easier to rank higher for and still have a relatively high volume of users searching for it.

How to use your keywords for an effective SEO strategy

So you’ve finally found the perfect keywords to test out, and you’re ready to grow your organic traffic. If you want to optimise your strategy to the max, there are still some things to consider. 

Despite knowing the keywords you now want to rank for and use, you should not start editing your content by simply placing these into your website without a second thought. As I’ve mentioned, the best practice for keyword usage is to use them naturally, in context, and give your audience the information they seek. For more information on where to place your keywords, check my On-Page SEO guide below.

If you place the keyword ‘rare philodendron’ on every page of your website, even those pages not on the topic of philodendron, your visitors will be confused and think the content is written by a bot. In addition, search engines will notice this and flag this as keyword stuffing

Keyword Stuffing is a bad practice in SEO as it involves placing irrelevant, or too many, keywords on pages where they give no additional meaning or value in an attempt to rank higher on SERPs. Keyword Stuffing is never worth the effort as it most likely will hurt your SERP ranking rather than enhance it, a sentiment shared by Google as well.

Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.

Google Developers, 2021

Hidden text and cloaking are additional things to avoid. Hidden text is a practice that does not bring any additional value to your audience and rarely increases your ranking. While Cloaking is a practice that violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and refers to when a website shows different content to real people and search engines through coding and manipulation.

The takeaway

Hopefully, you’ve learned a few new things that can improve your SEO strategy! Keyword research is an essential part of SEO as it gives you an insight into the content your target audience wants to see, who your competition is, which keywords and topics will provide you with the best results in organic traffic, and the best and worst practices of keyword usage.

Which tools do you use for keyword research?

Remember to check out my Beginner’s Guide to On-Page SEO to learn where to place your keywords and more SEO best practices! Pin this post or save it for the next time you’re doing keyword research!

Published by Elise Olsen

Media and research devotee turned marketing enthusiast! I strive to give small business owners and bloggers all the research-based content needed to optimise your online marketing and social media strategy for growth!

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