How to do Keyword Research Like a Pro in 2021

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Written By Natalie S

When was the last time you brushed up your keyword research skills?

Like many things in the digital realm, keyword research is constantly evolving.

Because Google’s algorithm is regularly updated, keyword research tools and best practices must also keep up.

In this blog, we bring you up to speed on the latest and greatest techniques so you can do it like a pro.

Why you need keyword research

To do keyword research like a pro, you need to start by understanding your purpose. Keywords are used for two marketing techniques:

  • Search engine optimisation (SEO) – improving your website’s visibility in search engine results using unpaid methods, boosting your ‘organic’ traffic, and
  • Search engine marketing (SEM) – improving your website’s visibility in search engine results using paid methods, also known as ‘pay-per-click’ advertising.

SEO is the cornerstone of your inbound digital marketing strategy. It can be cost-effective if you do it right, especially compared to paid advertising.

SEO also helps you achieve the most relevant traffic to your website.

If you choose to use SEM, we recommend using it as an adjunct to SEO, not a replacement.

Keyword research for SEO

Before diving into the pro keyword research techniques, here’s a quick summary to help you think about it in the most productive way.

The whole point of keywords is to make it easy for clients to find your website.

Your goal is to identify the keywords a prospective customer searches to get to your site. Then you want your website to appear higher on a search result for those keywords.

Everyone wants to be on page one of the search engine results pages (SERPs).

But aside from ranking well on Google, you can also use your keywords to monitor, test and refine what your business is delivering (more on this later).

Here’s an infographic from the keyword research platform Moz that puts what I’ve just described into a nice visual format.

In this graphic, “Keyword Research” is the “market”, and refers to what users are searching for.

On the other side, “Content” is the “product”, and refers to what users are consuming, such as websites and blogs. The way they “Fit” is through the process of optimisation.

While this blog focuses on the keyword research techniques in detail, you can learn more about optimisation specifically at our other blog, A Quick and Easy Introduction to SEO.

Now you’re ready to begin your 2021 keyword research.

Step 1: Know your ideal customer

The infographic above carries another very important message that should be your golden rule for keyword research.

It says that to get more organic traffic to your site, your content should match your ideal audience’s search terms and intentions.

So, your first step is to consider your ideal customer. Most likely, you’ve already done some work on understanding your ideal customer using audience personas. But if you haven’t, now’s the time.

With your ideal audience in mind, you can now begin keyword research by thinking as this customer would.

Step 2: Start developing your keyword list

The best way to start developing you keyword list is by doing some DIY research. (Later, we’ll show you some of the best tools out there to help you expand, refine or develop this list.)

Begin simply by opening an incognito tab in Google and typing in the keyword most relevant to your business that you can come up with.

You’ll find many suggestions on the page, including:

  • Google predictive text – the search terms that pop up as suggestions while you’re typing
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – find these below the snippet but above the search results, and
  • Related terms – at the very bottom of your SERP, below the results.

To learn more about this method, see our previous blog, How to do Keyword Research.

If you’re new to SEO keyword research, start by creating a list of 10 or 20 keywords. Advanced practitioners will create lists of 1000 or 10,000 words.

Step 3: Use Google Keywords Planner to brainstorm

Google Keyword Planner is a must-use tools for keyword research—and it’s entirely free.

While it does make you set up a campaign—and it will ask for your credit card information—it won’t actually charge you unless you start posting ads.

Use Google Keyword Planner to help you brainstorm keywords, but be sure to analyse your choices to make sure they’re relevant.

With Keyword planner, you can discover variants on your keyword and related search terms, including:

Alphabeticals: Your keyword as searched with another word or phrase added on, with results arranged in alphabetical order.

Comparisons: Your keyword when searched in a comparison phrase, including terms such as “versus”, “vs”, “like”, “as”.

Prepositions: Your keyword when used in phrases with prepositions such as “for”, “near”, “with”, etc.

Learn more about this tool in detail at How to Use Google Keyword Planner.

Step 4: Get specific using SEM Rush

As one of the most popular free tools for keyword research, SEM Rush allows you to see analytics on your keywords.

Even if you’re focusing on SEO not SEM, it’s a very useful tool because it can show you:

  • Search volume – how many times that keyword was entered into Google
  • Keyword difficulty – how hard it would be to rank better than competitors
  • Websites – who else is ranking for that term, and much more.

A quick SEM Rush search of our keywords “content” or “copywriter” show that there are thousands of searches for these keywords every year.

While they are relevant to our business, these keywords are too competitive to try to rank for. So we get more specific by aiming for “content strategy” or “content marketing”—words that describe what we do, are highly searched, and less competitive.

Another way to get more specific with your keywords is by adding specific phrases that people search for that tie into your primary terms.

For us, we would add “marketing copy”, “marketing strategy”, “inbound marketing”, “blog post content”, “blog content writer”, or “blog post copy writer”.

Step 5: Use Answer the Public for long tail keywords

If you’re a regular reader of our content marketing blog, you might have seen Answer the Public mentioned a fair bit.

This free UK-based keyword research tool is great for long-tail keyword research.

What is ‘long tail’, you ask? Well, compared to ‘short tail’ keywords, which are either general or short, long tail are longer (sometimes fully formed sentences) or if not longer, they’re more specific.

Like many keyword research tools, Answer the Public also allows you to download your list as a comma separated value (CSV) file, which comes in handy when you need to refer to your list or upload it to another platform, such as Keyword Planner. 

Step 6: Use LSI keywords

If you’re doing your own keyword research, you’ll need to understand a scary-looking but fundamental concept known as ‘Latent Semantic Indexing’ (LSI).

Here’s an example of how it works. “Apple” and “iTunes” are LSI keywords because they share the same context and are frequently found together, but they’re not synonyms.

So, if your page or blog post is about Apple, Google needs to know that you’re talking about the company, not the fruit. Google does this by using LSI to work out that these terms refer to the same thing, even if they don’t share keywords and are not synonyms.

The advantage of using LSI keywords is that it stops your content being seen as spam by Google, it helps generate relevant traffic, and it lowers your bounce rate.

Make sure you try to rank for the right keywords by considering LSI as part of your keyword research.

You can find LSI keywords by using the Google predictive text method we mentioned above, i.e., by typing your keyword into the search engine and noting the suggestions that come up.

Step 7: Spy on a competitor with Ispionage

You might already be familiar with competitor research—if not, now’s the time to roll up your sleeves.

By using a free website called Ispionage, you can see what your competitors are doing with their SEO and SEM.

You can find out what keywords they use and even how much they spend on their pay-per-click marketing.

You are welcome to target the same keywords as your competitor.

You can even paraphrase their advertising if you want to. But you must never plagiarise. Not only is it poor form, but Google will penalise you for it by demoting your website ranking.

When using Ispionage, keep in mind that you will have big brand competitors and small business competitors. You won’t be able to outrank the big brands because they can have four or five-figure budgets. But knowing what these overly competitive keywords are will help you get more specific in the keywords you have a chance at ranking for.

Step 8: Figure out which keywords you’re actually using

We’ve already talked a little bit about the discrepancy between the keywords you might expect to be relevant versus the keywords your ideal customer is actually using (see step 1).

Sadly, there’s yet another common mistake that businesses tend to make with their keywords.

It might be the case that you think you know your keywords, and you think you’re using them or are trying to use them, but the reality of what keywords are actually on your site tells a different story.

This might happen if you have blogs on topics related to your business; less relevant keywords might take over. Or conversely, you could realise that the keywords you were targeting weren’t the most relevant after all.

Discover what keywords appear most on your site with a free tool called WordArt.

Copy the text from a page or blog on your site, then paste it into WordArt and click “visualise”.

Aside from a cute little graphic, WordArt will also reveal the most used keywords on your page and their precise frequency.

What’s a good keyword density?

Years ago, people used their keywords as many times as possible on a given page to rank well on Google.

This method of ‘keyword stuffing’ was just a way of trying to game the system. Because it was hard to read, and not very user friendly, Google quickly caught on and now penalises the practice.

You should never try to stuff keywords, but don’t be alarmed if you’ve got a keyword occurring heaps of times on the page. If your content reads beautifully and naturally, you’ll have achieved a pleasant user experience, and that’s what matters more to the Google algorithm.

Step 9: Mind your bounce rate

All internet users have bounced—sometimes we do it multiple times per day.

Bouncing is when you type your search into Google and click on a result, only to discover it was not what you were looking for and leave almost immediately.

The technical definition of bouncing is when you leave within three seconds.

This can happen for heaps of reasons, for example:

  • The website was not relevant
  • The website was too slow or hard to use
  • The website wasn’t mobile responsive, and so on.

If you are using the wrong keywords, you could be ranking for irrelevant terms and hence attracting the wrong audiences to your site. Once they get there, they’ll instantly realise they’re in the wrong place and bounce.

Sometimes this is not necessarily a problem with your choice in keywords, but with a large volume of users misspelling words.

For example, our business offers copywriting services. But this can attract a lot of people who type “copywriting” but actually mean “copyrighting”—in other words, they’re not looking for content marketers but for legal services related to intellectual property.

Hence, while we do have the term copywriting appearing in our blogs, we tend to focus our keywords more on “content marketing” instead.

You can check your bounce rate and work out whether the cause is keyword-related by using another free tool—Google Analytics.

Step 10: Discover your ranking keywords

Find out which keywords you do rank for by going to your content management system (CMS) on your website.

If you have a WordPress site, use the Yoast plugin to find your ranking keywords.

If you use another CMS, you can find your ranking keywords in Google Keyword Planner, or simply search Google for another free tool—there are plenty.

Now, compare your list of ranking keywords to the keywords you want to rank for to reveal your plan of action.

Take a leap forward by keeping up with Google

Keywords were once the be-all and end-all of SEO strategies.

In many ways, the legacy of the keyword stuffing era is still with us as many tend to focus their SEO strategies on ranking for keywords.

But while this may seem to be the lowest hanging fruit, it’s not the only thing that Google looks at while indexing and ranking websites.

Google is increasingly creating algorithms to prioritise sites that are easy to use, especially on mobile.

As of March 2021, Google announced that its updated algorithm will put more emphasis on authenticity, security and safety.

While keywords are undeniably essential—marking the way that users find your business online—they should always be part of a holistic SEO strategy.