There are three steps I follow when I’m doing keyword research for a new site, with a more advanced optional fourth step:
- Find keyword ideas.
- Check TRUE keyword difficulty and search volume.
- Determine your search intent
- (Optional) Find and use keyword silos.
Let’s get started!
Step 1: Find keyword ideas
Finding keyword ideas is the easy part. There are plenty of tools out there that will spit out hundreds of ideas at the click of a button. It’s researching them that takes effort, but we’ll get to that.
For now, take a look at the “Best Keyword Research Tool” section and pick your poison. I’ll use Ahrefs in the examples because it’s my favorite tool and has all the bells and whistles, but the other tools can work too.
My favorite way to find great keyword opportunities is to spy on my competition. You can do this by plugging your site into any keyword tool and look at their keywords. Ahrefs has a nifty tool called the Content Gap Analysis.
Here’s how it works:
- Plug your site into Ahrefs, and then click on the Content Gap link in the left-hand menu.
- Plug in 1 to 10 competitors that are ranking in Google for the keywords you want to rank for. You can find them by searching Google for those keywords and removing the URLs from Google or by using the Ahrefs Competing Domains tool just above the Content Space link. Run the tool.
- From here, you can export the list to an Excel spreadsheet if you wish. I like to check the list in Ahrefs. If I see a keyword I want to target, I open it in a new tab and add it to a list of keywords using the + Add to button at the top right.
If you don’t have access to Ahrefs or another keyword tool that allows you to look at competitive keywords, you can also use a tool like Keyword Shitter to give you a bunch of ideas, and then vet them using other free tools like Uber Suggest.
Step 2: Check the TRUE Keyword Difficulty and Search Volume
Once you have a list of keyword ideas you are comfortable working with (my goal is 50-100 at a time, but you can do much more), it’s time to see which ones are worth pursuing based on keyword difficulty (KD) and search volume.
There is just one caveat…. the search volume and KD you see in most keyword research tools are usually far apart. KD in Ahrefs is based solely on the number of domains linking to the top results, which is not a 100% accurate depiction of the true difficulty of ranking for a keyword.
This is because SEO is a complex beast, and things like domain ranking (which I’ll cover shortly) and internal links can have a massive impact on rankings. Backlinks are only part of the picture.
What about search volume? That doesn’t include LSI and long tail keywords!
Remember that camping gear example I showed you at the beginning of this article that ranks for over 1,900 keywords? The main keyword only had 2,700 searches per month, yet the article gets over 5,000 hits per month. This is because it ranks for other keywords in addition to the main keyword.
So if you see a keyword with 200 searches per month, it is most likely more like 500 or 1,000 if you include the related keywords you will rank for.
To determine the true search volume, take the #1 result in Google for the keyword and plug it into Ahrefs or Uber Suggest to see how much traffic that page actually receives. This will give you a more accurate picture of the search volume for a given keyword.
Here is the traffic for the #1 ranking page for “tiny campers”, a keyword that receives ~3,400 searches per month:
See how the page exceeds 10k traffic, even though the main keyword gets a third of that traffic? That’s the true potential of search volume.
The other metric, keyword difficulty, is also not 100% accurate. But figuring out the true difficulty is usually as easy as looking at the top domain authority (DA) pages, or domain rank (DR) if you’re using Ahrefs. Let me explain.
If a keyword has a difficulty score of 8, but the top ranking pages are all DR 80+, ranking your site for those keywords may be difficult if you have a low DR, despite the low difficulty score.
My advice is to look for keywords with a 30 KD or less if you are below 40 DR, and then branch out as you build more links and get higher authority. As your DR goes up, your internal links are worth more “link juice” (or pass more “page authority” depending on which source you listen to).
But this is not an article about technical SEO, so I’ll leave it at that for now!
Step 3: Determine search intent
At this point, you should have a pretty decent list of keywords with a difficulty you’re comfortable tackling and a search volume potential you’d be happy to capture. Now it’s time to figure out what people really want when they search for these terms and whether or not it fits with your marketing and revenue goals.
This part is as simple as Googling each keyword in your list and looking at the top 3-5 results. Review your meta title and description, click on them to view the page, and check the angle they took on the page.
- Are they mainly listing posts? How…latest guides? A landing page? Anything else?
- How do they seem to be monetizing the page? Are they using display ads? Selling products as a solution to the problem? Affiliate marketing? Just capturing emails and not selling anything?
- Take a look at the comments – are people asking questions that weren’t answered in the article? Do they seem happy, angry or neutral?
All of these questions will help you dial in the type of post/page you need to create, how you can monetize it (or use it to capture emails, push notification subscribers and social followers), and what you can do to improve it.
As you go through each keyword, save your answers to these questions in a spreadsheet or Word document to keep track of the ones that matter to you. Your final list is the list you can start pursuing!
To give you a better idea of how to determine search intent, here are some examples courtesy of this Moz post:
- [product name]
- what it is [product name]
- how does it work [product name
- how is [product name] used?
Commercial Intent (also known as Research Intent):
- the best [product name]
- reviews of [product name
- compare [product name]
- what is the top [product name] [color/style/size] [color/style/size] [product name] [color/style/size
[color/style/size] [product name].
Transactional intent (also known as purchase intent):
- how much does it cost [product name
- [product name] at [location]
- order [product name] online
- [product name] near me
- affordable [brand name] [product name]
Now grab your list and go get some content out! Or, you can follow one last step.
Step 4: (Advanced) Searching and using keyword silos
If you really want to do it right, you can optionally go a step further and look for keyword silos to create corresponding content silos on your site.
A keyword silo is a list of highly related keywords that you can create content to interconnect on your site (also called the “hub and spoke” method).
Essentially, you create a central page that targets the main core term you want to rank for, and then create “talk” pages based on related, long-tail keywords.
For example, while doing keyword research for my wife Kayla’s vegan food blog, I found a number of related keywords that asked “Is ___ vegan.” People wanted to know if common foods, such as bagels, donuts or Oreo cookies are vegan.
This interlinking is called content siloing, and it works so well for two reasons:
Because all the pages link to each other, if you build links to any of the pages, you improve the page’s authority on all the other pages.
Google uses relevance in its algorithm, and since all of these topics are highly relevant to each other, it can further improve your rankings.
So how do you find keyword silos? There is no silver bullet: you have to be good at picking up on patterns and noticing relevance. However, there is one trick you can use to try to find them: books.
Search for books on your topic on Amazon and browse the table of contents. Often, books are full of keyword silos: that’s what makes them a book! Think of the binding as the centerfold and the chapters as the talking pages.
Of course, as you can see from the example above, these keywords are not exactly what people are searching for on Google. People don’t type in “vegan in the world,” they type in “how to eat vegan at restaurants” or “how to eat vegan at family gatherings.” So you may have to do some digging to find out the keyword that matches the chapter title in the books you find.
Once you find a potential silo, be sure to run the keywords through steps 2 and 3 before committing to it! Just because you’ve found a silo, doesn’t mean you should pursue it. Think logically about how all that content will fit into your business and how you can expand it in the future.