With any blog post or page on your website, keyword research is an essential first step.
Targeting the right keywords is fundamental to SEO and inbound traffic generation. Similarly, targeting the wrong keywords leads to lost potential and hindered growth.
Keywords that are too competitive for your website will mean lost traffic that otherwise could have been obtained with less competitive keyword phrases. Keywords with too low of search volume won’t generate enough traffic to warrant your efforts.
Keyword research helps you find profitable keyword phrases that sit within this healthy medium. Ideally, these are keywords with low competition and adequate search volume.
The right keywords are phrases you can begin targeting and generating traffic from within a reasonable timeline. The exact range of that timeline depends on your niche and your website’s current authority.
If you’re targeting phrases with thousands of searches per month and considerable competition, it could potentially take years to make it to the first page of search engines. It’s important that you understand the differences between your keywords and the expected results for those phrases.
This guide starts with the basics and provides step-by-step instructions on how to do free keyword research for long-tail keyword phrases.
1. Know your Niche Prior to Digging for Keywords
The Google Keyword Planner is a free tool that can be used to explore keyword ideas.
Through a simple search, you can find thousands of niche relevant keywords with search volume displayed and many other key metrics at your fingertips. It works great but what it’s not great for is evaluating a keyword’s competition in organic search. In fact, it doesn’t do that at all. The competition column on the Google Keyword Planner is for Adwords and PPC campaigns – not organic search.
One of its major flaws is that it displays the same results to everyone and it doesn’t display long-tail keywords as effectively as other methods. Instead, it will display only phrases that are similar to your initial seed keyword. Since it excludes phrases that could be valuable to your website, we recommend using other keyword research tactics and we’ll explain how that’s done below. This guide sticks to 100% free methods, although we do recommend some tools along the way if you prefer a speedier approach.
Before you begin, there are some important considerations to make:
1. Identify your niche markets
Before using the Keyword Planner it’s important to identify niche markets. If your primary market is SEO, related niche markets could be keyword research, on-page optimization, link building or even something highly specific such as guest posting. Knowing your niche markets is important because the Google Keyword Planner won’t find them for you. Type or write down as many niche markets as you can identify.
2. Know your demographics
Take some time to consider the age, gender, approximate salary and hobbies of your target audience. Each niche market you identify could have differing demographics and that means many of them won’t make for ideal targets in your campaign.
3. Know your target keyword “types”
Keywords are divided into three essential types: Head, Body and Long-Tail keywords.
- Head keyword phrases are generally 1-2 words in length and extremely high in search volume and competition. These are big brand keywords that can take many years to rank for. An example head keyword is “SEO.” Commercial intent is hard to judge, as someone searching for “SEO” could be looking for a variety of different things.
- Body keyword phrases are generally 2-3 words in length and have decent search volume. These are more specific phrases, such as “SEO services” or “buy SEO services.” These phrases can still be very competitive but will have less competition than head keywords.
- Long-tail keyword phrases are generally 4+ words in length, making them much lengthier searches with far less competition. These could be phrases such as “on-page optimization for local businesses” or “buy seo services online.” Long-tail keyword phrases make up the majority of online searches.
Take some time to evaluate your SEO approach. Targeting long-tail keywords will help you drive results faster but body keywords will contribute to branding your business and building authority.
A long-tail keyword will generally have between 10 and 500 searches per month on Google. To effectively drive search engine traffic for long-tails, you need to rank for a wide variety of phrases. One of the best ways to do this is to cater your blog content toward these phrases.
2. Search for new keyword ideas
To access the Google Keyword Planner and begin searching for seed keywords, point your browser to: https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner and login to your Adwords account.
Select the “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas” option.
Type a keyword from one of your identified niche markets into the “Your product or service” text box and click “Get ideas.” This should be a keyword phrase that’s relatively broad but describes your product, service or content fairly specifically.
Select the “Keyword ideas” tab and you will see hundreds of related keyword phrases.
You can click on the title in the “Avg. monthly searches” column to sort the keywords by search volume from highest to lowest.
You can now take any of these seed keywords and use them as a search on Google.
Scroll to the bottom of the page and you will find an area dedicated to related searches. This is a great way to find highly relevant long-tail keywords.
Filtering on the Keyword Planner
The Keyword Planner provides many options for filtering. You can target keywords relevant to specific locations and languages, or include negative keywords to exclude from your search.
You can also change the date range if you’re concerned with long-term search volume, such as if a keyword has experienced a surge in search volume and you’d like to check a specific date range.
Furthermore, customizing your search can be done with keyword filters and options. For organic search, filtering by “average monthly searches” would be the most relevant.
A keyword option that can be very useful is the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” option. By turning this on, only phrases with your exact search term within them will be displayed.
Keyword trends and demographics
When you search for a keyword, there are several trends and demographic charts that you can view with the Google Keyword Planner. It applies to your entire search and all the keywords within it.
These can be very useful for observing trends and long-term consistency.
3. Using incoming search queries
If you’re actively updating your blog with content, these posts will naturally rank on Google and provide organic traffic. As you build your brand and gain authority, this will continue to grow and your blog will get traffic with little promotion or SEO necessary.
Google no longer displays what search queries are providing traffic to your website in Google Analytics but this data is still available in Webmaster Tools. Simply verify your site and navigate to the “search queries” section, which you’ll find beneath “search traffic.”
By evaluating which search queries are already getting impressions and clicks, you can find long-tail keywords that you never knew existed. Better yet, these are ideal phrases to target because they’ve already shown potential for your website.
4. Trimming your keywords
Once you’ve gathered a decent list of keyword phrases by using the methods above, you can paste all of these keywords into the Google Keyword Planner to get their monthly search volume. If a keyword doesn’t have adequate search volume, it’s best to remove it from your list.
Keep using this method to trim your list of keywords and find ideal long-tail keywords. You will need to check the commercial intent and organic competition for each keyword in your list and if you have a large number of keywords, this will take far too long.
Note: Long-tail keywords with little or no documented search volume can still provide traffic and could find a role in your SEO strategy such as using them for tags or within the content on blog posts.
5. Evaluating keyword commercial intent
Now that you’ve used multiple methods for finding keywords, you should have a good number of keyword phrases in your list. Evaluating each keyword’s commercial intent will help you eliminate phrases that won’t be profitable for your website.
Commercial intent means the searcher’s likelihood to buy something. The higher the commercial intent of a keyword, the more likely you are to get sales.
Commercial intent can be measured by the type of keyword that it is. Keywords can generally be placed in either of these 4 categories:
Buy keywords imply that the searcher is already expecting to purchase something when they make their search. Buy keywords have very high commercial intent and are ideal target keywords but usually have high competition. Buy keywords are phrases with words like:
Phrases that are based around a specific product, category of products, service or brand have high commercial intent as well. The searcher is looking for a specific product, which implies that they may want to purchase that item. They convert very well but usually not as well as buy keywords. Product keywords are phrases with words like:
- Product names
- Product category names
- Brand names
Most searches on the internet are of the informational type. Informational keywords can still be profitable but the searcher is mostly looking for content. They intend to learn something and gain knowledge when they make their search. Informational keywords are phrases with words like:
- How to
- Top ways to
- Best ways to
- I need to
Low converting keywords
Low converting keywords are phrases that are not likely to convert. Low converting keywords are phrases with words like:
By evaluating which category your keyword places into, you can gauge its commercial intent. If you’re having trouble placing a keyword into a category, you can use the Adwords competition to gauge commercial intent as well. A keyword that’s highly competitive on Adwords means that advertisers are paying for placement, which means it’s profitable for them to do so.
Adwords Competition Rating
Use the Google Keyword Planner and check the Adwords competition rating for the keyword phrase. If it’s rated as “Medium” or “High” competition, chances are the keyword phrase has high commercial intent. Advertisers on Adwords will target keywords that are profitable and deliver sales, thus the competition will be higher. Keywords with low competition are more likely to have low commercial intent.
The higher the suggested bid for a keyword phrase, the more valuable that keyword is. High suggest bid amounts indicate that advertisers on Adwords are already paying high dollar amounts to get placed for that keyword. If they are willing to pay for the traffic, then it must be converting and have high commercial intent.
6. Evaluating keyword competition
So you’ve got a strong list of keywords, you’ve checked their search volume and commercial intent and you’re ready to check their competition.
Google doesn’t provide keyword competition ratings for organic search which means we have to check competition manually.
Keywords with high search volume, high commercial intent and low competition make for ideal target keywords. The lower the competition, the less promotional work needed to get ranked on the first page of Google and drive traffic.
Evaluating a keyword’s competition in Google’s organic search results can be done quickly and effectively using the techniques you’ll find below.
Analyze the top 10 Google results
If the top 10 results for a given keyword are dominated by big brands and authoritative websites, chances are slim that your website will overtake them. By analyzing the top 10 results, you can gauge the competition of the keyword within a matter of seconds.
First, install and activate the SEOQuake and MozBar browser plugins. They are available for Firefox or Google Chrome.
Now when you make a search for one of your keywords on Google, you will see a variety of metrics and stats for each of the top 10 listings. If you don’t visit the plugin “options” and make sure this feature is activated.
Option 1: Use MozBar
The MozBar plugin displays very powerful data for each of the top 10 listings and it does this inline within Google’s search results, like so:
Page Authority and Domain Authority
Page Authority or PA is a measurement for the authority of the specific page that is ranking on Google.
Domain Authority or DA is a measurement for the authority of the entire domain or website.
Page Authority is the more important measurement, as Google ranks pages based off the authority of that page, not the authority of the whole website. However, authoritative websites will have an easier time getting their pages to rank. Google loves big brands and authority websites.
Listings with high PA and DA are more competitive.
Links to Page and Links to Domain
In the simplest of terms, Google uses links as a way of counting “votes” for a page. The more links a page has, the more “votes” it has. Pages with a high number of quality links will rank better.
The link count that you see displayed next to PA is a count for the number of links to that page.
If you have a Pro Moz account, you can access to some additional features, like the number of links to the domain.
“RDs” stands for referring domains. This means the number of unique domains that have linked to the page or to the domain.
Evaluate the number of links for the page (and domain if you have a pro account) for each of the top 10 listings on Google.
Listings with a high number of links and strong PA/DA scores are more competitive.
Option 2: Use SEOQuake
The SEOQuake plugin also displays powerful data for each of the top 10 results on Google. It also provides more out-of-the-box than MozBar, so it might be a better alternative.
Number of Pages Indexed in Google
Websites with a very high number of indexed pages in Google can be more competitive. The higher this number is, the more content/pages the website has, which can be an indication of authority.
Domain age contributes to search engine rankings as well. The older a domain is, the more likely Google is to favor the website due to its authority and age. Pages that exist on aged domains can be very competitive.
Don’t Forget to Check On-page SEO
The on-page SEO of the page can be evaluated to gauge competition as well. There are several elements of on-page SEO that you can quickly review for the top 10 results:
- Is the keyword present within the title of the page?
- Is the keyword present within the description of the page?
- Is the keyword present within the URL of the page?
To dig even deeper, the MozBar plugin provides a “Page Elements” evaluation tool underneath the magnifying glass icon.
This allows you to quickly evaluate a variety of on-page features that contribute to ranking well in search engines. Most importantly, the H1 tag, META keywords and image alt text.
Pages that are lazy with their on-page SEO can be easier to overtake in the search results, even if the page appears to have decent authority.
You can also check link quality with Ahrefs or MajesticSEO
Just because a page has a high number of links doesn’t mean these links are high quality. Spam links can inflate the link stats and throw off your research.
Use Ahrefs.com or MajesticSEO.com to check the external links of the page and quickly look over the top 10-20 links.
If they use black hat SEO and have links from low quality sites such as blog networks, article directories, link directories, blog comments etc. then the link stats may be inflated and the page isn’t as competitive as it appears. You can use the MozBar and SEOQuake plugins to further evaluate the links in their link profile as well, but try not to obsess over these stats. You very likely have a large number of keywords to evaluate and you’ll need to be time efficient with your research.
What makes an easy target?
Pages that are easy to overtake in the search results and have characteristics that indicate they are low in competition are:
- Pages with PA < 10 and DA < 15
- Article directories
- Question and answer sites
- Web 2.0’s and free blogging websites like WordPress, Squidoo and Hubpages
- Press releases
Free keyword research methods are never the fastest but they are always the most effective. While tools like keyword research software can speed up the process, their competition ratings are rarely 100% accurate and often still require some manual digging. Now that you know how to find target keywords and evaluate the competition, you can be more effective with search engine optimization by wasting less time on keywords that will lead to disappointment.