We’ll be guiding you through a tried-and-true, step-by-step process on how to do keyword research for SEO. While there are several free tools you can use to support keyword research (such as Google Trends and Google Search Console), the process below uses paid tools, primarily Semrush’s Keyword Magic tool. If you don’t already have a Semrush subscription, you can get a free Semrush account with 10 free searches per day.
The SEO keyword research steps below are also easily applied to keyword tools Ahrefs and Ubersuggest, as they have similar functionality. Ubersuggest also has a free version that allows for three free searches per day.
How to do keyword research for SEO
To do SEO keyword research, follow the steps below. Take your time to complete each step. Bookmark this article and come back to it once you complete each one.
- A Semrush account (free or paid).
• If you already have a paid Ahrefs or Ubersuggest account, you could use that instead.
Step 1: make a list of seed keywords
This is the groundwork of SEO keyword research. Based on your own knowledge of your business, products, and services, you will create an organized list of core terms that encompass your offerings. These are also called “seed keywords.” Here are some examples with the seed keyword highlighted:
*Omit apostrophes, dashes, and other punctuation.
Step 2: make a list of relevant subcategories
What is a subcategory? A subcategory is another layer of specificity added to a core term (or seed keyword).
Here are some examples with the seed keyword highlighted:
Common subcategories for a clothing brand may include:
- Colors (stick to mainstream colors, like “pink” instead of “rose”).
- Adjectives like “comfortable” or “cute.”
- How to / what is (this is the “Questions” setting in Semrush Keyword Magic or in Ahrefs).
- “Difference” “vs” or “verses.”
Step 3: collect all relevant variations of seeds and subcategories
You’ll now plug these into the keyword research tool to see what people are actually typing into Google. You’ll also do some preliminary filtering in this stage by leaving out any keywords that are not relevant to your business.
Relevance is defined by whether you have a product or service that matches the intent of that search, and whoever you imagine typing that into Google is someone you’d expect to purchase or someone you’d want to speak to more.
Step 4: organize and prioritize keywords
Prioritization in SEO keyword research comes down to relevance to your business (which keywords are most likely to result in customers) and ease of ranking. Especially at the beginning of an SEO strategy, you typically want to start with lower-competition keywords (more specific, niche keywords that fewer people are targeting) while you build up your organic authority.
This is an often looked-over step when learning how to do keyword research for SEO, and is important in helping you create a viable SEO action plan.
Step 5: map keywords to pages (starting with priority keywords)
In this SEO keyword research step, you will start to turn your keyword list into an actionable SEO plan. The goal is to understand which keywords your current pages should be targeting, as well as what new pages and the new content you will need to create.
How to handle similar keyword variations such as pluralization and slight rephrases. If it’s a reordering of the same phrase, the intent of the search is the same, and the answer you would provide a human customer or the product/service you would suggest to a human customer is the same, you can include them on the same page.
Step 6: create an action plan
In this last step of SEO keyword research, we’re going to further prioritize the keywords we’ve mapped in order to create an SEO action plan.
Now that you have a thorough understanding of your important keywords to target, continue reading our other articles to get further action plans and tips:
- The Top Factors That Influence SEO
- Quick Wins for Direct-to-Consumer Ecommerce
- How to Get a Featured Snippet on Google
- Repurposing Content for SEO
A note about the accuracy of the “volume” metric (or monthly searches on Google)
In terms of search volume metrics used in SEO keyword research, all that the tools can do is offer you an estimation, and none of them offer a completely accurate monthly search volume count. Case in point, Semrush says that there is a combined monthly search volume of about 250 total searches for keywords and variations related to “why is my saxophone squeaking,” but the answer box result for that query (playsaxophone.net) gets over 500 clicks per month to that article from keywords related to “why is my saxophone squeaking.” Clearly, the volume is much higher than Semrush is reporting. The same is true for other keyword research tools as well.
However, getting exact numbers is not really the point of SEO keyword research. The importance of seeing search volume is to:
1. Validate that a keyword is indeed regularly searched by humans (meaning it’s a viable opportunity).
2. Offer insight into which keywords and variations are searched more often. So it’s more about relativity than exact numbers. Make sure to use the same keyword research tool across the board for better relativity integrity.