Keyword Research Step By Step

Keywords are the foundation of your SEO campaign.  I get a lot of questions about how to do keyword research and about the best tools.  So here is a little primer on how I do keyword research.  If you do something different, would love to hear about it – share a comment below.

I always start with a brainstorming session to list all possible words and phrases that people would use to find what I/my client has to offer.  Remember to put yourself in the mindset of the potential customer.  This is an important step and one that people try to rush through.  You know your product/service and target audience so your input here is invaluable.  Ask colleagues and any customers that you have a good relationship with – different perspectives are always great.

Next, you should do the necessary research to continue building your list.

  1. Research your competitors and see what keywords they are using.
  2. Look at your web stats and logs and pull words and phrases from there (this is a great source of info, you can find the words that people are already using to find you and enhance your rankings on those words so you can get even more traffic).
  3. If you have a search feature on your site, look at the logs and see what people are searching for within your site once they get there.

Take the large master list you have come up with and use a keyword tool to determine how much traffic there is and how competitive the words/phrases are.  Remember you can’t live and die by this information, it only acts as a guide for you.  There are so many tools out there, I don’t endorse any particular one but I can tell you that the data varies from tool to tool, so I often use a couple different tools to get a better idea of what’s really going on.

Looking at Google suggest and what comes up on the SERPs for the core phrases is also helpful to nab some ideas.

After that, I take the list and break it into segments.  You want some “low hanging fruit” – which means keywords that may be longer phrases with less traffic.  These words will be easy to rank for fairly quickly so you can use those as your starting point to drive some quick traffic to the site.  The second segment of your list should be words that are more competitive and have more traffic and will take longer to get rankings for.  You will be glad you selected keywords from each segment because you will be getting traffic from the low hanging fruit while you are waiting for the more competitive phrases to kick in.

Because that last step is so vitally important, let’s break that down a little further.

If your keywords are too generic and not targeted it will take a long time to get rankings and the traffic likely won’t convert as well.  If you use keywords that are way too specific you won’t get enough traffic.

The solution?  Use a 3 tiered approach.


  • Shorter phrases and single words
  • Generic to your industry
  • Lots of traffic
  • Lower conversions


  • Slightly shorter phrases
  • Higher traffic numbers
  • Phrases are still focused on what you offer

Laser Focused: The Long Tail

  • Longer and more targeted phrases
  • Traffic numbers are smaller
  • People are further along in the buying process so conversion rates are higher

The thought process behind “long tail keywords” is that the more detail someone types in, the more they know exactly what they want and the further along they are in the “buying” process.

For example if someone types “blue plates” they could want to buy them or they could want info or they could want to see pics – who knows.

But if someone types in “Pfaltzgraff Blue dinner plates for 8” then they know exactly what they want and are more likely to buy.

Typically the longer the phrase, the less traffic there is but the more targeted it is, so it is likely to convert higher.

A solid SEO strategy should definitely implement some long tail because that allows you to get rankings quicker (there is usually less competition on long tail keywords) and it allows the conversion rate to be higher.

You get the benefit from the long tail while you are waiting for your more competitive phrases to get ranked and kick in.

Most people are continually adding new long tail phrases and find that when they add them up, in total the long tail phrases end up becoming a large part of your traffic.

Another thing to consider is the searchers intent.  Let’s look at this scenario to understand a little more  (I use this a lot, so you may have seen this before).

“buy MAC lip gloss ” – the searcher is looking to buy online

“MAC lip gloss prices” – they are comparing prices and probably trying to decide if they will buy

“MAC lip gloss” – they are interested in a specific brand

“lip gloss” – interested in a type of product

You want to capture leads at the different phases, but understand you will convert more at the top level where they are further along in the buying process.

Your SEO strategy should include keywords from each of those “tiers” above.

Don’t forget you should also google your keywords and check out what sites come up on top.  Check out what keywords they are using – you may get some ideas.

Did you know that approximately 25% of searches each month are brand new, never before seen search words and phrases? 

We spend so much time on keyword research – and rightfully so, it’s the foundation of your campaign.  But this new information tells us that we need to tweak the process a little bit to keep up with the ever changing SEO world.

So, how do you handle keyword research and make sure you are staying current?

First and foremost you want to make sure you have outlined your strategy.  Without a plan in place you are likely to forget to do it, and it’ll just rattle around in the back of your brain or sit on a post-it note that gets stuck to the back of another piece of paper in your planner.

So, before that happens, let’s define your plan right now.

You’ve already done your initial keyword research steps as outlined above. Here is where most people are missing out and need to plan further action.

Once a month you should do more keyword research and see what new words and phrases come up and add those new words and phrases to your campaign.  If you find once a month is too often, do it every other month.  Just make sure you have a plan to check back regularly so you can take advantage of new search phrases and tap into more traffic.  You could put a monthly reminder in your Outlook or use an online reminder service.  Find a system that will work for you!

If you are adding content to your site like you should be, then adding these new keyword phrases should be easy to work into the new content you are writing.  🙂

You should also schedule at least a monthly review of your web stats (if not more often).  Check out how much traffic you are actually getting from the engines.  Find out what phrases people are actually finding your site with.  Don’t forget the engines will start picking up your site for “bonus keywords” – which are different combinations and variations of your core keywords that you optimized for.  If you identify some of these “bonus keywords” it’ll give you insight into exactly how people are searching and what they are looking for.  You may find it’s worth adding content for these new phrases so you can try to get even more exposure for them.

You also want to look at how long people are staying on your site, how many pages they are looking at before they leave,  and what pages they leave most often.  You may find that some of the keywords you thought were good aren’t leading to sales.  Once you know that, you can place less value and therefore less effort on working on those keywords and move on to something that will have more benefit for you.

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7 Responses

    1. Chetan, if you are still in the mindset that keyword density is important, then you missed the point of this post. Keyword density is a thing of the past. Don’t worry about your keywords, worry more about relevance, story line, and of course well written content.

      1. Thanks Gabriella for your valuable suggestion.
        I have a little confusion that I always write post very well but my post doesn’t rank in Google and I am not understanding that what is the thing which I am missing. Could you check everything on my blog and then give me the reason why my article’s are not getting enough search traffic.

  1. What a great post! I think in SEO, the most important thing is to be specific with the keywords. The more specific and precise they are, the more chances of a visit to occur.

    I agree that keywords form the base of SEO for any company. Therefore, it is important for them to understand the direction they want to lead the customers to. Based on that direction, they should select their keywords. If the direction is not specific, the customer will loose interest and move on to the next available link. Finding out the frequency of searches of related keywords, can help in determining the choices.

    Though, this is a very important activity in a company, it needs to be backed with good content to keep the customer engrossed.

  2. Thanks Jennifer, I’ve been working as an SEO for 5 years now, and keyword research is what dogs me what with all the trial and error. I’ve tried various tool to help me in this respect – IBP,
    I’m curious about your strategy regarding broad, focused, and laser-focused. So if a website should focus on the easy wins first i.e. the long-tail terms, then how do you fit that into your overall site architecture strategy?
    Let’s use a boutique skin care line website as an example. This is a highly competitive niche in paid and organic, and ranking for these terms is next to impossible. Still, the website’s main product pages need to be named according to what they are – facial cream, skin cleanser, etc. Therefore, the opportunity for laser focus seems to be limited.
    In this case, what might your recommendation be? I was thinking of targeting more of the long-tail in an aggressive blogging strategy. (Yep, this is about a client project, hope you don’t mind. 😉

  3. Very fabulous post to make a blasting post.
    I think after making a post we should check them for keyword phrases that it has some or have many phrases.I think 2-3% are good in a post.
    Thanks for all the research mate which are very helpful too.

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