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Keyword Research: An In-Depth Beginner’s Guide

13 min

If you are wondering how to do keyword research, you are probably looking to increase traffic to your website. The key is knowing the right keywords. Not only do keywords impact your rankings, but they also can – and should – be used as a starting point for creating great content and setting up PPC campaigns. Which means some keyword research is in order.

What is keyword research and why it’s important?

Every day, millions of people are looking for information online. Be it a simple question, like ‘How’s the weather today?’ or a more complex ‘How to choose the perfect raincoat?’, they use search engines like Google to find the answers.

There are many ways one can go about phrasing their question. People can enter a single word, use descriptions or synonyms or even a full sentence for the search query. No matter how they go about it, their goal is always the same: finding the answer to their question as fast as possible.

Keywords visualization.

Whether you provide services or sell products, your goal should be to offer solutions to your website visitors’ issues. By doing so, you can increase engagement, reduce bounce rate, and increase your conversions.

What is the difference between keyword research for SEO and PPC?

There is a significant difference between doing keyword research for SEO and PPC. With PPC, you pay for every click. Meaning, you pay for ads that appear at the top of a search result for keywords you choose to pay for.

When your ad appears first in a SERP, users are more likely to click on it and lead back to your website. When you pay for these higher-ranking spots, you’re paying for hopeful sales or leads to your website. So, you can only afford to run ads on keywords you think will give you a good return on ad spend.

SEO vs. PPC visual.

In contrast, search engine optimized clicks are free, since organic search doesn’t cost money. This means you don’t have to worry about the immediate profitability of your keywords. Of course, a good SEO keyword strategy should produce sales, but when the traffic is free, every sale is profitable.

Building SEO creates and then promotes content to get links, which then over time helps your site rank first on search engines. Building an SEO keyword strategy takes time but can deliver long lasting results.

What are the different types of keywords?

You should use different keywords to target different audiences at each stage of the funnel. That way, you can reach a broader range of people and increase your chance of securing a customer. Based on their characteristics, we can identify multiple types of keywords. Please note that the categories below often overlap.

1.    Short-tail keywords

Short-tail keywords are short keywords of three or fewer words. They usually have a high amount of search volume but are highly competitive. Audiences usually use short-tail keywords when they are at the beginning of the research process.

Someone searching for ‘programming’ might want to learn to become a developer, but they are just as likely to be looking for developers to hire. These keyword types generally don’t convert well because of the difficulty in matching searcher intent.

2.    Long-tail keywords

Long tail keywords consist of more than three words and are much more specific than short-tail keywords. They have lower search volumes but tend to be less competitive as well.

Following our example above, a search query of ‘best beginner JavaScript course’ is easy to match with the search intent – this person is looking to learn JavaScript, is a beginner and has high buyer intent.

Short-tail and long-tail keywords.
Short-tail and long-tail keywords

3.    Evergreen keywords

Evergreen keywords are always relevant. The search volume might fluctuate a bit, but you won’t see extreme changes here. Take the search query ‘best couch to buy’, for example. There is no seasonality for couches, so the search volume will roughly be the same all year round.

Evergreen keyword example – buy coach.
Evergreen keyword example – buy coach

4.    Seasonal keywords

Seasonal keywords have a high search volume in a given part of the year and a low search volume for the rest of it. Think of Black Friday deals, or Christmas presents, for example. No one will search for ‘New Year’s Parties’ in July.

Seasonal keyword – new year parties
Seasonal keyword – new year parties

5.    Geo-targeting keywords

You can target a specific neighborhood, city, state, or even country using a geo-targeting keyword. This is especially useful for smaller local businesses where you’d want to attract the most relevant customers – the local customers – to your storefront.

6.    Informational keywords

We can also categorize keywords based on the search intent. Informational keywords are used mainly by people at the top of the funnel who are looking for information on certain topics. They tend to have low buyer intent, so at this stage your priority should be educating the user about the searched topic.

7.    Commercial keywords

Users with commercial intent are more serious about making a purchase – think of keywords like ‘email marketing solution.’ So, start using keywords like specifications, expiration date, place of origin, shipping fee, etc, to give clearer and product-specific information.

8.    Transactional keywords

This is the last step before a user places an order. At this point, they are comparing products from multiple stores and trying to get the best deal.

How to do keyword research?

Now that you know the basics of keyword research and are familiar with the different keyword types, let’s see how you can identify the best keywords for your business in four simple steps!

Step 1: Identify your target market

In order to identify optimal keywords, you first need to determine who is searching around your industry. Who are your current customers? Are there new markets that you aren’t reaching yet? What groups could benefit most from your products/services?

Your target audience should range from current customers all the way to niche markets that you’re hoping to enter. These various groups likely have different needs, so it’s important to remember these differences later on when creating your keyword list. This will help you focus your content to attract customers you aren’t yet reaching, as well as to keep clients coming back!

As we go through each step in the keyword research process, imagine you have your own local real estate company, and you’re looking to increase traffic to your website. Your target market may consist of first-time home buyers, experienced landlords, and home sellers. You also want to target house flippers, an industry you have not yet entered.

How to flip a house – MOZ keyword research tool

Step 2: Know what questions customers are asking

Now that you have identified your target markets, you need to know the questions customers are asking so that you can provide the answers through relevant content. As an expert in your industry, you should already be clued into what your customers are asking. With new markets, though, you may need some help in determining these questions. A great tool that can help you in this search is Answer the Public.

In continuing with our real estate example, think about what questions first-time home buyers are asking. What fees are associated with buying a house? What is escrow? What are closing costs? Is it cheaper to rent or buy? You can also look at the results from Answer the Public to supplement this list of questions.

keyword research answer the public real estate results example

Step 3: Explore popular content in your industry

Next, it’s time to explore your competitors’ and industry leaders’ websites and content. Look for things you like. How can you emulate and improve on what they’re doing? Also, look for things you don’t like. What topics should you avoid? How can you make your content stand out?

Continuing with our real estate example, look to industry leaders in the real estate industry such as Zillow, TransUnion SmartMove, and RedFin. Each of them has blogs with tons of content to explore! Read through Zillow’s blog to see what topics they’re covering. Check out TransUnion SmartMove’s latest post to get an example of their post layout. Look over the comments on RedFin’s posts to see how customers are reacting to their content.

Step 4: Build a list of keywords

Now the research phase is over. It’s time to build a list of keywords that you can use to start planning your content. You’ll have to be strategic with the keywords that you choose. For example, “buying a house” will be extremely difficult to rank for since it’s a broad topic with a lot of existing content. Instead, focus on long tail keywords – longer, more specific phrases that will be easier to rank for. A long tail keyword you can add to your list could be “buying your first house in Houston” or “what you should know before buying a house”.

As you’re building your list, remember your different target markets. Make sure to list out specific keywords for each group. There may be some overlap between groups, but it’s important that each market has their own exhaustive list. Don’t worry if your lists are getting long. The more keywords you have, the more content you can cover!

How to use Google Keyword Planner to find new keywords and get search volumes?

Whether you are doing keyword research for search engine optimization or PPC, Google’s Keyword Planner is a one of the best free keyword research tools to find relevant keywords for your business. In this section, we will cover how to get the most out of this tool.

It’s important to note that while it’s free to use, you do need a Google Ads account to access it. Creating an account only takes a few minutes.

Finding new keywords with the Keyword Planner

On your Google Ads dashboard, select ‘Tools and Settings’ then ‘Keyword Planner’. By clicking on ‘Discover new keywords,’ you will be taken to a separate dashboard.

If you’ve followed the steps from the previous paragraph, you probably have a general idea of your most valuable keywords. Here, you can enter up to 10, as a starting point. Try to stick to seed keywords or short-tail keywords and let Google do its magic. Alternatively, you can enter your domain under ‘Start with a website’, letting Google identify your top seed keywords.

When that’s done, click on the ‘Get results’ button. The Keyword Planner will list dozens (if not hundreds) or relevant short- and long-tail keywords you can use in your campaigns. Next to the keywords, you will see the average monthly search volume, the competition score (low, medium or high) and the top of page bid range.

You can refine the suggested keywords by selecting/deselecting branded keywords and selecting the location you want to focus on. You can find additional keywords by broadening your search by adding Google’s auto-suggested keywords to your plan.

Understanding keyword forecast

Once you have added a few keywords to your plan, you can head over to Forecast. Here, Google provides you an overview on how much searches you can expect for your keywords and how much traffic you are expected to receive if you advertise for them.

You can get more accurate results by playing around with different keyword match types. Broad match means that ads may show on searches that are related to your keyword, which can include searches that don’t contain the keyword terms.

  • Broad match is the default match type that all your keywords are assigned.
  • Phrase match means that ads may show on searches that include the meaning of your keyword. The meaning of the keyword can be implied, and user searches can be a more specific form of the meaning.
  • Exact match gives you the most control on who views your ad as it is only shown to people who search for the same meaning of your keywords.
Different match types – broad, phrase, and exact
Different match types – broad, phrase, and exact

Special mention goes to negative keywords, which exclude your ads from showing on searches with the negative keyword. For example, if you’re a hat company that doesn’t sell baseball hats, you could add a negative keyword for baseball hats.

What are some other keyword research tools out there?

As you see, keyword research is an essential part of search engine optimization and online marketing. In this section, we’ll explore some of the best free and paid keyword research tools available, including their key features and how they can help you identify the right keywords to target. Whether you’re just starting out with SEO or you’re an experienced marketer looking for more advanced tools, there is a keyword research solution out there for you.


This is a free keyword research tool that provides a range of data on search volume, competition, and related keywords. It also offers a keyword suggestion feature to help you come up with new ideas for content. In addition to its keyword research capabilities, Ubersuggest also offers insights on backlinks, website traffic, and technical SEO.


This is another free keyword research tool that provides data on search volume and related keywords. It also offers a paid version with more advanced features, such as keyword difficulty scores and the ability to see the top 100 search results for a given keyword. is particularly useful for generating long-tail keyword ideas and for finding low-competition keywords to target.



This is a comprehensive SEO tool that includes a keyword research feature. It provides data on search volume, competition, and keyword difficulty, as well as suggestions for related keywords. Ahrefs also offers a variety of other SEO-related features, such as backlink analysis, site audit tools, and rank tracking.



This is another all-in-one SEO tool that includes a keyword research feature. It offers data on search volume, competition, and related keywords, as well as a keyword difficulty score. SEMrush also has a range of additional features, including site audit tools, backlink analysis, and competitor analysis.



This is a standalone keyword research tool that offers data on search volume, competition, and related keywords. It also includes a feature to help you find long-tail keywords with low competition. KWFinder is known for its user-friendly interface and its ability to generate keyword ideas quickly and efficiently.



Serpstat is a platform for digital professionals that has over 50 tools, including keyword research. It has a database of keywords from 230 countries in Google with keyword difficulty, search volume, and cost per click in one tool. It also helps to automate keyword clustering for search engines to understand the structure of your site using the Keyword Clustering tool.

Serpstat keyword research tool dashboard.

Final notes

No matter how time-consuming it seems, conducting keyword research is important. Doing this work upfront can help you focus on creating content that ranks and resonates with consumers. It can also result in higher traffic and higher sales. In other words… it is totally worth it!

Good Luck!

What success have you had with keyword research for your business website? Share your thoughts in the comments below!