How to pick the right keyword? Keyword research for Dummies
Keyword research is a fundamental topic in digital marketing today and will likely remain central to the growth of online businesses for the decades to come. How to pick the right keyword is one of the most crucial questions in SEO.
You can find an overwhelming abundance of theoretical guides on the topic, but that’s not what you’ll get here.
Instead, I will share with you my best practical tips from my time as an in-house keyword research specialist for a large company with over 75 domain rating. By the end of this article, you should have a good idea of how to use keyword research to help your business.
In this article:
Table of Contents
The 3 Core Principles of Keyword Research
1. The Right Keyword has Relevance, Volume, Competition
Keyword research is about three factors: Relevance, Volume, and Competition.
A keyword is an excellent opportunity for you if it is relevant to your business, people are looking for it, and the competitors are not dominating it.
2. Search Engines help you pick the right keyword
Google’s mission is ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’
This means they are actively trying to serve the most relevant results every time a person looks for information on Google. Thus, the best way to determine if a word is suitable for your business is to see if the top results have anything to do with your business. Additionally, you can become more familiar with search intent.
3. SEO tools are convenient, but they are just an interpretation
Regardless of which tool you subscribe to, you will get access to a bunch of metrics that tell you how many people search for a term each month, and they can give you interesting insights about your competitors. Moreover, they try to tell you exactly what content is ranking for each search term.
You have to keep in mind that 3rd party tools do not have access to Google’s complete algorithm and are trying to give you their best guess of what Google should serve for each query.
However, these tools are only sometimes reliable. Your best bet is to use tools to discover keyword and competitor metrics but still look up each keyword in Google manually to be sure who your competitors are (you need a VPN and incognito mode if you want to do it like a pro).
Metrics that matter to pick the right keyword
Even though a report from a tool can serve a dozen variables, you need to understand only 5 of them to be able to make decisions.
Domain Authority/ Rating
Domain authority or domain rating shows your SEO tool’s best guess about how reliable your website is from Google’s point of view. Usually, it goes from 1 to 100, where 1 is typically a dropshipping site, and 90+ are government and educational sites to which Google gives priority.
Although DA/DR is not a keyword metric and is not featured in your keyword report, it is crucial to understand how well your website is doing and, consequently, how strong your competitors are.
It’s worth manually searching up terms to discover the top results in Google and then checking each one with a tool to determine their DR.
Volume/ Global Volume
How many people use this word when they are looking for something online each month? Tools can also give you the search volume per country since sometimes people phrase themselves differently based on where they come from.
A recommended minimum search volume should be at least ten queries per month, but it can be much more depending on your capacity to compete.
Keyword Difficulty (KD)
Keyword difficulty is related to how difficult it is to rank for a given search term. Some topics, such as politics, research, and medicine, are usually dominated by high-authority websites, which makes it impossible for random websites to break through the first page.
KD is a proxy for how tough the competitors are. However, when in doubt, it’s always great to check out the keyword in Google and see how you stand up to the competition.
Suppose there are any websites with a lower domain authority than yours. Then, you might have a good chance of ranking on the first page of Google. If not, look for a longer, more specific word combination.
Cost per click (CPC)
Cost per click is a core metric for anyone who wishes to run an ad. It informs you of the cost you will pay every time someone clicks on your ad. What is an acceptable CPC for you will depend on your conversion rate, your budget, and your business goals.
Search Intent – The non-metric metric which helps you pick the right keyword
Last but not least, every time you open up Google, you will see that results usually gravitate around a category. It might be informational, transactional, navigational, a commercial investigation, or a mix of them. So always follow the flow of the search intent.
Tools to pick the right keyword
Free to use
If you don’t want to invest any money in keyword research and need a quick short-term solution, you can visit Google trends and equip yourself with Mozbar and Browsec, which are extensions for Google Chrome.
Google Trends can tell you the search volume of specific terms, Browsec acts as a free VPN which you need to get unbiased results when you double-check terms, and Mozbar allows you to see the details of each search result, including their domain rating and On-Page SEO elements.
If you need help with generating keyword ideas, check out Answer the Public by Neil Patel.
Ahrefs and SEMrush are the industry leaders, but they also cost a hefty monthly sum. In exchange, you can comfortably do keyword and competitor research at scale. If you feel they are too pricey, you can look up alternatives to them or look for SEO tools that offer free trials. It doesn’t really matter which one you get, as long as you understand what you want to use them for.
Is this a good keyword for me at the moment?
A keyword which is worth your time is always relevant to your business, has at least some search volume, and the domain rating of your competitors is not too high for you to compete with.
Now that you’ve got a bucket of good keywords, it’s time to start sifting through them to find some great ones. But first, we need to reenter the world of business and consider two things: business value and opportunity costs.
If you know marketing funnels, you understand that the more aware a person is, the readier they are to take action. Thus, words that signal commercial intent like ‘buy’, ‘purchase’, and ‘get’ are usually better for your business than informational words like ‘how-to’, ‘best of’, and ‘list of.’
The problem with commercial words is that they are usually ferociously competed for, and if your business is just starting, you have no chance to take on the big guys organically.
Creating content and getting it to rank on Google’s first page is a process that can take a few weeks, months or even a year, depending on how bad the competition is.
While you’re patiently climbing the SERP ladder, you will be invisible and have zero business value from organic traffic. Going directly for the harder word has several drawbacks, the biggest being the time and resources it would cost you to get there.
Pursuing ‘low-hanging fruits,’ on the other hand, pays off in multiple ways. First, you get measurable results quicker, which benefits the rest of your SEO and puts you in a better position to pursue more challenging words in the future. By dominating a few easier words, you start getting topic authority which is crucial for SEO.
Bonus: Doing Keyword Research at scale to pick the right keyword
If you’re serious about keyword research and need to do a lot of it, it dramatically pays off to start writing down your insights and organizing them. Usually, research is something that you do on and off as you find opportunities and pursue them. Thus, it’s very important to keep results organized to avoid double or triple work down the line as you forget what you had in mind.
A simple excel spreadsheet does wonders for creating your keyword database. Although it might seem overkill for a dozen keywords, they quickly pile up. Eventually, you might have hundreds or even thousands of keywords of differing quality.
The table is there to help you make decisions, and you should make decisions based on the core factors of keyword research and the broader value they bring to your business. You can create a column for each factor.
- Metrics (KD, Volume, CPC)
- Search Intent (What content type is Google showing?)
- Relevancy (How valuable is this word for your business?)
- Competitors (link to the website of a top performer, Domain Rating of top competitors)
When you visit your table a month later, you should still get a good idea if a word fits all the Relevancy, Volume, Competitors, and Business value criteria.
Final Words on How to Pick the Right Keyword
Like it or not, it just became harder for you to suck at keyword research.
So naturally, there’s always more to learn, but this article is a great starting point for understanding keywords. That’s a crucial skill because it allows you to see opportunities and cases where you are only wasting your time with content. This guide was lots of fun for me to write, and I hope you found it helpful! If you need more help with creating great SEO content you can look for an SEO writer!