How To Do Keyword Research: An Introduction to SEO

Christy Walters


June 13, 2022 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

word search with pencil for how to do keyword research

Keywords are the building blocks of search engine optimization (SEO). Without them, how would people conduct a search? How would they explain what they want to look up online and how would search engines understand what they meant? Searchers, search engines, and businesses have to speak the same language to create, provide, and find content online. Keyword research is the way businesses make that happen and uphold their end of the relationships. In this article, we’re giving you an introduction to SEO by explaining how to do keyword research and covering topics like:

What Is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is part of the SEO process. It’s where you review and explore the language people use when looking for content online. We associate keyword research with content creation because SEO and development work together to bring people to your website and online profiles. This eventually leads to conversions and sales. Keyword research involves finding, analyzing, comparing, and choosing the right opportunities to promote your website and content. It helps you answer important questions like:

  • How hard is it to rank on the search engine results pages (SERP) for this keyword?
  • How much traffic can I get to my content by using this keyword?
  • What type of content do people look for when searching this keyword?
  • Can I attract qualified leads to my brand using this keyword?

Keyword research is not a one-and-done process. Because search algorithms and trends in your industry change, you use the process again and again to generate new keywords for your content. Aside from general keyword research, there are also two kinds of niche keyword research strategies you can use. The processes work in similar ways, but their usage is a bit different:

  • Local keyword research: Focuses on keywords and content people want to find about brands and businesses in a specific geographic location
  • Mobile keyword research: Focuses on keywords and search practices that people use when making search queries from mobile devices

Why Should You Care About Keyword Research?

According to an Ahrefs study, about 91% of pages online get zero organic search visits from Google.

circle chart diagram showing 90.63% of pages get no organic search traffic from google

Image via Ahrefs

If they’re available in Google’s index, why doesn’t anyone visit these pages? There are many factors at work, but one is likely that these companies or content creators didn’t do their keyword research. Keywords are what people use to find content on search engines. If the keywords they search for don’t align with the keywords you use in your content, people won’t ever find your pieces.

And if you don’t do your research and instead create content on a whim, you’re wasting your time and resources. You need to know what the audience wants to see, not just what you think they want to see. You do that by gathering data.

How To Do Keyword Research

To do the best keyword research, you need a good grasp of your niche, audience, and brand goals. By this, we mean you have to know what’s going on in your industry so that you’re looking for keywords relevant to what your audience wants and needs to know. But you also have to understand your business, its goals, and its offerings to make sure the research and content creation align with those, too. Use these steps to discover how to do keyword research for your brand content:

1. Find Seed Keywords

Seed keywords are the short, sweet, basic keywords that define your brand and industry. Consider doing a word association exercise to find some of your seed keywords. For example, if we say content marketing, what words come to mind? Blog post? Internet? SEO? Seed keywords help you discover the overreaching themes in your industry. These are the big topics people want or need to know more about.

It’s important to know you likely won’t target seed keywords directly with your content. Because the topics are so broad, it can be hard to rank for them. Everyone is trying to get a piece of that pie, intentionally or unintentionally. Instead, think of your seed keywords as a guide you can use to help you find more nuanced ones that are easier to target and better explain what your audience wants to see from your content.

Create a list or spreadsheet for your seed keywords to keep them in one place for easy access. You can also share this document with other members of your team to collaborate on your keyword research.

2. Review Niche Resources

What’s trending in your industry? What questions do people have about products, services, or ideas in your niche? Doing an industry resource deep dive allows you to find the topics people are discussing and find a way to work them into your content.

Follow industry thought leaders on social media. Subscribe to niche newsletters or marketing services to discover their takes on popular topics. Follow question-and-answer forums that use your seed keywords, on sites like Reddit and Quora. Add a tab to your seed keyword spreadsheet to include these niche keywords and help you analyze their usefulness and potential in later steps.

3. Check Out the Competition’s Keywords

You likely already know who your biggest competitors are, but do you know what keywords help them pull in their organic traffic? Finding out what keywords your competitors target can be a good place to start. You want your content to appear in the same places and spaces as theirs. Why? Because it gives the audience choices about which content to read or watch. You’re putting yourself in the same game to take your share in the market. It’s the same reason you see Sunoco, Speedway, and Sheetz gas stations blocks away from one another, to attract the same audience.

The more options you provide your audience when they’re trying to meet a need, the better chance you have of getting picked. It’s not the only factor, but if you’re not even in the conversation, you’ve already taken yourself out of the running. Use your seed keywords in Google Search and use the autosuggest feature to see what subtopics appear for each one. For example, look at the screenshot below. Subtopic suggestions for the seed keyword “keyword research” include “best keyword research tool” and “keyword planner.” Do your competitors rank on page one for any of them? Make a list of the ones that do and the ones that don’t.

screenshot of google for the predictive text keyword research

The ones that rank are the ones to target so that you’re running with the competition. The ones that don’t are worth conducting further research to find out why and then discover if you can capitalize on these content gaps. CopyPress has a tool to help you with both competitor and content gap research. Request your free content analysis report today. It lets you see how your content stacks up against your top three competitors and gives you a list of content gap topics to target based on data and analytics.

“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”

Kevin Doory

Director of SEO at Auto Revo

Related: 9 Methods for How To Identify Content Gaps

4. Do a Keyword Analysis

Keyword research tools help you get a wealth of data about each word you’re considering for your content and keyword strategy. They also help you find more word and phrase combinations than your competitor research and SERP exploration. Most keyword research tools work the same way, to give you data on certain metrics that help you determine which words and phrases are most relevant or successful for your content. They may show you exact phrase matches, questions, or even terms that don’t use your original keyword but relate to the same topic. Some of these metrics include:

Search Volume

screenshot to show 20K search volume for the keyword search engine

Search volume tells you, on average, how often someone looks up a particular keyword in search. A high search volume means people search this term a lot. But it doesn’t tell you how many individuals searched that term. Over a year, the keyword “search engine” had 20,000 searches per month. That doesn’t mean 20,000 individual people looked up that term each month. One person could have searched it 200 or 300 times. And if they did, you’d probably want to know why, but that’s a separate issue.

Most keyword research tools let you filter by the search volume. Keywords with a high search volume and low competition are usually the best targets for your content. These long-tail keywords show there’s a lot of interest in a particular topic, but few other companies or brands speak about it. This is the sweet spot for keyword research. They help you get more traffic to your content and work to establish your brand or business as a thought leader on the topic.


This metric tells you how many times someone clicks on a search result for a keyword. You can see in the search volume screenshot above that the term “search engine” got an average of 14,000 clicks per month during that period. But why don’t the search volume and click rate match?

Thanks to Google and other search engines’ dedication to improving customer experience on their services, not every search leads to a link click. In fact, a 2020 study showed that about 65% of searches don’t result in a click at all. Lower click rates may signal a featured snippet or content in position zero that appears above the first organic search result. If people can look in position zero and get an answer to their question, they may never need to click a link to explore more.

But that doesn’t mean you should ignore keywords with low click rates, especially if they have a high search volume and low competition. Search for those keywords yourself on Google. Look if there’s content in position zero like the example below for the term “longest iron man streaks.” The top result in position zero is a featured snippet telling which player has the longest active Ironman streak and for how many games. The next result is the first organic search link, which explains what the term means. If your keyword has a featured snippet, you may work to get your pieces to target, not just the keyword itself, but the position zero, too. That way, your content has a better chance of appearing above the first organic link.

screenshot of google showing position zero and the first organic search result for the term iron man streaks

Related: Position Zero: A Look at Featured Snippets

Traffic Predictions

screenshot of 46K traffic potential for the keyword search engine

Keyword research tools also predict how much potential traffic your content could get for ranking for a specific keyword and other variations on the same topic. For the term “search engine” the top-ranking content could receive traffic from about 46,000 searchers. If the content also ranks in spot number one for the parent topic, by just adding an “s” to the end of the keyword, that traffic could increase to 60,000 searchers.

When you do keyword research and create well-rounded, in-depth content for your audience, you often rank for more keywords than just your targets. It’s important to consider all this potential traffic when predicting which keywords might be most beneficial to your content strategy.

Ranking Difficulty

screenshot of 96 super hard keyword difficulty for the term search engine

We mentioned earlier that ranking for your seed keywords is tricky. That’s because not every piece of content is on the same playing field. Some aren’t even in the same league. Check out the ranking difficulty for the seed keyword “search engine.” It’s super hard, according to Ahrefs, because you’d need over 1,700 backlinks to rank on page one.

Like search engines, keyword research programs look at factors like domain authority, backlink profiles, search intent, branding, and content relevance to determine who’s going to rise to the top of SERPs and how easy it is to do it. If you’re looking at keywords that big brands and companies already monopolize, or the ones everybody targets, it’s going to be more difficult to rank.

That doesn’t mean you should never try to target a difficult, high-ranking keyword. But you need to do some additional analysis and research to determine where to prioritize keywords in your content plan that aren’t an easy rank.

5. Rank Your Best Keywords

You don’t have to save ranking your keywords for the last step. You may actually work on it throughout the entirety of your keyword research process. Determine which keywords should be your top priority for content creation. It’s likely you’ll use all the keywords and terms you’ve collected over time, but which ones are the best places to start? Some questions or thoughts to consider when ranking your top priority keywords include:

  • Does this keyword have good traffic potential?
  • Is this keyword easy to rank for? Does it have a lot of competition?
  • Do we already have any content on this topic?
  • Do we already rank for this keyword or one on a similar topic?
  • Can this keyword help my marketing goals? Can it increase the number of qualified leads we get or sales we make?

Considering these areas and others helps you make informed decisions about what’s going to be the best use of your time and resources to kick off or jumpstart your keyword and content creation strategy. Another way to sort and prioritize your keywords is to figure out where they and the content made around them fit within the marketing and sales funnel. There are three primary categories for funnel keywords. They include:

  • Top of Funnel: Used for brand awareness and to collect information.
  • Middle of Funnel: Used to compare potential options and solutions, or to get more in-depth information about a known topic.
  • Bottom of Funnel: Used to figure out where, when, and how to make a purchase or sale.

Do you have an area of your funnel that’s lacking, or where you want to focus more attention? You may rank keywords that fit there higher on your priority list to see if you can create change in that funnel segment.

I Did Keyword Research, Now What?

If you think you’re finished with your SEO work after you’ve finished keyword research, think again. Your keywords are only as good as the strategy you use to apply them. Think about a homeowner trying to DIY a pipe replacement under the kitchen sink. They may find out what tools they need to get the job done, like a wrench and a new pipe. But having the tools alone isn’t enough to do the job.

They also have to know what the expected outcome is, like replacing the pipe. The homeowner has to know how to use the tools to get the job done, and what outside factors could influence their work, like forgetting to shut off the water before they start. Your keyword research is just one tool in your SEO toolbox.

You have to know how to apply it to content creation and how to test and track the research you did to find out if it’s bringing the right results. Here are a few ways to use your keyword research and apply it to a larger content and SEO strategy plan:

Understand Search Intent

Do you know why people are searching for specific keywords? Yes, you’ve found the ones based on the data that get the most traffic and the most clicks, but why? What’s encouraging people to use these specific terms? Search intent really explores the psychological side of marketing and content development. It focuses on why people do what they do. There are four primary types of search intent. They include:

  • Commercial Intent: People are looking for information on products or services to purchase
  • Informational intent: People are looking for facts and knowledge on a specific topic
  • Navigational intent: People are looking for directions to a place—online or in-person—or the direct link to a specific website
  • Transactional intent: People are looking to buy a product or service and want the location or information on how to do it

Some people use the terms keyword intent and search intent to mean finding terms people use to find content online. But these are actually two separate processes to use together to learn more about how people search the internet for information. Knowing a user’s search intent can help you determine what modifiers or words to include in your long-tail keywords to better present the information they want to find. They include:

  • Commercial intent keywords: Review, rating, vs, compare, contrast
  • Informational intent keywords: Who, what, when, where, why, how, tips, directions, tutorial, resources, examples
  • Navigational intent keywords: Brand names, event names, exact article or video titles
  • Transactional intent keywords: Buy, purchase, shop, price, product, names, sign up, download

Related: Search Intent: An Introduction for B2B Marketers

Identify Pillar Content

Pillar content is the foundation of your content marketing. It covers topics that help you establish authority and knowledge in your industry or niche. Out of your keywords, which ones fall in this category the best? Some of your seed keywords may work as pillar content. These pieces are longer, like comprehensive guides and step-by-step tutorials that cover all the information on a topic. They answer questions like who, what, when, where, why, and how. Because they’re all-inclusive, pillar content may rank for multiple keywords.

Related: What Are Pillar Posts in Content Marketing?

Prep for Content Creation

If you’re researched until you can’t research anymore, then it’s time to plan and write your content pieces. This is what you’ve prepared for. There are three important focus areas to consider when planning your content, based on the keyword research you did:

  • Content type: What is the best way to showcase the content for your audience? Some options include blog postslanding pagesproduct descriptions, and videos.
  • Content format: How do you display the content in a way your audience wants to see it? Examples include how-to content, lists, news articles, reviews, and question-and-answer sessions.
  • Content Angle: What makes your pieces different from the other content that already ranks in SERPs? What new angle or ideas can you bring to the conversation to get people to think differently about the topic?

Track Your Metrics

SEO takes time to work. It can take up to a year to see traction on content developed from your keyword research. But just because you have to wait to see results doesn’t mean you shouldn’t track them at all. Using a reliable analytics tool lets you track your search engine positioning and other SEO factors to determine if you’ve optimized each piece of content effectively.

SEO isn’t a fixed strategy. If you find something isn’t working, even after that year threshold, make a change. Give your content a refresh. Do additional keyword research and keep working to make your content the best it can be. Or you can turn to the experts for help.

CopyPress puts SEO at the focus of everything we do. We use our proprietary software, Thematical, to conduct data-driven keyword research for every project. This helps us ensure you’re targeting keywords that matter to your brand and industry, and are ones your audience wants to see. Then we take that research and apply it to your content and SEO strategies to help send your pieces to the top of SERPs. That grabs the organic traffic you need to lead to more client inquiries and sales. Ready to see how CopyPress works for you? Arrange a strategy call with our team today to discuss your goals and see what’s possible for your business with our help.

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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