You have a fabulous new idea for a blog post (or podcast or video) that you think your audience would loooooove.
Beyond sharing it with your existing audience on social media and by email, you also want this content to help you get found by a new people, ideally people who are already searching for this topic on Google.
The secret is keyword research. Before your palms get sweaty with panic, let’s quickly define the term: What exactly is keyword research?
Keyword research is discovering the words people are looking for so you can show up in their search results.
That’s it. No fancy spreadsheets or calculations required (at least not yet).
So how do you get started with keyword research for your website?
Move through our six-step process:
1. Understand your ideal client, with empathy
People talk a lot about SEO — Search Engine Optimization — but around here, we like to think of it as Search Empathy Optimization.
empathy (ˈɛmpəθi) noun, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
When most business owners first start writing their website copy or writing blog posts, many talk about themselves. After all, they’re the ones running the businesses, so they need to share their experience and prove their expertise, right?
Wrong. This might work for warmer traffic — leads who have been referred to you by a previous client or who have been following you on social — but when we’re talking about people searching for the outcomes you provide, they don’t know you yet. And until you’ve proven to them that you can give them what they think they need, they don’t care how many years of experience you have or how many fancy acronyms come after your name.
If I’m focusing on my perfect client, do I need an ideal client avatar (ICA)?
Nah, not really … at least not in the traditional sense.
Most ideal client avatar exercises (or they’re sometimes called “buyer personas” or “customer profiles”) tell you that you need to define your perfect audience by demographic details. Most tutorials tell you to pick a name for your person and define their lifestyle:
“Jamie is a 39 year old married mom of three in Seattle. She loves Taylor Swift and pumpkin spice lattes, and just can’t lose that last 20lbs of baby weight, no matter how often she walks her golden retriever, Max.”
There are some marketing tactics for which these details matter; for example, if you’re running paid social advertising (like Facebook Ads), you could target only audiences who identify as female, follow Starbucks, and have recent dog-related purchases.
But when it comes to SEO? None of that matters. It doesn’t matter if your ideal client is a Hufflepuff who loves drinking chilled rosé.
what matters is what your audience thinks they need from you.
So instead of trying to define your audience’s income level or first concert, focus on:
- what your ideal client thinks they need to be happy or successful
- what they’re curious about
- what they’re bothered by
- what they need to figure out in order to take action
- what they need to learn from you in order to buy your products or hire you
2.What does your ideal client need from you?
Figure out what your ideal clients already know and how they express themselves
A friend of mine is an Emergency Room doctor, and he told me that in medical school they taught him a key trait of bedside manner is to reflect your patient’s language.
If a patient comes to him and says, “My hoo-ha hurts,” it’s not the time to educate the client about proper anatomical terms. The better response is, “And how does your hoo-ha hurt, exactly?”
And the same is true for understanding the way your ideal customers talk and search. You can’t expect them to know everything you do and explain it your way; if they already knew that, they might not near to hire or buy from you.
What are possible things your ideal client would search for?
Get yourself out of the limitation that you have to choose your audience based on their industry or demographics, and instead use empathy to put yourself in their shoes as you brainstorm.
here are some prompts to help you think about the kinds of things your ideal customers might be looking for:
What questions do people ask about your industry?
When somebody is thinking about working with you, what are the questions that always come up for them? (Bonus: Next time somebody asks you, you can save time and just send them to that resource on your website. Win-win!)
What do people need to know in order to make their purchase worthwhile?
For product businesses: What facts do they need to make a decision? (maybe this is product dimensions, shipping details, return policy)
For course creators: What do they need to know about the course to implement it properly?
For services: What are the timelines and expectations? How will we communicate? What deliverables will they receive?
What myths do people believe about what i do? what’s holding them back from working with me, hiring me or purchasing my product?
For example, a personal trainer’s potential clients could be worried that you’ll only be worried about their weight and body fat percentage, whereas you want to help that client with strength and bone density.
Pro tip: if you’re a little more spiritual, you might ask the question this way: “What limiting beliefs do people have about what it is that I do?”
What outcomes would people get from learning from me buying from me or hiring me?
What exactly is it that they are hoping to get from you?
For some of us, this is more tangible: If you sell dresses, they want a dress. If you’re a web designer, they want a website.
And for some of us, like coaches, they may have desired feelings: they want to feel more confident, they want to be able to ask for a raise.
It might not be something tangible that they can hold in their hands, but it might be something that they can share with others or something they can learn about themselves.
Find phrases & create content that meets your customer’s level of awareness.
That doesn’t mean you have to patronize and create only the simplest version of everything; it means that you can create different levels of support based on what your client already knows.
This resource you’re reading, for example, is a BEGINNERS guide to keyword research. It’s not a place to talk about advanced topics like latent semantic indexing or semantic keyword clustering or word vector usage in structured data.
Not only is it boring, but you probably don’t care! You can just trust that we know it and will help you make sense of what it means for YOU.
But if we were writing a blog for other SEOs, that would absolutely be what we’d geek out about. The secret is knowing your audience, identifying what they already know and what they need to understand in order to convert to a sale.
Understand what’s happening in your client’s life … why do they need you right now?
If you woke up in the middle of the night to a raccoon in your kitchen, you’re not gonna wait around for a Facebook ad to pop up for pest control – the first thing you’re probably doing is going straight to Google to search “how to get a raccoon out of my kitchen”.
Or maybe you know a friend who’s having marriage troubles – they likely aren’t gonna ask their Facebook friends for marriage counselor or divorce attorney recommendations. Instead, they’ll probably go to Google (I call this “shame Googling”)
Knowing that people have specific moments (like this raccoon fiasco) that they’re googling can help you figure out what type of content to create.
Find these urgent topics your clients are searching for and create specific, compelling content around those topics. How do you find out what these topics may be? Think about the specific moments that your ideal client might feel a little bit lost, confused, or uncomfortable at, and go to Google to look for an answer to their problems.
3. Search Google like your customers to brainstorm ideas
Think about what you would Google if you had no knowledge that your business existed.
Let’s say that you need a website designed – what are the keywords that you would search for if you were looking to get your website designed?
Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes can help you find phrases and topics that you may not have thought of.
So take a few minutes, head on over to Google, and spend some time Googling some topics to get a good idea of what your ideal clients may be searching.
Learn from the Google Search Results
You know when you start typing in the Google search bar and there’s that list that drops down with other terms and phrases? These are related topics that other people are searching for.
Google is literally telling you what people want – potentially from your business.
And don’t skip out on the “People also ask” and the “Related searches” sections that Google shows you whenever you search something. These are normally really specific topics that’ll give you great ideas for coming up with content to answer those queries.
“What should I write?” 4 Tools to brainstorm topic ideas
We already talked about using the Google autocomplete function to brainstorm topic ideas… so here are three more tools you can use:
Answer The Public will pretty much do the work for you by pulling all of the auto-complete suggestions from Google and sorting them by their questions and prepositions. Use this to create clusters of ideas that can turn into blog posts for your website.
People Also Ask is another free tool that pulls this info out of Google and organizes it in an easy-to-digest way.
If you know that your audience might speak about things a little differently than these prompts would, then Seed Keywords is a tool to use. You create a scenario for a search and it tells you what keywords people are searching for.
4. Know your search metrics
Having ideas is great. Knowing what your ideal customer needs is even better.
But truly understanding how many people are out there looking for what you offer, and how many other businesses have already written about it? That knowledge is a gamechanger.
So where do you find that information? And how do you know what it means?
There are 3 major metrics that usually show up in keyword research:
What is Search Volume?
Search volume average number of times in a month that users enter a particular search query into a search engine.
This is usually the annual average, divided by 12 … so if the search volume for “halloween costumes” is 360, that doesn’t necessarily mean an even 360 every month. It probably is more like ~720 in September, ~3600 in October, and nobody from November-August.
What is Cost Per Click (CPC)?
The price another business is willing to pay to get a click through paid search ads
The more a brand is willing to pay, the more valuable that lead is to the brand, so a higher CPC probably means somebody will buy sooner than a lower CPC.
For example: “divorce lawyer” has a CPC of between $15-20/click, because if a person is actively searching Google for that and hire based on that ad, that divorce lawyer is likely to make thousands of dollars on that $10 click.
But the term “divorce lawyer” free drops to a CPC of $4, because those people aren’t going to be willing to spend as much on their eventual attorney.
And the term “should i get a divorce checklist” drops down to about $1.50, because those people aren’t even sure they want a divorce yet, so it’ll be months or years until they’re maybe ready to hire somebody.
What is Search Competition?
Search competition (sometimes called paid difficulty) is a metric of how full the Google Ad placements are. In most tools the scale is between 0.0 and 1.0, but sometimes it’s between 0 and 100. In general, lower is better.
If you rank #1 in organic search for a keyword with a low competition, that means that you’ll actually show up at the top of the page.
If you rank #1 in organic search for a keyword with high competition, your click-through rate will be much lower because the search results page will just have more crap all over it to wade through.
What is Keyword Difficulty?
Keyword difficulty (sometimes called organic difficulty or SEO difficulty) is how hard it would be for a website to rank in the top 10 organic search results.
This number is calculated based on all the metrics above plus the domain authority of the websites already in the top 10.
Ok, now that you know what these metrics MEAN … where do you FIND them?
The internet is full of different keyword research tools that will tell you all this information & more. Here are some criteria to consider which of the tools will work best for YOU:
Find the keyword research tool that works for you
There are dozens of wonderful free & low-cost keyword research tools around the internet.
If you’re just getting started with keyword research & don’t want to spend a ton of time trying out all the tools, our favorite totally free option is Google Trends, and our favorite impossibly low-cost option (like <$1/mo!) is Keywords Everywhere:
Keywords Everywhere is a chrome extension that provides keyword data directly on sites you probably visit regularly, like Google, Amazon and YouTube — so you can do your regular searches and get valuable user data at the same time!
It also improves the experience of using SEO tools like Google Search Console and Analytics by providing keyword volume and cost integrated right into the existing data.
For visual learners & people who might be nervous about spreadsheets full of data, there’s no better tool than Google Trends.
Trends shows you related topics people are also searching for, and it can provide new blog ideas by showcasing different search phrases that might not be on your list. You can also drill down the results to your particular state or region.
Even better? Use it with Keywords Everywhere to get search metrics to go along with your visual graphs.
If you want something slightly different from those … there are dozens more wonderful free & low-cost keyword research tools around the internet.
You can go straight to the source and use Google Keyword Planner (note: this requires you to create a Google Ads acccount, but you don’t have to pay a dime or run an ad to use the tool).
(We’ve also got a list of 30+ Free SEO Tools for Keyword Research, Backlinks, Analytics & More if you’re looking for more tool recommendations!)
What search volume & keyword difficulty should I target?
Your keyword research tool is telling you that your keyword has a search volume of 590 and organic difficulty of 32. Sooooo what does that mean? If you write about this, will you actually rank for it? Or is it just a waste of time?
Search volume: Bigger isn’t always better!
There are 480 searches every month for “free SEO training,” and only 90 for “SEO workshops.” So you might think I’d go after the bigger search terms because so I can get more traffic.
But no! I would much rather get clicks from people looking for workshops (with the implication that they would be paying for those workshops) than freebie-seekers.
Although if I had a different business model, where I’m getting paid by an advertising network for every pageview, I might seek out the higher-volume keywords for free SEO courses.
When you’re looking at search volume, remember that relevance more important than volume.
Also: that search volume number is for that EXACT PHRASE, not the idea. Often people are seeking out the same thing but using different words, for example:
- “free seo training”: 480 searches/mo
- “free seo courses”: 320 searches/mo
- “seo training free”: 260 searches/mo
- “free seo course”: 170 searches/mo
- “free seo classes”: 110 searches/mo
^ these 5 keywords are essentially searching for the same thing, and together they add up to over 1300 searches/mo.
So when you’re wondering how many people are searching for something, don’t limit yourself to ONE term — take a look for synonym terms!
Keyword difficulty: Will you actually get clicks for that term?
If your website is really well-established and has a lot of backlinks and a lot of content, it’ll be easier for you to rank for a higher keyword difficulty term than if you just started your website pretty recently.
Also, different pages on your site can rank for different keyword difficulties. Your homepage is going to be able to rank for more difficult keywords than a blog post, because it has more links from around your site.
If you see two keywords that are the same search volume and one of them is easier keyword difficulty, pursue that one.
5. Keyword mapping: Determine the best keyword(s) for every page
Every page, post, product listing, portfolio and picture on your website can have a unique job.
If you’re a business coach for artists, you don’t have to work the phrase “artist business coach” into every asset; in fact, if you do, it could make it confusing for Google to know which of your pages would be the best fit for that term!
So instead of picking just ONE phrase and trying to cram it into every page … try to think of every page, portfolio, product & post as a landing page for a DIFFERENT keyword.
Here’s how we’ve assigned different keywords for all the main Love At First Search pages:
- About page: “SEO Agency” and “SEO consultant”
- Courses page: “SEO training” and “SEO courses”
- Attract & Activate program: “SEO membership” & “SEO coaching”
- SEO Roadmaps: “SEO Strategy”
And then our blog posts all have specific keywords in mind, like:
We don’t need every page of my website to rank for every term; we create every page as a landing page for those specific targeted terms.
So how do you decide which keywords should be targeted to which pages?
Cluster your keywords and assign to each page
Every page and post can be found for an infinite number of search terms. For example, our post about the keywords everywhere plugin has over 300 unique keywords … but they’re all variations of the same idea:
So throw out the dated idea that you need to choose only ONE keyword per page (popularized by the Yoast plugin’s misleading “target keyword” field), think instead of every post having an IDEA that it can be found for … and then when you have enough posts on a topic, you can organize them into a category or tag so people can browse through multiple posts on the same topic.
What if nobody is looking for what I’m selling?
What if you start doing keyword research and all your ideal terms are showing up with a search volume of zero, zip, zilch, nada?
Well, you might need to re-think your approach. Here are a few steps:
- Identify what customers think they want
- Break your hybrid idea into smaller keywords
- Educate them to make your solution stand out!
6. use the keyword variations to plan & outline your content
Use the keyword research to plan out the structure of your blog post
If you’ve found a keyword but aren’t sure exactly what to write or how to organize it, the Google Search Engine Results page can provide insights in how to structure the post and what additional information might go into this post or another complimentary post about the same topic.
Find content opportunities to plan multiple posts that work together
One blog post can be found for a specific topic … but you should consider writing a series of blog posts about related topics in order to be found for a wider variety of queries around the topic.
In that video 👉🏼 I show how to use the Search Engine Results Page prompts + a keyword research tool like Keywords Everywhere to come up with a few complimentary post ideas that strengthen your authority around a given topic.