Keyword Research: Ranking Words for SEO Nerds

Keyword Research Ranking Words for SEO NerdsSearch engine optimization. What can one say about it? Essentially the science of figuring out how to trick Google into bumping you up on its search engine results pages, among many other things. Search engine optimization, or (lovingly) SEO, has a metric tonne of aspects and facets that any wishful online entrepreneur, from the humble blogger to the industrious marketeer, would do well to study. However, there are a few core concepts upon which SEO is, for all intents and purposes, built on. One of these concepts is keyword research. Don’t worry, it’s not as horrifically boring as it sounds (honest injun).

One can be so bold as to say that almost every aspect of SEO depends on one’s choice of keyword. Think about it, your whole website’s existence hinges on the fact that you picked a keyword to be its foundation. Its literal reason for being where it is. And the reason why people even visit it in the first place. But you’d be a fool to think that settling on just one main keyword is enough to bolster your site ranking and general SEO endeavors. So why not pull up a reasonably comfortable stool and learn a thing or seven about keyword research?

Keyword Research: The Basics

What It Is

In order for you to properly understand and reap the benefits of keyword research, you’d have to know what it means in the first place. Keyword research is, in its most basic definition, when SEO professionals (or anyone into SEO really) try to find alternative search terms for subjects people search for using the more popular search engines. Still not clear yet? Alrighty, how about an example?

This very same article you’re reading right now revolves around the keyword “keyword research.” Bet you didn’t notice that one. Ideally, people would come to view it based on their search for “keyword research.” But that’s simply not enough to rely on if one were to want more visits from the right crowd. So after a process of diligent research and various scientific methods (googling), a list of alternative keywords were generated. These keywords are ultimately relevant to what this article is trying to rank for, and are the most used search terms when people on the Internet decide to read about this specific subject. Some examples would be: What is keyword research, keyword analysis, seo keyword research and so on.

Keywords? Come again?

It’s worth briefly explaining what a keyword even is. You’d be forgiven to think that it’s just a single word that governs your entire online presence’s traffic. Keywords can be anything from a couple of words to entire sentences, like the examples above. And they’re basically what people use to search for whatever topic comes to their minds. The more organic search terms are usually what people go for, somebody wanting to learn about cat fashion tips is going to search using things as simple as “cat fashion tips” or “top cat fashion tips,” or even “what are some of the best cat fashion tips 2017.” These are all keywords. This just so happens to be a convenient segue into explaining what long tail keywords and head terms are.

Keywords Have Body Parts?

In a sense, yes. Let’s make use of the previous example because cat fashion is too interesting to pass up. You can bet that the lion’s share of people’s searches are going to be more general than anything else, so “cat fashion tips” takes the cake for most used keyword in this category. Whereas something like “top cat fashion tips” takes slightly less precedent on people’s list of search terms, even less would be “what are some of the best cat fashion tips 2017” and other similar examples. Long tail keywords are basically keywords that have more words tacked onto them, usually more than three, that tend to be much more specific than the broad term one would be searching for. This can take any number of variations such as “best cat fashion tips,” “cat fashion tips for siamese cats,” and most importantly “why are people googling cat fashion tips?” Head terms, on the other hand, are more generic and generally contain the gist of your search inquiry. “cat fashion tips” being a prime example.

But what’s the point of varying your keywords and doing all this keyword research? It sounds like a lot of effort for something so simple, but you’d be slightly (largely) mistaken.

Keyword Research: The Rationale

If you thought that cat fashion example was over with, then think again. You might want to jump to just using the most used keywords and be done with it, but there are a few critical reasons why the more savvy keyword research experts among us don’t do that. Think about it logically, it doesn’t take a certified quantum physicist to guess that over 70% of kitty fashion aficionados are going to use “cat fashion tips” as their go-to search term. And it makes sense that a lot of other, potentially more prominent sites, are going to be using that same keyword. So you’re going to have a fair bit of competition on your virtual hands in order to rank for keywords that are too generic. Competitive keywords might be easier to use and could potentially reel in a decent amount of relevant visitors to your page, but would you believe that the percentage of searches people perform on the great wide web using these generic search terms only make up something around the neighborhood of 30%?

Competition might be fun for a lot of folks but in the wild and wacky world of keyword research and analysis, it’s not something you want to actively engage in more often than not. And besides, people that search for things using too generic terms aren’t particularly prone to conversion. Put it this way, somebody searching for “plaid shirts” is probably just looking for a broad overview of the intricate world of plaid shirts. They’re a lot less likely to actually go for a shirt or even consider putting one on. Whereas somebody using much more detailed and specific terms, let’s say “cool plaid shirts in blue and red in Detroit”, is somebody gunning for a blue and red plaid shirt. And they’re much more likely to want to buy one, effectively moving from a potential lead to a full fledged convert. These longer and more specific long tail keywords generate much more lead conversion and allow you, the humble keyword researcher, to hone your keyword selection to better catch more and more relevant fish.

So people searching for “cat fashion tips” are mostly just there to look at cute pictures of cats in designer sweaters and are a lot less likely to actually get anything, but somebody searching for “tabby cat fashion tips autumn 2014” is somebody who’s a lot more likely to get a nice fall hoodie for Mr. Puffers.

Keyword Research: Methodology

So now that you’re (hopefully) saturated with the reasoning behind keyword research or keyword analysis as some might call it, where do you go from there? Well luckily for you, it’s not rocket science to go about it. For simplicity’s sake, let’s start with the easier and more user friendly methods that just about anyone can employ in order to generate a nifty amount of useful keywords and hopefully get their hands on that sweet, sweet traffic.

Use Common Sense

Perhaps the most initially used and the arguably least effective of methods is to just use your brain (no offense). Say you want to rank for whatever keyword that springs to mind, and you know that you can’t simply rely on the most basic and straightforward keyword. Try a variation of your own making based on what might be best to attract your targeted crowd. A term as generic as “football” is going to have an insurmountable amount of competition and is likely not going to put you on the map, nowhere useful anyway. But (and these are loose examples) something like “quality football gear” or “best football teams in Africa” or something similar  to what you’re looking for is going to narrow it down a bit, and is generally going to generate traffic that is more suited to what you’re advertising for. Making a list of these terms and then analyzing the statistics later on might give you a good set of keywords to play with initially. It is by no means the sole method you should use to further your keyword research plans but a method it is none the less. It goes without saying that you should have a pretty firm grasp on the kind of niche and/or demographic you’re trying to appeal to for any of the methods in this article to fully suffice. With that in mind, let’s soldier on.

Just Google It

Go ahead and go to the Google start page and punch in whatever head term you want to rank for, or whatever you want to scope out before jumping the gun. What will happen is Google will give you search suggestions relevant to what you put into it, basically a list of variations on what you’re searching for. This is a good a place to start as any when you want to make a somewhat diverse list of keywords to incorporate into your site. These are terms that are, admittedly, the most searched for. But not all of them have the same competition and might be worth using on the long run. What’s more, after you initiate your search, if you go to the absolute bottom of the page, you’ll see even more search suggestions that are also varied. Although the head term or seed are the same, they might be encapsulated in question form, or with longer tails. These are ideas that you can take into account when you start plotting your keyword research road map. Although it’s almost too simple (bordering on dumb), It’s actually quite effective when you think about it, but there are other methods that you should definitely look into.

Google Search Console

Chances are your website probably ranks for a good amount of keywords as it is. And seeing as how it’s yours, you probably also know a few of the keywords it makes use of. But why not get a far better picture of how many more you might be ranking for? and how well? Making use of Google Search Console is a relatively quick and easy way to figure out a few nifty metrics about your site’s keyword rankings. All you need to do is to certify ownership of your domain and head over to “Search Analytics” in order to get a bigger picture. The search console is going to show your mean position for each and every keyword your site ranks for, as well as giving you information about volume, clicks, traffic and position in addition to a few other handy dandy metrics. bearing in mind that they’re all prone to change based on some circumstances such as different countries, times of day or your preferences. It has a decent amount of parameters to narrow down your inquiries, giving you a good amount of customization. Although it’s limited to about a thousand keywords, it’s still a viable option to figure out where you stand. And it’s absolutely free to boot. What’s better than saving money? Well, making money. Which keyword research is bound to help you with.

Tools of the Trade

A good craftsman knows exactly what tools to use for whatever endeavor they’re about to embark on. Similarly, an aspiring SEO brainiac would do well to make use of the plethora of keyword research tools readily available (and affordable) on the Internet. Not only do they make your keyword analysis much, much easier, they also allow you to se what the competition is up to when it comes to keyword choices and what keywords to better make use of on the long and short term. You need to be always looking for feasible, unique keywords that your peers aren’t taking full advantage of periodically in order to further your keyword research prowess, and in turn, your site’s traffic. So we’re going to wade through a few of these tools to give you a better picture of what each one offers and which one is best suited for your needs.

Google Keyword Planner

Since the majority of SEO revolves around appeasing google while also sneaking around its all-seeing gaze, it makes perfect sense that anyone interested in keyword research should look into Google Adwords’ Google Keyword Planner. It’s worth mentioning that Google Keyword Planner is more geared towards advertisers and adwords in general, not so much for generating keywords as some of our other picks. It’s an effective and flexible tool to look into if you’re entirely new to the keyword research scene and want to get your bearings on search volume and competition level of whatever keywords you have in your virtual bucket. All you’d need to do is to enter whatever word you want to compare and check out the results for yourself. It shows you parameters such as competition level, suggested adwords bid and search volume. Its biggest draw would obviously have to be the fact that it draws from Google itself. But if you’re trying to rank on any other search engine, it’s not much help. All you’d need is a free Adwords account and you’re good to go, but as previously mentioned, it’s only good for the earliest stages of SEO.


Making a modest list of keyword research tools without even mentioning SEMrush would be nothing short of a sin. Beloved by many as one of the premier competitor-based keyword research tools, SEMrush offered a feature around the time of its release that no other tool had in its belt; The ability to reverse-engineer the organic rankings of each and every one of your competitors. This gave it its everlasting edge over the myriad other keyword research tools around at the time and still to this day. Anyone remotely serious about their SEO endeavors made sure that SEMrush was their go-to tool. With its organic rankings feature, it made finding keyword suggestions that much more easier based on your competitors rankings. In addition to its top performing pages report which can give you valuable insight into the types of content currently buzzing around your niche in spades. It also provides keyword research functionalities for both shot and long-tail keyword options along with detailed information on keywords for both organic traffic and pay-per-click. Did we also mention it allows you to narrow down your research to match any of its selection of 131 countries? Another interesting feature SEMrush offers is its Keyword Magic Research tool that allows you to enter a keyword along with some nifty search criteria, such as CPC range, competition level and word count. As well as the option to add related keyword add-ons that you can use to further refine your search and help you find the exact keywords you want, quick and easy. Making your keyword research tasks a breeze. SEMrush’s basic (and effective) keyword research tools are completely free to use, the only thing you’d be paying for is keyword tracking (a wise investment). This necessitates an upgrade to a paid account, which starts at around $99 a month. If you want your keyword research to pay out and have a smooth experience while you do it, definitely give SEMrush a good look.


It’s not surprising at all to find something from the good folks over at Moz when it comes to anything SEO. Seeing as how they’re a veritable resource of SEO techniques, they decided to up the ante by introducing their Keyword Explorer to us humble SEO nerds. The first thing you’ll notice about Moz’s Keyword Explorer is the nice and intuitive interface. Not only is it easy on the eyes, it’s also incredibly descriptive with the kinds of in it gives you, a great tactic to reel in both expert and apprentice alike. Showing you both numeric values and visual representations of any keyword’s monthly search volume, along with priority and difficulty. In addition to giving you both SERP analyses and ideal keyword suggestions, all in a detailed and visually impressive layout. Did we forget to mention that over half a million businesses use Moz? That has to be an indication of how good it is, right? Right. Along with all the standards you’d expect from a keyword research tool, Keyword Explorer also gives you a “potential” metric to play with, allowing you to take all the data available into account and giving you an estimate of how close you are to a virtual sweet spot when it comes to keyword rankings. Unfortunately , it only has a keyword suggestion cap of about 1000, not very appealing to say the least. Seeing as there are many other tools out there that offer more. And its SERP analysis is lacking in appropriate data points. With its free options, you can search for two queries a day for free but you’ll need to upgrade if you want to get more searches, and you’re going to need a lot more than two. Luckily, they offer a 30-day free trial to test it out as much as you please before you make an informed decision to pay for it. Moz’s Keyword Explorer is definitely a worthwhile tool to sink your time into if you want to refine your keyword research skills.


For those of us more concerned about keyword competition and how best to make use of your keyword research with it in mind, SpyFu is among the most significant keyword research tools to look into. SpyFu aims to improve your site’s results by helping you understand how your competitors got to where they are now. By simply typing in your competitor’s address, Spyfu allows you to look up all the keyword data related to it. You’ll be able to get a much clearer picture of how many keywords they’re already ranking for, as well as a handy dandy estimate on the number of clicks per month their site is getting along with their ratio between organic and paid traffic. In addition to being able to see how well their keywords are holding up, their best keywords and even their top competition. You can see that the theme SpyFu is going for is using your competition to your own advantage. And all on a highly intuitive and attractive user interface. Naturally, SpyFu’s functions allow you to discover untapped or emerging markets in your niche, not to mention giving you more related keywords and histories with regards to both keywords and domains via its useful modules. For all the benefits it offers, there are a few drawbacks. The data SpyFu offers is only monthly rather than in real time, and it seems to not have as much keyword depth as some of its competitors do, but this is constantly evolving. It also offers keyword tracking for the keywords your competitors may be using in its paid plans, which aren’t too steep to get into at a starting price of about $33 annually. SpyFu is a handy keyword research tool if you want to have your eyes on your competitors and be in the know.

KW Finder

While relatively new in the ever changing market of keyword research tools, KW Finder manages to match speeds and establish itself as a great tool for simple keyword research. KW Finder is somewhat similar to Google Adwords, which is kind of a rough statement. On the one hand, it isn’t as accurate or as fast as either SEMrush or Moz, but on the other, The searches you conduct can be much better if you invest enough time into manually adding as many filters as you see fit. It basically shows you keyword suggestions, in addition to how well they’re trending over time, CPC, competition level and number of searches. It does this all very efficiently and with a key emphasis on user friendliness and simplicity in mind. It boasts an impressive and appealing interface along with some unique keyword research options you don’t normally find in your garden variety keyword research tool. KW Finder bases its keyword analysis on a large pool of aggregate data from multiple sources. Showing you exactly how many external sites the site in question has, as well as the number of Facebook or Google+ shares, visits per month and other useful information you’ll find vital when it comes to figuring our your page rankings.  It also offers a one-click keyword difficulty metric that most users found to be a pleasant and reliable surprise. And the real kicker? It costs a whopping $0! It’s also a web based utility so there’s not a lot of confusion when it comes to setup. A wonderful addition to any would-be SEO nerd’s keyword research arsenal.

The Takeaway

Congratulations on (hopefully) getting this far! Although keyword research might sound like a daunting topic walking into it, it’s really just a few hours worth of reading and you’ll have a sizeable amount of starting data to get you going o the path to better rankings. Now, this is by no means a one-stop guide. There are plenty of other resources out there for you to browse and learn from, as well as a ton of courses and videos you can dive into to have a much more thorough understanding of the intricacies of keyword research. Not to mention the many other keyword research tools we didn’t mention in this article. So get out there, do your homework well and you’ll be well on your way to SEO splendor.