This concept is relatively self-explanatory, as it’s the practice of investigating and identifying the best keywords for a given digital marketing campaign. But it’s more complicated than a lot of people think. You can’t merely take a wild guess at which keywords will facilitate the best results. And even if you know that a given keyword is popular with web users, that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for your campaign. In fact, it could be a really poor choice for your business!

The goal here is to zero in on the relevant search terms that web users are looking for and to then use those terms to optimize content that could be useful to those users. You have to select the best keywords that will help web users find what they’re looking for and offer your business a good chance of ranking well in search results. That’s no easy task, particularly for small businesses. Keyword research for SEO also involves picking the right terms to target for your locality, industry, and budget. You need to pick keywords that align with user intent and with your goods or services, too.

In other words, keyword research is a complex process -- and it’s never really done! In order to keep the momentum going and help your clients improve their rankings over time, you’ll need to conduct keyword research on an ongoing basis. You’ll need to evaluate what’s working and what could use improvement, especially as businesses shift their focus and adjust their budgets. In digital marketing, our work is never done! Of course, it helps if you have a team (or even a free tool) to help you with your keyword research for SEO.

What Does Keyword Research Involve?

Really, there’s no one right way to conduct keyword research. Every digital marketer has their own methodology. Undoubtedly, there are some free keyword tools (and even paid programs) that are better than others. In addition, those who possess more SEO or PPC experience may be better equipped to conduct keyword research than others -- especially for businesses operating in more niche industries or competitive markets.

To start with, you’ll typically want to look at the client’s website. You probably already understand something about their industry and who their customers are, but you’ll also want to take a look at their site’s navigation menu, services page, or main products to get a better sense of what they offer. While this won’t tell you everything you need to know for keyword research, it can provide you with a good place to begin.

Sometimes, a client will also provide you with some terms they’d like to rank on. It’s not always possible to rank for those terms (especially if they’re overly broad or competitive), but a list of desired keywords can offer a jumping-off point for your research. Getting a better idea of where your client’s focus is can allow you to set expectations and complete your initial keyword research more quickly. If you use our Google keyword planner to highlight those keywords, you can also illustrate just how competitive (read: expensive) certain keywords actually are -- which can help demystify some important aspects of SEO for clients.

You’ll also want to look at the sites of their competitors and look at pertinent data that tells you what kinds of keywords those businesses are targeting. Although you won’t always want to target the same keywords as a direct competitor, there may be instances where your client could easily outrank their competition on certain terms. Alternatively, a competitor’s keywords can illuminate areas you might have not even considered and point you in a better direction for a marketing campaign. You can use Semify’s Web Grader tool to obtain competitor data that may be used to guide you on your keyword research journey. Our resellers also have access to our proposal builder tool, which includes competitive analysis and other keyword research opportunities.

On the whole, this process generally involves figuring out exactly what your target audience is looking for online, identifying the terms that are the biggest priority for the client, and assessing where those two concepts meet. You can use a number of different tactics for conducting keyword research, but by and large, the internet is going to be one of your best sources of information. In fact, Google itself can be a goldmine, particularly when you’re trying to find related search terms (like LSI keywords, which can help to provide context). You can also use a number of paid or free keyword research tools, like our Keyword Planner, to narrow down your list.

The exact steps of keyword research for SEO will differ from person to person (and even campaign to campaign). But the goal of this process will remain the same: to find the best search terms to target for a business’s budget, aspirations, and customers.

What Do Most People Get Wrong About Keyword Research For SEO?

Because keyword research for SEO is such a complicated process, there are a lot of misconceptions about it. And while there’s no one “right” way to do keyword research, there are some incorrect ideas about it that could put your marketing campaigns on the wrong path.

For one thing, it’s important to remember that any keyword research for SEO that you perform won’t necessarily translate to your PPC campaigns. Although our Keyword Planner actually uses Google Ads data to illustrate the value of certain keywords, that doesn’t mean these keyword processes are interchangeable. The keywords you use to optimize your content, for example, won’t necessarily be the same keywords you target in your digital ads. While there may be some overlap, in certain cases, you shouldn’t assume that you can double-dip with your keyword research.

Another misconception people have about keyword research is that broad = best. This idea shows up with both PPC and SEO, but it’s generally misguided in both situations. It’s understandable that you might think a keyword with a ridiculously high search volume will provide you with the most opportunities to convert. But it’s important to remember that search volume doesn’t always align with search intent. Just because a lot of people are searching for a certain term doesn’t mean that those searches translate to sales. It’s not enough to get a lot of eyes on your content or even your ads; if they aren’t compelled to buy, you’ll end up wasting money. It’s much better to select keywords that actually align with user intent -- and that requires you to research beyond search volume.

On that note, you’ll probably learn in the process of doing keyword research that it’s not enough to target keywords that are solely informational. Although these can provide some crucial context when creating content, they shouldn’t be the main focus of your marketing campaigns, instead, you need to pick keywords that accurately capture buyer intent. If you were doing keyword research for a veterinarian, for instance, you wouldn’t want to choose keywords like “fleas” or “cat diseases” for a campaign. Although those terms may come up in searches conducted by pet owners, they could also come up in searches made by veterinary students or even people dealing with pest infestations. Instead, you’ll want to zero in on terms that align with what potential clients of veterinarians are seeking -- like “emergency vet near me,” “local animal clinic,” or “spay and neuter programs.”

Another mistake some agencies and business owners make when conducting keyword research is selecting target terms that are outside their service area. While terms that involve major cities will typically have a higher search volume, it’s actually more important to be accurate with the keywords you select. Unless a business has a location within that specific service area, you’ll end up doing your client a disservice by targeting local SEO terms that aren’t relevant. Trying to rank for a city in which your business isn’t located will keep you out of the map pack -- and that might be a major blow if you’re a locally owned business. Even if your exact area has a lower search volume, it’s better to target that area (or even “near me” search terms) than to try to game the system.

How Can I Get My Clients to Understand the Keyword Research Process?

This can be tricky, even for seasoned SEO professionals. The more experience you have, the harder it can be to explain it to someone else. But it’s important that clients have at least a basic understanding of what goes into keyword research and how keywords are selected for their campaigns. Otherwise, you may have trouble setting realistic expectations with them or fostering trust.

There are a number of ways to present keyword research to a client, but it’s important to do so in a way that is easy to understand. Certain aspects of digital marketing can be rather dry at times, as well. It’s a good idea to meet them where they are and to connect your keyword research to the things they care about most. Show them how targeting these specific keywords will put them in a better position to achieve their ultimate goals. If they’re only interested in ranking number one for a certain keyword or beating out a large competitor, take the time to educate them on the true cost of competitive keywords and how they can achieve their actual business aims (rather than getting caught up in bragging rights).

Of course, your clients may never become experts in keyword research -- which is probably a good thing, since that’s what you’re there for! But the more guidance you can provide them, particularly through the use of SEO proposals and the data you obtain from keyword planner tools, the better everyone’s experience will be. Through improved transparency and the setting of realistic expectations, you can ensure that they have a clear understanding of how their marketing budget is being utilized and that the progress they make will be well-aligned with their ultimate goals.