How To Do Keyword Research for Your SEO Strategy

Cai EllisRobert Brandl

By Cai & Robert

how to do keyword research

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Keyword research is creating a list of words you want to rank #1 for in the search engines. You are just planning, not doing anything. Just as an architect creates a blueprint to ensure a building is designed for the people who use it, keyword research ensures the right people find and use your website.

How To Research Keywords?

Following the 2 steps below will take 1-2 hours to complete – think & research

Step 1. Think

In my 10 years of experience, business owners who skip this step not only waste thousands of dollars a year trying to rank for the wrong keywords, but their website traffic never grows.  Try this exercise using a pen & paper. No computer. Write down the answers to these questions:

  • What do I want to be known for?
  • How would I describe what I do to someone?
  • What are my brand names?
  • What are my product/service names?
  • What do my competitors call their products/services?
  • What makes my product/service different?
  • What are similar services/products that are NOT competitors?
  • What are my most profitable services/products?

Why do this exercise? It helps you to focus on what your company actually does rather than just “a list of keywords”. This way, you can later build a list of relevant keywords. The end result is spending more time on what makes you money and avoiding unnecessary prideful pursuits.

For example, if you sell organic honey, you want to be known for a local family-owned business that sells raw organic honey that has many health benefits. Not just rank #1 for honey.

Create Categories

Group your answers into categories. This is not your final list of keywords. In fact, don’t even focus on writing down “keywords”. Just group together what you wrote down. Try to shorten your answers into phrases and shorter words. For example, if you are a local bee farm in Alabama that sells honey, it might look like this:Think example of creating categories

  • Our Family: family name, family member names, our story, sustainable farming, local
  • Our Bees: family name bees, breeding a better bee, we breed heritage bees from Russia instead of Italian honey bees, natural way to breed bees, beeswax
  • Our Honey: 100% natural pure honey; Our honey is organic, not pasteurized, no color added, no flavor added; All honey comes locally from Alabama; We offer raw honey; Our honey comes from all over Alabama, so it tastes different; We never add anything to our honey
  • Health Benefits: raw honey increases your glycogen levels, raw honey helps to regulate blood sugar, large amounts of good bacteria like lactobacilli

Step 2. Research

Next, is to research and transform the words/phrases you wrote down into what is called “seed keywords”. Just as a small seed is able to produce thousands of branches, twigs, leaves, fruit and a large sturdy trunk, so one word can produce 1,000’s of similar keywords.

Seed keywords example

Create a List of Seed Keywords

This step involves changing the words/phrases we wrote down that describe our business into a list of seed keywords. Using the example above, one category was “Our Honey”. We grouped words/phrases together into this list:

  • 100% natural pure honey
  • our honey is organic
  • no color added
  • no flavor added
  • all honey comes locally from alabama
  • we offer raw honey
  • our honey comes from all over Alabama, so it tastes different
  • we never add anything to our honey

The end result is to transform the list above into the seed keywords below:

  • honey
  • natural honey
  • pure honey
  • organic honey
  • raw honey
  • honey alabama
  • honey farm

To get to this end result you can of course use your own common sense. Like in the example, it is easy to shorten “our honey is organic” to the seed keyword of “organic honey”. Other than that, use the following 3 suggestions to create seed keywords:

Type the Phrase Into Google

Keyword research on Google

In the example above, one phrase that described the business was “100% natural pure honey”. Look at the screenshot above where this phrase is searched. What words does the website use that ranks #1 in Google? Natural Honey, Pure Honey, Raw Honey. This helps you to create your own seed keywords.

Research Your Competitors

In our example, one competitor in Alabama is Hewett’s Honey. Look at the screenshot. Notice Hewett’s Honey uses these keywords: Raw, Organic, Pure Local Honey. Again, this helps you to very quickly build your own seed keywords.

Competitor keyword research on Google

Explore Related Keywords

When you search a keyword in Google at the bottom of the page, there is a section called “Searches related to”. This list also helps you discover seed keywords. In our example, one phrase that described the business was “all honey comes locally from Alabama”. One keyword is used in most of the suggested search terms: local honey.

Google related search keywords

QUICK TIP: Use a free tool called Soovle to quickly explore related keywords in all the search engines at once.

If you follow these steps, you will find 80% of your seed keywords; at least the most important ones. You did not need “keyword research tools” to get this far. You did not need to hire an SEO company. In fact, if you stopped here you would have enough keyword research to build a very SEO friendly website.

Build a Keyword List

Now it is time to build your keyword list. There are many free & paid tools to do this. The basics two-step process of each tool are:

  1. Type in a keyword (i.e. Alabama Honey)
  2. See what other words/phrases people type into Google using that keyword (i.e. Where to buy pure Alabama Honey?)

I recommend using Moz’s Keyword Explorer.  You can do two free searches a day or just sign up for a free 30-day trial. It shows you how many times a month people search each keyword.

QUICK TIP: Use Google’s Free Keyword Planner as an alternative research tool. You just sign up, pretend that you are creating an ad, then Google lets you use the tool for free.

Free Tools For Doing Advanced Keyword Research:

Here is a list of the best keyword research tools available:

  1. Get Keyword Ideas: Google Keyword Planner, Bing Keyword Tool, Bing Intelligence Tool, io (50% free),
  2. Find Keywords Already Generating Traffic To Your Site: Google Search Console (really good juicy data), Bing Webmaster Tools
  3. Related Keywords: Soovle, Google Correlate (type in single words)
  4. Questions people type into Google: AnswerThePublic (awesome tool)
  5. Seasonal Keyword Trends: Google Trends

Continuing on the list, here are some advanced paid tools:

  1. Get Keyword Ideas: Moz’s Keyword Explorer (30 day trial), SemRush (free 14 day trial), WordTracker (7 day free trial), LongTailPro (free 7 day trial), Ahrefs Keyword Explorer (free 14 day trial), kwfinder (cheaper alternative w/ free version), Ferzy (limited free version available as well)
  2. Research Competitors: SpyFu (30-day money-back guarantee)
  3. Explorer Article Titles: BuzzSumo (14 day trial)

You can also find more detailed info about rank tracking post in this post.

How Do You Use Keyword Research Tools?

Let’s imagine you want to learn what search terms people type into Google that contain the words “Alabama Honey”. Typing that keyword into a keyword research tool will show you 1,000+ related keywords, people type into Google and how many times they are searched. Now you can really build a large keyword list of all search terms that relate to your business (i.e. each “seed keyword”).

I like to start grouping keywords that relate to my business into groups.  For example:

  • Learning Keywords: alabama honey prices, alabama honey bees, pure alabama honey, local alabama Honey, alabama honey bee farms, alabama beekeepers directory, alabama honey bee law, birmingham local honey, pure alabama honey odenville
  • Buying Keywords (honey): buy organic honey alabama, organic honey suppliers, alabama honey producers, where to buy alabama honey, bulk honey for sale alabama, where to buy pure alabama honey, local honey huntsville al, where to buy local honey in birmingham al, local honey gadsden alabama
  • Buying Keywords (bees): alabama honey bees for sale, buy honey bees alabama, packaged honey bees for sale in alabama, queen bees for sale in alabama, bee hives for sale in alabama

Why Group Keywords Into LEARNING vs BUYING Keywords?

If someone searches, “alabama honey prices” they want information.  They are not ready to buy yet. Why is it important?  When you are planning each page of your website, you want to use “buying keywords” on sales pages ‘learning keywords’ on other pages; like in a blog post.  This is a very important concept if you want to rank #1 and actually sell your product/service.

For example, you could write a blog post on “2017 Honey Prices in Alabama”. In that blog post, you answer their question by showing them all the honey prices in Alabama; including your business which just so happens to have the cheapest price of anyone in Alabama.

How Large of a Keyword List Should I Build?

Include all keywords that relate to your business. Basically, the keyword list can be without limits. But if you are a small or local business usually this list is 50-200 keywords.

Should I Include Similar Keywords in My List?

I don’t. For example, do you need to include “alabama honey bees for sale” and “honey bees for sale in alabama”? No. Why? It doesn’t matter. Google usually understands phrases that are the same. If you rank for one keyword you will most likely rank for the other.

QUICK TIP: Keywords are important, but remember to write your page’s content for humans and not search engines.

Should I Only Include Short Keywords That Everyone Searches For?

No. You should have a mix of short, medium and long keywords in your list. Short keywords are 1-3 words in length. Long (marketers call them ‘Long-tail keywords’) are usually 5+.  Why? First, short keywords are very hard to rank for, long-tail keywords are much easier to rank on the first page of Google. Second, people don’t just search for “local honey”. Look at the image below of what else people search for when typing in “local honey”: keyword ideas

In fact, 70% of searches are said to be long-tail keywords according to SEOMOZ. Doesn’t that just makes sense? I recently purchased a used car. A Volkswagen Polo. I never typed into Google “buy used Volkswagen Polo”. But I did type in 100’s of questions I had about supermini cars.

The point? Whatever you are selling, you want to be the website that answers the hundreds of questions people ask about your product/service. You also want to rank for the keywords that people type in once they are ready to buy. Usually, you can’t rank for competitive “buying keywords” unless you rank for hundreds of “learning keywords”.

So in our example of the local bee farm. When the company is doing keyword research, the keyword phrase “difference between organic honey and pure honey” is just as important as “organic honey” or “pure honey.”


In the end, generating keywords for your website or blog isn’t very hard. If you first stop and think, it only takes a couple of hours. If you remember one point from this article, it would be to stop and think before researching any keywords. Planning is the keyword here.

In case you have any more questions our you want to leave us some feedback, please drop us a comment below and we’ll get back to you as fast as possible!

The authors

Learn more about us

Cai Ellis

SEO Manager

Hi! My name is Cai. Over the years, I've used countless hosting providers, built innumerable ecommerce stores and picked up a bit of SEO know-how too. If you've got questions about these or any related subjects, I'll be happy to help!

Robert Brandl

Founder and CEO

Hi, my name is Robert Brandl! I used to work in a digital marketing agency where I managed website and email marketing projects. To optimize my client's campaigns, I always had to find the optimal web tools. Tooltester offers this knowledge to you, hopefully saving you endless hours of research.

Learn more about us


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