A 3-Step Process for Painless Keyword Research

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Keyword research is one of the most important types of research you’ll do throughout your content marketing career. It’s also one of the most difficult.

In this series, we’ve already discussed the fact that research isn’t sexy, glamorous, or fun. We’ve also talked about how you need to do research consistently — just like you need to work out in a consistent manner in order to see the real physical fitness results you want.

But there’s something particularly arduous about conducting keyword research. Many of the tools available are confusing and counter-intuitive. We don’t know what we’re supposed to be looking for, and we often don’t have a system in place for how to do keyword research effectively.

But, in putting this series together, I took a very close look at the process of keyword research, and I realized that there’s a better way to find the keywords I needed for my work … without tears, gnashing of teeth, or the desire for hard alcohol.

I always seem to get lost in the data of keyword research. I feel like all of the information I find is incredibly important, and I can’t figure out what to focus on and what to ignore.

Sometimes I make a half-hearted effort to research the keywords I should use in my content, then get aggravated and toss my lists aside in favor of doing less frustrating work.

In the next two posts of this research series, I’m going to give you the solution to your keyword research woes. I’ll teach you …

  • How to stay focused when doing your research
  • How to avoid getting bogged down in the stuff that doesn’t matter
  • How to take a shortcut that will save you tons and time and energy

Let’s get started …

Get focused on your goal

Your goal when conducting keyword research is to identify the topics that matter most to your target audiences, and then discover the exact language they use when they search for information and discuss their questions on social networking sites.

To reach that goal, you need a simple, effective system for keyword research. Follow these three steps to clear up the fog of procrastination and confusion that surrounds the process of finding target keywords for your content.

1. Choose possible keywords to start your research

What keywords have you been trying to rank for in the past?

What are some keywords and phrases you want to target in the coming years?

Remember that keywords are important not only for search engine optimization, but for your overall content strategy and product development, as well. It’s incredibly important (and therefore, valuable) to know the exact language that your audience uses when they describe their biggest desires and challenges in your industry.

What do you think your potential clients search for when they look for information in your niche?

What words and phrases do they use in social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ when discussing problems with their friends and families?

Takeaway: Gather a list of five or six keywords that you can use to begin your research, remembering that your initial list will be your best informed guess as to what your audience is using, and is just a starting point.

2. Determine the popularity and competition score of each of your keywords

Using keyword research tools like the Google Keyword Adwords Tool or Scribe, to check out the popularity of your keywords.

How many times do people search on each of your terms, in comparison to other search terms?

You want to target keywords that attract lots of monthly searches (at least 100,000 for global topics). Lots of searches mean that your topic is in high demand, and that people need information on that subject.

Next, take a look at how much competition you’re facing for each of your keywords. How many pages of web content (and how many websites) are specifically targeting your keyword? Are there large numbers of people actively trying to rank for that term? If so, you will have a harder time ranking well for that keyword.

A perfect keyword is one that has lots of searches (high popularity) and very few people actively trying to rank for it (low competition.)

Takeaway: Using keyword research tools (Google Adwords or Scribe), run the basic numbers on the keywords you want to use, or think might be beneficial to your goals.

3. Discover (and research) other related keywords

When you begin the keyword research process, your research tool will also give you a list of related keywords to consider.

Keyword tools select these keywords based on semantic search principles, to help you think of new keywords that may not occur to you in an initial brainstorming session.

Look at the list of suggested keywords, pick a few to dig into further, then run the same tests for competition and popularity that you ran on your original list of possible targets.

Use this process to deepen your research, but don’t fall too far down the rabbit hole — focus on finding high popularity, low competition keyword phrases.

Takeaway: During your initial keyword search(s) using the tools above, dig a bit deeper into related words and phrases that come back in the results. Run the same tests on these to determine usefulness and useability.

A powerful shortcut that works

The good news is that there is a simple, easy-to-use tool you can use to conduct all your keyword research.

You can even get access to all this information from within your WordPress dashboard. The tool is called Scribe, our complete content marketing software system.

While you can certainly find every bit of the keyword information you need by conducting research with online tools (both free and paid), the simplicity and power of Scribe makes keyword research completely painless — and even fun (one customer describes his experience with Scribe like he was playing a game).

The newest version of Scribe gives you access to incredible amount of information and data about keyword popularity and competition, and gives you suggested keywords that you may not have considered.

Scribe also analyzes every piece of your content (and your overall site) and makes suggestions for improving your search engine rankings.

Takeaway: Check out our demo of Scribe to find out more about everything it can do to facilitate smart, thorough keyword research.

This is part four of my content research series …

This post is part four of our series on how to do effective research as a content marketer.

The next post in the series covers the second half of my straightforward keyword research system, including tips on searching for trends, looking at social media conversations, and discovering which of your competitors are ranking well for your targeted keywords.

Check out the rest of the series here:

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Reader Comments (41)

  1. says

    Hi Beth,

    Thanks for the great tips. I’ve found one useful tool that can help with #3 on the list that’s been a big help in broadening the search engine, keyword appeal for any content I’m working on and it just happens to old technology.

    And that’s your run of the mill Thesaurus. It’s been a great help in finding terms that helps improve things before hitting the publish button.

    And I’ve also found http://www.quintura.com extremely helpful in finding semantic phrases in my keyword research also.

  2. says

    This is a great, important post. Keyword research is the cornerstone of search marketing and critical to success for Internet marketing in general. When doing keyword research, factor in relevancy as it relates to commercial intent. If ROI (Return on Investment) is key, then focus on high commercial intent keywords/phrases (e.g. Samsung Galaxy Discount) versus navigational (Apple Store) or informational (population of Albany NY). Though commercial intent search volume is much less today for transactional queries relative to informational and navigational, that is where the conversions come from, and not just the organic traffic like your SEO agency will tell you, but from paid search as well. Thanks for sharing on this very important topic (@eBizROI).

  3. says


    I haven’t written anything formal about Scribe yet but I have to say that I bought the Scribe two months ago and I absolutely LOVE IT… v4 was an incredible upgrade in my opinion and I’m extremely happy with the service.


    Ryan H.

  4. says

    I just want to warn people to not get too hung up on search volume. That’s a problem I see a lot of site owners make and it usually means they don’t get much traction so they get frustrated. Yes, keyword A might get 10 million searches but that doesn’t mean it’s the best keyword for you or your content. Obviously you don’t want to go after keywords with no search volume either so it’s important to always look for that sweet spot in the middle.

  5. says

    You had me at “painless”! But seriously, I’m so looking forward to future posts in this series, because it’s always good to examine one’s own keyword research processes, and assess whether it’s time to make a change. Growth, growth, growth. Especially if others are doing it more efficiently…

    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  6. says

    Hi Beth/CopyBlogger Team,
    First of all I want to say thank you for the incredible post and keyword research ideas you guys shared. 2nd problem is that your site is not working in many areas of the world, saying “Site is Under Construction” I received many comments on Twitter and Google+, can you guys please fix this issue?

  7. Jody Murphy says

    Hi Beth – very helpful article. I’d like to read the series. I read Part 1, but I don’t see links to Parts 2 and 3. Where would I find them? Thanks again!

  8. says

    Thanks for the tips. I am using google keywords with the seomoz keyword tools. It seems to be working, but I’ve found that the keywords I am using aren’t as searched as I thought or people are just skimming over my link on the search results. Hmm… I’ll keep plugging away

    • says

      William, if you’re using the Google Keyword Tool, make sure you look at the Exact Match type for your keyword and also look in the column “Local Monthly Searches”.

      That will give you the best indication for the actual amount of people using your keyword term. The broad match might show 6,000, but it’s entirely possible your exact match is 91.

        • says

          William, I would look at your page titles and descriptions (as they are appearing on the search engine results pages). Are they compelling and interesting for the searcher? Do they match well with the search terms? You may need to tweak the titles and descriptions so they better address the needs of the searcher.

  9. says

    Thank you for writing great article, I am commenting while I watching the video of Scribe V4 demo.
    I noticed Scribe release long time ago, but I didn’t have money to purchase. Maybe soon I will give it a try to test how powerful Scribe is.

  10. says

    Keyword research can take a lot of time on Google Adwords. I seem to spend a lot of time trying out words, getting surprised either how few searches they get or how much competition they have.

  11. Brad @ gain traffic says

    The low competition in the google Adwords tool is actually NOT what you say it is. Competition is in how many advertisers are bidding on those words not the competition of other websites. So actually, your more lucrative keywords will have high competition. For example, “best basketball hoop” probably has high competition while “best basketball” has low competition. As you can see the person searching for “best basketball hoop” is more likely to spend money. There’s other things you need to consider, which I won’t go into but I wanted people to know that because I made the same mistake.

  12. says

    Hi Beth! Thanks for a really helpful post! My question is: what to do if the niche I’m blogging in doesn’t have many keywords with over (or even close to) 100,000 monthly global searches. My niche is sustainable fashion and I’ve tried everything from eco fashion, ethical fashion, organic, fair trade, green living, etc. I’m having a hard time finding keywords that fit your criteria. Should I give up on the blog and find a better niche, or keep plugging?


  13. says

    Nice! I must agree though – I hate data mining, so I need to do it in small chunks rather than dive in for a five hour session. There are some thorough suggestions in this article, although I would hope for a Scribe alternative for those of us who do not have WordPress as a platform

  14. says

    I really think focusing on big time keywords while not forgeting about long tails is a win win. Some of my long tails bring in (almost) as much traffic as the bigger keywords but they also convert 6-7 times better.

  15. says

    Thank you for this. You’ve given me some great step by steps. I’m a creative writer and SEO etc. has alway been a bit of a creative killer for me.

  16. says

    Thanks fora great post!

    I run an accountancy business based in the UK and we only seek to convert businesses local to us, which means that the number of searches is somewhat lower than the numbers you are stating in your article, if we are just looking geographically for our areas.

    Can you offer any advice for our keyword research etc. in regard to this?

    Many thanks


  17. says

    Hi Paul – You can filter your Google Keyword Tool results, and just look for searches done in the UK. I would take that step first, and see what results you can get.

    Then you can also look for information about how many people are searching for your keyword + (your area). It might be too few to be significant to Google, but you could still optimize for hyperlocal markets, and pick up some good traffic that way!

  18. says

    Amazing post Beth. Indeed, long tail keywords aren’t exactly “fun” but with a dedicated approach and some research, one can definitely mine some gold and attract an untapped market with qualified buyers!

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