How to do SEO Keyword Research

Keyword Research Objectives

  1. Create a keyword universe for your company stakeholders or client to understand potential keyword targets. (excluding branded terms & keywords lower than position 20)
  2. Create a list of 20-50 “high value” keywords for your site. This is a digestible list for your team or client where everyone can agree on a keyword focus for the next few months or quarters

What You’ll Need

What is SEO Keyword Research?

SEO keyword research is the process of identifying and analyzing the keywords and phrases that people use to search for information on search engines like Google, Bing, etc. It involves finding the right keywords and phrases that are relevant to your website or business, and then optimizing your website’s content and structure around those keywords to improve your website’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). At Bend Marketing, we do this by considering a variety of sources and angles – then in later stages, we create a more focused strategy for actually ranking for those keywords. Things like website information architecture, blog content strategy, glossary project, and more.

Phase 1: Create a keyword landscape

Our goal is to establish a keyword universe, which involves charting out all potential keywords we desire to rank for. Through a comprehensive spreadsheet, we not only become acquainted with the website industry and relevant keywords, but also gain a current overview of the current rankings.

Upon completing the keyword universe, we can investigate, study, and use it to generate innovative content ideas, identify areas for improvement, and explore further opportunities.

A keyword universe is an export of keywords from the following sources:

  • Google Search Console
  • PPC/Google Ads keywords driving conversions
  • Top keywords for the client’s site (SEMrush) – Exclude branded keywords. Include keywords that are driving traffic AND keywords that are in positions #1-20
  • Top keywords for 2 competitor sites (SEMrush) – Exclude branded keywords. Keywords that are driving traffic AND keywords that are in positions #1-20
  • Keyword gap report – weak (SEMrush) – Exclude branded keywords. Add a filter for keywords in positions #1-20 to remove unnecessary keywords
  • Keyword gap report – untapped (SEMrush) – Exclude branded keywords. Add a filter for keywords in positions #1-20 to remove unnecessary keywords
  • Client Keyword Gap Opportunities (ahrefs) – Use aHref’s content Gap & your client’s top 3 competitors to identify where at least 2 competitors are showing up in the SERPs.

How to create the keyword universe

Step 1: Use the keyword research template to create an export of all the relevant keywords.

Step 2: Use the VLOOKUP function to find Search Volume, Keyword Difficulty & CPC for the keywords found in Google Search Console

Step 2a:  How to Use the VLOOKUP Formula

Step 2b: For the Search Console keywords pulled, they are missing volume, Keyword Difficulty & CPC. Use the SEMRush Keyword Manager to fill in the missing data by creating a list and dropping the keywords in there. Export the list & use the VLOOKUP function to find the missing metrics.

Step 3: Combine all of the keywords into a single RAW tab

Step 4: Use the QUERY tab to quickly search across the keyword universe

Step 5: Add a filter on the QUERY row to filter out the high-difficulty keywords (70+)

How to Vet your keyword list

Vet your keywords before presenting them to a stakeholder or client for review. Here are some things to take into consideration:

  • Are we already ranking in the #1 spot for a keyword?
    • ✔️DO: Mention areas where we’re already winning with the client
    • ❌DON’T: Prioritize this keyword for next steps (we’re already #1)
  • Is the keyword too broad to target?
    • ✔️DO: Create a balance between TOFU, MOFU, & BOFU keywords and use your best judgment to get to your client’s goals
    • ❌DON’T: Targeting the keyword “cloud” for a client’s home page that specializes in multicloud migrations
  • Does the keyword have the correct search intent behind it?
    • ✔️DO: Look at the SERPs directly to ensure that search intent is correct for what you want to position the keyword for
    • ❌DON’T: The keyword “food subscriptions” might be customers searching to sign up for a food subscription rather than B2C online e-commerce looking to start a subscription product
  • Does the keyword have too high of a keyword difficulty to target based on the client’s domain rating?
    • ✔️DO: Suggest an untapped keyword targeted by a competitor
    • ❌DON’T: Suggest an 85 keyword difficulty keyword with the client’s 6 domain rating site </aside>

Phase 2: Create client-digestible keyword segments

Once we have a keyword universe we should move on to researching specific focus areas. These are specific high-value keyword segments. There are typically four key ways to slice keywords:

  • 1. 20-50 Most Important Keywords (Core Pages & Head Terms)Here we should look closely at their most important keywords, typically 25-30 keywords. These generally are related directly to what they do & are generally their “money making” keywords. Think of a keyword like “talent management software”.
  • 2. Customer segments – products & solutionsHere we should go one by one through each of their products, sub-products, solutions, use cases, and features to find a robust set of keywords that they should have high-effort evergreen pages targeting. Usually, we will be able to structure these around their high-value customer segments – think keywords like “hospitality staff scheduling software”.Keywords that contain the following BOFU terms:
    • local terms (e.g chiropractor South Bend)
    • platform
    • service
    • software
    • company
  • 3. Educational keywordsEducational keywords are those that are evergreen and high value but likely low search volume. Things like “how to manage retail staff schedules”. These keywords will be targeted ideally with evergreen resources or education hub (but sometimes may be targeted with a blog strategy too)
  • 4. Content topicsWhere are our client’s competitors winning? These are keywords that have search volume that we want to rank for but are more informational or timely that we can drive a content strategy around.

Use the phase 2 keyword research template and create separate tabs for each major grouping. The idea here is to identify a smaller set of keywords, organized in a client-legible way so that we can discuss and brainstorm with the client how best to capture the search volume represented here.


Bottom Line: SEO Keyword Research

Keyword research is a critical step in developing an effective SEO strategy. By identifying and analyzing the right keywords, businesses can optimize their website’s content and structure to improve their visibility in search engine results pages. Creating a keyword universe and segmenting high-value keywords are two essential phases in the keyword research process. By following the steps outlined in this guide and vetting the keyword list carefully, businesses can ensure they’re targeting the most relevant and effective keywords for their website or business.

About the Author