Keyword Research Guide

You can’t run a cost-efficient SEO campaign if you can’t do effective keyword research. Here, we’ll share the basic keyword research process that we use for our clients’ campaigns. Before we get into the meat of this short guide, we need to define several key ideas surrounding keywords:

  • Keyword. These are words or groups of words used to indicate the contents of a webpage or other document to search engines like Google. Ideally, the content of webpages that are meant to be searchable should be centered around specific keywords. Keywords are important because they are the terms that webmasters hope users will type into Google Search to find their site. In search engine optimization (SEO), more popular or commercially-viable keywords tend to have more value due to the high organic traffic and potential conversions they could bring.
  • Keyword Research. This is the process of choosing the best keywords to use in a given campaign. Keyword research offers digital marketers valuable insights into which keywords should be targeted to deliver the most targeted traffic for the fewest resources. It is an essential step for avoiding wasted effort and ensuring that SEO campaigns can offer maximum returns for a given budget.

Keywords According to Intent

Keywords are classified according to the intent that most people have when they use them. They are often classified as one of the following:

  • Navigational. These are keywords used to find a specific webpage. Visitors that are looking for a specific page or piece of content may type a navigational keyword into a search engine to access a page they want.
  • Informational. People who use these keywords are likely to be interested in learning about something and are less interested in buying — at least for now.
  • Commercial/Transactional. People who use these are probably close to buying a product or service. For example, keywords like “buy shoes Manila” or “tax lawyer Philippines” are probably used by people actively looking for shoes or tax lawyers. These keywords are sometimes known as “money keywords” because of their value to businesses.

Type of Keywords According to Brand

Keywords can further be classified according to whether or not they include a brand or trademark:

  • Branded. These keywords often have strong intent as they are directly associated with a specific brand, product, or service. Businesses that have third parties that sell their products may benefit from targeting branded keywords as this may help increase their volume of direct sales, reducing their cost per sale compared to what they would get through a third-party reseller.
  • Non-Branded. These keywords don’t have an associated brand and are thus, less likely to have strong intent. People who use these words may still be in the process of looking for solutions to their problems. Targeting non-branded keywords can be a great way to introduce search engine users to your brand or service, thus putting them right in your marketing funnel and priming them for conversions, later on.

Type of Keywords According to Length

Lastly, keywords can be classified according to their length. There’s a relationship between the length of keyword phrases and user intent, which makes this a useful metric. Keywords and keyword phrases can be classified as follows.

  • Short Tail/ Fat Head. These are keywords made up of just 1-2 words. These tend to have high search volumes which means they also tend to be the most contested. Given this, competing for these keywords tends to be a high-risk, high-reward activity. Additionally, organic traffic gained from fat head keywords tends to be low-converting due to their weaker intent.
  • Medium Tail/Chunky Middle. These keyword phrases have around 3-4 words, usually indicating stronger intent. Because people tend to use these keywords less frequently and because there are many possible iterations for them, chunky middle keywords tend to be less contested and have smaller search volumes. Given this, it’s usually easier and less expensive to rank for these kinds of keywords. For many businesses with a limited budget, it’s often worthwhile to target a few keywords in this category.
  • Long Tail. These keywords contain 5 words or more, indicating very specific intent and potentially high conversion rates. Because of the wide variation and low volumes of these keywords, they are often very weakly contested or even completely uncontested. This means that it can be very easy to dominate multiple long-tail keywords.

SearchWorks’s Keyword Research Process

A lot of new SEO specialists have a naive understanding of how to do keyword research or use keyword research tools. More often than not, they simply choose keywords based on search volumes without regard for the audience of the website, product differentiation, or the probable intent of keyword users.

While you can score some successes that way, it’s rarely the best or most cost-efficient way to increase your site’s organic traffic. Being unable to do refined keyword research will ultimately hamper your SEO campaigns by making them more resource-intensive than they should be, making it difficult to optimize your client’s SEO budget.

Here, we’ll briefly lay out the basic process we use to ensure that the keywords we choose are the best ones for a given campaign.

Step 1: Ask Questions

Before you start choosing keywords, you have to understand the nature of the website, the types of people who use the keywords that you’re considering, and the nature of the client’s business. To do this, you’ll have to ask yourself and your client some questions. Some of the questions we use include the following:

  • Who are the people searching for the keywords I plan to use? Asking this lets you differentiate leads and customers from everyone else, helping you drive the right people (i.e. those with a high chance of converting) to your site. It also helps you get some demographic data that may be useful for finding additional keywords, later on.
  • What exact words/terms does my audience use? It’s not enough to use the same language that a site’s intended audience uses. It’s also important to use the localized form of that language. This matters because different markets may use different words to refer to one thing. For instance, while the Philippine market may prefer the word “pickup” to refer to a vehicle with an enclosed cab and an open back, the American market will overwhelmingly use the word “truck” or “pickup truck” for the same thing. By the same token, Australians will prefer the word “ute” while British people, interestingly enough, will also use the word “pickup” just like Filipinos. Understanding these small linguistic details can make a huge difference in selecting the right keywords for an SEO campaign.
  • What is the scope/service area of the business? A business’s scope also matters because it will cause you to rethink which keywords you use. For instance, we have a Singaporean client that primarily caters to American expats. While they are located in Singapore where people use Singlish or a localized form of British English, the fact that they target American customers who are either already in the country or are planning to move there means that American English keywords would be preferred for their campaign. In any case, you’ll want to choose keywords that make sense for the market that your client serves.
  • What are the FAQs related to your products/services? Knowing frequently asked questions related to a business can make it much easier to choose high-value long-tail keywords. You can target keywords that are also frequently asked questions using an informational page as your landing page. The page, in turn, can then be linked to your site’s appropriate product page to increase the chance of conversions.
  • Are these keywords seasonal? Some keywords have a strong seasonal element to them. For instance, keywords related to Christmas, vacations, swimwear, winter clothing, and many traditional foods have a strong seasonal element. Understanding seasonality will help temper expectations related to keyword viability, site performance, and conversions at different times of the year.
  • What devices does the audience use? Understanding whether users of certain keywords prefer mobile or desktop devices can help you to tailor landing pages to the user experience. While you should be using adaptive design for all websites to better accommodate all users, understanding which devices to prioritize can simplify various design and user experience decisions.

Step 2: Create a Seed Keyword List

Based on the answers to the questions, write down a short list of potential keywords. Make sure that the keywords are selected based on market relevance, business goals, geography, demographics, seasonality, preferred devices, and any other relevant factors.

Step 3: Expand on Your Chosen Keywords

Based on your seed keyword list, use automated tools to increase the number of viable keywords that you could use. The great thing about these tools is that they can quickly give you a list of viable high-intent long-tail keywords.

Consider asking your boss or client to use paid versions of different keyword tools when possible to increase the potential accuracy of your keyword selection. The additional features and better visibility offered by paid tools may, in turn, help the campaign run more efficiently and cost-effectively, making them a good bet.

Tools we use at SearchWorks include:

Step 4: Sort and Classify Your Keywords

First, run a bulk check on your keywords. Segregate your fat head, medium tail, and long tail keywords.

Next, look for relevant metrics. In most cases, you want to look at search volume, competition levels, as well as year-to-year and month-to-month search trends. This will help you set expectations for clients, especially regarding project timelines as well as the need for other types of digital marketing, such as PPC.

Lastly, you’ll need to classify your keywords according to intent. As mentioned earlier, they can be navigational, informational, or commercial/transactional. You don’t have to worry about navigational intent but you do have to understand if people are searching a keyword because they want information or because they are ready to convert. This will allow you to tailor-fit your landing pages according to what people online are expecting. As a rule of thumb, you want informational pages to rank for informational intent keywords and product pages to rank for commercial keywords.

How Many Keywords Should I Target?

We often get this question and there is no easy answer to this as it all depends on the client’s budget, the competition levels, and other resources available to you.

But to start, we usually go for 5-10 keywords at $1,500 to $2,000. The reason is that we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin by targeting too many keywords. Targeting too many keywords will often result in none of them ranking, which will often lead to a very short engagement with your client.

Going for fewer keywords is usually more realistic for most budgets and business goals, allowing the client to have solid wins that could be leveraged into even bigger wins on Google’s search results pages, later on. Additionally, the success you achieve from ranking a smaller number of keywords can be used to justify a larger SEO budget for targeting more difficult keywords in the future.

We hope you can take away something from our keyword research and selection process. If you want to learn more about our processes or the SEO industry, feel free to set a meeting with our team.

Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal is the founder and CEO of SearchWorks.Ph. He has been doing SEO since 2008 and is consistently featured in mainstream media and industry conferences. His core skills include SEO, SEM, data analytics and business development.
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal is the founder and CEO of SearchWorks.Ph. He has been doing SEO since 2008 and is consistently featured in mainstream media and industry conferences. His core skills include SEO, SEM, data analytics and business development.