A Step-By-Step Guide To Traditional Keyword Research
Traditional keyword research is an old school approach to finding low-competition, high search volume keywords, and it’s one that’s still favored by many SEO’s and content marketers today.
Whether you’re using free tools, like Google Keyword Planner, or the myriad of premium keyword research tools out there, the traditional approach is generally broken down into 4 steps.
- Step #1: Find Seed Keywords
Using a number of strategies, research competitors and create a list seed keywords for step 2.
- Step #2: Plug Seed Keywords
Plug those seed keywords into a traditional keyword research tool to generate a larger list of keyword opportunities.
- Step #3: Filter Keyword Opportunities
Sort and filter the list of keyword opportunities based on both monthly search volume and SEO data.
- Step #4: Evaluate competitiveness
Evaluate the strength of your remaining keywords based on a keyword difficulty metric and manual SERP analysis.
We even created a nice little graphic for yah. Because, why not?
For this guide, I’ll reference many free tools as I can, but I can’t understate the efficiency of a paid tool when it comes to keyword research.
Step #1: Finding Seed Keywords
Seed keywords are used as the basis of your research, and they’re essentially just keywords that “look good” on the surface.
There’s no magic formula or exact science to finding them because there’s really no such thing as a perfect seed keyword.
Start by plucking keywords off the top of your head, which usually gets you a hand-full of seed keywords to start with.
After that, you can start using some free tools to dig a little deeper.
#1: UberSuggest - https://ubersuggest.io/
UberSuggest uses Google’s autocomplete API to pull in search suggestions.
You can emulate what this tool does by typing your keyword in Google followed by every letter of the alphabet and recording the results. Obviously, this would be a slow and cumbersome process.
Ain't nobody got time fo’ dat.
Using UberSuggest, you can automate this process and turn your primary keyword into a juicy list of seed keyword in a matter of seconds.
You can even export the entire list as a CSV and upload that into your keyword research tool of choice, assuming it has a supported import option.
#2: AnswerThePublic - http://answerthepublic.com
AnswerThePublic is another free research tool that combines your primary keyword with common ‘question words’ such as:
This is a great way to generate a ton of seed keyword ideas that are more informational, and less commercial.
#3: Amazon - http://amazon.com
When it comes to finding commercial keywords, Amazon is an absolute treasure-trove of keyword ideas.
Either navigate to your niche-related category or perform a search using your primary keyword. You can scope out even more keyword ideas by looking at the suggested subcategories and top-selling product names.
#4: Reddit - https://www.reddit.com
Lastly, go where your target audience hangs out online and leverage that community for keyword ideas.
Message boards and forums are perfect for this, and Reddit in particular is usually a good place to start. Reddit is essentially a HUGE forum made up of smaller subreddits, each covering different niches.
You can almost always find some hidden gems in the subreddits:
If you can’t find any related subreddit for your niche, you can try searching for your “niche + forum” in Google.
Almost all good niches have some level of online community behind it, it’s just a matter of finding out where the target audience congregates.
Step #2: Plug Your Seed Keywords
Armed with your list of seed keywords, the next step is to feed them into your keyword research tool so you can sit back, and let the magic happen.
Let’s stay with the ‘free tools’ theme for now, which brings us to Google’s Keyword Planner.
Depending on the tool you’re using and the size of your list, you can either manually input each keyword or simply import your entire list of keywords at once.
And there’s a little trick you can use here...
In the ‘Your landing page’ field, plug in a competitor's URL to get suggestions based on the keywords they are targeting.
This is actually venturing into competitor-based research, but this is my article so I can do what I want :p
Either way, you should get back a list of semi-relevant keywords based on your seed keywords (or URL).
Step #3: Filter Keyword Opportunities
This is where you cut the fat and drill down into the keywords that are actually worth targeting.
It’s also the area where premium keyword research tools massively outperform free alternatives, but we’ll come back to that in a mo’.
Here’s what you’re looking for:
- Niche relevance
- High search volume
- Low competition
What do I mean by niche relevance?
Well, let’s take a quick look at the 700 results I got back from Google’s Keyword Planner…
Because one of my seed keywords was ‘back pain cancer’, the Keyword Planner has also given me keywords related to cancer.
Since I’m in the ‘back pain’ niche, this keyword has low niche relevance.
One way to get around this is to use the ‘keywords to include’ filter. In this case, I might filter out any keyword that doesn’t contain the keyword, “back”.
Though this can really clean up your list, it’s not a perfect solution.
You may be filtering out potential opportunities that for some reason don’t include the keyword “back”, and you’ll probably still have a few irrelevant suggestions as well.
For that reason, you’ll still have to sift through these manually but it’s a lot more manageable by applying the following filters...
High Search Volume
Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter how relevant a keyword is if nobody’s searching for it.
But here’s the good news:
You can use filters to narrow down monthly search volumes in almost every keyword research tool on the planet.
And here’s the bad news:
You can’t do it with the Google Keyword Planner, at least not without exporting suggestions and running filters in Excel.
But again…. ain't nobody got time fo’ dat.
It get’s worse, folks. As you may have noticed, Google doesn’t even give you accurate search volumes anymore.
This data is far too broad to rely on and it’s reason alone to use a premium keyword research tool over free alternatives.
(Yeah, most tools have stopped using Google data)
By having access to this data and being able to apply search volume filters, you can essentially cut out low-volume keywords and make your job that much easier.
This would normally be exclusive to step 4, ‘Evaluating Keyword Difficulty’.
Fortunately, filtering a list of suggestions by competition level is now pretty reliable thanks to a constantly evolving metric, called ‘keyword difficulty’.
Some tools are more accurate than others with their calculations, and some tools - like the Google Keyword Planner - don’t even include a keyword difficulty metric.
If you don’t have access to a premium tool, you’ll just have to skip this step and put in some extra work later. (I’ll explain soon)
Using the tool in the screenshot above - KW Finder - as an example, you can apply a keyword difficulty filter to laser in on those low competition keywords.
At this point, you should have a very targeted list of opportunities which makes the final step much, much easier.
Step #4: Evaluating Keyword Difficulty
This is where SERP analysis comes in.
SERP analysis just means looking at the first page of results for a given keyword and weighing up the competition based on various data points.
This isn’t exactly a fast process so If you weren’t able to narrow down your suggestions effectively, you’ll have a lot more work to do here.
We can basically do this the hard way, or the paid way.
SERP Analysis The Hard Way (Free)
If you’ve been using Google Keyword Planner, you probably won't be surprised to know that it doesn’t offer any form of SERP analysis.
Google’s Keyword Planner isn’t actually built for organic keyword research. It’s a research tool for advertisers.
Because of that, we’ll need to take a more manual approach using a free Chrome extension, called MozBar.
(You can use other SEO toolbars, but I like Moz)
Admittedly, it doesn’t give you everything you need, *cough* referring domains, and it’s true, Moz doesn’t have the best link index of all time…
...but considering it’s free, you really can’t complain.
Once you have that installed, it’s just a case of plugging each of your potential keywords into Google and looking for a weak search results page.
Here’s an example of a relatively easy SERP using the keyword phrase, “back pain exercises for elderly people”.
As you can imagine, repeating this manual SERP analysis process for dozens of keywords can get old, fast.
And that brings me nicely to the paid tools…
SERP Analysis The Easy Way (Paid)
Performing a manual SERP analysis with a paid tool is still, well… manual.... but it’s still significantly faster.
The reason for that is data aggregation.
Premium keyword research tools do a much better job at aggregating SEO data, and presenting it neatly within the tool’s own interface.
Here’s how it looks inside Ahrefs:
Not only do I not have to leave the tool to review SERP competition, but I also get a lot more data to work with.
And depending on which tool you use, paid members get access to ALL the data on offer. In the case of Ahrefs, you’re getting the largest link index in the industry.
Aside from those (huge) benefits, the analysis works the same way as it does using MozBar.
Traditional keyword research has long been the backbone of any serious content strategy, and it continues to be used by marketers to this day.
That said, many SEO’s have adopted a newer approach that leverages your competitors organic rankings to find pre-qualified keywords.
To learn more about the competitor-based approach to keyword research and how it breaks down, read our step-by-guide.
And if you’re interested in learning which tools are best for either approach, check out our keyword research tools roundup post.