What is keyword research and why do you need to do it?

By Aaron Rudman-Hawkins
March 10, 2019

In the early days of the Internet, good content was tough to find and although the information was available, it was disorganised, so what you wanted was usually buried under a load of sites that you didn’t need.

That’s why Google came along.

Google wanted to organise the Internet to make it easier for us to find exactly what we wanted and as they’ve evolved over the past two decades, they’ve added in a whole heap of metrics, data, search history and intelligence to give you the very best results personalised for you at that time and place in under two seconds.

It’s phenomenal when you consider the alternatives 25 years ago, right?

Google as a tool for searching is powerful and when you understand how it works and what it’s looking for you can start to see some really big business benefits. You’ll soon see (if you haven’t already) a big case for investing in SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) for your business.

One of the most important areas of your SEO is the keywords you use and even if you’ve only dabbled with your SEO in the past, you’ll know and understand the importance of keywords.

Back in the early days of Google it was really easy to rank for the keywords of your choice and you could simply create pages with those words on (usually stuffed into every crevice of the page) and – BAM – you were top of Google!

Thankfully for us as searchers, these days are long gone as Google wants a little more effort from us as website owners to rank. The Googler wants the best results, the right results, and the entire system at Google is engineered to give this.

Keywords are still the basis of SEO even though the tactics have changed, so we wanted to cover in some depth what keywords are, why they’re important, how to find the right ones, and what it is you need to do with them next!

Here’s what we’ll cover (you can jump to a section right now if you know what you need more help with):

Why is keyword research important?
What does keyword research mean in reality?
What are niche keywords?
What are long-tail keywords?
How to use localised keywords
Using the “related search” suggestions in Google
Use competitor sites
Tools to use for keyword research
Focusing on one keyword per service or product

So come on, let’s dive right in…

Why is keyword research important?

Simply put: Without it, you’re firing arrows in the dark with your eyes closed.

Keywords are the fuel of Google. What people type into Google (keywords) are driving the results. Even with voice search coming in, the keywords on your pages and content are there to help Google serve your content up to the searchers.

Keywords are the words you want to appear for when someone Googles them.

If you sell greetings cards then one of your keywords will be ‘greetings cards’ and each time that keyword is typed into Google you’d probably be happy to be found (although as we explain later, that’s unlikely and tough to do) for that term.

Researching your keywords is square one for SEO.

Without good research your content and website, no matter how great they are, won’t drive the right traffic for you.

If you sell ‘potted plants for winter’ then your site needs to rank for that term but if your ideal customer is searching for ‘seeds for winter plants’ instead, then you’re going to be trying to rank for the term they’re NOT searching for so much.

You need to appear for the best searches and doing keyword research will show you what those are, how competitive they are, and it’ll give you a really good basis for your content direction and the construction of your pages.

Working on the SEO for your site without keyword research is madness and if you’re guilty of doing this and you’re not seeing results on Google, then you might just have found out why.

Why would you guess what people are looking for when you can research it and rank for the right terms, the popular terms, the niche terms, the topical terms and so on?

Why would you not want to rank for the search terms that your customers are using?

If you don’t work on your research and then you don’t set-up your site and content for those key terms and phrases (keywords), you’re not going to help Google help you to rank.

Google needs our help to organise the internet.

This isn’t about tricking it. Keyword research is finding searches in your industry or niche and matching it with content and pages to fully benefit the Googler!

Your site won’t rank for specific terms or keywords if you’re sporadic and unfocused, Google will be in the dark as to the nature of your business or your website… and that means it’s unlikely to pick you when someone searches ‘ideal winter plants’ or ‘seeds for hardy perennials’.

What does keyword research mean in reality?

Keyword research is the basis for all your SEO. Get this right with the content you create and the pages and infrastructure of your site will rank and it will bring you business.

Essentially keyword research involves you spending some important time to find the right keywords for your ideal customer avatar.

You know that ideal customer you can help? That one? You need to find out what they type into Google.

That’s all keyword research is.

We’re just working out what our customers and future customers are typing into Google based on data and information and then using that information to create the answers they’re looking for.

Lay out all the keywords you know to be relevant in your industry.

… and then work on them!

This will take time, but you need to start somewhere, and this can be from where you are right now.

  • What do you think and feel you should rank for?
  • What do you believe people are searching for?

Get those keywords as a starting point and then use them as the basis of your research.

Finding niche areas related to your business to rank for.

And then we can move onto finding some quick wins, some surprising ideas, and some low traffic, but interesting opportunities.

A core part of keyword research is finding niche areas of search to build content to rank for. Aside from the obvious terms in your industry, there are some really niche searches that you should be trying to rank for too.

Niche keywords are covered below, but they’re a core part of any research you do and can often be far easier to rank for and build content around.

Researching your keywords builds you a plan of action for your content creation and gives you a real roadmap and a set of guidelines for the pages and articles on your site.

With the proper research, you’ll be on the right road to ranking for some key searches as well as some niche opportunities that could bring you lots of traffic over time.

What are niche keywords?

“Niche your niche!” the American marketers will say, and when it comes to keywords the niche ones are where a lot of the clever money is.

You would all love to rank for ‘Gardening’ or ‘Garden centre’ if that’s what you do, but of course there are only a limited amount of spaces on Google (as most only look at page one and two) so you can’t all be there.

Usually it’s the big brands and companies that dominate the space on Google for the ‘big’ keywords or ‘head keywords’ as they’re sometimes called.

‘DIY’, ‘Lawnmower’, and ‘Compost’ are big ‘head’ keywords that you’ll have a lot of trouble trying to rank for, so what you should do with any keyword research is look for the niche keywords within that search term.

So instead, you might want to rank for:

‘Organic compost’


‘Electric lawnmower’

Or even something more niche than that like:

‘Organic compost for roses’


‘Lightweight electric lawnmower’

The tip here is to use your expertise of the industry and search for some interesting and slightly less competitive niches.

Niche keywords will have far less competition that the bigger keywords, so you have more chances of ranking.

Let’s face it, why would you want to spend time and money trying to rank for something that 10-15 large companies with far more money are trying to rank for, when you could get some of the traffic they’re not shooting for.

Yes, with niche keywords you’ll get less traffic, but with more chances to be found and clicked, you’ll get better results sooner and that’s often a great place to start.

Specific pages or blogs can drive traffic over time for these niche keywords and that traffic (that should be related to your business and website) will help you build kudos and traffic through Google and in turn will boost your chances of ranking for the other, bigger keywords later on.

Make sure you’re ranking for niches that will serve you well though. When you research and you find ideas and content, ask yourself: “How does this relate to my business?” and “What traffic will I eventually attract from it?”.

There’s clearly no point in attracting a load of random traffic, especially if it then confuses Google about what you actually do.

What are long-tail keywords?

Long-tail keywords are what people actually type into Google. Googlers don’t search with one word – they search in terms, phrases and… LONG-TAIL keywords.

Think about it: how do you search?

You don’t just put ‘Hanging baskets’, you search for ‘Winter hanging baskets’ or ‘Hanging baskets for a pub’.  You know how Google works and when you search, you’re really quite specific.

If you’ve ever looked at the search results in your Google Console then you’ll be very aware of the randomness but also specific nature of the Googlers who land on your site after searching.

Often nowhere near as competitive as head keywords

Long-tail keywords are often easier for you to get some traffic for as most of the money is being spent trying to rank for the BIG terms, and not focusing on the more specific and niche long-tail phrases.

You will usually find that there’s a tonne of traffic for the head keyword ‘Garden pots’ and that the longer tail ‘Ceramic garden pots’ will have far less traffic, but that’s a more sensible term to create content and try to rank for, as you will be more likely to get results from it.

Yes, 50,000 searches a month is exciting but when you have more chance of getting a share of the 500 searches, you’re well advised to try for that.

  • 9% of 500 monthly searches?
  • Or 0% of 50,000?

Which is better?

It might take a lot of content to rank for long-tail keywords.

Nothing is guaranteed with Google and we should tell you now that you can’t expect one blog post to get your website top of the results for your long-tail keyword. It will take more than that and you’ll need to create a lot of content.

But – beware! Don’t create loads and loads of articles around the exact same long-tail keyword or phrase as this is ‘unnatural’ and will alert Google that you’re trying to play the system. You wouldn’t keep repeating the same point over and over again on your site usually, so don’t do it for SEO.

Keep it natural and to add value, not to trick Google into ranking you higher. That goes for all SEO practices.

Long-tail keywords work well in blog and article content.

Blog articles are ideal for your long-tail keyword ranking and a quick search for ‘The best hanging baskets for spring’ brings up several blogs in the top five results, but interestingly nothing with that exact long-tail keyword in, so if you’re a garden centre – go create that one!

Blog articles are often the best place to start with niche and long-tail keywords and they allow you to go into real depth like we are here; leaving your other pages short, sharp and to the point for the other searches.

How to use localised keywords

Local search is easier than national. Ranking in your local area is far easier and now with mobile first index Google is using the GPS located devices to help serve up more local content.

Add to that the fact that people are more likely to work with a local company and you have a really good case for trying to rank locally and you may well want to concentrate on that more than you ever do on national ranking.

It’s a really simple fix for most sites too and the good news is we come across so many companies who don’t do the basics for local SEO that the opportunities for you are likely to be huge!

Town/city or “near me” “closest”

How often do you type ‘Restaurant’ into Google and expect good results? You don’t, do you? You’re more likely to look for one in your local area, or the area where you’re going for dinner or lunch, or where you’re staying next week/month.

Localising your pages will really help you get more traffic as it helps Google to understand that you’re based in those areas.

Google is intelligent, and it has ways and means of locating your site, but why make it hard?

If you have a page with ‘Restaurant in Oxford’ in the title and the content of that page is about your restaurant in Oxford, then Google has an easier job of deciding whether or not to put you in the results.

Auto-complete gives the game away

If you’re ever wondering what Google wants, then look at auto-complete. The related searches (more on this later) show you what it’s trying to predict you’re after, which is based on… Google history!

Just take the restaurant example above, for example.

The top result says it all!

‘Near me’. Google knows you want to eat nearby and when we click on that result Google will show you all the restaurants near you and it’ll look at page titles and content to decide who to show!

Local search is powerful and you really should look at all your main pages and create titles and content that cement your site and business locally.

When we search ‘Restaurants Oxford’ it’s clear that the results shown are businesses who are doing this well.

Browns show as the first result after all the Trip Advisor and blog posts, and when you take a look at their Meta Data using Moz Bar, you can see why.

‘Oxford’ appears in the URL, the page title, the meta description and even the H1 – all the places Google will look to decide what the page is about.

The front of the site shows that they even have the address front and centre and that the page title is displayed nicely in the tab on Chrome too.

Localising your pages is a really simple and effective win for your SEO, but do your research first so you rank for the term you can compete for and for the one you want to compete for.

Using the “related search” suggestions in Google

Google is the best place to research keywords if you’re trying to rank online. Google is the #1 search engine and if you’re trying to get found, get found there. If you’re trying to rank on Google then it would make a lot of sense to use the data from Google, wouldn’t it?

Well there’s a really simple (and free) way to use Google data to find keywords and it’s ironically at the bottom of Google that you need to look to help you reach the top.

Search in Google and you’ll get a whole heap of great results and you’ll be spoilt for choice for ideas, results, answers and more. But did you ever look at the bottom of Google at the related terms or consider those auto-suggest results?

If you search for ‘Restaurants in Oxford’ in Google, you’ll probably get billions of results but if you scroll to the bottom, you’ll then be given some really good related search terms based on that search.

Searches related to ‘Restaurants in Oxford’ are what users on Google are looking for.

… so, if you’re a restaurant in Oxford you really should take a look. Here’s what came up for us:

Very quickly you can get some really good ideas for your keyword research.

Take the ‘quirky restaurants Oxford’ result for example. This is a really interesting search term and if you are a quirky restaurant then you’ll want to be proud about that and sing from the roof tops about it.

You could easily create a strong page based around this keyword and then some content and articles too.

When we reach that page, we’re met with blogs and the usual TripAdvisor articles that always rank highly for these types of terms.

On the right you can see Kazbar Restaurant who have a phenomenal 411 reviews with a 4.5 average helping them to be the result ranking first in Google Maps.

In the first five results though, the word ‘quirky’ can only be found in two of them so you could argue there’s a real opportunity there for a quirky restaurant to create pages based on that and make the most of a really popular term.  

This tool is free to use and gives you some real-time data and ideas to form some more in-depth research. It’s a no-brainer to get involved with this and you could well find some ideas for long-tail and niche keywords that you’d not thought about.

Use competitor sites

Competitor analysis for SEO is a good place to look when searching for keyword ideas and also to see what you’re up against. If your main competitors are not really focusing on SEO then you could argue that you only need to beat them to really succeed in SEO.

(You should of course constantly work on your SEO even if you’re on top!)

Some simple ways to use your competitors as the basis for some research can start from the basics.

The Moz Bar tool that we mentioned earlier can give you some good insight into their website and their SEO focus. Many will leave the door wide open on their keywords, but all will show you how they’re trying to rank, and how competent they are at SEO.

Moz Bar is a browser extension and you add it to your browser here. What the tool does is give you a really quick overview and estimate on the overall health of a website’s SEO.

You’ll get some key data that can help you see what you could rank for and what your competition are almost certainly trying to rank for.

Using the Browns example from earlier, let’s break down what you can see.

  • URL: The website address and the keywords in it.
  • Page Title: This is key for SEO (and local SEO) and you can see exactly what the site is using for its title with Moz Bar.
  • Meta Desc: This is the content shown in the search results and getting some nice, simple, but clickable meta data is an SEO tick that everyone should have.
  • Meta Keywords: The keywords the website owner or SEO has added to the site. These are no longer used by Google and are often blank… but we’ll cover in more detail below what to do when it’s not blank.
  • H1: Heading 1 is usually a title for a section on a site but it’s also somewhere that Google looks to determine the content on the page.
  • H2: As above and you should aim to have them different but related if you can.
  • PA: Page Authority is a guess as no one really knows who ranks better than others but it’s a good indication of how well they’re doing.
  • DA: Domain Authority is the entire site at domain level. Anything above 25 is pretty good, 35 excellent, 45+ where the real clicks, traffic and authority live.

Meta Keywords haven’t been used by Google for years but because many websites and CMS platforms have the field available to fill in, many tools like Moz Bar show it so you can learn about your competitors’ keywords.

A website owner with no real idea about SEO will dutifully fill this section in, leaving you free to browse what they would like to rank for and a bank of keywords to base some research on.

Checking their blog content

Blogging is great for your SEO and if you have a savvy competitor then it’s likely that they will be posting content on their blog to help them rank higher.

If they’ve done some research and worked out what they need to write about, they could be blogging about those very keywords and this could save you loads of time and effort in the early stages of keyword research too.

Analysing your competition is a useful exercise but a word of caution: What if they have no idea what they’re doing? Use the findings to help your research, not to guide your entire SEO strategy and focus.

Tools to use for keyword research

All of the above are a great starting point for finding ideas and working on a base of keywords to research. What we really need now is some solid data to help us decide which keywords we need to rank for, which niches to write about and which long-tail keywords to work on ranking for.

There are so many tools out there, so we picked out the best and most simple to use and added a link to each one to help you go find them and start playing with them to find your favourite.

Google keyword planner.

Google clearly know what people type into Google, so it makes a lot of sense to use their data. Despite being very secretive about how to rank or get indexed on Google, the keyword and search data is really easy to find… if you’re a Google Advertiser that is. (If you’re not, just become one… you don’t need to spend a penny!)

Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords) has a superb little tool called ‘Keyword Planner’ and this tool gives you insights into search that are priceless.

Here’s how to use it.

Open up the Keyword Planner by heading to Google Ads and then heading to Keyword Planner.

From there you can simply start adding in your keywords and working on the process of adding or removing them from your hit list.

There are some simple places to work on with this tool:

  • Head keywords
  • Locations
  • Filters

Head keywords.

Take one of your keywords and put it into the tool like this and then search for ideas:

Then you’ll be given data based on that keyword and related keywords and this is where the magic, and the confusion, starts.

Take a look at the results below:

Garden furniture is of course a really broad term to work with, but you’ll drill down as you work through the research. The top graph shows you the search volume over the year. It makes sense with this term and shows you when you should be running more ads and spending more money mostly, although you could use that data to form some more seasonal content.

The results are what we’re looking at and then the data from them.

What Google will show you is the search traffic for the term you’ve searched for and then the ‘cost per click’, which gives you a good indication of the competitive nature of the keyword for your SEO. If advertisers pay more – it’s worth more!

Then you’ll get related search terms based on your result with data to support them too.  This is where you can start to drill down and find some more relevant keywords but also where you could get dragged down an irrelevant rabbit hole!

Be careful here that you’re using your business brain and then the data to make informed decisions on what you want to rank for and what you could sensibly aim to rank for.

Also, don’t search for just ‘gardening’ as you’ll get a load of terms that are too broad.

  • ‘Rattan furniture’ is a little broad.
  • ‘Rattan garden furniture sets for summer’ is going to be too specific and could confuse the related results.
  • ‘Rattan garden furniture’ is better.

When searching, find the sweet spot: Not too broad, not too specific.


In Google Keyword Planner (GKP) you can also set your location to do some localised searching and get the data based on searches in and for your area.

When we change the location from UK to Oxford, we get more specific results for your area, and some more niche and long-tail keywords that are used in Oxford as opposed to the entire UK.

Simply head to the top left and change your location by clicking on UK:

And then change it to ‘Oxford’.

Now your data is more relevant to you and if you’re working on local SEO you’ll have far more accurate keywords.


Next you can change the filter and set the results to show anything from ‘Top of page bid’ (low range), ‘Top of page bid (high range)’, ‘Exclude keywords’ from your results, or even find the ‘Organic impression’ for your results and the ‘Organic average position’.

In the example below though we added a filter to show monthly searches less than 1,000 to help us find some more niche results or some interesting opportunities to rank:

Now we have some more interesting results and something or a theme going for content based around rattan furniture that we can create over the coming months.


Online forums are a brilliant place to find keywords for your content and website as, just like the keyword planner, you’ll be finding searches and questions that people need answers and content for.

Places like Reddit and Quora help you find what people are really asking for. This gets you ready to create content on the most popular topics and hopefully gain some really cool traffic over time, or simply answer the questions with your content from some useful clicks, traffic and maybe even some backlinks.

A quick search on the topic blogging, brings up some really interesting questions. When you spend a little time on Quora you’ll be able to learn what people need help with and also who’s helping them.

Take these results for example:

‘Can auto-blogging on WordPress hurt my SEO’ might well be a topic we take on and then create an article or series of articles about Wordpress and SEO and the pros and cons in which we can then include this question.

This is going to inspire content for us and that’s why Quora and Reddit (often called the shop front of the internet) can really be a great resource for keywords.

Social Media.

Social media groups are also a great place to go and search and find the questions that everyone needs help with. Just like above, get searching in groups for the subjects that you can help with and find some keywords, niches, and long-tail keywords that you can add to your list.

On Facebook Groups simply search on the side bar and then filter by most recent or top stories and find content you can help with, but ultimately use it for keyword research!

Answer the Public.

Answer the Public (ATP) is a brilliant tool that actually aggregates all the data from Google into one place for you and gives you some great long-tail keyword ideas. ATP will give you a whole heap of content ideas and potential long-tail keywords to use for your SEO, articles, pages and more.

It’s so simple to use too!

Just search with a head keyword:

Then the tool will deliver loads of results that will inspire content and keywords:

… and then you can “go answer the public!”.

Google Trends.

Why not go after new or exciting things that everyone is talking about? Trends are new and mostly likely not that competitive yet, so you can have a real go at ranking early before anyone is on the bandwagon and get yourself some easy, related traffic.

The best area to look at here is the Trending Searches and then set to UK for the best results.

See what people are searching for and then create content for them to find before others do. Although this is more of a reactive strategy, it can really pay dividends to you and your website.

Focus on one keyword per product or service

With any SEO it’s really important to note that you need to be specific per page or article and keep the focus around one topic. This helps Google to truly understand your page and your site and makes the decision to rank your page for a certain term an easier one.

The options Google has are vast, so make it easier and stick to one topic if you can.

  • Write content based on one keyword or phrase.
  • Blog about your long-tail keyword.
  • Take a niche and go deep on the subject.

This article, for example, is all about keyword research and that’s the focus for us. It’s not about lots of areas of SEO. It’s about one niche area, just like our other blogs and articles are.

Being more specific gives you more time and space to talk ‘naturally’ about one topic without ‘stuffing’ keywords into your copy. You should never do this. Just talk about your topic as you would when explaining anything and then add in-depth details and information about the topic.

Bigger articles with more content are what Google really wants now, so go to town on that subject, really let the flow go and get some solid articles created, maybe one big article over a few smaller ones, as research suggests this is better time spent now that Google is after the comprehensive answers.

This can take time (and will take content)

It can take up to three months for your content to be indexed and then 6-12 months for results in most cases. This isn’t an overnight fix and you should get the research done right and then work on revisiting this bank of keywords from your research to add to them over time and create more content and make continual improvements on your site.

  • Create long, detailed content based on niche and long-tail keywords.
  • Change your page titles and headings to reflect the page content.
  • Localise your pages and site.
  • Search forums and social media for inspiration.
  • Use tools and data to make informed decisions.

Google are trying to rank the most thorough websites now as well as the ones with the most links and domain authority – so get creating and keep creating.

Above all else add value, answer the public and find those niche areas you can grab some quick wins while you wait for the more competitive keywords to rank and send traffic your way.

It takes time, investment and skill and if you need some help with that then do give us a call.

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