Keyword Research: The Basics

Picture of a laptop with Google open for keyword research

When you’re doing on-page SEO, keywords are hugely important. They are one of the cornerstones of good SEO – you’re not going to rank in the search engines if the search engines don’t know what you should be ranking for! Sometimes it seems obvious what the keyword for your page or post should be, other times it’s more difficult. But either way, when selecting keywords, it’s good to do a little keyword research to make sure you’ve made the best choice.

Consider your site and audience

You can pick the best keyword in the world, but if it’s not relevant to your site and your audience, it’s going to be useless. Luckily, this consideration isn’t hard. If your business is a pet food company, “dog tooth care” is going to be a better keyword than “pizza restaurants in Dallas.” And if your audience is in their 20s and 30s, “how to care for a cat when you’re elderly” isn’t going to be relevant to them at all.

Short vs. long-tail

Short keywords – like “dog food” – have a very high search volume (number of searches per month). They also have thousands of other websites trying to rank for them and it’s going to be nearly impossible for you to rank. The best keywords are long-tail keywords, which are often phrases or entire sentences (such as “how to teach a cat tricks”). You want to strike a balance here – don’t get so long and specific that nobody searches for that exact keyword, but don’t go so short that you’re competing with thousands of other websites.

Google your keywords

Once you’ve decided on a keyword that you think will work, it’s time to start the real keyword research. The first step is to type your keyword into Google (or your search engine of choice) and see what comes up. How relevant are the results to your keyword? What kind of sites come up? How many ads are there (you’ll have to turn off your ad blocker if you use one)? If none of the results are really relevant to your keyword, that may indicate that your keyword has too low of a search volume to be useful. If there are ads, that means the keyword is a valuable one.

Use a keyword tool

Find a keyword tool to get a more in-depth analysis of your chosen keyword. I love Moz’s Keyword Explorer for this. A free account lets you examine 10 keywords per month, and it gives you a very in-depth report. You can see the search volume, how difficult they think it will be to rank for that keyword, the estimated click-through rate for sites ranking for that keyword, and more. Google AdWords Keyword Planner also has great tools – they try to help you set up a paid search marketing campaign, but you can also just use their keyword tools.


Don’t just analyze one keyword and call it a day! Sometimes the first keyword you pick turns out to be not very good. Sometimes after four pretty good keywords, you find the perfect combination of high volume and low competition. Do keyword research on at least five keywords – that will give you the best chance of finding the keyword that’s going to help your website rank in the search engines.

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