Introduction to keyword research

What is keyword research? How can it help you be more efficient with your spend? And what can you get with a tool vs. for free?

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is an SEO technique where you use free or paid tools to find out what people search for, and the difficulty of ranking, to gain ideas of what you should write about.

It also allows you to check your competitors to see where you might have what are called “keyword gaps”. More on this later.

Why is keyword research so important for SEO?

90% of content on the internet receives no traffic at all. A large part of that is the lack of keyword research – people just write on topics that are not of interest to anyone, anywhere, so no one visits their site.

This is the biggest failing in content marketing.

People blame content marketing itself, but that’s like blaming your poorly produced meals on cooking, rather than the lack of a successful recipe.

Keyword research using my favourite tool

What is the overall goal with keyword research?

What we’re looking for with keyword research is one or more phrases that we can write about which at least some people search for, plus a bunch of sub-topics that we should definitely include in that article.

Why do we care about what’s included in the article?

These days Google promotes content which most fully covers a subject. So, the number 1 way to ensure your content doesn’t rank is to not cover the topic fully. 

Full topic coverage

Think of your article like a jigsaw. If you can only see a few pieces, you might have a vague idea of what the final picture is, but as you put more pieces in, you’re more and more sure exactly what the jigsaw picture is.

If Google can only see some of the topics it would expect in your content, it’s not going to believe you are truly an expert on the subject. 

Keyword search volume and keyword difficulty

These two topics can stop you wasting a lot of your time, or money, in writing on topics which will not benefit your SEO.

Keyword volume

Content marketers will say every piece of content should have a reason to exist, and one of the reasons is more SEO traffic.

With that in mind, there’s little point in writing about something that no one cares about. No one will search for it and therefore no one will ever read it.

Keyword difficulty

However, there’s also no SEO reason to write about a topic you have no chance of ranking for. 

If you have a relatively new site, trying to rank for “london jobs” is simply unachievable. Instead, you should choose to write about low difficulty keywords, or long tail keywords.

So, by paying attention to keyword difficulty, you can choose the topic which you can rank for, and build your SEO strength over time.

What are long tail keywords?

If you aren’t aware, long tail is any search query over 3 or 4 words.

However, “How can I find a London job” still has a short tail intent because it’s effectively the same as “London jobs” and Google is likely to evaluate the two of them very similarly.

Money terms & commercial intent

Closely linked to keyword difficulty are money terms. These are topics which will typically make someone money, either by providing services or by buying something.

Typically, phrases with commercial intent will have a higher level of difficulty, since there’s more competition.

If your site is fairly new, I would tend to stay away from these for now and focus instead on proving helpful information that doesn’t have commercial intent.

Choosing what to write about

This all leads you to a situation where you can find plenty of green topics in the middle to write about, while avoiding the red topics, as this diagram shows:

  • Not enough search volume – don’t write on these topics
  • Enough search volume and not too difficult – write on these topics
  • Too difficult for site today – don’t write on these topics

Discover the topics you should write about

Keyword gaps & competitor research

Keyword gaps – or content gaps – are search queries which your site and business could be benefiting from, but which you’re don’t rank for. 

A gap depends on your business ad it might be something like:

“Dentist Warrington”
“How can I fix a tyre”
“Buy ladies shoes”

Keyword gaps typically, they exist because:

  • You’ve not written about the topic yet
  • You’ve written about them, but you didn’t do a good enough job for the pages to rank
  • You’ve written about them, but your site isn’t strong enough to rank for them.

Competitor SEO keyword analysis

Your competitors may already have employed an SEO to do a lot of this work for them. 

In that case, you can piggy-back off their work with some competitor research. You can either go onto their site and look at what they’ve written, or you can use a tool which has keyword gap analysis based on competitors. 

These will allow you to nominate a number of competitors and tell you which terms they rank for which you don’t currently.

Keyword research tools

Google – free / 3*

You can do a huge amount of keyword research in Google itself, either by typing a topic in and seeing what questions come up in the listings, or using their Keyword planner.

Sadly you can’t easily determine topic difficulty. See more below on how to use Google.

SEMrush – $$ / 5*

SEMrush is easily my overall favorite tool for small and medium sized businesses to perform keyword analysis, quickly. 

They provide competitor gap analysis, thousands of questions on a topic to answer, and a really simple way of researching topics.

You can also easily find topics which have a difficulty score which suits the strength of your site. See more below on how to use SEMrush.

You can get a longer 14 day free trial via me.

Answer the public – free or $ / 3*

A great starting point can be answer the public, which allows you to find dozens of questions which people have asked on a topic.

Sadly it doesn’t tell you anything about search volume or difficulty.

Ubersuggest – free or $ / 4*

Ubersuggest offers some data for free, and their paid service is fairly cheap. However, they are too young as a product for me to strongly recommend them.

If you want to see some data though, it can be a good starting point.

Keyword research with SEMrush

SEMrush is a much more professional tool for keyword research than Google itself. Google can provide some useful data, but it’s nothing compared to a paid keyword research tool.

Let’s look at what SEMrush offers for keyword research in a video:

SEMrush trial

I’ve been using SEMrush for nearly a decade now, and it’s made a huge difference to my own business, in allowing me to spot the keywords that matter which we’re missing, tracking my rankings and so on.

However, they’ve also upgraded it significantly over the years and today I use it for much more, including social media scheduling.

If you think it would help, you can get a longer 14 day free trial via me.

Keyword research with Google

If there’s one tool you have access to which has all of the data you want, it’s Google. I mean, that’s who you’re writing content for, right?

So what we can do to research in Google? There’s three main ways you can do topic research:

  1. Google autocomplete
  2. People also ask
  3. Related searches

Let’s look at them all in a video:


As project managers love to say: “The cheapest time to make a mistake is in the beginning” and that’s why keyword research exists.

I recently analysed a site. They’d written about 5 million words over their years. Yet today, only 3% of their articles are providing them with any long-term benefit in terms of traffic from Google.


If they’d chosen to write only that 3%, their profit levels would be significantly more. So, keyword research is there to save both time and money for businesses. 

It’s undoubtedly one of the most important topics in SEO and I can guarantee that, if I was to analyse 100 sites, something like 96 of them wouldn’t have done much if any keyword analysis.

They’d therefore be wasting money through lost opportunity and also wasted time in production of content.

The end words for this article? Do keyword research!