Keyword research for SEO: What it is and How it Works

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Travis Brown
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Good keyword research is the foundation of a website built for SEO. You want to ensure the keywords you choose to optimize your website for and create content around are relevant to your users and have the right search intent for your business needs.

Why keyword research is important

Failure to do keyword research and choose keywords carefully is the number one reason most websites have poor organic performance. You want to pay careful attention to choosing relevant keywords people are actually searching for. You also need to include these keywords strategically, in certain areas of your content, and in a natural manner.

We’re not talking about artificially keyword-stuffing like people used to do in SEO back in the early to mid 2000s.

Think about how successful authors structure a book, its title, as well as its chapters. Reading that outline or table of contents starts to tell the story and even reveal the progression of the story. This helps readers orient around a content piece. Not everyone will read an article in its entirety and from start to finish.

These days, most people scan webpages briefly and find prominent words or imagery that helps them quickly identify the content they care about most. Maybe your article is a product review or tutorial. The user might only care about the outcome of the review or a certain step in a tutorial.

The structure you create with headings and the words you use are critical touchpoints to help users find what they need when they need it.

Find relevant keywords

What products, services, or content does your website offer? It’s important to optimize your website with keywords people are actually searching for. Those keywords should also be highly relevant to the content you offer.

As we’ll find out in a bit, relevance and search intent can drastically affect the performance of your website.

For example, say you are creating a marketing website focused entirely on content writing. You would want to identify keywords like these examples below to create content for:

Google US estimated monthly search volume + search intent
  • content marketing (27K, informational)
  • what is content marketing (4.4K, informational)
  • types of content and sizes for social media posts (5.4K, informational)
  • web content accessibility guidelines (1.3K, informational, navigational)
  • social media content calendar template (1K, commercial)
  • canva content planner (1.6K, navigational, transactional)

In that example, you would have identified some of your most important keywords as well as specific subjects people are interested in. You would have also identified a mix of search intents.

This mix might be useful if you’re offering educational content (informational, navigational) as well as product and service reviews (navigational, commercial, transactional).

Ultimately, consider how relevant the keywords you choose are to your content, products, services, and overall business goals.

Determine search intent

Search engines like Google, Bing, and YouTube understand the intent behind what a user is searching for. There are generally several types of intent:

  • Navigational intent: the user is trying to find a specific page
  • Informational intent: the user wants to learn about something
  • Commercial intent: the user wants to research a product or service before purchasing
  • Transactional intent: the user is looking to perform a specific action like purchasing a product or service

These search engines usually have ranking factors that take user intent into account. If a webpage is optimized for the wrong intent, it usually will not perform well.

It’s important to understand the intent behind the keywords you target so that you can properly orient your content. There are tools on the market, such as SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool, which can help surface this intent and help you identify the most relevant keywords for your goals.