How To Do Your Keyword Research for SEM and SEO

Keywords are the basis of search engines. When you decide to find something on the Internet, you probably head to your favorite search engine and type something into the search bar. The results on the subsequent page are based around a number of factors, but the only variable involved is the user input into the search bar. As such, this input (keywords) is the most important part of your search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) strategy.

DISCLAIMER: There are probably an infinite number of ways to do your keyword research. This article does not claim to cover them all, but rather just to cover a way that you can get it done without spending anything other than your time.

What makes a good keyword?

Your ideal keywords are extremely relevant to your site, have a ton of traffic, and have virtually no competition. If a keyword that you are actively trying to rank for is too far on the wrong end of the spectrum in any of these aspects, you are probably wasting your time.

Keyword Relevance – Is this keyword relevant to your website?

Relevance is something that you will need to judge for yourself. It is the human element of search. For example, using Google’s Keyword Planner tool (found within the Google AdWords Tools & Analysis tab) to help find keyword ideas, Google might suggest “food for cockatoos” as a keyword for our pet store. However, you know that you do not carry any cockatoo food, so this term is irrelevant to your business.

Keyword Traffic – How many people are searching for this keyword?

If the point of your SEO and SEM strategy is to get people from search engines to your website, then you will need to be targeting terms that people are actually searching for. Also located within the Google Keyword Planner is a traffic estimator tool. This is more of a SEM tool because it estimates how many clicks and impressions you will get based on your bid, but it still is valuable for SEO because you can see the overall search volume that a keyword is getting.

Another great way to view search traffic and also find more popular alternatives for your keywords is Google Trends. You can plug in your keyword and it maps out the monthly searches over the past few years. Add another keyword to compare the search traffic on a graph. If you look to the bottom of the page, it will also suggest related searches that you could potentially add to your list.

Competition – How many other websites/entities are competing to rank for this keyword?

Also within Google’s Keyword Planner, we can look up keywords and see how much search volume they get compared with their competitiveness (High, Medium, or Low). The estimated bid will also give you some insight into how competitive the keyword is on Google AdWords.

Creating your keyword list

Now that we understand how to measure a keyword based on traffic, competition, we need some keywords to test out. At this point, the only thing that matters is relevance. Traffic levels and competition can be tested out after we have our list. So, where do we begin?

Common Sense

If you use search engines (not a really big “if”), you should be able to put yourself in the mind of someone searching for your website. In our pet store example, you could literally walk through your store and look at the items you are selling and add them to your list. Think of different ways people phrase certain words: dog food, dog chow, doggy food, dry dog food, all perfectly acceptable keywords to add to the list.


There are probably already websites out there that are similar to your own site. Why not try to see what keywords they are focusing on? Studying your competition not only gives you ideas, but it can also help you find the areas where your competition is lacking (Not sure who your competition is? Try searching a few of your core keywords and see who pops up in the search results). There are two tools that work exceptionally well for this type of research:
SEMrush – This “freemium” service allows you to look up a website and view both the paid search keywords and the organic keywords that the site is ranking for. You can pay to unlock the full reports, but the free version gives you the top 10 keywords for both organic and paid results. See below.
seo sem keyword research
WordTracker Scout – This free tool operates as an extension on your browser. Simply go to a webpage and click the extension to see a list of the most commonly occurring keywords arranged in a word cloud. The “Insights” and “Keywords” tabs give you more information on search volume and competition. See below.
seo sem keyword research
After testing your keywords and removing the ones that fail to meet the standards we set forth, you should have a pretty good starting point. Your keyword list is an ongoing project. You should always be adding new keywords and continuously testing your old ones. While creating and testing your keywords is free, it can be cumbersome and time consuming. If you do not have much time to spare, you may want to consider having an outside source manage your SEO and/or SEM campaigns.


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