Chapter 3. Keyword Research is the easiest part of the process

Keyword research is something I’ve been doing for 20 years and it’s the easiest part of the SEO process, but it’s also the easiest part to get wrong. You make a lot of decisions based on the research you do, so you get it wrong at your peril. It’s like building a house. Keyword Research is the foundations, your SEO strategy and getting the metrics, organising, drawing the insights and setting your strategy is putting your walls and your roof on your house. With wobbly foundations, everything is going to fall apart around your ears, so for me, there’s four areas I look at as I start the process.

Pick a Keyword Research Tool

First, you need to pick a keyword research tool. There’s three types, manual, what I call ‘pretend automated tools’, and fully automated solutions. You then need to harvest the keyword data, so keyword metrics, user intent, consumer questions, the SERP features, everything Charlie and Barb have discussed. I’ll concentrate more on how you then orchestrate that data. How do you take all that data and use it in a way that gives you insights at scale, set an SEO strategy and implement quickly across your site?

Manual Keyword Research Tools

Manual research tools, we all know you can manually research tools. There’s a gazillion browser plugins and lots of keyword research tools. And what will it do for you? It’s going to produce lists for you. You can put in your domain, page, competitors’ pages, and you can do it all manually.

“Automated” Keyword Research Tools

If you like spreadsheets of millions of keywords and want something automated to draw some insights out for you, then you want to use something that’s more sophisticated than the plugins that give you lists. So if you look at what I call semi automated tools, a lot of SEO platforms like Authoritas will have tools that do content gap analysis for you. You’ll put in your domain or find your competitors and it will find content gaps or keywords they’re ranking for, and you’re not ranking for and distil that down for you. However, you’ve still got a list, but perhaps, a better refined list with some keyword opportunities. At the end of the day, you still have to do a lot of work.

Fully Automated Keyword Research Tools

We have a tool, which is designed for big sites and it does content gap analysis at scale. Our tool does the harvesting of keyword data from your top hundred competitors (it’s like doing  10,000 Venn diagrams at once).

It compares you to everybody and then everybody else to everybody else, then clusters all those keywords by topic. It then maps keywords to your pages, so you can understand straight away which topics and themes have the greatest potential. It can recommend the best pages for you to optimise and effectively suggest new pages to create, and it will do that at scale. The idea here is that it gives you a prioritisation matrix of topics that you can go after, based on what the best potential traffic is for you and how strong you are against the competition. So that’s what I call a fully automated solution.


Laurence O’Toole

Authoritas CEO

An entrepreneur with 20+ years’ experience in consumer and B2B internet product development, sales and marketing. His experience includes spells in corporate life with Fujitsu & Thomson Directories and in the last couple of years his own boot-strapped ventures.

Along the way, he’s built a successful online directory and PPC platform for SMEs, successfully partnering with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. He’s developed downloadable golf lessons with famous golf coaches and built an advertising funded golf community (not his best idea!). His current venture Authoritas is a big data science-driven SaaS platform for Content Marketing and SEO Professionals worldwide.

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Harvest Keyword Data

The next step is to implement it. So wherever you get data from you’ll end up with lists or spreadsheets full of data with keywords, search volumes, SERP features, intent and competitor data. You can go out and get questions that relate to those keywords, which you can do with our Frequently Asked Question Explorer. What’s interesting is the user intent. Some keywords have obviously one intent, but some do not. It’s not always black and white, it’s not binary. Sometimes keywords have a mix of research and transactional with a hint of navigational, but it’s good if you’re mapping those different types of keywords, clustering them together and matching them to your site. 


Organise and draw insights

Once you’ve got all this data, what do you do with it to try and draw insights? One key thing you can do is find questions that are essential to your theme by mapping keywords and search volumes to the questions that come up. So, for every keyword if you focus on the questions that come up on related searches, you can map your terms and questions together. For example a keyword like, ‘keyword ranking API’, there will be plenty of related questions that come up in the SERPs for keywords related to Google SERPs API, Google keyword ranking API, keyword API, etc. You can capture those questions and link the two together, linking the head terms with the people also ask questions and put them into a graph. 

Using a tool called Graph Commons, you can create two Google Sheets and you can set your nodes in your graph and edges that link the nodes. The nodes are keywords and questions, and all you’re doing is saying, “These questions come up for these keywords, these questions come up for these keywords.” It will then cluster them. What it allows you to do is relate your head terms to the questions. So you can see the questions that are most central to your theme. There’s an alternative which is called, they are both free and work by just importing data from Google Sheets, there’s really easy templates to follow.

Set SEO Strategy and Implement

Of course, it all comes down to set an SEO strategy. For me, what that looks like is to do things at scale, analyse your whole industry, which keywords your page was ranking and keywords you’re competing with, and which keywords they’re ranking for. But rather than run it manually, do it at scale, automate it across all your pages on your website, and look at the ones which have the highest potential for growth and where you’re relatively strong against your competitors. 


If you can look at the matrix, what you’ve got is a matrix of high potential and high relative strength. So top right is where you’re relatively strong and have great potential, those are the topics and the pages where you should focus first – they are your ‘Quick Wins’. The ones to the top left, have great potential, but you’re a bit weaker, so you need to ‘Build Authority’. The ones to the bottom right are high relative strength, but low potential, that means they are worth ‘Maintaining’. If it’s bottom, left don’t bother, you’ll never get to this – they are ‘Low/No ROI’.

So, that’s one way you can automate your content strategy and you can produce that matrix manually by using the tools that we’ve already outlined. Another way of looking at the tools is actually to look at that research, can you produce an editorial guide to help customers, editors and your SEO teams understand what kind of content they should be producing. For example you look at the modifier types for the keywords: Colour, superlatives, comparatives, singulars, descriptors, so cheap, safe, size, etcetera. You can look at the keyword modifiers, and then look at the smell of the SERP. What does Google want? What does the SERP smell like for that set of phrases? 

You can then see the successful content types that dominate the SERPs. So for example, for superlatives; ‘top’, ‘best’, ‘cool’, ‘good’; it will come as no surprise that buyers’ guides and articles are ranking. So, editorial reviews with lots of content snippets and images rank and perform really well. But if you’re looking at ‘second-hand cars’, ‘used pre-owned cars’, then e-commerce category pages, and classified sites dominate.

This just helps you produce a template, if you like, for thinking about how you roll out your content strategy. The last two things I want to mention is you can also map this to your buyer journey and think about different stages of your journey. If you’re buying a car; orientation, selection, financing, trade and ownership, are the different stages of your buyer journey. At different stages, you’ve got different head terms and consumers’ questions that are essential to those themes. The SERP landscape, the pages that are dominating the SERPs are different. There are editorial articles flowing through to listing sites and you have different competitors. That’s another way of segmenting and thinking about your strategy.


When it comes to implementing your SEO strategy, you’ve mapped everything to the page. A classic example is an e-commerce category page, you’ve got to implement the content and add schema markup. But, people will stuff content into ecommerce category pages, but you’ve got to be careful that you don’t alter the intent or the signals of that page because if you’ve got too much content, it looks like an article. Then you may not rank where you want for the phrases that have the intent you like. The other thing you could do in this area, is add consumers questions that answer specific product-related or brand-related questions, which will be more useful.

The last thing, is a case study with Price Minister, where if you do everything at scale, you can analyse millions of keywords, find the best opportunities, find them in new content clusters where you’re not ranking, match those back to your product catalogue, and create SEO-friendly landing pages at scale. This is a great way for big sites to automate elements of SEO strategy.


So, as you can see there’s plenty of different ways to conduct SEO Keyword Research.  The authors are not advocating a single methodology – after all the market moves quickly; Google changes its algorithm frequently and is regularly introducing new Universal SERP features that may give you opportunities to exploit.

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