Chapter 1. Where do you start?

Keyword research is one of my favourite parts of SEO. You don’t want to be always doing it, it can take a long time, it’s hard work, but the strategy you can develop – is fantastic. It’s one of the most powerful market research tools we have available to us in any discipline.

The most important point when doing keyword research is to categorise your keywords. Run your keyword research process through a number of steps that help make sure the keyword ideas are something that you can deliver on. Where you can fulfil what the search is trying to achieve. When you can marry that up, that’s when good things happen with your content.

The first step is knowing what you’re going to be doing this research for because your aim has a bearing on what you’re going to do. The tips to follow are on how to expand your horizons to find more ideas (this is where you need to find ideas on what the audience wants to know), grouping keywords into topics, finding common themes, and mapping intent, so you know what kind of content is going to rank, and what to build.

Build on What is Already Working

First, build on what’s working already by using Search Console data. There’s a huge amount of information there.

If your site has any kind of history, any old articles or lots of commercial pages – whatever it is – there’s going to be loads of queries in Search Console which you can use and build upon to develop new ideas or expand your current content. There is a treasure trove of keywords in GSC that people sometimes forget about, because they’re rushing to find new things in traditional keyword research tools.

Go to the Performance report, start looking for keywords where you’re seen relevant queries but aren’t addressing directly, and then start working out if you should expand the page to address these queries or create something new. As always with good research, find the common themes that you can build good stuff around. 

You can use the Search Console API as well. APIs have also been discussed on Tea Time SEO, but the Search Console API can help you find more ideas. You can use an add-on for Google Sheets – Search Analytics for Sheets – or build a table in Data Studio, so you can start querying your pages. See all the keywords they appeared for, and find where you can put new content out there.

Answer Your Public

Build content around questions, not topics. There’s a small demand for many questions, but often lots of questions with the same intent, which added together equals a lot of demand. 

The best part of using questions is it makes you build a page or section around them. It forces you to answer the question, rather than just writing about the keyword, which if you’re not Wikipedia or a dictionary website, isn’t the aim of your content. You don’t want to write about this keyword, you want to write what the user wants to get out of it when they type that keyword in, and questions are a great way of doing that. Of course, you can also use questions as subheadings throughout your article or posts, or even e-commerce and product pages. You have loads of great angles with questions.

To get ideas, you can use many of the most famous keyword tools. (have you tried the Authoritas FAQ Explorer yet?) You can scrape the People Also Ask questions directly from the SERPs to get lots of ideas. There is also a tool for this called AlsoAsked. It’s free, go in and put your seed term in. It pulls out a visual which can help get buy-in from people higher up the chain. It’s a nice way to build more keyword ideas.

There are also loads of free keyword tools that use this kind of stuff.  For example keywordtool.io. Don’t just use questions like who, what, when, why, how. Expand it out to include prepositions, comparison terms and other modifiers you see in your niche. Things like “best” and so on. That’s another great way of finding question-style topics to build your content around.

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Charlie Williams

Consultant, Chopped Digital

A search veteran who’s worked just about every kind of role over more than a dozen years in the industry, Charlie runs Chopped Digital, an SEO & content strategy consultancy dedicated to helping create better sites and smarter SEOs.
Passionate about helping sites take control of their SEO, he helps run local digital marketing events and has created a number of training courses.
A regular industry speaker, Charlie loves to share ideas on his specialities of content strategy for SEO, technical SEO & creative user experiences. He also thinks keyword research is *amazing* for finding the content your audience wants from you.

Watch our Tea Time SEO session here:

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Use those who know your audience

Finally on expansion, most times as SEOs, we’re not the experts on the business itself, so make sure you speak to those who are the experts.

A great way to start a new project is to have a set of questions which you can ask the experts so you can learn from them. Common customer queries, pain points they face, barriers to purchase and so on. Your secret weapon for this is to actually sit down with them, buy them a drink and talk to them.

It’s a great way to get real answers and you will get better information than by just sending an email. Speak to the experts, whether you’re in-house or agency side.

Find the Topics and Keyword Exemplars

My fourth tip is about grouping keywords. You’ve found topics to help build better content experiences. Find all the angles of a topic. You’re looking to find and group keywords with the same intents, where you just build one page and target all those keywords that have the same user end-goal. Find where there are multiple pages we can build and a whole range of potential articles around a topic.

This used to be called the hub and spoke model in SEO. Thanks to HubSpot their article, you can see it’s often referred to as topic clusters or content hubs. The idea is we build hubs of information. There was a great article about this by Samuel Schmitt, it’s an example of how he used topic clusters to build huge amounts of traffic by turning a large article into a pillar page and a series of subpages.

By doing the research and studying the different subtopics in one area you can create a hub so Google thinks you’re not just an expert on one keyword, but on a whole series. The idea of a cluster is about building authority in that topic through a series of articles that interlink with each other.

SEO tools can help you out with finding these topics. Ahrefs use the parent topic mechanism they have, where they put a bunch of keywords under a parent topic, because if you rank for that keyword, you tend to rank for the other ones as well. It’s an idea of building a topic out, so do that when you do your keyword research. Another tool that does this is Moz, where you can group keywords by lexical similarity to show topics.

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Map Out Your Keywords By Intent

Last but not least, mapping keywords out by intent. Intent has become a really big thing in SEO in the last couple of years but I still don’t see people using it enough. We want to know what the intent of a search is, or what Google thinks the intent of that search is. We want to know what kind of content we have to build to satisfy that search.

Back in 2007, Rand Fishkin, named four kinds of search intent: navigational, informational, commercial investigation, and transactional. Lots of work since then has expanded this. There’s an article from Content Harmony, where Kane Jamison expanded on this idea to about nine different intents. The idea is to build out the potential intents and the cool thing is there are tools that will give you this intent. SISTRIX, use the intents that are listed in the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines as a way of breaking intent down.

This interpretation is based on SERP features. If you have a map pack, there’s probably some ‘visit-in-person’ intent. If they are shopping ads or product ads, then there’s likely to be some commercial intent, and so on. You can learn more about User Intent in our guide here.

I don’t mind how you work it out, what tool you use, but know the intent of your keyword before you start producing content or even think about targeting it. Because if you don’t, how do you know whether you’re actually in a position to address that intent or not, and actually start ranking? 

I’ve got an example below of the SERPs. If you look at the SERPs for ‘keyword research tools’, there’s actually mixed intent here. There are some articles and tools directly. You should ask yourself if you can produce the right kind of page that’s going to rank for this keyword. If nothing else, know if your keyword is informational or commercial in intent. If you do that, you can break things down.

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By grouping keywords by topic and by intent, you can end up with massive keyword spreadsheets. I like to group all my keywords by topic, see how much search volume there is by topic, and whether it’ll be worth investing in or not. We also can tell how many of those searches are commercial and how many are informational. You can then weigh up the content type and whether it’s worth investing in producing that content or not. 

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