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How to start your keyword research

How to start your keyword research: a case study

If you start a new site, either a blog or an online shop, you won’t rank immediately. So, what’s the first step you need to take to boost your rankings? In our view, you should always start with keyword research. Take some time to think about the words you want to be found for: which words are your audience searching for? But how do you find that out? What tools are useful? And, when you’ve found those keywords, how do you determine which ones you should focus on first? The most competitive (head), or the less competitive (long tail) keywords? In this post we’ll illustrate with a case study how to start your keyword research.

Focus on head or tail? Google it!

My cousin Sanne recently started her own online shop: Made by Mae. She’s a graphic designer and designs really cute posters, postcards and milestone cards. She asked me about SEO: where should she start? “Did you do your keyword research?” I asked. She did. She wanted to rank for the Dutch translation of [personalized poster]. And she already figured that aiming for those high-end search terms like [postcard] en [poster] would be pretty useless.


Choose the right locale

Make sure to Google your specific keyword in the language that you’re using on your website. And, in the case of my cousin, make sure to use She’s mainly interested in selling stuff in the Netherlands, so she should only worry about ranking in the Netherlands.

But how do you know for sure? You should check the competition! Google the keywords that are the most competitive and analyze the results. Are these major companies? Companies with large marketing budgets? Then you’ll probably have a hard time ranking for these head terms. Ask yourself what the probability is that you’d be able to rank for such a term. Then, try a term that is slightly less competitive, and see what comes up. Did the probability change much?

If you do this, starting from very competitive head terms to slightly longer and less used search terms, you’ll get a pretty good idea of where your website should be able to fit in and rank. For Made by Mae, focusing on (the Dutch translation of) [postcards] and [posters] would be a bit too difficult to go after just now. [Trendy postcards] or [trendy posters] results in less competition. I would choose even less competitive search terms like [personalized trendy postcards].

Make a long list!

You should never focus on just one keyword. You should make a long, a very long list. My cousin should make a list of at least a hundred keywords. These could be variations of different keywords. As the menu of Made by Mae states she sells posters, personalized posters, postcards, milestone cards and printables. So my cousin should try to come up with keywords around these terms. For example: [cute milestone cards], [personalized milestone cards], [trendy milestone cards], [black-and-white milestone cards] and so on. Make sure to rate the competitiveness of each of your keywords.

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Start writing content

Blogging is a great way of creating content. My cousin could write really awesome blog post related to her products. She recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and she should have lots of inspiration. However, a keyword is not a subject of a blog post just yet. You’ll need a specific angle or topic for the keyword you would like to rank for.

Read more: 5 tips to find inspiration for your blog »

Use Google trends!

If you have to choose between certain keywords you’d like to rank for, but you don’t know which one to choose, you should use Google trends. Google trends will allow you to compare the search volume of a few terms. If you want to know whether it makes sense to write about trendy postcards or about personalized postcards, Google Trends will give you your answer:


Think about chances to convert

While doing your keyword research, you should already think about the chance to convert for people searching for a specific keyword. For instance: if people are specifically searching for [black-and-white milestone cards], they will be more prone to buying a set of cards than if people are searching for [milestone cards]. People searching for [black-and-white milestone cards] already know what they want, they know what they’re searching for. Once they’ll find the milestone cards on Made by Mae, they will be more eager to buy them.

People searching for long tail, specific keywords generally have a higher chance to buy something when they end up on your website. So, perhaps, you’ll generate less traffic with a post optimized for [black-and-white milestone cards], than with a post optimized for [milestone cards], but you’ll end up with more sales nevertheless.


Keyword research is a very important first step in SEO. And after that, you’ll have to start writing. A lot. Writing will not instantly result in higher rankings. It’ll take time. It’s a longterm SEO strategy. But it will pay off eventually!

Keep reading: Keyword research: the ultimate guide »

18 Responses to How to start your keyword research: a case study

  1. Willi Glettig
    Willi Glettig  • 1 year ago

    Dear Marieke
    Your product/plugin is great and very useful. I have one problem, that is more and more websites have to be targeted. We sell to highly educated specialist that have and used their own jargon. Google metrics demand “easy readable” websites – but “easy readable” means different things to different people. My target market has its own language (Chemistry). What can I do to increase readability and high SEO qualities using our jargon in a clearly structured way. Do we have to demand from Google to recognise the many different jargons or do you have a strategy to get around this dillema?

  2. John Lum
    John Lum  • 1 year ago

    Definitely agree about making a long list of keywords. In fact, I was reading another post earlier about the advice of an SEO pro (can’t remember the name) in which he talked about scraping keywords from the entire universe, and then drill down from there.

  3. Alexandre
    Alexandre  • 2 years ago

    Helped me a lot. Thank you!

  4. Scott Graham
    Scott Graham  • 2 years ago

    Great post, I would just like to add that creating quality content is excellent for SEO, make sure though that you double up with the content that you produce by creating a video with it and then post it with SEO keyword phrases that stand out on youtube.

  5. Paul Arnison
    Paul Arnison  • 2 years ago

    I am spending a lot of time trying to rank my website at the moment and this helped a lot

  6. warith
    warith  • 2 years ago

    Nice post, but am still confuse about one thing, I have an educational website “Waponpointdotcom” and I have this particular keyword that I rank for but yet I still haven’t receive any single traffic from the post since I have published it for the past couple months. The keywords is “living cell as a colony” I have tried using many browsers and devices I still rank #2 on all search engines, my website is immediately after Wikipedia’s and I even try just now and my website is still found on number 2, “Google even display the pdf format of that post but yet no single traffic. Can you please tell me why please, am waiting for you reply. Even if you can reply through email will be nice because I don’t know what to do thank you.

    Please go ahead and use that keyword, I will be on number 2, but yet still no traffic Thanks.

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      If you are ranking for a certain keyword, there can be two main reasons for not getting any traffic.
      – the search volume of this keyword is so very low… people simply do not search for that specific term. You can rank really high, but if nobody searches for these terms… you won’t generate any traffic.
      – people do not want to click on your result. Perhaps the tittle or the snippet preview shown in the Search Results is just not what people expected when searching for the term.
      and there could be another reason:
      – your analytics is broken.

      I wish you all the luck… you gave me a new idea for a blogpost to write

  7. David Sorauer
    David Sorauer  • 2 years ago

    This is a great read! It’s really good to reinforce keyword research with practical examples. I find Yeost suggest a very useful tool to expand my keyword list :)

  8. Ron
    Ron  • 2 years ago

    Thank you Marieke for the nice post. All my confusions about keyword research are just gone. The case study really helped me. Wishing all the best for you and your cousin. :)

  9. Sammy
    Sammy  • 2 years ago

    What a great straight-to-the-point read. So often, I hear clients say they want to rank for “very specific keyword” and while I understand that there are hundreds sometimes thousands of monthly searches for that term, there are also hundreds of competitors. I love that this article articulates that sometimes longer keywords result in more conversions!

  10. Trevor
    Trevor  • 2 years ago

    This is not really a case study. It’s a story about what keywords a small business chose.

    A case study would show data tables, analyze results and how how adjustments (made over time) changed things for the better (or worse).

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      Your right… perhaps casestudy was poorly chosen. I will think about a more appropriate term!

  11. Vaishali
    Vaishali  • 2 years ago

    Great post for beginner’s like me to learn keyword search

  12. George Papatheodorou
    George Papatheodorou  • 2 years ago

    Nice article, simple to digest and to the point. I wish I were your cousin though so as to get a DF contextual link from a website with DA=83 so easily :)

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      Haha, I’m really curious what the link will do to a new (dutch) website. It probably won’t hurt her rankings though ;-)!

      • Femke de Jong
        Femke de Jong  • 1 year ago

        As a fellow Dutch website owner im curious what the effects are. I think you will gain some Google positions. is a trustworthy website. Let us know what the effects were! :)

    YZ DESIGNS  • 2 years ago

    I’m going to send this link to new clients, so that they can see the work involved in keyword research. great timing, thanks.

  14. Damabar
    Damabar  • 2 years ago

    That’s the Awesome Article. Thank you so much . As i am using the premium Yoast Seo Plugins on my website still i am confused with keyword research . Your Article makes me clear.

    Thanks a lot

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