SEO Basics: What is keyword research?

If you have a business nowadays, your website might just have become your lifeline. There’s no time to waste: Let’s get started with SEO and improve your rankings in Google. Keyword research is an essential first step. Here, you’ll find what it is and which factors you should take into account.

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is aimed at finding the keywords your audience uses when they’re looking for a product or service you offer. Without keyword research, you might find yourself lost in your own lingo and battling giants in your industry that can’t be beaten in the search result pages just like that. There is a variety of factors you have to take into account when doing keyword research and setting up your keyword strategy. We’ll discuss your mission, your audience, and your competition.

If you really want to take a deep-dive into keyword research you should read our ultimate guide to keyword research.

What makes your company unique?

Before you do anything, and this is key, you need to know what makes your company unique. You need to have a clear concept of the mission of your company. You need to determine exactly what you have to offer because that’s what’s going to make you rank. It’s that simple. SEO is just like regular business. If you’re doing everything on the same or inferior level as your competition, you’re not going to stand out. If you’re not the best result, why should people want to find you? Why should Google rank you? This seems simple, but this factor is often forgotten.

Meaningful keywords

We often hear people say: we can’t come up with meaningful keywords. If you struggle with that too, take a step back and look at your business as a whole:

  • What do you have to offer?
  • What is your mission?
  • What are your core values and strengths?
  • What makes you stand out from the crowd? Think about the niche aspects of your business you excel at.

You don’t have to be better than your competition at absolutely everything, so long as you identify enough points to build a keyword strategy around. For smaller companies, this means that you probably have to be better at the things the bigger fish haven’t thought of or aren’t actively looking to do. If you can’t think of anything at all then you have a much bigger problem than just coming up with keywords…

The role of your audience in your keyword research

Once you’ve determined what you have to offer, it’s time to consider your audience. Ultimately, SEO is all about making sure your users are able to find you. So the first thing you have to do is find out which words your potential audience uses to find the information they’re looking for.

Let’s look at an example. At Yoast, we call our SEO training courses platform “Yoast SEO academy.” So at first, it might seem logical for us to optimize for the keyword [Yoast SEO academy]. However, when we analyze traffic data, it turns out that our audience searches for [SEO courses] way more often. So it makes much more sense to optimize for that term instead. Every company has its internal vocabulary, which often doesn’t match the vocabulary of its audience. Therefore, you should always select your keywords from your audience’s perspective. You can use Google Trends to research how often certain search terms are used compared to other terms.

What about your competition?

Lastly, you simply can’t devise a proper keyword research strategy without considering your competition. All too often, websites optimize for terms they have absolutely no chance of ranking for. So you need to research your competition.

You can go all overboard and make a thorough analysis of all the competitors in your field, and that can certainly be worthwhile. But let’s stick to the basics for now. It’s actually quite easy to get a general idea of your SEO competition. Just Google some search terms you would like to rank for and see which companies show up and compare them with where your site ranks. How big are the companies you are competing with for those top three rankings? Would your company fit within these results? This is all quite easy to determine using only Google search results.

But be aware! You can’t just blindly trust the search results because Google tailors them to your personal search history, which means your site will come up higher for you than for others doing the same search. You can get around this by searching in incognito mode, although there’s still a local search component even in that. If this’s likely to be a problem for you, consider using a VPN to conceal your location.

Expanding your strategy step-by-step

Big sites can rank for the most general terms. Smaller sites within a very specific niche can do the same. Of course, it’s also easier if you’re writing in a language that is not spoken all over the world. For most smaller sites that are writing in English, however, the general rule of thumb is this: start with a big set of long tail keywords which have little traffic, but you can rank for more easily. Then, work yourself up to the rankings step-by-step. Once you’ve gained some SEO authority, start optimizing for more general keywords. And in the end, maybe you will even be able to rank for your head keywords!

Read more: Keyword research: the ultimate guide »

23 Responses to SEO Basics: What is keyword research?

  1. Anil Agarwal
    Anil Agarwal  • 3 years ago

    Hi Michiel,

    Great topic around keyword research and one should definitely not ignore keyword research if they want to succeed online (and to get more traffic from Google to their sites).

    I think it’s all about finding the intent of your target audience while doing keyword research for your website no matter what industry you are in. Most people do keyword research by only focus on keyword search volume and if the keyword search volume is less, they just go for those keywords by creating content around it.

    If you are ignoring the intent of your keyword searches then you are not going to get any website conversion rates because you don’t know what your target audience really wants so focus on the intent while finding keywords.

    Also it’s really important for you to focus on your competitor keywords because completa analysis helps you better understand about your target audience and the content you want to create.

    Thanks so much for sharing this post with us.

  2. David Paul
    David Paul  • 3 years ago

    Useful and informative. Thanks for posting.

  3. Shah
    Shah  • 3 years ago

    Really nice tutorial, however if provide a tutorial such as one page SEO check list will be more helpful.

  4. Josh
    Josh  • 3 years ago

    I have a site in english language but i cant analyse gramatical section of the yoast. pleas support hindi language also.

  5. Naved
    Naved  • 3 years ago

    Michiel, I recently read somewhere that long tail keywords are not more effective due to Rankbrain implementation by Google, rather we should target for mid-tail keywords. What do you say about that?

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 3 years ago

      I would say that it definitely depends on the niche that you’re in. If your niche is quite small, then it’s probably easier for you to rank for your mid-tail keywords and you should definitely give it a go! Otherwise, it might be better to start with your long-tail keywords and work your way up to mid-tail keywords and eventually your head keywords. So, I’d say: analyse your competition, see where you stand and establish your game plan! Good luck Naved :)!

  6. Trinath Pattanayak
    Trinath Pattanayak  • 3 years ago

    Nice and very valuable learning for me. Soon I will try this and hope in case of any difficulty I will get help from you.
    Thank you very much.

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 3 years ago

      You’re welcome Trinath! We’ll be here if you need any help in the future.

  7. Martanian
    Martanian  • 3 years ago

    Indeed it should be the first step for all website owners to find the best keywords for each of their posts and pages. In many cases, while creating a content marketing blog, the new articles topics rely on the keywords researched before, not the other way around :)

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 3 years ago

      Yes, it’s certainly all connected. When you’ve established your keywords, you do still have a lot of room to decide what angle you’ll take for a certain article. In that way, the possibilities are endless! :)

  8. Kai Va Landschoot
    Kai Va Landschoot  • 3 years ago

    Yoast keyword density calculator doesn’t seem to spot synonyms and the likes. Does this matter? I’d rather have my text written naturally with the focus keyword (phrase) once or twice in the text and the rest being variations of that phrase. Is that ok?
    It doesn’t seem natural if I write “Hank Williams’ last concert” every time instead of using variations of that.

    • Willemien Hallebeek

      Hi Kai! Using synonyms now and then is a great idea. It definitely makes your copy more natural and pleasant to read. And Google will comprehend that you’re talking about the same topic. You might want to use the keyword you’d like to rank for a bit more often than just once or twice, but don’t fret to use synonyms now and then. We’re not able to detect them with our tool yet, though.

      • Kai Va Landschoot
        Kai Va Landschoot  • 3 years ago

        Thank you, I figured. Another question then is, how do you add long tail keywords naturally in your text multiple times. They flow well once in the first paragraph and then perhaps in the title and a subheading but after that, it seems so very forced as most long tail keywords I find are very unnatural to begin with.
        For example, I wrote an article regarding Texas World War II Heroes – as a keyword, that’s quite strange to use 5 or 6 times over 500 words. Or am I wrong?

  9. Jaspreet singh
    Jaspreet singh  • 3 years ago

    Good information i will try to use this info.

  10. vaibhav bahuguna
    vaibhav bahuguna  • 3 years ago

    Thanks for teaching so much about SEO whenever I need help I come here and look for new tips.

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 3 years ago

      Good to hear Vaibhav!

  11. Weed Shop
    Weed Shop  • 3 years ago

    Hello, I have been reading articles about your SEO and learnt alot about internal site linking and keyword research tool. But just a quick question, Can i target a single and relatively high competitive keyword like Vape Pens and outrank my competitors while using Yoast Premium ?

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 3 years ago

      We recommend to focus on your long tail keywords first and working your way up to your head keywords. Maybe this article can help: Good luck!

      • Weed Shop
        Weed Shop  • 3 years ago

        Okay, thanks for the feedback. I thought maybe with the Yoast SEO premium, We could outrank competitors for single keyword. Please I also which to ask about text linking in site, for example i do this kind of text link
        Vape Pens how beneficial will it be for me in my website??
        And will it be considered as spamming if I do that for two or more texts on the same page ??

  12. Suresh Dubey
    Suresh Dubey  • 3 years ago

    I came to know the importance of using keywords in the blog articles. Thanks

  13. Richard
    Richard  • 3 years ago

    Although I consider myself an intermediate “SEO person”, this post is still a great one – especially combined with the Keyword research ultimate Guide.
    What I really was struggling with at the beginning, is to find Keywords not only for my product pages, but especially my main page. I (still) find it quite hard to decide on a “long tail keyword”, that is profitable enough for me to go for it, leaving a / or multiple fathead keywords behind.
    Reading through the posts in this blog really helped me to get a grasp of the whole topic though. The key for me was understanding the concept of search intent, getting to know what my (potential) customers really want.

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 3 years ago

      Yes, it is definitely a process that needs quite a bit of attention. Good to hear that our posts have helped! :)

  14. yukti sharma
    yukti sharma  • 3 years ago

    well for the websites and also for the blogging content is everything as we need it more.. but the SEO is also doing a role in that to optimizing it SEO is also called the doctor of a website well nice content and the information…