The Nuts & Bolts of How Keyword Research is Done

Design by Kiltz, Websites, marketing & strategy

In our last tip, we dug into the theory behind keywords and why they were relevant in order to give you a good foundation for what we’re going to cover today. You know you need to have good keywords in place, but how do you find the ones that resonate best with your customer? It doesn’t matter “what you search for”, what are they searching for?

So, how do you find the best keywords? Of course, you can work with a company that provides SEO services. But if you’ve got a tight budget or like to DIY, you’ll need to know how to do your own research… so let’s dive in!


Finding your initial list of keywords
Expanding your initial keyword list
Putting your keywords to use

Finding your initial list of keywords

Staring at a blank piece of paper is the absolute worst feeling. Luckily there are several ways that you can find that first list of 10 or 15 keywords.

Google Analytics & Search Console

If you have connected the Google Search Console (used to be called Webmaster Tools) to Google Analytics, you’ve got a way to see what search terms people are using to find your website. When you’re at the main Google Analytics Dashboard, on the left side click on: Acquisition > Search Console > Queries.

You will always have some branded search phrases – they don’t count because people already know about you. You’re wanting to attract people that don’t know about you yet. But, you should see a list with everything that people have used to try and find you – like the screenshot below.

Design by Kiltz, Websites, marketing & strategy

Pro Tip: If you’re only seeing a few words, or not that many clicks or impressions, adjust the date range on the top right of the Google Analytics page – give yourself a year of results to work from.

Take this list and eliminate any keywords that are not relevant. Hopefully you’ll have at least 10-15 keywords/phrases still on the list. If not, work through the “Thinking like your customer” section below.

Server Provided Statistics

If you don’t have Google Analytics set up, check with your hosting company for server-side statistics. Every time a page loads on your website, entries are made to a log file. If people have come to your site from a search, it will note what the search term was. AWStats is a program that reads the server logs and turns them into simple reports. The only downside is that you have to check month by month. Here’s a sample screenshot that shows the results.

Design by Kiltz, Websites, marketing & strategy

Take this list and eliminate any keywords that are not relevant. Hopefully, you’ll have at least 10-15 keywords/phrases still on the list. If not, work through the “Thinking like your customer” section below.

These first two options – Google Analytics and server provided statistics – are great because they let you know what people are already searching for when they find you. But, if you don’t have either of these, you can still get past the “blank piece of paper” syndrome by ‘Thinking like your customer’.

Thinking Like Your Customer

You should know who your target customer is – what pain points they have and the language they use to find the solution to their “need”, i.e. you. If you’re rusty, take a look at our articles on how to identify your target market and the different words they use at the different stages of their buying journey.

Grab a piece of paper and create a list of questions or phrases your customer would ask as they move through the 5 stages (Unaware, Problem Aware, Solution Aware, Product Aware, Ready to Buy). Use the Keyword Intent section of our last tip (last section of the tip) to fill in the gaps of what they will be asking about.

Take each of your ideas and enter them into a Google search field. Before you hit enter, Google will give a dropdown of variations on your search – these are keyphrases that are regularly being searched for. If you see a variation that is different from what you have, add it to your list.

Design by Kiltz, Websites, marketing & strategy

If the Google results don’t give you many ideas and you’re still short on initial phrases, use a tool like Answer the Public or Also Asked (both limit the number of free searches you can do, so work carefully). With both, you put in a keyword and it spits back different “questions” that can be asked for it.

Work your ideas until you’ve got your initial list of 10-15 keywords/phrases.

Expanding your initial keyword list

Now that you’ve got an initial “seed list” of keywords, it’s time to expand them and find out which keywords/phrases are the best to use. This is where using a keyword research tool comes in. Take your list and move it to a spreadsheet so it can easily expand. As you work through this next step, it’s “wash, rinse and repeat” for each of your keywords/phrases.

Find a Keyword tool that works for you

There are a lot of keyword research tools available. To thin the list, you want to use a tool that provides:

  • Keywords with their search volume (how many times per month are they searched for)
  • How many pages are using that keyword (keyword competition)

With this information, you’ll know if the keywords you use are truly being searched for, and how much competition you have to try and rank.

Mailchimp has put together a great list of free and “fremium” keyword research tools that are available. Not all of them meet our 2 points above, but you’ll find a tool that works for you. And, it doesn’t hurt to go for a trial on a paid tool.

For the SEO services we provide, we use SEMRush as a part of our keyword research toolset, so for this tip, we’ll use the Free Keyword Magic Tool (click “try free” and just skip the trial when you create your account) and walk through the process.

Using your keyword research tool

Once logged into your free account, you’ll see Keyword Magic Tool on the left navigation. Click on it and enter the 1st keyword/phrase that is on your list. You’ll get a result that looks something like this for your keyword:

Click image to view full size
Click the image above to see it full size

First, let’s define what you’re looking at.

Broad Match, Phrase Match, Exact Match are 3 different ways to match results to the keyword you entered. WordStream has a really good definition of them. Experiment with these to find out which gives you the best results.

You can filter the list by the Dropdowns Volume, KD% Intent, etc. This is great because if you want to focus just on Transactional phrases, you don’t have to dig through everything. Or if you want to build out keywords that are Easy or Possible to rank on, you can trim down the list.

Once you get to the results table, here’s a quick run-down of what you’re looking at. We’ve marked the ones you should pay attention to in bold:

  • The keyword: kind of obvious. But, you can click on the keyword to get a more detailed report of the keyword
  • Intent: what type of search does that keyphrase point to
  • Volume: how many searches are being done over a 12 month period
  • Trend: is usage for this keyphrase increasing, decreasing, etc.
  • KD%: how difficult is it to rank for this keyword
  • There are a couple columns directly related to ads
  • Results: if you use this term, how many results are returned

The “free” version gives you 10 results. And, with any “fremium”, I do recommend going with the full trial when you know you’re ready to roll through the process. Use the free version with limited results to get your feet under you first. That way you can make the best use of the trial time.

Now, let’s put these results to work.

For our example, we’ve been working with “BIT inspections”. I’m going to want to use the results to build out additional phrases in my spreadsheet.

You’ll see in the results that “bit inspection” is used singular, not plural. It has good volume, and is fairly easy to rank on. So, I’m going to start by replacing “bit inspections” with the singular version – and fill in the details.

And, I’m going to add “california bit inspection” and “bit inspection checklist” as they are more specific phrases. I only want to take the phrases that are relevant to the service or product that I offer.

Keyword Intent Volume Trend KD%
Bit inspection I 480 steady 28
California bit inspection I 140 steady 31
bit inspection checklist I 70 Fluctuates (looks like quarterly) 34


Go through this process for each of your keywords. If your original list was 10, and you add 2 more for each phrase, you’ve hit your target of at least 30.

The goal as you look for keywords is to find keywords that have good volume, if possible have a steady or regular trend and are decently easy or moderate to rank on. This catches the low hanging fruit.

Putting your keywords to use

Now that you have your keyword list, it’s time to use it! You want to have one page on your site optimized for each “set” of keywords. For our example “bit inspection”, we need to have a page that fully talks about BIT inspections, why they are important and provide the checklist. If you’re providing it as a PDF, make sure that the underlined link people see is “BIT Inspection Checklist”.

Where keywords need to go

There are several key places where you need to include your keywords. Let’s start “at the top”:

The URLs of your page
(bold, not a header, with line break not paragraph break)
Regardless of which website platform you are using, there’s generally a way to customize the URL of your page. You want to include your main keyword/phrase in your URL.

Important note: IF your website has been up for a while and you change the URL of a page, the indexed page that Google has will be “broken” and will ding your ranking. So make sure you also create a redirect from the old URL to the new one. WordPress has a number of plugins to help with that, and some SEO plugins will automatically create the redirect when you change a URL of a page.

The Page Title
The Page Title isn’t necessarily the title that people see on the front end of your site. In WordPress, SEO plugins allow you to customize the title of the page. Make sure that your keywords are at the beginning of the title.

The Page Title shows in the search results as the larger, blue, and underlined title that is returned. When people see the keyword/phrase that they’ve searched for here, it catches their attention.

The Page Meta Description
The Meta Description isn’t necessarily a ranking feature, but because it is the description that shows below the title in a search result when people see additional information specific to what they’ve searched on, it encourages them to click to your page. We call this “the warm and fuzzy invitation to visit your website” description. It builds trust!

Headings on Your Page The content on your page needs to be organized with headings. In a prior tip, we explained what they are and how to correctly use them. Make sure you balance content that people love with content Google loves. Not every heading needs to have your keyword/phrase, but work in as many as you logically can.

Your Content
This one should be obvious. You’re going to want to use the keywords/phrases throughout the content on your page.

But, a big warning… over the years we’ve seen content where someone wants to rank for a local town (for example), and every third sentence is naming the town. If you can’t comfortably read your content, being drawn in and engaged by it, neither will the people who come to your site.

Internal Links
Internal links are links from one page to another within your site. Waayyyy too often we see links that say “Learn More” or “Click Here” :/ Unless you’re trying to rank for those 2 phrases, don’t get caught in that trap!

Using our example, instead of: “get our BIT Inspection checklist here” or “get our BIT Inspection checklist. Click Here.” use: “get our BIT Inspection checklist here”. If you want to dive in deeper, check out our tip on The Almighty Link.

There are 2 aspects to think about when considering how to integrate your keywords into your images.

First, your image filename: Img-078.jpg means nothing! Instead integrate your keywords into image names: on-site-bit-inspection.jpg.

Second, the ALT tag on your image. This is text behind the scenes that tells Google what your image is about and also aids people that utilize a screenreader to “view” your site.

By default, some website builders (Wix, Squarespace, etc) will put the filename of your image as the ALT tag – which is ok, but not good. With WordPress, it leaves the ALT blank by default. The easiest way to customize the ALT tag is when you add your image. Otherwise, go back and edit your images to add in the ALT tags.

Like we did with the image filename, the ALT tag should be a short phrase that describes the image and if possible, and if it makes sense, add a keyword that fits.


We know that keyword research is a big job, and hopefully, you don’t feel overwhelmed as we’ve walked through the details. If you decide that you’d like to have someone else take on the challenge, we offer keyword research by itself which you can then take the results and run with it, or we have different levels of SEO packages that include keyword research and implementation – just reach out and connect with Christy.

Otherwise, we’re here to cheer you on and help you succeed! Cheers to a step towards a better ranking website with fresh keywords and a website that is optimized for them!


Your Online Partner… for Success

Are you wanting to tackle keyword research on your own, or trying to implement it and have questions? Book a free session with Christy to get your questions answered.