A Simple Guide to SEO Keyword Research

google adwords, keyword research, organic search, SERP

October 3, 2017 by

Editor's Note: Chris Raulf is an educator and founder of Boulder SEO Marketing. He joins us today to share a simple guide for SEO keyword research that can skyrocket your website's position on search pages.


It goes without saying that people make billions of Internet searches everyday, from movie showings to nearby pizza places to oil changing services. Data consistently shows that Internet users typically select one of the first few search results, and if they find what they’re looking for, they stop searching. 

In fact, according to the statistics, more than 70% of all clicks go to the top five organic search results. So if your website shows up below #5, you’re missing out on a great boost for traffic to your website, and ultimately on sales.

If you want your business to grow and capture more organic search opportunities, climbing to the highest search positions is a good priority. And a great way to climb higher in rankings is to apply SEO (Search Engine Optimization) best practices.

Keywords - the word or words that people use to search for something in a search engine - are the foundation of SEO. In order to understand how people use search engines, you need to do keyword research in a scientific way. This is the first of many activities you can do to improve your website’s ranking in organic search results.

And it really does work! For example: my practice helped one client by applying a comprehensive digital marketing and SEO strategy to their business, and as a result, we doubled their Google traffic in less than 8 months:

In this article, I will explain the basic principles we used to do this so you can apply them too.

Let's dive right in!

What Are Keywords?

It may seem simple, but it's always best to start with basics. As mentioned in passing: a keyword is a word or string of words that people use to find something with a search engine. A keyword can be short tail, which is one word or two words strung together, such as “SEO,” “running shoes”, or “seo company”.

Keywords can also be long tail, which is three or more words strung together such as “SEO keyword research,” “running shoes for men” or “what are seo marketing packages.” Google continues to perfect its search algorithm and nowadays, long tail keywords seem to be the top choice for searching online. After all, users now expect Google to display a good answer to complex questions right at the top of the page:

Why Do Keyword Research?

You should do keyword research because it eliminates the guesswork behind choosing good keywords, and gives you confidence when executing an SEO strategy. During my SEO training classes and webinars, 80-90% of my attendees tend to admit that they haven't done keyword research.

And if they do keyword research, they are often surprised by what they find when I show them how to do it scientifically.

One of the most common and easily fixed mistakes made by SEO novices is trying to optimize for short tail keywords only, which are overly general and extremely competitive to rank for. People who use long tail keywords know what they want, and are more likely to convert interested buyers. 

Another mistake I frequently see is that people simply aren’t selecting the right keywords. This is not as mysterious as it may sound; they may optimize their site for internal terminology, product names, or branded terms, without realizing that this is completely ineffective on non-customers who have never countered those words before. 

By researching your keywords ahead of time, you can bypass many common mistakes, and forego trial and error by jumping straight to the most promising terms for your website.

A Brief Primer on Researching Keywords

Here are the key steps to doing keyword research for SEO at a very high level.

  1. The first thing to do is pick a research tool. There are many good choices, both free and paid. I usually recommend starting with Google Keyword Planner since it’s free, and made by Google. One of my favorite paid tools is SEMRush, because it provides many extra features that will help you to analyze the best keywords as carefully as possible. It should be noted that to take full advantage of Google’s Keyword Planner tool, you will need to set up and run an active Google AdWords campaign, so it isn't completely free in the end.
  2. Assuming you go with Google's Keyword Planner, you first need to set up an account. After doing so, you can start with keyword research and I recommend you do the following: If your website could rank number one on Google for only one search term, what would it be? Enter that term into Google Keyword Planner and you’ll see all kinds of data about it. The average number of searches per month is always interesting - it might surprise you in a good or bad way. You’ll also see that Google provides keyword ideas based on your keyword. These ideas are really useful to create a set of complementary keywords to use along with the primary keyword.
  3. Next, you’re going to download data about the source keyword and the keywords recommended by the tools so that you can analyze these three data points: Avg. Monthly Searches, Competition and Suggested bid data. Download the data to an Excel CVS file or to Google Drive as a Google spreadsheet.
  4. Now you should prioritize the keywords based on which ones you want to dominate, so add a column for priority (you may use a rating of 1-3, for instance). You should also categorize the keywords based on the products and services you offer. Essentially, the spreadsheet should look similar to the one below:

Next Steps

Once you know what keywords you want to focus on, you’ll need to assign 2-4 keywords to each webpage of your website. This process is called keyword mapping. Once you have properly assigned the right keywords, you’ll want to start optimizing the meta tags for each page. But don’t stop there! The more high quality content you develop with your target SEO keywords (i.e. blog posts, articles, white papers, case studies, etc.), the higher you’ll eventually rank in search engines.


There is a lot to keyword research and it’s impossible to capture everything in one article. However, I hope this short guide has given you a useful starting point. The Online Marketing Institute offers a ton of educational resources by some of today’s top digital marketing experts - take advantage of these resources so that you can achieve the results you’re looking for. I also invite you to read a guide that I recently published called SEO Keywords: The Step-by-Step Guide to Keyword Research.  

About the Author

Chris Raulf is the founder of Boulder SEO Marketing, a boutique digital marketing training and consulting agency located in beautiful Denver and Boulder, Colorado. Chris is an SEO training expert and teaches students around the globe to improve their website’s rankings in Google search results. His international background makes him one of few professionals in the industry who truly live and breath multilingual search engine optimization on a daily basis.

Learn more about Chris and Boulder SEO Marketing by connecting with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Learn more with these related OMI classes:


A Step-by-Step Guide to Keyword Research

Optimizing Your Website in a Post-Penguin World

Keyword Mapping

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