One of the major challenges of any digital marketing is trying to solve the riddle of keyword research. It’s one of those topics that can feel really overwhelming, partly because there are so many apps and solutions out there promising you the earth if only you hand over a huge wedge of cash.

Keyword research is something I do as standard for every single client I have, and as such it’s become second nature to me. It’s also something that, even as a professional, I never pay for.

Ever.

There are enough expenses in business without forking out for a tech tech solution to every single aspect of your marketing. I was chatting with a lead the other day who was asking how much extra I charge for keyword research and when I said nothing – it’s included in the price – they were incredibly relieved.

Evidently they’d spent quite a lot paying for a lot of fancy SEO apps and tools that did nothing but confuse them.

It occurred to me that all you blogging badasses and boss babes would be in the same boat, so here is some useful info and some super-easy ways to research keywords…

Why Keyword Research Is So Important…

At its core SEO runs on keywords. There’s a lot more to it, but without that fundamental element, nothing else works, so effectively researching the best keywords for your business is super-important. You need to know how to discover the best search terms to help people find your products and services, and the ideal keywords for your niche.

It’s non-negotiable, it’s utterly essential, yet so many bloggers and business owners skip the research stage and jump right into optimising their content using the search terms they assume they should be using.

It’s a really easy mistake to make, because you will already know the obvious terms and keywords that are most relevant for your business. It could be the name of your niche, the type of service you offer, or the products you sell. Or it could be your industry as a whole and your professional title or job description.

For example, the obvious one for me are ‘content marketing’, ‘content marketer’, ‘blog writer’, ‘freelance blogger’ and ‘copywriter’ or ‘ghostwriter’.

But effectively optimising your content for SEO requires a far deeper understanding of your ideal client’s thought-process as they are searching, because you will frequently find that the actual terms they are typing into search engines are far from obvious. They may be obscure, or seemingly nonsensical, but most often they are simply coming from a perspective you can’t see.

You might know the official title for your position or profession, but the people who most need your services might not, and even if they do, that might not be the first thing they think when they ask Siri for help.

Since you’re (probably) not psychic, you’re only able to guess at what your ideal clients are thinking while searching, and you might well be wrong.

How To Do Keyword Research In 2018

Before you jump in, bear in mind that SEO has evolved a lot in the last few years. As a result, the research you need to do for your keywords has changed. The days of stuffing a single keyword into your content as many times as humanly possible are dead. When SEO was young and still finding its way, it was genuinely that simple. But search engines are increasingly concerned with user experience, and keyword stuffing is detrimental to the quality of your content.

Since search engines are now looking at quality rather than how many times you’re capable of saying the same thing, keyword stuffing will actually have a negative impact on your search engine ranking. The search engine gods are continually improving their algorithms and they have grown sophisticated enough that they can understand related terms. As such, you need to be utilising all the modern SEO tactics like topic clusters, long tail keywords, and latent semantic indexing (LSI).

All of these tactics require one thing: highly sophisticated keyword research that reveals multiple forms of the same keyword, related keywords, and keywords of varying lengths and complexity.

The increased sophistication of SEO makes it even more crucial that you effectively research your keywords, but it doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on it, or use a lot of very complicated, fancy software.

Here are five totally free, easy ways of doing keyword research…

#1 Add The Keywords Everywhere Extension

If you have Google Chrome or Firefox there is a really handy extension you can add called Keywords Everywhere (big thanks to Nina for introducing me to this one!). Just got to KeywordsEverywhere.com and download the extension for your browser. It should install automatically and ask for your email address. Pop that in and wait for the email containing your API Key. Follow the instructions given to add that to your settings, and whenever you search for a term on Google the predictive section beneath the search bar will tell you how many searches there are for that term per month, and an estimate of the price of optimising an ad campaign for it:

#2 Begin With Regular Google

Since the main goal of SEO is very often getting your business on page one of Google, it makes a great deal of sense to use Google itself, and the tools it provides, to research the keywords you will use to achieve that objective.

Head over to Google and type your obvious keywords in the search box. As you’re typing, keep a keen eye on the suggestions the search box spits out. There is a predictive element to the suggestions, and Google will suggest things it thinks you’re more likely searching for, based on the words you’ve already entered. This can tell you loads about what people are searching for in your niche.

Jot down any suggestions Google comes out with. When you’ve got them all down, start actually searching those terms. When the results appear for each term, scroll down the page a little way, you will often find a section near the top of your results with the heading ‘People also ask…’ in which Google will show you other related search terms.

When you’ve made a note of all of those, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page and you will find even more related keywords.  

#3 Hit Up Google Keyword Planner

When you’ve done this head over to Google Keyword Planner. You’ll need to create a GoogleAds account to use it, if you don’t already have one, however all you need is an existing account – you don’t actually have to run ads with it, and the account itself is free. In the planner, type in each of the keywords on the list you created using Google itself. You can add a few related terms at once or do them individually. The keyword planner will spit out a big long list of suggestions for each term you enter. Lots of them will be very similar, so it’s useful to add the promising ones to a master list (either on the keyword planner itself or in Excel). When you’re finished you can alphabatise the list and remove any duplicate terms.

#4 Check Out Google Trends

The last thing you’ll want to do on Google is look at Google Trends. This is a fantastic way of discovering how much interest there is in each of the keywords on your list. Keywords with low interest are going to be very easy to rank for, but they’re not going to do you a great deal of good because so few people are actually searching for them. Search terms with an incredibly high level of interest, on the other hand, are going to prove impossible to compete for. Ideally you should choose keywords that are in ‘The Goldilocks Zone’ – not too low, not too high, but juuuuuust right.

For the record ‘juuuuust right’ in this context means a relatively high level of interest that has remained consistent over a fairly long period.

#5 Stalk Some Hashtags

Another super-easy (if slightly tedious) way to research great hashtags in your niche is to use social media. Most social media platforms are giant search engines, but some, like Twitter and Instagram, are particularly good in this regard.

Hashtags are essentially keywords that have been made even easier to search for. Keeping an eye on the hashtags the influencers and industry leaders in your niche are using will give you a lot of great ideas. Likewise, checking out the competition for inspiration is a good place to look, and making a note of the hashtags that seem to be particularly effective at promoting your own content, and the super-successful viral content in your niche is a great idea.

I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to have a dedicated hashtag notebook. Whenever I’m on Instagram (and to a lesser extent Twitter, which I don’t personally use much), I make a point of reading the first comments on any great posts I see relating to my niche. I look at the comments to see how much of the engagement is genuine (as opposed to standard messages that say ‘great post!’ or a string of emojis and are clearly the work of bots!) and highlight any hashtags on posts that get great engagement.

This is something that will numb your brain very quickly if you try to do a bucket load of research all at once, so just get in the habit of looking at these things whenever you’re scrolling, and making a note of any hashtags you see. If you’re not a fan of real notebooks (I have a serious Paperchase addiction) or you’re bad at finding pens, use a notebook app on your phone, iPad, or whatever you’re generally on when you’re scrolling social media (Evernote is my go-to but there are loads of other options).

#6 Scour Some Online Libraries

Another major form of search engine that people generally forget is actually a search engine is Amazon, and other online book distributors. Amazon is an absolute mine of super-useful keyword data if you have the patience to look for it.

Like hashtag-based keyword research this is best done in short bursts and kept track of in a notebook.

Head over to Amazon or you favourite online bookstore – I really do recommend Amazon because it is, quite frankly, the biggest. Have a browse through all the books relating to your niche. Refine the results by popularity and look only at books with a 4 or 5 star rating. Once you have that list, scroll down and focus on the ones with a LOT of reviews.

To be clear in the publishing work a ‘lot’ of reviews is a few hundred or more. You want triple figures at least. If there are few options with that many positive reviews take a look at the best there are, but ideally you don’t want to look at anything that isn’t proving really popular.

It doesn’t have to be by a big name or a celebrity, it just needs to have an effective marketing strategy that’s genuinely selling large numbers of copies!

Go through each book in turn and make a note of any common keywords and phrases that keep cropping up in the titles, as well as the subtitles, and on the blurbs. Contents pages are also helpful so it’s worth going into the preview mode and looking at the titles given to each chapter.

All these things are optimised for search when the book is in production. The subtitle, in particular, is often crammed with great keywords and search terms, because authors and publishers need them in the title, but they’re often too clunky or unsexy for the main title!

By the time you’ve finished all of this you should have a great big long list of cracking keywords and related terms. Don’t feel you have to ‘whittle it down’. It’s important that all the terms you’ve identified are truly relevant to your business, but beyond that the more the better. Keep a not of groups of related keywords – this will be vital for creating topic clusters and effectively using LSI – and remember, every piece of content you create should ideally be optimise for a DIFFERENT keyword.

Otherwise you will end up competing with yourself!

If you’re looking for more awesome SEO advice to help you market your business I cover a lot in my brand new book, Divine Blogging, which will be out on June 5th 2018. You can preorder a copy of the exclusive Kindle & Audio bundle or snag the first chapter to read right now, totally free…

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Hazel is an author, copywriter, content marketer and blogger. She specialises in helping creative entrepreneurs, coaches and small business owners harness the power of the pen (or keyboard!) to market their products and services through soulful selling. She's had several academic papers published internationally, and featured on sites such as The Huffington Post. In addition to her professional work as a writer, Hazel is also a fiction author. She has published several books and short stories, including The Uber Author Planner, Chasing Azrael, a Urban Fantasy novel, and Bleizgeist, a Dark Fantasy novella. Hazel has a regular weekly column on Sci-Fi Fantasy Network, and is currently working on her next novel, Death Becomes Me.