This Ahrefs’ guide is dedicated to keyword research. It is one of the uber-important SEO activities vital to your marketing success.

I’m sure that you have already looked through multiple articles including detailed instructions on doing keyword research professionally. Thoughtfully chosen keywords can help your resource/piece of content/whatever rank high for thousands of targeted search terms and lead to significant traffic boost from Google.

Have you ever noticed that each article gives you different instructions? And this is not because some of them are telling you the truth and some are misleading you.

There is just no universal approach to doing keyword research. It varies due to many factors – your website authority, number of pages, quality of content, etc., your goals (branding, exposure, traffic, leads, sales), budget, resources, deadlines, your industry, and competitors.

We are going to choose a different approach. This guide will provide you with a kind of keyword research plan. You will be able to easily adjust it to your own goals and resources.

You’ll see that the application of the tactics featured below will immensely improve your traffic flow from Google.

Let’s start with seed keywords

keyword research

Photo by Neil Bates on Unsplash

Seed keywords in your keyword research process are similar to the basement of a building. They define your niche and help to identify the competitors.

Supposing you already have a product or business you need to promote online. In this case, you may come up with seed keywords just describing that product in your own words or step into other people’s boots and think how they might search for it.

For example, let’s imagine you’re launching an online store selling cell phone accessories. What are the first keywords (Google searches) coming to your mind?

  • Mobile phone accessories;
  • Mobile gadgets;
  • Mobile phones add-ons.

This is rather simple, isn’t it?

But the above doesn’t answer the question of affiliate marketers at all. What if you tend to passive online income but have no idea which niche or product is the best bet?

Picking the right niche might be challenging, but I will try to help you out a bit by throwing some light on a couple of ways of approaching it.

Consider the future profit

I advise you to start available monetization methods exploration. Select a product/offer you like. Then think of search queries that people might be using to find it on Google.

Let’s take Amazon as an example. Their affiliate program is extremely popular. So, all you need to do is browse their website until you find a product category you’re eager to promote.

There is another option. You can explore marketplaces like ClickBank or CJ that connect product owners and affiliates.

Furthermore, you can review the products and services you’re using yourself and see if there is any chance to become an affiliate.

Narrow down approach

If you want to give a try to this approach, start with a super broad keyword and then niche down until you discover an interesting opportunity.

Let me show you how I would do it with Ahrefs. I have picked “gifts” as my super broad niche. Ahrefs’ Keyword Generator tool gives me 858,929 keywords ideas for that seed keyword:

Keyword Generator tool

The result is immense, so I need to focus on longer keywords that are more specific having the word “gifts” in them. I will use the “Words” filter and narrow down that huge list of keyword ideas to those containing 4 words.

Look what I found:

  • anniversary gifts by year — It’s always a kind of challenge to choose an awesome gift for the anniversary. So you could start a review site and cover some special gadgets that can be presented as anniversary gifts.
  • game of thrones gifts — The army of “Game of Thrones” fans is numerous. People want to download music they hear in movies, TV series, TV shows, etc. They like to possess something material connected to their favorite heroes. This could be a great niche as new TV content is released regularly.
  • gifts for coffee lovers — Every famous coffee brand has a heap of merchandise for their customers to buy. Not to mention the coffee itself. They must have some affordable gift options too.
  • gifts for teenage girls — Being a mother of a daughter in her teens, I would totally love to get a prompt how to surprise and delight her with a cool present.

I know that these niche ideas are not perfect, but I spent only a few minutes searching for them. You have more chances to come across something awesome if you invest a little bit more time in the process.

Generating keyword ideas

Do you have your seed keyword already? Congrats, but this is just the beginning of your keyword research path.

Well, what should be your next step? You need to generate a long list of relevant keyword ideas. A good understanding of what people in your niche are searching for in Google is necessary.

I know at least 4 good ways to do it.

Get to know what keywords you are already ranking for

Do you own a website that has been around for a while? Ok, this means you should already be ranking in Google for hundreds of keywords. Know what they are as this is a perfect way to start your keyword research.

You can pull this information from the “Search Analytics” report available in Google Search Console.

keyword research

What does Search Console show you? It displays your average position for each of the keywords you rank for and the number of impressions and clicks this brings you. However, the analysis is not comprehensive. They don’t show the monthly search volume and limit you to 1000 keywords only.

Figure out what keywords your competitors are ranking for

Your competitors are likely to perform all the tedious keyword research work already. All that you need to do is pick out the best ones for yourself.

Not sure who your competitors are? Put your seed keywords into Google and take a note of those who are ranking on the front page.

Then I advise you to use your favorite SEO tool. I will use Ahrefs as you understand. I will take the seed keyword discovered earlier, “game of thrones gifts.” I see an interesting website ranking on the front page, it’s Etsy.

Now I need to insert that website in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and look through the keywords it ranks for:

competitors keyword research

You know, sometimes a single competitor can supply you with plenty of keyword ideas that will keep you and your SEO team busy for months. If this information is not enough for you, go to “Competing domains” report to find more sites similar to your competitor. Do you know what we have just done? We have just closed the “competitive research loop”:

  • We put our seed keyword into Google and saw who ranks on top;
  • We plugged their site into Ahrefs to see the best keywords;
  • We found more relevant websites via the “Competing domains” report;
  • After the last point, it is recommended to go back to either step 1 or 2.

Repeating this process over and over again is the trick to almost unlimited keyword ideas.

I would also advise tapping into related industries. What for? To discover lots of great keywords that don’t directly relate to the product you are offering, yet can bring targeted visitors to your website.

Best keyword research tools

As a rule, thorough competitor research is enough to fill your spreadsheet with a heap of relevant keyword ideas.

Please note that this strategy is not workable for niche leaders. You might have to look for some unique keywords none of your competitors are targeting yet.

There is no better way to do this than using a decent keyword research tool. There are enough of them on the market. I’ll mention just a few:

It doesn’t matter which tool you use. There’s no universal recipe for finding great keyword ideas. Try to enter your seed keywords, play with the reports and filters until you see something really cool.

Where do most tools take their keyword suggestions from? They pull them from these sources:

  • scrape keyword ideas directly from Google Keyword Planner;
  • scrape Google auto-suggest;
  • scrape “similar searches” in Google.

These methods are ok, but they rarely give you more than a couple hundred suggestions.

Advanced keyword research tools like Ahrefs, Moz, SEMrush, and others operate their own databases. Therefore, they can give you many more keyword ideas.

You must study your niche

Keyword research strategies mentioned above are extremely effective. They provide you with an almost unlimited number of keyword ideas. Nevertheless, they restrict you at the same time.

Sometimes all you need to do is study your niche well using your common sense and you’ll discover excellent keywords that no one in your niche is targeting yet.

Here’s how to kickstart such way of thinking:

  • Know more about your customers – who they are and what bothers them;
  • Talk to your existing customers, get to know them better, study the language they use;
  • Enthusiastically participate in all your niche communities and social networks.

Here is an example for you. Imagine that you are selling waterproof watches. Here are some of the unconventional keywords you might try to target:

  • how to stay stylish during your swim practice;
  • how to track the time when swimming;
  • how to keep your status wearing swimwear;
  • best beach style to impress;
  • don’t part with your favorite accessories during swimming.

People searching for things like these are not necessarily looking to buy waterproof watches, but they should be easy to sell to.

Group the items in your keywords list

Well, you have generated an array of promising keyword ideas and have chosen the very best ones.

Now I am going to tell you how to bring some order to your list.

Grouping keywords by “parent topic”

The days when one page was targeting one keyword are gone. Today SEO professionals are solving the dilemma – should they target a number of relevant topics with one page or create a separate page for each keywords set?

You already know that one page can rank for hundreds or even thousands of relevant keywords. But how to know when there are too many of them and which keywords fit your topic?

To answer this question I simply look at the keywords the top-ranking pages for my target keyword already rank for.

I take the #1 ranking page for the given keyword research, put it into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and sift through the keywords it ranks for.

It takes me not more than a minute to find a few decent keywords.

The takeaway here is that there is no need to create separate pages to target each of these keywords but try to rank for them with a single post.

How should you optimize your page to make sure that it ranks for these additional keywords? You don’t need to do that.

Note that #1 ranking page doesn’t have a single mention of these keywords but still ranks for them. If they don’t care… you shouldn’t either.

Above I described the first step in structuring your random list of keywords. Now you know what to do – find semantically and contextually related keywords and group them under a “parent topic” to target with a single page.

Grouping by intent

When you grouped semantically related keywords by “parent topic” and mapped them to different pages of your website, it’s time to group these “pages” by “searchers’ intent.”

You can’t but agree that there is a specific expectation behind every search query people put into Google. If you decipher that expectation, you will be able to build a web page that perfectly matches it.

It’s not that easy sometimes. For instance, we have a keyword “peacock”. What is the searchers’ intent behind it? Most likely they want either to see some pictures of peacocks or learn more about the bird.

The best way to decipher searchers’ intent is to google it and just see what comes up first. Google is getting smarter in identifying intents behind search queries, so the search results talk for themselves.

keyword “peacock”

The SERP you see above serves both of these intents with an image strip, followed by a Wikipedia link.

This way Google has identified what people looking for the keyword “peacock” want to see.

When you figure out the intent behind your keywords, you can map it to the stage of the sales cycle it represents:

  • Unaware;
  • Problem aware;
  • Solution aware;
  • Product aware;
  • Fully aware.

Please keep in mind that the points above are just one of the multiple ways marketers map out as the so-called “Buyers’ Journey.”

You can map your keywords to any of the existing models or come up with your own, entirely new one. For example, you can map keywords/topics to user personas. I advise you to choose the model that is the most convenient/sensible for you.

Grouping by business value

Grouping by business value is closely related to grouping by intent. The difference is that now you need to figure out which intent drives the best ROI for your business.

Are you looking for traffic and brand awareness? In this case, you can focus on keywords bringing crowds of visitors that don’t necessarily convert into leads or sales.

If your budget is unlimited, you can afford such kind of luxury. But most businesses are not so lucky, so they have to choose between keywords that drive business and the ones that drive vanity metrics.

Needless to say that most marketers focus on keywords with commercial intent, as they drive sales and grow business.

Prioritisation in your keyword research process

Please don’t think that prioritization is the “final step” in your keyword research process. It is sooner something you do naturally moving through the above-mentioned steps.

Remember to note the following aspects while generating keyword ideas, analyzing their metrics, and grouping them:

  • What is the approximate traffic potential of this keyword/group?
  • Is the competition tough? What would it take to rank for it?
  • How many resources do you need to invest to build a competitive page and properly promote it?
  • What’s the ROI of that traffic? Does it bring brand awareness or convert into leads and sales?

You can go further and add specific columns in your keyword research spreadsheet to score each keyword idea. Basing on these scores, it should be fairly easy to pick the keywords with the best ROI.

It’s important to keep in mind that you should not look for the “easiest to rank for” keywords, but for the ones with the best ROI.

Your turn

You have just looked through the brief keyword research guide. It was aimed at throwing some light at the process that could be applied universally across various websites or industries.

Of course, there’s more to keyword research than that. So I would be happy to hear what tips you are ready to share to contribute to this guide.

Thanks for taking time to read it and best of luck in your keyword research campaigns!