Keyword research for SEO made easy

Keyword analysis is so important I’m completely bewildered that it’s not the starting point of every ‘getting started with SEO’ tutorial ever written. If you haven’t chosen good keywords to target then all your SEO efforts will be about as effective as an ashtray on a rocket sled. A lot of keyword analysis tutorials are about as easy to understand as a cook book in a foreign language.

In this tutorial you will learn:

  • Why keyword research is so damned important to SEO
  • How to use the Google Keyword Planner
  • How to sort and make sense of your keyword research
  • How SEMrush makes choosing good keywords easy

You will need:

  • A Google account

Keyword research – what is it and why should you care?

Have you ever tried to rank a website using SEO? If yes then you have done some level of keyword research, even if you don’t know you have. At it’s most simple keyword research can be as basic as looking at a website and deciding what keywords people are using to search for similar sites. At it’s most complex keyword research can take years, cost thousands of dollars and can involve massive teams of highly-skilled (but painfully misguided) people. The method you’re going to learn today requires a little thought, a couple of simple online tools, and that’s about it.

As you wander from the wilderness of being an SEO newbie and into the light of ranking enlightenment you’ll notice that Internet Marketing professionals LOVE tools. Good Internet Marketing tools are developed by people who hit the same obstacles as you, but instead of making another cup of tea and browsing back to Facebook they create something wonderful. So by choosing good software to shortcut your road to ranking success you’re saving yourself a lot of footwork.

For the purposes of this tutorial I’m going to be showing you exactly how I formulated the title I have used for this post. You found this tutorial and are reading it right now, so you can decide how effective my keyword research for this article was…


Good keyword analysis saves money and heartache
Keyword research should be the very first step you take in any SEO research. By choosing the right keywords to base your SEO efforts on you’ll save yourself the expense of spending a lot of money chasing traffic that just won’t materialise. If you’re working for a client a long and tortuous SEO campaign might earn you more money in the short term, but in the long term your clients will appreciate you more if you rank them for the best keywords. If you pursue the wrong keywords for your own projects you’ll find SEO a miserable and unrewarding pursuit.

Good keywords bring good traffic
Choosing the correct keywords to target will also bring you a better class of visitor. Do you want to target people who are only half-interested in your products and are searching through an idle-curiosity? Or do you want visitors who are searching with one hand on their mouse and their red-hot credit card in the other hand? Using keyword analysis to deliver website visitors who are in ‘buying mode’ is well-established in PPC (pay per click) advertising, and the theory also works for SEO.

customer types

Common SEO keyword mistakes

Relying on guesswork
Your clients will always know more about their niche / field than you. Successful business owners stay in business by knowing what their customers want, but this is not the same as knowing what their (potential) customers search Google for. In the past (pre-Google) there was no reliable way of knowing what words were floating around in the heads of the public when they wanted to buy something.

For example, if John Doe wanted to cover the bare floorboards in his house did he have for ‘rugs’, ‘carpets’, ‘linoleum’ or ‘shag pile’ on his mind? By using a keyword finder we can remove the need for guesswork. The Google Keyword planner tells us exactly how many people search for any given keyword, in any location, and during any timeframe. Well nearly. There are those who claim Google manipulates these results, but we’ll ignore the foil-hat brigade for now…

Choosing a keyword that is easy to rank for, but that gets no traffic
Sometimes we’ll stumble across a keyword that it would appear nobody has exploited. The sad truth is that the reason they may not have been exploited is that nobody searches for them. There are exceptions, rare un-tapped seams of gold, but they are rare. Keyword research will tell you exactly how many people are searching for any keyword.

Being lazy and hoping for the best
A lot of people still rely on a ‘spray and pray’ approach to SEO. There are a wide range of cheap and accessible SEO tools available, so there’s really no need to approach SEO blindly. SEO these days is part science, part intuition, so let’s do what we can to get the science bit right. Don’t be lazy, you won’t get results.

Using just one keyword tool
The best keyword research tool is the Google Keyword Planner, but if you use it in isolation you’re not going to get the best from it. To release the real SEO power of the Google Keyword Planner you need to combine it with one other tool, which I’ll cover later in this post.

How to use the Google Keyword Planner

If you don’t have a Google account then first of all I’m amazed, and secondly you’re probably wrong. You do have a Google Account. To access this keyword research tool you’ll need to visit and log in, if you’ve never been to Adwords before then you may not know that you can log in using your Gmail account.

Once logged in you’ll find the keyword hiding in the ‘tools’ menu:

google keyword planner menu

Next, click your mouse on the top option ‘Search for new keyword and ad group ideas’:

keyword planner start

For this example of keyword analysis I entered quite a long search phrase, generally I’d recommend keeping your ‘seed’ keyword or phrase as search as short as possible. If you enter a long phrase you’re not letting the tool do its work, but for this example I wanted to enter a challenging phrase to try and prove the system.

keyword planner enter keywords box

If you are working with a website or business that is targeting customers in a specific country (or even town) then select the target location in the ‘Targeting section’. For most SEO projects I’d recommend leaving the Targeting (and other sections) empty.

keyword planner location selection

Ready to move on? Great, it’s time to hit that pretty blue ‘Get Ideas’ button

get ideas button

After Google has had a little think you’ll be presented with some ‘Ad Group Ideas’, which you can ignore. The tab we’re interested in is the ‘Keyword Ideas’ tab, after all, that’s why we’re here, we want a keyword checker, not an advert builder!

keyword ideas tab

As you can see below my initial search wasn’t great. The number of monthly searches was so low Google couldn’t even be bothered to give me the information.

keyword planner results page

So was this whole exercise a total bust? Nah, of course not. Let’s ignore the ‘Search terms’ box at the top of these results and divert our attention to the far more interesting ‘Keyword (by relevance)’ section. This is where things gets interesting. There’s meat on the bones of these results, we’ve just got to sort them.

First of all sort the table by ‘Avg. monthly searches’. Your journey of keyword discovery is about to go into overdrive.

average monthly search results

You might need to jab it with your mouse a couple of times to get it working, but when you’ve got big numbers at the top of this box then you’re headed in the right direction. By sorting my results by this metric we have gone from keyword checker results that are useless to some data that we can get our teeth into.

sorted keyword results

60,500 searches a month? That’s more like it! Shame I’m not trying to find good keywords for ‘search engine optimization’, that has 60,500 searches a month!

The time has come to start getting clever, and if your attention has been wavering during this tutorial now is the time to start paying attention. We’re going to be doing some data manipulation, and while it is really simple it’s not going to work if you’re watching television or piloting an automobile while reading.

How to trim the fat off your keyword research

So that we can properly crunch the information we’ve gathered so far we need to get it out of the Google Adwords Planner entirely. Fortunately that’s piss-easy to do. Just hammer the ‘Download’ button at the top of the results.

Keyword planner download button

We’re going to sort these results using a spreadsheet, and any brand of spreadsheet will be adequate, but I like to use Google Sheets (in Google Drive). By using Google Drive you’re automatically be creating records of your keyword analysis that you can come back to and study again later.

keyword planner download stats

By analysing your keywords in Google Drive you’re neatly keeping all your research data in one place. Just remember to change the name of your spreadsheet to something you might remember.

To analyse your keyword list in Google Drive put a tick in the ‘Save to Google Drive’ and then after clicking the ‘Download’ button you’ll see the message below, just hammer at the ‘Open file’ button. It may seem really obvious, but things may not always be as they first seem. After all, the ‘Download’ button in the previous instruction doesn’t actually download anything!

By now your keyword research results should be looking something like the screenshot you see here:

keyword research in a spreadsheet

So let’s start tidying up a bit. First of all we’re going to get rid of the ‘Ad group’ column:

removing ad group column

Then delete the ‘Impr. share’, ‘In account?’, ‘In plan’ and ‘Extracted From’ columns. We don’t need them, and analysing data is easier without distractions.

delete unwanted columns

Let’s also get rid of the currency column:

delete currency column

Our data is looking a lot clearer now. You could say it’s looking beautiful, but you probably won’t.

keyword planner sorted data

Sorting keywords for SEO ranking glory

Someone once said ‘keep it simple stupid’. I can’t remember who said it, but it was probably an idiot. But that idiot did have a point. At this stage your spreadsheet is probably still a bit epic, so let’s weed out the rubbish keywords and get focussed.

Select the entire sheet then go to Data, Sort Range…

sort range menu

On the box that pops up you need to select ‘Data has header row’, and then sort by Avg. Monthly and choose ‘Z – A’:

sort spreadsheet range

Once you’ve click on the blue ‘Sort’ button your list of keywords will be nicely sorted, with the most searched for at the top, and the least popular at the bottom. Personally I not usually interested in any keyword that gets less than 1,000 searches a month, so I delete them. SEO is a numbers game. If only a few people are searching for a keyword then ignore it.

deleting unwanted rows

By this stage your search for the best keywords is narrowing. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The mists are clearing, and with that I’ve run out of cliches.

sorted seo keywords results


Keyword competition – huh?

You may have noticed that I haven’t talked about the ‘Competition’ column in this results. This is because it’s not very interesting. This column shows us roughly how many people are using these keywords for pay per click advertising with Google Adwords. It’s of only passing interest, but will not greatly help us in our mission to research kickass keywords for SEO. For that we need a magical tool called SEMrush.

How SEMrush sprinkles magic pixie dust on your keyword research

By now you have a really nice concise list of keywords ranked by how many people a month are using them in searches. This is great, but it doesn’t tell us much about how difficult any of these keywords might be to rank. Think about it. You have conjured up a very potent list of valuable keywords, so there’s a good chance there are other SEO folks out there already thrashing themselves stupid trying to rank these terms.

Don’t give up just yet though! It can be very profitable to align your SEO campaigns with keywords that are possibly being overlooked by other Internet Marketing professionals. Using SEMrush for this part of your keyword research can reveal some astonishing gaps in the market. Back at the start of this tutorial I mentioned that I would be using the keyword analysis technique I’m teaching you to create the title for this tutorial. So let’s get on with it.

If you’ve not heard of SEMrush before, then this could be defining moment in your Internet Marketing career. SEMrush is one of the very best tools on the SEO market. I’d recommend having a good look around the SEMrush site after this tutorial; it’s like a real-life crystal ball for SEO professionals! For now though we’re going to be focussing on just one tiny part of SEMrush – the Keyword Difficulty Tool (KDT).

You’ll find the SEMrush keyword difficulty tool here by clicking these words here…

Once you clicked link above and are staring with awe and wonder at the ‘KDT’ you’ll need to go back to your spreadsheet and copy the top ten keywords. The free version of SEMrush is restricted to ten keywords at at time, if you subscribe to SEMrush you’ll be able to enter a staggering 10,000 keywords at a time, and create up to 3,000 reports a day.

Before entering your keywords you need to have another think about the country you’re targeting. If you’re researching geo-specific keywords then make sure you have the relevant country selected. If you’re gunning for worldwide domination then you might as well leave the default ‘US Google’ option selected.

SEMrush country selector

Now let’s find out why I get so excited about the SEMrush Keyword Difficulty Planner.

Paste your keywords into the big white box on the Keyword Difficulty Tool, and click the nice grey ‘Show Difficulty’ button.

SEMrush keyword difficulty planner

Here’s what the KDT results looked like for the keywords I generated creating this tutorial (click on it to get a closer look):

SEMrush KDP results

So how do you use the SEMrush KDT to select just one keyword for your SEO campaign?
Why choose just one? One of the greatest ways to use keyword research results is to pick one or two keywords that you believe have the most potential, but then to use the other results as what’s called ‘long tail’ keywords.

The joy of long-tail keywords

Long-tail are keywords that are related to your main topics, and can add a TON of SEO power to your website. Using more than one keyword in your titles, articles, links etc also appears far more natural to Google, and that’s a very good thing indeed. Spread the keyword love! Some people pay Internet Marketing professionals a fortune to do their long-tail keyword discovery for them, and hey, look at that; you’ve just researched your own longtails!

This tutorial is an example of how to use Long-Tail keywords – I’ve used all of the keywords you can see there in the SEMrush KDT results right here in this article.

Interpreting the Keyword Difficulty Tool results

This metric is measured from 0 to 100.  A ‘o’ keyword would be so easy to rank you could probably do it with very little effort.  A keyword with a ‘100’ difficulty rating would be impossible to rank even if you were Mr. Google himself.

How many people a month are searching for this keyword? Picking a keyword that is really easy to rank, but is not being searched for will be a waste of time. Because we have already filtered out really low search terms (after exporting from the Adwords Keyword Planner) then we shouldn’t see any completely useless search terms here.

However, you will notice that the SEMrush results are a lot more conservative than the numbers the Google keyword tool displayed. If I was going to put on my tin foil hat for a moment I might suggest that because the Google tool is designed to sell their advertising product then making the numbers look really exciting might be to their advantage. Make of that what you will.

SEMrush will not profit from any Adwords campaign you might set up. I’m not saying this means their results are more accurate, but a lesson everyone has to learn in Internet Marketing is to focus on the worst possible outcome from data, rather than the results that make your wallet tingle with expectation. Be sceptical, but not ignorant.

This section shows how many organic (non-PPC) search results are displayed in Google for this search term. This is not necessarily of how many websites are serving up information related to this keyword, because (for example) if you search for ‘got my toe stuck in the toaster’ there are 438,000 results, and I sincerely hope for the sake of the future of humanity that there are not 438,000 websites focussed on getting toes stuck in toasters.

Google search results

This metric shows how popular the keyword in question has been over the preceding year. Ideally you want to see an incremental rise in this tiny graph for your chosen keyword. Unless you’re planning a pumpkin-related website that will launch some time around late October, in which case don’t get too excited about that massive surge in searches the graph shows.

I don’t pay too much attention to ‘trend’ as long as it looks reasonably stable and isn’t in steep decline.

SERP source
Clicking a link in this section gives you a snapshot of the search results for this keyword. No idea why this would be useful.



If you’ve read this whole article, rather than just scrolling to the end, then you should be able to come to your own conclusion about which metrics to pay most attention to when choosing the correct keywords for your SEO campaign. But just in case you’re struggling a bit (and I still struggle with getting the point of some SEO tutorials) then I’ll tell you what I do.

When choosing the primary keyword after running through the above research I choose a keyword that has high traffic, but a reasonably low SEMrush Keyword Difficulty Rating. I have done keyword research in the past and the results have been so far from my assumptions that I have chucked entire (personal) projects in the trash.

At the other end of the scale are keywords that have come totally out of the blue that have been very easy to rank.

Earlier in this tutorial I advised against using just one SEO keyword tool. I’d like to add that in addition to using clever keyword tools you should do a bit of manual legwork. When I decided upon a good title for this tutorial (that involves a primary and a long-tail keyphrase) I had a quick rummage around Google to see what sort of competition there would be for rankings.

Final thoughts

It’s worth signing up properly for SEMrush as there’s a TON of amazing tools (and usually a generous free trial).
Click here –