Keywords have been a hot topic in the internet marketing world for awhile, and most businesses understand the importance of them. We all know, after all, that choosing the right keywords can make your marketing campaigns– both organic and PPC– more successful, so they shouldn’t be ignored.

But what exactly are “the right keywords?” How are brands able to find the right terms and phrases to optimize their sites, content, and ads for without relying on shoddy guesswork and a little luck?

Keyword research can answer all of these questions, and in this post, we’ll go over:

  1. Why keyword research matters
  2. How to conduct it step-by-step
  3. The best tools you should be using along the way

What Is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is the process of using different tools to discover new search terms and identify those that will be most profitable for you to be targeting.

This sounds simple, but it can be a little more complicated than just entering in a search term and seeing what comes up. You’ll also want to factor in things like which keywords your competition is using and what’s working for them, specific dialects of language your audience uses that may be different from what you expected, and search volume vs. high competition ratios.

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing the right keywords, but with the right process and the right tools, you’ll be just fine. We’ll cover both in just a minute.

Why Does Keyword Research Matter?

Keyword research will help you sort through all those different considerations discussed above, and ultimately provide you with a list of keywords that will be the most valuable and effective for your specific brand. It can help you find the balance of high search volume and low competition, and expose weaknesses in your competition’s armor that you can use to get the edge on them.

Keyword research can help you detect the right search phrases to use for both your main site and your AdWords campaigns, covering your bases to get the most clicks from all kinds of search traffic. Since keywords for organic campaigns (including content marketing) and PPC campaigns will sometimes be different, that’s important.

And all of this, in the end, will ideally lead to more traffic to your site and more sales. And that’s the end goal for pretty much every business.

Keyword Research Step-by-Step

We’ve gone over the importance of keyword research, so now we’ll take you step-by-step through the process and SEMrush tools we use to find the perfect terms for each ad, site page, and piece of content we create.

1. Look for Keyword Suggestions

When you get started with keyword research, the natural place to start is to start looking for keyword suggestions that may work for your content. In some cases, you may have topics or site page titles in mind that you want to optimize. Other times, if you’re stuck, it makes sense to reverse engineer the content, starting with keywords and general topic ideas first and working your way back.

Whichever strategy you choose, the following tools can help you come up with incredible combinations of keywords and help you start to sort out which will be most valuable to you:

  • Topic Research, which can help you with both content marketing and keyword research at once by helping you generate ideas by providing research and other content around a single topic to draw inspiration from.
  • Keyword Magic Tool, which is a personal favorite tool. It has an extended database that contains billions of global keywords alongside the ability to refresh metrics for keywords in real time. It also has powerful filtering capabilities, like the ability to filter for questions or by SERP type like instant answer, article, or news. All you have to do is enter in a single keyword, and they’ll give you plenty of keyword suggestions.
    If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop tool, any and all keyword research can be conducted here thanks to a workflow that’s designed to identify long-tailed variations of your seed keywords and give you more data about them.
  • Phrase Match, which can help you identify long-tail keywords that contain your targeted keyword in an extended phrase.
  • Related Keywords, which can help you to find related keywords to the term you’re researching. This can help you uncover powerful phrases you may not have thought of on your own, and can give you new ideas for future content.

As you’re conducting your research during this stage, save all the keywords that could be most valuable to you.

2. See What Your Competition is Ranking For

Once you have a general idea of the terms that you want to target, it’s time to take your direct competition into account. It’s important to see what terms are helping your competitors get traffic on both organic and PPC landing pages.

You may want to outbid them, create better copy, and target their most high-value PPC keywords to get that traffic for yourself. In other cases, if they have significantly higher site authority, you may want to opt for other keywords that you can rank for outside of their sphere instead.

Either way, you’ll want to conduct research on both their organic and PPC campaigns. These SEMrush tools can help you do that:

  • Keyword Gap, which can help you conduct a gap analysis of up to 5 different websites, comparing them side by side. You’ll get to see the similarities and differences in their keyword portfolios, giving you some insight into how you can surpass your competition.
  • Organic Research, which allows you to take an in-depth look at your competitors’ organic keywords, giving you insight into their SEO strategy.
  • Advertising Research, which allows you to research and identify your competitor’s AdWords PPC keywords that they’re using to generate paid traffic.

During this stage, look at your previous list of keywords. Does your list need to be adjusted? Do you have new keywords to add to it, or some to remove or change? Note that it’s best to not make any final decisions until the next stage.

3. Strike the Balance of High Volume and Low Competition

You’ve compiled all the background data that you need, and now you need to focus in on the search terms you’re considering optimizing for so that you can ensure that you’re striking the strongest balance possible between two different factors.

You want search volume that’s high as possible, and keyword competition that’s as low as it can be.

Naturally, high keyword volume often has high competition, too, which often means more difficulty to rank in the SERPs and higher CPC costs. Some businesses can afford this, but for a lot of smaller or newer sites, trying to target the most high volume keywords could actually keep you from ranking at all just because the competition is too stiff.

Use this stage of the keyword research to help you find that balance, giving you keywords you can rank well for and still use to get traffic to your site.

Here are the tools that can help with this:

  • Keyword Overview, which will instantly give you a great snapshot of information about a keyword, including search volume, competition level, and current CPCs.
  • Keyword Difficulty Tool, which can help you quickly assess the difficulty levels of specific keywords, giving you a better idea of whether or not you want to optimize for it.

4. Monitor Your Progress

After you’ve chosen your keywords and optimized for them accordingly, you’ll want to carefully track your progress and their effectiveness over time. You’ll want to check in for both PPC and organic campaigns, but paying particularly close attention to the paid campaigns is a a good choice.

The SEMrush tools that can help you with this are:

  • Ads History Reports, which focus on both keyword analytics and advertising research. These will show you independently which keywords drove the most traffic, had the best CPCs, and resulted in the highest search volumes.
  • Position Tracking, which can help you track your ranking in the SERPs on a daily basis across both mobile and desktop devices. You can see how you’re ranking on a national and local level, which is a valuable feature for local businesses in particular. This tool also lets you track your competitors alongside your own performance, giving you a well-rounded and big-picture view of how new changes affect you.


Keywords will have a direct impact on the success of both your PPC search campaigns and your organic SERP results, so doing diligent and accurate research to find the right phrases will make a world of difference. With the right terms being such a central part of your success, you can’t afford to undervalue research, so utilize the tools and steps discussed above to make sure you’re targeting and optimizing for the keywords your audience is using.