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Step-by-Step SEO Keyword Research For Content Writers

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SEO is about more than keywords. 

But since SEO performance depends on it, keyword research is a must-have.


A Layman’s Explanation Of How Search Engines Work

Search engines serve users.  They seek to find web pages that answer a users’ question.  I say ‘they’ but let’s remember that search engines aren’t human.  So, all they can go by is what the user types into the search bar.

Those words are the keywords.

Naturally, you would think that placing those keywords as many times as possible in your content would be a good strategy.  It’s not.

It’s called keyword stuffing and if you do it, your website will get penalised and drop in its rankings.

This practice used to fly.  As a result, the Internet was littered with web pages that were hard to read and often not very useful.  So search engines like Google wisened up.

See my 5-step process to writing SEO-friendly content without compromising on the writing brief.

SEO keyword research


So, what do search engines want?

Search engines want website content that is:

  • Related
  • Useful
  • Informative
  • Credible

Content is deemed as being related to users’ intent if it contains the keyword once.  But it becomes useful when it also contains semantic keywords.  These are words that explore the meaning behind the keyword.

For instance, if someone typed in “keyword research”, do they want to see:

  • What it means?
  • How to do it?

It’s informative when it contains in-depth content and is credible when it includes links to other credible websites.  Its credibility is boosted if other authoritative websites link to the content too.

Let’s see how we can achieve this.


Step 1 Pretend that you’re not a content writer

Let’s say you are looking for free keyword research tools.  What would you type into a search engine?  Here are some ideas:

  • free keyword research tools
  • keyword research online
  • online tools for SEO keywords
  • free tools online for keyword research
  • keyword research tools

As you can see, all of these contain at least 3 words.  Most of them contain more.

Given that one of the SEO considerations in 2018 is to cater to voice searching, these longer keywords are even more important.


Types Of Keywords

There are three main types of keywords:

Head – single word phrases e.g. SEO.  These are extremely competitive.  They also don’t convert well because of how broad they are.

Body – 2-3 word phrases e.g. SEO keywords.  Body keywords can be less competitive and more accurately represent what users are likely to search for.

Long Tail – 4+ word phrases e.g. free online keyword research.  These descriptive phrases are less competitive, are therefore easier to rank for.

types of SEO keyword research


The advice about what type of keyword to use varies from expert to expert.  Some will say that body keywords are the sweet spot of SEO content.  Others will tell you that long tail is the way to go.

Here is what Neil Patel says about them:

“long-tail keywords are how you outrank the competition.”


What Type Of Keyword Should You Use?

In my experience a combination of body and long tail keywords is ideal.

Both are descriptive and specific.  Most importantly, they accurately represent how people search online.

In the past, long tail keywords were to be avoided.  But in 2018, long tail keywords are estimated to account for 70% of searches.

Here is how the different types of keywords have shown to convert:

long tail keywords SEO


Step 2 Use Google as a user

The next step is to get more ideas for keywords by actually typing them into Google.

Here’s what I see when I type “free keyword research tool”:

keyword research 2018

The results are interesting for two reasons:

  • You can use it for more keyword and related keyword ideas
  • It shows you popular keywords i.e. what people are searching for


Step 3 How to choose which keywords to use

You’ve made a good start.  You have an extensive list of keywords.

But before you start writing your SEO content, you need to measure and analyse how well these keywords are likely to perform.

There are many free keyword research tools online such as:

You may notice that I have not mentioned any tools provided by Google.  They can certainly help with keyword research but are not as intuitive to use as the ones listed.

If you would like to learn how to use them, here is a useful video:


Choose SEO Keywords With Confidence

When it comes to shortlisting the keywords that are best for your websites SEO performance, there are a few things to consider.


Keyword Difficulty

What are your chances of success?

In order to outrank your competition (which is the aim), you need to choose keywords that are highly relevant and low in competition.  In short, body and long tail keywords.

If your website drives huge volumes of organic traffic, you may have more success with more competitive keywords.

Here is Ubersuggest’s analysis of one of my keyword phrases:

keyword research keyword difficulty

The lower the score, the easier the keyword is to rank for.


Search Volume

This gives you an indication of how many searches there will be for the keyword.

In the example above, the volume is low (70 searches per month).

Logically you would think that this means that it wouldn’t be a good keyword.  But as arefs point out, this isn’t quite accurate.  Even if lots of people don’t search for the keywords, when they do, you have a better chance of a high ranking in search results.


Commercial Intent

This is about choosing keywords that your customers will use.

Ask yourself, what do they want to do?

Backlinko have four useful categories:

  1.  Buy Now – if your reader wants to buy then words like ‘buy’, ‘deal’, ‘sale’ are going to be relevant.
  2.  Product – these focus on specific brands or companies e..g. Nike trainers.  So what do users want to know?  Do they want a ‘review’?  Perhaps they want to know the ‘Top 10’ Nike trainers.
  3.  Information – most people go online to find information.  Let’s say they are trying to lose weight, they may search for ‘Best ways to…’.
  4.  Tire Kicker – these are rarely successful.  They include words like ‘download’.  Although Backlinko state that the word ‘free’ rarely converts, I disagree.

I’ll digress for a second.  As Robert W. Bly, copywriting guru quite rightly points out, ‘free’ has been effective for years – for good reason.  People like things that are free.

Don’t be afraid to use it.  Just be selective about when you do.


Organic CTR

CTR (Clickthrough Rate) indicates how likely someone is to actually click on your link versus just passing by it.

Many keyword research tools use this to give you an estimate of how much income you are likely to make through paid ads.  Organic CTR tells you how likely someone will click on your website without you paying for it to appear high in search engine results.


Step 4 Now you can start writing

But wait.

Before you write, follow these guidelines to make sure that your keyword research, is put to good use.

  • Include your focus keyword once (maximum twice) – I know I said it earlier, but I can’t emphasise it enough.
  • Embed your semantically related keywords into the natural flow of content.  Don’t create a sentence specifically to include it.  Focus on keeping the quality of the content high for your readers.
  • Write a short meta description that includes the focus keyword once.  See how the keyword is highlighted in the description below?

keyword research meta description

  • Write detailed content but prioritise quality over quantity.  Search engines like meaty content – as long as they are relevant and useful.


Keyword research is only part of the SEO picture

As I mentioned at the start, SEO does not solely rely on keyword research.  But as a content writer, it should be your main focus.

If like me, you manage your whole website, then you should also look into other ways to optimise.

Here are some useful links:

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Create SEO Website Content That Clients Will Love

website contentReading Time: 5 minutes


This page contains affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you use them.  I only recommend tools and products that I use and trust.

Website content creation is about more than quirky straplines and pretty pictures.

If you’re an online copywriter or  content writer, you’ll know that web content poses two main challenges:

  1. Making it SEO-friendly…
  2. …without compromising on client requirements

To overcome these, I developed a 5-step process:

Freelance writer for hire website content

Let me explain how it works.

Pro Tip  If you are a beginner freelance writer, I’d recommend this book.  It is better than any copywriting course I have taken.  And is the only resource I use repeatedly to help me complete writing jobs.  

Step 1:  Form A Detailed Brief

Before you think a thought or write a word, you need to form a detailed brief.  This will help you get under the skin of your client’s business and project requirements.

Whether I am creating website content or blog posts, here is the template I use (click to enlarge):

It’s long, I know.

But it is the only way (I have found), to effectively:

  • perform accurate keyword research
  • create content that blends with the brand
  • choose language that resonates with the target audience

It also makes writing easier since the brief alone generates so many ideas.

Step 2:  Business & Competitor Research

So, you’ve had a discussion with your client and formed a meaty brief.

Now it’s time to earn your money.

Business Research

Look through your client’s website.  Make notes about what impression you get as a potential customer, and what questions you have.  This informs you about what content would be valuable to their target audience.  If say, you have been given a title for a blog post, this research will enable you to write in your client’s ‘voice’.

Competitor Research

Although your client has shared competitor information, you need to do some research on your own.

When a business carries out competitor research, they are interested in what they do and how they do it.  Although this is useful, how will you help your client leverage themselves above competition if you haven’t analysed their competitor’s content?

How do I carry out competitor research for website content?

Put your content writer hat on and perform a Google search.

Let’s say your client makes bespoke birthday cakes.  The first thing to do is put yourself in the shoes of a consumer.  What words would you type in?  Here’s what I see when I type birthday cake maker near me:

website content

Circled, is the competitor you want to start with.

You need to analyse:

  • Meta description – see the description underneath the title?  That’s the meta description.  It includes most of the keywords that I used in my search.  Looking at this gives you ideas for the meta description to attach to the website content you’ll create for your client.  If they have already given you a focus keyword to include, this should be embedded into the meta description and title.
  • The online content – what kind of language have they used that has helped them get to the first page of Google search results?  Remember, content is king.  That means that your focus shouldn’t be on stuffing keywords into it.  It should be about creating detailed, unique and purpose-driven content.  Anything less than say, 1000 words, is considered as being ‘thin content‘ by Google.
  • Types of content – people like varied content.  So, that’s what search engines like too.  You should be looking at ways to structure your content so that it is easy to scan.  Things like subheaders and bulleted lists help.  You should also advise your client of other forms of media to include e.g. images, videos etc.

Step 3:  Keyword & Topic Trend Analysis (optional)

I’ve included this as an optional step because your client may not have the budget to pay you for this service or, may have already carried out keyword research.

Without it though, you might create content that your client loves, but will their target audience love it too?

Keyword Research

The process of carrying out in-depth keyword research is vast.  I don’t want to focus on that today, but this guide should help.

If your client wants you to, at this stage, you should research which keywords:

  • their target audience is likely to use
  • have high CTR (the measure that shows you how likely it is likely to result in organic traffic)
  • are not too competitive

When creating online content, try to include the keyword two to three times.  Google is clever enough to pick up on related keywords, so as long as the content is high-quality and focused on the topic at hand, it will perform well.

Topic Trend Analysis

You might be proud of the clever headline you have come up with.  But if your client’s target audience isn’t attracted to it, it’s useless.

That’s why carrying out topic trend analysis is so handy.

Buzzsumo is a great online tool to use for this.  It shows you a breakdown of web pages and blog posts that are trending for the keywords you enter.

Step 4:  Show The Client A Snippet Of Your Work

If you’ve done the background work, you should finally be ready to start writing!

The activities carried out in steps 1 – 3 should give you confidence in getting the content right – both for your client and for SEO purposes.  But, you don’t want to spend hours on it only to find that your client wants something different, do you?

To avoid this I start by writing a couple of snippets of content from different angles.  I send these to my client and ask for feedback.  This feedback strengthens the foundation you have already built for the content.

Step 5:  Use The Feedback & Brief To Create Content

You now have enough information to confidently write the rest of the content.

Go forth and prosper!

Pro tip:  Content should answer a question or solve a problem.  People rarely read information for the sake of it.  It is usually driven by a desire to want to know something.

In the previous example, I wanted to know who the cake makers were near me.  There were two parts to this – cake makers, and near me.  Both of these questions needed to be answered.

Make sure that you keep the purpose in mind when creating the content.

Have you got any tips to add?  Have you tried this?  What did you think?

Don’t forget to comment below so that other people can benefit from your experiences!