Do you enter keywords into Yoast’s SEO plugin for WordPress and optimize your pages until you get a green light? I’ve seen bloggers get all green lights and zero traffic from their efforts. How is that possible? Unfortunately the plugin relies on your keyword research.

Without keyword research, you can optimize until all the lights are green and it could make zero difference. You must use the correct keywords or all the green lights won’t result in any traffic. And that is the whole point, isn’t it?

In the beginning of our SEO adventure, we are told to optimize for ‘those words that someone will type into Google to find your article’ (also known as keywords).  This is guessing – an educated guess – but nevertheless a guess. Please don’t misunderstand me – optimizing for a guess is better than no optimization at all.

What if your guess is wrong? Step one to SEO is an essential, but less sexy topic: keyword research. The ultimate guide to keyword research will make sure that you’re optimizing posts for the right keywords!

Why an Ultimate Guide to Keyword Research? Because you don’t need a full course or years of education to do this! You can begin your keyword research today. You can follow the instructions below, and gather up a few keywords.

The ultimate guide to keyword research will provide the introduction to everything you need to know, and if you want to dive deeper, I’ve included more links for further learning.

70-80% of users ignore the paid ads, focusing on the organic results.(source)

Basic Warnings:

If you select keywords that few people search for, ranking at #1 won’t have an effect on traffic or sales. We’ll cover this in more detail later.

If you select keywords that everyone is looking for you may not be able to get to page one – the competition may be steep. Selecting keywords is arguably the most important SEO work you will do. We’ll cover this briefly in Keyword Difficulty section.

Table of Contents

In this guide, we’ll walk through these areas of keyword research:

Along the way, I’ll shout out some tools to speed up the process, some warnings that might trip you up, and some shortcuts.

Jargon: Keywords

SEO can get incredibly complicated if we have a lot of unfamiliar terms to learn. To simplify, we’re going to stick to one definition of Keywords. Whether referring to one-word keywords, two-word keywords, or complete phrases, we’ll simply call them keywords. It doesn’t matter. In every case, we’ll refer to them as keywords.

Long-tail keywords are often promoted in SEO talk. Long-tail keywords are simply phrases. Y’all. Seriously. Why can’t they just call them phrases?

Keywords, in the SEO world, are the terms for which we want to show up in search engines. In other words, if someone searches “Ice Cream Sandwiches” and that is our chosen keyword, we want to be result #1.

SERPs: Search Engine Results Pages

Discover your Current Keywords

We’re going to discover your current keywords for two reasons.

  1. Understanding what you rank for right now, will help you create a plan.
  2. Reviewing your current keywords once a week will help you analyze the results of your efforts.

Top Ranking Keywords

Let’s look at top ranking keywords currently – your present keyword reality. These are the keywords that are near the top of search results when someone searches them. If you’re a new blogger/webmaster it is not uncommon to have very few of these. Don’t be discouraged because we’re gonna change that!

Top Ranking keywords are different from the Top Traffic-Generating keywords. Top ranking keywords are near the top of google. Top traffic-generating keywords are those generating the most traffic.

It is very possible to have a result in #1 spot (top rank!) that does not generate much traffic: for example, “calorie-free ice cream”. A girl can dream. But shockingly, not many people search for that term. So even in position #1, I won’t get much traffic.

So, find your current top ranking keywords.

Then let’s decide if that is a good keyword to focus on?

  1. Check out the relevancy. Is that keyword on topic for your blog? Relevant for your audience? (do you blog on calorie-free ice cream?)
  2. Is there any search volume?

Here’s an example of a great result that is also a poor keyword to focus on.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that I show up #1 for the keyword, “Edit top navigation WordPress”. Yay! It’s a top ranking keyword. Let’s apply the questions to determine if we should focus on this keyword.

  1. Is it relevant? Yes! (it was 8 years ago)
  2. Does it get a lot of traffic? (look at the monthly volume in the image) A whopping 0 – 10 people actually search that term. So – NO! This keyword will not help drive traffic to my site.

(It’s not really 0 – 10 but look at all the numbers in relation to each other to get an idea of search volume. Basically 500x less than “samcart”.)

So should we focus on Edit Top Navigation WordPress? Nope.

Your turn.

Exercise 1: gather a list of current ranking keywords

  1. Use SEOptimer  (Free version will give you a good set of results to start with) to gather a list.
  2. Create a spreadsheet for SEO Research. The first sheet is called “Keyword Ranking”
  3. In column 1 – create a list of ranking keywords
  4. In column 2 – add the volume for each keyword
  5. In column 3 – add a “Y” or “N” for relevancy

Now you should know which keywords you are ranking for. You have a spreadsheet to record your research! You are 1/3 of the way done!! Easy Peasy.

So – let’s review!

  1. Do you have a spreadsheet started for your keyword research?
  2. Do you have a list of ranking keywords & their corresponding volume?

TIP: don’t erase anything yet! You might need this information later!

Whether you have 0 keywords or 50 at this point, move on to finding the next section of keywords: traffic generating keywords.

Top Traffic-Generating Keywords

  1. Go to The Hoth and enter your domain name.

  1. Patiently wait for the page to finish thinking – it takes time!
  2. You’ll see a list of up to 50 keywords.
  3. These words are the ones that send the most traffic to your site.

If they aren’t what you had been hoping for – don’t fret! We’re gonna make a plan to change them!

Exercise #2: Finding some more keywords – the ones that bring traffic, this time.

  1. On a new sheet, titled “Traffic-Generating” keywords.
  2. 1st column: list the traffic generating keywords
  3. 2nd column: write down the estimated volume(traffic)
  4. 3rd column: relevancy, add Y/N

You should now have an idea of your top keywords (Exercise 1) and your traffic-generating keywords(Exercise #2). If you have no keywords that’s okay! These are your current keywords. We’re going to build your list of future keywords next.  

Let’s Review

  1. Do you have a list of ranking keywords?
  2. Do you have a list of traffic-generating keywords?
  3. Are any relevant to your site topics?

Now we get to the fun part! Let’s find the keywords that are going to drive the right traffic to your site.

Selecting the Most Effective Keywords

50% of all searchers use phrases that are four or more words long

I love this part because if you do it right, you’ll see immediate results! It is so rewarding that it becomes addicting! In this exercise we’re going to evaluate your keywords. But first lets make sure you have a solid idea of your niche.

My favorite tool is KW Finder so these screenshots are from there. Other tools available are listed below this section. In this exercise we’re going to start finding words that are easy to rank for, and also traffic generating. Put aside your lists from above. And start with your niche.

Exercise #3: Analyze Keyword Lists

  1. Enter the niche/ topic of your blog in the form below. Start broad and then narrow if you don’t find the right results (see step 2).

In this example, we’re using an event photographer working in and around Atlanta. So I entered “photographer in Atlanta” – United States and English is the language. (the country and language can be specified on the KWFinder website – not the above form.)

  1. Evaluate results. Look for KD (Keyword Difficulty) that gives you a ‘green’ result; and gets a good number of visitors. As we discussed above in your current keyword research, ‘good’ keywords and traffic-generating keywords are not always the same. Be sure to choose the ‘good’ keywords (they are green) but also ones with high traffic!

Keyword Difficulty

This is a subjective process / guess work. This is why I think SEO is a lot of ‘art’ and a bit of science. To help you find keywords that might work for you, answer these questions for each keyword:

  • Obviously, rule out the ones that aren’t relevant. If you’re a wedding photographer, don’t use infant photography keywords.
  • Do I have existing content on this topic? Am I already ranking for similar words?
  • Is there significant traffic potential? (‘significant’ changes as your site grows)
  • Can I beat the competition? Or at least get within the top 10? (Competition is on the right side of the results page)
  • Does this have affiliate/ sponsorship/ ad potential?

Important TIPS:

  1. If you have a young blog and are starting out, choose green lit words with medium traffic. See if you can rank for those. If you can, then choose higher traffic or harder words next time.
  2. If you are seasoned blogger and have incoming links to your site, and your domain is a few years old (with active updating) I would go for a keyword with higher volume of searches and/or medium difficulty (orange).
  3. You have 5 searches for free each day with this tool.

More Tools for Research

If you need to stick to the free tools, use up your five searches above, and then move to these tools which have free trials as well.

Summary – Next Steps

Now that you have selected some keywords you’ll need to make a plan to get from the current keyword situation to the ones that you’ve selected. Now you know which keywords you can rank for – and – will generate traffic, you need to get them on your site!

You have several options for this:

  • edit existing content and insert new keywords (see on-page optimization tutorials)
    • this works really well if you have posts that are related but just not using great keywords
    • if you change the permalink, be sure to create a redirect from old post to new
  • create new content using these keywords
    • see the Bonus section below for optimizing your posts and pages
  • create a cornerstone page and point all the keyword-related posts to it

Bonus: How Many Keywords Do You Need (Keyword Cannibalism)

This guide doesn’t include using keywords, but rather to discover the right ones. Without finding the right keywords, all your optimization efforts are in vain.

Google gives the searcher the best result it can – sending that person to one page at a time. It follows that each page should have its own keyword and be optimized. To have several articles on your site all fighting for the same keyword is known as keyword cannibalism. This is a hot topic among SEO’s.

Lots of posts on a topic might also indicate that you are an authority on the topic, that you have experience and that your content has stood the test of time. But what to do about keyword cannibalism?

My guess is that we write what makes sense for users… so if you have 3 chocolate cake recipes, they must all be different in some way, right? You wouldn’t put the same recipe on your blog three times without any differences! So if one is part of a menu, one is a celebration, one is a decorating tutorial, then optimize with that in mind. Make it clear what your post is about.

Like all search engine optimization, you can never go wrong writing for the users.

Start optimizing and let me know how it goes!

Beginner Checklist

If you’re starting out, you’ll love our comprehensive 52 point checklist for your website! Read through once, and then work on items one at a time as it comes up!

52 Edits Checklist – beginners categories

Cathy Mitchell

Single Mom, Lifelong Learner, Jesus Follower, Founder and CEO at WPBarista.