Why a new guide?
Often in SEO, we get so preoccupied with technical SEO (pagination, site speed, the latest Python course, etc.) that we forget the basis of winning SEO begins and ends with keywords.
- Not choosing keywords before you start with SEO means shooting in the dark — a likely losing gamble if your content will succeed or not.
- Choosing the wrong keywords means wasting your time and budget on content that will never gain visibility in search results.
- Conversely, choosing smart, targeted keywords can help carve out and dominate a traffic niche that raises you above the competition.
No doubt, the difference between good SEOs and mediocre SEOs is often their keyword research strategy.
Here at Moz, a question we often hear after people finish reading the famous Beginner’s Guide to SEO is: What do I read next?
To give people a practical place to start, we wanted to provide you with concrete keyword research workflows. It’s as if you’re looking over our shoulder as we do strategic keyword research.
We also included a few intermediate-to-advanced concepts, such as keyword grouping, understanding keyword priority, and on-page keyword optimization.
And finally, we wanted to make sure it was free.
If you want, feel free to jump to the guide now, or read below about what the guide covers and how it differs from any other guide on keyword research.
1. Understanding seed keywords
We call them “seed” keywords because all your other keywords grow out of them. Finding the right seed keywords will absolutely make or break your entire keyword research strategy.
Finding the right seed keywords is about asking and answering three key questions:
- What do you think you want to rank for?
- What do you already rank for?
- What do your competitors rank for?
After this, you validate your answers with data to find the absolute best seeds.
We also show you the exact process and tools we use to extract these seeds, such as Google Search Console (shown below).
The cool thing about seed keywords is this: they grow more seeds! Once you find the right seeds, you can reiterate the process again and again to grow a complete keyword strategy for an entire site, even one that’s thousands of pages.
2. Building perfect keyword lists
This is where the rubber hits the road. Here you expand your seed keywords into complete lists. These lists support multiple pages and topics, and can even grow more seeds.
This is also the place you want to be as comprehensive as possible, in order to uncover the opportunities your competition probably missed.
3. Prioritizing keywords
Nearly any old keyword tool can give you lists of hundreds or thousands of keywords. The secret to success is knowing which keywords to prioritize and pursue.
Which keywords will actually prove profitable? Which keywords can you actually rank for?
To answer these questions, we do a deep dive into the keyword metrics that help us to prioritize our keyword lists:
- Monthly volume
- Keyword difficulty
- Organic click-through rate (CTR)
Understanding how to use these metrics goes a long way in choosing the exact right keywords to invest in.
4. Grouping keywords
Keywords never exist in a vacuum. Instead, they almost always appear with other keywords.
Adding related keywords to a page is a smart strategy for increasing topical relevance. At the same time, trying to target too many keywords on the same page may dilute their relevance and make it more difficult to rank.
Here, we show you techniques to address both of these problems:
- When to create separate pages for each keyword
- How to group related keywords together
We’ll also show you some grouping tips to help set you up for your next task: on-page keyword optimization.
5. On-page keyword optimization
Very few keyword research guides ever even mention on-page keyword optimization.
We wanted to do better.
Because keyword research uncovers intent, this is a great starting point for on-page optimization. If you understand not only what your users are searching for, but also what they expect to find, you can better create your content to satisfy their expectations.
We’ve also included a brief overview of where and how to incorporate keywords on the page. While this section is mostly beginner level, more immediate SEOs should find the refresher useful.
6. Tracking keyword rankings
If you’re a consultant, agency, in-house SEO, or simply work for yourself, you want to know how your keywords perform in search engines.
Traditionally, keyword tracking was synonymous with “ranking” — but times have changed. Today, with personalization, localization, and shifting competitive environments, keyword tracking has grown much more sophisticated.
In this chapter, we’ll cover:
- Traditional keyword ranking
- Local rank tracking
- Rank indexes
- Share of Voice (SOV) and visibility
By the end of this chapter, you’ll understand which type of keyword tracking is right for you, and how to report these numbers to the people who matter.
7. Keyword research tools and resources
We couldn’t squeeze everything in the previous chapters, so we added all our extra resources here. The crème de la crème is the Keyword Research Cheat Sheet. You can download, print, share with your team, or pin to your wall.
We’ve also made a handy list of our favorite keyword research tools, along with a few other useful resources on keyword research.
We hope you enjoy! Let us know what you think in the comments below.