How to Do SEO Keyword Research That Gets Your Content Found Online

 This article was originally published in PR News' first volume of Google for Communicators Guidebook, August 2017.

Demystifying SEO

Over the past 15 years, the humble search engine has become an indispensable vehicle for content amplification, rapidly democratizing the way information is discovered online. The ubiquity of search engines, primarily Google, has spawned an entire industry: search engine optimization (SEO) – and one key element of SEO is keyword research. There are plenty of free tools out there for keyword research. But how do you make sense of the data? What’s the secret to making strategic word choices that give your content higher organic visibility? Keyword research is like using a thesaurus to write a catchy song.  Catchy songs use words that are “sticky” – words that people use in everyday life, including when they’re searching for content online. SEO is not just about writing to rank highly in search engines. You have to write with the end user in mind. You want a title that catches the attention of your desired audience and earns more clicks than other pages about the same subject. The more clicks your listing gets on the search engine results page, the higher the search engines move you up.

What You Need to Know about How Search Engines Work

The way search engines work is fascinating, multi-faceted and always changing. Search engines like Google position content in front of people actively searching to learn more about a given topic. Webpages deemed the most valuable and relevant to the search query typed by the user are listed like entrees on a menu and ranked from most authoritative to least. Of the many factors Google takes into account, the single most important ranking factor upon which communications professionals have direct influence is: the quality of content The search engine results page (SERP for short) is like a horse race, and the way you finish at the front of the pack is to write with the audience in mind. In terms of SEO, it’s picking the keyphrase (between 2-4 words) that makes users confident that your page will be the most valuable choice for them.

Step 1: Identify Your Audience 

Before you research keywords, first determine:

  • Who’s most likely to be interested in reading about this?
  • What audience or market are you trying to reach?
  • What makes this article different from others on this subject?
  • What tone, style and vocabulary would entice users to read this?
  • What pages currently rank well for this subject?
  • How are people searching and talking about this subject and related subjects?

Step 2: Generate a List of Keyphrase Options 

Once you know your desired audience, come up with a list of keyphrases (2-4 words each). It’s very hard to rank for a single word organically, and 50% of people don’t typically search for something using a single word.

What if you can’t think of many keyphrases? 

Identify the word that you think must be in the title, first header and excerpt (also known as the meta description) for your webpage. Those three items are what search spiders evaluate to determine your website ranking. The keyword you choose might not be the one you ultimately go with, but it’s a good starting point. I recommend picking the keyword you think is most relevant and will garner the strongest visibility.


Not sure where to begin? Ask yourself how you would go about googling this topic. Go on social media and get into the mindset of your audience, taking note of the words and phrases they use to talk about the subject. Also, think of as many alternative words as you can. This makes it easier to ultimately find the most relevant keyphrase. Once you’ve got your list of keywords and keyphrases, be sure to save it in Excel.

Cool Tip

Type a keyword or keyphrase into the search bar and check out the list of related searches; Google’s list is at the bottom of the SERP. Next, plug the list of keyphrases you came up with on your own into a keyword suggestion tool.Some free ones you can use are:

  • Google Keyword Planner
  • SEMrush
  • Moz Keyword Explorer

The tool will generate a list of suggested related keyphrases along with stats like average monthly search volume, suggested bid and competition level (related to search advertising). [INSERT IMAGE]

Step 3: Choose Your Keyphrase Using Data

Now export the list of suggested keyphrases from the keyword suggestion tool into a .CSV file type. You don’t have to be a statistician to do this part. When you open the .CSV file things will become clearer. Stay with me. You may delete most of the columns you see, but keep these:

  • Average Monthly Searches
  • Suggested Bid
  • Competition Level

Google gives you ranges for Average Monthly Searches rather than a single numerical stat. You can go with the highest or the lowest value, or a value between the two extremes. In a new column, plug this formula into each row: (avg. monthly searches x suggested bid) ÷ % competition This formula helps you gauge which keyphrases to prioritize using stats related to advertising on the search engines to uncover which keyphrases are regarded as the most valuable by advertisers. Record the top three or so keyphrases with the highest value from that formula. One more formula to go. Now find out the number of SERPS for each of those top keyphrases. Divide the number of SERPS for each keyphrase by the average monthly searches: number of SERP (search engine results pages) ÷ average monthly searches  This formula is called the Keyword Effectiveness Index. It gauges effectiveness based on the ratio of existing pages that rank for the keyphrase and its popularity with users. Finally, plot the values returned by both formulas in a combination bar graph for the top keyphrases. This will help you zero in on which keyphrase will be the one that’s most effective and realistic. As with most things, keyword research isn’t an exact science. Combine what your research discovers with your instincts. If you make a mistake you can always make improvements and revisit a page to optimize again in the future. That’s the beauty of the times we live in – everything is subject to change.

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