Keyword Research in 2018 • The Best Fucking Guide ever Written

Give me six hours to cut down a tree, and I will spend four of those hours sharpening my axe”

- Abe Lincoln  

If you are here, I commend you. Your online game is about to change forever.

If you are interested in learning the ways of SEO, this is one of the most important articles you will ever read.

I'm an SEO-nerd. And as an SEO-nerd, I've got to tell you, keyword research does not get a fraction of the attention it deserves from online entrepreneurs.

This is Part One of the Ultimate Beginner Guide to Keyword Research

In the world of SEO, keyword research provides the greatest return on investment for the least amount of effort.

We at Ditch Your Desk say SEO has three distinct stages...

1. Keyword Research

Keyword research is the foundation of SEO and is where you need to begin your SEO journey. This is the ultimate guide for beginners and anyone looking to up their SEO game.

On Page SEO is the most common-known part of SEO. On Page refers to structuring your blog posts in a way that Google prefers. Check out our What is SEO post for our branded On-Page SEO checklist. 

Off Page SEO typically refers to one thing - building backlinks. Backlinks are a one of the most important aspects of SEO as it shows Google that other sites trust you. Check out our ultimate guide to building backlinks.

On Page SEO and Off Page SEO are quite popular topics. The web is littered with websites offering tons of information on how to optimize your content (On Page SEO) and to build links (Off Page SEO).

But for some reason, lost between those two is the foundation of any content marketing pro.

This foundation? Keyword research.

Ladies and gentlemen - this is the greatest guide to keyword research ever fucking written.

What this Guide will Teach you 

This is more than just a 'how to' guide.

This is Keyword-Research-University, and class is in session.

99.9% of SEO's would charge for this kind of content.

But we at Ditch Your Desk politely say, screw that. We got your backs homies!

By the time you are done reading this, you will not just have a better understanding of keyword research, but of SEO (and the internet) as a whole.

I know this because...

Three and a half years ago I had no idea what SEO was. I had no idea what a keyword was, let alone what keyword research even meant.

Now, I'm quite good at it.

But I'm not that far removed from the days where I felt incredibly overwhelmed by SEO and especially keyword research. Because of that, I've been able to translate this info in a way that is easy to digest.

So if you are an SEO-newbie - worry not! I can empathize with you!

If you read this guide carefully, take notes, and actually apply the lessons - you'll literally catapult your SEO-knowledge. I guarantee it.

"But I Heard Keyword Research is DEAD..."

Wrongo. Keyword research is alive and well.

Sure, it's certainly evolved and changed over time, and in many ways it's become more immersive and challenging.

But that's why it's so awesome.

Because Keyword research has evolved so much over the years, less and less people are doing it correctly or efficiently.

Which is why this article will help you dominate your competition and catapult your brand to the top of your niche.

Want to take your business to the next level?

Ditch Your Desk subscribers get access to our best content. Period.

Understanding Keyword Research

This is Part One of the Keyword research Guide, and it's aimed at educating you exactly what keywords are, how they work, so you can then have a better understanding of how to do Keyword research. 

If you are new to keyword research, SEO and content creation in general, I urge you to grab your favourite beverage, find a comfy seat, arm yourself with a pen and paper and prepare your mind...  

Understanding keyword research is beyond crucial to your online success and driving traffic to your website. 

Not because keyword research is some easy formula to make millions.

But because by wrapping your head around the ideas around keyword research, you'll begin to wrap your head around the ideas and principles of SEO and the foundation of being a successful internet entrepreneur.

This is the core of content marketing, and what gives you a competitive edge. This is akin to making a business strategy, and will put you ahead of 95% of other bloggers/content creators out there who do not understand KW research and are just shooting in the dark with their content. 

In my quest for SEO-ninja-ness, I can confidently say that one of the biggest jumps I made was when I was able to completely wrap my head around how keywords work and how keywrods rank.

One day, it all just clicked for me.

That day is today for you.

What this Guide will teach you

By the end of this guide you will have learned three things about keyword research...

  1. Micro Level - How to increase the amount of traffic you get from Google 
  2. Meso Level - How to create a loose, long term content strategy for your site as a whole
  3. Macro Level - How SEO functions  (and while this might not immediately seem appealing, in the big picture it’s far and away the most important part).  


The goal here is not to spend 50 hours a week on keyword research. Screw that. Your goal is to read this crash course, create a huge and effective content strategy, and leave with the understanding of how to do keyword research in short small bursts in the future (3-4 hours a month).

Basically, by reading, understanding, and implementing this information, you'll elevate yourself from an SEO-newbie to an SEO-ninja.

Keyword Research is akin to Creating a Business Plan

This is the simplest way I can put keyword research.

Keyword research is preparation. It's a strategy. Which is super important especially if you are new to this.

You need to look at your blog like a business, and successful businesses are businesses that have a plan.

Example. Let's say you wanted to open a restaurant. You could do one of two options.

  • Option #1 - Create your menu based on what food you like to cook, and what you think people want to eat. You then spend all of your time and money investing into this menu. You will then hold your breath, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. (This is called 'winging it').
  • Option # 2 - Research your local restaurant scene. This research will give you an idea of what food-niches are oversaturated and too high in competition, so you can create a world-class menu based around food that has low competition and high demand. (This is called 'business research')

 

Keyword research is best viewed as 'business research'.

You see, too often people create content like point #1 ('winging it'). They create content based on what they like to create. They create content based on what they think people want to read or watch.

A metaphor for what it's like to ignore keyword research

A metaphor for what it's like do good keyword research

Don't get me wrong, 'winging it' has worked for some people online - but that's mostly a thing of the past. Blogging competition is increasing by the day, and it's less likely that blindly going into content creation (or let's be real, any business) is going to yield success.

You need to understand that successful content marketers (whether on a blog, Youtube, Instagram, or any platform in between) typically do the same thing...

Market research.

I mean, simply put - how the hell do you expect to have a successful business without doing some research?

Keyword research shows you what people are searching for and which search queries do not have too much competition. You can then cherry pick the highest volume, lowest competition keywords and create content around those topics. 

How much time should you spend on Keyword Research?

If you are doing everything yourself (writing, SEO, editing, etc) then when it comes to time spent you can expect to spend around...

  1. 10% of your time on Keyword research
  2. 50% of your time on content creation
  3. 40% of your time on marketing that content (including building backlinks) 

So as you can see, when it comes to TIME spent as a blogger, Keyword research will only run you about 10% of your overall SEO-bandwidth. In this time you'll look for the answers you expect, discover some answers you didn't expect, and all the while gaining an invaluable understanding of what people are searching for, and what you can expect to accomplish.

But as mentioned, this illustrates TIME spent as a blogger.

When it comes to IMPORTANCE, it's a different situation. 

  1. 33% of SEO-importance is Keyword research
  2. 33% of SEO-importance is off-page SEO (mainly building backlinks)
  3. 33% of SEO-importance is on-page SEO (mainly creating next-level content)


Again, this is in no way science, just a way for you to understand the importance of the different steps of SEO. I think across the board the three aspects of SEO are just as important as the other. 

Coming soon - the How to 80/20 SEO  - Our 15 Most Epic Tips.

What are Keywords?

When I first began my quest to become an SEO-ninja... I had no clue what a keyword was. And, embarrassingly, it took me a long, long time to be able to completely wrap my head around the concept.

So let's start with the big picture, and then slowly hone in on the smaller concepts.

In the bigger picture, keywords (according to Moz) are...

"ideas and topics that define what your content is about"

Does that confuse you? Don't worry. It used to confuse me.

I would think to myself, 'wait? wtf are my keywords then?!? What is my content?!? WHAT ARE MY KEYWORDS?'

Let's break this down further...

How many keywords can my blog have or use?

Answer - as many as you want...

This used to confuse me. I thought that I had to have ONE keyword that was used for my entire site.

But then it dawned on me...

How primary keywords relate to your content

Different websites use keywords differently, but the easiest way to look at is, is that each page and/or post that you publish, will have its own primary keyword (We'll discuss secondary keywords a bit later).

For example, let's say you owned a trophy store in Birmingham UK. You don't have any intention to write any blog posts, you don't have any intention to write any other pages for your website, you just have a homepage with a photo of you and a phone number for your kick-ass trophy shop.

One page for your website. Your keyword for that one page would probably be 'trophy shop in Birmingham'.

Simple and easy.

But, I have a sneaking suspicion, that if you are here, you aren't looking to open a one-page website promoting your trophy shop in Birmingham. You are here because you want to write a shit ton of amazing content, capture a ton of traffic and make a ton of money.

So, as a blogger, you are going to write about a ton of keywords - and each of those keywords will be covered in a different blog post.

One primary keyword per one blog post. Therefore you can have as many keywords as you create content about!


Let's say you've decided to start a rock climbing blog. You'll probably do some brainstorming and come up with different article ideas...

  • Topic/blog post idea - 'Best rock climbing shoes'
  • Topic/blog post idea - 'Favorite climbs in Colorado'
  • Topic/blog post idea - 'Exercises to improve your grip for rock climbing'


Well, simply put, your keywords will basically be the exact same thing!


  • Blog post idea - Best rock climbing shoes
    • Keyword idea - Best rock climbing shoes
  • Blog post idea - Favorite climbs in Colorado
    • Keyword idea - Favorite climbs in Colorado
  • Blog post idea - Exercises to better your grip for rock climbing
    • Keyword idea - Exercises to better your grip for rock climbing

 

Each blog post you create will be about a topic, so therefore each blog post will have it's own primary keyword because keywords are just the words people use to search for topics.

The blog post topics are the keywords you will use.

For an example, let's look at The Broke Backpacker.

Will's travel blog has almost 1,000 blog posts. Sure, while most of them fit under the general travel-umbrella, no single keyword can describe the site in its entirety. So each page of the site or each blog post will have its own targeted primary keyword.

One article ('Backpacking Thailand on the Cheap') has one primary/focus keyword ('Backpacking Thailand')

Another example from The Broke Backpacker...

One article from The Broke Backpacker - 'Backpacking India - Ultimate Budget Guide'. The keyword from this ONE blog post, is 'backpacking India'

This one blog post ("Ultimate Guide to Backpacking India") has one primary keyword ('backpacking India').

Like I said, The Broke Backpacker has 1,000 articles, so I could show you 1,000 more examples, but you get the point.

In essence - each blog post has it's own primary keyword, and each keyword is a separate piece of real estate that you are trying to win.

But if we have the keyword.... how does someone find our blog posts?

How keywords relate to your audience (Google and/or Youtube)

So let's recap.

Let's say you have an awesome rock climbing blog.

This rock climbing blog will have many blog posts, and each blog post will exist to answer a question or explain a topic.

Each question or that topic that you write about is its primary keyword.

And for every blog post or video you make, you can target new and different keywords.

Let's say there is a young woman named Jill in Pittsburgh Ohio who is interested in taking a rock-climbing-vacation in Colorado and wants to find some great Rocky mountains to climb.

She goes on to Google, and types... "best rock climbing in Colorado".

This is known as a search query, and is the most important aspect of keywords and why we are doing what we are doing.

How do people connect with the information they need? 

You have a blog post about rock climbing in Colorado. Jill is searching for where to climb in Colorado.

What is the only thing connecting you to Jill?

Google.

How keywords work with search engines (the third part)

In the image above we have information on the left, and the searcher on the right. 

Your rock climbing site has a bunch of information on rock climbing.

Jill is looking for information about rock climbing. 

Search engines are what connect the searchers search queries with our content and our keywords

Google (and Youtube, and Bing... I guess?) is the middle man that connects it all together. This connection process is done through you creating topics around a keyword, and people searching into a search engine for that keyword.

So in essence...

  1. People are in need of information on your topic (they search for information with a search query)
  2. You write world class information on that topic (you provide information that can be summed up in a keyword)
  3. Google is the middleman that connect the two parties (trying to best connect the search query of the searcher, with the keyword of your content)

Keywords and Google (and Youtube)

Google is the middleman that connects people to the highest quality answer to what they are seeking.

This is Google's priority.

This is the basis of SEO. SEO = understanding what Google deems high-quality content, replicating that, and then reaping the benefits (traffic).

But to get traffic to our website, we have to get into the mindset of searchers and their search queries.

Understanding Keyword Value/ What makes keywords valuable

Do me a favor, I want you to ask yourself a question...

What makes a keyword valuable?

There could be a complicated answer for this, but I'm gonna make it super-easy.

There are two things that made a keyword valuable young Jedi;

  1. Volume
  2. User Intent


Let's break them down...

Keyword Value #1 - Search Volume

The first step in understanding a keyword's value is seeing how many people actually search for it

There's a saying in the blogging game.

Traffic. Is. Everything.

Traffic is a make-or-break for websites, and the single-most important metric for gauging a website's success and overall value.

This is because volume represents opportunity. The more traffic you have going to your website, the more people become aware of your brand, the more people are subjected to your products, the more likely you are to make a sale or the more leverage you can have for advertisers.

It's marketing 101 -> the more the people that see your ad, the more potential customers you can have. This is why a Super Bowl commercial costs a million times more than an ad on the local news.

Would you rather have 100 people exposed to your product or 100,000? It's a no-brainer.

Let's dive a bit deeper into volume, and how it works for you and your content site.

Let's use a previous example before from The Broke Backpacker - the 'Backpacking India' article.

The article 'backpacking India' is targeting the primary keyword 'backpacking India' hoping to get in front typing the search query'backpacking India' into their computer... but how do we know how many people are actually searching for this...?

Will targeted the keyword 'backpacking India' because it brought in a decent amount of traffic.

How to find out how much traffic a keyword has

There are a variety of tools, but the easiest to use (and our favorite recommendation for newbies) is Keywords Everywhere.

Oh, and it's free.

Keywords Everywhere is a Chrome extension that gives an approximate volume of keywords as you type them into Google. For example...

The Keywords Everywhere extension will give you a raw idea of the global volume for a particular keyword

Please, take these numbers with a grain of salt. Keywords Everywhere is an approximation. But in our experience, they are good enough to get a great understanding of a keywords potential and general volume.

So according to the above screenshot, the keyword 'backpacking India' has a volume of 720 a month, meaning that globally, around 720 people go into Google.com, type in 'backpacking India', and hit 'Enter'.

Let's put this into perspective... Let's see how many people search for the term 'India' on Google...

The keyword 'India' gets typed into Google around 370,000 times per month

To further put this into perspective....

And the keyword 'how to travel to India cheap' has a search volume of 20 a month

The keyword 'how to travel to India cheap' gets around 20 searches a month.

So let's analyze these three different keywords from the perspective of volume....

  1. High volume keyword - 'India' (368,000 searches a month)
  2. Medium volume keyword -  'backpacking India' (720 searches a month)
  3. Low volume keyword - 'how to travel to India cheap' (20 searches a month)


So, if I told you that volume = value, that would mean that more volume = more value.

So if more volume = more value, then why didn't Will/The Broke Backpacker try and rank for the more valuable keyword 'India'.

Isn't 368,000 potential visitors better than 720 potential visitors?

We'll cover that very soon, I just want to make sure you understand how keyword search volume works.

*Real quick - stop what you are doing right now, open a new tab, type in 'Keywords Everywhere' and download the plugin. Simple to use, and always on - this little tool is an essential part of your SEO-arsenal and it makes Googling a lot more fun* 

How search volume works

So, Keywords Everywhere tells us that 720 people a month are typing the keyword 'Backpacking India' into Google.

Now look at this.

The Broke Backpacker is coming up as the #1 search result (after a paid ad) for the keyword 'backpacking India'


So in theory, you'd think that if we ended up #1 in the Google results (the ultimate goal) that 720 people on the dot would click on Will's 'Backpacking India' page, correct?

Wrongo.

#1 position @ 720 searches a month = 300 clicks

 

So out of the 720 people a month that type the keyword 'backpacking India' into Google, only 300 clicked on The Broke Backpacker's Guide... And it's in the number one position!

Actually, truth be told this is well above the average. Click through rates (commonly referred to as CTR's) for the #1 result are usually only in the 30% range, and this post is getting a CTR of around 42%. 

You gotta understand that ranking #1 for a primary keyword with 1,000 searches a month will not give you 1,000 visitors to that page a month through that search term alone (hence secondary keywords, which we'll get to in a bit).

Keyword Value #2 - Understanding User Intent

Understanding what someone is going to do with their keyword is crucial

Sure, understanding 'user intent' sounds like it's going to be boring as shit, but it's actually awesome and it's very, very powerful.

Understanding 'user intent' doesn't take too long, and once it's embedded in your skull, you'll have a much stronger idea of which keywords you should be looking to rank for.

What is 'user intent'?

The gist of 'user intent' is making sure you know exactly what a keyword means, by identifying exactly what the searcher (user) is exactly looking for (intent).

On a surface level, this will seem like common sense, but we'll take it a step further and figure out which user intent keywords are online entrepreneurs' wet-dreams.

So before we dive too deep into specifics, let's look at a few different keywords to help us understand 'user intent'.

First keyword example - 'Skinny arm workout'

You could easily imagine someone typing this into Google, right?

And if you had a fitness blog, it would probably be a really good idea to have some sort of blog post that covers this topic/keyword!

But wait...

Understanding user intent will help you smash your SEO

What is the topic/keyword? Or more specifically, what is the user intent (aka - what information is the searcher actually looking for?)

Is it "skinny arm workout" for women looking to make their arms smaller?

Or is it "skinny arm workout" for men looking to make their arms bigger?

I'm not saying this is a bad or good topic/keyword... but it's a bit unspecific.

Our goal with keywords is to attack a specific topic or answer a specific problem or question. We want to accurately know the questions people are asking so we can accurately answer them with our awesome content.

Second Keyword - "Backpacking Aguas Calientes"

The closest town to Machu Picchu in Peru, Aguas Calientes acts as sort of a gateway to this world wonder.

But wait.

Is someone searching for how to travel to the town of Aguas Calientes? (backpacking/budget travel)

Or is someone searching for how to hike the mountains around Aguas Calientes? (backpacking/hiking/trekking/camping)

It could go either way. While there could be some overlap, it's not immedietaly apparent to me what information the searcher is looking for.

Third keyword - "Mom butt"

Will and I run a niche site in the health sector and in my keyword research I learned that "mom butt" is two things.

One group is women searching for how to be rid of their post-pregnancy "mom butt".... but the other group of people have slightly different intentions with this keyword, if you know what I mean...

Diving deeper into user intent (and how it related to keyword value)

We want to make sure we understand the user's question and make sure we don't mistake it for something else.

This is because the 'user intent' has a ton of value. Some questions/search queries/keywords are more valuable than others.

This is because we use different words when we are looking for different information.

Let's go back to a previous example - the keyword 'India', which had a volume of 370,000 searches per month.

370,000 searches a month is an insane amount of traffic... but let me ask you... If someone searches for the keyword 'India'.... what the hell are they even searching for?

Seriously, think about it for a second.

  • Are they looking for information about the country of India?
  • Are they traveling to India?
  • Are they try to pull India up on a map?
  • Are they looking for news about India?
  • Are they looking for images of India?


I ask those questions specifically because that's what Google seems to think.

Notice the SERP results... Google is delivering a lot of different types of content because it isn't sure what the user intent is

The results are all over the place. Google pulls up websites that have...

  • Information about the country of India (Wikipedia)
  • Information about traveling to India ('Things to Do in India')
  • A map of India
  • News about India
  • Images of India


What does this tell us?

That the user-intent is fairly undefined. When someone types 'India' into Google, even Google is like 'dude, can you be a bit more specific next time?'.

Let's look at another previous example - 'backpacking India'...

The keyword 'backpacking India' is a very specific keyword - all of the results are about budget travel (backpacking) in India.

As you can see, all of the results for 'backpacking India' are about cheap/budget travel to India. There is no confusion here. Google knows what people want when they search for this search query.

Last example, let's looks at 'how to travel to India cheap'...

What do you think that keyword means? According to Google, it means two distinct things...

results for 'how to travel to India cheap'

The first four results are about cheap flights TO India. But results 5 and 6 are about cheap travel IN India.

This means a few things.

  • That people are using this keyword to search for both cheap flights and budget travel tips for India
  • But more people probably use this keyword to find cheap flights to India (that's why Google puts that content on top)


So let's analyze these three different keywords from the perspective of user-intent....

  1. 'India' - We are unsure of the user intent. Google delivers a bunch of different type of content. The searcher is confused, Google is confused, we are all fucking confused.
  2. 'Backpacking India' - Super, super, super specific user intent here. It's 100% obvious what this keyword means.
  3. 'How to travel to India cheap' - While this keyword is under the umbrella of traveling to India, it then goes two ways. It's predominantly used by people looking for cheap flights TO India, but a lot of people are also using this keyword to search for information about cheap travel WITHIN India.

User intent - Diving deeper

While we initially said that volume is the first part of understanding a keyword's value, user intent can actually show the complete opposite.

And because of that, sometimes volume is a terrible, terrible way of gauging a keyword's value.

User intent is the true path to finding bad-ass keywords that converts into buyers.

Let's look at two keywords.

Versus...

Keyword 'Best mattress for back sleepers' generates 590 searches a month

So if we were comparing the value of these two keywords on traffic/volume alone - 'how to walk properly' would beat 'best mattress for back sleepers'.

880 searches a month > 590 searches a month. Case closed.

If you are measuring only by search volume, 'How to walk properly' is more valuable.

But this example perfectly exemplifies why volume is not the most important thing to us.

Let's look at these two keywords again, but this time let's look at their CPC.

(CPC = cost per click, and it shows how much advertisers are willing to pay for a single click to their website for a potential keyword. While not a science, it can help you gauge the competition and overall value of a keyword.)

No one is paying CPC for the keyword 'how to walk properly'

Versus...

Advertisers are willing to pay over five dollars for a single click to this keyword

This is because of a few things, but we are only going to look at user intent.

What it comes down to is this -> 'best mattress for back sleepers' is a keyword that converts (makes money).

People who type ' how to walk properly' into Google might apply a simple lesson (keep your back straight, don't walk flat footed, etc) and move on with their lives. Simple as that.

The Keyword 'how to walk properly' doesn't typically end in a conversion

But compare that to 'best mattress for back sleepers'...

The keyword 'best mattress for back sleepers' is likely to end in a conversion... and an expensive one

People who type 'best mattress for back sleepers' into Google sleep on their backs, and are interested in buying an expensive-ass-mattress to support their sleep-style. Simple as that.

'How to walk properly' doesn't quite have the same buying-power. Don't get me wrong, depending on your niche, audience and goals - 'how to walk properly' could be an amazing keyword! But it's not a conversion/money keyword, and compared to best mattresses, it's not as valuable.

*A quick note - $6 CPC is extremely high and is a result of the product (mattresses). I specifically used this keyword to illustrate a large disparity between two very different types of keywords. But you need to understand that there are keywords that people use to buy shit. 'Best mattresses for back sleepers' is one of them.*

'The best _____'  and other valuable keywords

A great rule of thumb? Try ranking for 'best' anything.

Look for keywords with 'best ___(insert any type of product)___'. 

Some other great one's to look for? (____ = enter a product in your niche) 

'top ____'

'___ vs ___'

'___ reviews'

'____ best price'

All of these types of keywords convert very high and could prove super valuable to your marketing effors.

But listen!

I'm not talking shit about the keyword 'how to walk properly'. That keyword could be a huge opportunity for someone.

I just wanted to explain that not all keywords have the same monetization-potential.... but there are other factors you need to consider...

Understanding the Sales Cycle

There is no universal 'sales cycle'. Everyone's differs, so I decided to make our own.

Meet Ditch Your Desk's 'Content Sales Cycle'.

Ditch Your Desk's Content Sales Cycle

This is typically the process. I cut down the fluff and boiled it down to it's most basic process, specifically to how it relates to content marketers (like you!).

So if you look at the sales cycle, let's look at different keywords that fit into different parts of the sales cycle.

1. Part one of the Content Sales Cycle (Problem Realization)

John is at a bar, drinking his favorite beer. John loves beer. He loves drinking beer. He loves talking about beer. He fancies himself a beer connoisseur.

Ding! A light goes off in John's head. John thinks to himself.

'Wait.... Can I brew my own beer?'

2. Part Two of the Content Sales Cycle (Topic Research)

Enlightened, John leaves the bar, goes home and Google's a few different keywords...

'How to brew beer'

'can you brew beer at home'

'is brewing your own beer difficult'

'brew IPA at home'

This part of the sales cycle is crucial. While John is not ready to buy a product, he is actively seeking information and is very, very impressionable right now.

So while these sort of keywords might not give you the highest conversion rates (hardcore money) these are without a doubt the keywords that enable you to make the biggest impact on someone (hardcore followers).

If someone is looking for a new hobby/interest/niche that could become important in their life, your content might be their introduction into this new world, and they will forever relate your blog/video/content with that change in their life.

This is human nature.

This is why you want to establish yourself as an authority on your topic. So when John - inspired by life and a few pints of his favorite local brew - types into Google 'is brewing your own beer difficult', your beautiful, shiny site is there to tell him...

'No John, in fact, it's super easy... Let me show you exactly what to do'  🙂

3. Part Three of the Content Sales Cycle (Product Research)

These are the keywords that yield the highest conversions.

Why? Because at this point in the sales cycle, John is ready to buy.

He's discovered information about brewing beer, realized he can do it himself, is inspired, and is ready to start looking for specific products that can aid him.

The sort of keywords John will look for are....

'best home brew starter kits 2018'

'top rated beer brewing kits'

'Eagle Brew kit review 2018'

'Brooklyn Brew Shop Everyday IPA Beer Making Kit'

These are product-research keywords, where the buyer is ready to type in their 16 digit credit card number and click the shiny 'Buy Now' button.

4. Part Four of the Content Sales Cycle (Conversion)

John buys his first home-brewing kit, and eagerly awaits it's delivery.

You receive a commission from Amazon, or another affiliate platform, for bringing in the sale.

Understand your keywords and where they are within the sales cycle

While there is certainly some overlap, topic-research and product-research are two distinct parts of the sales process, and each gives you a different opportunity to engage with your customer.

  • Topic-Research (Part two of the cycle) - Enables you to make the biggest impact on your audience. This impact can be absolutely huge, especially if this is the users first exposure to your expertise. This gives you the opportunity to make a significant impression, which can then turn the user into a lifetime loyal customer. While these sorts of keywords have less immediate buying potential, they are absolutely essential in building your authority and retaining an audience. When someone types in a topic-research keyword into Google, they are looking for SOMEONE to help them. 

 

  • Product-Research (Part three of the cycle) - While it's still very possible to make an impression on someone, the chances are lower with product-research keywords due to the intent. When John types in 'Brooklyn Brew Shop Everyday IPA Beer Making Kit' , he's done so because he's done his research. He isn't looking for information (and therefore he isn't looking for encouragement or direction), he's looking to buy! When someone types in a topic-research keyword into Google, they are looking for SOMETHING to help them. 

 

Each keyword presents its own opportunity and benefits, and a professional content marketer will ensure to have an even distribution of both types of keywords. This way you can be sure you are targeting different types of users at different points in the cycle.

But that's more advanced shit that we'll get into a bit later.

Final thoughts on understanding user intent

Understanding user intent is important, but don’t feel the need to be an expert in this. It’s one of those things you want to just register in your brain and keep in mind when gauging the value of a potential keyword. 

Final Thoughts on Understanding Keyword Value

Remember, by itself, neither volume nor user intent is enough to gauge a keyword's value. You need to find keywords that are relevant to your brand, that have some volume and the right user intent.

Once you understand how to gauge the value of a keyword, you need to be able to determine something equally as important - it's difficulty. 

Part Two - Understanding Keyword Difficulty

So at this point, you will be thinking something along the lines of...

'I need to start looking for keywords with high volume, and the right user intent. Once I do that I can start creating kickass content that appeals to people who are looking to be topic-aware AND product-aware!'. 

Nailed it.

But unfortunately, it isn't quite that easy...

Look at keywords like real estate

A friend of mine made a cool comparison, that a keyword can be looked at like a piece of real-estate.

Some keywords (‘Best Foods in Bulgaria’) are like small countryside farms in Kansas.

And other keywords (‘Best Laptop’) are like New York City penthouses.

Sure, the farms are nice, but the penthouse is a penthouse

But while the farm on Kansas is affordable, the penthouse is going to cost you an arm and a leg.

Keywords are the same way.

Let's look at an example...

Let's say you really wanted to start a blog on rock climbing. You think to yourself...

'What's the most obvious keyword I can target... Shit! I got it! 'ROCK CLIMBING'!'

Let's look at the numbers...

90k searches a month - looks like a great keyword!

There are over 90,000 searches a month, and while the user intent isn't completely obvious, it's very relevant to your blog - hell yea!

You are imagining yourself writing a guide on rock climbing, sitting back, lighting a cigar, and shooting to the top of Google as you watch 90,000 people a month read your content.

Hold up cowboy (or gal), let's talk.

First of all, this is a terrible keyword to target for many reasons.

The user-intent is not obvious and it's completely up in the air.

Is this person searching for where to rock climb? How to rock climb? When to rock climb? What is rock climbing? Frankly whoever searches for this is confused. 

Second of all, we are going to use this example to highlight our next topic - keyword difficulty.

The outlook from our keyword consultant software is not very optimistic

Courtesy of our secret-ninja-keyword-software - KWFinder by Mangools (more on this later).

So let's be real. The keyword 'rock climbing' is going to be very difficult to rank for.

While 'possible' might sound mildly optimistic, KWFinder has a tendency to be a bit passive-aggressive.

Nope

I'm telling you that to truly give yourself a competitive advantage in keyword research and SEO in general, you need to use tools to train yourself in gauging the difficulty of a keyword and to leave the ones out of reach be.

Not all keyword real estate is cheap. Not all of it is easy to snatch up. This is where the combination of hard-data and educated guesses helps us make decisions that will benefit our content efforts.

Confused?

Let me explain.

Understanding keyword difficulty

It makes sense that keywords should have different difficulties right?

As we mentioned before, keywords have different values. If something has low value, there's going to be low competition for it.

For example, let's use the keyword 'lawyer New York'. To gauge the keyword's value we have to look at two things...

1. It's volume

2. The user intent

There is no tool to gauge user intent. The CPC $ will help you get an idea (which btw - WOW, $12 per click is insane), but it's mostly based on YOUR evaluation.

So ask yourself, do you think that people who use the keyword 'lawyer New York' are willing to spend money?

So, do you think that's going to be a high competition keyword or a low competition keyword?

Drumroll please...

....

...

..

.

High value = High competition

If you guessed that 'lawyer New York' has valuable user intent - you are correct!

Why?

Because if someone types this keyword into Google, they need a lawyer, and lawyers aren't cheap. So that means being in the first place on Google for this keyword = you are making money (assuming you are a lawyer).

Add in the juicy volume of 1300 a month and you have a very, very high-value keyword.

And the value is reflected in the competition (some of the top law firms of New York).

Long story short, because of the high value of the keyword, ending up on the first page of Google for this specific keyword is going to be very, very, very difficult.

And as far as we at Ditch Your Desk are concerned, understanding how to gauge a keyword's difficulty is the difference between life and death in SEO.

Because instead of fighting for our lives, battling big brands for keywords that are super valuable, we want to focus on smaller keywords that we have a much better chance of ranking for.


Let's dive deeper.

How to gauge a keyword's difficulty

The goal now is this...

We've figured out the type of keywords we are interested in - keywords with high volume and with the correct user intent.

But we need to now identify which keywords we SHOULD go for.

If you want to be the #1 spot on Google for 'best sunglasses', you have to realize it's going to be near impossible to even get on the third page for that keyword.

Personally, I'm very interested in buying the Miami Heat NBA basketball team. Doesn't mean I should try.

"Pick your Keyword battles wisely.  We do this by gauging the difficulty of a Keyword..."


Same goes for you and the keywords you are targeting.

This doesn't mean you can't write articles that have super competitive keywords. In fact the complete opposite. Every website will need staple topics, regardless of their ability to rank.

This is the part where we need to decide which articles we think we have an actual chance of ranking in Google, and we do that through keyword research.

How to do keyword research

One thing I want to make clear here. There is no easy way to do keyword research. And there is no single tool that accurately will tell you how difficult a particular keyword is to rank for.

Yes, there are a series of free and premium tools you can use that will make your life easier - but as with anything in business, there are absolutely no guarantees.

Is there a tool that will absolutely tell you if your new stock investment will definitely pay out?

Absolutely not.

Is there a tool that will absolutely tell you if your new coffee shop will succeed?

Absolutely not.

The same goes for running a blog.

But there are absolutely tools that can give you a clearer understanding of what you are up against, which in turn will give you a competitive edge. And competitive edges are awesome.

Part one of gauging a keyword's difficulty- Using a premium keyword tool

Ultimately, keyword research can be as free or expensive as you want it to be. But if you have money to invest, I highly recommend using one of these two products.

AHREF's

Will and I have a bit of an obsession with AHREFs

Far and away my favorite SEO tool available. I find AHREF's data to be the most accurate, and interface to be preferable to most of the other Keyword tools out there (and I've tried most of them!).

But AHREF's does not come cheap (the bare-bones program is $99 a month), and it's not necessarily beginner-friendly.

But if you can swing it, it's certainly the most powerful tool on the web.

I truly love and recommend this tool, that even though AHREFs doesn't have an affiliate program, it's still my number one recommendation for the best overall keyword research tool.

Coming soon - my full review on why AHREF's is the most powerful SEO-tool on the web

KWFinder (by Mangools) 

So, if AHREFs is out of reach, or if you are looking for a much easier introduction to the world of SEO/keyword research, this is absolutely my number one recommendation.

KWFinder has become one of my favorite SEO-tools for beginners.

It's only $29 a month, and that price gives you 5 kickass SEO tools that Will and I use every day.

Its phenomenal interface makes it great for beginners, and the price includes a series of tools that can really help anyone with a beginner to moderate understanding of SEO to the next level.

Read the full KWFinder/Mangools review here.

If you are looking to improve your SEO - Mangools will bring you to zen

While these tools are powerful, there are not without their flaws. But by using them, you'll be able to increase your arsenal in ways you never knew possible. And the bigger your arsenal, the more powerful your army.

Ignore premium SEO-tools at your own peril. If you're not willing to invest in your success online, you will be walking a very challenging, frustrating road.

If you do choose to invest in a premium SEO research tool, you'll be given access to some game-changing, powerful data that will give you an edge in your quest for domination.

But if you can't invest right now - that's OK too!

Next we are going to dicuss using the SERPs to gauge a keyword's difficulty (hint - it's free!). Even if you have a premium keyword research tool, you'll want to use this free method as well (because it's probably just as powerful!).

Part Two of Gauging a Keyword's Difficulty - The Eye Test (Understanding the SERPs)

SERP = Search Engine Results Page.

What is this fancy combination of letters you might ask?

Type any word into Google, hit 'Enter' and BAM! You are looking at the SERPs.

In a nutshell, SERPs are the results Google delivers for a keyword.

These are the SERP's for the keyword 'Hong Kong visa'.

The SERPs are always changing. Learn them. Love them.

Your mission is to get to the top of the SERP's.

SERPs are an interesting thing. They both 1) fluctuate like an emotional teenager and 2) stay as solid as Spartan warriors holding the line against Persian invaders.

SERP's be like....


  1. SERP fluctuation - As Rand Fishkin points out in this video, there is typically a ton of fluctuation in the SERPs for positions six through infinity.
  2. SERP stability - As this report from AHREF's points out, there is typically much less fluctuation for positions one through five.

 

So using the example keyword 'how to reset iPhone'...

This is both encouraging, and a bit discouraging.

Discouraging because it does mean that knocking someone off their horse on the top of the SERPs is not always easy. But with the help of Ditch Your Desk, you'll know exactly how to do it.

Encouraging because it means if you earn your place in the top five (and even more specifically in the top three), you will have a good chance of solidifying your dominance for that keyword.

Basically, we accomplish both feats above in two ways. 1) with better SEO than the competition and 2) with better content than the competition.

Coming soon - Our secret formula for how to keep your stronghold if you've got a great SERP position. 

Is it impossible to get knocked off the top five? Hell no! Greater kings have fallen. But if you update your content, continue to build links, and ensure you have the proper link juice flowing to that page - you stand very likely to dominate for your keywords.

But please, don't let it discourage you. A ton of people will say, 'what's the point of even trying if the top three are solidified?'.

This is a negative, bullshit question.

The first reason - beating the number one position is a challenge, but completely doable. Will and I own multiple sites spread across multiple niches, and we do it all the time.

The second reason - everyday 500 million new keywords are being created. Don't believe me? I'll allow Google to explain...

So, as you can see, there is still plenty of opportunities to rank in Google. How many opportunities? Try 500 million A DAY! Every day there are new technologies, new products, new industries, new companies, new everything - and all of them represent opportunities for new keywords.

And every day old blogs go out of business, stop putting out great content, or get sold to less interested/savvy owners. Again - this opens opportunities for newbies to come in and take their own slice of the pie!

This is why it kills me when people say 'SEO is dead'.

It's not dead. It's just evolving. Has it gotten more difficult? Sure. But that's because people are now aware that for the price, organic traffic through Google yields the highest advertising ROI. No question.

You aren't putting up a billboard and hoping people see it.

You aren't paying for a facebook ad and trying to generate interest.

If you get a spot on the SERPS, people are coming to you, their mouths literally watering for answers.

Is it a bit more difficult to get to the top? Sure. But organic search is still the smartest investment you can make - this I thoroughly believe.

But I digress.

Understanding keyword difficulty with the SERP metrics (Free with help from Mozbar)

So now that we have a decent understanding of the SERP's, let's take a look some metrics so we can really get a more on-the-ground understanding of a keywords competition (to then decide which one's we are going to target!).

The first tool you are going to download (if you haven't already) is the Moz Bar.

Go to Moz.com, click 'Free SEO Tools' (top right), click 'On Page Metrics with Moz Bar', then download the extension.

A quick overview - Moz is a badass SEO company, for many reasons, but for the sake of this free Moz Bar extension, we are going to focus on one thing...

DA (Domain Authority)

DA is a metric that was created by Moz to rank a website's age, value and rankability - these metrics are super useful as you can quickly check a website's DA to form an educated guess on the ranking power of that site in SERPs.

The domain is the actual home page of the website (for example - www.thebrokebackpacker.com or ditchyourdesk.com), and the DA is the score Moz gives the domain based on a ton of factors including how many backlinks the site has, how well the content is ranking in SERPS and various other factors such as on-page time and bounce rate.

The score ranges from 0 (least powerful) to 100 (most powerful).

Simply put, the higher the DA, the more perceived strength Moz thinks a website has. The more perceived strength, the easier time the website should have to rank for a keyword.

Further reading - is DA even important?

Examples of Moz in Action (To gain valuable keyword insights!)

Making sure the Moz bar is turned on, let's google the keyword 'best rock climbing chalk'.

(Notice - if you are doing this yourself, your results might look slightly different) 

Notice highlighted in red - the DA's show how powerful a site is, and can give you powerful insight into your ability to rank for a keyword

Let's take a look at this and analyze...

  • The #1 result only has a DA of 25 - A DA of 25 is not hard to get to, and it proves that smaller brands can compete for great keywords (like you!)
  • The #6 result only has a DA of 1! - Furthering my point! You can publish quality and see your stuff rank extremely quickly
  • Amazon is #8 - Amazon doesn't have any content, just products, so seeing Amazon ranking for a keyword can be good news. It insinuates Google hasn't found enough awesome content about this keyword, so they have to offer a spot in the SERPs to their hated arch-nemesis
  • REI is #9 - REI's search engine result is not just a shopping page, but a blog post with content... let's examine this aspect

So how can REI publish a blog post about the 'best rock climbing chalk', and with all of it's power and huge DA of 88... how is it losing (and badly) to 99boulders? A small blog with 1/4 of the DA power?

It's coming down to one thing - quality content.

Let's compare the blog posts side by side. 99Boulders is on the left, and REI on the right...

99boulders' article was long, informative, and filled with multimedia - all things that Google loves (Which is why it has a higher spot than the more powerful REI.com)

Compared to 99boulders, REI's article is nowhere near as long or informative. 

Are you seeing this? 99Boulder's article completely shits on REI's article.

99Boulder's article is longer, has more information, more multimedia, better organization, and just kicks ass! REI's article... not so much.

I'm highlighting this to show you that ranking in the SERP's for quality keywords is totally possible. You just have to put together phenomenal content. It's no guarantee it'll beat the big names, but creating world-class content will give you the best possible shot.

Ultimately this is Google's goal - to connect their users to the best piece of content.

Now, let's take a peek at what KWFinder thinks about this particular keyword...

A score of 22 (EASY!) KWfinder likes and so do I...

KWfinder thinks ranking in the top 10 for 'best rock climbing chalk' is easy!

So when you are gauging a keyword's difficulty, you have to ask yourself two things...

  1. Does the keyword software say it's doable?
  2. Can you create a better piece of content than what is currently ranking (aka - looking at the SERPs)

If the answer is yes to both questions, then - BOOM! We've found keywords we are going to make moves to rank for.

When to go for a keyword (and when to stay the fuck away)

So you've got a pretty good idea of what you are looking for now...

  • Keywords that have value to your brand (the right user intent + good volume)

And how to do find those keywords....

  • Look at the SERPs and preferrably a premium keyword tool to see if you can actually rank for the keyword

 

But let me clarify something here...

Volume is a bitch

Remember, two things make a keyword valuable

  1. Volume
  2. User intent

Well, as the title above implies... while high volume keywords are extremely valuable, they are also getting tougher and tougher to rank for.

Let's go back to the keyword 'best rock climbing chalk'.

Only 40 searches a month.

You might be thinking - 'wtf?!? that's so low!'

It is. And that's exactly the reason why you should target low volume keywords.

Long Tail Keywords (aka how to get your brand on the map)

Long tail keywords are something that SEO's have been buzzing about for years.

Ultimately, long tail keywords are keywords that have three or more words.

'men workout' = NOT a long tail keyword

'top strength training workout for men over 60' = long tail keyword

'laptop cases' = NOT a long tail keyword

'best laptop cases for mac under $20' = long tail keyword

Long tail keywords are the way people actually search for things on Google. Long tail keywords are specific, yet random, but no matter what they are low in volume, and they are the way the majority of the population searches for things online.

A graph from advanced webranking showing keyword searches

You'll notice that while the 30% of 'fat head' and 'chunky middle' has the highest number of monthly searches, the 'long tail' keywords have the most keywords at 70%.

As a newbie, you need to go after medium to long tail keywords, that are 3-7 words long, and have low competition.

And really, you don't need to go after just 1-2 of them. You need to go after 100-200 of them.

Back in the old days (like, two years ago), Google wasn't quite as sophisticated as it is now.

Secondary Keywords (The Best Part!)

Back in the old days, keyword selection was VERY specific.

Two years ago, choosing between 'best luxury hotel in Singapore' and best luxury hotels in Singapore' was an actual discussion. That 's' was a big deal.

Keywords were super specific, as Google would try and connect exact searches to exact keywords.

Now? Those days are over. Google's a lot smarter.

You see, remember when we discussed quality content?

Remember, Google's ultimate goal is to best answer the question of its users. And it has gotten so much better at that. So much so, that articles are ranking for so many more keywords than they intend.

These other keywords that you rank for are called secondary keywords. 

You have to understand, that you are going to rank for more than just your target keyword. And if you follow Ditch Your Desk's guides - you'll rank for a TON more.

Let's look at a SERP we previously talked about, 99Boulder's ranking for the keyword 'best chalk for rock climbing'.

Using AHREF's software, I'm going to blow your mind.

This post is ranking for over 150 keywords!

If you notice, AHREF's is reporting that this page is actually ranking for 157 keywords! And if you look, is estimated to being in 109 users a month via Google. A lot better than only getting a portion of 40, right?

Let's look at AHREF's report to get an actual idea of what other keywords this is ranking for. 

  1. The first column highlighted in red shows all of the actual keywords this page is ranking for
  2. The second column in red shows the volume of the keywords
  3. The third column shows what position in the SERPS this page is


And this screenshot only shows 16 keywords. This post is ranking for 157 total keywords.

Granted a few caveats, these reports are never 100% accurate, and many of the keywords this page is ranking for are not giving them any traffic. But this example is here to show you that while you are targeting a single keyword, you'll end up ranking for hundreds of keywords!

Or maybe thousands...

This single post ranks for thousands of keywords (and we do this all the time)

Ranking for thousands of keywords enables you to explode your traffic to another level. Well written blog with great On Page SEO posts will naturally rank for tons of keywords. 

But there are also a couple of keyword research hacks we use to help rank for even more keywords. We'll cover the best ways to ensure your posts end up ranking for hundreds of juicy keywords in part two. 

Final Thoughts on Part One of Keyword Research

Are you still here?!?

Good. Then it means you are taking your SEO super fucking serious.

And those who take SEO super fucking serious win on Google. 

Simple as that. 

This is only part one of my epic keyword research guides. Next up, I'll be going into detail into the exact process I use for keyword research with a variety of free and premium tools. I'll also show you how to then use that research to make an epic and long-term content strategy that brings in both traffic and big income.  

You won't want to miss it. 

In the meantime, please give me some comment love below to let me know if anything is unclear or if there's anything else you want me to cover.

**Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase, Ditch Your Desk will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you**

About the Author Aaron Radcliffe

City dweller. Noodle crusher. Music junkie. Obsessed with business growth and optimization - Aaron Radcliffe is Co-Founder of Ditch Your Desk.

Aaron Radcliffe

Leave a Comment:

11 comments
Melissa C. says 3 weeks ago

Nice guide! I’m looking forward to part 2 (and perhaps part 3?). Out of curiosity, is there a reason you guy don’t suggest Keysearch as your affordable introductory tool?

Reply
    Aaron Radcliffe
    Aaron Radcliffe says a couple of weeks ago

    I’ve used Keysearch, and in my experience, the data is not as accurate as Mangools. Also, for its price Mangools offers 4 other awesome kick-ass tools and its interface is fun and super newbie-friendly 🙂

    Reply
Leanne says a couple of weeks ago

I love this so much already! Thanks so much! This is super helpful. I’m definitely sticking around.

Reply
    Aaron Radcliffe
    Aaron Radcliffe says a couple of weeks ago

    Thanks Leanne 🙂

    Reply
Matt says a couple of weeks ago

Thanks for taking the time to put that together. It was a great write up, probably the best breakdown I have read on a topic that is anything but an easy read. Pumped for the next part.

Reply
Matt says a couple of weeks ago

Thanks for putting that together, it was a great write up on a topic that is anything but an easy read. Pumped to read round 2.

Reply
    Aaron Radcliffe
    Aaron Radcliffe says a couple of weeks ago

    Thanks Matt! 🙂

    Reply
Carly Day says a couple of weeks ago

This revolutionized the way I think about my website and how I plan to manage my blog. Seriously, so glad I found this while I’m still in the planning stages and can put it to good use right away.
I so appreciate all the work that must have gone into this post. The way you organised the information flowed organically and the free tools you suggested are fantastic.
I was so overwhelmed by SEO and Keyword research right up until now; with this info I feel totally fired up and so keen to use what I’ve learned.
Can’t WAIT for part two. Bring it!

Reply
    Aaron Radcliffe
    Aaron Radcliffe says a couple of weeks ago

    Carly thanks so much! Part two is gunna rock – stay posted!

    Reply
Bo Faustino says a couple of weeks ago

This post is mega awesome Aaron! I was really stoked to learn alot of info about keyword research and SEO. Can’t wait for the next part. Keep it rolling.

Reply
    Aaron Radcliffe
    Aaron Radcliffe says a couple of weeks ago

    Thanks Bo! Part 2 is ging to be epic…

    Reply
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