3 keyword research techniques for better search engine rankings

Posted by Rob Kendal on 19-May-2016 15:04:19

In an age where content is rife and everyone's scrabbling for the top search engine rankings to get found, how can you up your content strategy and improve your keyword research game to compete?

Well you're in luck! We're going to show you some great ideas to get your keyword research juices flowing with these 3 keyword research techniques that you can actually use.

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It's all about those keywords

As an inbound marketing agency we spend a lot of time working with clients to help them create a good picture of their ideal customers with buyer personas and then target these ideal clients through high-quality, relevant content.

Content is at the heart of any inbound marketing campaign and crafting quality content takes time and effort, but a solid starting point for any content plan is to look at the keywords you want to be found for by your prospective customers.

The ideal approach is to start with a topic (e.g. if you're an accountancy firm you might start with 'small business accounting') and then think of some keywords that branch off from this topic (e.g. again for an accountancy this might be 'vat returns' or 'self assessment'). 

Once you've got a good handful of starter keywords, it's time to look at how to expand this list into some niches.

We're going to start with the completely arbitrary topic of 'rollerskates' and go from there as we travel through the following 3 techniques.

1. Check popularity with Google Keyword Planner 

One of the key goals when planning and researching good keywords to base your content around is uncovering keywords that balance good monthly search volume versus a low competition. Essentially we're looking for terms that lots of people search for but that are easy to rank highly for across search engines.

A good place to start is with the Google Keyword Planner tool, which is a feature of Google's AdWords. You do have to have a Google Account and AdWords Account to get started, but you don't have to have an active AdWords campaign (i.e. spend money on pay per click advertising) in place to use the tool.

Getting started

Google Keyword Planner tool initial entry screenWhen you first log in you'll see a simple form to get you started, just like the one in the screenshot to your right.

Enter your keywords (or products and services) in the first box; you'll see we've opted for 'cheap rollerskates' to begin with.

You can leave the rest of the boxes largely unedited to get started quickly. The only options we've changed are in the Targeting section as we wanted to focus solely on UK based results in English,

If you want to change anything then it's worth exploring the Negative keywords option. This allows you to specify search terms that you don't want to include. For example, we're looking for 'cheap rollerskates', but we don't want related keywords such as 'rollerskating lessons' to be included in the results.

Once you're happy with the form, hit Get ideas and get ready for the next screen - the important results!

Exploring the results

Where the Keyword Planner shines is that you can mine tons of data direct from Google themselves about your chosen keyword(s) and some popular alternatives to give you some ideas around your theme or topic.

Google Keyword Planner tool results screen

So, the screengrab above is a section of the typical Keyword Planner results page. You'll see a number of important sections highlighted that can be explained as below:

  1. Your search term - this is where the list of search terms you entered will be shown. You can see we searched for 'cheap rollerskates'
  2. Keyword alternatives - following the list of terms you searched for is the list of alternative keywords that Google feels are relevant and related to the search terms you started with. This is great because you get a set of new ideas that can accompany or replace your original phrases.
  3. Search volume - ahh the search volume column. This is where we can really start to plan which search terms we should target. You can see from our original term that 'cheap rollerskates' only has around 20 monthly searches, which is pretty poor. However, 'roller skates for women' has around 1600, which makes that keyword much more appealing.

Judging the best keywords to choose

Don't get too caught up in the terms with the higher search volumes. For example, 'roller skates' on it's own might have 27K monthly searches, but there is every chance that the competition is too fierce to rank naturally for this term and that it might be too generic anyway to be worth the effort.  After all, what are people searching for? Roller skates to buy, roller skates to hire, a history of roller skates, roller skate parts and accessories? 

We haven't talked about the competition column as it's a bit difficult to use the information it returns for our purposes of organic search rank climbing. The competition column represents how many other advertisers wish to be ranked for that particular keyword. The higher the competition, the more you'll have to pay to advertise on Google. 

What we're interested in is the difficulty in ranking for a particular search term naturally, so a more useful approach to gauge the difficulty in ranking a particular keyword using other tools and taking a look at the results page for that keyword. Type it into Google and see what the first page looks like; if it's full of directory pages and Yahoo answers then you might stand a better chance of ranking faster and knocking these pages off the top spots.

Of course, the Keyword Planner tool is just one bit of kit in your keyword research tool belt, but it's a good jumping off point to discover how popular your chosen search terms are and to highlight some other terms you might not have thought of.

2. Get new ideas with online tools like Ubersuggest

The Google Keyword Planner is an excellent tool and has earned its spot in our list of keyword research techniques. To compliment this, we'd recommend looking at some other tools to discover more about the competitiveness of particular keywords and refine our list further.


Ubersuggest initial entry screen

Ubersuggest is a free and popular supplemental tool to have in your arsenal when hunting down those valuable keywords. Pulling from different set of results than Google's Keyword Planning tool it opens up a wealth of different results that will broaden your keyword horizons and help you think up new content ideas. 

Ubersuggest keyword results screenStart by entering your search term as before (we've gone for 'cheap rollerskates' again) and hit suggest. What you'll see next is a huge list of results of variations on your theme (see screenshot)..

Our simple starting search returned over 150 different results!

From here you can add results to a list to export for later use, or drill into individual terms and explore those in greater detail. 

One of the best features is the Google Trends data that you can explore for each and every result on show. Click on any result and select Google Trends from the drop down list.

What you'll see is a pop up showing the interest in that specific keyword over the last 12 months. Using our 'cheap rollerskates' again, you'll see that the peak was around the end of Spring at 100 searches per month.

Ubersuggest Google Trends results popup

You can find out more about Ubersuggest on their website which includes helpful tutorial videos, and a free browser plugin to get search volumes on the go.



SEMrush offers a combination of Google's Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest in a way. You can start for free and what you get is a hugely detailed dashboard just like the one in the screenshot below.

SEMrush dashboard screenshot

SEMrush's all in one SEO tool is a veritable Swiss Army Knife in the SEO world offering you detailed access to keyword competitiveness and ranking difficulty, a who's who of top search results for your keywords, as well as trend data over a period of time for your search terms.

There are caveats to their free tool in that you can't save projects, and are restricted on reports, exports, and the number of searches you can perform, but it's a fantastic place to start and worth looking into if you fancy making the jump to a paid tool.

Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz are the kings of SEO. Founded by Rand Fishkin in 2004, Moz offers the excellent tool, Moz Keyword Explorer.

With the Moz Keyword Explorer you can access a huge wealth of search research data on a range of keywords. Moz offer a range of free SEO and search science tools, but are a little more restrictive in some of their offerings, such as the Keyword Explorer. 

However, the Keyword Explorer is another good web app to use as part of your keyword research techniques to really round out your overall planning.

Moz Keyword Explorer dashboard screenshot

As you can see from the screenshot above, we entered our familiar keyword 'cheap rollerskates' and were presented with some valuable data on the ranking difficulty as well as the search volume and opportunity. 

Like SEMrush, Moz also provide some keyword suggestions, Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) analysis and allow you to drill down into other keywords for more of the same.

3. Take your list and go niche!

The big aim with compiling any keyword list is to find the balance between high search volume but low difficulty in ranking for those search terms. 

A good way to build a strong keyword list when researching is to use the handful of search terms you find and make them into what are known as long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are simply longer, more specific versions of a starting topic or phrase. 

Taking our starting topic of 'rollerskates', consider the following:

  • Starting topic - 'rollerskates'
  • Head term keywords - 'cheap rollerskates', 'rollerskates for women', outdoor rollerskates'
  • Long tail keywords - 'cheap rollerskates for hire', 'rollerskates for women's roller derby', 'best rollerskates for outdoor use'.

By looking at longer, more specific / niche keywords, you'll be able to build a strong list of keywords to build your content around to reach more targeted traffic and that's the key phase here, targeted!

In going more niche, you'll usually reach fewer searchers, but the searchers are more likely to be more aligned to your target audience and more likely to convert. 

Keep it simple, do some homework, bask in the results

Try not to over think keyword research too much, especially if you're new to it. Start with a few ideas, find some more and aim for that goal of less quantity, more quantity. Build a solid starting list of maybe 10-20 keywords, see how you can go more niche with long tail versions of those keywords and start producing that remarkable content!

Other SEO resources

You might want to check out these other SEO resources we have across our other articles:

 Book an inbound marketing assessment today to see how inbound marketing strategy could help your business

Topics: Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Written by Rob Kendal

Rob has enjoyed a rewarding career in technology, from IT infrastructure through to software development, working with clients such as Virgin Holidays and the NHS. He understands the needs, challenges and logistics involved in making technology work for business and how to market it effectively.
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