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SEO Keyword Research: Finding Keywords that Will Drive Traffic

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

Keyword research is a huge part of any SEO effort.

Targeting the keywords that your customers are typing into Google means you are more likely to be found in search.

This sounds reasonable. But companies will produce either 1) not produce enough targeted site content, or 2) create content that is aimed toward the people in their industry, rather than their customers.

It’s important that we research what people are searching for, and know how people are searching.

Keyword research analyzes what words customers are typing into Google, and how they search for what they need.

We also want to see where your competition has an advantage, and how we can close the content gap between your business and your competition.

You Probably Have More Keyword Phrases Than You Realize

Most businesses will want to optimize their local SEO for “The service they provide” + “The city or region where they are located”.

This particular keyword phrase will usually be a city specific landing page or the homepage.

Most businesses will end their keyword research right there.

But there are many other things that your customers will be looking for besides just [“your service” + “your city”].

Here’s a working example. Let’s say you do HVAC repair and installation.

Your target customers will be looking for several different things related to heating and cooling at some point.

Those potential customers may search for the following:

  • How to save energy in the summer.
  • Most efficient heater.
  • How to reduce heating costs in the winter.
  • What’s the average air-conditioning bill in [your city]?
  • How often should I change the air filter on my vents?
  • Does my local energy company provide rebates or trade-in incentives?
  • How do the top 10 heaters or air-conditioners stack up against one another in energy consumption?

When you think about keyword phrases, you are actually thinking about questions your customers have, and how to answer them.

The Real Purpose of Keyword Research is Content Creation

Keyword research is more than just optimizing for your main search term. It’s about blanketing all the search terms your customers are likely to have. These are usually called long-tail and short-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are usually defined as four or more words in a search phrase, short-tail keywords are three words or less in a search phrase.

Each one of these questions is an opportunity for your business to answer a customer question and establish your authority as a service provider.

Keyword research is not about determining what search phrase you should repeat over and over.

Holistic SEO is about positioning yourself as the most authoritative brand for the service you provide.

Both your customers and the search engines should have this perception of your brand. The goal is to position your brand as the most likely company to have a solution to a customer question.

Gathering keyword information is the precursor to a whole other set of ongoing tasks. You will have to create interesting, authoritative content to win the SEO battle.

Keyword research will tell you what topics you need to be publishing about. You should already be making a list of the questions that customers ask you over the phone and email. Keyword research provides the other questions that people are trying to find answers for.

Keyword Research Defies What Audience You Attract

Deciding what content to create based on keyword research is an important decision. You are determining what customer base will read your material, based on the keyword phrases for which you create content.

Keyword research should involve not only the monthly volume of the keyword, but also the difficulty, and the search intent of the keyword. Do you have a viable shot at ranking for that phrase? If you rank for that keyword phrase, what type of audience or customer base will you attract?

Tools for SEO Keyword Research

Google Keyword Planner

The Google Keyword Planner is a free tool that you can use to get multiple keyword ideas. You will need a free Google AdWords account to use the Keyword Planner.

Google Keyword Planner

By typing in a keyword phrase, you will get suggestions of related keyword phrases, with the monthly search volume for those phrases.

The Competition column tells you how many people are bidding on that specific search phrase in AdWords. This will give you an indication of how valuable the search term is. High competition means many people are bidding against this search term. Medium means there is some activity on that search term.Low means not many people are bidding on that search term.

Our goal here is not to blindly pump a bunch of money into AdWords, but to gauge the interest around these keywords, and get ideas of where we can create compelling content.

The higher the Suggested Bid is on a term, the higher chance there is that people are searching with the intent to make a purchase.

And the more Average monthly searches there are against a search term, the more people are searching using that phrase.

When there are a lot of searches using a certain keyword phrase, this means it is worthwhile to create some sort of site content for that phrase. It also means it will be more difficult to rank higher for that search term. This means your site content must be more thorough and answer customer questions effectively in order to rank.

Ahrefs Content Gap

Ahrefs is another premium SEO tool with many helpful features. One feature in Ahrefs is Content Gap, which allows you to compare your website against three of your competitors for keywords that they rank for that you do not.

Ahrefs content-gap

This is useful for finding search phrases that your competition is ranking for, and where you have an absence of content. By using this information, you can determine what content you might want to create for your customers.


SEMRush is premium SEO tool that gives you a broader overview of the search phrases you are researching. SEMRush gives you similar suggested keywords, monthly search volume and cost per click (CPC).


One nice feature of SEMRush is it will tell you the projected difficulty of making a specific search phrase rank well as a score from 0-100. SEMRush will also show you the search trends for a given term over time.

Google Instant

One of the most underutilized tools in keyword research is sitting right there in Google.

When you start typing search phrases into Google, do you notice how it starts to give you keyword suggestions? Those search phrases are being suggested to you because that’s what people have been typing into Google!

One way to get keyword ideas is to start typing a single word, and see what comes up as suggestions. Just don’t complete the search. Keep experimenting and taking the search farther out. See what comes up. Keep in mind that many people just pick one of the suggestions as a search term, so these can be excellent search phrases to target.

These are a couple of the tools that we use to find out what your customers are typing in to Google. We use these tools (and others) to assess where your competition is stronger than you are right now.

SEO is a Long-Term Strategy

The end goal of keyword research is to find out what people are typing into search engines and then to produce content that will be found for those search terms. This site content will answer customer questions, and make your brand stronger and more authoritative.

The more customers can trust your brand to teach them and answer their questions, the more that Google will also trust your brand to answer questions.

When you answer questions, people are more likely to link back to your site and share that particular page on other websites. These back links don’t always come quickly. But the more content you produce, the more of them will come. Back links remain the most important part of Google’s algorithm.


Keyword research is the beginning of a lot of work for your marketing team. Once keyword research has been completed, you will know what questions need to be answered with your website content.

That site content that comes from keyword research will go on to improve customer satisfaction, build your brand, and eventually earn back links to your site. This is how you will build your brand and eventually dominate in local SEO.

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

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