Updated: Aug 1
I was recently asked if there's a way to do keyword research for free.
Finding good keywords is both an art and a science. There’s no one correct way to research them, and there’s no one way that guarantees your content will rank, even by using these expensive tools, and even when you use them correctly.
There are too many variables that you can’t control, like what other content is out there, or what people are searching for, and how often.
But there are ways to identify keywords for free, and this is what I’m going to cover in this post:
So let’s get going!
1) What is Google looking for?
We know two things:
Google wants to promote information that is genuinely useful and helpful to their audience.
High quality content rules.
So if you’re able to produce high quality content that directly addresses a search query, and addresses a search query better than everyone else who is also writing about that search term, your content will rank.
So you should always start by thinking about your end user, and their intent.
Who is the person searching Google for the content you’re providing?
What is the answer they’re looking for?
2) What is your target audience looking for?
First of all, you should think yourself into your user’s shoes. And think about long-tail keywords. I would generally avoid short keywords: the competition is generally too high for them with sites that are just starting out.
And then, head straight over to Google search for a bit of inspiration.
Type in the topic you’re looking for, and see what comes up as suggestions.
Google is trying to be helpful here: these are real searches that people are conducting in Google. So you know that there is traffic for these terms.
However, the chances are that these terms already have good answers, so what you want to do next is click on one of the results, and look for the ‘People also ask’ section.
This gives you a nice list of things that Google knows people are asking. The only thing you don't know is how many people are searching for them, and how hard it would be to compete with the top ranking content that already exists for these terms.
3) How to use Google to find lots of keywords
Then if you keep clicking on the questions, more and more questions will start to appear.
A lot of these are great blog post titles, and you know that people are searching for them, so they are good terms to use for blog post titles, and within blog posts themselves.
So you now have a great list of possible blog post titles, but you’re flying blind as to how difficult it is to rank for them.
A lot of the time – to be perfectly honest – this level of research is sufficient for niche interest blog articles, etc.
I built my previous business’s blog to 100k organic visitors per month using this technique. Actually – to be honest – I didn’t even always research the keywords. I just wrote content that I thought would directly answer a query, or be genuinely useful to someone searching online.
The only thing you don’t know is a) how much competition there is for that search term (i.e. how difficult it is to rank for that term) and b) how many people are searching for that term (it could be a lot, or very few). So you’re taking a gamble as to how easy it will be to rank for these terms. It might be very easy, or very difficult.
4) Keywords for business terms
Business terms are a lot harder to rank for. There is generally much more competition, so that’s when it’s worth going a step further and employing the tools like Ahrefs and Semrush to conduct more detailed research.
The next step you can take by just using Google Search results to guide your research, is to then analyse each of the questions and the leading articles that are provided when you click on each one.
Often, these questions already have answers from high authority sites, which means they’ll be hard to rank for (but not impossible).
5) Finding keyword opportunities
However, sometimes you’ll see links like this that are a golden opportunity:
Anything that lists Yelp, LinkedIn, or one of those similar list curation sites, that compile links but don’t add much content beyond that, as a top result, is an opportunity for a business in Google. (In case anyone’s interested, ‘dog sitter Somerville’ was the keyword I used to find this: please someone go build that website!).
So if you come across an article like this in first position on Google, there’s a huge opportunity to outrank that page for your chosen search term.
It takes a bit of digging, and some intuition, but terms like this are there.
6) How to get keywords to rank
If you identify an opportunity where competition is weak, there’s a pretty easy way to get your own content ranking higher for that specific search term.
Just create better content, that answers the query more perfectly than anyone else has already done.
That might mean writing a 1500-word article, or a 500-word article, or even a 5000-word article. If your answer is the best, most thoroughly researched, most authoritative content, that is endorsed by other high authority websites linking directly to it, you will win out in search.
Yes I realise I make it sound simple. But it kind of is.
7) In summary: to get your content to rank in Google, do this:
So to finish up, I’ll summarize what I hope you’ll take away from this article:
Yes, you can do keyword research for free
Focus on answering someone’s detailed query better than anyone else already has.
BUT Using industry tools give you a competitive advantage.
If you follow these principles, you’ll stand a good chance of your content ranking, without ever having paid for a single keyword research tool.
My name's Claire and I’m an SEO and content strategy expert. I help startups and ambitious businesses improve their content, so that customers can find your website in search, and so that when they do, they convert.
I’m a former startup CEO, and I’ve worked for some of the world’s biggest publishers (Penguin Random House, Oxford University Press), as well as training with Google's in-house SEO team. I even built a website to attract 45k in organic search visitors/month. Drop me a line if you need help of any kind with SEO and content.
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