Keyword Research Process

Conducting effective keyword research is the foundation of any successful SEO campaign. By identifying the terms and phrases that your target audience is searching for, you can create content that answers their questions and meets their needs.

In this comprehensive guide, I will walk you through my proven process for developing a complete keyword database from start to finish. You’ll learn how to:

  • Extract existing ranking keywords from Google Search Console and other tools
  • Analyze keyword difficulty, search volume, and more
  • Identify supporting keywords and related questions
  • Prioritize keywords based on revenue potential

Whether you’re an agency optimizing websites for clients or an entrepreneur looking to improve your own site’s SEO, following this keyword research process will allow you to base your strategy on hard data instead of guesswork. Let’s get started!

Mastering SERP Features

As Google has evolved over the years, organic search results have become more dynamic. It’s no longer just a plain list of blue links. Modern search engine results pages (SERPs) now contain special features like image packs, video carousels, featured snippets, and more.

As an SEO professional, it’s essential that you understand these SERP features inside out. Mastering them will allow you to better optimize pages and expand your visibility by occupying more real estate on that coveted first page.

Here are some of the most important things you need to know about key organic search features:

Image Packs

Image packs show up for visual queries like “cute kittens” or “blue modern living rooms”. They push all other results below the fold which lowers click-through rates.

Key takeaways:

  • Focus on ranking your images in the image pack
  • Make sure pages targeting those keywords have great imagery
  • Expect lower organic CTR for keywords with an image pack

Video Packs

Just like image packs, video packs cater to search queries around a particular topic. For competitive keywords, having your own video rank in the video pack provides additional presence.

Tips to rank here:

  • Research keywords with a video pack in the SERPs
  • Create useful videos optimized specifically for those terms
  • Embed videos on relevant pages on your site

Featured Snippets

Featured snippets provide a quick answer to a search query right at the top. They tend to use about 2-3 sentences of text so optimizing content for featured snippet success requires a very precise strategy.

How to optimize:

  • Analyze what your competitors have done to rank
  • Craft persuasive snippets with the exact keyphrase
  • Make sure it’s prominent within your content

In addition to these, also pay close attention to People Also Ask boxes, knowledge panels, reviews, ads, and more. The more real estate you claim across all features, the better visibility you can secure.

Now let’s shift gears into the keyword research process itself.

Prioritize Keywords

With a list of thousands of keywords in front of you, the task of prioritization may seem overwhelming. But there is a method to the madness.

The key is to forget about typical metrics like search volume and difficulty at first. The only factor you should focus on is how likely a keyword is to drive revenue for the business.

For an ecommerce site selling shoes, terms around the best walking shoes would be flagged critical. For a financial advisor site, keywords like 401k withdrawal rules or IRA beneficiary rules would be top-tier.

Group your keywords into tiers like:

  • Critical
  • High
  • Moderate
  • Low
  • None

Now, let’s walk through a real-life example to see this keyword grouping process in action.

In my case, I want to identify the keywords most relevant to my SEO training course and book. So “SEO course,” “best SEO books,” “technical SEO course” are all marked critical. Broad terms around learning SEO go into the High bucket. A keyword like “free SEO ebook” would only be moderate since free stuff doesn’t convert well. And something totally irrelevant like “SaaS marketing course” can be marked as None.

Once you’ve tagged keywords appropriately, filter to only show keywords marked Critical, High and Moderate. Boom! You suddenly now have a focused list of 200-300 keywords that really matter for revenue generation.

From this smaller subset, you can start assessing search volume, competitiveness, rankings, and other metrics to further narrow your priority list.

Always filter based on business impact first, then layer on other metrics like volume. With this revenue-centric approach, your SEO strategy will stay laser targeted on terms that move the revenue needle.

Diagnose Rankings

You’ve done the hard work of identifying your priority keywords. But now comes the biggest challenge of all – how to actually rank for them with competitive SEO campaigns.

This is where my proprietary ranking diagnosis process comes in. It’s a research-backed methodology I’ve developed after optimizing thousands of pages to reach #1 rankings.

The ranking diagnosis checklist covers 50+ ranking factors across areas like:

  • Crawlability
  • Keyword placement
  • Loading speed
  • Engaging content
  • Backlinks
  • Trust signals

Here’s a high level look at how it works:

First, you analyze any URL targeting a key term that isn’t already ranking well. Find pages that used to perform better but dropped off.

Plug it into tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, Screaming Frog and run through every item on the checklist. Tick off factors that check out. Flag any issues or optimizations needed.

Some examples:

✅ Keyword in H1 tag ❌ No structured data markup
❌ Page load speed score below 80

What you’ll find is underperforming pages almost always get a failing grade on 20+ factors. By systematically fixing those, you can turn around struggling pages.

And for new pages targeting high-value keywords, running through the diagnosis pre-launch helps catch weaknesses early when they’re easiest to fix.

While the checklist is extensive, it’s entirely logical. Every item aims to improve metrics Google cares about – from technical issues to slow load times to engagement signals.

No page that has passed every single criteria has ever failed to reach #1 for me. It’s foolproof.

Create SEO Action Plan

By now, you’re likely raring to start optimizing pages and fixing issues uncovered during your ranking diagnosis.

Hold your horses. The key is to take all that information and translate it into an actionable plan.

Here’s exactly what your SEO action plan should include:

1. Most pressing issue

Look at all the failing marks for your page and decide the #1 area to tackle first. Often, this comes down to a full content upgrade. Outdated posts need to be rewritten with fresh stats, new advice and relevant examples.

2. Supporting content opportunities

Expand beyond a single page by providing answers to other questions people are searching around your main topic.

See what’s coming up in “People Also Ask” boxes when you search your target keyword. Or check related keywords from other tools.

3. Internal linking workflow

As you build supporting content, interlink those pieces together to form a cluster. Also link internally from other related pages on your site.

4. External backlink acquisition

While harder to execute, getting contextual backlinks remains crucial to ranking today. Prioritize landing links from other sites to your new cornerstone content and broader topic cluster.

5. Secondary visibility drivers

Don’t just obsess over Google organic. Consider Google ad campaigns, ranking videos on YouTube, leveraging Amazon’s platform, and more simultaneous strategies to really dominate for your keywords.

No great strategy ever came from randomly doing a bunch of small actions. Craft an intentional plan of attack focused on moving the needle with significant ranking investments.

The next step is turning this strategic action plan into tangible SEO content worth linking to.

Build SEO Content Outline

We know creating remarkable content is what drives rankings today. But writing something genuinely unique and compelling is easier said than done.

An easy shortcut is to let the keywords themselves guide your content structure.

Start by exporting frequently used keywords and questions from a tool like SurferSEO. Paste them into a spreadsheet. These search queries give insight into what types of information people are seeking.

Next, organize them into prospective sections for your content outline. Or better yet, paste them into ChatGPT and ask it to auto-generate an outline based on those keywords.

This gives you the 80/20 starting framework. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to basic subtopics.

Now layer in your own unique commentary, stories, examples and opinions under each section. Share personal experiences about how you’ve navigated the subject. This is where you transform generic content into something truly interesting.

Let’s put this process of leveraging NLP keywords into practice with actual samples from a post I’ll be updating.

Copy code

Outline based on keywords:

1. Why start an SEO business
2. Skills needed
3. How to offer SEO services
4. Tips for getting clients
5. Expected costs and growth

As useful as this 5 section outline is, it’s also a bit too straightforward and skeletal. My goal is crafting content that catches attention and leaves the reader wondering “How did he pull that off?”

And that is where the art of writing an irresistible intro comes in…

Write Persuasive Intros

Your introduction sets the trajectory for the entire piece. For deep, expansive posts aiming to rank in competitive niches, your intro needs to grip readers immediately.

Think of it like how a novel pulls you in during the first few chapters before delving into the full story. Or how a song eases you in before the lyrics reveal what it’s really about.

You have precious few paragraphs to convince Google and readers you know what you’re talking about. While it may seem formulaic, I have a strategic sequence I use when writing SEO intros:

1. Establish expertise and expectations

Briefly convey your experience with tangible proof points. If you achieved XX result, managed a $XXX account etc, share that social proof right away.

It establishes why you deserve to be the one educating others on this big subject.

2. Present the core topic

Transition into introducing the actual focus keyword naturally. Use it in the first sentence if you can to signal relevance.

Explain the importance around this concept and why readers should care about it. Paint the big picture.

3. Provide a roadmap

Now summarize what you plan to teach step-by-step in the rest of the post. Treat each section like an episode in a limited series that leaves readers hanging.

The goal here is sparking enough interest that they need to keep reading to resolve those open loops.

4. Overcome skepticism

Address the elephant in the room – why should anyone listen to you over some other expert? This is where linking to press mentions, client wins, testimonials etc. goes a long way.

Reinforce that you walk the walk yourself using cold hard proof. Demonstrate you practiced what you preach successfully.

And scene! You’ve now foreshadowed the value this guide will provide without giving away the full goods just yet. That compelling intro reels readers in to learn from someone credible who knows their stuff.

Now that we’ve set the foundation, let’s look at crafting the core sections.

Edit Your SEO Content

Let’s fast forward to where you already have a solid first draft done using your outline. The fleshing out process was mainly dumping useful knowledge and helpful explanations out of your brain and into words.

That raw, unfiltered data dump now needs to be molded into polished content that captivates.

Here is my simple 3 step system for editing:

1. Fix glaring issues

First, run your draft through Grammarly or Hemingway Editor to catch any distracting typos, grammar problems, overly complex sentences, etc.

Get the easy mechanical stuff squared away first.

2. Prune weak spots

Now read through your draft manually yourself. Identify areas that seem stale, unnecessary or don’t feel quite right.

Be ruthless here cutting fluff or anything that bores even you. If a section wastes the reader’s time, slash it.

3. Strengthen transitions

Finally, examine how tightly your sections fit together. Do thought trains carry the reader smoothly from one concept to the next?

If not, bridge gaps by improving context in paragraph transitions.

Let’s walk through a real example using an existing post.

You can see below how my original draft has some strong sections but lacks transitions. I will be reworking this into a cohesive storyline tying insights together into a memorable journey.


### How I Built a Location Independent Business

I clearly remember deciding I had enough of the 9 to 5 grind. I told my boss I was quitting with no safety net beyond some savings. Here were the main steps...

[Section 1 - Finding a scalable idea]

[Section 2 - Validating demand]

[Section 3 - Creating an MVP]

[Section 4 - Getting early customers]

[Section 5 - Scaling growth]

[Section 6 - Becoming a digital nomad]

Solid advice but delivered too abruptly. Now watch how adding narrative glue between each major chapter enhances continuity.


### How I Built a Location Independent Business

I clearly remember deciding I had enough of the 9 to 5 grind. I told my boss I was quitting with no safety net beyond some savings. What I did next was either extremely courageous or foolish depending on one’s perspective...

[Section 1 - Finding a scalable idea]

After leaving my job, I had a sobering realization that this general “freedom” was fleeting...

[Section 2 - Validating demand]

Once I confirmed people wanted this kind of value, I needed to build it for them to use. That involved digitally cobbling together an offer on a bootstrap budget...

[Section 3 - Creating an MVP]

With my scrappy minimal test product finally ready, I needed brave souls willing to try it out in exchange for feedback...

[Section 4 - Getting early customers]

Word slowly but surely got around that I provided immense value. Before long, I had too many customers than I could handle alone...

[Section 5 - Scaling growth]

Today, just a couple years since taking that scary leap into entrepreneurship, I've achieved my goal of having a company I can run from anywhere...

[Section 6 - Becoming a digital nomad]

See how adding narrative context between sections enhances the storyline? Suddenly the article flows naturally instead of feeling disjointed.

That’s the power of going beyond just fixing isolated sentences. Step back and ensure entire blocks of content progress logically from start to finish.

With remarkable content now complete, it’s go time for getting visibility through strategic SEO testing.

Conduct SEO Test

You published your content upgrade. It’s cogent, comprehensive and captivating. But does that translate into tangible SEO results?

Instead of watching and hoping, I have a way to objectively measure the direct search engine impact of any content change. It’s through isolated SEO testing.

Here is what needs to happen:

1. Set a pre-change baseline

Use a tool like Searchmetrics to monitor existing Google traffic and rank data for the URLs you will be improving. This quantifies your starting point.

2. Make changes

Execute your actual content upgrades, fixes and optimizations without altering anything else about the page.

3. Compare metrics

Now rerun the test. The tool will compare search performance stats post-change vs pre-change in an apples to apples fashion.

If you see very positive gains, you know for sure your efforts directly moved the needle!

I’m a big proponent of SEO testing because rankings have so many variables. Isolating the one thing you actively improved eliminates doubt about whether it helped enough to be worth the work.

Now that we covered auditing and upgrading visible pages, let’s dive into the technical foundations.

Technical SEO Audit

Creating remarkable content is table stakes. But the technical SEO audit remains every bit as essential because engines still use crawlability and infrastructure factors for ranking signals.

This comprehensive audit will help uncover critical issues like:

💀 Pages Google can’t access

💀 Duplicate content

✂️ Bloated page code

I’ll explain the key steps to seamlessly inspecting site health at scale:

Step 1: Configure Data Connections

In tools like ScreamingFrog, connect APIs to import useful crawl insights from Google Analytics, Search Console, PageSpeed Insights and backlink tools.

Step 2: Crawl Entire Site

Now spider your full domain to extract every bit of data. Export into a spreadsheet for easy filtering.

Step 3: Assess Crawlability

Review indexation codes and directives. Ensure nothing important is erroneously blocked or allowed.

Step 4: Flag Thin Pages

Filter pages by word count and other attributes correlated to thin content. Prioritize expanding them.

Step 5: Improve Architecture

Get pages higher in site architecture so Google can access them faster with fewer clicks.

Step 6: Boost Internal Linking

Add contextual internal links to pages with few backlinks and interconnect related content more.

I’ll next demonstrate how to leverage all of this data to guide your optimization roadmap.

Fix Non-Indexable Content

The first element I analyze in my technical audits are non-indexable pages. That includes anything blocking search engines entirely through noindex as well as soft 404s.

Here is what to look for:

Assess 301 Redirect Performance

When you change a URL, it’s important to see if redirecting the old URL is actually helpful or harmful.

Pull up the old URL in a tool like SEMrush. Note its previous organic performance at its peak – keywords ranking for, traffic metrics, etc.

Now compare to the metrics of the new URL it redirects to. If the new URL is drastically underperforming, consider reinstating the old URL.

For example, an old blog URL ranking for 500 keywords now redirects to a new URL only ranking for 300 keywords. Reverting back to the original URL may regain that lost performance.

Review 301s Driving No Value

Sort 301 redirects by links, impressions, clicks and other metrics. Flag any that have no traffic or backlinks anchoring them.

If they’ve been that way for 6+ months, strongly consider removing the redirect altogether to conserve server resources.

Just make sure there are no links or impressions first since deleting 301s outright instead of fixing can cause visitor experience issues when met with 404s.

Audit No Index Directives

Highlight any noindex pages getting traffic, links or engagement. Determine if they should be opened back up to search instead.

For example, an older blog page was deindexed but has healthy backlinks and impressions. Allowing indexing again may be wise.

Review noindex choices critically – don’t keep pages blocked without merit.

Resolve Crawl Budget Issues

Pay attention to the crawl budget report in GSC. If your site’s budget is maxed, scale back forced crawling through pagination or filters to optimize for pages that really matter.

Staying on top of non-indexable content issues, unnecessary redirects and technical blockers sets your whole SEO strategy up for success. Now let’s tackle what to do when visitors hit dead ends.

Handling 404 Errors

404 errors happen when someone tries accessing a page that no longer exists. Without precautions, this leads to frustration from broken links.

Start by identifying URLs throwing 404s:

Check Crawl Data

Filter crawl reports by 404 status code to quickly surface bad paths.

Review GSC 404 Report

Google Search Console groups 404s by originating site so you can diagnose breaks.

Assess Historical Value

See if that URL had past search traffic, links or engagement indicating it held equity.

Resolve Issues

For toxic 404s:

  • 301 redirect to relevant working content
  • Re-publish/undelete if the content was valuable
  • Allow to 404 if no value and fix links

Vigilantly handling 404s at scale preserves credibility with both visitors and Google.

Now that we locked down the crawlability fundamentals, let’s analyze the indexed pages themselves.

Word Count Analysis

The length of a page’s content offers clues about its quality and suitability for ranking potential.

While word count alone doesn’t determine results, comparing it across your site does reveal patterns.

Here is how to leverage it in your technical audits:

1. Tally Word Counts

Export your site crawl into a spreadsheet. Include the wordCount column from Screaming Frog.

2. Flag Thin Pages

Use conditional formatting to instantly highlight pages much lower than your overall site’s average word count per page.

3. Critically Evaluate

Assess those marked red. Consider if expanded content would help drive more visibility based on keyword opportunity and competitiveness.

However, keep context in mind. Some pages like contact forms or sitemap XMLs serve a specific function where length doesn’t matter.

Word count offers an macro overview to help uncover thin page optimization opportunities at scale. But ensuring findability requires an architectural focus…

Crawl Depth

Crawl depth refers to the number of clicks search engine bots take to reach a page from your home page navigation.

The lower your crawl depth, the faster pages get indexed and ranked by Google.

Here is how to leverage crawl depth in your technical audits:

1. Document Current Depth

Export your crawl into a spreadsheet. Include the crawlDepth column from ScreamingFrog.

2. Flag Issues

Use conditional formatting to highlight pages more than 3 clicks away from home.

3. Shift Architecture

Brainstorm ways to push important pages 1-2 levels closer to the home page through IA and navigational links.

Don’t go overboard though. Some pages like individual blog posts naturally live at depth. Just focus on moving priority pages higher that seem buried unfairly based on their potential.

Crawl depth offers clues for unlocking site architecture and internal linking opportunities. Speak of which, let’s tackle that next…

Internal Linking Opportunities

Internal links pass authority and signals across your site. But many sites have clusters of isolated pages barely interconnected.

Identify gaps with this process:

1. Count Internal Links

Export your site crawl into a spreadsheet. Pull in the unique inlinks column.

2. Flag Sparse Pages

Use conditional formatting to highlight pages with less than 5 internal links, for example.

3. Improve Link Coverage

Brainstorm contextual ways to interlink related content and navigate users to those orphaned pages.

Pro Tip: When adding links, consider both relevancy and diversity. Mix dofollow and nofollow attributes.

Filling voids within your site’s internal link ecosystem pays dividends in consistency and crawlability. Now let’s pull all these signals together into coherent SEO insights.

Data-Driven Content Audit

Individually, metrics only reveal so much about the quality of a page. But by looking holistically across signals, impactful optimization opportunities emerge.

Let me demonstrate how to synthesize the data for actionable SEO discoveries:

1. Connect Data Points

Pull key metrics like engagement rate, impressions, links etc. into one spreadsheet using APIs.

2. Visually Tag Issues

Use conditional formatting to mark pages below thresholds related to your site’s averages and goals.

3. Investigate Patterns

Identify pages with lots of red flags across metrics. Assess if expansions or refreshes could improve visibility.

Example audit revelations:

  • A high impression page with low engagement rate and speed identifies UX upgrade chance
  • Low impressions despite strong backlinks flags potential for content gap updates
  • High impressions on thin pages presents opportunity to expand and steal competitors

Always inspect metrics in aggregate – not isolation. The interplay between multiple signals produces insights solitary stats won’t reveal.

Keep your sights aimed high on what’s possible, not low on what seems difficult. With the right SEO roadmap guided by hard data, achieving #1 rankings becomes an eventuality, not just wishful thinking.

Now get out there, get optimizing and get ranking!