Proper keyword research is still one of the most valuable activities in search marketing. Before writing your content, you need to figure out which words people use while searching and get inside of their heads. In order to make sure that you choose the right terms for your content, you need to conduct a deep keyword research with the right keyword research tools , which serves as the first step in SEO strategy planning.

To help you learn how to do an effective keyword research for SEO, we invited Stoney deGeyter, author of "The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!", a speaker, and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, to our SEMrush Chat. He and our other chat guests discussed the following topics:

  • Q1. When starting off on a brand new SEO campaign, what type of research do you prefer: traditional or competitive?

  • Q2. What criteria do you use to determine the quality of a keyword?

  • Q3. Did "not provided" kill SEO?Years later, how are you coping?

  • Q4. How do your keyword research and SEO strategies differ for branded vs. non-branded keywords?

  • Q5. How do you find good long-tail keywords to target that may not have enough volume to show up in tools like Keyword Planner?

  • Q6. What are the main changes and tendencies that we will see in how marketers work with keywords?

Let’s move on to the first question!

Q1. When starting off on a brand new SEO campaign, what type of research do you prefer: traditional or competitive?

Traditional research, which is one of the most common approaches, includes creating long lists of terms and phrases with the help of services such as Google’s Keyword Planner and Keyword Tool. A competitor-based approach, on the other hand, is based on understanding which keywords are performing well for your competitors. When you have a good list of keywords, it is time to refine it and decide what words you are going to optimize for. Here is where competitive analysis can help:

Competitive keyword research allows you to find the words and phrases that give your rivals the highest ROI and find terms with high search volume that haven’t been targeted, yet, by other SEOs in your niche. It is worth figuring out where you stand in relation to your competitors, so you can better develop your SEO campaign.

A combination of these methods can help you to find high-value, low-competition keywords and leverage terms that are already proven, which is why many of our chat participants use both of these approaches as a part of their SEO strategy:

However, the current situation in the SEO field suggests that even these steps are not enough because SEO is all about your audience. Today, Google is putting huge efforts into providing its users with the most relevant content. Which is why a new approach to keyword research is important.

Forward-thinking SEO specialists keep user-intent in mind to better craft their content for their target audience. They think strategically and try to find niche topics based on their audience persona. When developing their content strategy, they combine similar keywords into composite groups to create more relevant, actionable materials, instead of thin, keyword-stuffed content.


Q2. What criteria do you use to determine the quality of a keyword?

  • Search Volume and Competition

A large search volume for a keyword indicates that many people are querying this particular term on Google or other search engines. Take time to evaluate keyword competition to find terms and phrases that not only get high search volumes but also have little to no competition.

  • Relevance to Your Audience

Which words and phrases do your clients use to describe your product or service? Think about these, and other terms, that they use in their daily life that are relevant to your niche. You can do this by using SEMrush's Keyword Magic Tool, researching forums and LinkedIn groups, articles, and blog post comments, and even your own customer support requests.

  • Search Intent

Many of our chat participants pointed out that understanding search intent is one of the main steps in a proper keyword research. Start out by figuring out which category of search query your keyword falls into- informational, navigational, or transactional and based on your goals; you need to optimize your content for a specific type of intent. AJ Ghergich provides an actionable guide explaining why search intent should be your secret weapon to superior keyword research. “Make sure you fulfill the intent behind the keyword. Nuances in phrasing can change intent dramatically,” recommended Stoney deGeyter‏ - @StoneyD.

  • Alignment with Your Web Page

“Does user intent of keyword align with the website?” asked David Gossage‏ - @dgossage1983. If your page doesn’t fulfill your audience’s expectations, your efforts will be insignificant. Imagine that the keywords you included in your SEO campaign helped your users to land on your page, but they didn’t find what they were expecting to see. The reasoning behind this could be because your keywords are not aligned with your page and the message that you are trying to convey to your audience. Your users should understand immediately that the page represents exactly what they clicked on.


Q3. Did "not provided" kill SEO?Years later, how are you coping?

If you see “not provided” in your Google Analytics reporting, it means that Google is choosing not to share the keyword data with you, which is done to protect users’ privacy. In October of 2011, Google announced its strides toward making search behavior more secure. Initially, some SEO specialists were a bit conflicted about this announcement:

Although SEOs no longer have the ability to do an in-depth keyword analysis, they can still perform a strategic analysis. “The plus side is that it helps us focus on the page as a whole, which, I'm sure, is what Google wanted,” pointed out Stoney deGeyter‏ - @StoneyD.

“Not provided” has changed the entire SEO industry, but search engine optimization remains very important, and SEOs can still identify valuable terms and phrases; they just need to adapt their strategies to the realities and keep up with Google’s requirements.

Google wants to make search processes more human, and they give more weight to user-experience on websites, therefore, any webmasters and SEOs that are committed to the old-fashioned optimization techniques have to rethink their strategies.

The evolution toward semantic search suggests that Google is now looking for the meaning and intent behind queries, rather than just terms and phrases. This means that SEOs need to pay more attention to the context of the search and contextualize their writing.


SEO is not dead, but the landscape has changed. Today, forward-thinking search marketers need to focus on targeting topics and their audience, instead of simply chasing keywords.

Q4. How do your keyword research and SEO strategies differ for branded vs. non-branded keywords?

A branded keyword includes your brand name or some variation of it, while all other terms and phrases that don’t reference your company’s name are called non-branded keywords. Branded and non-branded terms reach users at different stages of the purchasing process, as there is a different search intent behind these queries.

Branded keywords can make up the majority of organic search traffic, especially when it comes to large businesses. Therefore, it is essential to analyze your non-branded keywords and traffic. Generally, traffic from branded keywords is not a result of search engine optimization but comes from brand recognition.

Brand searches are seen as high-intent. Users are more likely to click on your organic search listings if they are familiar with your brand; these people already know you and are probably much closer to purchase from you than a visitor who found you while trying to find answers and solutions to their problems. These latter users who use non-branded terms are more likely to be on top of the conversion funnel. They may have some interest in an area that is related to your product, but they want to learn more and keep on researching. This idea can suggest you how to create your content around branded and non-branded keywords. A strategic, sustainable SEO campaign should be focused on both of these groups of terms.


What are your thoughts on the best ways to measure and manage your branded vs. non-branded keyword campaigns? Let us know in the comments!

Q5. How do you find good, long-tail keywords to target that may not have enough volume to show up in tools like Keyword Planner?

Long-tail keywords tend to have fewer searches than short-tail keywords. And, the competition for these highly specific phrases is far less than it is for the direct keywords. What is more, long-tail keywords can drive more targeted traffic, which makes them quite powerful for your SEO campaign.

Here are seven tips for uncovering keywords for your long-tail SEO campaign:

1. Google’s Autocomplete

This is where search predictions come from. Simply start typing into the search box and you will see what other people are searching for on Google, which can give you a ton of long-tail SEO ideas.

2. Google Trends

Google Trends shows you high-volume trending search terms in your industry, plus the growth rate of particular terms. In fact, it reveals user intent, which enables you to create content that is more relevant and valuable to your users. With Google Trends, you can find popular search terms and, more importantly, how their popularity has increased or decreased over the course of time.

3. Q&A Websites, Forums, and Social Media

There are many Q&A sites, but Quora is the most popular one. Regardless of the industry you work in, Quora provides a huge number of relevant questions and answers from thought leaders in different niches. When analyzing a particular question, make sure to check the related questions section, where you can uncover potential long-tail keywords opportunities.

You can also use forums that are relevant to your industry to find out-of-the-box keyword ideas that you may never knew existed:

Our special guest also recommends searching through social media platforms where your audience spends their time. This can help you find out what your target users are looking for and the problems they want to solve.

4. Answer The Public

Answer The Public is a search query data visualization tool loved by many digital marketers. It provides you with a comprehensive list of questions and queries your audience has, giving you a free report of what they are searching for in Google.

5. Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a great place to find opportunities for more traffic from long-tail keywords. Aside from your brand name, which is most likely your most popular query, you can also see some other unexpected phrases that you are getting traffic from. When you see which of your pages are ranking for these phrases, you can better understand how to leverage your content with new keywords.

6. Google AdWords

Check out your search query report in AdWords to see a list of terms that your site shows up for. With Google AdWords, you can spot some long-tail keywords that converted or the ones that have a good amount of clicks.

7. Talking To Your Colleagues

It can be surprising how many keyword ideas you can get from simply talking to your sales and customer support teams. These people have a deep understanding of your audience because they communicate with them on a regular basis. They can help you to find out what bothers your target users, which will provide you with more insights about which phrases and questions you should include in your content.


A thoughtful optimization strategy should include a long-tail keyword research and analysis. It will help you upgrade your SEO and content campaign.

Q6. What are the main changes and tendencies that we will see in how marketers work with keywords?

At the end of our discussion, our chat participants named some tendencies that shape today’s SEO world and keyword research landscape, as well as their tips for embracing these trends:

  • Stop thinking solely about keywords and think about the topics and information that people want to know.

  • Utilize keywords to arm yourself with language and topics.

  • Leverage related words in your content.

  • Pay attention to the tiny nuances that will increasingly make the differences, as contextual search will continue to gain strength.

  • Keep in mind the move towards voice and conversational search.

  • Answer people’s queries and always make sense, as semantic will dominate in the upcoming time.

  • Make sure your keywords answer questions.

  • Give more weight to local and on-demand keywords like “pizza delivery near me”.

  • Focus more on search intent and less on search volume.

  • Plan your strategy with device diversity in mind.

Special thanks to the following chat guests who helped us collect these tips: @StoneyD, @SaadAlikhan1994, @chimpfish, @dawnieando, @timlev4, @YounessBermime, and @AccuraCast.

We would like to thank Stoney deGeyter and our other chat guests who made this discussion interesting and productive!

Make sure to join us this Wednesday for our “scary good” chat with Hotjar!

Author Photo
Maria KalyadinaMaria is the Social Media Marketing Manager at SEMrush and the host of the weekly #SEMrushchat. You can always connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter! Join the #SEMrushChat every Wednesday at 11 am ET/ 4 pm BST!
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