Every time you type a phrase into your search engine, you're using a search term. Search terms help grab attention and boost your SEO with keywords, but search terms are not considered keywords.

We'll explore what search terms are and why they’re important to your marketing strategy. We’ll also show you how you can use the Semrush tool to find search terms to target with organic and paid search strategies. 

Why Do You Need To Research Search Terms?

Search terms commonly use one or two keywords. You'll want to rank for a keyword that's used in many search terms.

Search terms also indicate a customer’s search intent. Search intent gives us an idea of the kind of content Google will show in the search results. 

If your website targets a certain search intent, then knowing what search terms are used will add to the likelihood your website will pop up first on the SERP. Additionally, understanding what terms people are using when searching can save you a lot of money on your PPC campaigns.

Once you have researched a variety of search terms, and have isolated the keyword you want to target, make sure you have that keyword in all the important locations like your webpage's meta description, page title, and H1 tags. 

Before you jump into finding search terms with keyword research, check out our guide to using the Semrush tool for keyword research.

Find Terms Your Website Ranks For with the Keyword Overview Tool

When you begin your Search Term research, start with the Keyword Overview tool. You can find the tool under the Keyword Research toolkit.

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What if you were selling a product, such as noise-canceling headphones? Start by entering your target keywords or phrases into the tool's text input, select the country you wish to target and select "Analyze."

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From the above image, you can see that there are 110,000 searches for your target keyword in the USA per month. The keyword variations have some brands in there, like Bose and Sony.

If you look at the Questions column, you can see some of the search terms people are using when looking for noise-canceling headphones.

Common questions people ask about noise-canceling headphones include "how do noise-canceling headphones work?" and "what are the best noise-canceling headphones?" You can use these questions to develop informative and useful content, like "how-to" or shopping guides. 

Further down the page, you'll find the Keyword Ad History thematic report. Use this report for further insight into paid ad campaigns currently targeting this keyword, and whether it's worth investing money into those keywords.

You can also use the Keyword Difficulty score to determine whether a keyword is useful or viable. The higher a keyword's KD score, the harder it would be for a website to rank organically in the Google top 10 for the analyzed keyword.

Following this example, a KD score of 89% indicates that trying to crack the market with ‘noise-canceling headphones’ could be difficult.

Filters To Apply When Using Keyword Overview

The Keyword Overview returns a wealth of information, which at first glance can seem overwhelming. You'll want to use the tool's features to narrow your focus further. 

You can start by configuring your target market. The Keyword Overview tool will default to your country of origin, but you'll need to set your target country if it's different than the one your website currently operates in.

You can also configure the tool to only show results from desktop or mobile users or to only show results within a certain date range. These 3 filters are listed right below the search box at the top of the screen.

Another useful feature is the Export to PDF function. Having a hardcopy snapshot is handy for filing and for keeping offline for further review or any team meetings, especially when presenting reports.

This report can be emailed to you weekly or every other week, so you stay up to date with your search terms without opening the tool yourself.

Finding New Search Terms Using Semrush’s Tools

The Keyword Overview tool is not the only Semrush tool available to you. When you click on a keyword or keyphrase in the Keyword Overview tool, you're taken to the Keyword Magic tool.

How To Use the Keyword Magic tool

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In the above image, we clicked through on the Keyword Variations thematic report for further information about our keywords. 

With the Keyword Magic tool, you can:

  • Change the location for your Keyword search
  • Sort by broad match, phrases, or exact terms.
  • Exclude words (great for building PPC campaigns)
  • Sort by Cost per Click or Keyword Difficulty

You'll also be able to view important metics at a glance, such as the Keyword Difficulty score or its search volume. Related keywords are displayed to the left of the screen for further research. 

If you select the link available at the top of the "Questions" table in Keyword Overview tool, you'll be taken to this page: 

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Use this report to see what search terms people are using to look for noise-canceling headphones.

A lot of search terms are questions. People want to know how much something is (which can indicate a transactional search), where they can buy it (indicates an informational search), and similar terms.

If you target your keyword research to a customer’s search intent, you can capture a lot of search terms they enter into Google.

More information which is presented for you on this page includes:

  • Trend: is there an upwards or downwards trend in search volume for these questions?
  • Cost per Click (CPC): How much are people paying through Google Ads to target keywords?
  • SERP Features: How many actual results are returned or a SERP feature?

Check What Your Competitors Are Ranking For

Now that you’ve completed some research on your target keyword, why not check out how your competitors also targeting that keyword?

Checking in your competitor's keyword strategy may inspire you to target alternate keywords or indicate what types of campaigns they’re running against you as well.

How to use the Keyword Gap tool

The Keyword Gap tool is best for comparing the keywords your website ranks for to the keywords your competitors rank for. You'll start by entering your and your competitors' domains.

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For this example, we'll work with Best Buy (bestbuy.com). The Keyword Gap tool suggested some possible competitors for Best Buy, including Techradar and BH Photo Video.

The tool returned the best keyword opportunities for Best Buy: 2 comparison search terms highlighting brands Bose and Sony.

The tool also returns comparisons for keywords for Best Buy, Techradar, and BH Photo Video. Your keyword advantages or wins are highlighted in green squares, so you know where you rank higher than your competitors. 

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For the search term "noise-canceling headphones," Best Buy is losing out to Techradar (position 7 versus position 3, respectively.) Position 7 isn’t bad, but we could nudge that higher with a little work.

We’re ranking well for the keyword "Bose," not too bad for "Sony," and with plenty of wins on the page

The Keyword Gap tool can also help us track:

  • Organic keywords, or PPC keyword gaps
  • Weak keywords
  • Strong keywords
  • Any unique or untapped keywords
  • Mobile or desktop results
  • Change the date range for historical data

You can export the data to your computer for analysis later, or combine the data with reports from other Semrush tools. 

How to use PPC Keyword tool 

With the help of the Keyword Magic tool, you can set up and run a Pay Per Click campaign (PPC). Once again using our example of the "noise-canceling headphones:" 

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You can sort and filter the data with a few extra metrics:

  • Volume: sort by the keywords which get the most or least amount of traffic.
  • Keyword Difficulty: How hard would it be to rank by those keywords based on what your competition is doing?
  • Cost per Click (CPC): This metric is especially important for paid campaigns. How much money are you likely to spend per click during this campaign?
  • Include Keywords: narrow the focus of your report by filtering out keywords you aren't targeting
  • Exclude Keywords: once you know what your negative keywords are, you can exclude these words for your research. This can save you a lot of money, getting rid of words to NOT spend money on.

Now, you can open the Semrush PPC Keyword tool.

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Using this Semrush tool, you can plan your own Google Ads campaigns.

The Negative Keywords feature is arguably the most powerful of the tool. Negative keywords are words you know you do not want to target with your PPC campaign.

It costs money to target keywords, so if you can define the words you don’t want clicks for, you can configure this in Google Ads to avoid being charged.

The PPC Keyword tool also allows you to set the campaign's geographical location at city level, so you can target search terms that are local to your area. 

Businesses that rely on Local SEO - such as delivery companies or restaurants - will find this feature to be particularly helpful when building out their PPC campaigns. 

Track The Progress of Your Search Term Using the Position Tracking Tool

At this point you have your keywords, you have an understanding of what search terms people are using, you’ve done some competitor research, and set up PPC some ads.

Now you can track how your campaigns' impact with the Position Tracking Tool.

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The Position Tracking tool allows you to:

  • Track keywords and domains
  • Track multiple geographical locations
  • Report on ‘Featured Snippets’ for opportunities
  • Local SEO tracking
  • Track up to 20 competitors and 5 domains

This powerful tool keeps a close eye on your and your competitors' website rankings. You'll gain insights that will help you change directions with your campaign or discover opportunities to grab keywords. 

Use the tool to track the search terms your website currently ranks for, any traffic sources, and where on the map your traffic comes from.

These insights can help you better respond to the intent of those search terms. The Position Tracking can also show you any wins you have with your Local or mobile SEO efforts.

You can also get daily or weekly updates, so you're aware when trends and rankings begin to change.

The Takeaway

Back in the early 2000s, search behavior was very simple. Users would type words into the search bar and Google would return what it thought was the closest match to those words. “Pizza, Boston” would give us pizza shops in Boston, based on which pizza shop best fit our search.

Today people interact much differently with search engines, and our search terms have transformed as a result. Now we can ask search engines "what is the best pizza shop in Boston?" and receive a list of results. We can now use much more complex search terms and Google will still try to understand what we most want. 

People are getting better at specifying what kind of information they're searching for. Using the Semrush tool to understand these more complex search terms and keywords can only impact your online presence positively. 

Author Photo
Michelle OfiweEditor & writer, deeply dedicated to good copy. Based in Houston, TX.
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