The Ultimate Keyword Research Checklist

Luke Harsel

Jun 21, 202313 min read
Keyword Research


How do you find the right keywords for SEO, PPC, or content marketing?

The good news is that Semrush offers a handful of ways. You can follow this checklist to manually collect and organize a thorough list. 

Or, you could also auto-generate fully clustered lists from a few seed keywords and a couple of clicks with Keyword Manager.

With this checklist, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step process to building the ultimate keyword list for your SEO, PPC, and content marketing campaigns.

Semrush analyzes over 24 billion global keywords in our global databases, making it the perfect place to start your keyword research. 

Just ask these 139 experts why they love Semrush.

All you need is a Semrush account to get started.

In the body of this post, I'll go into detail on how each step works and how you can analyze your keywords


After some practice, you'll be using our keyword research tool’s features and generating lists in less than thirty minutes.

First things first. Think about the single word or phrase that you think people would type into Google before visiting your home page.

Maybe it’s a product that your site sells, a common problem that your customers face, or a question that your website answers. Decide the keyword that best represents the benefit of going to your website and use it to start this process. Ultimately, a 1-2 word phrase will work best.

Keep in mind that keyword research should be flexible and creative, so you can always start the process over with a different keyword.

When you enter your keyword into the Semrush search bar, the interface presents a Keyword Overview report.

For the sake of example, let’s pretend we operate a website that offers gardening advice and products. I’ll go through the research process starting with “tomato plant.”


From this dashboard you can locate all of the data Semrush has about the keyword “tomato plant” all shown at the top:

  • Monthly search volume
  • Keyword difficulty
  • Search intent
  • Cost-per-click
  • Competition level
  • Seasonal trends 
  • PLA (product listing ads) and Google Ads

Keyword Variations, Questions, and Related keywords are previewed below and will give you expanded lists of keyword ideas. If you click through one of these preview widgets you’ll open up the Keyword Magic Tool, which is the next step.


Then, scroll down to see the SERP Analysis widget. This will help you when it comes time to dive into competitive analysis for your keyword to see what kinds of content (and SERP features) compete for the top positions.


If you’re doing SEO or digital marketing for a local business, you might want to dive into keyword metrics that are specific to your physical region, state, province, or city.

After all, keyword search volume, difficulty, and SERP features can differ greatly from national to local levels.

To achieve this, simply enter your target keyword into the Semrush Keyword Overview tool. Next, use the dropdown menu to select the locale you want to research.

This image shows how we’d discover local keyword data for a car wash in the Houston, Texas area.


What you’ll get is a detailed report on the keyword’s specific volume, competition, and results in your city.


Now that you know how to get a quick overview of any singular keyword, let’s show you how to find thousands of additional keyword ideas.

2. Use the Keyword Magic Tool to Find Long Tail Keywords

SEO and PPC professionals classify keywords into three main buckets based on their popularity and specificity; the “head,” the “body,” and the “long-tail.”

Head terms, also referred to as “short tail,” are often one, two, or three-word search phrases that do not have one clear intent. 

Body phrases are slightly more specific and usually contain more words. With more words in the search query, you can start to get a clearer idea of the searcher’s intent.

Long-tail keywords generally contain three or more words, have less search volume, and illustrate a specific situation or intention from the searcher. 

The easiest way to think about these keywords is with the following graph.


In this example: 

Head phrase: “tomato plant” is a high-level query with a high search volume.

Body phrases: “tomato plants for sale” / “when to plant tomatoes” show specific intent with lower average search volumes.

Long-tail: “why are tomato plants turning yellow” is a very specific query with even lower search volume.

These are called “long-tail keywords” because they’re found in the long “tail” stretching to the right of the graph as search volume is usually quite low but the potential conversion rate is high as the query shows very specific intent.

Generally speaking, as search volume decreases, more long-tail keywords appear, and the conversion rate increases. 

Marketers can optimize their content to match long-tail keywords for higher potential conversions versus head keywords that have high volume but much higher SEO and paid competition.

How do you find these high-potential keywords? 

Let’s look at a Keyword Magic Tool report for the keyword “tomato plant.” If you have an Semrush account, click here to view this report.


From here we can see a long list of keywords based around the phrase “tomato plant,” ranked in order of search volume. 

That means that as you scroll down the report, you find the less popular and more specific keywords. 

You can also filter your report with the:

  1. questions filter 
  2. match type filter 
  3. subgroups on the left 
  4. filters for metrics like Keyword Difficulty (KD%), CPC, intent + more 

You can use these filters to find long-tail keywords that are less popular, less competitive, and more attainable for you to rank for quickly.

Here’s what the report looks like with filters for questions, phrase match, and word count > 5.


These could all be considered long-tail phrases, since they have less volume compared to “tomato plant” with 18.1k but are much more specific.

While the long-tail phrases have less volume, they’ll be easier to target because of how specific the query is.

For example, let’s look at “why are my tomato plant leaves turning yellow,” which has a volume of 880 and KD of 34.

To convert visitors, we'd inform them that one possible reason for yellow plants would be having low levels of nitrogen in the soil. 

Then, in addition to the information that answers their query, we could offer a solution, like a test kit to check the nitrogen levels of your soil.

See how that works? 

The more clear the user intent, the easier it will be for you to target a keyword, and the easier it will be to offer a relevant solution to the user’s problem. 

We'll explain how user intent fits into your marketing funnel in step 9 of this checklist.

3. Apply Filters for Keyword Difficulty (SEO) or Competitive Density (PPC)

Maybe you’re having trouble going through this long list of keywords to find the most realistic targets. Luckily, Semrush provides filters that let you weed out the highly competitive keywords that aren’t worth your time. 

In every keyword report, there are two helpful metrics that measure competition: 

  1. Keyword Difficulty for SEO
    • measured from 0-100%
  2. Competitive Density for PPC
    • measured from 0-1.00

A higher Keyword Difficulty score means that there are authoritative domains ranking on the first page of results, and it will be hard to outrank the sites in the organic results. 

A higher Competitive Density score tells you that there are a high number of domains bidding on the keyword.

To attempt to rank a PPC ad for a keyword with high cost-per-click and high Competitive Density, you would need to place an expensive bid and set up a perfectly optimized landing page. 

Instead, you should focus on targeting keywords with low Competitive Density to start.

For SEO, you should focus on targeting keywords with low Keyword Difficulty. Oftentimes, there's a correlation between longer keywords and lower keyword difficulty and competition levels.

To analyze only the most targetable keywords, apply filters to weed out keywords with high Keyword Difficulty and Competitive Density scores.

Filters for both metrics can be applied at the same time to a report. See the example below where to find the filtering options.


4. Add Filters for Searcher Intent

This new intent filter by Semrush is a unique filter to analyze and focus on intent-targeted keywords. 

The four types of search intent can tell you about a searcher’s purpose behind making a search. 

Informational intent indicates an interest in gathering information, while transactional intent and commercial intent indicate an interest in taking action or making a purchase in the future. 

Navigational intent indicates a searcher is simply using the search engine to get to a specific page or website on the Internet. 

Therefore, depending on the goals of your campaign, you should look for different types of intent. 

Do you want to grow your brand awareness and build authority? Add a filter for informational intent and find keywords that you can target with helpful educational content.


Do you need more high-intent traffic that will bring conversions? Filter for transactional intent to inspect these keywords.


Again, these filters can be combined with the filters mentioned above. For example, a filter for commercial keywords + easy keyword difficulty could uncover opportunities for attracting valuable traffic.


5. Send the Filtered List to Keyword Manager

This step is pretty straightforward, but necessary. Every time you generate a filtered list of terms, make sure you send it to the Keyword Manager.

Note: Keyword Manager is only available with a paid Semrush subscription. If you don’t have a paid plan, you can sign up for a free trial today.

This lets you combine all of your research into a main list of up to 2,000 keywords. When exporting keywords from the Keyword Magic Tool, you can choose to select all of the keywords, the first 100, the first 500, or on an individual basis using the checkboxes in the far left column.


Once the keywords have gone to Keyword Manager, you can quickly cluster your keywords, refresh metrics, and export the list.

After finding Phrase Matches based on your original keyword, you’re going to want to identify more closely related searches. While keeping your main keyword in the search bar, change the Phrase Match filter to a Related filter.

The keywords in this list are based on their relevance to the queried keyword or how similar the search results of these keywords are to the search results of the queried keyword. 

This allows you to find more search phrases related to your topic that may not even contain your main target keyword in the query.


Again, this report can be filtered by Keyword Difficulty and Competitive Density. Pick out every related keyword in this list that sticks out to you and send the list to your Keyword Manager list.


7. Repeat Steps 2-6 for Any Additional Keywords

Repeat the process that you went through with your original keyword but with additional topics that you think your site should target.

Enter your first new topic into the search bar and pull another Phrase Match report with any desired filters.

Once you gather another list of target keywords, export the list and repeat for every related topic you want to target. 

Send all of your exports to the same list in Keyword Manager, which can handle up to 2,000 keywords in a single list.

8. Cluster Your Keywords, Refresh Metrics, and Export Your File

Now that you have your list built out, you can use Keyword Manager to take it to the next level with clusters and real-time refreshed metrics.

You’ll see the total number of keywords, volume, and average KD% in the Table tab:


By now maybe you’re wondering how many articles you need to write to target your list of 1,000 keywords. 

How do you know? Here’s where clustering will help.

Instead of having to manually figure out which group of keywords can be targeted by a single piece of content, this tool does it for you. 

Just go to the Clusters tab in Keyword Manager and hit the button to cluster the list. 


Now you’ll get all of your keywords organized into topical clusters, which makes it way easier to plan your content. 


As you can see, Semrush broke this list down into 52 separate clusters (technically 51, since one of the clusters is a list of “non-clustered” keywords that didn’t fit into a cluster).

1 cluster = 1 piece of content in your plan.

Check out the Mind Map tab to see how your clusters look and share the image with your team.


Now you’ve got a clearer picture of what topics to cover to hit your SEO goals.

The next step is to export this list to a file, but first–refresh your metrics. 

This can be done from the Table tab and ensures that all of your keyword metrics are completely up to date before exporting.


Once your list is updated, you’ll see up-to-date click potential and other metrics.

Lastly, export your list. You can send it to an Excel or CSV file and it will come formatted with clusters. This file is going to be easy to work with when prioritizing topics to write about and creating content briefs.

Here’s what the Cluster tab looks like after uploading to Google sheets. You can expand and contract each cluster and view the volume and intent of each keyword.


9. Map Your Content Strategy to Intent 

This last step uses a bit of critical thinking, but will be essential for maximizing the use of your research. 

In addition to knowing what your audience searches (keywords), you'll want to focus on why they make these searches (intent).

There are tons of articles written by SEO experts about how to classify intent and separate keywords with low and high intent.

Searcher intent is essentially the goal of the person searching on Google. They could be looking for general information, product research, or a website to make a purchase.

Semrush groups keywords into four categories of intent:

  • Informational — Searches looking for general information or answers to specific FAQs. Keywords with who, what, where, why, and how, tend to indicate this intent. Single-word keywords like “tomatoes” or “gardening” fit in this bucket.
  • Navigational — Searches looking to find a specific physical location or location on the internet. “Tomato pie cafe harrissburg” would fit in this bucket because the searcher wants to navigate to a specific store.
  • Commercial — Searches looking to investigate products, services, or brands. “Best,” “men’s,” “women’s” or other product modifiers commonly indicate commercial intent. “Best fertilizer for tomatoes” is an example.
  • Transactional — Searches with a high intent to buy or take action (like downloading files or signing up for a newsletter) in the immediate future. Keywords asking about price, coupons, shipping costs, and the transaction process make up this bucket. “Buy cheap tomatoes,” for example.

The more specific the intent is for a keyword, the easier it is to provide searchers with what they are looking for. 

To go one step further, searcher intent can actually be aligned with your marketing funnel. 

The easiest way to do this is by mapping the four intent buckets to the AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) model. Like searcher intent buckets, AIDA has four stages.


Awareness (general knowledge of information) is the first step of the funnel, leading into Interest (curiosity in the subject), then Desire (wanting something to solve a problem), and finally, Action (buying a product, signing up for a subscription, etc).

Once you identify a keyword’s searcher intent, you can classify where in the conversion funnel it lies. Every keyword in your strategy also has a place in your marketing funnel.


Go back into your keyword list and now review the intent column. What you can do from here is plan out your content strategy to align your messaging with the intent of each cluster.

The four different stages of conversion should be targeted at different areas of your site, and by identifying the keyword clusters that fit each step of the conversion funnel, you can conduct an optimized marketing campaign.

For example, you can target all of the informational topics with educational, top-level content that answers people’s questions. 

For navigational keywords, you should check to make sure your site is easily found for each search. If it's not, see how you can optimize your branding/overall visibility, especially if there are technical issues with your site.

Lastly, commercial and transactional topics could be targeted more aggressively with paid ads and landing pages that make it easy for searchers with the intent to buy to make their purchase/buying decision.

Become a Keyword Research Pro

Hopefully, this checklist can help you build your first keyword list and learn more about your specific search niche. 

Find the best keywords for your business to target and create a list to plan your SEO and PPC around. 

Once you master this process, you’ll have a great skill that can help you in all areas of digital marketing.

Author Photo
Content Lead at Semrush. Here to help you solve your everyday marketing challenges with Semrush‘s tools and apps.