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One of the most important aspects of growing a blog through search engine optimization (SEO) is keyword selection. The right keywords, matched with quality content, can provide a source of consistent traffic that allows a blog to thrive.
But the flip side of that is that an inconsistent approach to keyword selection can make it all but impossible to succeed. After all, the goal is to create content people want, and having a well-defined keyword selection process can help you do just that.
In this post, you’ll learn about an important shift that’s taking place right now with Google when it comes to keyword selection. From there, we’ll review five different ways to find keywords your site can rank for.
The Important Shift Happening In SEO
The biggest buzzword in SEO right now is “user intent.”
Virtually all internet searches begin with a question — what something is, what something means or how to do something. Google’s goal is to serve up the best possible results that answer the searcher’s specific question. And while this has always been the case, Google is getting a lot better at serving its users.
So if you want to drive traffic with SEO in 2020, you have to correctly identify what information users are looking for. And this is something no keyword tool can tell you.
For example, I recently searched for the phrase “Swiss chard,” and my search intent could have been any one of a number of things…
- Swiss chard recipes.
- Swiss chard benefits.
- Swiss chard nutrition facts.
- How to grow swiss chard.
- Is Swiss chard from Switzerland?
- And so on.
Yet, when you look at the first page of the search results, it’s pretty clear that Google has decided the primary search intent for this phrase is finding Swiss chard recipes.
You can tell this because the results include:
Three recipe cards all on top that display different recipes.
And at the first organic listing, there’s another recipe:
In total, seven out of eight of the results on the first page are recipes.
So it’s easy to see that targeting a keyword like “Swiss chard” with an article titled “25 Amazing Benefits of Swiss Chard” or “How to Grow Swiss Chard” isn’t going to make the first page; those topics simply don’t align with what Google has determined searchers are looking for.
While this is a somewhat obvious example, it’s something that’s frequently overlooked. I made this mistake often when I first started publishing content at The Ways To Wealth. I’d have an idea for an article to write, and then I’d try to find a keyword that was related to it.
For example, I thought it would be valuable to share how I got my start in freelance writing. So, I wrote an entire post on the topic. It shared the details of how I got started and ended up earning over $100 an hour.
After writing the post, I did some keyword research and learned that “freelance writing jobs” was a keyword that would make sense. So I titled my post, “Freelance Writing Jobs for Beginners: 3 Steps to Earning Your First High-Paying Client”
I thought this was a valuable post — one that would really help beginning freelance writers.
Unfortunately, Google didn’t agree.
The post received very little search traffic. And knowing what I know now, it’s easy to see why: I wasn’t answering the searcher’s question.
If you look at the first page of results for the search term “freelance writing jobs,” you’ll see that Google believes people are not looking for an in-depth guide about how to become a freelance writer, but rather a list of sites that could help them find a freelance writing job.
With that in mind, I rewrote the post in early 2020 to reflect what the searcher actually wanted, and immediately got a bump in traffic.
I say this upfront because even if you have the most sophisticated keyword selection process in the world, failing to truly answer the user’s question means you’ll fail to rank for your targeted keyword.
For that reason, understanding search intent is priority #1.
How to Do Keyword Research for Free in 2020
Google rewards sites that are able to both identify user intent and create valuable content that answers the searcher’s question. As a result, keyword research is key for beginners who want to make money blogging.
If I were starting a site from scratch today, what I’d focus on is proving to Google that my site is really good at answering searcher’s questions. And therefore, I would focus on topics that allow me to provide the best answer on the web for a specific search intent.
At first, that might mean going after low-demand keywords. But as Google builds trust in your website, you can then start going after higher priority keywords. And this is where you can start to see tremendous growth. Keep in mind, however, that this is only possible after Google has placed trust in your website for giving searchers what they want.
Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time refining The Ways To Wealth’s keyword process.
For a long time, I kept things pretty simple when it came to keywords. I would generate keyword ideas using a paid tool like Ahrefs, and see which list of keywords had the right mix of demand and difficulty.
The issue I ran into is that this a very popular approach (in part because it’s easy and it works up to a certain level). Therefore, I found myself targeting the same keywords as every other blog — and running into more and more competition as a result.
This is especially troublesome for blogs that are just starting out, because having the same keyword selection process as more authoritative sites means competing with them. It’s unfortunate for the smaller sites, but the big sites will win these battles the majority of the time.
The challenge then, for newer sites without a lot of authority, is to figure out how exactly to identify keywords that can bring in a decent amount of traffic.
With that in mind, here are four different methods of keyword research specifically applicable to newer sites. There is indeed a lot of opportunity out there; it’s just a matter of using a different approach than your more established competitors.
1. Scratch Your Own Itch
Ever searched for something yourself and were unable to find a good answer, having to then read multiple articles to find what you’re looking for?
Chances are you’re not the only one who was trying to solve that same problem — making this a great opportunity to create unique and valuable content that’s far and above anything else that’s out there.
At The Ways To Wealth, I do this a lot with product reviews.
I’ll hear about a product, such as a new app, but not be able to find a good review of it anywhere online. So, I (or a member of the team) will give it a test run, seeing what’s to like and not like. Then, we’ll write up a review based on our personal experience.
Summary: Keep a list of searches for which you can’t find a good answer within your niche.
2. Identifying Trends
Being able to identify keywords right before they see a large increase in demand is a very valuable skill within SEO.
When you’re able to do this, there isn’t a lot of competition for the keyword — which allows sites without much authority to rank.
Also, most keyword tools that provide an estimated number of monthly searches are an average of the past 12 months. So, when a new keyword or phrase pops up, the demand shown is often far below what the actual current demand is. This keeps it under the radar of larger sites (which are preoccupied with what they see as higher traffic tagrets), allowing smaller sites to gain some traffic relatively quickly.
Another benefit of this approach is that, if you’re able to rank, Google has some data as to how you’re able to satisfy search intent for a given keyword, as it can look at factors such as time on page and whether a searcher repeats their search after visiting your site (a negative sign).
So, if you’re able to provide a great on-page experience, your page may have staying power — even after larger sites cover the topic.
Two free tools I recommend for uncovering trends are:
- Exploding Topics – This is a tool created by trusted SEO writer Brian Dean. It’s really simple to use, as you’re just selecting a time-frame and niche, with the tool providing topic ideas. Once you see what topics are trending, do a search to see the quality of the results. Often, there is a lot of opportunity on Page #1.
- Google Trends – Google Trends is a tool that provides a lot more options than Exploding Topics. Instead of providing you a list of trending topics, you enter a search term and explore from there. Options include looking at related queries, related topics to a keyword, as well as seeing what’s trending in a general topic (i.e. finance, health, home and garden, etc.).
Pro Tip: Download the Moz toolbar to quickly gauge the authority of the first page results. Once you find a growing trend, check to see if other (larger) sites have covered the topic in-depth.
Summary: Use free tools to discover topic ideas that will grow in demand over time, while aiming to be the first site to cover such a trend.
3. Google Search Console
One of the first things you’ll want to do after launching your site is add it to Google Search Console (GSC). While GSC does a lot of things for website owners, one of the most valuable is providing a list of keywords your site ranks for.
This report can be found under Search Results > Queries.
If your website is brand new, you’ll want to keep a close eye out for some of the first keywords Google ranks your site for, as these tend to be what Google thinks your site is about.
If your website has been around for a few months, this report is a treasure trove of good keyword ideas.
My favorite method for picking keywords from this report is seeing what my site ranks for where I don’t necessarily have a piece of content covering that topic.
For example, I write a lot of best-of lists on The Ways To Wealth (e.g., this post on the best part-time jobs). Often, my best part-time jobs post ranks for searches like “Is XYZ A Scam,” where “XYZ” is a specific app, product or website that promises to help people make money part-time.
It’s my belief that what’s happening in this scenario is that Google has identified the search intent as someone looking for legitimate part-time work. And, if my post can solve that search intent — even if it’s a completely different set of keywords — it has a chance to display on Page #1.
It’s also my belief that Google is showing this result because there isn’t a clear-cut answer to the searcher’s question. Often, when I see something like this in GSC, I’ll then go in and create an article specifically covering XYZ, as my feeling is that if Google is showing my page to searchers, there isn’t a lot of good information out there on the topic. Therefore, I’m potentially acquiring two spots on the first page for that specific search term.
Summary: Use Google Search Console to see what keywords your site ranks for where you don’t have a specific article covering that keyword.
4. Answer Questions In Detail
Answer the Public is a free tool that allows you to input a keyword — “money,” for example — and see a list of questions people have been asking about that topic.
What’s unique is that the questions people are asking are taken from frequently asked questions on forums and social media sites.
You can use the questions people are asking to create an entire blog post. Although, considering the increasing prevalence of Google Featured Snippets, I would recommend only choosing questions that require an in-depth answer.
For example, going after the term “when is money refunded to PayPal” won’t bring your site much traffic because the question can be easily answered — which means it’s likely that Google will show the searcher a snippet that provides all the information they need right on the search results page (see below).
However, with a question like “can money buy happiness,” a user is likely looking for more than a 200-word answer that could be found in the featured snippet.
Once you find a question that would be a valuable piece of content, evaluate the Google search results for that phrase. In a perfect world, you’re looking for a lot of smaller sites on the first page of results.
Two other tips for using Answer The Public:
- For the best results, combine this process with your ability to identify trends (#2). As a good rule of thumb, when you see a keyword that’s unfamiliar to you within the Answer The Public results, insert it into Google Trends.
- Seeing which questions people frequently ask around a topic is great for determining what to write about within your content. You can aim to answer the questions within the body of the article itself, or add a FAQ section to the end of your post.
Summary: Create content aimed at thoroughly answering common questions when there isn’t already a good answer out there.
Final Thoughts on Keyword Research
Newer sites can benefit from getting creative with their keyword research.
The internet is a crowded place, and simply using the same best practices as everyone else isn’t a sure-fire ticket to success. So, while I recommend that everyone understand the fundamentals behind keyword research, it’s also important to test different strategies.
While these approaches have worked well for me, I encourage you to try new approaches as well. A great guiding principle is to double down on the strategy that has generated results for you.