How to search for keywords: A guide to mastering keyword research

If there’s one word — well, acronym really — that you’ve probably heard a million times when it comes to content marketing, it’s SEO. Standing for Search Engine Optimization, SEO is a content marketer’s bread and butter. And the filling in the content marketing sandwich? Keyword research! Sorry, we’re mixing metaphors here. So, let’s just jump right in and explore what keywords are and how to search for keywords. 

In this article: 

What is SEO?

Ok, before we jump into keyword research, let’s do a quick overview of SEO first! As mentioned, SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization” and it’s exactly what it sounds like.

SEO is a set of practices used to help make your content and websites more appealing to the Google algorithm and, therefore, more likely to be shown higher up on search engine results. By following SEO principles, your sites are boosted up the search results, resulting in more traffic and, hopefully, more customers.

SEO encompasses a wide range of things from using high-quality backlinks to meta titles and descriptions. We’re not going to dive into it all here but we’ve got a whole guide to SEO content marketing right here!

What are keywords?

Now, one of the key aspects of SEO is the use of keywords. But what do we mean by keywords?

In essence, keywords are the words or phrases that people type into search engines when they are searching for something specific. Let’s use an example to illustrate.

what are keywords?

Say you’re looking to buy a new coat, what might you type into Google to find some options? It would probably be something along the lines of: “Women’s coat”

And that right there, is your keyword or keyword phrase. These are the words that are most likely to take you to what you’re looking for and, therefore, Google will find websites and pages that have these words contained to best help you find what you’re after.

Google has a suite of crawlers that search through all websites on the internet in a process called scraping to find and rank all of the pages available to internet users. It then ranks these pages based on a number of factors like relevance, trustworthiness, and quality. The higher your page ranks, the higher on Google it will appear.

One of the primary factors determining how highly your page ranks is the presence of relevant keywords on your page. Going back to our earlier example, if you’re selling women’s coats but you don’t actually have that phrase on your page, Google isn’t going to show your site to people searching for that term.

So, now the question becomes: How do I know which keywords to include on my pages? That, dear reader, is where keyword research comes in.

What is keyword research?

It’s tempting to think that figuring out the right keywords is just a matter of common sense — and in many ways, it is. However, there are actually a few technical considerations that we have to make when choosing our keywords, namely search volume, keyword difficulty, and intent.

Search volume

Search volume is exactly what it sounds like — it’s the number of searches for a given keyword or phrase over a 12-month period. The higher the search volume, the more people are searching for your keyword.

If your chosen keyword has a search volume of 20, then not many people are searching for that term and that keyword is unlikely to drive much, if any, organic traffic. But if your keyword has a search volume of 60,000, then tons of people are looking for what you’re putting out.

But bigger doesn’t always mean better and that’s where the other two factors come into play.

Keyword difficulty

Keyword difficulty is a measure of how hard it is to rank for a given keyword. In other words, how many other people are ranking for your keyword. So, if you’ve got a term like “coats”, which has a search volume of 49,500, then your search volume is amazing but you then need to look at the keyword difficulty.

In this case, “coats” has a difficulty of 59, placing it in the “Difficult” category. When you’re talking about a keyword as broad as “coats”, you are going to be competing with massive, well-established brands that have great brand recognition and tons of optimised content. Plus, it’s very non-specific. Is the end user looking for women’s coats? A winter coat? A trench coat? 

To put it bluntly — you’ve got no chance of ranking for that keyword or reaching the right audience with it. 

Choosing the right keywords is all about finding a balance between search volume and keyword difficulty. If it’s high volume but high difficulty, you won’t rank; if it’s low difficulty but low volume, no one is looking for it. Ideally, you want high volume and low difficulty but that is getting harder and harder to come by.

Then, there’s the final piece of the puzzle.


This last factor is all about figuring out why people are searching for a given term — or, what their intent is when searching. Intent can be broken down into four categories:

  • Informational — The user is searching for information related to the keyword
  • Navigational — The user is looking for a page, site, or physical location
  • Commercial — The user wants to find out about brands or services
  • Transactional — The user is looking to complete an action, typically purchasing

Intent is important in choosing the right keywords as it lets you know why people are searching for that term. Say you’re selling cruises to the Caribbean, the keyword “Caribbean” probably isn’t the best term to choose. Not only because it’s very high difficulty but also because most people searching that term are just looking for information about the Caribbean, not to book a cruise there. So, even if you get those people onto your website, they’re going to bounce straight off as it’s not what they’re looking for.

This has all been quite technical and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you need to be some kind of computer whizz to figure all of this out. But fear not, help is at hand!

How to search for keywords

There are scores of tools online that do all of the heavy lifting for you. Here at Scribly, we use Semrush but there are plenty of others to choose from.

All you have to do is type in your chosen keyword and the tool does the rest, letting you know the intent, search volume, and difficulty of that keyword and related phrases. Then, you can look through your options and try to find keywords that are relevant, have a good search volume, are not too difficult to rank for, and have the right intent for your purposes.

Try to find keywords that are relevant, have a good search volume, are not too difficult to rank for, and have the right intent for your purposes.

Additionally, many tools — Semrush included — will also show you common questions that are searched for by users. Again with the coat example, the top question is “What is a pea coat?”. If you’re trying to sell coats, this won’t be something you’re looking to rank for as it’s informational rather than transactional. But, if you run a blog about fashion, this might be the perfect thing to target. It’s all about finding the right keywords and phrases for you.

Once you’ve identified your keywords, all that’s left to do is start using them in your content. How do you do that? We’ve got just the guide to SEO content writing to help start putting the lessons you’ve learned into practice!