News and insights • Posted on 13 August 2021

How to do keyword research

Keyword research is the bedrock and guiding light of SEO, constantly informing and directing your strategy. Without keyword research, SEO and paid advertising campaigns are essentially rudderless. Here, we’ll discuss what it is, some tools you can use and how to carry it out.

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is the process of analysing user behaviour and identifying which search terms are being used to find the products/services you provide. Typically, lists are developed to display how many times a search is carried out a month, the perceived difficulty of targeting that term, and what it may cost to target the term in paid advertising. It is only by targeting specific keywords that any level of success can be found, whether it’s increasing visibility, driving traffic or boosting conversions.

Which keyword research tools to use

There are many tools for keyword research and each has its pros and cons. At The Bigger Boat, we mainly use the following three. 


While it has grown to be a general digital marketing research tool, SEMrush was originally a keyword research tool. Its usability and depth mean it is still one of the best available. Not only is it good for finding keyword volumes, but due to its functionality, it is fantastic for finding new keywords, related topics, article ideas and questions around a subject.


Similar to SEMrush, AHRefs is an all-encompassing digital marketing tool. AHRefs was originally a link building tool, but has since added a well-formed keyword research tool. Having those two data points close to hand can be invaluable when carrying out keyword research.  


Google’s own keyword research tool remains one of the best. Very different in functionality to both SEMrush and AHRefs, it is still useful in finding volume, difficulty and related keywords. More importantly, it is the best tool for researching the cost per click for paid campaigns. 

For various reasons, no keyword data is 100% accurate. Whether this is because of privacy, or third-party tools not being able to get the correct metrics, we always take search volume given in these tools with a pinch of salt. We can safely say that 1000 is more than 500 searches per month, but we appreciate that neither of these figures will be 100% accurate. 

Also, a lot of tools show that a search term with fewer than 10 searches per month at 0. Firstly, this simply means that there is less than 120 a year (as tools average out the search volume for the last 12 months). 119 searches per year is still a substantial amount. Also, low volume does not mean that the keyword has no value and is not worth targeting. These keywords often relate to niche B2B clients, where enquiries are infrequent, but incredibly valuable. Context is a very important concept for keyword research. 

How to do keyword research

Everybody has their own process when carrying out keyword research. However, at The Bigger Boat we typically start with the client and will always do two things:

  1. Ask the client to send a list of what they think their keywords are – these can often serve as the perfect starting point for finding related and niche terms. However, we often find that clients’ perception can be skewed with internal terminology.

  2. Have a conversation with the client and their wider team – this is just an informal conversation about their organisation, their industry, the services they provide, their USPs and the pain points of their niche. We often find these conversations to be the most revealing in terms of keywords. Simply through casual language and conversation, we learn much more about general industry terms and the words that are used. We can also typically gain some insight into content subjects, and it can even guide us on web page content. 

From these two steps, we typically have a range of keywords that serve as our starting point for broader keyword research. We then use the aforementioned tools, along with live searches and competitor research, to develop a comprehensive list of keywords, along with their volume and perceived difficulty and cost per click. 

Difficulty in this case is a metric created by keyword research tools which crawl the top 10 sites that rank for any given term and read some overarching metrics. They will then give a score, often as a percentage, between 1-10 or 1-100 on how difficult it will be to rank for any given term. These can be useful in guiding us on which terms to target given the current situation with your website. 

Targeting the right keywords

Intent > volume

There is a natural compulsion to target keywords with the highest search volume, but this is not always the route to success. Often, keywords with the most searches are research based, indicating a user at the start of their buying process and so less likely to actually convert. Whereas longer-string keywords, which have lower volume, often indicate a specific product or service, and so will have a much higher conversion rate and are probably worth targeting. 


Relevancy is a key concept in SEO which mainly pertains to keywords. It simply means how relevant a keyword is to your site, services or products. Language is a fluid thing and words can carry several meanings. It is important to establish relevancy before actively targeting any term. If there is no real relevancy, then time, effort and cost can be wasted getting a site ranking for the wrong terms. 

An example of this can be found in the lighting industry. Internally, light bulbs are referred to as ‘lamps’, so many organisations try to rank for ‘lamps’ and derivatives of that term. But to most users, ‘lamp’ means something very different. Ranking for ‘lamps’ would not only be very difficult, it would also not attract the right kind of users. 

Ranking is only a signpost

The ultimate goal of SEO is to increase enquiries and revenue. We do this by increasing organic traffic, and we increase traffic by improving the position of target keywords in the SERPs. People can often get hung up in acquiring a certain position for a specific keyword. But if that does not come with an increase in revenue or conversions, then it may be the wrong keyword to target. Keywords and their ranking positions are signposts we can use to guide the wider campaign and it is important to be flexible in our perception of them. 

Keyword research is a time-consuming and, in some ways, never-ending task as optimisation of a site is an ever-evolving process. But it’s importance cannot be overstated. Well-carried-out keyword research can make a campaign; poor or no keyword research can cripple it. To explore the next step to using keywords, discover our guide to writing keyword-focused content.

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Written by Ewan Burkinshaw

Digital marketing manager Ewan is behind all SEO strategy and works tirelessly to help clients achieve significant organic growth.

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