Keyword mastery is an art; the steering force behind your SEO campaigns. It dictates the content you write, the marketing strategies you deploy, and is a crucial component in enabling the success of your business.

Keywords also help you to understand the needs and desires of your target audience, providing back-doors into high-traffic SERP rankings and offering a variety of competitive vantage points.

It's clear that keywords are important. Why, then, is so little emphasis put on the keyword research process? You wouldn't run a targeted Facebook ad campaign based on a gut feeling, so why skimp on such an important part of your SEO strategy?

This checklist runs through a robust process for keyword research, that you can use, re-use, and modify for your own specific needs; by the end of this checklist, you'll have covered all of the most important aspects of any good keyword research process.

Let's get started.


Gather initial keywords

First, you'll need to pull together some keywords that roughly define what you're trying to target. These initial keywords serve as a starting point for your research and help define your niche and the needs of your target demographic.

Think about your intent. If you're promoting a product or business online, then you need to put yourself in the buyer's shoes. What might they search for to try and solve the problem that your product is solving?

Brainstorm all the ways that people might search for your product, or how you would describe it in your own words. Remember, this is just a starting point; record your results in the form fields below.

Set up a spreadsheet template to store keywords

If you're not using a keyword database, head on over to Google Sheets and create a fresh template to store your keywords.

You can use the blank template provided here, or download the Excel file below.

Alternately, if you'd rather build your own spreadsheet, be sure to include at least the following columns in your table:

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
    Keyword difficulty
  • 5

Research and filtering:

Filter by search volume and clicks

Primarily, you want to be looking for the keywords with the highest search volume, but that is just one piece of the puzzle.

Keywords and exact keyword phrases with high search volumes tell us a few things. Namely, that there is currently a high demand for something about this keyword - whether that's a consumer demand for a product or a more general demand for information on a topic. 

High volume keywords also indicate the immediate language that people are currently using to try and satisfy their needs. 

But that's not all you have to consider; checking on the number of clicks that a certain search term gets helps to distinguish between informational and commercial intent.

Basically, there's a lot to consider. Use the sub-checklist below to filter your related keywords and weed out the poor fits. You should consider your needs and business goals, as well as the resources you have available for SEO.

  • 1
    Search volume
  • 2
  • 3
    Cost per click
  • 4
    Clicks per search
  • 1
    Select the best fit keywords
  • 2
    Add them to your master keyword database

Once you've applied a few filters and considered the results, select the best fit keywords and add them to your master keyword database.

Keyword optimization is about ROI at the end of the day. Your challenge is to figure out what business intent you should be looking for in a keyword.

For example, if you want to drive traffic and grow brand awareness, then keywords with high volume will be good for you, regardless of their click rates. Commercial value doesn't simply equate to a number of conversions. It depends on your business strategy, and how the keyword plays a part in that.

Filter by keyword difficulty

A big part of deciding if a keyword is worth targeting is looking who is already ranking for that term.

If you find that hugely popular and authoritative sites are ranking for your target term, you're in for a tough time.

A quick way to judge how difficult it would be to rank for a keyword again uses the Ahrefs Keywords Explorer.

Take your top picks that you still have left after the filtering, and paste them into the tool, like this:

Pages with a low PR or DR (less than 30), or a low backlink count, are prime for overtaking. By writing better content, optimizing it properly and building quality links, you could knock an inferior page off of the top spots.

High keyword difficulty is not necessarily a reason to give up on a keyword. It all depends on the balance between what business value the keyword offers versus its ranking difficulty.

Gather highest ranking competitor keywords

One web page can rank for thousands of extremely tightly related keywords, so it makes sense to filter down these pages to the highest ranking ones.

By looking at what competitor pages are ranking highly for certain keywords, you can effectively reverse-engineer this ranking indicator to find new related keywords.

Ahrefs Site Explorer once again proves its worth us with a powerful tool to access this information.

Using the same competitors as in the task above, search a competitor's URL in Site Explorer to get a list of keywords like this:

Look for more keywords in your less-than-specific niches, and keep in mind everything from the previous two tasks (keyword difficulty, volume, clicks, and how they all fit into your business plan).

Follow the instructions in this sub-checklist and mark each item off as you go:

  • 1
    Put your seed keyword into Google and see who ranks on top
  • 2
    Reverse lookup the best ranking domains with Ahrefs Site Explorer
  • 3
    Check the "Top Pages" report in Site Explorer
  • 4
    Use the "Content Gap" tool to check for keywords your competitors are ranking for that you aren't

Ask your customers why they use your product

It's easy to forget that keywords are essentially the missing link between you and your customers. Good keyword research understands that keywords represent the needs and desires of your customers.

If you can get behind that, then you will surely understand the importance of communicating to your audience asking for their feedback.

Check the template mail below and hit "Send" after filling in your email list in the "To" field. Alternately, you could just copy the email contents into your own mass mailing tool.

An ideal response to this kind of question is absolutely crammed with insights into the customer's mind. Not only does it tell you all about their goals and pain points, this kind of mini-testimonial also serves us up some of the organic language your customers use to try and define a solution to their problem.

With these gems, you can build better products and target better keywords.

Keyword optimization:

Gather five long tail keywords

There are a few ways to search for long tail keywords.

One of them is Google - Google's search engine results pages are an absolute goldmine for finding long tail keywords. By Googling your keywords, you can see what Google suggests at the bottom of the page:

  • 1
    Google your top five keyword(s) in your database so far
  • 2
    Look at the related searches at the bottom of the SERP
  • 3
    Look for long tail keywords

Another way is by looking at social channels where real people communicate.

Choose places that are related to your niches, such as specialized forums or social groups.

Quora is also a great place to investigate because the format of question-and-answer is the perfect place for organic keywords to sprout up.

Try looking in all of the following places:

  • 1
    Social forums related to your product niche
  • 2
    Facebook groups
  • 3

And of course, with any long tail keywords you find, be sure to add and tag them in your database:

  • 1
    Add long tail keywords to your keyword database
  • 2
    Tag long tail keywords accordingly
  • 3
    Input long tail keywords into Ahrefs keyword explorer
  • 4
    Record metrics for each long tail keyword (volume, clicks, difficulty, etc.)

Gather five LSI keywords

You can use LSIGraph for generating semantically related keywords. Add the top five to your keyword database and mark the tasks in the sub-checklist below as complete.

  • 1
    Select five of the best keywords in your database so far
  • 2
    Input each of them into LSIGraph separately
  • 3
    Generate and gather five LSI keywords for each of your top five keywords
  • 4
    Add them to your keyword database
  • 5
    Tag them as LSI keywords
  • 6
    Input LSI keywords into Ahrefs keyword explorer
  • 7
    Record metrics for each LSI keyword (volume, clicks, difficulty, etc.)

Determine keyword intent

Keyword intent helps you to understand the intent the user has when they're searching for a particular keyword. It's a window into their state of mind as they're trying to solve a problem (like a question they want to find the answer to, or a product they want to make a decision about).

User intent can be thought of as three different types of search:

  • Informational – to find the answer to a question
  • Navigational – to find a specific website
  • Transactional – to purchase something

Consider the intent behind the current list of keywords. Informational keywords are typically far more difficult to convert than transactional or even navigational. What you're looking for will depend on your needs.

  • 1
    Consider your business goals
  • 2
    Determine which keywords are most suited to your business goals
  • 3
    Tag keywords according to business goal relevance


Select the top five keywords for this project

Finally, after all of your research, gathering, and pruning, it's time to make a decision. 

Round up the top keyword along with the four most appropriate related keywords, and record them in the form fields below. 

Consider all of the following as you make a decision:

  • 1
    Estimated traffic potential
  • 2
    Resources needed to rank for any given keyword (keyword difficulty)
  • 3
    Resources needed to build and promote content
  • 4
    Estimated ROI for traffic (based on keyword intent)


Sign up for a FREE account and
search thousands of checklists in our library.

Sign up for a FREE account and search thousands of checklists in our library.