Each day, Google processes an average of 5.8 billion searches. That’s a lot of keywords.

So it’s natural that one of the most common questions I get from clients is: where do I start with keyword research?

Understanding how to conduct keyword research helps you identify opportunities to drive more qualified organic traffic to your target pages.

And the best part is: you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars a month for these insights. In fact, you can do a pretty dang good job for free.

Check out this simple keyword research process using Google & other free tools:

Keyword Research Process

Keyword research is the process of finding words or phrases that people enter into search engines to find information on that particular topic.

The goal of keyword research is to find the best keywords to target in order to drive organic traffic to your pages.

1. Choose a topic

Identify the topic you’d like to write about (example: “how to pass the time”). This will be your starting keyword.

If you’re unclear about which topics or keywords to write about, try popping a competitor’s domain into Ubersuggest.

This free tool reveals your competitor’s top organic traffic-driving pages, along with their top SEO keywords. Here’s an example from food blog Cookie and Kate:

ubersuggest screenshot

You can also try doing a Google site search using a related industry’s website. It should be formatted like this – site:competitor.com. 

The list of pages it returns will likely get the cogs turning and give you some initial topic ideas. Make sure to search different sections of your competitor’s site to get more specific ideas.

2. Type your keyword into Google Trends

This is a good way to check if there are specific times of year this term spikes in popularity, if popularity is increasing over time, etc. 

Note: If the keyword appears not to have a lot of popularity on Google Trends, this does not necessarily mean it’s not worth writing about. This is just an interesting way to check seasonality and trends over time.

3. Use Keywords Everywhere to find volume and competition level

Keywords Everywhere rocks. This free extension provides data like average monthly search volume and competition level for each keyword, right in Google search. You can also see Related Keywords and People Also Search For to get more keyword ideas. 

In this case, “how to pass the time” has a decent search volume (1,900 searches/mo), and a low competition level (0). 

keywords everywhere screenshot

Look at the Related Keywords and People Also Search For lists on the right sidebar to find related keywords for this topic. This can be a good place to look for secondary keywords to include in your article, or perhaps help you choose a new target keyword entirely.

people also search for screenshot

4. Use Google autofill, Related Searches and People Also Ask boxes 

Google’s own search results can actually provide a lot of insight into what other keywords are relevant to this term.

  • Google autofill – Type the target keyword into Google and see what other keywords pop up after the text. You should also click before the text to see additional keywords.

google autofill

  • Related Searches – These show up at the bottom of the page.

google related searches

  • People Also Ask boxes – These often show up in the middle of the page and offer ideas for additional content to include in your article (but not necessarily new keywords).

google people also ask box

5. Document your target keyword and all related keywords before you start writing

Use an Excel/Google spreadsheet to document the additional keywords and questions you find from this research. This info will influence your target keyword and content strategy for the page.

Good to read:

Competitive Research

Now that you’ve got a good idea as to what keywords and topics to include on your page, it’s time to assess your competitors.

Competitive research refers to analyzing websites that are “competing” for your target keywords in order to gain insights into what makes their content successful.

1. Look at the top 10 search results for your keyword

Type your keyword into Google and examine the first page of results. At a high level, you should understand:

  • What is the most popular format for this keyword? Here are a few examples:
    • Listicles (4 Ways to Pass the Time)
    • How-to Guides (How to Pass the Time and Never Be Bored Again)
    • Product/Service (Pass the Time with Everyone’s Favorite Fidget Spinner!)
  • Who are the publishers of the content?
    • Are these publishers competitors or tangentially relevant to your business?
    • Do these publishers typically publish content relevant to what your business writes about?
    • Would the expertise your business can offer on this topic fit in with the other search results?

Ultimately, you should use Google’s results to understand relevance. If the content you’re looking to write doesn’t align with the first page of results, you’re likely going to miss the mark (and the ranking).

Word to the wise: Consider the authority of the competitors ranking for this term to assess the true competition level. If your brand is mostly unknown at this time, you might want to avoid batting up against the largest players in your industry until you build more authority and traffic.

However, if your competitors’ content is thin or poorly optimized, this may still be a good opportunity to steal some rankings. Use your best judgment.

2. Click into the top 3-5 results for your keyword to analyze the content

Now that you’ve got a high-level idea of what the top-performing content for your keyword is about, you should click into the top few results to see specifically what topics are being covered.

    • What information does the page have? Take note of all sections included.
    • What’s the word count? (Use Word Counter Plus for quick checking)
    • Are images or videos used in the content?
    • Does the page link out to external research?

Use this information to influence (not copy) the format and information used in your own content.

More Free Tools to Try

For even more ideas, try these additional free tools for keyword research and content ideation.

1. SEO Minion

seo minion

This extension shows you the on-page SEO structure of any page you click onto. This is helpful in determining the title, meta description and headings of your competitors’ pages.

2. Answer the Public

answer the pb

This visually dynamic tool offers additional content ideas for your target keyword. This tool combines the suggested searches from search engines and visualizes them by question type (why, how, what, etc.).

You can also export the suggestions into a CSV for easier reading.

3. Portent’s Title Maker

The Title Maker doesn’t provide any keyword data, but it’s a fun, quirky tool that generates different types of content to write with your target keyword.

Examples for “passing the time”:

  • 7 Ways Passing the Time Can Find You the Love of Your Life
  • Why No One Talks About Passing the Time Anymore
  • 19 Facts About Passing the Time That Will Impress Your Friends
  • The Best Infographics About Passing the Time

Kind of fun, right?

If Money’s No Issue…

Ok, ok. Unpaid tools are great, BUT having paid keyword research tools on hand is helpful, especially when it comes to competitive research.

These tools show you exactly what keywords your competitors’ pages are ranking for, along with keyword volume and difficulty, backlink data and more.

Here are a few of these tools:

Most of these tools offer free or inexpensive trials, so play around and find which offers the best features for your team.

Go Forth and Find Keywords

There you have it: a simple, free process to find keywords that can help you drive qualified organic traffic to your priority pages.

Keyword research is not one-size-fits-all, so test different tools and methods to see what works best. Happy researching!