On this episode of Ground Up, Kieran Flanagan talks about the early days of freemium at HubSpot, instilling a growth discipline that expanded well beyond the marketing team, managing cross-functional teams, and more.
Ground Up Podcast | Oct 21
Dann Albright on August 29, 2019 • 17 minute read
For access to industry-leading keyword research tools like Moz, Ahrefs, or SEMrush, you’re looking at spending a minimum of $99 per month.
But if all you need from those tools is a way to find keywords for your blog posts, you’re probably wasting your money. There are tons of free tools you can use to conduct keyword research and analysis without spending a dime.
To give you a variety of free options to choose from, we asked 50 marketers to weigh in with their top tips (and added a few of our own).
Here are eight free ways to find keywords for your blog posts, plus six recommendations on how to analyze those keywords and make sure you’re always targeting the best ones.
Table of Contents:
The starting point for SEO copywriting is keyword research. By finding keywords to target, you can make sure that you’re always writing about topics people are searching for—and always optimizing your blog posts to rank highly in organic search.
Here are eight free ways to find keywords for your blog posts.
A great starting point for conducting keyword research for blog posts is determining which keywords your competitors are already ranking for.
“Your top competitors already have what you want—rankings,” says WorkWave’s Kyle Menchaca.
There are a couple of free ways to find out what keywords your competitors are ranking for. One option is to create a free Moz community account. This gives you access to 10 free searches per month in Moz Keyword Explorer.
To find competitor keywords using Moz, just switch the search type to “root domain,” type in a competitor’s URL, and click search to get a long list of your competitor’s top-ranking keywords.
If you need to conduct more than Moz’s 10 free searches per month, you can use Ubersuggest. Ubersuggest is a completely free keyword research tool, so you can conduct as many searches as you want without spending a dime.
And while you can use this method to target the same keywords your competitors are targeting, another good approach is to use this data to find keywords your competitors aren’t targeting.
“Try to find content gaps,” says Christine Kilbride of Majux Marketing. If you address the questions that your competitors aren’t answering, you’ll capture traffic that they’re ignoring.
Editor’s note: As you start to target keywords your competitors are also targeting, you may want to keep an eye on how your share of voice compares to your competitors. AccuRanker users can grab this free AccuRanker Competitors Overview dashboard to monitor increases and decrease in share of voice.
Another way to find keywords—and ideas—for your blog posts is to use a free keyword research tool to search for a broad topic. Then, mine the related keywords the tool produces to find specific keywords and ideas.
There are several free tools you can use for this approach, including Moz Keyword Explorer (10 free searches per month), Ubersuggest (unlimited free searches), and Google Keyword Planner (unlimited free searches—here’s how to use Google Keyword Planner for free).
In each of these tools, you start by entering a broad keyword that’s related to your business, product, or topic. Say you’re writing blog posts for a tool like HubSpot. You might start with searches for terms like “inbound marketing,” “marketing automation,” “email marketing,” or “free CRM.”
Type one of those keywords into your keyword research tool of choice, then click search to see a long list of related keywords.
Dig through those related keywords to look for those that you could turn into blog posts. For example, “automated direct mail” might be a great keyword for a how-to guide on automating a direct mail marketing program.
“Marketing automation workflow” could be a great keyword for a list of examples of how your customers have used your tool to automate different types of workflows in their businesses.
If you ultimately decide to use Google Keyword Planner for your keyword research, just keep in mind that the tool is designed for Google Ads keyword research and not necessarily organic keyword research. For example, the competition values in Google Keyword Planner are for Google Ads—not organic listings.
Additionally, our respondents were divided on how effective Google Keyword Planner is as a keyword research tool.
Stacy Caprio of Case Covering says that Google Keyword Planner always produces reliable results. But North Coast Financial’s Jeffrey Hensel calls the results from Google Keyword Planner “vague and disappointing.” So your mileage may vary.
The two options above are great for finding keywords and ideas for blog posts on a large scale, but sometimes you already have an idea and just need to find a target keyword for that blog post. There are several free tools you can use to find keywords in this scenario, too.
Best Company’s Sarah Hancock recommends the free Keywords Everywhere browser extension. Just type your best guess at a keyword for your topic into Google Search, and Keywords Everywhere will tell you if that keyword has any search volume.
If your first guess is a flop, Keywords Everywhere also gives you related keywords to consider, along with search volumes for each related keyword.
While you’re looking for keywords using Keywords Everywhere, you can also use the free tools that Google Search provides. For example, Kim Smith of GoodFirms recommends finding keywords by typing a keyword into Google Search and looking at the search suggestions that display below the search box.
And Freelance Website Optimizer Matthew Post recommends using the “People Also Ask” and “Searches related to” suggestions that Google provides to expand your list of keywords.
If you’re using Keywords Everywhere, it will also populate search volumes next to Google’s related search suggestions.
As amazing as Google is at delivering the exact information you’re looking for most of the time, it doesn’t have the answers to everything. And when people can’t find the answers they’re looking for using Google Search, they often turn to online communities to get advice from their peers.
Many of our respondents—including Aneesh Babu of Backlinkminds and Srajan Mishra of TSI Apparel—recommend looking at the questions people are asking on Reddit and Quora and in niche-specific forums to find keyword and topic ideas.
Another option, recommended by BankBazaar’s Ramesh Singh, is AnswerThePublic. Just type any broad keyword into AnswerThePublic—like you would on any other keyword research tool—and it will produce a diagram of questions that people type into search engines that are related to that keyword.
Finding out what questions people are asking is a great way to find main keyword and topic ideas, but it’s also a great way to find secondary keywords to target and additional ways to expand your content and make it more comprehensive.
These are “latent semantic indexing” keywords, says George Schildge of Matrix Marketing Group, and they’re an important part of Google’s algorithm.
Trailblaze Marketing’s Brian Schofield suggests using Amazon for ecommerce keyword research. Like Google Search, Amazon’s search bar also produces a list of related queries when you type in a general search term.
By entering your primary term and looking at the most common searches, you can get information on primary, secondary, semantically related, and other kinds of terms.
“No keyword research strategy is complete without determining the potential longevity of a selected keyword,” Ridge says. He suggests using Google Trends to ensure that your keyword’s volume is increasing and to capitalize on trending topics and keywords.
The site can also be instructive in highlighting seasonal trends, Ridge says.
Start by typing a keyword into Google Trends and searching by “Search term.”
This shows you if usage of that keyword is increasing, decreasing, static, or high at some times during the year but low during others.
You can even refine your search to look at usage of the term in specific regions, during specific timeframes, and within specific categories.
To find searches that are trending within a topic, type in your keyword and search by “Topic.”
This will show you related keywords and topics that are getting higher-than-normal search volumes right now.
Your content will inevitably rank for keywords you’re not specifically targeting, and sometimes it will rank for keywords that aren’t even related to the content on the page. For that reason, Google Search Console can be a great source of new keyword ideas.
To find keywords your content is already ranking for, open Google Search Console and click on “Performance.” Scroll down, and you’ll see a list of all of the keywords your site currently ranks for, as well as the search volumes for those keywords.
You can download this list to a CSV file to look through all of your existing keywords to find new keywords to target and new topic ideas.
You can also use this data to find old blog posts that need to be updated. Just scroll back up, click the “Average position” box to show the average position for each keyword you’re ranking for, and look for keywords where you’re ranking on page one but not in the top spot.
Imagine you’re ranked 100th for a keyword that gets 5,000 searches per month, Ajmal says, and 5th for a keyword that gets 1,000 searches per month. He recommends focusing on the second keyword to boost your rankings and drive more traffic to your site.
Editor’s note: Want an easier way to keep an eye on the keywords your blog posts are ranking for and what positions you’re ranking in? Grab this free Google Search Console dashboard to consolidate all of your most important metrics into a central, shareable source.
If your website has a search function of its own, you can use Google Analytics data to find out what topics people are searching for on your site. More specifically, you can find things people are searching for that you haven’t already covered.
Just navigate to Google Analytics, expand “Behavior,” expand “Site Search,” and click “Search Terms.”
Google Analytics will produce a list of all of the keywords people have typed into your site’s search bar. Review that list, look for searches that signify gaps in your content, and write blog posts to target those keywords and answer those questions.
After using the tips above, you should have a long list of keywords you want to target with blog posts. But it’s not time to start writing yet.
To find the best keywords to target, you need to analyze each keyword on your list to determine your likelihood of ranking well for that keyword. After all, if it’s unlikely that you’ll rank for that keyword, it might not be worth targeting that keyword with content.
When we asked our respondents to weigh in on which factors are most important in choosing keywords to target, relevance, search volumes, and search intent came out on top:
Here are six questions to ask yourself (along with free tools you can use to answer them) to make sure you’re always targeting the right keywords in your blog posts.
“The best tip I have for keyword analysis is actually searching for the term in Google,” said Juli Durante of SmartBug Media.
“Sometimes, we get wrapped up in tools and data and forget what people mean when they enter a word, phrase, or question in that little box. By actually searching for a keyword you’re considering targeting, you can find out if the search term means what you think it means,” Durante says.
This is a critically important step because it’s all too easy to just assume a keyword is related to a topic you have in mind. But if people are asking a different question that what you’re answering, your content will never rank highly for your targeted search term.
Another thing to consider is the competitiveness of the keyword you’ve chosen.
Box20’s Evan Gower usually doesn’t try to take keywords away from major competitors. “Instead I go after someone just a tier or two above or below the site I’m researching. It’s easier to win those rankings, and you can usually find some hidden gems.”
Dave Hermansen of Store Coach agrees: “For ecommerce sites, see if major brands like Amazon and Walmart dominate the search results for your keyword. If they do, you may find it difficult to compete.”
“If there are some spots open that are not major brands, you may have a chance of ranking. And if you don’t see any major brands, you have an excellent chance of appearing on page one,” Hermansen says.
After installing MozBar, search for your keyword on Google. MozBar will show you the Domain Authority for each result below the result:
Target keywords that have a lower Domain Authority than yours, O’Loughlin suggests. “You’ll see a big increase in organic results.”
While niching down is a well-known business tactic, it works just as well when you’re selecting keywords to target with your SEO campaign. It’s especially crucial when you’re just starting out.
“Keyword research can be sometimes daunting, especially if you see your competitors ranking high for a specific term,” says Ulysis Cababan of RapidVisa.
Cababan suggests finding niche keywords and verticals for targeting your audience. As you build up your SEO program and start to establish yourself in the search ranks, you might be able to expand. But be sure to start with targeted, long-tail keywords that people looking for your product might use.
Irayo’s Abhinav Sahai provided a concrete example. “If you are a digital marketing agency, don’t just target keywords like ‘digital marketing agency.’ Start with ‘digital marketing agency in Boston.’ Or even more niche: ‘SEO’ or ‘inbound marketing agency in Boston.’”
These keywords might get you less traffic, Sahai says, but your visitors will be interested in your services.
Derek Hines focuses on local keywords for West Coast Self-Storage and recommends niching down to your specific ZIP code.
However, Thierry de Vynck of Great Scott! points out that many companies start creating content for niche keywords that “aren’t really their cup of tea.”
Instead, de Vynck says you should “focus on the most common questions your prospects ask during the sales process. If most prospects ask this question, you can be sure that this is a popular keyword. Focus on people, not on algorithms.”
When you’re researching keywords, one of the first pieces of information you probably look at is search volume. If a keyword gets a lot of searches, it seems like a valuable one. So you should target it. Right?
Not so fast, said some of our respondents. You’ll be facing tough competition on many of those keywords.
“You can’t go after the highest volume and the highest difficulty keyword right out of the gate,” says ClickUp’s Josh Spilker. “You’ve got to find some easier targets that still interest your audience.”
David Barbour of Vivio Life Sciences concurs. “The appropriate goal is to place on page one for a myriad of medium-search-volume keywords rather than exclusively focusing on a few big-shot keywords.”
“Nowadays I would advise any content marketer to focus on targeting the keywords with the weakest competition first,” says Jason Lavis of Out of the Box Innovations. “You can target the harder keywords later once you’ve got traction.”
While many marketers said it’s good to target low-volume, long-tail, less-competitive keywords, there are places where you might want to consider breaking that rule.
JC Matthews from eLifeTools recommends checking the cost-per-click for keywords you’re considering. “If people are paying a high amount for a keyword in Google, then they must be getting a solid ROI from that keyword.”
Matthews points out the value of finding keywords that use words like “review,” “buy,” “purchase,” and “vs” to capture high-buying-intent leads. These are the words that people use when they’re considering buying.
Prathamesh Yeotekar of Valasys Business Solution also recommends looking for keywords with low search volumes yet very high CPCs.
Of course, if you target keywords with high CPCs, you’re likely to face significant competition for ranking. It’s going to be a battle—but if you win, you’ll get a lot of high-converting traffic.
The Content Factory’s Natalie Hornyak recommends searching for your keyword using Google, then reading the top results and looking for ways you can do better. Write a more thorough response to the search query, or run a backlink campaign to get valuable links to your site.
“In other words,” Hornyak says, “target keywords you can realistically rank for, then make your content deserving of those rankings.”
Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray shared his workflow:
It’s not an easy process. But it will help you boost your rankings.
It’s tempting to jump right in and start picking keywords to target. But there’s more to it than that. You need a plan first.
N. Davaine Studio’s Nicholas Davaine recommends starting your plan with a simple brainstorming session: “Using good old human brainpower before jumping into technology like Google Keyword Planner can really help you build a comprehensive strategy.”
Postali’s Dakota Williams uses an Excel file to track and plan keywords, documenting each keyword and its search volume, competition, and category.
In addition to making it easier to track your successes, Williams says that this document can be useful to show to a client. If they question your strategy, you have the data to back up your decisions. Updated volume and competition data also lets you know when you should change your keyword strategy.
And when you’re planning, be sure to take your customer personas into account. “It helps to put a name and a face to the quest for the perfect words of intent,” says Carl Donovan of Opus Marketplace.
As you can see, there are a huge number of factors to take into consideration. And every company will develop its own strategy for choosing and targeting them.
But with this extensive list of ideas, you’ll now be better prepared to find and choose the right keywords for your organization.
Originally published in July 2018, this post has been updated to focus on free keyword research tools and with additional tips and methods for keyword research and analysis.
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