Keyword Research: Tools, Techniques, and Best Practices for Content Creators

Marta Szyndlar
March 18, 2021

Inside this article:

Going for organic traffic is tricky.

On the one hand, you have to know what to write about—find the unique angle that no tool will help you with.

On the other hand, you need to know which topics are relevant to your audience and regularly searched for in Google. 

While the first point is on you as a content creator, finding the right keywords (that will serve you as a base for your topic) is just as important.

Keyword research is not just about SEO. Do it well, and you will raise your chances of turning your visitors into customers and build your brand.

In this guide, I’ll tell you how to make the most out of keyword research, discover keyword ideas, find the RIGHT keywords for you, and choose the best SEO tool for the job. 

Read on!

Part 1: What is keyword research? The beginner’s guide

Keyword research: definition

Keyword research is a process of analyzing terms that people type into search engines to find relevant information for our marketing strategy.

Based on keyword research, many marketers prepare content plans and optimization strategies. 

Keyword research reveals numerous data points that can be used for SEO strategy, like:

Why is keyword research important?

the use cases of keyword research

Keyword research is the only way to make your hard work matter. You don’t want your SEO efforts stuck in the sock drawer. Especially that, according to Ahrefs, 90.63% of pages get no traffic from Google. Skipping keyword research entirely will make you one of them.


And the data you get from keyword research doesn’t only benefit your SEO. It servers your readers, too.

The days of writing low-quality content just for search engines are long gone. Google’s gotten good at checking if your content is helpful and readable for humans.

Keyword research will help you determine what your audience looks for and what they want to see. You’ll be able to deliver the most accurate answers (and show off your brand and expertise) for any question or problem.

This is a luxury you don’t get with ads, for example.

And one more thing: keyword research is not a one-time task. Queries change. You should perform the research regularly for your already published pages (you can use Google Search Console for that)—or at the very least, those that bring the most traffic. Otherwise, you risk losing it.

Part 2: Keyword research use cases for better SEO & content marketing

Keyword research can help at every stage of the content lifecycle. And you shouldn’t even think about writing a single word before running thorough research!

Here’s a list of the most important keyword research use cases.

Use case 1: Find out which keywords to target

This is the fundamental goal of keyword research.

You have to find the right balance between keywords you can rank high for and keywords you want to rank high for. And a base for the all articles, blog strategy, landing pages, and website development.

We’ll talk about recognizing the best keyword opportunities in the “How to find the right keyword” section.

Use case 2: Determine which keywords are prevalent in your niche… and cluster them

If you want to rank high in Google in 2021, your domain needs topical relevance and authority.

Topical relevance occurs when one site carries semantically related content.  The more topics related to the main keyword covered, the higher the domain's topical relevance.

Basically, your website content needs to be more than just a bunch of loosely connected topics. You need to find your niche, track down all the keywords related to it, and cover these topics with your content.

Sounds like quite a task? Well, it is, but it gets easier when you’re smart about it. You don’t have to target every keyword with a separate piece of content. You can easily group a few in one text. 

So, the merits of keyword clustering are clear: higher rankings AND fewer resources spent. 

How to find relevant topics, and how to group them? Google holds all the answers, and there are tools that will help you find them quickly, like Surfer’s Content Planner.

We’ll talk more about the specific tactics in the next section!

Use case 3: Assess how many resources each keyword needs

No SERP is created equal.

Some are just “typical” SERPs filled with a bunch of standard links without image packs or other add-ons:

search results with no SERP features

But some have pretty much all the SERP features

search results with many SERP features
search results with many SERP features  2
search results with many SERP features 3

...and crazy good, competitive content filled with lots of graphics, videos, and superior UX:

the spruce bird house article

If you include keyword difficulty evaluation to the keyword research, and you should, you can determine just how many resources you need to compete in a given SERP. And this can save you a lot of time and money.

It’s best to always go for the average of what your top competitors are doing. Why waste your time producing a batch of graphics, for example, if neither users nor Google care.

Use case 4: Identify the best form of content for a query

So, once again: in some SERPs, all you can find are traditional SERP results and maybe a lonely “People Also Ask box.”

But some are filled with different types of SERP features.

SERP features are everything you can see when you Google a keyword that ISN’T the traditional link plus description. Just take a look at this “how to tie a tie” query:

search results for how to tie a tie query
search results for how to tie a tie query 3
search results for how to tie a tie query 2

You can see all these features before the first link even appears.

If you wanted to rank high for this keyword AND get traffic… your best bet would be to make a video. Or at least provide a few well-tagged graphics.

When you research your keyword, check out what type of features you can see.

If your SERP is filled with videos, or pictures, or maybe recipe boxes, then why not take a shot at this form of content?

You don’t have to resign from the written form. Have the other types of content supplement your blog post or landing page. 

This doubles your chances of ranking high.

Use case 5: Discover the search intent for a query

Search intent is the “WHY” behind a query. It’s why people look for stuff.

We usually differentiate four types of search intent:

  • Informational;
  • Navigational;
  • Transactional;
  • Commercial.
examples of queries for different search intents

Experts and data agree: if your content doesn’t match the search intent of its main keyword, it won’t rank. You’ll just waste your time and resources.

See: Search intent case study.

Lucky for us, recognizing search intent is quite easy. Google holds all the answers.

For example, when you google “espresso machine with grinder,” pretty much the whole SERP consists of listicles with reviews. 

search results for espresso machine with grinder query
search results for espresso machine with grinder query 2

This SERP is clearly for the people with commercial intent.

If you’d like to rank here with an informational piece on what kind of coffee is best for this type of machine, or maybe a purely transactional landing page for your product… you might have a hard time.

Run a similar analysis for every keyword you want to rank for. I promise you, it’s worth it.

There are also in-tool ways of determining search intent that can save you time researching every SERP one-by-one.

For example, in the Surfer Content Planner tool, you can find search intent for every supportive page sub-cluster.

results in surfer content planner for coffee grinder query

Lear more about Content Planner:

Use case 6: Plan topics and secondary keywords for your pages

You can plan out an outline for a text that will leave no room for a content gap just by scanning the SERP features (like the “People also ask” box and related searches) and your competition,

For example: if you run a store that sells hair extensions and you want to write a piece on “hair extension brands,” all you have to do is Google this keyword and look at this delicious section:

people also ask box in search results for hair extensions query

These are four ideas for your article found in less than four seconds that will make both Google and your users happy. You can even make them into headlines

The “related searches” box can give us even more ideas for secondary keywords and topics:

related searches in search results for hair extensions query

And we can also scan the competing articles to check out what they wrote about and cover these topics as well. After all, they must have done something right to rank this high.

So, you get the gist. By researching what the people who google the term are interested in, we get to know what we should write about in our article, and how to structure it.

And it’s all just from Googling the term. Most SEO tools allow you to go deeper into the related topics in a matter of seconds with their handy lists of related keywords and phrases. 

For example, Surfer Content Editor provides you with a ready list of questions to answer in your content (based on the “People also ask” box, your competitors, Google’s NLP API, and Surfer’s own algorithms):

list of topics to cover in surfer content editor for "page speed"
Tip: Getting inspired by your competition is good. Copying them, not so much. It’s good practice to cover all the common topics that your top competitors write about, but feel free to add your points to the article as well. And make sure to give every section your own, original flavor! You might be answering the same questions, but you don’t have to give the same answers.

Use case 7: Maximize your chances of getting “position 0”

The so-called “position 0” is what we call the Featured Snippet. 

It’s because the site featured in the Snippet usually jumps above the traditional first-ranking page.

position zero in google serp

According to Ahrefs, the regular first-ranking pages still get more traffic than “page 0.”

But page 0 gets a significant chunk of the traffic… And it might become easier for you to get the Snippet than to jump to the top of the SERPs.

Because while the sites moved to position 0 have already been ranking in the top 10 in 99% of the cases, they’re not necessarily the previous “number ones.”

How to optimize for them? Keyword research will help you do it!

Your safest bet is only to target keywords that already have a Featured Snippet and try to dethrone the current position 0 pages.

You can find the right queries by simply Googling phrase after phrase until you find one with a promising Featured Snippet.

You can also make Snippet-centric keyword research to find more Snippet opportunities (snippertunities?) in Ahrefs:


But I still encourage you to visit your SERP of choice afterward to check how the Featured Snippet is presented. You’ll need to know it to format your content properly.

There are four common types of Featured Snippets:

  • Definition boxes,
  • Lists,
  • Tables,
  • And videos.

Check which type of Snippet your SERP has, and structure your text the same way. Do you need a list? Provide one at the top of your page. A definition box? Write a concise definition in your text and bold it. And so on.

The important thing is, this part of your text must be easy for Google bots to find and follow the rules of how Google format their Snippets. Semrush made a handy infographic on that:

Since the number of Featured Snippets keeps increasing, it will get harder and harder to drive traffic to your site even if you rank as number one.

So, now you know what keyword research can help you with.

But how to actually find ideas for keywords, and how to perform the research the most effectively?

Read on!

Part 3: How to find keyword and content ideas

The keyword research process can get you many content ideas, but you still need a starting point.

Below, I’ll give you a few tips on how to get your creative juices flowing.

What would you like to write about?

Start as simple as that. Think about the product, service, or topic you'd like to describe.

Think about your business’s strongest selling points, things you can do with your product or offer, and your area of expertise.

For example, if you run an SEO agency, you might want to write about thin link building, on-page optimization, or Google ads.

But these ideas are not keywords yet! Now, let’s take this a step further and…

Analyze the SERPs

What does your audience want to hear about? There’s an easy way to find out: analyze the SERPs.

Let’s continue with the SEO agency example. Now that you have the list of ideas, it’s time to narrow them down, or at least give them structure.

Let’s Google “link building.”

Just like we talked about before, your first hint of what the people might want to know about is right here, in the “People Also Ask” section. Look at all these questions:

people also ask box in search results for link building keyword

And that’s not all: if you click on them, more ideas will appear!

people also ask box in search results for link building keyword

You can also check out the “related searches” section at the bottom of the SERP. These short phrases will help you narrow down your general ideas.

related searches in search results for link building keyword

And that’s still not the bottom of the barrel. You can just keep clicking the suggestions and navigate the SERPs until you find the niche that interests you.

This step will help you make sure your keywords are niche-relevant in Google’s eyes. 

Consult Wikipedia

As a community-moderated encyclopedia backed up by experts and enthusiasts, it’s bursting with ideas for content.

Let’s carry on with our “link building” example.

Your go-to place should be the table of contents.

table of content for link building on wikipedia

It’s a great source of inspiration for long-tail keywords or subsections for your broader articles!

In most articles, there’s a neat “See also” section.

see also section for link building on wikipedia

Not only is it the next batch of keyword ideas, but you can also keep clicking and exploring your niche.

Check Quora, Reddit, and other places where your community gathers

Where else should you search for keyword ideas, if not in places where people head when they want immediate answers to their problems?

Hit up communities gathered around your niche. Depending on what you write about, these might be many different places⁠—forums, Slack groups, Facebook groups… It all depends on who you’re looking for.

But you can probably find everyone you’re looking for on Quora or Reddit.

Let’s carry on with our “link building example.”

Just a quick search revealed that there is a very active link-building community on Reddit gathered in r/linkbuidling:

By searching “link building” on Quora, I can also find a bunch of related questions.

And these are community-asked questions that you KNOW people want answers for right now. Whenever you see a thread that has a lot of comments, click it, and get inspired.

If you want to write content that meets people where you want to be met, this is a gold mine.

Part 4: How to find the RIGHT keywords

Okay, you have a bunch of ideas now. But not all of them are equally good.

You have to carefully check every keyword and pick your very best opportunities. Even if you have a lot of content marketing resources, you still need a proper strategy to be seen.

There are different levels to finding the right keywords. Many guides focus just on assessing the ranking difficulty for each SERP and determining if you can make it to the top 10...

And don’t get me wrong: it’s a super important thing. Kind of what SEO is about. But the ranking potential is not everything that matters to find the PERFECT keyword.

What good is there of ranking high if the content does nothing for your business goals and general niche authority?

(Hint: not much. Especially in the long run.)

To find the perfectly suiting keyword, you must keep three things in mind:

  1. Ranking opportunities
  2. Business goals 
  3. Brand & niche relevance.

I will tell you how to investigate all three categories.

Does “right: equal “easy”?

No, it doesn’t.

“The right keyword” doesn’t always mean “keywords you can tackle right now with minimum effort, that will bring fast results.”

When you’re researching keywords, stop thinking about quick wins only.

Sure, there is merit in targeting easy keywords, especially if you’re just starting your content efforts. But you won’t always be a beginner.

SEO is a game of endurance. You can’t feed your content marketing with low-hanging fruit all the time.

Keyword research will help you determine what you need to have a chance at them. Take a note, and slowly make your way forward.

Basically, ranking for more difficult keywords (with more search volume and closer to the bottom of the sales funnel) will require more work on your end:

  • Outstanding content,
  • Unique approach to the topic,
  • Link building activities,
  • Building topical relevance of the whole domain,
  • Internal linking strategy.

You have to answer yourself: Are you going to follow the niche-specific phrases, or are you ready to conquer high-volume keywords? 

Differentiate between your main keywords and supportive keywords

This is the most important first step of keyword research. 

Because it will tell you what exactly you should prioritize when searching for keywords. Is it ranking difficulty, potential traffic, search intent, or maybe something else altogether?

Remember the topical relevance we talked about before? In short, one of the ways of building your domain’s authority is providing lots of expert texts in a given niche. Every piece of content you produce should be relevant for that niche.

You can achieve it by organizing your content into topic clusters.

Topic clusters are groups of interlinked web pages. At the center of a cluster, there’s the main page (called a pillar page) that covers an entire broad topic, “surrounded” by a couple of smaller pages (called supportive pages) that support the main page, covering the related sub-topics more narrowly. ‍

All of them rank for a set of interconnected, niche-related keywords. 

Usually, the pillar page ranks for the main keyword, which is the broadest and most competitive. It’s because we want it to be the crown jewel of our cluster—represent our brand, bring traffic, and generate leads.

Supportive pages cover a variety of less popular, supportive keywords. Their main goal is to build the domain’s topical authority and help the pillar page rank high.

For example, if you run a running equipment store, your main keyword could be “running equipment,” supported by the pages with related topics, like “accessories for runners,” “summer running gear,” “gear for running” etc.

You can get the ideas for supporting pages from Content Planner.

content planner for the running equipment query

For “running equipment,” I got 189 relevant topic ideas I can use. Each card represents a single article or landing page.

The ultimate goal of creating such a structure is to tackle every keyword in a cluster. 

Here, I won’t go into the details of clustering philosophy and guide you through every step of a new website organization. If you’d like to know more about it, I recommend this guide from Moz.

Now you know the distinction between main keyword and supportive keywords… but to create successful content clusters, you need to know two more categories of keywords: similar keywords and niche-related keywords.

Similar keywords

Keyword similarity happens when the SERP results for two different keywords have a lot of overlapping pages.

For example, if for “running equipment” and “running gear,” I find five identical pages ranking in the top ten of both SERPs, the similarity is 50%. 

You can target all similar keywords with one piece of content to take over as many SERPs and possible. Why write multiple texts when you can have just one?

That’s exactly how Surfer organizes keywords per single topic in Content Planner

content cluster for accessories for runners query

Find similar keywords for every single piece of content you write to avoid unnecessary work…

But choose them extra carefully for your pillar page! You want it to be visible and bring traffic, so of course, it should appear in as many relevant SERPs as possible.

Don’t let any keyword that’s similar to your main keyword escape! Make sure to catch them all.

Niche-relevant keywords 

Keyword research and content strategy go beyond just one page. You want all your pages to be semantically relevant to your niche. 

When you have many decently ranking, well-optimized pages within the same topical cluster, that’s a signal to Google that you’re an authority in your field. And the bots crawling your supportive page can easily reach your main page via anchors (internal linking), and your main page receives linking juice… you get the gist.

So, the goal of your supportive pages is to uplift your pillar page and raise topical relevance. It’s nice when they bring decent traffic, but it’s not their main goal.

When you do keyword research for your supportive pages, you must choose keywords that stay within the same semantic field as your main keyword but have low keyword similarity. We don’t want your supportive pages compete with your pillar page. 

It’s also good when they aren’t competitive so that you can rank with low effort.

Let’s say I want to rank for “coffee grinders,” and I’m doing keyword research. My goal is to rank for “coffee grinders” with my pillar page. I decided to tackle this keyword because I know I can compete for it, and it will bring me decent traffic. 

search results for coffee grinders query

Then, I set out to look for ideas for supportive pages. This time, I’ll try to look for them straight in Google search.

Let’s check out the “People also ask for” box. It’s obvious that Google finds these queries topically relevant since it’s showing them to us.

people also ask box for coffee grinders

The “Are blade coffee grinders really that bad?” one looks promising. The results in this query are different than in the “coffee grinder” query. And the competition’s not cutthroat, so it’ll be easy to rank. It won’t bring me tons of money and traffic… but it’s within the users’ area of interest, and Google interconnects the two topics, so let’s put some resources into writing a supportive page writing for this keyword.

And that’s the very simplified process of looking for your main and supportive keywords and clustering them. For more in-depth research, you can use tools, like Content Planner that I showed above.

To sum up: 

You want your pillar page to rank for your main keyword and similar keywords, bring a lot of traffic and leads, and ultimately, money. 
And you want your supportive pages to rank for supportive keywords that are semantically relevant but don’t compete with the main keyword. They should also be less competitive.
It’s important to know what kind of page you want to write while doing keyword research because you’ll have to prioritize different things.

Remember when I said that “right” doesn’t always mean “easy”? This rule applies 100% to creating content clusters. When you find the “right” head keywords, it won’t and SHOULDN’T be that easy to rank for them! You have to work for it. 

Estimate your keyword’s ranking difficulty

To maximize your chances of ranking for a keyword, you need to assess its general ranking difficulty.

But how to recognize if a query is difficult or not? It’s not like it gets a badge from Google.

Here are a few indicators.

1. Head vs. long-tail keywords

Have you ever heard of this distinction? If not, here’s a crash course:

Head keywords are the popular keywords that get the biggest traffic but are also the most competitive.

Long-tail keywords are less popular and much more specific keywords that gain less traffic but are said to convert better (since the users have a very specific need in mind when they type them into search engines).

Some also differentiate “body keywords,” the middle ground between the two.

Because they enjoy much less popularity, long-tail keywords are generally less difficult to rank for. 

They’re good for your supportive pages, and a good starting point for any new site that can’t compete with the big players yet. Because of the higher conversion rate, they might also help you sell stuff better.

2. Strong domains in SERPs

To rank high for competitive keywords, you need a strong domain.

And when you have a strong domain, ranking for any keyword becomes much easier.

This is why it’s hard to compete in SERPs packed tight with strong domains when yours is not on the same level.

But how to check the quality of the domains in your SERP of choice?

Some are just easy to guess. When most links you can see lead to Amazon, Wikipedia, BestBuy, etc., it’s obvious the SERP is challenging.

But you don’t only have to use your best judgment.

Generally, we can assume that strong domains are those that receive a LOT of monthly traffic. High visibility equals lots of visits equals high traffic, right?

(Of course, it’s an over-simplification, but it can help us in the first stage of keyword research or when we don’t have access to paid tools).

There are a lot of free plug-ins that can help you check the traffic amount. I’ll use Keyword Surfer, a free Chrome extension, as an example, since it allows you to see estimated traffic directly in SERPs.

Let’s imagine we run a shop with pet accessories. Take a look at this “dog grooming tools” SERP.

average domain traffic for pages ranking for the dog grooming scissors keyword

Most of the domains have a LOT of monthly traffic. Beating them will be hard if your numbers are not that high yet.

But now, let’s take a look at this “dog grooming scissors” SERP.

average domain traffic for pages ranking for the dog grooming keyword

There are strong domains here, but there are also ones that don’t get that much traffic. Apparently, it’s possible to rank high in this SERP even without a killer domain.

Then, maybe it’s better to start with this keyword and slowly work your way up?

3. “Keyword difficulty” metric inside SEO tools

Nowadays, most SEO tools offer a keyword difficulty checker. It’s usually displayed on a numerical scale.

Such metrics can help you avoid tedious and challenging research and are arguably the most accurate method (given that the tool’s algorithms can crunch more data than a human brain could in a matter of minutes).

How is “keyword difficulty” made into a measurable number? What sort of metrics are taken into account?

Usually, the assumed difficulty depends on top pages’ backlink profiles. The more strong domains refer to the pages on average, the higher the score, and the more difficult the SERP.

One of the most popular difficulty metrics was developed by Ahrefs. If you use the tool, you can find it at the top of the page in the Keyword Explorer section. It is based on the number of backlinks your organic competitors have. 


The backlink profile is extremely important, but it is not all that matters for high rankings. There are over 200 ranking factors. And Google itself revealed that the two signals that matter most are links and content.

Judging from Google’s algorithm updates, like the huge BERT update from 2019, content as a ranking factor is rising in importance.

That’s why in Surfer’s tools, we offer two metric to measure the difficulty of SERPs:

  • Content Score, which signifies page’s content quality on a scale from 0 to 100. 
  • Authority, which ranks the strength of a page’s backlink profile on a scale of 9 to 10.
Content Score and authority score in Surfer SERP analyzer

We don’t draw the average but assign a score to each domain, so you can judge the SERP by yourself.

What does it say about SERP difficulty? Easy: you can check if you have enough resources to beat, or at least match, the Content Scores and Authorities of your competitors.

Tip: If you use Surfer, your best best for a quick win is to target SERPs with high Content Scores, but low domain authority, and try to compete with equally great content.

Like here:

content score and authority score in surfer content editor

Why? Because that’s how we can be certain that with these SERPs, Google values content quality first.

And writing great content is always within your reach, while improving the backlink profile can take months.

Pin down the search intent

Let’s talk about how to use the information you gathered about search intent to choose the right keyword.

Search intent helps you determine what users want to see for a given keyword.

Remember our “best espresso machine with grinder” example? Listicles and reviews with commercial intent dominate the whole SERP. Ranking high with a landing page or an article could be hard.

So now, it’s up to you to decide what’s important for your business right now:

  • Is it about ranking for this particular keyword,
  • or is it about pushing out a specific type of content in the “espresso machine” topical cluster?

If it’s about the keyword, let go of your other plans and write that listicle.  

If it’s not… just search for another keyword. If you wanted to write an informational article to raise your niche authority, this “are espresso machines worth it” query might be a better idea.

search results for are espresso machines worth it query

And if you wanted to sell, sell, sell, maybe try ranking for a keyword that’s a specific espresso machine model.

My point is: if you don’t like what you’re seeing in a given SERP, don’t just give up and produce content that doesn’t align with your business goal.

It’s okay to think about search intent first, and only look for keywords that fulfill it. Even if that “best espresso machine with grinder” query looks tempting.

Are you focusing on building topical authority right now? Getting quick wins and more money? Or building a client base? These are questions that you should ask yourself before you get to work.

Check the search volume

Search volume is the classic keyword research metric.

In short, the higher the search volume, the more people are likely to click your post.

There is no way to check traffic volume straight in Google, so you need an SEO tool. There are both free and paid options that will help you check it out.

But there are two things you need to remember before you embark on your high-traffic search.

First, there is no objective “high traffic number.”

If you’re in a popular niche, your numbers will be high. Look at this “sports shoes” query.

But if you’re a locksmith near Brentwood, UK, your number will be significantly smaller:

Secondly, traffic doesn’t always matter. Really.

It all depends on the purpose of your page.

High-volume keywords are good for pillar pages when your goal is to increase your visibility and reach the broadest possible audience. You don’t care that the conversion rate might not be off the roof.

But if your page is all about selling your services, the sheer number of monthly traffic doesn’t matter. It’s better to have 200 visitors out of which 20 will make a purchase than 2000 out of which one or two will convert.

People looking for our super popular “sports shoes” keyword are probably just browsing before they make a purchase. 

But when someone types in a specific brand and size, like here:

They’re probably ready to buy. Their minds sure seem to be made up! So the keyword might have less traffic, but you have higher chances of actually selling someone to people who type it in.

Traffic doesn’t matter that much for supportive pages, either. Even if they don’t get tons of views, they’ll be ranking for keywords in your chosen topical niche and still give you an SEO boost. So don’t dismiss these 20-people-monthly long-tail keywords!

Try our Keyword Reaserch Chrome Extension!

Check for the number of clicks

The number of clicks is what you should check once you find a decent keyword with satisfying search volume.

Organic CTR (Click-Through Rate) in Google keeps getting lower. The thing to blame is on-SERP features like Featured Snippets that answer your question before you click the page.

Featured Snippet for on-page SEO

Or the “People also ask” box that helps you expand your research with no clicking.

People also ask box in keyword research query

Or any other special features appearing thanks to structured data, like Knowledge Boxes.

knowledge box for apple brand in google search

For most keywords (but not all, keep that in mind), many on-SERP features reduce CTR.

So, if your keyword has a lot of them, like the “how to build a bird box” SERP where we can see a video, a People Also Ask box, and another batch of videos right after entering, it’s safe to assume your site might not get a ton of clicks.

But if you don’t want to rely on guessing, you can easily check CTR in Ahrefs, for example. Most SEO tools offer this metric.


Again, clicks aren’t a make-or-break metric. 

First of all, with a high enough search volume, you can still fight for clicks with exciting title tags or meta description, rich results, etc. It’s risky, but if you have enough resources and you REALLY want that keyword, try!

And secondly, for your supportive pages, clicks are not crazy important. So if the only thing you’re after is more cluster juice, you can disregard this metric whatsoever. 

Think about your content goals

People invest in content marketing for a reason. 

And this reason is not just SERP visibility and traffic. These are just ways to achieve different goals.

Each piece of content should have its purpose beyond SEO. You need to do something with the traffic you get. Do you want to:

  • get leads with a lead magnet?
  • drive more traffic to your blog?
  • sell your product right away?
  • support your pillar page?
  • something else? Or maybe a few of those combined?

You need to think about the state of mind of the users who will visit your website from SERPs.

Some keywords might seem attractive on the cover but will do nothing for our business.

And I’m not talking about the obvious stuff, like trying to rank for “YouTube video downloader” if you’re in a car rental business just because it’s a popular keyword.

I’ll show you what I mean.

A keyword fits our niche, but not our business

Okay, so I’m in a content and on-page SEO business. And I want to create a cluster supporting the pillar page ranking for “on-page SEO.” 

In Surfer’s Content Planner, I’m getting a suggestion that I should write an article on “technical SEO.” 

topical cluster for technical seo keyword in surfer content planner

It’s related to my niche, has decent traffic, I have knowledge on the subject…

Sure. But Surfer doesn’t offer technical SEO services. Even if my article ranks high, what will happen with the traffic? I’ll just gain a bunch of visitors interested in technical SEO who aren’t likely to convert because my tool just won’t give them what they want. They’ll just go somewhere else.

So it’s better for me to skip this keyword.

Every time you find a promising keyword, think if a person who finds your pages in the SERP would be happy to come across your site, or would they feel unsatisfied.

A keyword fits our business, but won’t fulfill our current goals

This time, let’s assume that we want to write content for a company that sells vegan beauty products.

During keyword research, we find a great keyword “vegan peeling mask.” We realize we can totally compete here. Face masks are in the store’s offer, we want to sell them, and they definitely fit the niche. 

While there are some ads at the top, I quickly spot a video box with instructional films on how to make scrubs at home. 

search results for vegan body scrub query

The “People also ask” box has got a similar DIY vibe…

people also ask box for vegan body scrub query

...and so do high-ranking pages.

search results for vegan body scrub query 2

We can assume that most visitors looking for this query ended up visiting pages about making masks at home, that’s why Google is pushing them forward.

This means that we might not be able to sell things that easily.

Always check if the content in your dream query aligns with your current business goals!

Summing up, you should always think about your content goals first, and only then decide if a keyword is right for you. Otherwise, your high rankings and traffic will just go to waste.

Tip: Re-check promising keywords you gave up on every once in a while. Who knows, maybe the SERP changed?

Part 5: The best tools for keyword research

Now that you know how to research keywords for SEO, let's get to the tools that will make your work easier and more efficient!

With all the different features, purposes, prices, and use-cases, the keyword research tools market can be overwhelming. The price point alone varies from entirely free to hundreds of dollars monthly.

I’ll list a bunch of options that I use to help you make an educated decision!

Surfer Content Planner [Paid]

Surfer Content Planner is a tool for creating topical clusters that you can plan your entire domain around.

All you need is to type your main keyword and pick a location. 

Surfer Content Planner search bar

You’ll get a list of article ideas (along with the primary and secondary keywords they need to rank for) to cover for the next couple of months.

Surfer content planner for on-page seo query

Remember content clusters? This is the entire foundation for creating one. The main keyword(s) should be what you want your money page to rank for, and the other sub-clusters are for your supportive pages.

As you can see, all of the keywords are already grouped, so you don’t have to worry about keyword cannibalization, content gaps, or checking keyword similarity.

You can easily check the estimated traffic of each sub-cluster, and its search intent. 

 topical cluster for seo tip keyword in surfer content planner

You can also disable the sub-clusters with search intent that don’t match your current business goals, and apply other filters.

search intent in surfer content planner

You can quickly set up a Content Editor for each sub-cluster.

setting up content editor in surfer content planner

After you do, you will be able to easily monitor the advancement of each of your clusters.

checking cluster progress in surfer content planner

As you can see, Content Planner does most of your Keyword Research for you. Its main strength is the focus on tropical clustering and authority building, and the bird-eye approach to content strategy.

Surfer subscriptions start with $59 monthly and give you access to the entire toolset.

Keyword Surfer [Free]

Keyword Surfer is a free Chrome extension that reveals data and keywords directly in Google search, and lets you jump into content creation process right ahead.

After you install the extension, you can get info on monthly search volume (and estimated CPC for Google Ads campaigns) in the search bar next to the keyword.

estimated serach volume in keyword surfer

On the right, you get a panel with keyword ideas, which can really speed up your research. You can check their volume and similarity, which will help you plan keyword clusters!

clipboard in keyword surfer

You can also check correlations between traffic (that reflects domain strength), the number of words, or exact keyword matches, and the position in Google.

correlation chart in keyword surfer

But that’s not all. You can also set up Content Editor for your keyword and get right to writing.

create content editor in keyword surfer

The free Content Editor will give you data on important phrases to use and word count. 

freemium content editor in keyword surfer

Answer the Public [Freemium/Paid]

Answer the Public is a fantastic tool for getting keyword ideas, expanding your content, and researching your niche.

You can check out:

  • long-tail keywords sorted by questions words, prepositions, and comparison words that are a great inspiration for subheadings in your content or your supportive pages;
  • alphabetical list of related searches that can help you build your clusters; 
  • a shorter list of the most tightly related searches that you can check for similarity later and try to rank for them as well.
keyword ideas in answer the public for chocolate keyword

For a freemium, that’s a LOT.

Paid plans start with $99 and include additional functionalities, like data comparisons, search listening, and educational packages.

Google Trends [Free]

Google Trends is a free, easily accessible tool that doesn’t have a ton of features, but has one significant advantage:

It’s an official Google tool, so the data comes directly from Google.

Google Trends helps you see the popularity of given keywords.

Any time you’re about to write a big money page that you want to be some evergreen content, it’s worth checking what Google has to say about its future!

Plus, it can help you make a decision between two semantically similar keywords when you want to choose the main one.

keyword comparison in google trends

Just compare them in a tool, and check which one has been more popular over time!

Google's Keyword Planner [Paid]

Another tool that takes data directly from Google.

Google’s Keyword Planner is made with Google Ads in mind, but it’s fantastic for regular keyword research as well.

All you have to do is type in your main keyword. You’ll get a list of relevant keyword ideas along with their average monthly searches.

Source: [Freemium/Paid]

Keyword analyzes search trends beyond Google. You can use it to conduct keyword research for eBay, Amazon, Bing, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Play Store as well.

search bar in keyword tool

In the free version, you can find keyword suggestions only. Paid plans start with $99 a month (or $79, if you pay for a whole year in advance) and provide data on search volume, trend, CPC, and competitiveness of each keyword, as well as two more separate functionalities: competitor analysis and search volume checker (for lists of keywords).

results in keyword tool

It’s a simple tool with reliable data that you’ll find especially useful if you want to rank not only on Google!

The part of the functionality, including some useful data, is available for free. For conducting a more advanced analysis, you need to subscribe to one of the available plans. The cheapest plan costs $89 monthly.

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer [Paid]

The Keyword Explorer inside Ahrefs provides tons of data on a given keyword. 

The tool will provide you with all the numerical data that you need to decide if the keyword is right for you.

results in ahrefs keyword explorer for keyword research query

They also have a really useful “SERP position history” metric that will help you see how stable a given SERP is.

serp position history in ahrefs for keyword research query

As for keyword ideas, you get a bunch of different categories that will help you discover them:

keyword ideas in ahrefs

My favorite is the “Also rank for” one that shows “keywords that the top-ranking pages for your target keyword also rank for in the top 100 search results.”

also rank for option in ahrefs

That being said, clustering with Ahrefs might be challenging—it sorts similar keywords by search volume, so we don’t really know how much they overlap.

But if you want to check every nook and cranny of your one chosen keyword, Ahrefs is your guy.

Ahrefs subscription starts with $99 (or $82 if you pay for a year in advance).

Final note

Keyword research matters not just for SEO, but for your entire content strategy.

And, as with most things SEO, there are no “one-size-fits-all” solutions. Each keyword is different and for each, you need to pay attention to different things.

I hope this guide gave you a framework for effective keyword research.

After you figure out the following:

  • The purpose of this keyword in your domain’s structure (main vs. supportive);
  • Ranking difficulty;
  • Search intent;
  • Search volume;
  • CTR;
  • Your business expectations for ranking in this SERP,

You’ll get the full picture of any keyword. You’ll be ready to make an educated decision based on hard data and the right priorities

Keyword research is just the first step of effective content strategy. If you want to dig deeper into the process of SEO content creation….

Check also:

The article was co-written with Sławek Czajkowski, an SEO expert with over 13 years of experience and Surfer's co-founder and CEO. As the KS SEO Agency manager, he created and conducted successful data-driven digital marketing campaigns for over 500 businesses.