Understanding Keyword Research

Keywords are the words and phrases on your webpage that help define the main idea of your site and individual pages. By using keywords effectively, you help search engines understand the “main ideas” of each page, which (in combination with other signals) allows them to provide the most relevant and valuable results to people using the search engines. When designing your website and developing content, you want your keywords to match the terms that your target market is searching for.

This is a key to giving your site the best chance of showing up in your target market’s search results. 

While it may seem like this would happen naturally, the way a brand describes their product may not be the same way a customer searches for it. Without spending time on keyword research, you risk missing out on consumers who may be the perfect fit for your product. Additionally, without optimized keywords, your website could easily get lost in generic industry terms that face immense competition.

In addition to improving your page ranking on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs), keyword research can provide invaluable insights to guide your entire marketing strategy. Understanding what and how your consumers are searching can show you what new features to consider next, what questions to answer in FAQs, what attributes to call out in product descriptions, and more.


Consumers, and how they search, are ever-changing. This means that keyword research often isn’t something you do just once for a website. It is a process that you should revisit regularly to ensure accuracy. While there are many different strategies you can take, let’s focus on three easy and free strategies that anyone can use: buyer personas, using Google as a tool, and learning from your competitors.

Before diving into those, let’s address the elephant in the room: keyword research tools. While they definitely exist and can reinforce the most obvious keywords, your success with them will vary, and it can be difficult to trust their accuracy.

However, if using a tool is the route you want to go, Google Keyword Planner is a good place to start. It is designed for sites running ad campaigns on Google, but you can gain insight into predicted ranges of search volume even if you’re not actively running ads (and more specific information if you are).

Many well-respected paid SEO tool providers such as Moz and SEMRush also offer keyword research features. Using one of these tools in combination with the other keyword research strategies outlined below can create a good foundation for your keyword strategy. 

Buyer Personas

Understanding your customer is the baseline of every part of your business model, and SEO is no exception. Not only do you need to know who your customer is and what they’re searching for – you need to know why. The key to “why” is user intent. By understanding the intention of the search, you can ensure that you are providing content to fit the user’s specific need.

For example, if someone searches “When to buy a new mattress?”, showing them a top-selling mattress won’t fit the need of their search. They are searching for information at this stage, not a product. Including this on your FAQ page can drive traffic to your site, increase brand awareness at this early stage, and likely increase your site’s rank on the SERP. 

To start understanding your potential buyers at each stage of the buying cycle, create 3-4 buyer personas based on your target audience. The idea of a buyer persona is to create a profile of your ideal customer. Some good strategies to create these are talking to your sales team, interviewing current customers, and analyzing trends in your contacts database. 

Here are some basic things to consider in each buyer’s persona:

  • Demographics
    • Age
    • Race
    • Gender
    • Income
    • Location
    • Languages
  • Background
    • Education
    • Job
    • Industry
    • Family
    • Relationship status
  • Identifiers
    • Demeanor
    • Communication capabilities/preferences
    • Personality traits
    • Technology
  • Other
    • Motivations
    • Goals
    • Frustrations
    • Challenges
    • Needs

These are just some ideas to get you started. Remember: You’re creating a whole and complete person.

After creating your buyer personas, brainstorm the different ways they may be searching for, and about, your offerings. Map out their actions at each stage of the buying cycle and attempt to create content to offer them at each stage of their journey.

Pay special attention to keywords that have buyer intent. These keywords will imply action and will show that the user is close to buying. For example, “Mattress stores with free shipping ” or “features of Tempur-Pedic mattress” both imply that the consumer has already narrowed down their product search and may be planning to purchase soon.

Understanding your customers with buyer personas can provide insights into products or features to consider offering, content to include on your site, and top keywords to consider targeting.

Leverage Google Search

One of the best free tools available to everyone may be hiding right under your nose. Google’s search engine provides free insights into what consumers are searching in four different ways.

1. The first, and probably most obvious, is the “suggestions” feature in Google’s search bar. Similar to buyer personas, this can provide insight into what kind of content users are looking for and how they are searching for it.

Looking at the example below, a mattress brand should consider targeting locally (“near me”) or promoting their ecommerce store (“online”). On this higher level, this feature can also show sellers what products they may consider selling as accessories to their primary offerings.

In this example, the seller would want to make sure that they sell mattress bags, toppers, pads, and box springs, in addition to mattresses. These offerings could increase traffic and brand awareness, as well as provide a competitive advantage over competitors that don’t stock all the needs of the customer.

2. Our second tool is just a slight variation on the first. Rather than using the suggestions tool at the end of the search, insert underscores into the middle of your searches. This can often narrow down variations of your product that potential customers are searching for, as well as point you toward keywords you should be focusing on.

In the example below, you can see that Casper, Tempur-Pedic, Purple, and Saatva mattresses are all highly searched for and branded words that you should consider targeting.

3. The “People also ask” section can often be found in the middle of the SERP. This section shows you all the information that users are searching for along their path to purchase. Looking at the example below, a mattress seller may consider targeting the keywords “side sleepers” or “back pain.” In response to “What mattresses do hotels use?”, they could consider targeting the keywords related to “hotel mattresses.”  

If your SERP is showing fewer questions, click on the dropdown arrows to see more related searches.

4. Lastly, we have the related searches at the bottom of the page. Similar deductions can be made here as were made in the other three locations. Something new in this example is “best mattress 2019.” This shows that searchers are adding a year to their searches to ensure they’re getting the most up-to-date information.

While before doing this research the seller may have been targeting “best mattress,” this information presents a great opportunity to target or bid on a longer-tail keyword that may have less competition to rank for.

Learn From Competitors

The last strategy is learning what your competitors are doing. Among many tools available on the web, we’ll look at two free tools: Google and Amazon. While it might seem odd to use Amazon (which employs different ranking algorithms than Google) to gain insight into traditional search engine optimization, you can use some of the same strategies with information from both of these platforms.

Start by searching some of your common keywords through either search bar. Next, copy and paste page titles and snippets into text analysis tools that count words and phrase frequency. This can help you to identify top words and phrases that your competitors are likely targeting. 

Some keywords/phrases from our mattress example that didn’t show up in our other strategies include ultra plush, extra firm, plush feel, hybrid, waterproof, hypoallergenic, breathable, noiseless, organic latex, and sleep better. These are all great keywords/phrases to target that may have less competition than the traditional keywords that first come to mind. 

Keyword research is boundless and these three strategies are just a few ways to get started with uncovering insights that typical tools may not provide. Here are a couple more resources to help you improve your SEO: