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Complete guide to keyword research in 2024

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Article Overview

Knowing which keywords to target for your SEO campaign is the first step. These keywords will drive all the new business leads. However, keyword research is more complex, so in this article, I will break it down into a digestible format and outline a step-by-step approach to optimising the highest-performing keywords for your website.

Need help finding the right keywords for your business to drive the most web traffic?

Following is a complete guide to help you find the best keyword matches to get that phone ringing.

Targeting the right keywords for your website will save you time and missed opportunities with SEO. There’s no point in ranking for low-quality keywords with poor search volumes. Targeting the correct keywords is the first step any SEO agency should focus on, and they must know the exact keywords that consumers are searching for in your niche. Keywords help build a more prominent online presence and will build your topical authority. Focusing on the right keyword and phrase matches for your business is the only way to beat the competition and drive more revenue – after all, isn’t that why you go to work each day?

So, how do you find the right keywords and know you’re not wasting time on pointless ones?

Your business might have many different facts, areas, divisions, or service offerings, so finding the keyword’s sweet spot and keeping them in your crosshairs can be challenging, which is why keyword research is paramount to the success of your SEO campaign.

This comprehensive keyword research guide is easy to understand, so don’t be daunted by the tech jargon. I’ll try to make it as simple as possible so you’ll better understand how vital it is.

What is Keyword Research? 

According to Moz, keyword research identifies the words and phrases people use to find things via search engines like Google.

For SEO purposes, keywords are the most important words people use to type into Google when looking for your product or service. For example, if you have a law firm specialising in family law, then the keywords you would want to rank for follow the lives of family lawyers in Sydney or divorce lawyers in Sydney. You can clearly see why keyword research is vital. It’s these words you want to rank for on Google, and the public uses these words when they are doing their research. In essence, identifying your core business keywords is the first step in any SEO campaign. Not knowing your keywords will make SEO a pointless exercise and a total waste of resources. Knowing the right keywords means you can create dedicated web pages targeted to your customer’s search queries. In turn, this will lead to more leads, sales and revenue.

Why Keyword Research is Vital for SEO

Keyword research is the first step in your SEO strategy and business development, and here’s why.

You learn about your customer’s online search queries.

Keyword research for your business will highlight what people are typing related to your business into Google. You only need to create content that answers these search queries and optimise these pages. All you need to do is optimise these for better conversion rates, and you’ll soon start to see how powerful keyword research is.

Google will rank you higher in the SERPs for relevant searches.

If you know which keywords you want to target and what your customers are searching for, you can easily create relevant content within your website using these keywords. Google will index your site and rank it based on these search keywords. For example, if you have a business selling tennis shoes and your home page is all about tennis shoes, then Google will rank this for that particular search query. A point to note here is never cram as many keywords as possible into a page, as this will appear spammy, and Google might penalise your site for useless, uninformative copy.

It helps you understand your customer’s buying journey.

Keyword research helps you get a clearer idea of what customers are looking for in your niche. You’ll be surprised by what people are typing into Google for a product or service, and knowing which keywords have the highest traffic will allow you to align your website with these words.

You will create more relant copy.

Knowing the consumer’s online journey will allow you to be copy-specific and not create irrelevant web pages. Many websites can go off-topic and go in a different direction, where you’ll likely lose online traffic. Being tight, compact, and relevant means you are more authoritative on your business subject, which Google loves.

You’ll learn who your competition is.

With credible keyword research, you will soon see who ranks higher than you. You can then go after your competition with better, higher-quality pages. Remember, some of your competitors might be ranking for some keywords, but these are low-quality words with little or no traffic, so don’t get hung up on trying to rank for these – it’s just wasted energy. Go for the ‘money keywords’ that will bring in the sales. If these are too tough or competitive, look at second-tier keywords that are easier to rank, like local search. For example, if you’re a dentist in Bondi, aim to rank for suburban locations around Bondi rather than the super-competitive keyword like Dentists Sydney.

Why Search Intent is Vital for Keyword Selection

When a user searches on Google, there is intent. Are they seeking a particular product, a professional service, information, medical advice, or love? There’s always a reason why people are on Google, known as search intent in SEP speak. To effectively use the right keywords in your SEO marketing, you must have a clear understanding of how they relate to the users’ search intent. Without this knowledge, this exercise is fruitless and wastes everyone’s time.

People will usually type in various keywords depending on where they are in the buying cycle. For example, if they are looking to renovate their bathroom, they’ll be searching for ‘bathroom styles’ initially, but as they progress, they will search for ‘best bathroom renovators in Sydney’, which is closer to deciding to buy. In SEO terms, the intent is apparent in the search, and you can create pages based on these keyword phrases. To cover all bases, you would create blog posts or YouTube videos on ‘tips to renovating a bathroom on a budget’ or ’10 best luxury bathroom ideas to get you started’. In this way, you are covering all search queries with keywords and phrase topics that people are using. Ideally, you want to dominate Google search for your niche in all areas, and this is the best way to do it. I love the Answer The Public tool, which gives you blog topics and keyword ideas.

Following are the four reasons why users search:

Branded websites: Google knows that if a user is looking for a specific brand, they will display this organically in the top position. for example, ‘Mazda Cars Sydney’.

Informational: Looking for information on a specific topic (e.g., “best Maza cars for a family”).

Commercial: Researching various options before hitting the buy now button (e.g., “Mazda cars CX3 under $35,000”)

Transactional: They are looking for a specific brand and want to buy now, so they will search specifically for the product (e.g., “buy Mazda CX 3 near me”).

With so many searches, the search intent can cross over, and people can mix informational with commercial, so you need to target a vast range of types, styles, and product searches to cover all your bases. In this way, your website is front and centre throughout the buyer’s journey, instilling trust and authority on the subject; hence, when it’s time to buy, you’ll be a strong contender.

How do you do Keyword Research?

Now you understand how keyword research works and why it is essential for SEO, let’s step through how to conduct keyword research. 

Step 1: Look for Pertinent Topics

Starting your keyword research can seem like a nightmare for most business owners who have never done this. So, before you do anything, look at your business and think of topics related to your core business. Look at all your product and service offerings and anything your customers might type into Google to find you. The best way to do this is to flip the scenario and imagine yourself as a customer and what you would search for to find you. You might be surprised by the number of keywords related to your business. Avoid using one generic keyword in groups of two or three words long, like hot water repair Bondi, car repairers Balmain, or even blocked drain help. Try to get as many and varied keywords as possible. Let’s dig deeper. If you’re a plastic surgeon in Bondi Junction, your topics would be:

  • facial surgery
  • facelifts
  • tummy tucks
  • weight loss surgery
  • botox and fillers
  • breast enlargement

And secondary categories could include

  • weight loss treatments
  • looking good in your 50’s
  • how to reduce eyelid sagging
  • how long does it take to recover from plastic surgery

Keep these keywords in a spreadsheet, and then you can create dedicated landing web pages for these main core keywords.

Step 2: Brainstorming Keyword Ideas

Now that you have all your topics, it’s time to identify the core words and phrases (two or more words) your target customer might type into Google as their search query for each topic. 

For the plastic surgeon, under the category “plastic surgery”, you might list the following:

  • Plastic surgeons Sydney
  • Plastic surgeon fees
  • Before & after photos of plastic surgery
  • Breast lift
  • Fat reduction surgery
  • Best plastic surgeons near me

Once you have your main core keyword list, you can then use it to expand on it to identify more keywords related to your business. People can use as many as 100 or more keywords. There are some great keyword planning tools to use, like Google’s Keyword Planner. I also like to ask friends what keywords they would use to find my business and add them to the list.

Step 3: Analysing Keyword Potential 

Now you have all your keywords, how do you know which ones are worthwhile and which are a waste of time? Some keywords might seem OK, but in reality, they won’t have a high search volume, so what’s the point of targeting them? So you really need to analyse the search volume, which is the best way to target the right sets of words. Ahrefs tells us that Search volume refers to the number of times, on average, that users enter a particular search query into a search engine each month. This metric is called Monthly Search Volume (MSV). Some keywords might be too specific and only one word, which will not have any search traffic, while others will be too generic and have high traffic volume numbers but will drive the wrong type of traffic. For example, we have a buyer agent as a client, and if we target a generic keyword like ‘home’, although it may relate to real estate, it’s far too generic to deliver any quality type of leads. Also note that if a keyword has lots of search volume, it will be harder to rank for this due to its competitive nature. You see this in many niches like removalists, family lawyers, vets, and accountants, to name a few. Try Ahrefs tools here to check keyword volumes. But again, I would leave it to an SEO Sydney agency that has signed up for these tools and is more prepared to offer a more in-depth opinion of the keywords you need to target.

Step 4: Know the Keyword Difficulty

Some keywords are super-competitive due to their search volumes, and targeting these can be very challenging, especially for new businesses entering the niche. For example, I’ve had a new business call me up and say they want to rank for ‘Family Lawyers Sydney’ within 90 days because that’s what other SEO agencies have promised them. This is a total lie and an evident lack of understanding about the nuances of keyword difficulty. Many SEO companies will make these types of over-hyped promises to get your business, and it’s sad that they can do this because you are not familiar with the difficulty of ranking in your niche.

What is Keyword Difficulty?

Keyword difficulty (KD%) measures the difficulty of ranking highly in Google’s organic results, aka SERPs. The higher the score, the harder it is to get right up there on page #1. There is a direct correlation between keyword difficulty and search volumes, which makes perfect sense; the more people search for a term, the more the business wants a slice of this lucrative search pie. But don’t give up hope, especially for those newbies and entrepreneurs who want to start a new business and get all those juicy new leads. You can definitely rank, but you’ll need a competent SEO agency that can deliver:

  • Amazing high-quality content – you will need a copywriter on board for this.
  • Backlinks from lots of reputable domains – don’t just settle for a cheap SEO campaign where you’ll get low-quality links.
  • Topical authority – make sure all your web pages are precisely on-topic.
  • Strong on-page SEO – your website must be 100% Google compliant.

If you’re going up against well-known household brands, you’ll have a super-big challenge to dislodge them from top positions in the SERPs as they have aged domains, strong authority, a decent backlink profile and lots of content. So, ranking for keywords they dominate will take a lot of work. It’s not impossible, but it will take time. So, to get some quick wins, look for less competitive keywords that still have some traffic but are easier to rank. Known as long-tail keywords, this is where you’ll get clients as the business grows organically online. A thorough understanding of your keyword competitiveness is the best way to get a realistic overview of your SEO. If you grasp this and have pragmatic expectations, you can look at your SEO holistically. Pressuring your SEO agency to rank quickly for competitive search terms is a surefire way to get your campaign off the wrong footing.

To take an analytical approach to your keyword difficulty, tools like Semrush and MOZ look at the challenging nature of specific keywords and how hard it would be to dislodge your competition from the top of the SERPs. They’ll look at various factors for each top-ranking result, like domain authority, page authority, backlink profile, and other elements. Make sure you understand this and know what you are up against before having the mindset that you can rank quickly.

Step 5: Get Keyword Research Tools

Keyword research tools are a great way to work out the best keywords to target without wasting time and money on dud ones that won’t bring in online Google traffic. There’s a growing list of keyword planning tools (some are free, and some you have to pay a subscription after the free trial), but our favourites are:

Backlinko’s Free Keyword Tool is excellent because it’s free and quick to find keywords.

Google Keyword Planner is the most popular planner out there, as the data you get is straight from the horse’s mouth—Google! The only downside is that it’s made for Google ads, so you can’t see organic ranking difficulty, search intent, etc. But you can see how much businesses pay for top-of-page bids, highlighting a keyword’s commercial intent; for example, if a business is paying $50 for a top-page bid for a keyword, you know it will be tough. I’ll bet keywords like Plumber Sydney or Lawyers Sydney would be very high.

Google Trends is 100% free and lets you search for trends in online searches. You can also compare one phrase against another over a period of time.

Google Search Console (GSC) is a fantastic tool that you must use. It will give you insights about the popularity of your website with keywords. You can see your ranking and what words people search for in your niche. You will have to have this installed on your website and create a Google account, but trust me when I tell you this is an invaluable tool to drill into your website’s online performance.

QuestionDB allows you to type keywords into a search, and it will display a list of questions people are asking about that topic. Once you have these questions, you can tailor your keywords around them, but I would be using these questions as part of an FAQ section on your website.

Google Autocomplete allows you to start typing words into the search, and it will automatically provide a drop-down of popular words associated with the search. Unconsciously, you are probably doing it right now without even noticing it, but it’s a great way to see what Google predicts will be an extension of the word you type in.

High-Level Keyword Research Strategies

It’s time to ramp up your keyword research to the next level, which will help you hone in on every aspect of keyword searches for your business.

Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are a great way to drive more targeted traffic to your website, as people using long-tail keywords are most likely further down in their buying journey and are not using generic keywords for research. These long tail keywords are a combination of words and are usually more than three words that users type into Google. For example, if you are buying a car, the more generic keywords would be ‘cars Sydney’, but the extended tail version would be ‘Mazda CX3 second hand Sydney’. You can see that the long-tail version is far more targeted, and the search results will only display second-hand Mazda CX3 cars. People who are ready to buy will be using these long-tail words. 

To add long-tail keywords to your website, identify these words through the tools above and pepper them throughout the content of your website, or even better, create specific landing pages for them. 

Spy on your competitor’s keywords

How can you beat your competition online for all the keywords you’ve identified? Analysing your competition is vital, and there are some nifty tools out there that will help you drive organic growth. 

Try Semrush’s Keyword Gap tool allows you to see highly competitive keywords that your competition is ranking for and you are not. Once you have these words, you can create pages to target them or simply add these keywords to your already ranking rages and see what happens. Another golden tool is SERP Gap Analyzer, which allows you to uncover competitors’ websites that are ranking with poor content, allowing you to sneak into this niche area simply by writing better-quality copy. It is a nifty tool that allows you some quick wins in what might be a saturated market. Ensure you always use these tools to keep on top of your keywords and note any competitor that might also have you in their crosshairs. Remember, you are not the only one doing this type of research, so you have to always be on your digital toes looking for competitors.

Use Google-added Display Results to your Advantage.

SERP display results on Google are growing and seem always to be displayed at the top of the page, driving organic results further down the page into obscurity. So, if you consider Adwords and these extra display results, organic rankings will have less impact. You’ll notice if you know about this online opportunity, like Rich Snippets, images, FAQs, review stars, featured snippets, Top Stories, People Also Ask, and knowledge panels, and the list keeps growing. Let’s double down on this when it comes to mobile search, where people are less inclined to scroll down the page on their phone and click on results that render on the home screen.

I also want to add the whole AI factor into the mix here. Google will add voice recognition to the display results so people can ask a question, and these results will come up as images or snippets, etc. To be included in this new phenomenon, target a whole bunch of long-tail keywords. It’s essential that your brand answers questions people pose to Google to appear in the search results.

Tips for Keyword Research 

Balancing Search Volume and Competition

Every business wants to rank for its niche’s holy grail of keywords. It’s human nature to want to instantly be at the top of Google. In that case, go for Adwords and spend away. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t operate in that fashion; you have to wear your stripes and do the hard work to rank organically. So, the rule of thumb with high search volume keywords is to be patient and focus on other long tail words that are far less competitive while still aiming for these words. For example, if you offer a service, target locally rather than Sydney-wide. In this way, you are only competing against a handful of businesses rather than an insurmountable list. I love long-tail keywords, as you can get quick wins in areas with high traffic volumes.

User Intent is Critical

User intent is a core component of SEO, primarily when it’s related to keyword optimisation. For example, if a person is searching for ‘red tennis shoes’, the web page you want to rank for must be about red tennis shoes. Any deviation from this topic will result in users leaving the page, resulting in higher bounce rates, which can harm your rankings. Look at all your keywords and ensure they correspond to a particular page on your website and that the content is also on topic. In essence, you must give users what they want and are looking for. Match the keywords with the search intent and draft copy to satisfy the user’s appetite for information.

Never-ending Keyword Optimisation

Keyword research, like SEO, is not set and forget. You must keep your finger on the pulse and see what your customers use to search for your products or services. The digital landscape, especially SEO, constantly changes due to Google’s algorithmic changes and consumers’ dynamic search behaviours. Always look at your Google Search Console to see which keywords generate the highest traffic levels and adjust your focus based on these results. Switch your focus from underperforming keywords to ones bringing in the traffic. Also, always check your competition. Always check your position on Google to see who is above you and how to improve your position.


Wow, it’s a long article, but you’ve finally made it to the end and have everything you need to arm yourself to focus on the best keywords for your business and which ones to target for your SEO campaign. Steven from SEO Sydney Experts is here waiting for you if you need further clarification or want a professional SEO team to handle your SEO.

steven waldberg - ceo seo sydney experts

About the author

Steven Waldberg

Steven is the director of SEO Sydney Experts and is one of the founding members ( that’s over 18 years ago). He has one of the longest careers in the SEO and content marketing industry and has written for many prestigious websites, including B & T and AdNews. If you’re serious about working with someone who will dedicate 100% of himself to your business; Steven is your SEO Expert.

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