Tools and tips for conducting expert SEO keyword research

Posted on 27/06/2019 by Team Hallam

Keyword research is an integral part of SEO - without it, the content you create won’t be found on the search engine result pages (SERPs), as you won’t be targeting phrases your customers are searching for.

The good news is, it’s not difficult to conduct effective keyword research at all. Here, I’ll outline how you can firstly identify relevant keyword topics and categories, before giving you an overview of the keyword research tools we use at Hallam.

Answer the Public

Choosing keywords before you research

Before you can even think about which SEO keyword research tools to use, you need to have an idea of the types of phrases you’d like to research.

Start by brainstorming themes and topics you’d like to cover – gathering together your list of products or services is a good start. For example, if I were to do this for Hallam, I would start by grouping my services as “SEO”, “PPC”, “content marketing” and “digital PR” amongst others.

Once you’ve created your list of sections, it’s time to dig a bit deeper and think about what those services incorporate. For SEO, our team are experts in a range of areas, including “on-page optimisation”, “international SEO”, “technical SEO”, “content strategy” and “local SEO”. Where relevant, you may want to consider singular vs plural keywords too.

It’s important to consider longtail keyword phrases that your customers are searching too, so that your new landing page or blog article can incorporate several relevant keywords.

I did a quick Google search of “content strategy”, which is just one section our SEO team works on. This brought up several articles that asked questions including:

  • What is a content strategy?
  • How to develop a content marketing strategy?
  • Content strategy basics

Answer The Public is a great source of inspiration for finding longtail keywords – simply type in your phrase, and it’ll bring back a long list of all the questions people are searching for.

Now that you have several strands of keywords grouped into several categories, it’s time to look at the best online keyword tools to use, to discover search volumes and opportunities.

Top keyword research tools to use


SEMrush is personally my favourite SEO keyword research tool, mostly due to its clear layout and ease of use.

SEMrush keyword data tool

Start by simply typing in either your domain or your competitor’s domain in the box at the top of the page, and you’re instantly given a wealth of information about the keywords you rank for. Scroll down, and you’ll see a chart showing the spread of your keywords across specific countries, the number of organic keywords you rank for compared to paid, a snapshot of your organic keywords, and a graph showing your distribution of positionings across the SERPs.

By clicking “view full report” underneath the top organic keywords section, you’ll have a full overview of every single keyword you rank for in your specified country. This is great when looking at which keywords you want to rank higher for – for example, which pages you want to push from page two to page one. You can also narrow keywords down to specific URLs, to ensure that the correct pages are optimised for the correct keywords, and to see if your website is suffering from keyword cannibalisation.

SEMrush seo agency search

Alternatively, rather than typing in a domain, you can type in a particular keyword you’d like to find out more about – I’ve used “SEO agency” as an example. Scroll down, and you’ll see a list of “phrase match” keywords and “related” keywords (provided there are any). Click through, and you’ll have a full list of keywords, including their search volume, trends, keyword difficulty, and the number of results shown in the SERPs.

This can be a great source of inspiration for either creating new optimised landing pages or blog articles or identifying new keywords for your current pages to rank for.

If you head back to the main results page, you can also see the list of organic results based on the keyword you typed in. Interestingly, I’ve found that it doesn’t always bring back who you think your competitors are – so it means you can do some more digging into keywords that your online competitors are ranking for.

When it comes to pricing, whilst SEMrush does have a free version, it’s very limited in terms of the information it provides. To really make the most of this online keyword tool, you’re better off opting for the paid version.


Ahrefs is a similar keyword research tool to SEMrush, in terms of what information it provides you. Start off by typing in either your or your competitor’s domain at the top, and click through to “organic keywords”. You’ll then be presented with a full list of keywords either you or your competitor ranks for, including metrics such as position, search volume and keyword difficulty.

Ahrefs keyword research tool

In the side menu, there’s the option to review new keywords you’ve recently ranked for, in addition to any notable movements in the SERPs.

Ahrefs also enables you to look at your top performing pages in terms of traffic and keyword rankings, and identify any pages that are competing with each other. If it’s new keywords you want, then try out the “content gap” tool. Type in at least two of your competitors’ domains, and you’ll be presented with a list of keywords that your competitors rank for, but you don’t.

Ahrefs keyword explorer

Similar to SEMrush, if you want to search a keyword and not a domain, click on “keyword explorer” and type in your chosen phrase. You’ll find the difficulty rating, global search volume, and related keywords.

While it doesn’t matter which SEO keyword research tool you use, for consistency, it’s best to stick to either Ahrefs or SEMrush. This is because the keyword difficulty scores differ between the two, so if you want to send over a list of keyword research to your client or boss to sign off, it can be difficult comparing sets of keywords if one section came from SEMrush, and the other from Ahrefs.

The benefit Ahrefs has over SEMrush, is that it clearly highlights your domain rating (DR), number of referring domains and backlinks – and you can access your competitors’ too. However, as a keyword research tool, SEMrush has a much cleaner look and feel, with the competitor analysis section easier to view and understand.

Like SEMrush, whilst Ahrefs has a free option, the information provided is extremely limited, and you’ll get much more out of it if you use the paid version.

Google Search Console & Google Trends

If you’re limited by budget and want to use a free online keyword tool, then Google has a couple of options you can use. While you won’t get as much information as you would from the likes of SEMrush and Ahrefs, it will provide you with a basis for identifying keywords for new landing pages or blog articles.

Google Trends seo agency search

Start off by clicking through to “performance” on Search Console, and you’ll be presented with a list of queries that resulted in the highest number of clicks to your website, and impressions. If you have images or videos you want to rank for, you can amend the listings – and you can amend the date range too, which is set to three months as standard.

Scroll further down, and you’ll see specific regions within the country you selected that are most interested in your keyword, in addition to a number of related topics and keywords. Granted, they’re not as in-depth as SEMrush, but for a free keyword research tool, it’s not bad.

Google Trends keyword comparison

Some keywords such as “SEO agency” you’ll note have consistent levels of interest year-round, but certain subjects peak seasonally. For example, interest in “beaches in Croatia” spikes in January (presumably when people are looking at booking their summer holidays), and June and July (most likely people are looking at last minute deals, or researching the best beaches before they fly out).

You can also compare multiple keywords to see which has the most interest, as that can determine the subject of the articles you’ll write.

Ultimately, carrying out SEO keyword research doesn’t need to be difficult, you just need to have a clear idea of the subjects you’d like to research, and then use an effective online keyword tool. If you’d like help with your SEO strategy – whether it’s keyword research, technical SEO or any other aspects we cover, then get in touch with us today.

If you need help with your SEO don't hesitate to contact us.

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Tools and tips for conducting expert SEO keyword research

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