Keyword Research: Understanding Essential Metrics

Keyword research is the backbone of any effective content strategy.

Focusing on specific metrics while conducting keyword research allows us to choose the right keywords to target and achieve the goals identified for the website.

Mastering the processes of SEO keyword research and analysis will prove to be an invaluable asset for those working at any level of search engine optimization.

Taylor Kurtz

Content is King. This cliché has been beaten into the brains of digital marketers, SEO officers, and content marketers across the globe.

In fact, in August 2019, Google advised SEO officers on how to recover from lost traffic and rankings due to a Core Algorithm update. Google’s primary tip for those impacted by algorithm updates: focus on content.

Fast-forward almost 3 years to the day, and on August 25, 2022, Google released the Helpful Content Update. Consequentially, Google has now made it impossible to ignore the quality of content and has left digital marketing professionals scrambling to understand Google’s definition of “Helpful Content” and striving to produce higher-quality content than ever before.

I am fortunate enough to be an ongoing contributor to the Digital Summit Series, where I often speak on topics related to search engine optimization.

While we can all aim to write expert-level content aimed at educating and helping the user, I am constantly asked the same question: how do I know what topics to write about?

Even clients who have invested tremendous time and resources into their copywriters and content teams are often left scratching their heads as to the direction in which to guide their content strategy.

Enter keyword research.

Numerous times, I have had clients approach me and ask: “How can I rank for this term?”

My answer almost always boils down to producing high-quality content but then I get the follow-up question: “What should I be writing about?” This is where keyword research really comes into play.

By conducting a thorough content audit of the existing website, and then conducting extensive keyword research on not only the term identified by the client but all variations and similar terms, you can guide your content strategy to produce content that will lead to you ranking higher in the SERP (search engine result page) and producing more traffic, leads, and conversions.

Choosing the right keywords is critical, as you don’t want to rank for something that is never searched, and you don’t want to come out of the gate targeting an extremely competitive term for which it will take you months or years to surpass the current competitors.

Focusing on specific metrics while conducting keyword research allows us to choose the right keywords to target and achieve the goals identified for the website.

Keyword research is the backbone of any effective content strategy. Mastering the processes of SEO keyword research and analysis will prove to be an invaluable asset for those working at any level of search engine optimization.

What is Keyword Research?

The purpose of keyword research is to identify the most relevant keywords for a website’s goals and audience. What content would provide the most helpful information and value to your users? Meaning, you’re not just looking for the keywords you want to rank for, but also the terms for which your target audience is actively searching.

If you do your keyword research right, you’ll be able to use your findings to direct an effective content strategy.

Keyword research is an ongoing process as you should always strive to provide the best content and most valuable information on your site. Furthermore, by keeping a close eye on your competitors and frequently conducting competitor analysis, you can also identify topics and pages generating traffic for those competitors that you can likely reproduce at a higher level.

Metrics to Focus on when Conducting SEO Keyword Research

When first starting out in SEO, I was often overwhelmed when conducting keyword research. So many metrics, many of which don’t match the same metric on another tool. One tool may indicate a keywords Search Volume is 40 searches per month, while another may show the search volume for the identical term to be 600 searches per month.

For anyone starting out, deciphering all these numbers can be overwhelming, and figuring out which metrics to focus on to produce an effective content strategy can be challenging. Let’s focus on the metrics that really move the needle.

Cost-Per-Click (CPC)

Cost Per Click is an estimation of how much a keyword would cost in a bidding system such as Google AdWords. If the CPC is $6.47, then that is the estimated cost to your budget if you were to bid on clicks for that keyword. As a result, CPC is a very valuable metric in determining the level of competition for a keyword you are pursuing.

A higher CPC = more competition for that keyword, both in paid ads and organic search.

When formulating your content strategy, you will want to pursue terms with a higher CPC, as those are more valuable. Due to the higher level of competition, these terms will be harder to rank for than terms with a lower cost-per-click. Targeting terms with a lower CPC may provide opportunities to rank for less-competitive terms that still appeal to a relevant target audience.

There is a lot of rivalry for high-volume search terms. When competing with a lot of other businesses for the same keywords, it’s tough to stand out. It’s important to keep an eye out for medium-volume keywords that correspond with search intent because they are less competitive and cost less money to bid on.

Search Volume (Vol)

Checking the keyword’s search volume is one way to determine if it’s worth your time to optimize for it. If you find that there is a very small number of searches, this could indicate that there is no interest in that term. However, the number of queries is not a foolproof indicator.

As was previously mentioned, it is not uncommon for these figures to differ when compared with those obtained using different tools, such as Semrush and Ahrefs. If you place too much emphasis on search volume, you may overlook worthwhile terms that are less frequently searched but still relevant and can attract your target audience.

Keyword overview


Global volume

The above metrics are from Semrush, as you can see below, for the same term, “Buy Golf Clubs”, very different volume metrics when using SpyFu:

Monthly volume

Don’t forget to add a location if your target market is geographically limited. This is critical if your business operates in a specific region or location.

It is also incredibly important to note that search volume does not equate to traffic. If a search term is estimated to have a monthly search volume of 100, you cannot assume capturing the top spot would lead to 100 additional organic visitors. This is far from accurate and should not be a focus of your content strategy.

Take search volume with a grain of salt. It is a great indicator of how competitive a term may be and how frequently it’s searched, but the numbers are not exact and should not be treated as such.

Keyword Difficulty

My preferred keyword research tool, Semrush, offers a keyword difficulty metric. How challenging it is to achieve a high position in Google’s search engine results is measured by this metric. These metrics think about the credibility and domain authority of the other results in a search engine’s page rank.

If a keyword is determined to be “hard’, with a high-difficulty rating, this is due to the high authority and level of competition on the SERP for that specific keyword. As a result, targeting this term will require a very significant investment of time and resources, as well as a serious commitment to producing authoritative and high-quality content.

A high keyword-difficulty score indicates you will also need to pursue high-quality backlinks to boost your own website’s trust to improve its chances of appearing in the search results. Often, when there is a high level of keyword difficulty, the sites in the SERP are very established and trusted, with an abundance of helpful and high-quality content.

Hard keyword difficulty

Easy keyword difficulty

SERP Features

In recent years, SERP features have taken center stage as Google prioritizes the searcher intent behind each keyword.

Initially, Google introduced Ads, but in recent years, more and more features have been added to the SERP, including featured snippets, reviews, FAQs, map results, shopping products, questions and answers, and much more.

Understanding what features are showing in the search results for your target terms will give you tremendous insight into additional opportunities and areas to target.

Serp featuresLocal packReviews

The most valuable spot in the search results, in my opinion, is a featured snippet. A study by EngineScout indicated that a featured snippet gets 35.1% of all organic clicks. In comparison, a study by Backlinko showed that the number one spot in the SERP has a CTR of 27.6%.

Obtaining the featured snippet is clearly very impactful and, if featured in the search results, the most valuable position to have. Not every search even has a featured snippet and knowing what features are being shown in the search results for your query is very important.

User Intent

Incorporating searchers’ intentions into your keyword research is essential. Although search intent is not a metric in itself, it can have a significant impact on how Google handles a search query and its results.

When it comes to searcher’s intent, the latter is often categorized in one of four ways: transactional (looking to make a purchase), informational (looking for information), commercial (researching a product) and navigational (looking for a specific site).

Focusing on the intent behind the search result for the keyword you’re targeting is imperative. If you’re a dentist and you want to provide veneer services, targeting the term “veneer implants near me” will have far different results than simply targeting the term “veneers.”

The first term is clearly a transactional term, with the user looking for veneers, and this is the type of traffic the dentist would want going to their website. The second search term, “veneers”, is informational and could draw traffic from people far outside the dentist’s region who are simply researching veneers.

Keyword overview: intent

Keyword magic tool

Local vs National vs International Search Intent

Not all search queries are created equal. Knowing who your target audience is, is tremendously important. A part of this is understanding who is interested in your products or services and where they are located while looking for those products and services.

For instance, a criminal defense attorney in Tampa, FL would want to target local terms to attract clients from the Tampa Bay area. Most people just make educated guesses when it comes to these keywords and assume they know how customers will be looking for their products or services. The result is that they either focus on the wrong keywords or ignore keywords that could boost their profits.

While we know we want this attorney to rank for criminal defense terms in Tampa, what about their specific practice areas? We certainly want to target terms such as “DUI defense lawyer in Tampa.” Conducting local keyword research, focused on, in this case, the Tampa Bay area, is imperative for understanding what your target audience is searching for.

A local business’s audience, customers, and clients will often be in the same region as the business itself, so targeting terms people would search for when looking for that product or service in that area is a very important part of keyword research for any local business.

When conducting your keyword research, be sure to focus on the location of the metrics you’re researching, whether the metrics are focused on a national audience or a more specific locality. Tools such as Semrush allow you to narrow down your keyword and topic research to specific regions.

Keyword overview for national audience

Topic research

This same ideology applies if you run a nationwide business.

If the website in question, let’s say one promoting a grass-fed beef farm, offers products to customers across the nation, you not only need to target the broadest version of that term, such as “grass-fed beef” but also target search terms for individuals searching in their local area as well.

This means, while you want to rank at the top for the broad term, you will also need to target “grass-fed beef near me” and “grass-fed beef in [location].”

Sure, you may sell grass-fed beef in stores across the country and maybe even ship it via online sales, but when individuals are searching for beef, they are likely looking to get it soon, as in from their area. This all goes back to search intent. Understanding your audience, what they want, and how they’re trying to find it is critical when conducting keyword research.

Focus on the Metrics that Matter

With the abundance of information currently at our fingertips, SEO has the potential to become a highly data-driven discipline. You should now have a better understanding of the different metrics you can use to enhance the efficiency of your keyword research.

While time-consuming, keyword research is incredibly important for any successful and effective SEO campaign. Focusing on the metrics that matter, and ignoring those that don’t, will allow you to create the most efficient, effective, and winning content strategy; one that will benefit your SEO efforts for years to come.

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