Episode 24: The journey of keyword research with Daniel Brooks

Play this episode:

Or get it on:

What's in this episode?

In this episode we hear from Daniel Brooks who spoke at SearchNorwich 7 and gave his talk "Keyword Research: Tips & tactics that generate clicks & impressions to implement tomorrow!". He gives an overview of the buyer's journey and emphasises the importance of considering this during initial keyword research stages, he also talks about how to use your seed keywords in relation with this process. Daniel finally goes over the important metrics to consider as well as some excellent tools to use when carrying out keyword research.

Full video:

Daniel's slides

Podcast transcription

Show note links:

Video of Daniel's Talk:

Daniel's Slides:



AK: Hello everyone and welcome to Episode 24 of the Search with Candour podcast! It is Thursday the 22nd of August and my name is Ayush Kumar, and let’s continue with the build up towards SearchNorwich next week!

Today we’ll be hearing from Daniel Brooks who gave a fantastic talk at SearchNorwich 7 about keyword research and provided some great strategies on how to do it effectively. It’s a tricky part of PPC and SEO and there’s a lot of opinions and tips out there online so it can be hard to gauge which to use but this talk really gives a great overview of some strategies which will ensure top results. So, here’s Daniel Brooks:

DB: My name is Dan, thanks for having me along and thanks to Mark of course as well who let me come along at such short notice. I work for Aira, we're based in Milton Keynes. We're predominantly an SEO and digital PR agency and we tend to just stick to that really, we don't like to sort of get involved in too many areas because it's a lot easier just to control things and stick to what you're good at basically - it’s a pretty good motto!

I'm an SEO executive there, I've been doing SEO for about probably more closer to 10 years but I just say 9, it’s easier; before that actually I was working at McDonald’s, it wasn't the most glamorous place but I actually really enjoyed it and a lot of people say to me that “nah you didn't work in McDonald's you probably just went to uni like most people.” But no, I didn't go to uni, didn’t go to college - haven't actually got that many qualifications and pretty much everything I do know is all self-taught. That's me, it's not the most glamorous photo, it actually looks more like a 90s leisure centre changing room it's a bit grim but I've kind of got to go around today through nothing more than just hard work and it really does pay off. So, if there's anybody that's here tonight that's maybe thinking if they're not actually in a digital environment at the moment or they want to look to get into it, it's definitely possible. You don't need a degree; you don't need to spend loads of money on education. You can learn it all yourself and it's not actually that hard when you get to know it, but the real difficult thing is just sticking with it and just constantly pursuing it.

So, that's a little bit about me. Over the years I tend to do a lot of keyword research and it's one of those SEO tasks that is absolutely fundamental/day-to-day and it often gets overlooked quite a bit as well, a lot of people seem to assume that it's an easy thing to do. “Yeah you just go to Google Keyword Planner, throw in a seed keyword - bang!” You saw exactly what happened to Dom when he did it on Fiverr. That's what a lot of people are doing and I'm still amazed today at how many people still do that because they just assume that's right but we're in 2019 now and things change, there's a lot more you can do in terms of intent and various steps that you can go through as well.

So, doing this keyword research I actually come across loads of keywords and I've got a few favourites so I'm going to share a couple of them with you today. So yeah here we are “will bananas kill me?” Probably not the funniest but yeah, it's a bit of a weird one. I think there's an Australian bowler that eats like 50 bananas a day or something stupid like that, which is insane and yeah so there's another one. “How can I improve my love life”, that was for a client of ours that specialise in all tantric massage which is a bit strange. For any of you that don't know what that is, I wouldn't recommend you Google it.

But at the end of the day someone's looking for an answer or a solution to a problem and we can actually take that and sort of implement that onto our website in a way of providing information, and that's something we tend to do quite a bit both for ourselves and for our clients as well. So, I'm going to try and take you through a couple of steps that I do day-to-day, okay not day-to-day it’s literally every single day, and that hopefully you can sort of start to implement yourself as well.

Most importantly this process does work, and that's the graph that kind of proves it as you can see:

Up into the left but it does actually work, and this is for a client of ours and they're based in the technology industry. We went to them and suggested that we should start doing some keyword research based around the specific topics that they actually cover/provide products for. So, what we did is provided a load of research, but that research was predominantly on keywords that are focused around a very specific topic. But then we go into great detail within this, and then we produce a piece of content around all of those terms and at the end of it, it’s basically a 3,000 word guide around a specific topic that provides an answer to every question that somebody could potentially have.

As you can see, that's the result and that's actually continued to grow quite a bit as well.

So, what I'm going to show you tonight is a process that's going to show you how you can identify some of your competitors’ ranking terms if you're not already doing that, because it’s a great way to find some new opportunities there. Go take a look at how you can potentially highlight some content gaps as well, you might not necessarily even know you have a content gap, so we look at that. How you can actually get a number of impressions as well - increase that number, and most importantly how you can actually get people coming to your site organically without having to pay for it on Fiverr.

I will share all the slides after, I think there's a template as well somewhere in here you can take away and use yourself and feel free to follow me on Twitter as well and I'll tweet that out after as well.

So, how do we do this then? How do we actually go about doing keyword research? This in my opinion is the right way, and before we get into that though I just want to quickly touch on ‘The Buyer’s Journey’. For those of you that don't know it is basically the thought process that a potential user might go through when they're either researching a topic or looking to make a purchase of some kind. You get predominantly three stages: awareness, consideration, and decision.

‘Awareness’, it's typically when someone knows they've got a problem, but they don't necessarily know what their solution is yet. ‘Consideration’ is then taking it to the next stage where they know they've got a problem; they found some potential solutions but they’re still not quite sure what one they want to commit to. ‘Decision’ is that final step, it’s where they know they've got an issue and know their solutions and say, “okay I'm going to commit to this one.”

So, the example we got here are “I want to lose weight”, “what are the best weight loss products”, or you could potentially just “join a gym”. Obviously, there's a lot more involved in that but that's generally the process that somebody would go through if they're looking to lose weight potentially. So, my process then, and typically first things first I'll gather a list of seed keywords. Not one or two like poor Dom’s situation, I'll then take a look at what's actually ranking at the moment - whether that's on my site or competitors’. So, yep what competitors are doing, whether that's me, if they're purposely targeting a specific keyword or even if they're not, what are they not targeting, targeting a keyword that all of my competitors have purposefully left out, why is that?

You can then take a look into that as well. So what keywords are actually getting clicks and what one's actually getting shown in the search results? That's always a good option to look at as well, and this is really good actually and not that many people know how you can do this which is quite surprising actually, but we can take a look at what keywords are actually generating traffic. By traffic I don't mean the keywords that are getting clicks and being shown in search results but getting an actual percentage/a figure, something you can sort of keep yourself and refer back to. So, we take a look at that as well, and then what keywords actually convert, and we'll take a quick look at weighted sort as well. Yes, I would touch on those in a bit more detail but first things first, before we actually get into this process you need to actually have a document in place.

This is a tweet from a colleague of mine, Brendan, he's got a very strange fascination with bananas, so he created this Twitter account called rate my banana and he literally just rates bananas every single lunchtime, which is actually quite funny.

This is one of my favourite tweets and my favourite section is definitely the notes section, so good it was almost naughty 8.5/10. Cool. Check it out it’s funny but there is a purpose I'm not just plugging it, I've used this to just give you an idea to show you an example of what a research document could potentially look like if you wanted to build one yourself.

So, what kind of data do we actually want to look at? Obviously, the keyword so you can see that we've got one column there for that and the level of intent which can also be confused as sort of the stage of the buyer’s journey. That's something that I always make sure that we mark up to our keywords as well.

So, what kind of keywords are an awareness stage keyword? Potentially what are consideration or what could be considered as a decision stage keyword, or transactional keyword; awareness keywords are typically questions so “how to…” “can I…”, “is this…” thing that kind of stuff. Comparison is typically like “versus” or “what's the best of X Y Z” sort of thing, and then decision stuff is usually things that anything that includes some form of transactional intent. So, it could be “where can I buy this”, “what's the best place to buy this product” or “where can I bulk buy this online” example.

Keywords type as well, and now this isn't something that I'm aware that everybody uses but it's definitely something that we use at Aira. We typically use three types of keywords and the type of page that we might potentially create that from or use that keyword to create content for. So, we typically look at cluster pages, pillar pages, and what we call target pages. Now a cluster page is more or less like your blog content, anything that can support a larger topic on a greater scale. Pillar pages are like a central hub, so it could be a complete guide for example on one specific topic but then you might have half a dozen cluster topics supporting that as well within that guide. Then your target pages, can be anything where you're looking for somebody to complete an action on that page so that could be anything from as simple as just completing a basic contact form or download an e-book or completing the transaction and buying a product, for example. I also make sure I keep a list of any sort of supporting keywords.

So, it's pretty straightforward, these are just the keywords that we don't necessarily want to completely ignore but we don't want this to be our primary target keyword at this stage. It's definitely worth sort of keeping an eye on those, whether we track those in a ranking tracker or if it's literally just to keep there for a later date. If we think that “okay we've targeted this primary keyword, it's not actually, working out that great for us let's try one of these other ones instead that's loosely related as well” and then we get into the sort of the data that we look to include as well. Obviously most important search volume, what's the point in our target keyword if there's absolutely nobody looking for it.

Cost-per-click as well, now a couple of people might be a little bit confused here because why would you want to look at the cost-per-click when you're looking to rank these keywords organically? In my opinion it's a good metric to take a look at, at least because if you've got three keywords, they've all worked very similarly in search metrics in terms of volume and stuff in competition. If one of them is clearly standing out where they've got the cost-per-click of £25, in my head that suggests that if people are willing to spend £25 on that then if I can get that keyword ranking organically something good could happen there potentially. It's not always guaranteed but you never know, trial and error.

Then we've got obviously the level of competition, 100 being the highest and 0 being the lowest.

I also include some additional metrics as well. I personally prefer Moz, and of course there are so many tools out there and Dom said that, like SEMrush, ahrefs, use Google planner yourself if you want but there's hundreds out there. I just think it's really good to get two sets or search volume data that we can just kind of compare to get an idea of where we're going with this. What kind of keywords could be important, and then eventually you should have something that looks kind of like this.

Doesn’t have to be exactly like that but this is what we use every single day, and it helps - gives a more visual base of what we're looking to produce and it's much easier when we send this to our clients as well because straightaway they can see target keywords and what they are and will do. “The cluster ones are potential blog opportunities, they're wicked we don't cover that at the moment we might want to consider writing about that in the future or in the next few weeks”.

So, yeah you can look to create that yourself or you can just download mine - again I will tweet this after if anybody wants it or you can just come and ask before as well. But that will redirect you to a Google sheet, you can literally just make a copy of that and then that is yours to use as and when you need to. Feel free to adapt as well if you like, any tools and stuff that you want to use instead.

That takes us on to just gathering a list of seed keywords then, I'm guessing everybody here knows what a seed keyword is. It's basically a very vague keyword that uses a very top level, in the keyword research process and that you can then base your research on to sort of delve a bit deeper. Take a look at the longer tail stuff and the easiest way to get started by that is just a brainstorm, good old-fashioned pen and paper and try and get sort of 20 to 30 ideas down on paper if you can.

No right or wrong answer here in my head, it’s just volume and you can assess that after. Analyse the website and take a look what keywords you currently target. This kind of stuff that you want to be known for, or is it gone completely the wrong way? Do you want to maybe have a look in a different direction as well, take a look at any related forums and industry related websites?

It's quite an old technique in terms of research, but it's one that works pretty well and it's really good for sort of finding early-stage awareness pieces of content as well. The easiest way of course is just ask your client or just ask yourself the question and if you've got a sales team, to speak to your sales team at the end of the day. They're the guys that are speaking to your potential customers day in and day out, they know what kind of questions they're being asked and then they could potentially feed that back to you and it could then potentially give you another avenue to investigate.

So have a look at what's actually ranking at the moment. Now the easiest way to do this is through Search Console, one it's free and two it's really easy to use. Just head over to the performance report, and you come to a filter. I always like to filter back to the last 16 months, reason being you just get more data that way, nothing else. I always like to add a query filtering as well, I like to exclude any brand terms because I know for a fact that we get a lot of branded search and branded traffic.

So, if we were to do this process, we'd need to make sure we're eliminating that to get an idea of what keywords we could potentially target. You can obviously analyse that as a leisure export, any that you think could be quite useful and save it in a sheet separate elsewhere or in your document for example. There are other tools you can use to do this, again I use Moz quite a bit, but SEMrush is also very good and there are free and paid versions of both of these. But they do have their limits, unfortunately, a bit later on I will show you some other tools that are free which are quite good as well that I find useful.

So how can we take a look at what our competitors are actually doing and what they are targeting and what they're actually ranking for? I'm going to be using Moz and it’s free, you can do this with the free version, I think you are limited to five searches potentially I think but basically you can get the information with a free account, and it's great for identifying some competitors. You just add your domain in at the top, you can only have two competitors at the minute which is a shame but either way you can get some pretty good data here. So, add your competitors and hit compare and you should see something that looks a little bit like this:

So, you'll get an initial sort of overlap and so you can see Aira has 305 ranking keywords and we got Conductor on 554, so we might want to take a look at those and see what they're doing. These aren't actually direct competitors of ours by the way, I just needed a couple examples so I just grabbed a couple that I can think off the top of my head. Under that competitor overlap you'll see the top-ranking keywords report, just like you did with Search Console, take a look through those at your leisure. Mark the ones that you're interested in and then you can just export that into a CSV file as well.

So, let's take a look at the competitors’ stuff and now this is my favourite part really, and looking at what kind of keywords are actually bringing some solid traffic. Now to do that I'm going to show you how to use SEMrush, again you can do this with the free version but if you have the capability to upgrade to a paid version I would certainly urge you to do so. I appreciate it's not the cheapest tool in the world, but it is very good and to do that you’re going to end up seeing something like this:

I’ll just take you through that in a bit more detail. So, what you need to do is add your domain in at the very top make sure it is the domain because you can filter that down to the full URL or a subcategory. I like to do it at the domain level. Head over to the ‘organic research report’ on the left-hand side and then you want to select the ‘positions report’, you can see if you or your client for example target multiple countries where you want to look at organic research for them other areas that you might cover in terms of countries. So this will give us organic keywords based upon UK search engines, so once you've done that (again I had advanced filter for branded stuff on exclude all that, you don't have to) and then you should see something that looks a little bit like this:

So you can see what the keyword here is, and then I like to sort the traffic in this going from the highest to lowest so you can see the first non-branded keyword, for us it’s actually “SEO Milton Keynes” and that's pretty accurate. Well we’re based on Keynes, we’re predominately an SEO agency so that's pretty good to see and you can just work your way through that report and export that as and when you need to. So, that's really useful.

So, a quick recap. Create a research document, gather a list of seed keywords initially - it can't be underestimated, check what terms are already ranking, take a look at what your competition are doing it's always worth having a look even if it's just a quick check. You don't have to spend hours on this, literally ten minutes is enough and then take a look at the keywords it generates from traffic as well. Then that takes us on to step 6, so have a look at the converting keywords and weighted sort. I won't go into detail but essentially what weighted source is it excludes any outliers, so you can have a load of key converting keywords with one click and the conversion rate may be a 100%. It's not really that useful because it's a bit inaccurate, whereas if you've got keyword that's got 80 clicks and a conversion rate of say 3-4% that's probably something you can use, and it’s a bit more actionable. So, yeah weighted sort does that and it's pretty easy to do that, in Google Analytics.

There’s a couple of things you need to do first. Now, I always sort conversions by all goals if you've got multiple goals set up you can obviously change specific ones if you want to get information on that. Then sort that conversion rate again from highest to lowest. If you want to add advanced filters again you obviously can, if you want to find phrases around a specific topic. So, if I want to find keywords based on predominantly just SEO I can do that and then once I've done that you can change the actual default sort type from default to weighted and then that will give you the order of the keywords in a way that you can actually action more things.

So, you can see here we got this top keyword is at 85 clicks, 3% conversion rate, next one is quite a bit lower at 19 and then 4% conversion rate but they're the kind of keywords we want to look at. So, if you've got a lot of keywords, getting that kind of conversion rate and stuff they could potentially be really useful for you if they're converting, whilst you're paying for it, they're probably going to get you ranking organically as well. So, a couple of tools just quickly run through those that you can use day-to-day to get some new keyword recommendations. You're probably aware of a couple of them already; Moz of course is one that's very well known (free and paid versions) very good for analysing competitor stuff and just getting general new keyword ideas as well as my personal favourite tool. SEMRush as well, very similar to Moz, it’s basically an all-in-one SEO suite (free and paid) it's really good at grouping keywords automatically for you so it cuts a little bit at the time out so you don't spend too much time having to manually go through each keyword and bucketing them into different categories - that's quite useful and it's really good for identifying any featured snippet opportunities as well.

I'd highly recommend you take a look at that report if you're not already doing so, if you're not too sure how to do that just grab me after I'll be happy to have a chat with you after as well that's not a problem. So, one you may or may not have heard of Infinite Suggests, basically do you ever go to Google and just put in your keyword space a/b c/d and see what it automatically suggests. Infinite does that for you, you put in your keyword hit search and bang it gives you a response in less than 10 seconds and it usually gives you a list of at least 100 keywords that Google automatically suggests but it doesn't give you any search volumes. So, you would need to get your search volume from elsewhere but there's some more keywords that you could potentially consider that you might not have thought about already. The best part is it’s completely free of charge as well.

Answer the public I'm sure most people have probably heard of that now it’s becoming quite a popular tool. Unfortunately, it's not a completely free tool anymore, you are limited on how many searches you can do now which is a bit annoying. It's very good for finding any questions, awareness stage content, potential blog pieces as well that's really useful there, and one that I haven't used for a very long time is keyword shitter. It's actually really good, I mean it's very outdated, but you essentially just throw a keyword in, hit keywords and it will literally give you thousands. It's pretty accurate and it's pretty good, you can end up with thousands of keywords and obviously I wouldn’t use all of them, but you get the idea.

So, the best thing to do is just getting massive keyword suggestions. Once you've got all your keywords, you've got your data you've collected it's time to start actually populating that research document that you created earlier or if you stole mine that's not a problem. Add in your keywords, add in any preferred metrics whether that's Moz, SEMrush, ahrefs - I'd always encourage you to use two if you can though and don't forget about the buyer’s journey and try to apply a stage of the buyer’s journeys for every keyword you come across if you can because it just helps you consider the type of content that you might want to think about producing a bit later on down the line.

This was a tweet that I sent out a little while back that went pretty popular, quite a few people ended up jumping on it and it was actually based around an article that a guy called Rory Truesdale put together for search engine journal where basically he produced an algorithm. He actually works for Conductor funnily enough, but essentially what they do is analyse the SERPs to get an idea of the intent around the results so then they can know that “okay this keyword is more transactional”, the term organic results are on this page; 80% of them are product pages so you might think “okay that's a page that you probably shouldn't make a blog post around, it's not going to do very well so you might want to target that out more.” If you're an e-commerce site, definitely products and stuff for a product landing page example.

I always find that adding stages of the buyer’s journeys for keywords really useful, even if it's just in the short time just to get a vague idea it's really good. Once you’ve done that you can obviously start prioritising and get an idea of what keywords you actually want to think “okay this is the one we want to go for, this is the one we want to be known for and the one we want to rank for as well” so once we've done all that you'd probably assume you're finished and done keyword research. But a lot of people fall into that trap and it's something I really cannot urge enough, that once you've done the research make sure you take an action on it.

There's so many clients that I've done keyword research for. I'd probably say as high as 70-80% of the keyword research I do hardly ever gets implemented and it is incredibly frustrating. But when it does you can see that it works really well and so mapping your research - easiest way to do that is to create a mapping document. Before coming here tonight I sent out a tweet basically asking people and start-ups what's most important to you? Ranking is trafficker content of course, most of the answers are in the comments - people said they wanted to see money which is obviously nice but not surprisingly traffic was the highest result.

But how are you expecting to get traffic if you're not actually going to map your keywords to your content or create content to bring in that traffic and of course that then falls full side with content as well. Traffic and content go hand in hand, if you want traffic you need to create content to get that to come it’s not rocket science. This is an example of a mapping document that I use day-to-day. It is a bit of a beast and I won't spend too much time on it, but I’ll just give you a quick rundown of what it is.

So, on the very top on the left you can see we have a column for the type of keyword whether it's an existing URL or if we're going to look at creating a new one potentially. You've got the full web domain there as well, and then we also show the structure or the tiers, so we purposefully limit that to three just because it's a lot easier for search engines and users to find content that way. Then you can manage your internal linking structure a lot better as well, then you've got the keyword targeting there so got our primary keyword - that's the one we're going to predominantly optimise for you, titles descriptions etc.

Then any secondary keywords, the stage of the buyer’s journey and the content type as well - so is it a target page, pillar page or a blog content cluster page. Then you've got the current sort of meta optimisations such as what's the current title description, h1, is the keyword in all of those for example. Then we have a section where we make our own recommendations if we need to. A lot of people can get a bit carried away with this, they feel the need to as they think “okay I'm being paid to do a keyword web mapping document, I need to make sure that I'm recommending changes.”

Sometimes changes aren't always required, like obviously there's a couple of tweaks but you don't need to go changing the whole URL structure if it's just a case of the URL being sound, the body content is good, headings are good but you don't actually have written titles at the moment. Just make that change, you don't need to do everything. Then we also have a section for internal linking as well, so are there any product pages or target pages that we want to link to - are there any additional sort of resource pages or pillar pages that we can link to as well? Then cluster pages so any supporting content, whether that be internal or external and that we can link out to because don't be afraid to link out to another website. It's not the end of the world you're not going to be killed for it, it's actually quite useful Google actually like that a lot more and most importantly make sure you actually implement and track this stuff.

Implement it, get it on the site - whether you do that yourself or hand it to a developer and get them to implement en masse for you. Just get it going get it site and once you have implemented it make sure you track it, whether that be adding an annotation into Google Analytics. Just simply saying your keyword research implemented on X date - that's not going to be the greatest form of tracking, but you will get an idea and then obviously if we use a rank tracking software, you can use that.

We personally, or I personally use accuranker and it's quite useful and quite cheap as well compared to a lot of other tools. This is the process I use; it works. Hopefully it works for you and if you've got any questions feel free to come over to me but yeah quick takeaways for you.

Get a research document together, if you don't have one feel free to use mine - like I said make a copy of that, use that at your leisure. Get some initial seed keywords so you can actually start your content. Take a look at your competitor’s ranking terms, create a content plan - you can do that by doing your keyword mapping document. Have a look, if you realise “okay we've got a lot of cluster content here but we don't actually rank for it” or “we don't have any pages currently optimising for it, we can we can then create that here” that's how you can identify content gaps, and of course implement and track your progress.

Thank you very much!

AK: That was Daniel Brooks from SearchNorwich 7, I really hope that you enjoyed his talk and took something away from it. You can find his slides, a video of the talk and a transcription in the shownotes at

We are now officially a week away from the next SearchNorwich event. I hope you’ve all got your tickets, they’re free but also limited! I believe over 75% of the tickets have gone, and last event saw us sell out so be sure to grab one. You can get them at This time around we will have talks about technical SEO and PR SEO so be sure to come as there’ll be a lot to learn and take away. As always there will be free snacks, pizza, beers and other drinks for all.

So, thank you so much for tuning in for this episode of Search with Candour, see you in the next one and maybe even at SearchNorwich coming up. Goodbye!

More from the blog