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What is Keyword Research in SEO? An A-Z Guide to Keyword Search in 2021

  • SEO
Ultimate guide to keyword research

Last Updated on May 4, 2021 by Muhammad Junaid Khalid

In this comprehensive guide, you will get to know about:

  • What is keyword research meaning?
  • Why is Keyword search vital in 2021?
  • How to do keyword research for SEO?
  • What is the right keyword research strategy?
  • How to choose keywords for SEO?
  • How to use keywords in the content for better SEO
  • What should be your keyword strategy for difficult keywords?
  • How many keywords should be used in content to avoid penalty from Google due to keyword stuffing
  • How to rank for a keyword
  • Keyword research tools

I highly recommend reading this post till the end as you will find valuable tips for keyword research in each portion of it! So, make sure you don’t go anywhere!

Excellent SEO keyword search will make sure that you remain on top of the SERPs. Plus, it adds value to the user’s experience as they do not have to hover here and there in order to find their answer. Starting from ranking the content, to ultimately selling the service or product is the main goal of “Keyword Search”.

What is keyword research?/ Keyword search in SEO

In a nutshell, keyword research, keyword search, or keyphrase research is basically a method of finding popular words or phrases that users used to search for their desired topic or data.

People endlessly search on the internet to find the answer to their queries. Keyword research is all about picking those queries, compile valuable content so that it ranks on top of the SERPs.

Talking about keyword search’s role in SEO, we tend to find the intention of the user when he/she searches a certain query on any search engine.

However, in 2021, gone are the days when we used to rely on a single keyphrase. To find them for SEO in 2021, pick a group of relevant phrases, analyze their importance, and then target your audience.

This is how you’ll be able to extract organic traffic, directly on your site!

Why is keyword research vital in 2021?

Just like in 2020 or years before, keyword search will remain to be the hot topic of SEO in 2021. Without robust research, you won’t be able to find the intent of your target audience. So, the chances of failure increase by manifolds.

Can you take that risk? I bet, you’d never want to!

Ahrefs reported about 90.63% of the pages on the internet does not get any traffic from Google.

Google Website traffic distribution graph
Google Website traffic distribution. Data taken from Ahrefs

It means that people start creating content without analyzing the user’s needs. When no one would search for your content, it would never bring profits for you, no matter whatever you do!

How to do keyword research? How to find relevant keyphrases for SEO?

Below are the step-by-step processes that you should follow in order to do meaningful keyword research.

  1. Select a topic on which you want to write an article/blog post.
  2. Find the phrases or queries people use to search for that specific topic.
  3. Find how many people are using these words or phrases. Choose high volume phrases (> 500 searches/month)
  4. Find the keyphrases on which your competitors are ranked in the top 10 positions in search results for the same topic.
  5. Make a master list of the keywords that you found in steps 3 and 4. Select 2-3 focus keywords and 10-12 related keyphrases)

Now you are wondering how can I follow this step-by-step process?

Well, you badly need an SEO tool. If you already have some knowledge about keyword research and you think that there are many “FREE” tools that you can use, you are true! But remember, you may conduct the research with free tools but can never compete with your competitors who are spending handsome amounts on sophisticated SEO tools.

In short, you can never win a war with just a wooden stick in your hand while your enemy has an automatic machine gun unless your luck is extraordinary!

Still, if you are tight on budget, you may consider these free methods:

  • Manual or traditional keyword research
  • Google keyword planner
  • Google Trends
  • UberSuggest

Related: What is SEO? An A-Z Guide To SEO in 2021

What is the right keyword research strategy?

The strategy for finding keyphrases starts from the perspective of a user. Your end goal should be keyphrase ranking. Just think about what your target audience type in the search engines while searching for his/her query. Apart from that, keyword research tools come in really handy. These tools provide a path to start from!

Fortune reported, around 90% of start-ups fail as they sold products that no one is willing to buy. Do you know why? They rely on “FREE” stuff, never willing to spend money on paid SEO tools, and usually fail to drive traffic to their blog or website.

If you are not sure which SEO tool is best for you, continue to read this post and you will find my recommended SEO tool at the end.

How to choose keywords for SEO?

Choosing relevant keywords is important!

Let us take the example of this post that you are reading. Before writing this post, I had conducted my research with SEMrush. I searched for the main theme which is “Keyword research” and the tool gave me around 20,000 related keyphrases for that.

The main expertise is to select the most relevant keyphrases and then use them intelligently in the content. Below is the list of my keyphrases for this post:


There are 12 keywords among them 2 are the focus while others are related long-tails. You can see that these are all closely related to the main theme of the article. You can say, these are the gemstones that I collected from 20,000 stones! They have high search volumes, medium to high difficulty, and are highly relevant.

How many SEO keywords should you be looking to target?

You can even rank with one keyword, or you would fail to rank even with 20. So, the entire game is all about quality and not quantity. Nevertheless, one keyword is just nothing!

As I mentioned earlier, at least, 10-15 SEO keyphrases are important to capture. These include 2-3 focus and the remaining should be long-tail related phrases.

Play around with these and try to appear better than your competitors. Find out what your competitor is offering. Then, just surpass them through quality! Playing with multiple relevant SEO keyphrases increases your search visibility, makes you a pro and brings definite results.

But, it is important to stay within a crease. You can’t start adding unnecessary keyphrases that are totally unrelated to your article/post theme.

Keep a check on your competitors

Have you ever thought about the reason why your competitors are winning at the moment? If not, then think NOW!

See what keyphrases your competitors are ranking for. Search a query on Google and analyze the top results. Competitor’s research gives you an idea regarding what is trending these days. Also, you need to search for unique keyphrases too that are still untapped.

Incorporate keyword research tools

There are dozens of keyword research tools available. Most of them are paid and a few are free. Free tools would obviously be limited in functionality. At the end of the day, free is free. It can never give you the value that a paid tool can.

Google Keyword Planner is a tool that is FREE. If properly used, it can prove to be a starting point for your blogging journey.

If you’re willing to go a notch ahead, then “SEMrush” is the best premium tool in the market. It is not only a keyword research tool but an All-in-One SEO tool. If used at its full potential, it has the ability to change your blog into a money-making machine!

How to rank for a keyword?

Now you are done with keyword research. It’s time to form a strategy to embed them into the content for SEO purposes. The main keyword and its variations must be used to achieve the ranking in search engine!

Your main keyphrase alone can’t do much, considering there’s already too much competition! So, in such a scenario, long-tail keywords work like a charm. Therefore, you will rank easily as it would not have to compete much.

According to Yoast SEO,

Long tail keywords definition

Remember, the lesser the competition and higher the demand, the greater chances to rank!

Additionally, it’s crucial to understand the amount of traffic a keyword is generating. If there is not enough traffic, you don’t have to go for it because simply, “People are not searching for it!”

How to use keywords for SEO?

For SEO, it is imperative that you use the right keywords in the right places. It’s your first and foremost job to make sure that they are placed at the important places in your article/blog post.

Page Titles

Do SEO on page titles. It’s the very first part where you can put the keyword. Whenever someone searches a query, results appear in the form of blue links. The blue link is actually the ‘page title’ where the main theme of your content lies.

Keywords in meta title example

It’s always best to use keywords here. Plus, you can mix and add a relevant query to increase the chance of ranking.

To optimize your whole content for SEO, it is highly recommended to use an SEO plugin known as “Yoast SEO”. It will suggest all the important places where you should insert the keyphrases.

Meta Descriptions

You must use keywords in Meta descriptions. Meta descriptions are small chunks of written information that appear under the ‘Page Title’. It’s a Google recommendation to put your main (focus) keyword and related phrases in Meta description as it immediately gives an idea to the user and the search engine regarding your page.

Keywords in meta description example

You can also do it using “Yoast SEO” plugin.

A well-built Meta Description can be helpful for click-through.

By reading it, a user would decide whether to open the entire page or not!


A general rule of thumb is to distribute your content within subheadings. It increases the readability and overall look and feel of your content.

In order to make your subheadings crisper, include related keyphrases in them. Subheadings bring you a chance to appear on “Featured Snippets” or “Answer Box”.


The content itself is really important. Target the beginning, middle, and ending part of it to include all sorts of keyphrases. Evenly distribute them and make sure to not stuff them.

‘Keyword stuffing’ is an old practice and in 2021, it’s simply considered as a black hat SEO technique and a destroyer of good content.

Be extremely natural in using keywords. Don’t overdo anything. The above-mentioned are the main parts that require keyphrases. Place them smartly in these positions!

How many keywords should be used in content to avoid penalty from Google due to keyword stuffing

Pro Tips:

  • The ideal keyword density is 1%. Use the Focus keyphrase one time for every hundred words. It means if your content is 1000 words long, the focus ones should be used 10 times and not more than that. Above that, it will consider as “Keyword Stuffing”
  • Use each related keyphrases at least 1 time in the content.
  • It’s better to write the article first and then distribute the keywords naturally in the sentences where they fit properly.

What should be your strategy for high difficulty keywords?

In keyword search, you would come across its several types. Let’s discuss here:

  1. High difficulty, High Volume
  2. Low difficulty, low volume
  3. High difficulty, Low volume
  4. Low difficulty, High volume

According to the SEO experts and Gurus, the best ones are the last ones i.e. Low difficulty, High volume Keywords. It’s true only if you are lucky enough to find them!

Unfortunately, there is no such thing exists as Low difficulty and high volume keyword. It is almost impossible to find those because popular and high volume search terms or queries always have high difficulty and demand.

In my personal experience, “keyword difficulty” is not a thing to be scared of. You can safely go for High difficulty with High volume keyphrases and use them in your content. If you write quality content, you can even rank for high difficulty keyphrases as well.

Let’s look at one of my posts about the Dell epsa pre-boot system assessment test. It is ranked at No. 5 in search results for the keyword “epsa pre-boot system assessment” and the ranking is continuously improving! I am sure it will soon rank among the top 3 positions. Did you know what the difficulty score of this keyphrase is? According to the SEMrush SEO keyword research tool, its difficulty is 80%!

Keyword difficulty- SEMrush tool

In SEO tools, the difficulty score is measured on a 0-100% scale. 0 means the keyword is very easy to rank. The score of 80% means it’s almost impossible to rank for it in the top 10 or even top 20 search results. The only possible way to rank for the high difficulty keywords is to build a high number of quality backlinks to that post.

But I have many posts that are ranked for difficult keywords. Google search algorithm is high un-predictable and sometimes you need to go against the tide and try unique strategies to beat the competitors.


You can find accurate keyphrase volume and difficulty with premium SEO tools like “SEMrush” or “Ahrefs”. I personally recommend SEMrush as I am a witness to the wonders that this tool can do for your whole SEO. Free SEO tools data about volume and difficulty is often inaccurate.

Plus, I have mentioned it above as well, you need to go for long-tail keywords if head terms are populated. Fast results are guaranteed if you apply long-tail version.

However, a combo of both would work even better!

Towards the end, let’s have a look at a few major terms related to keyword research:

What is keyword difficulty?

Keyword difficulty (KD) means how much difficult a keyword is to rank on a search engine. In SEO tools, it has a scale from 0-100%. Usually, keywords with KD greater than 60% are thought to be difficult to rank. Because of extreme competition, many keywords increase in difficulty.

What is keyword volume?

Keyword volume suggests the number of searches for a particular query. The volume is for the specific time range.


Conducting keyword research for SEO in 2021 is all about analyzing your niche, grasping your competition, and compiling content that doesn’t deliver anything but SUPERIOR QUALITY.

In 2021 and onwards, the manual keyword search is dead. There is no chance for you to find relevant, high-quality, and high-volume keyphrases with this method.

While keyword research with FREE tools has very limited advantages. So a premium SEO tool is a must!

The bottom line here is to understand that keyword research would never die. All the tips given above would be highly valid in 2021.

What is keyword search and how to do it? If you’re still thinking about it, go above and read again!

Note: Does this article provide the info you’re looking for? Is there any information you think of missing or incorrect? You can give your opinion in the comments section below.

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