Keyword Research: 7 Real SEO Experts Share Their Secrets


Have you ever wondered how the REAL SEO experts do keyword research?

As you have probably noticed, the SEO industry has been flooded with massive “expert” roundups.

I’m guilty of contributing to these…

BUT, that’s why I decided to redeem myself and bring on REAL SEO experts who have successful SEO agencies or have a proven track record of success.

These guys don’t just say they are “experts”, they actually are.

I chose eight experts including myself to answer the following questions about keyword research:

“1. What is your “go-to” strategy for finding the best keywords for a campaign?”

“2. And what criteria do you use to determine the “quality” of a keyword?”
These experts are in no particular order.


1. Nick Eubanks

SEO Blogger at

Nick Eubanks SEO

1. What is your “go-to” strategy for finding the best keywords for a campaign?

My go to strategy for finding the keywords for any campaign is first scrape the entire universe of suggested terms for every possible variation related to a small set of seed terms.

Then manually reviewing them for modifier patterns, things like specific verbs or adjectives that provide more insight into intent. Then I create buckets; usually 4-5 based on the topics that I’m able to group the keywords into.

Themes quickly emerge and I’m able to then go out and start exploring what content might look like for these types of topics.

Once I have a sense of the content I can figure out who the tangential audiences are and can think of how to maximize the appeal of content that fits within the keyword set.

Performing this content research also lends direction as to who, where, and how I might promote this content, what format that content should take, and who’s site it should live on.

2. And what criteria do you use to determine the “quality” of a keyword?

Determining the quality of a keyword for me is pretty straightforward;

  • Does the implied intent of this term match with the goals of the business or website?
  • Does the keyword have at least 5 long tail variations each with at least 50 searches/month?
  • Are there pages currently ranking on page 1 with less than 10 links to the individual ranking URL’s?

2. Jayson DeMers

Founder & CEO of AudienceBloom

Jayson DeMers

What is your “go-to” strategy for finding the best keywords for a campaign?

Well, the whole idea of search “keywords” has changed a lot in the past decade.

Stuffing keywords and trying to rank for specific words and phrases simply isn’t useful anymore.

That, combined with the fact that Google Analytics and Google’s Keyword Tool in AdWords tend to hide data, means if you’re using a keyword research strategy from 2010, you’re not going to be successful.

For me, searcher intent is my biggest priority in selecting keywords and topics to optimize for.

I usually start with a general topic related to the site in question—let’s say “online marketing”—and use a variety of different tools to help point me toward what people need most. I look at online blogs and forums, particularly at topics with lots of recent traction, I look at Google Trends to see what people are searching for in the past month or two, and I plug myself into social media conversations to see what people are talking about.

From there, I usually have a pretty big list of potential content topics, general subjects, and phrases that I’ll want to target in my campaign. I use AdWords to find information on search volume, and weed out topics that aren’t going to be a good long-term fit.

At that point, I use factors like degree of difficulty/competition and potential value to find my top picks.

And what criteria do you use to determine the “quality” of a keyword?

For me, quality is about value—getting the most traction with as few obstacles as possible.

For that I need keywords that are visibly popular with searchers (which you can see in Google Trends, social media conversations, etc.), statistically reasonable (based on search volume), non-competitive (see who else is ranking for a query and how strong their domain/page authorities are), and valuable (topics that could feasibly win you good leads, direct conversions, or a higher reputation).

That’s a lot to look for at once, but popularity and business value are probably my top two considerations.

3. Sujan Patel

Marketing Blogger at
sujan patel seo

What is your “go-to” strategy for finding the best keywords for a campaign?

My approach is to find the highest volume keywords that my site could rank for in 6 and 12 and 18+ months.

I’ll also purchase intent and difficulty into consideration and sort them into those 3 buckets.

The key is to be realistic and grab some short term success to justify further attention.

The last thing I look at is how the keywords (or theme of keywords) is trending and if the demand is increasing or decreasing.

The few tools I use are UberSuggest, SEMrush (my fav and go to tool), Google keyword planner and trends. I also use Open Site Explorer to size up the competition.

And what criteria do you use to determine the “quality” of a keyword?

To me the ultimate quality guideline is purchase intent. I often test doing PPC for my target keywords to validate intent.

4. Ryan Stewart

Founder & CEO of Webris, a Miami SEO Agency
Ryan Stewart

I use paid search to find the most valuable keywords. I realize doing so requires a larger budget and longer project scope, but it’s by far the most effective method. If I get a client inquiry in the lead generation / services vertical (i.e. attorneys, real estate, SEO) I build paid search into the SEO strategy and I won’t take them on as a client unless they invest in both.

This really helps kill 2 birds with 1 stone.

  1. We know the keywords that drive the most volume, clicks, on site engagements, micro conversions, form submissions, phone calls and most importantly, closed leads. We then optimize service pages around the most profitable keywords and build out a SEO content calendar/plan for synonym keywords.
  2. It drives an ROI on their marketing spend and buys us time for SEO. We do our SEO and link building 100% white hat – no PBNs, no link vendors, all outreach based. While this is incredibly effective, it takes time. You’re looking at a solid 6 – 8 months of work before rankings and ROI come into play. Paid search alleviates that need for ROI by driving phone calls within 30 days.

When I first got started I would use Google Keyword Planner but honestly, the data is shoddy, you’re really just guessing. Paid search provides concrete market research data that guarantees a profitable SEO campaign (assuming you can rank them, of course).

5. Josh Bachynski

SEO YouTuber, SEO Hangouts with Josh Bachynski

Josh Bachynski seo

This is the BEST formula for finding the top keywords for a campaign in 2016:

1) what the company sells / what do they want to rank for;
2) what competition is already on that SERP;
3) what is the best broad match / exact match variation that will…
4) have the best CTR and search termination (at that level in the sales funnel);

1. If the company sells “blue sprockets”, then the main keywords are mostly already chosen for you – you have to advertise exactly what you offer on that page

2. However, if the SERP for their head term keywords looks unfeasible (you have to do proper correlation based competitive analysis – ask me what that is if you don’t know), then depending upon their marketing / business strategy, you may need to choose other SERPs to compete on (low hanging fruit, or even all different products!)

3. Check Google’s Adwords Keyword planner for the best broad match / exact match keywords – look at the broad match keyword family that gets the most traffic. Then optimize for the exact match keyword variation in that family that makes the most sense given all the steps.

DON’T optimize for plural variations or misspellings anymore – google will switch those out – only have 1 main keyphrase / topic per page.

4. Once you have optimized for it (how to write the best title tag advertisements is in ART – ask me how to do it), and you are ranking, make sure that traffic clicks on the title you have chosen (make sure google is not rewriting it, and that it has high CTR in Google’s Search Console – anywhere from 20%-60% is good… yes you can and should get that high CTR)

Also make sure people are searching your brand name PLUS the keyword, for e.g.: blue sprockets, and getting 60%+ on that search as well


The title tag / keyword is a promise. If they don’t find what you said was there (under 3 seconds, above the fold, easily in a non-convoluted design, at a price they think is valuable enough (so sell properly – build value around the offer)) then they will do the wrong things mentioned above, and your rankings WILL suffer

This is just a start to 2016 SEO, but it is an important component!

Need help? I am always here to help you!

6. Charles Floate

SEO, Marketing Blogger at
Charles Floate

What is your “go-to” strategy for finding the best keywords for a campaign?

I start off by going to (you guessed it) Google.

I’ll come up with a few keywords myself and fire them into the search bar, noting down anything that stands out from the auto-suggest, then I’ll grab every page that’s on the first page for those keywords, and fire them through Ahrefs position explorer and SEMrush (Note: SEMRush doesn’t allow sub-domains, but Ahrefs does) and export all of the keywords into an Excel doc from both of the services.

Note: Make sure you keep reference of every domain you put through SEMRush and Ahrefs, as later in your SEO campaign knowing what keywords the competitors you’re trying to beat are targeting and ranking for is very useful.

I’ll then manually sort through the keywords of every competitor spreadsheet I’ve pulled off, and add it to one super Excel doc, removing any duplicates once I’m done. If you want to separate spreadsheets into things like “Buyer Intent Keywords” “Longtail Keywords” etc.. then follow the next step via using keyword planner’s “multiple keyword list” tool.

After I have a spreadsheet filled with keywords, I’ll run them through each through keyword planner, pulling off search volume and the CPC for every keyword, then export that spreadsheet from keyword planner.

And what criteria do you use to determine the “quality” of a keyword?

Once I’ve got that list in an excel doc, I’ll manually put each of them through Google (via an incognito browser tab) and check the pages ranking on the first page.

I use a mixture of my own knowledge of good sites (e.g. if the top 3 sites are Wikipedia, Amazon and eBay, it’s not going to be an easy keyword) and the Moz & Majestic toolbars to check the metrics and number of incoming links to that page.

If a keywords too competitive, I’ll mark it “Bad” in Excel (which overlays the highlighted cell in Red.

If the keywords easy, then I’ll mark it Green (“Good” in Excel) and if the keywords got a medium level of competition I’ll mark it Yellow (“Neutral” in Excel).

7. Nathan Gotch

Founder & CEO of Gotch SEO

Did you think I would have an “expert” roundup on my blog without including myself? 😛

What is your “go-to” strategy for finding the best keywords for a campaign?

I always start my research by looking at industry forums.

A simple search string like “your niche + forums” will work.

Go into the forum and look at the main categories.

These will likely act as content categories for your site. After you have scoped out the forum on the surface level, jump into one of the sections. See what questions people are asking and what problems they are having. This intel will guide your content and keyword targeting.

Toss the ideas you found into the Google Keyword Planner or Long Tail Pro to see the search volume.

Picking a keyword to target depends on two factors:

  • The authority of your website
  • The competition

If your site isn’t authoritative, then you should focus on uncompetitive keywords first. Long tail keywords with a search volume between 100 – 500 is a good place to start in most scenarios.

And what criteria do you use to determine the “quality” of a keyword?

A “quality” keyword I would create content for has to meet this criteria:

The keyword must have more than 100 searches per month according to the Google Keyword Planner

The keyword must drive revenue for the business in one way or another: some keywords drive direct revenue like “pink nike shoes”. While others can send traffic into a sales funnel like “backlinks”. I always ask this question: how can this keyword grow my revenue? If you can’t think of way, then skip it.

The keyword competition needs to be low if the site has low authority. If the site has some authority, then it can target more challenging head keywords. However, targeting only long-tail keywords is a good policy for ALL websites.

To determine the competition level, I quickly examine:

  • PA, DA: if every site has massive PA and DA, then it might be a keyword to avoid. You especially want to look at PA because that is based on the links and authority going to that specific page that is ranking.
  • Big brand dominance: if the first page is overwhelmed by big brands, then I might reconsider the keyword. You can beat big brands, if your site is more relevant, but it isn’t easy.
  • Keyword optimization: I quickly examine the title and META description for every site on the first page to see if they are optimized for the keyword I’m going after. If they aren’t, then that’s typically a green light (if it meets the other criteria above)
  • “Weak” pages ranking well: I define “weak” pages as forums thread, Q&A threads, PDFs, web 2.0s, and videos. If you see any of these pages ranking, then it’s an indication that it’s a low competition niche.

8. Daniel Wesley

Founder of

1. The obvious starting point is putting your product or topic into your keyword tool of choice. Dig for those related searches, match up intent, run through all the fundamentals to get that perfect spread of keywords you want to campaign for. Something I find myself spending much more time on, though, is the competitive analysis.

Look at the contenders on a given SERP, and compile a list of every keyword these pages are ranking for. Go even further to find the keywords that other pages on these domains are ranking for, and chart out how they relate to your core topic. Especially in more competitive niches, you’ll uncover a lot of correlations between these pages, their rankings and how they interplay.

While your approach may become less linear, you’ll benefit by covering more of the proverbial “dartboard” in your strategy.

2. The biggest criteria for quality of a keyword is always intent. Your best visitors are the ones who unequivocally find what they were looking for on the page they landed on. No matter if you’re selling a product, providing an informational resource or addressing a particular pain point – the more specific, the better. Usually you can use estimated CPC as a barometer for this, but don’t let that dictate your approach on its own.


Keyword research doesn’t have to be confusing or complicated. Use your mind and the tools you have available to you.

The top tools mentioned in this guide are:

Always validate your keywords ideas before jumping into any campaign.

The most important part of keyword research is to analyze and understand the competition.

After you have settled on some uncompetitive keywords, then test them through Google AdWords.

Never settle on keywords just because you think you could rank for them.

Settle on keywords that you KNOW you can rank for and you KNOW will increase your bottom line.

Do you have questions?

Leave it below and thanks for reading!


    1. Thanks for the great ideas, I know that two of these tools are paid. I am a social worker and have a website that needs to have some of the keywords that I am looking to rank for. I asking can you suggest any help in the keyword optimization that can help with anxiety disorders or helping other with anxiety. I want to rank my site having issues getting the correct keyword. Thank you Gotch. ALL THE best, Lori English

  1. Thanks Gotch – especially liked number 4 – in our company we have the data from AdWords – from one and half year back. I´m going to go thought it again and I will see what I can dig from that. Thank you again for this article !

  2. I’d have to go with Ryan Stewart on this. The thing about SEO….is it takes a while. So how do you REALLY know? You never do. Even SEO experts who can get “Quick” results still can’t be 100% sure. Ryan’s game plan is proof there’s value in a keyword using instant results before asking a client to deeply invest in SEO. SEO will likely have very solid long term value for them, but for the short research, test with ads. We didn’t know this technique was even “a thing” when I started SEO just over a year ago, but it just made sense once I realized how SEO is the long play. I said to myself I didn’t want to wait 3-6 months to know if there’s money in a niche | keyword | search term. I want to know the data now, then I’ll decide if I want to go down the SEO route. This is how we decided to dive deep into a niche and to this day that website, one of my first ever, is one of our top earners. Funny thing is since we ran those initial tests the CPC on those terms has gone up 10x making it nearly impossible to make a profit via CPC, but here we are at the top of page 1 organically enjoying the free traffic. Great blog post. I think I need to include you on a future round-up over at! Have just the post in mind. Let me know if you’re interested! Cheers Nathan!

    1. Hi Jesse,

      Thank you for your contribution! Yes, I totally agree with you. Validating keywords using AdWords is a very solid technique to avoid jumping into unprofitable niches. Shoot me an email about the roundup!

      Thanks for the comment

      – Gotch

    1. Hi Raj,

      I’m pretty sure Long Tail Pro has a package that is a one-time payment (at least they did when I bought it). As far as a free tool to generate long tails, I recommend the tools in the post

  3. While reading through those guys ideas I was thinking “Im glad no one came up with forums as treasure fro keywords”…and than I ended up with your suggestion about forums. You stold my idea Nathan haha 🙂 good share. Keywords are a vast topic and there is manysource gems people havent found yet. Im focus mostly about niche “feeling” and test my empathy, trying to act like potential buyer, fantastic way to find great keywords….

  4. Hey Gotch,
    I usually find the low competition keyword through the LTP having comp less than 20. I created an optimized post and made backlinks. Despite, I am not able to rank for it. Could you please help me in it?


  5. Nice post, fun to see everyone has a different process. If page one is dominated by videos, example ‘Komodo dragon hunting’, would the videos suddenly have extra weight?

  6. Ryan is rising SEO stud, I just love to read his blog and also his advice always matters for me. Moreover, Charles Floate is my favorite too.

  7. Hi Nathan,

    First time on your blog and I liked it.

    What if I have site which has no blog, usually happens with small business sites, then how to target long tail keywords. I do have to stick to what the business offers than look for a long tail keywords.

    Is it that long tail are for only for blogs and not for business sites?

  8. Hi Nathan,
    I really love your blog and they you think about SEO. I also prefer white hat techniques to build links. I will give you a small advice on your blog posts view – as your posts are very interesting and I started searching in blog, but as all blog posts are in full lenght is very difficult for me to navigate ( I have to scroll down and look for the next post title). So i found it easier to find the titles of your blog posts via Google like this: site: If you add a excerpts of your posts on the main blog page this will help the other readers like me. Thanks for the great content you are sharing and good luck.

  9. Great article Nathan! I learnt a fair bit more than I was expecting to coming onto this page. I also think I’ll try out the UberSuggest tool — I hadn’t heard of that until reading this post.

  10. Hey Gotch,
    Wonderful article ! Collection of all Experts views. I always learn from your website. I have also something to ask that has made me crazy about. “Why do i see a single pages of websites with more than 50k keywords and they have not even used the words in that page..More than that i researched with ahref tools to check anchor text..I found no clue for those keywords. How do they do that? ”
    This thing took my 2 weeks and still m clueless..haha 😀

  11. Hi Nathan,
    Great Article. Every expert sharing their best way to find keywords. I think these strategies will motivate us to work smartly and effectively. Finding best keywords for next article is always a challenging task for everyone. so, these tips will surely help us. Google Analytics is one the best tool I also use for keywords. Thanks for sharing and waiting for next article.
    Have a nice day…


  12. thanks a lot of compilation of views around keyword researches among the top contenders. they do have a unique way of specking thier thoughts in keyword research, which definitely helped me to speck out what should be my keyword strategy and how should I build it around.

    Cheers, Nathan!!

  13. This educational post really changed my attitude towards the content of my site.
    I always see useful contents from your blog,

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.