Keyword Research for Search

The Backbone of SEO & SEM: Keyword Research

At the core of all search is one thing, keywords. When we talk about SEM or SEO, we need to talk about keywords. This article will go through how to go about keyword research to come up with the optimal keyword strategy for search.


When someone makes a search on a search engine they are essentially throwing together a bunch of keywords together. As digital marketers, we need to know what those keywords are, what the intent is, and figure out how to optimize accordingly. 

Whether we are starting in SEO or SEM the first thing we need to do is understand our keywords. It is the equivalent to starting a business: just as you need to know your audience when starting a business, you need to know your keywords when entering into the search space. 

Example: Custom T-Shirts

Let’s step into the shoes of a small business owner that sells custom t-shirts. We make the highest quality custom t-shirts for all types of occasions, events, and more. When we started our business, our sales came mostly from word of mouth but now we are trying to expand and we want to build our digital presence. We’d like to start with a combined search strategy with SEO and SEM to find people looking for custom t-shirts and related products. 

Keyword Planner

The first step to our plan is going to be keyword research, knowing what keywords are getting traffic that is relevant to our product and what the competitive landscape is like for those keywords.

There are a variety of tools out there for keyword research, but we’ll use Google Ads keyword planner for now. The keyword planner is a very valuable tool for doing the work we are trying to do with keyword research. The obvious keywords to start with are “custom t-shirts,” “custom tees,” and other related terms. We’ll be able to see what kind of search volume each of those terms is getting, what estimated paid bids look like (competition), and find other related terms. We may be surprised to see some related terms that we hadn’t even thought about like “t-shirts for corporate events” or “t-shirts for sports teams.” There is probably a whole slew of keywords out there that could be good for your business which is why keyword research and planning are so vital. 

Keyword Planner


When we are entering the digital space, we need to know who we are up against and what the competitive landscape is like. Thankfully using the handy Google search we can easily see who is ranking for the terms we are looking to target to find our competition. We can also use tools like the keyword planner to see how competitive each keyword is for ads by seeing what the bid ranges are for each keyword. We can continue to monitor our performance and position relative to our important keywords with Auction Insights in Google Ads or using a 3rd party search tool like SEMRush. 

Tailoring Content

Another key reason to understand the types of keywords people are searching for is that you can tailor your site content and boost your SEO with that information. Say people search a lot for “t-shirts for corporate events” and we think we could generate lots of sales from corporate clients, we may even want to spin up a page on our site that is titled “T-shirts for Corporate Events” with lots of relevant content and pricing information for bulk, corporate orders. This will give us a much better chance of ranking highly for those corporate searches to drive our sales. 

Key Takeaways

Knowing our keywords is the backbone of search. We need to do the research, find the right keywords, know the competition, and optimize accordingly.

To get started, I recommend keeping an Excel spreadsheet or list of your keywords somewhere by topic or product along with the projected search volume, competition, your related pages for that keyword, and any paid search strategy related to those keywords.

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