How to do SEO Keyword Research for FREE (6 simple steps!)

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

Want to know how to do SEO keyword research quickly and effectively for free?

In this simple step-by-step guide, I’m going to show you the easiest way to do keyword research for your business using free online tools: the Google Ads Keyword Planner tool and Google itself.

How to do simple yet effective keyword research for SEO

So, you know a bit about search engine optimisation (SEO), including the fact that it's pretty much the only way your website can be found organically online, but now you need to actually find the right keywords to optimise your website for.

That means it’s time to do some research! (Ugh, research...).

Don’t worry – keyword research doesn't need to be as complicated as the 'SEO experts' make out.

In fact, you can conduct simple (yet effective) keyword research easily yourself without having to pay for expensive SEO tools (Yay free stuff!).

I'm going to guide you through how to do basic SEO keyword research (using two of the best free SEO tools known to mankind) so you can optimise your website for search engines and get more low-cost, organic traffic to your website for years to come.

Please note: This guide is for finding keywords for your core web pages, not specifically for blog posts. Although these steps can be used for researching blog topics, I will cover how to do in-depth keyword research for blog posts in a another article.

Ready to get started?

First: before we dive our faces into the magical world of keyword research, you need to understand how keywords are used in SEO, so we'll cover this real quick then jump right into the good stuff...

What are keywords in SEO

What are keywords and why are they important for SEO?

When people use Google or another search engine, they type a query into the search box in hope of finding an answer. The query/phrase they type into the search engine is what us SEO specialists call ‘keywords’.

Keywords are usually more than a word long. In fact, the most useful keywords are more phrases than words.

For example; if I wanted to find a pizza restaurant near where I live to go out for a tasty slice or two of pizza tonight, I wouldn’t just type ‘pizza’ into a search engine, because I know that if I'm more specific with my search, I'm more likely to get the results I want.

If I typed 'pizza' into Google, Google would probably show me a great mixture of results in the hopes that there will be something that fits what I'm looking for – including pizza takeaway shops and restaurants mixed in with pizza recipes, the history of pizza, and so on.

Therefore, to make it more likely that Google will deliver results that match exactly what I'm looking for, I’d search: ‘Pizza restaurants near me’, or ‘pizza places open near me’, to remove any ambiguity surrounding what I want to find.

By doing this, I'm making it clear to Google what my intention behind my search is. Therefore, Google is able to serve me up better results that match my intent.

Another example is if I wanted to find a freelance writer I could hire to write content for me.

I wouldn't just type 'writer' into Google, because I'd get results like this:

SEO keyword intent example

These results aren't relevant to finding a freelance writer, because searching for 'writer' doesn't show my intent for finding one.

Instead, I'd need to make my search more specific. To do this, I could search for: 'freelance writers near me' or 'hire freelance writer', as these would give me better results, like this:

SEO keyword search intent example - hire freelance writer

See why it's important to get specific and clear with your searches and keywords?

By getting specific as a searcher, Google better understands what results to serve you.

These are the types of keywords and phrases you need to find for your business and use on your website, so Google can show you in search results for the most relevant queries.

Using these keywords/phrases on your website and in your content tells Google what your content is about, and should use the same language that people type into search engines to find you.

The keywords will either be branded or non-branded.

A branded keyword is a word or phrase that’s directly related to your brand and business name and offering. It indicates that the searcher already knows your brand, and was looking specifically for it when they typed the keyword into the search engine.

A non-branded keyword is when the searcher doesn’t already know your brand or wasn’t specifically looking for it, but a page on your website matches what they are looking for, leading them to your website.

For example:

If I searched for ‘Pepe’s pizza’ instead of ‘pizza near me’, I’m conducting a branded keyword search. That’s because I know Pepe’s pizza already, and I’m specifically looking for it.

With SEO, the aim is to also get your website ranked in search engines for keywords that don’t include your brand name. This allows people who haven’t heard of you before to find you.

And those are the types of keywords we’re going to learn how to find today!

How to do keyword research

Here’s how to do keyword research in 6 simple steps:

Step 1: List your core services/offering

In order to do keyword research for your business, you first need to establish a core list of services, products, and topics that you want to be known for (and found for online).

The best way to find these, is to grab a piece of paper and write down your core services and products.

  • What do you do?

  • What problems do you solve?

  • How do you solve them?

  • What's your niche?

Be specific.

For example:

At ContentQueen, I help business owners and entrepreneurs to get found online through search engine optimisation (SEO) consultancy.

I do this through:

  • SEO (on-site, technical and off-site SEO)

  • Content Marketing

  • Copywriting and Editing

  • Digital PR

Now I have a list of core services, however these are large, competitive and vague keywords. I need to make them more specific in order to help me to find the right keywords to target.

How to do keyword research step 2

Step 2: Brainstorm what people could search to find your services

Next, under each of your core services, write down the words and phrases you think people would likely type into Google in order to find those services.

Put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer.

Remember: They don't know your workplace jargon or acronyms. Use simple, descriptive language that they may use when trying to find similar services that you offer.

For example:

To find the SEO consultancy services that I offer, I think people would likely search for:

  • SEO consultant

  • SEO specialist

  • hire SEO specialist

  • SEO agency

They would also probably add geographical information to their query, so their search results show options in their specific location. I’m a remote worker who serves clients all over the world, so while local search is difficult for me, I could use ‘international’, and list the countries I serve.

For example:

  • SEO consultant near me

  • International SEO consultant

  • SEO agency in [city]

  • [city] based SEO consultant

Why is it important to get specific like this?

Because keywords like this show what we call in the SEO-world, 'search intent'.

That means the keywords used provide us with insight into what the searcher is specifically looking for when making that search.

In this case, the search intent behind someone searching for a ‘SEO consultant’ is to find a SEO consultant or specialist to hire to provide them with SEO consultancy services.

Therefore, this is a perfect keyword for me, because I want to be found by people who want to hire an SEO consultant.

Why search intent matters

Targeting keywords like this would be of much more value to my business than if I were to try to target a broad term like 'SEO' – as this doesn't indicate search intent.

If someone searches for 'SEO', it's not clear what they are actually searching for, because it's a big, broad topic and raises a lot of questions:

  • Do they want to know what SEO stands for?

  • Do they want to know how to use SEO?

  • Do they want a career in SEO?

  • Do they want to hire a SEO specialist?

We can’t tell. It's far too vague. Google can’t tell, either.

When choosing keywords for your business, niching down by getting very specific with the intent behind the keyword will provide far better results.

It's not about quantity, it's about quality.

For one, choosing very specific keywords will mean you're more likely to rank (they're less competitive), plus they show valuable search intent for your business.

Now you know how to identify search intent, and know what your potential core keywords could be, it’s time to do some research to better understand what people are searching for in relation to your core services.

How to do keyword research Step 3: Use the Free Google Ads Keyword Planner tool

Step 3: Use the Free Google Ads Keyword Planner tool

Armed with our list of possible keywords that best describe what we do, we’re going to create a Google Ads account so we can use the free keyword planner tool.

Once you've created an account, you will need to enter payment information to gain access.

Don't worry, we're not going to run any ads. However, Google Ads likes to trick you into creating an ad straight away, so if you can't manage to get out of this, create an ad and then immediately pause your campaign so it doesn't charge you.

Once you’re inside your account and ready to go, click on the spanner symbol 'Tools & Settings' at the top right corner of the screen.

A menu will drop down. Under planning, click 'Keyword Planner'.

How to use Google Ads keyword planner

Click 'Discover new keywords', then enter the keywords you came up with for your first core topic/service.

Enter these phrases individually – press enter to separate them (or copy and paste your list).

You can only enter up to 10 keywords at a time.

Pro Tip: Only enter interrelated keywords for one topic/core service at a time. Otherwise your results will be mixed up with other topics, which makes it difficult to choose the best keywords for a given topic/core service.

Keyword research tool for free

I entered:

  • seo consultant

  • seo specialist

  • hire seo consultant

  • hire seo expert

  • affordable seo specialist

  • remote seo consultant

Once you've entered up to 10 keywords to research (on the same topic), click 'Get Results'.

The next screen will show you the results for keyword ideas, with average monthly searches, competition level, and your provided keywords in the section at the top:

How to do keyword research using Google's keyword planner tool

Under the search bar, it also gives you an option to ‘broaden your search’, and provides other related keywords you can add to your research. If you spot anything useful that you’d like to add to your search, now’s the time to do so.

Then, it’s time to sift through and pull the nuggets of gold from the coal!

I like to organise my results by ‘Avg. monthly searches’ so I can see the keywords in order of most to least searched.

create a keyword list - keyword research for beginners

Step 4: Create a keyword list

The goal here is to make a list of the best keywords that represent what you do (and demonstrate search intent for someone looking for what you offer), and add this to a spreadsheet that you can refer to later.

Make sure you note down the keyword and its Avg. monthly search volume.

Segment them by Avg. monthly searches:




  • Keywords with monthly searches of 0-10 should be avoided due to lack of volume.

  • Keywords that have more than 10K in average monthly search volume are going to be near impossible to rank for if you’re a small business without a dedicated SEO and content team.

Only select the keywords that best represent your business. Keep search intent front of mind.

To start adding keywords to your list, select the check boxes of the keywords you wish to add to your list and click 'COPY'.

How to create a keyword list using Google Ads keyword planner tool

Paste these into your list (spreadsheet or word doc, whichever you prefer).

This only copies the keywords, not the Avg. monthly searches. Therefore, only select keywords by Avg. monthly search group so you don't get them muddled up.

You can export all the results to an Excel spreadsheet if you prefer (top right hand corner), but I like sifting through mine and making a decision for each keyword before I copy them into my list.

Once you're happy with your keyword list for that topic/service, move on to the next one – repeating the same process for each one. Make sure you create separate lists for each individual topic/core service you are researching.

Here’s what my list looks like for SEO consultancy services:

Keyword research list example
Step 5: choose your best keywords.

Step 5: Choose the best keywords for your business

Now you have a great list of relevant keywords you can potentially target on your website to attract your ideal customers.

However, it's probably a very long list!

The next step is to choose your top keywords to focus on and target for each of your core services.

Look through your list and highlight the keywords that best describe what you do, and would be beneficial to target for your business/get your ideal customer.

This can be influenced by how you like to talk about your brand and services.

For example, I have highlighted my preferred keywords in green:

Example of keyword list for seo consultancy

For the 1K-10K Avg. monthly searches, I chose SEO consultant over freelancer or specialist. This is a personal preference in how I describe what I do.

While I can still refer to myself as being a SEO specialist or freelancer, these would be used on a supportive basis in my content, and not the main keyword I wish to target.

In the next columns, I have highlighted keywords that resonate with me and my brand the most.

These help to better explain what I do as an SEO consultant, so SEO consultant will be my main keyword to target (my core keyword), and these keywords will be used in my copy and content to support my main keyword.

For example: on my SEO Consultant web page I could talk about how my SEO consultancy services are international, for small businesses, include technical SEO, local SEO, Wordpress SEO, and are affordable.

Repeat this process for all your core services, until you end up with a list of the best keywords to target.

Step 6: check search intent for keywords

Step 6: Check the search intent for your keywords

The final step in the process is to take each of your preferred core keywords that you've come up with from your research, and paste each one into Google individually to see what ranks on the first page for each keyword.

Do the results reflect what you offer?

If not, you should choose a different keyword to target – perhaps make it even more specific to what you do.

It’s important to understand that it will be more valuable for your business to opt for a keyword with a lower search volume but high relevance and intent, than choosing a keyword that has a high search volume but is vague in its intent.

For example, I searched ‘seo consultant’ in incognito and here is the first page result in Google:

Search engine results for seo consultant

From this result, I can see that Google is showing me results that include SEO consultants, and related, commonly asked questions about SEO consultants.

Based on these results, I can decide whether or not targeting the keyword ‘seo consultant’ will suit my SEO services or not, since I can see what websites and content Google thinks is most relevant to the query.

In this case, I believe it’s a good keyword for me to target, because the services of the page one results reflect what I do, and someone searching for a SEO consultant is likely to want to hire one (or become one).

While it will be difficult to target due to high competition and search volume, it’s potentially one of the most valuable keyword to target for my business, so it’s worth investing time and resources in.

Include related questions people are asking

In the example above, when conducing the search for 'SEO consultant' Google also showed a FAQ blog with the questions people ask in relation to the topic.

To help your SEO efforts, it's a good idea to include some of these questions (along with your answers to them) on your web page covering that topic.

For example, on my SEO consultant web page, I could answer some of the following questions:

Google questions snippet example for keyword seo consultant

Each time you click on the drop down arrow of a question, more frequently asked questions are added to the list – it's like Mary Poppin's bottomless bag!

You can then choose which questions to include and answer in your content, depending on whether they would add value for your reader, and if they match the tone and angle of your content.

From the example above, the questions I could answer in the content of my web page include:

  • What does and SEO consultant do?

  • Is it worth hiring an SEO expert?

  • How do I hire an SEO specialist?

Also, scroll down to the bottom of the page in Google, and you will see a section of related searches, like this:

Searches related to seo consultant

These are other valuable related keywords you can include in the copy of your web page, which will help your page to rank for these related keywords.

Only include keywords that add value, and are natural to include in your content.

Forcing it (keyword stuffing) is horrible to read and will scare off your visitors, not to mention Google is particularly good at picking it up (and slapping you in the face with a penalty).

How to use keywords on your website

Now you have your list of keywords, what’s next?

Congratulations – by making it this far you should have a list of great keywords to target for your website!

However, conducting keyword research and deciding on your best keywords is only the beginning...

Now we need to figure out how to best incorporate these into your website – which could mean updating your current web copy, adding new pages to target these keywords, or completely restructuring your website.

But that, my friends, is an entirely new blog post on its own! (Coming soon, stay tuned).

However, I cover the basics of how to properly use keywords on your website in my Beginner’s Guide to SEO, so be sure to check it out.

Have a question about keyword research?

Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you. Otherwise, you can get in touch through my Contact Page.

If you want to learn more about optimising your website for search engines, sign up to my mailing list (sign up box at the end of this article) to get SEO tips and tricks delivered directly to your inbox each month.

Need help with SEO? Hire a specialist

Need a helping hand?

Search engine optimisation isn't particularly easy to get your head around. There's a lot to learn and factor into your SEO strategy in order to be effective, and if time is a scarce resource, I’d highly recommend getting help from someone who specialises in SEO to provide some support.

Let’s be real here, what could take you an entire day, would probably take them a couple of hours...

If you’d like a SEO consultant to help get your business set up for success with a solid strategy, get in touch with me – Janelle from ContentQueen.

I’m an affordable SEO specialist who works remotely from Wellington New Zealand, and I help incredible business owners and entrepreneurs around the world to step up their SEO game and get found online organically.

Want to see if we’re a good fit for one another?

Get in touch by filling out my contact form and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours to let you know whether I can help you to reach your goals.

Want to go it alone?

Happy S-E-O-ing!

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