Beginner’s Guide to Effective Free Keyword Research

An Updated Guide to Making Your Writing Stronger by Focusing on What Your Audience Wants


I was poking around on YouTube, and found the video I’ve embedded in this post. It’s from a guy named Miles, who spends a good deal of time talking about topics that are pretty important to people like you and me. I got sucked into the Miles wormhole a little bit and watched like ten of his videos in a row, so that was fun. Who needs Netflix, right?

Too often these SEO (or “marketing” or “keyword research”) Youtubers use lots of words to tell me basically nothing, but in this video Miles actually gives us some useful and actionable information.

He’s told us how to get a decent free keyword research tool (look! free! the internet’s favorite word), how to install that tool in our browser, and, most importantly, how to use the tool to present our content in a way that makes sense for our potential audience.

Oh, also, no. I don’t know Miles and I don’t get anything for putting his video on this page.

I know you’re probably itching to hit play, but I’d encourage you to spend five minutes and read through this text first – I think it’ll help you get more out of what Miles is saying

What the Heck is Keyword Research, Really?

Keyword research is a pretty big topic.

It used to be that you could go out and register, write ten pages of content, stuff those pages with “keywords” (mic, microphone, best microphone, top microphone for youtube, etc), and then build some slightly dodgy links back to your slightly dodgy content and watch the money roll in.

It’s true. Seriously. But those days are long gone.

Search engines – by which I really mean Google – have gotten so smart in the last ten years that “keyword” now means something completely different than it did in 2010. Search engines these days are semantic and use all kinds of fancy behind-the-scenes processing not just to read what you type, but to understand what you mean.

Talking about keyword research in a landscape like that is pretty tough.

Luckily, there’s still a lot of ground we can cover relatively quickly by picking the low hanging fruit. See, like a lot of other things, keyword research follows the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80/20 rule.

Wow, fancy.

(Honestly, the Pareto Principle actually is super interesting and you should read about it if you get bored)

For our purposes here, the 80/20 rule means you don’t have to be a superstar guru with the SEO or know any secret sauce to get tons of benefit out of keyword research. To the contrary, you can get huge benefits just by consistently doing a few simple things.

How To Get The Most Out of Easy Keyword Research

Assuming that you are not, in fact, the superstar guru whom I referenced mere seconds ago, but are instead a normal person like me, then there’s an easy to follow approach to keyword research that should consistently perform well.

I can summarize it in one simple sentence:

Make sure your writing actually says what you think it’s saying

Let me give you a crazy hypothetical example first and then a real-world application.

Let’s say you write an article about apples (this is the hypothetical example, by the way).

Not just any article about apples, the best article the world has ever seen about apples. How they grow, how they’re farmed, all the characteristics of the many different kinds, yummy recipes, everything.

Except, you grew up in kind of an unusual house, and your parents called apples “round, red, hard fruits,” which is still how you think of them today. So, of course, instead of using the word “apples” you keep referring to them as “round, red, hard fruits.”

Now, how many people do you think are going to find and read your article when they go to Google and search for “apples”?

None. None people.

And why? Because your pre-existing expectations and understanding about what your audience is searching for is completely out of touch with what your audience is actually searching for. I mean, it’s understandable, what with the wierd house growing up and all, but it’s still wrong.

You thought you were saying apples, but you weren’t. You were saying “round, red, hard fruits” which is totally different.

So now, even though you have the universe’s best freaking article about apples, nobody is ever going to read it. Because nobody ever searches for “round, red, hard fruits,” they search for “apples.” If you want people looking for articles about apples to come to your article, then you have to stop saying “round red hard fruits” and you have to start saying “apples.”

Keyword research is the way you figure out that you should be saying APPLES instead of “round, red, hard fruits.”

In the video, the example Miles uses about the drone really stuck with me.

Keep an eye out for the drone discussion when you watch, but his point is essentially “hey, if you spend three hours writing about something, and produce quality content, but then you call it something different than what like 90% of the people looking for it call it, that’s super dumb.”

Indeed, good sir. Indeed.

A Real World Example of Keyword Research

Now, I’m going to be real honest and tell you that I’ve moved up from tools like the one Miles discusses in this video to fancy, expensive tools (I use ahrefs), but I’m also going to tell you that before I made that move, I spent a long time doing exactly what Miles is discussing in this video – so I know firsthand that it works.

I’ll also tell you that for the purpose of this article, I went back and did exactly what Miles recommends – I installed the Keywords Everywhere extension for Chrome and went back through articles I’ve written on this very site to checking them for consistency and incidences of “red hard fruit” syndrome.

And I found some.

I did some extensive revising to my article on email hosting because I discovered that I kept using the phrase email host, but Keywords Anywhere pointed out that basically nobody searches for that term. Instead, lots of people search for the term “email hosting.” So, I went back through the article and made some changes.

What Beginner Keyword Research Is NOT

If you’re just starting out with keyword research, you’re probably going to find a lot of things that surprise and excite you in terms of content opporunities. And that’s great, but try not to be seduced by the siren song just yet.

While keyword research can be a powerful guide to actual content creation, if you’re a beginner, I’d encourage you to stick to the basic plan I’ve outlined in our “How to Start a Blog” series.

Later, you can explore all the wonderfulness that comes with creating explicitly targeted content – that’s actually a pretty good advanced content strategy. But, for now, try to get used to the process of making your content match your user’s intent without actually changing what you’re writing about. It’s harder than it seems at first.

I bet you’ll find a newly kindled awareness of how you’re wording things and an appreciation for the simple power of phrasing key ideas in a way that’s more in line with what normal people are searching for.

If you’re far enough along in your own blog adventure that you’ve moved on to keyword directed content creation, please get in touch via the comments. I’d really like to know how you use tools like this one to package the ideas you’re writing about.

Alright, you made it through the text, now go relax and watch Miles explain things more clearly.


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