In my last post, I have explained what keyword research is why it is important for your website and business.

Keyword research lies at the core of your website’s search engine optimization strategy and unless your site has content for the right keywords, it is extremely difficult to rank and get traffic from search engines. And unless you have traffic which is very relevant and targeted towards the business you do, it is very difficult to convert them into business.

In this article, I will explain how to use a keyword research tool – SEMrush for keyword research. I will first explain the various concepts of keyword research and then provide a thorough guide on how to use SEMrush for keyword research and search engine optimization for your website.

It’s quite a comprehensive review of SEMrush, so I have built a table of contents which will help you navigate across the article.

The Importance of Keyword Research

Now you may wonder –

Why do keyword research? Why not just generate content that is relevant to my audience and keep generating content that attracts readers naturally? Why do I have to do keyword research first?

This is a fairly valid question and even I had this doubt before I implemented keyword research techniques on different sites I own. I will explain the importance of keyword research now.

Generating content is great.  Creating high-quality content is absolutely necessary but that is not enough. No matter how much high quality your content is, no matter how much value it provides to your readers, no matter how much quality information has, if your readers and prospective customers are not able to find your content – then you don’t even exist for them.

It doesn’t matter how informative and resourceful your content is unless people are able to find it from search engines.

Most of your users are typing different keywords and phrases in search engines and they are looking for information all the time. It is possible that your site has tons of information that people want to read but unless your content has the right set of words and phrases, your readers will have a hard time finding that content.

This is the reason why generating quality content is not enough, you have to generate quality content as well as ensure that the content has the right set of keywords in it, so that people can find it. You have to ensure that the content that you write contains the phrases, keywords and sentences people usually type in a search engine.

This is the importance of keyword research – tuning the content of your site to the search terms, keywords and phrases actual users are typing in search engines. It is extremely important to have those words in the copy, headline and other important parts of your content. Otherwise, your content which is highly informative and resourceful will never make it to the first page of search engines and people will not be able to discover your content in the first place.

Key takeaways

  • Generating quality content is not enough, content should be created with proper keywords and phrases people actually type in search engines.
  • Keyword research has to be done first, before you generate the content. Content has to be created keeping in mind the keywords and phrases people use (not the other way around)
  • Without keyword research, you will miss out the traffic which is highly relevant and targeted for particular phrases and sentences. Yes, you may get traffic but that traffic will not be targeted towards a “specific” set of audience looking for a “specific” solution. It will be broad and result will not be very concentrated.

Why Use SEMrush for Keyword Research?

Now you will have another question in your mind

While there are tons of keyword research tools out there, why should I use SEMrush? What’s so special about the SEMrush keyword tool? Will it help with the SEO of my website or will it generate a bunch of words and phrases like any other keyword research tool?

Yes, there are tons of keyword research tools out there and each is great at it’s own place. However, I highly recommend using SEMrush for the following reasons

  1. Huge Data of Keywords: SEMrush has an always up to date database of 35 million keywords and phrases which people type in Google, Bing and other search engines. The information that you see in SEMrush is authentic and taken directly from Google SERP’s.
  2. Find what’s happening in real time: Since SEMrush tracks a humoungous amount of data on a daily basis, you are always up to date on what’s happening with your keywords and phrases. Who is moving up the ranks for a specific keyword and who is coming down? How is your site’s position changing for specific keywords? What is influencing the ranks of your site’s landing pages for specific keywords and phrases?
  3. Competitor tracking: With SEMrush, you have a birds eye’s view on how your competitors are ranking for specific keywords and phrases. You get to know which keywords are giving them more traffic and which phrases are “hits” for their sites.
  4. Identify new opportunities: SEMrush has a section called “Related keywords” which lets you identify new keywords which you should target. It is possible that you are missing out on a lot of traffic because you have never considered those keywords and phrases. When you find new keywords to target and broaden your range of targeted keywords, you are more likely to achieve more traffic for a wide range of keywords which were not available at your disposal when you started out. New keywords also give you an opportunity to find branched ideas for content marketing and give you hints on what related topics you should develop content on.
  5. Track rankings: SEMrush allows you to track rankings of a given web page over time and see whether the ranks are rising or whether they are falling? You can make changes to your site’s pages and see if that helped to boost the rank or whether it actually moved the ranks down. You must use this on a regular basis to keep tabs on the rankings of your high traffic landing pages, otherwise, it is very much possible that a competitor will create better content and snatch that rank from you.
  6. Keep your site updated with Google’s content filters: Google and other search engines are pretty savvy these days. They roll out different algorithmic updates and content filters on a regular basis and this affects websites to a great extent. Back in 2011, one of my websites got hit by Google Panda and I lost almost 80% of the traffic. This happened because I wasn’t keeping tabs on the content quality of the site and wrote posts merely to attract traffic. That did not work out and I wasn’t tracking my site for Google’s content and algorithmic filters. SEMrush has this feature which allows you to check your site’s compliance with different algorithmic updates and can predict if your site is going to get flagged, so you can take protective measures and take correct decisions.
  7. Backlink Analysis: Links are and will be the major signal which search engines use to measure the authority of a website and it’s content. If you are serious with your online business, you must routinely monitor and analyze backlinks of your site and a manual backlink audit is pretty laborious and not feasible for large sites. SEMrush routinely monitors the backlinks to your site and tells you which links add value to your site and which one’s don’t, so you can perform a backlink analysis of your site and see where the gap is.

Yes, all these things are possible without using SEMrush and there are free tools available to achieve the same thing. For example, you can use the Google webmaster console to perform a monthly backlink analysis and find out which links your site gained in the last month and which ones you lost. There are tools to discover related keywords, but the key thing to note here is that SEMrush provides everything under one umbrella, so you don’t have to use ten different tools and solutions to have a complete view of your website’s performance. Use only one tool and you are done.

Also, SEMrush’s data is detailed and helps you take action quickly. You don’t need to do a ton of analysis and figure out the next steps since the way SEM RUSH presents the data in front of you, you have a clear direction on what needs to be sorted and how soon it should be sorted.

Which SEMrush Plan you should Choose?

So far we have discussed the importance of keyword research and why you should choose SEMrush for keyword research. Now how do we get started with SEMrush?

You may have this doubt (actually I had this before I decided to give SEMrush a try)

Shall I use the Free trial and give it a try for one month or shall I take the premium plan right away? If I take the trial plan, what should I do in my trial period to get the maximum benefit of my trial plan?

See, whether you decide to go for the free trial first or use the premium plan right away is totally upto you and your purchasing capacity. The PRO plan costs $99 per month so if you already have some revenue from your websites, I would strongly suggest you take the PRO plan right away.

Why Avail the Pro Plan?

The reason is – once you invest your money in these tools, you will get lots of insights into your business and can grow your business in the right direction. This will give you returns multiplied in many folds, which you aren’t getting because you do not have access to that data and information. So if you already have a decent revenue from your sites, I would strongly suggest you to take the PRO plan and keep using it for at least 6 months.

Getting Started With SEMrush

Now that you have created your account, the first screen will look something like this

SEMrush Dashboard

This is the SEMrush dashboard where you can add all your website(s) and domain names and monitor their performance. You can do that later on, we’ll only discuss how to do keyword research with SEMrush. In the left sidebar, click on “Keyword Analytics” and then click on “Overview”.

Keyword Overview SEMrush

This is your starting point to do keyword research with SEMrush. You will go deeper in some time but this is the place from where you will start collecting keywords around your niche.

Please note

For the sake of this article, let me assume a niche so I can explain the concepts to you. Let’s take the very common niche of “Web hosting”. I will assume you want your website’s pages to rank for the keywords around the niche “Web hosting”. Also, download this Excel template where you will be adding up keywords and phrases.

Step 1: Find Relevant Keywords With a Seed Keyword

The first step is to identify what is your seed keyword.

A seed keyword is the foundation keyword which defines your niche and is the main anchor of your niche. Other keywords usually revolve around the seed keyword. Let me share an example with you.

Seed Keyword

In the above example, “Weight loss” is the seed keyword. Other keywords revolve around the seed keyword and you have to use the seed keyword to generate more relevant keywords which are meaningful and relates to your business.

In our example, the seed keyword is “Web hosting”. So type Web hosting in the search box and you should see something like this

Broad match Keyword SEMrush

Scroll down and click the “View Full report” button (open it in a new browser tab for convenience). You will see the entire list of keywords around “web hosting” as shown below.

Click the “Export” button and export the entire list of keywords in an Excel file. It should look something like below

First thing you should do is remove the following columns

  • CPC
  • Competition
  • Number of Results
  • Trends

In the initial level, you don’t need this data so just remove it.

Step 2: Remove Irrelevant and Junk Keywords

Next, you need to remove irrelevant and junk keywords from this list and tame the list down so that you only have those keywords which are relevant for your business. This is the list of the most popular keywords around your niche or “seed keyword” (which is web hosting) but this list also contains a lot of keywords which are not relevant at all. Ultimately, you want a list of keywords which are popular and also relevant to your business.

So we will remove keywords which are not at all relevant. At this time the list has 3912 keywords. I will go through each keyword and think whether it is relevant to my business. If not, I will simply delete that row.

For example, I will remove the keywords shown in yellow

Identify Junk irrelevant keywords

Why do you think the highlighted keywords are junk? They are junk because the user is simply searching for the link of earthlink web hosting control panel or yahoo web hosting login page link. They aren’t looking for information but they are looking for the URL of a webpage.

If you target these keywords and end up ranking for them (which is very unlikely that you will rank for these words), you will not gain anything because the moment users comes to your website from those keywords, they will simply bounce off. They will not find what they are looking for and they will leave your site. Hence, these keywords are irrelevant and should be removed from your list.

Similarly, identify all the irrelevant keywords and remove them from the list.

Step 3: Segregate Keywords You Can Target Easily

Now that you have cleaned up your list, it is a good idea to segregate keywords which you can target easily.

Let’s face it, not all keywords can be targeted. For example, the term “Best web hosting service” is too broad and cannot be targeted easily. The reason being – there are thousands of web hosting companies out there and you cannot compare each and every service and list out the pros and cons. You can at best compare 10 or 20 or 30 services. Also, the search term itself is too broad.

However, the search term “best web hosting for students” can be targeted easily. You have to create a page on your website or blog which lists the best web hosting companies which offer subsidized packages for students. That is a handful in number and makes for a worthy blog post on your site.

Also, if you provide special packages for students, you should have a page on your website which targets this keyword. This is to ensure that you rank for the search term “best web hosting for students” and get targeted traffic to your site whom you can convert to sales.

Given below, I have listed out keywords that cannot be targeted easily in red and keywords that can be targeted easily in green. Typically, you will see that the keywords that can be targeted contain more than 4 words while the keywords which are too broad in nature are either one or two or three words at max.

In the same way, filter out keywords which can be targeted easily. You can create a separate sheet, name it “Keywords to target” and move these keywords to that sheet. We will come back to the main sheet later on but first, let’s find out those keywords which can be targeted easily.

Here is an example of how my “Keywords to target” sheet looks like

At this time, I have added only one targeted keyword to this list – “web hosting for small business”. I will first finish off my research with this keyword first and then I will go ahead and add the second targeted keyword.

Step 4: Find Phrase Match and Related Keywords around a Targeted Keyword

Now that you have added one targeted keyword to your list, it is time to find out related keywords, phrases, and sentences which complements this keyword.

Go back to SEMrush, type your chosen keyword in the search box

phrase match keywords

Scroll down to the Phrase Match and Related keywords section and export both the lists one by one. We will repeat steps 1 -3 for this particular targeted keyword to find out Phrase match keywords and related keywords one by one.

Once you have exported both the lists, go back to your Excel file, switch to the “Keywords to target” tab and paste these keywords in the “Phrase match and Related Keywords” column as shown below

It goes without saying that you should remove irrelevant and repeating phrase match keywords and related keywords and keep the list as tidy and as clean as possible. In the Phrase match and related keywords column, keep upto 25 keywords that are relevant and have high search volume. Remove the rest. You can keep more and more but it is not necessary since we’ll only consider the top phrase match keywords and related keywords while starting out. When you become a Pro with keyword research, you can dig deeper and consider further deep diving but for now, keep the list limited to 25 related and phrase match words.

Step 5: Develop a Content Strategy Around Your Targeted Keywords

Now that you have found out all the phrase match and related keywords for a specific keyword which you are targeting, it is time to create a content strategy around the keyword which you want to rank for.

Open the Excel Sheet and add 4 more columns in the “Keywords to target” sub sheet

  • Landing Page – The landing page you will create in your site which will contain the keywords that you are targetting. This is the page which you want to rank for in search engines.
  • External links to this page – Once your landing page is live, you will need to gain external links to this landing page. You will add the external links in this column
  • Internal links to this page – Once your landing page is live, you will link to this page from other pages of your website that have relevant content.
  • Anchor text – Whether the links are internal or external, you will add the anchor text(s) that was used in the links.

Content Strategy for keywords

The goal of this step is to create useful and meaningful content around the keywords you are targeting. This content can be a blog post, a static page on your website or a landing page. Whatever it is, this is the page you want to rank for in search engines for the keyword that is being targeted. You also need to ensure that the landing page has these keywords in its copy and other important sections – titles, headings, bold text, sub headings, meta descriptions, post slug and anchor text of internal links. The content that you create should emphasize these keywords and should provide value to your audience for these keywords. In short, the central theme of the landing page should be the keywords that you are targeting.

Once this landing page is live on your site, you will also create internal links to this page from other pages of your site that have relevant content. You will note the internal links and anchor texts in the above column. Apart from this, it is a good idea to gain external links from other authority sites and also note the anchor text and URL of those external links. Record everything in your Excel sheet.

Keyword Research Is Not Enough Because There are Competitors

At the beginning of my article, I have explained that creating quality content is not enough. Your content must have the necessary and relevant keywords which people are searching for. If your content does not have those keywords, then it is difficult to rank for the search terms people are actually searching for.

In the same way, keyword research is not enough. There is a thing called – Competition.

Just like you, there are hundreds of other website owners out there who want to rank for the same keywords that you want to rank for. Everyone is fighting for the ranks and only 4-5 people will make it to the top of search engine result pages.

So just because you have done keyword research and have optimized your content for the right keywords doesn’t mean you will automatically get ranks. You will have to work your way up, slowly.

Here is an example where I have shown you how competing sites are ranking on top of search engine result pages for the keywords you want to rank for.

So as it turns out, keyword research is not enough. You will need to beat competition and track competition for the keywords you are targeting.

Now here is something you should know.

Keyword research is in your hands but rankings are not in your hand. You can do keyword research at your end and optimize the content of your site for those keywords but whether your site’s landing pages will rank for those keywords or not does not depend on you or your efforts. Google and other search engines will decide which page will rank in search engine result pages for specific keywords and there is nothing you can do about it.

However, there is one thing you can do – track what your competitors are doing. We will now discuss how to do it.

Track Competitors activity For Specific Keywords

In the same excel sheet, make a new sub-sheet and name it “Competitors”. Add the following columns one by one in that sheet

  • Targeted Keyword
  • Competitors
  • Keywords Used
  • Backlinks
  • Anchor Text

Now go back to your SEMrush dashboard, type in your targeted keyword in the search box and click “Search”. Scroll down to the “Organic search results” section and download the list of competitors who are ranking in organic search result pages.

This will export the URL of the first 100 sites that are ranking on Google for the given targeted keyword. The excel file should look something like below

This file will contain the domain name and URL of your competitors who are ranking for the targeted keywords you want to rank for. Take the first 10 or 20 results and leave the rest of them. We will take only the top 10-20 results and study them up. We will track what they are doing, which keywords they are targeting in thier copy, what is their backlink portfolio, Anchor text, and other things.

So copy the first 10-20 sources and paste it in your master excel sheet, in the “Competitors” sub-sheet you created in the previous step. Paste this data under the column name – “Competitors”

Now we know two things

  • What is the keyword we are targeting?
  • Who are my competitors for the keywords that I am targeting?

The next step is to analyze each competing URL at an individual level and figure out what keywords they are using. So copy the first Competing URL and paste it in the SEMrush search box. Then come down to the “Organic keywords”, “Backlinks” and “Anchor text” section and note down all the keywords, back links and anchor text information of that competitor page.


After exporting that data, put the backlink information and the Anchor text information in the respective columns, as shown below

Repeat this process for all the competing URL(s). I would suggest you do this for at least the first 10 URL(s), so you have enough information about the following

  • What are the keywords which my competitors are using in their landing page copy?
  • What is the backlink portfolio of my competitor’s pages? Which sites are linking to them and what is the content of the linking page?
  • What are the anchor text(s) used to link to the source page?

After analyzing this information, you will be able to come to a conclusion as to what needs to be done so that you can make your way up in the top of search result pages for your desired keyword.

Wrapping Up

To wrap the article up, here is what you need to do step by step

  • Get a SEMrush Pro account  (Not ready for the pro plan yet? Get SEMrush Free Trial for $0 using this link)
  • Download this Excel starter template.
  • Define what your niche is. If you have multiple niche, that’s okay but pick one niche first.
  • Perform keyword research on that niche through a seed keyword and determine what are the words you would want to rank for
  • Remove irrelevant and Junk keywords and phrases from your keyword list.
  • Segregate keywords you want to target and rank for.
  • Find phrase match and related keywords around a targeted keyword
  • Develop a content strategy around your targeted keywords
  • Measure competition – see what your competitors are doing
  • Track competitors activity for your targeted keyword(s)
  • Analyze your datasheet for clues, hints, and opportunities
  • Repeat the above steps rigorously until you have targeted most of the keywords in different landing pages, developed inbound links to those landing pages, and modified the copy of the pages to match the keywords you want your page to rank for.

This is a continuous process and you will need to tinker through your content and watch for opportunities every once in a while. Got questions? Let me know in the comments and I will be happy to answer your doubts.