How to do keyword research without using expensive keyword research tools

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One of the biggest gaps and opportunities for content marketers is making sure that their content can be found in search.

If you are putting time, effort, and other resources into creating content, you want to give it the best chance of success. Keyword research will help you to get the most from your content over a long period of time.

In this episode Chris shares with you how to do some basic keyword research without using enterprise and paid for keyword research tools.

You can email chris at


Full Transcription:

Welcome to the Content Market Academy Podcast with me, your host, Chris Marr. It’s great to be here today.

In the last episode, we talked a little bit about going back and digging into the content you’ve already created and improving that content. In this episode, I want to talk a little bit more about that and dig a little bit deeper into keyword tools, and keyword phrases, and how to generally do keyword research, but very specifically how to do keyword research without using any keyword tools, without subscribing or buying into a keyword tool.

There are a couple reasons why I want to do this. One of the biggest challenges and also opportunities is that a lot of people when they’re creating content, aren’t thinking about how their content will be found in Google. They’re just generally not thinking about that. What happens is that they create the content, and they might get a spike of interest in the content, but over time they don’t get any organic traffic to that content, and honestly … you’re missing the biggest trick in the book in terms of marketing.

We want to make sure that when you’re creating and publishing content, videos, podcasts, blogs, whatever it might be, that you are thinking about what those primary, secondary keyword phrases are that you’re trying to rank for. What do you want to be found in Google for, and taking that to a deeper level, what do you want to be found in Google for when people haven’t heard of you before as well. You really need to think about this, and that involves doing some keyword research.

Now, you’ve probably heard someone say this before, that you need to do keyword research. But I don’t want you to get sort of freaked out or panicked by this research word.

What we’re really saying here is go and get informed, right?

Go and get some information to help you get the most from the work that you do. If you’re going to spend time creating a video or a podcast, or a blog, you know, it might take you two, three, four hours, who knows, to create that piece of content. You want to make sure that you’re getting the most from it over time. Okay? But I think there’s a time and a place to actually use a keyword tool.

I think especially if you are just getting started with content marketing, I don’t think you necessarily need to buy into a keyword tool programme. I use Keyword Finder. I’ll put a link to that into the show notes for you, but you don’t actually need to go ahead and subscribe to a tool right away. In fact, I think it can be a distraction. It’s almost like when I was younger. When I wanted to be good at something, I felt like you had to go and get all the gear, but I actually had no idea what I was doing.

So, I don’t know, like joining a badminton class, but getting the best badminton racket, and the best shuttlecocks, and the best equipment, and realising actually I’m terrible at badminton. I didn’t need the best stuff. Or as a guitarist, the same thing, right? You go and you get really good guitars and really great guitar equipment, but it actually doesn’t really make you a better guitarist. In fact, I think a lot of the equipment and the gear is just purely a distraction.

Let’s take a simple approach to this, right?

For example, if you’re in a situation where you are creating content just now, but you know that you can do a little bit better with keyword research, then this really is for you, but there is a moment in time I think where you probably do need to get a keyword tool. That’s if you’ve been creating content for a while and you’re starting to feel a challenge in terms of getting your work found, or it’s starting to get a little bit more specific, or the competition is becoming greater, and you’re needing to look for marginal gains within that. Then a keyword tool can really help you do that.

In general, a keyword tool helps you to understand a lot of different things, but in the main, how difficult it is to rank for a specific keyword phrase, who else is ranking for that keyword phrase and what position they’re in. It looks at and tells you the search volume, how popular that search is. It tells you things like cost per click as well and a tonne of other stuff as well, but it generally gives you a good overview and understanding of how that keyword phrase performs. That’s what a keyword tool allows you to do.

However, like I said, there’ are ways to do a lot of research without subscribing to a tool. Let’s actually look at this stuff, right? Like I said, I think a lot of people don’t need a tool if they’re not doing all this other stuff already.

The first thing that you really need to do is get a bunch of different ideas for your content. Jumping into doing research without actually having any ideas is like the cart before the horse. The first thing you need to do is have a bunch of ideas for content. What I’m talking about here is like working titles for your articles, or your blogs, or your podcast, understanding who that target audience is and what the objective of that content is as well.

If you’re writing a blog article, you want to have a working title, right? You might even want to have 50 of these. This is what we challenge people to do in our workshops and when we’re doing training or speaking, is to come up with 50 titles, because when you’ve got those ideas, you can take it to the next step, which is to really do research around those titles. The first thing is to get some ideas first. Don’t jump into a keyword tool and just start blindly doing research. We want to figure out what content we want to be creating first.

That really leads to the next point, which is to listen. One of the best tools is your ears. Listen to your customers and your prospects. What questions are they asking? What problems do they have? Use your email inbox, your sales team, the inquiries that you get. Listen to the exact words they’re using. Think like your prospective customers, rather than thinking about your business, and your services, and your products that you offer, right? What are they actually asking? We should be creating content.

I mean, one of the biggest philosophies, the core philosophies that we teach in CMA is the ask, you answer philosophy around content, right? If your customers and your prospects are asking questions, we should be the ones to answer them. Think about that. Consider the questions and the problems that your perspective customers have, and let’s look at how we can answer those.

The second thing is really leading on from that, is to get obsessed with longer tail keyword phrases and longer tail search phrases. What I mean by that is that there’s a lot of short tail keyword phrases that you just won’t be able to rank for, so let’s take an example of summer houses. A short tail keyword phrase might be something like, “Summer houses in Scotland,” or, “Summer house manufacturers in Scotland.” That’s someone looking for someone who’s going to make them a summer house, right? But a longer tail search would be something like, “How much does a summer house cost? How long does it take to build a summer house?”

Now, it might be very difficult to rank for, “Summer houses in Scotland,” but very easy to rank for, “How much does a summer house cost?”, or, “The cost for summer houses.” That’s where your opportunities lie. When I say longer tail search, it’s like a longer phrase that people are searching for. The search traffic might be lower, but the relevancy is higher, right? It’s much more specific. Think about and get obsessed with this. This comes back to the first point I was making, which is that the they ask, you answer philosophy is thinking about the questions that your perspective customers are asking. Get right into that. Get really obsessed with the they ask, you answer philosophy.

You’ve heard me speak about this before. We talk about the big five areas that prospective customers are searching for to help them make an educated buying decision, and that is price and cost articles, reviews, best of, comparisons, and problems based articles and content that they’re looking for. Think about that. Just think about your own buying behaviour or your own search behaviour, and think about those types of questions. How much does something cost? What is the difference between …? What are the best? What kind of problems based articles could you be writing about as well?

There’s a book actually, They Ask, You Answer, by Marcus Sheridan. I would highly advise going ahead and buying that book. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes for you. Getting obsessed with that long tail keyword search phrases is brilliant. It’s really, really, really good. There’s so much opportunity for pretty much everybody in every industry to take advantage of.

When you’ve got these working titles and you’ve got some idea of like, for example, we said, “How much does a summer house cost?”, whatever those working titles are that you have, the next thing to do is to go over to Google, and type that into Google, and see what comes up in search. Now, there’s a couple of things you want to do here.

Look at what Google predicts. As you’re typing it in Google, what is Google predicting that search to be? That prediction is based on popular searches, so you can use that to kind of look at the structure of your search or perhaps switch some words out, and see, and sort of construct a much more robust title for your article. That’s a great place to start is to go there and do a bit of research using Google prediction.

The next thing you want to do is then scroll to the bottom of Google, and you’ll see 10 suggestions from Google. This will give you some ideas for other search phrases to think about and consider. The next thing you want to do after that is to use the search results that you actually find as a research tool as well. What I do is I will type the working title. I typically actually do this after I’ve really done my draught. I’ll go to Google, and have a look around, and see what content’s actually out there.

What’s coming up on page one for those search results? What’s coming up on page two for those search results? How good is that content? Could I do a better job? Look at the titles that they’ve used and compare that to your titles, [inaudible 00:09:41] paragraphs. How good is the content quality wise? Could you do a better job? Look at all these areas. I think there’s a lot of scope just in these … This is free. This isn’t costing you any money to do this research, and you can do it all without subscribing to a keyword tool, like Keyword Finder that I use.

I’ve done this for years, and I think this is a massive gap. If you’re not doing this already, then you absolutely should be doing it. Like I said at the very start, this is about you getting as much for your content effort as possible. If you’re going to spend hours creating content, do the research. Make sure you’re giving it the best chance of success when you hit that publish button. You can take some of the other good best practises from my previous podcast episodes as well, so dig into that as well, if you haven’t listened to some previous episodes on this sort of stuff, and go back, and listen to them, and make sure you’re doing all the best practises.

There’s a couple other bonus things I want to add in here as well. Use subtitles in your content, well, in your articles especially. What I mean by that is that you’ve got a title for your article, but then you can use subtitles to rank for other related search terms. If you’re in Google, and you’re looking at things, and you see maybe two or three related searches, put that content into your article as well. Use subtitles. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to rank that article for those other related search terms as well.

There’s another free, great resource that is something we recommend to use as well. It’s called Answer the Public.

You can go there and you can type anything into the box, and it’ll give you tonnes of suggestions, some good, some not so good, some relevant, some not so relevant. You go there, and you can actually start to build out your ideas for content as well. That gives you like, for example, you could take a search that you want to rank for, go there, and it’ll give you tonnes of questions that are asked about that topic. That’s a really great resource as well, and it can just really explode your ideas. You can also use that.

But to finish up, don’t publish your content blindly. If you’re not doing the keyword research, you’re really missing out on the marketing part of content marketing. I think many people do it. It’s the biggest gap, but also the biggest opportunity for people to take advantage of. You do not need to search and subscribe to or purchase a keyword tool right away. There’s lots you could be doing beforehand. Don’t get a keyword tool before you have any ideas. If you want to take advantage of a keyword tool, you have to have something to type in and do your research with anyway, so make sure at first you’ve got those ideas and you know roughly what your draught article or titles are going to be for the things you’re doing.

Then you can go and do a lot of research for free, and you don’t need to subscribe to a tool. However, if you’ve been publishing content for a while, it might be time to go a little bit deeper, and in that case, you might want to consider something like Keyword Finder that I use, but like I said, at the very start, especially if you’re just getting started and you’re looking at this sort of stuff, you can do a lot of research for free.

I hope that’s been helpful for you. If you’ve got any questions, or you want to add something to this, or you’ve done something that’s been … or you’ve got a great resource you want to share, or you’ve got a tool that you use, email me, You can tweet me @chrismarr101. I’ve put links to everything into the show notes on this. I hope you’ve had an amazing day, and don’t forget to be awesome.