Keywords are one of the pillars of search engine optimization. It lays the basis for your on-page optimization, which can, in turn, affect how you reach out for link building. For those that need a little primer on the science of link building. For our purposes, we'll focus on the keyword aspect of things.

So when handling SEO for a client, you'll need to begin with a thorough keyword strategy. Fortunately, doing keyword research for a client doesn't much differ from doing research for your own brand.

All keyword research can be broken down roughly into phases: identifying opportunities and then refining your strategy. These two steps may repeat, as you generate new ideas and then test them against further research.

The added step, when doing keyword research for a client, is a phase for making recommendations and hashing out a strategy with them. This too can repeat with the others if your client isn't on board with your first suggestions, it's back to brainstorming and research.

In this article we're going to cover:

How to Identify Keyword Opportunities
How to Build a Keyword List
How to Refine your List
How to Present your List to Clients

Before you Begin

In order to reduce these do-overs, make sure you start with a solid grasp of your client's overall digital marketing strategy. Request a thorough brief and supplement it with research of your own.

website audit is always the best way to begin any SEO campaign. It can provide useful information, including:

  • Existing keywords and how those are performing
  • A rundown of the site's pages; you can use this later to identify pages to focus efforts on
  • (If analytics are set up) Existing sources of traffic and queries leading to the site

You'll be referring to these details and cross-checking against them over the course of your research. Having them on hand from the start will let you proceed more efficiently, without interruption.

And if you find yourself overwhelmed by the possibilities which are virtually unlimited when it comes to search engines these details will serve as an anchor for your ideas.

Keyword research is just one of the many facets to an SEO campaign. If you're looking for a dive into a broader campaign guide, we've written a post on Raven Tools that touches on the 6 primary steps to conducting a successful campaign.

I. Identifying Opportunities

Keyword research starts by identifying a large volume of words and phrases that you could rank for, but you'll need to understand which short tail and long tail keywords are within striking distance for you to get on the top page of the SERP. Andrew Ansley has a very thorough SEO keyword opportunity guide that goes into great detail into identifying SEO opportunity. Think of this stage as your list building phase: focus first on quantity with only loose restrictions. You just want to list out everything that's related to your business so you can go through and narrow down the list later.


Naturally, one of the easiest ways to get the ball rolling is by brainstorming. To provide some structure, you can start by enumerating broad topics or categories that are important to the business.

For example, you could choose two or three categories based on the business's main services and one category related to one of its distinguishing factors:

  • Region of operation
  • Key innovation
  • Unique materials
  • Ethical/cultural advocacy

Once you have these broad categories, you can start brainstorming ideas for them. These can be as short or long as you want after all, you'll want both keyword heads and long-tail phrases later on.


Proceed to the next step once you've compiled a modest list for each category and remember that the aim is to trim it later on, rather than have to expand on it again.

Examine Existing Queries

It's always good to meet your customers where they are. On search engines, that means answering questions that people are already asking. Identifying and examining existing queries is a good way to expand your list of potential keywords with promising opportunities.

The first way you can do this is to see what search phrases are already leading users to your client's site. This is something you can do if the website has some sort of analytics or tracking function set up (Google Analytics and SEMrush are popular tools for this).

If it doesn't, you could recommend the setup to your client; it may not gather enough data for use immediately, but it could still help later on and the aim is to get this client on a retainer basis anyway, isn't it?

Another way to do this is to look at what other people are asking in relation to the categories you've identified. This information may come up naturally over the course of competitor research or other market research. If you want to expand on it further, consider using marketing tools like Answer the Public. The way it presents search results can be especially helpful since it can take a short word and add onto it very much akin to how long-tail keywords are built from short ones. Another helpful tool in identifying topics of importance is Buzzsumo. Although Buzzsumo isn't tracking down organic searches, you will be able to see what pages and topics are being socially discussed within a date range. For instance, if you notice that an A vs. B for your keyword is popular, then see if you can format your content similarly and then improve upon the current content by providing better insights, more comparisons, or by finding different types of things to discuss that the other highly shared article missed in their approach.

Search Related Terms

Another way to expand your list is by checking out related terms that are provided on each SERP. Each keyword on your list will provide related terms of its own, so this method can quickly expand your options.

To keep things from getting out of hand, just pick the ones that fit best with your client's brand and profile.

The Long and Short of Things

At the end of all of this, you should aim to have a good mix of short keywords and long-tail ones.

Long-tail keywords are generally easier to rank for because the volume and difficulty are lower. When making a list of keywords, make sure you've included a lot of long-tails since those are the easy wins that move the traffic numbers up for a client immediately (provided you've gotten to the top of the SERP for that particular long-tail (ex. How do I do Keyword Research for Clients).

Short keywords encompass a broader range (ex. Keyword Research). This gives you a chance to draw in users who aren't too sure of what they're searching for but might still be a good fit for your client's business. In general, a short tail keyword will have a high volume of searches while long-tail has a small volume.

If you have an authoritative site in a certain niche, you're able to acquire more short keywords, but as a general rule of thumb, you'll be aiming for longer search queries that you brainstorm using tools like answer the public.


II. Refine Your Strategy with Filters

From your long list of keywords, you'll want to narrow your options down to a few that you can confidently recommend to your client. To do this, you'll have to put your list through a series of filters that will successively narrow it down.

Here are a few though certainly not the only ways you can do that.

Analyze Search Volume

You can't argue with numbers, so one of the surest ways to vet your list is by running the stats on each entry. This part is where it starts to get more technical.

For basic screening, you'll need to use Google's Keyword Planner to find out the Google search volume and traffic estimates for the keywords you're considering. High values are good since that would mean you have a decent user base already using those terms. But don't just stop with volume, there's several ways to then predict potential traffic, conversions and revenue for those keywords.

Note, however, that keywords that are very widely used will attract more competition. As always, strive for balance.

If your client has a lot of resources to put into SEO, they may be able to compete more aggressively for highly-popular keywords. If they're running on less, however, you should stick to more manageable battles.

To get a clearer picture of what you're up against, however, means digging deeper into data on your competitors.

Research the Competition

Examine the keywords your client's competitors are ranking in. From this, you can get an idea of what their overall strategy is, as well as how deeply they're entrenched in particular SERPs. If a certain keyword isn't your client's focus, then there's no need to invest too much effort in taking it from a competitor.

On the other hand, if your competitors have overlooked certain useful phrases, those could be an easy win for your client.

Keep in mind that your client won't have quite the same strategy as their competitors. So whenever you're evaluating opportunities, be sure to refer to the basic information on your client's brand and objectives.

Integrate With Content Strategy

Ultimately, you'll be using keyword research to guide on-page optimization. This means that its end goal is to support website content and this will be the final criteria for refining your list. It's important to note that keywords aren't the only thing that will get your content to rank. Raven Tools writes a great post on a non-keyword centric guide to content writing if you're looking for additional tips to improve your SEO content.

Once you've come up with your short-list, cross-check it against your client's website. You should be able to come up with a scheme that assigns certain keywords to certain pages. After all, while you're striving for overall domain authority, it will be specific pages that show up in SERPs.

While it's always nice to have a brand's homepage showing up in the top ranks, it will likely be top-of-the-funnel or awareness-level pages that rank highly. Blog entries, pillar pages, or other pieces of content published to social platforms may be your ticket to earning featured snippets or top positions.

They tend to be great for cornering long-tail keywords since their content can be more focused. Keep this in mind as you're going through your list.

A good final list will be one that presents several pathways to your client's websites. This mix should include main pages, other content pages (e.g. blog, news, landing pages), and maybe some secondary sources (e.g. social media or Google profiles). They should also be broad enough to capture the different types of customers your client is aiming for.

III. How to Present KW Research to Clients

Conducting keyword research itself is only half the battle. The other half is presenting it to your client in a way that they can easily understand and fit into their overall strategy.

At this stage, you'll be relying on the numbers and figures you drew up before. Present them with the statistics you came up with from your website audit, through Google Keyword Planner, Google Search Console and with any other marketing tools you might have used. Remember to highlight important figures and contextualize them with explanations.

Don't forget to make extensive use of data visualization techniques to simplify your presentation as much as possible. It would be very helpful to provide infographics that write a causal narrative as to how you determined the best keywords, to further underscore their relevance.

Finally, round out your presentation by explaining how it will fit into their overall digital marketing strategy. Highlight pages that can be singled out for more aggressive improvement, while laying out the foundation for broader uses of the keywords.

Mention how they might guide other digital marketing efforts, such as social media or email marketing. Be clear about how they'll play out in the near future as well as in the long run.

Areas for improvement

Even after all is said and done, no strategy will be perfect and your client may be able to find areas for improvement that you missed. After all, they know their brand best, and they'll be more likely to provide feedback and revisions if you guide them toward these opportunities.

Take the time to suggest areas that may need additional consideration on their end. You might find a lot of these in your competition research, as your client will often have done more work in that regard than you have.


Keyword research is more than just learning about the keywords themselves. Through keyword research, you're given the opportunity to learn more about your client's niche, target audience demographics, and markets in which you may be able to expand your reach.

Through competent keyword research, you'll become a more effective partner in your client's growth, creating new value for them over the course of providing an essential SEO service. Take it seriously, follow this process, and make your first major steps toward earning SEO victories for your client.