Keyword Research for SEO – Intent, Volume, and Difficulty

Keyword research extends beyond identifying what terms and phrases your audience uses to search for your products or services. While knowing what terms people use to find you are important, there are several other factors that play a role in how well your website ranks. Of those, three of the most important are keyword intent, keyword difficulty, and keyword volumes.

What is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is the process of identifying and analyzing popular search terms that people enter into search engines. This practice is essential for search engine optimization (SEO), content creation, and digital marketing efforts. The goal of keyword research is to find the most relevant and high-traffic keywords related to your industry, products, services, or content, so you can optimize your website and content to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Keyword Intent Vs. Keyword Difficulty Vs. Keyword Volume: What Do These Terms Even Mean?

Before you take a deep dive into keyword research, why these particular metrics matter, and how to measure them, you first need to understand what intent, difficulty, and volume even mean. Below is a brief definition of each term.

Keyword Intent

Keyword intent — also known as “user intent” and “search intent” — addresses the “why” of a search query. Is the searcher looking for information? Does he or she want to find a specific website? Or is he or she planning to purchase something? User intent helps search engines narrow down the type of content searchers want and to deliver the most relevant results despite the vastness of a topic.

Keyword intent typically falls into one of three categories. Those are as follows:

  • Informational: Informational searches users conduct to look for answers to questions or concerns they have.
  • Navigational: Navigational searches are ones that users perform to search for specific websites, platforms, or landing pages.
  • Transactional: Transactional searches are searches that individuals conduct with the intent to make a purchase.

Transactional searches have what SEOs refer to as “high intent” and necessitate high intent keywords. High-intent key terms include phrases such as “buy now,” “get a quote” or “[product] coupons.” Informational and navigational searches are low intent, as the commercial intent of them is low to non-existent.  

Keyword Difficulty

Keyword difficulty is a metric used to determine how difficult it is to rank for a keyword, term, or phrase. In other words, it tells you how competitive a keyword is, and whether it is worth your time to try to rank for it.

Keyword Search Volume

Keyword search volume tells you how many people use a particular query — which can range in length from a single term to a phrase to a complete sentence or question — to search for your specific products or services. It assesses the popularity of a term or phrase over a determined period of time. Many SEOs use keyword volume and difficulty together to devise an effective and budget-friendly SEO strategy.

The Keyword Research Process

Keyword research is a critical and foundational element in the world of search engine optimization (SEO) and digital marketing. As businesses and content creators strive to make their mark online, understanding and implementing effective keyword research is more important than ever.

This process entails discovering, analyzing, and selecting the most relevant and impactful search terms that users enter into search engines when seeking information, products, or services related to a specific industry or niche. By identifying these high-traffic keywords and incorporating them strategically into website content and marketing campaigns, businesses can significantly improve their search engine rankings, attract a more targeted audience, and ultimately increase conversions.

Keyword research involves several steps, such as:

  1. Brainstorming: Generate a list of possible keywords related to your niche or business.
  2. Analyzing competitors: Identify the keywords your competitors are ranking for and consider targeting those relevant to your business.
  3. Using keyword research tools: Tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, Moz, SEMrush, and Ubersuggest can help you discover keyword ideas and their search volume, competition, and cost-per-click (CPC) information.
  4. Evaluating keyword difficulty: Assess how hard it would be to rank for specific keywords, taking into account competition, search volume, and existing content.
  5. Grouping and prioritizing keywords: Organize keywords into related groups, and prioritize them based on their relevance, search volume, and competition.

By effectively conducting keyword research, you can improve your website’s visibility in search engines, drive more targeted traffic, and increase conversions.


Brainstorming is the first step in the keyword research process and involves generating a list of potential keywords and phrases related to your industry, niche, products, services, or content. The objective is to think creatively and come up with as many ideas as possible, which will later be refined and analyzed using keyword research tools.

Here are some tips and techniques for effective brainstorming in keyword research:

  1. Put yourself in the user’s shoes: Consider the words and phrases people might use when searching for information, products, or services related to your industry. Think about their intent, problems, and needs.
  2. List core topics: Identify the main topics or categories associated with your business or content, and use these as a starting point for generating keyword ideas.
  3. Use synonyms and variations: Include different ways people might express their search queries, such as synonyms, related terms, and alternative spellings.
  4. Consider search intent: Recognize that users may have different search intents, such as informational (seeking knowledge), navigational (looking for a specific website or page), or transactional (ready to make a purchase or take action). Generate keywords that cater to these different intents.
  5. Analyze your existing content: Review your website or blog content to identify recurring themes or topics that can serve as a basis for generating new keyword ideas.
  6. Consult with colleagues and customers: Collaborate with team members, and ask customers for their input, as they may offer unique perspectives and ideas you might not have considered.
  7. Use mind mapping or brainstorming software: Tools like MindMeister, XMind, or a simple whiteboard can help you visually organize your ideas and connect related terms.

Once you have generated an extensive list of keywords, the next step is to refine and analyze them using keyword research tools to determine their search volume, competition, and relevance. This will help you prioritize and select the most effective keywords to target in your SEO and content marketing efforts.

Analyzing competitors

Analyzing competitors is a valuable step in the keyword research process, as it helps you uncover the keywords your competitors are ranking for and identify opportunities to target those relevant to your business. Understanding the competitive landscape allows you to make more strategic decisions in your SEO and content marketing efforts.

Here are some steps to analyze your competitors:

  • Identify your competitors.
  • Analyze your competitors for what keywords they are ranking.
  • Create a report or a Venn diagram with your keywords versus the competition’s keywords.
  • Analyze your competitors’ traffic.
  • Create a report with the share of traffic between you and your competitors.
  • Identify content gaps

Use research tools

Using keyword research tools is a crucial step in the keyword research process. These tools help you discover additional keyword ideas, gather data on search volume, competition, and cost-per-click (CPC), and assess the overall potential of the keywords. By leveraging keyword research tools, you can make more informed decisions about which keywords to target in your search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing efforts.

Here are some popular keyword research tools and their features:

When using keyword research tools, it’s important to look for keywords with a healthy balance between search volume and competition, as well as their relevance to your target audience and content. By leveraging these tools, you can refine your initial brainstormed list of keywords and prioritize the most promising ones for your SEO and content marketing campaigns.

Evaluating keyword difficulty

Evaluating keyword difficulty is an essential step in the keyword research process, as it helps you determine how challenging it might be to rank for a specific keyword or phrase in search engine results pages (SERPs). Keyword difficulty takes into account various factors, such as the number and strength of competing websites, domain authority, page authority, content quality, and backlink profiles. By understanding keyword difficulty, you can make informed decisions on which keywords to target, balancing your efforts between low-competition and high-competition terms.

Grouping and prioritizing keywords

When conducting keyword research, it’s crucial to group and prioritize the keywords you’ve gathered. This process helps you create a focused and strategic approach to your SEO and content marketing efforts. As you dive into keyword grouping and prioritization, keep the following tips in mind.

Begin by organizing your keywords into related groups based on your products, services, content themes, or target audience segments. This categorization will help you plan your content more effectively and develop a cohesive site structure that benefits both users and search engines.

Next, consider the search intent behind each keyword. By understanding the user’s goal—whether it’s informational, navigational, or transactional—you can tailor your content to align with their needs and expectations at different stages of their search journey.

When prioritizing keywords, evaluate the competitiveness of each term. Use keyword research tools or manual analysis to understand the difficulty level of ranking for specific keywords. Balancing your efforts between quick wins and long-term growth opportunities will help you maximize your chances of success.

Remember to prioritize keywords based not only on search volume but also on their relevance to your business, products, services, or content. High-traffic keywords might seem attractive, but if they don’t align with your offerings or target audience, they won’t deliver the desired results.

The Importance of Keyword Search Intent

Too many marketers operate with the objective of attracting as much traffic as possible, qualified or not. As a result, they rarely take into account keyword intent. This is a mistake.

On the one hand, failing to consider the intent of your audience will cost you in the long run. If you take the “quantity over quality” approach to your Google Ads or other forms of pay-per-click advertising, you are likely to exhaust your budget quicker than if you were to target only high-intent traffic. This is because with PPC ads, you pay for clicks even if those clicks do not result in sales. You can avoid wasting your budget on traffic that will never convert by using high intent keywords to make your intent with ads very clear.

On the other hand, creating content without any consideration of intent can hurt your rankings. Google’s primary objective is to satisfy user intent. It does this by delivering the most relevant content possible based on on-page optimization. If your page does not reflect the intent of the user — whether on accident or by design — Google will penalize you. Given this information, it’s in your best interests to try to match keyword intent to user intent by emphasizing keyword research importance to your SEO team.

The Importance of Keyword Difficulty

Understanding keyword difficulty and all the factors that affect it can be confusing, to say the least. However, this metric relies largely on domain authority, page authority, and link equity.

To assess keyword difficulty, you would input the keyword or phrase into the search bar and then run a competitive analysis of each site or page that ranks on the first 10 pages of the SERPs. Your analysis should focus largely on domain authority and page authority. What you learn about each should give you a good idea of how much link equity each page or domain has. The more link equity associated with a particular keyword, the more difficult it will be for you to rank for it.

Assessing keyword difficulty should be an integral part of your keyword research process. The difficulty of a keyword is a highly accurate indicator of whether a particular keyphrase will be worth your time or monetary investment when both optimizing an organic page and creating a Google Ads campaign. While you want to target popular keywords, you don’t want them to be so popular that the first five pages of the SERPs are dominated by large corporations with unlimited budgets.

The Importance of Keyword Volume

If your business is like most, you rely on organic search to bring in most of your website’s traffic. As a result, you need to target keywords that have a high search volume — or, at the very least, an impressive one. After all, if no one is searching for the keywords you target, no one will find your content, thereby rendering any and all of your SEO efforts mute.

That said, you don’t want to target keywords with too high of a search volume, as you will struggle to compete in the SERPs. You should also continually monitor the search volume of certain words and phrases throughout the year, as seasonality and major regional or industry events can drastically affect this metric. For instance, “best outdoor water toys for toddlers” may see a spike in popularity during the spring and summer but drop significantly come fall. When monitoring volume data it is also important to monitor seasonal keyword trends, as both can inform your SEO strategy.

Using The Three Metrics To Devise an Effective SEO Strategy

keyword research importance

There are dozens of tools that can help you analyze the intent, difficulty, and volume of your desired keywords, one of the best of which is the Google Keyword Planner. To make the most of your efforts, identify intent first and foremost. Do you wish to inform, drive traffic, or sell? Once you identify intent, search for words and phrases with substantial volume but a mid to low-range level of difficulty. The SEO tool you choose to use should clearly indicate the score for intent, volume, and difficulty and guide you toward the best keywords and phrases for your budget.

‍Of course, going about keyword research and selection the right way is easier said than done. Even with the right tools at your disposal, you may become overwhelmed by the process and second-guess your every decision. We get this, but we also understand that you need to act now to start building up your rankings.

If you want to take steps today that are guaranteed to lay the foundation for strong rankings and real results in the near future, work with a digital marketing company that has SEO know-how, talent, and experience. Explore the SEO solutions offered by ScaledOn, and contact us today.