Keyword Research: Why Many SEO Companies Screw it Up (and how to do it right)

Keyword Research for SEO

Search engine optimization can be a complex process.

You’re in a constant tug-of-war with an unknown algorithm (or a few of them) that is always changing. Up to 500-600 times per year, in fact.

But despite all of this change, there is one aspect that has remained true:

Keyword research is the basis of all SEO campaigns.

The keywords you target either set you up for success or doom you to failure.Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, most SEO companies don’t do keyword research properly.

95% of the clients we work with have used an Atlanta SEO company previously who were targeting the wrong keywords.

These clients are left with mediocre results and a sunk marketing cost.

Depending on the number of pages, we spend three to ten hours per client researching keywords.

This amount of emphasis is placed on the process because it’s crucial to executing successful campaigns.

In this article, I’m going to shed light on why most SEO companies don’t do keyword research correctly and break down a method to do profitable keyword research every time.

And yes, this goes further than a ten-minute Google Keyword Planner search 🙂

Let’s get started.

What Are the Goals of Keyword Research?

First, let’s talk about the goals of doing keyword research.

This will give you a high-level overview of what we’re looking for in profitable keywords.

Goal #1 is to find keywords with high search volume and low competition.

(Depending on the business or product, “high” search volume could mean 200 searches or 20,000. It’s relative.)

You want to find and target keywords with enough search volume to send you a sufficient amount of traffic and leads.

But you also want to target keywords with the lowest competition possible.

This allows you to get ranked on the first page faster and easier.

Unfortunately, many businesses and SEO companies skip, ignore, or don’t understand the importance of keyword competition.

Goal #2 is to target keywords with the correct buyer intent.

Buyer Intent Keywords

Buyer (or commercial) intent refers to a prospect’s stage in the sales funnel when they are conducting a search for that keyword.

A keyword like “buy sunglasses online” has strong commercial intent.

This person is looking for one thing — to buy a pair of sunglasses over the Internet.

Ecommerce stores LOVE keywords like this because they convert extremely well.

On the other hand, a keyword like “how to fix your sunglasses” is an informational keyword.

This person is looking for a tutorial on fixing their sunglasses.

This prospect is high in the sales funnel.

They may eventually want to buy another pair of sunglasses, or they may want to find a repair shop nearby, but right now they’re only looking for information.

So while this keyword may convert some searchers into customers, it’s probably a small percentage and not the most profitable keyword to target if you have other options.

Finally, Goal #3 is to choose a target keyword that maximizes your traffic potential.

You do this by basing your targeting decisions not solely on your target keyword’s search volume but on the aggregate search volume of the keywords related to it (long tails) that you can potentially rank for as well.

Keyword Research Small Business

Why Most SEO Companies Don’t Do Keyword Research Correctly

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Now that you know the three main goals of keyword research, let’s look at the ways many SEO companies screw it up.

If the SEO company you’re working with messes up your keyword research, you might as well stop paying after the first month.

Your results will be minimal or non-existent.

It’s that important.

Many SEO companies base campaigns off the Google Keyword Planner alone or keyword tools that use its data.

The Google Keyword Planner can be a good resource to begin your research and get a lay of the land, but here’s the issue:

It shows the exact same results to everybody, and everybody uses it.

So those keywords typically have high competition.

I’ve also found that the best long tails are not found using the Google Keyword Planner.

We use tools like to expand our options past Google’s tool.

Other than only using one source to find keywords, many companies also ignore competition and base their keyword selection solely off search volume.

This is a dangerous practice.

SEO results typically take weeks to months to reach fruition.

Accidentally targeting a high competition keyword could mean thinking that you might rank in 2-5 months when in reality it will take a year or more.

This type of delay could have drastic negative effects on your business.

On the other hand, choosing low competition keywords with sufficient search volume means you could see results on time or earlier than expected.

In some cases, much earlier.

Next, even if an SEO company does choose low competition keywords from multiple sources, they often don’t consider search intent.

This can be the most egregious mistake of them all.

An SEO agency that doesn’t take into account search intent is also not considering their client’s business as a whole as it relates to different SEO campaigns.

They’re focusing only on SEO metrics, like backlinks and traffic increases, and not on whether those metrics are going to drive real business results for you.

Finally, they also tend to ignore the low-hanging fruit of optimizing for keywords you are already ranking for, which we’ll get into more in the next section.

These mistakes can become costly for the clients SEO and they may not even know it until it’s too late.

How to Do Profitable Keyword Research

Profitable keyword research involves targeting keywords that will drive meaningful business results when ranked for on the first page.

The first step is to tackle the low-hanging fruit keywords you’re already ranking for.Click To Tweet

With a little elbow grease, you could bring in a significant amount of traffic in a relatively short time.

To do this, use tools like Ahrefs and Google Search Console to see what you are already ranking for.

Then apply on-page and off-page SEO best practices (including additional keyword research) to find opportunities to further optimize for those keywords.

This could include better keyword placement, a more engaging SEO title to increase your CTR, a stronger backlink profile, and more.

The right actions to take will differ for every page.

Once you’ve optimized for keywords you’re already ranking for, it’s time to find new ones.

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Remember, we want keywords that:

  • Have low competition and high search volume
  • Have the correct buyer intent behind them
  • Maximize your traffic potential

To gather an initial list of keywords, start your search using tools like the Google Keyword Planner,, and

Look for head keywords with a large amount of search volume (ignore competition for now).

These keywords typically have the longest tails associated with them.

Then plug them back into each tool to find as many long tail keywords as possible.

Keyword Search List

You can also do a search for each keyword in Google, scroll down to the “Searches related to…” section, and find long tail keywords there:

Keyword Research Tool

Once you have your list, it’s time to determine competition.

Input each keyword into a tool like SEMrush or Long Tail Platinum.

Then analyze the competition score for each keyword:

Keyword Search

Researching Keywords

You should also do a manual review of each search result to compare how competitive you think the term is with what the tools determine.

After this, you will have a shortlist of low competition keywords with high search volume.

Go through your list and analyze each keyword’s level of buyer intent.

This is based on why a prospect is searching for a specific term, or what types of results they want to see.

Keywords with “buy,” “best”, “for sale,” “buy online,” and similar modifiers typically have strong buyer intent.

Keywords with “how to,” “definition,” and “tutorial” are typically higher in the funnel and have lower buyer intent.

Labeling each keyword as ‘low’, ‘medium’, and ‘high’ intent will work.

Keyword Search Competition

You should first target the keywords that have 1) the best competition-to-search volume ratio and 2) strong buyer intent.

Then move down the list to the lower buyer intent keywords.

Start with the easiest keywords first and gradually work in the harder ones at the same time.

This maximizes both long-term and short-term results.

Your Turn

Now you know the mistakes you need to avoid or to watch and make sure your SEO company isn’t making.

You also know the goals of keyword research and how to conduct it profitably.

My task for you today is to start at the beginning: Analyze the low-hanging fruit for 3-5 of your pages and optimize them further.

Then report your results below in the comments.

Keyword Research: Why Many SEO Companies Screw it Up (and how to do it right)

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8 thoughts on “Keyword Research: Why Many SEO Companies Screw it Up (and how to do it right)”

  1. img-12

    Hi Dor – Try using KW Finder. Their keyword difficulty score is fairly accurate. I would not use either Ahrefs or SEMrush for keyword difficulty as rank tracking is not their specialty.

    On anything under a 39 is fairly easy with some good backlinks and if your domain has some authority you can rank for keywords above that as well.

    Hope that helps.

  2. img-13

    Justin hi
    I’m using Semrush and Ahrefs to find out the keyword difficulty.
    The differences can be as much as one tool saying 10% and the other 45%.
    Ahrefs always returns much “easier” results.

  3. img-14

    Hey Dor – I usually only use to do research. I will also plug the URL into Ahrefs as well and check the organic keywords they are ranking for already. If you can give me an idea of the major differences you are talking about I can let you know how I would solve it.

  4. img-15

    Justin hi
    Great article, I’ll start following you.
    I have one question: How do you treat major differences between tools when searching for the exact same keyword?

  5. img-17

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks for sharing this. I really love reading your posts, I found them super useful and helpful at the same time.

    I’m following your blog now. Thanks for sharing, once again.



  6. img-18

    I just recently found your blog and you guys have some good insight. Recently started doing keyword research and definitely my focus is low competition and high search, but I got to work better on the other tips.