Qualitative Keyword Research: How to Invest 10 Minutes into Your Content Marketing Process & See Your Content Rise to the Top of Google

Cover image for article on Qualitative Keyword Research with word cloud in the background

Keyword research is an integral component of any content marketing strategy; it ensures your content is relevant to your audience and acts as the foundation of your SEO efforts by providing insights into which phrases have the most search volume. That in turn guides you to in creating effective SEO content that will rank highly and capture that search traffic.

We often tackle keyword research by using a quantitative tool to estimate the volume of searches associated with a given phrase then compare the merits of several phrases based on the search volume and level of competition. While numbers are powerful, starting with quantitative keyword research overlooks the more impactful (and quick) process of qualitative keyword research.

Qualitative keyword research focuses on language and semantics and often takes the form of brainstorming. You’ll step back from the numbers and take your keyword research to a higher level by thinking about the audience. 

Let’s take a look at an example of qualitative keyword research for the purpose of writing a blog post.

In our example, our goal is to write a blog post about energy chews. Whether this is a topic that you know well or only tangentially, our qualitative keyword research is insightful.

Google Auto Suggest

Grab a piece of paper and go to www.google.com. Type a two-word phrase relating to your topic into the search bar (don’t hit the Enter key yet). In this case, we’ll go with “energy chews.” You’ll notice a dropdown appear.

Google search bar with the words energy chews and results auto-populating

The words suggested by Google in the dropdown tell us that if a person starts typing “energy chew,  that phrase is likely to continue with words like “Walmart, “near me,” or “for a half marathon.” This automatic suggestion feature is known as Google Search Suggest.

If you find any relevant keywords of interest in the dropdown, jot them down on your piece of paper.

Now, go ahead and perform the search for “energy chew.” Then, scroll through the search results and look for a box titled “People also ask”. This is a great place to find long-tail keywords, typically in a question format. Write any relevant questions or phrases you find on your piece of paper. 

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Next, click the down arrow next to any “People also ask” questions that seem relevant.  Read the text that appears and notice whether it answers the question. This text is known as “snippet bait.” It is the content pulled from a page or post which succinctly answers the question. You’ll now see new questions appear, and these questions will also be in line with your interest. (Read more about featured snippets in the context of voice search.) 

How much time you spend in Google doing qualitative keyword research depends on your topic. If your goal is to write a highly specific blog post on energy chews, then you may now have a specific angle to explore — such as “energy chews for half marathon.” Alternatively, you may be intending to publish a comprehensive piece of content about energy chews such as “Energy Chews: A Definitive Guide.” In that case, your searches in Google will continue until you’ve gathered enough information for an article of that depth and size.

Answer the Public

Now that we’ve covered Google Auto Suggest, let’s turn our attention to a second tool — Answer the Public. Again, searching for two-word phrases related to your topic is a great way to start. These entries typically lead to plenty of data, but not an overwhelming amount. 

Type in “energy chews” and hit Enter. Look at the resulting array of words which are organized into a wheel:

This is qualitative data that has been clustered by questions — can, what, will, which, where, who, when, why, how, and are. As you scroll down the page, you’ll find more clusters including prepositions (without, can, with, to, for, near, is) and comparisons (or, and, like, versus, vs).

If your goal is to write a complete piece of content, then these wheels of data will break down your topic into subtopics, which can help you structure and outline your post. The question format is especially valuable since you’re most likely aiming to answer users’ questions. 

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You can also switch from a wheel layout to a grid view in Answer the Public, which displays phrases organized by topic.

Next Steps

Your piece of paper should now be filled with keywords you have brainstormed. Start to organize these phrases into clusters. Learn more about keyword clustering to master this powerful SEO tactic. You can prioritize your work by collecting estimated search volume from keyword research tools such as the Moz Keyword Explorer

Although it’s often overlooked (or skipped), qualitative research is a key task in any step by step approach to keyword research. It is quick, easy and will help inform your content so that as you share your expertise online, you can rise to the top of Google. 

Give this process a try while writing your next blog post or building a new landing page. If you’re using Crowd Content, be sure to pass along any insights you find to your author so that they can be incorporated into your content. 


Article by

Lindsay Halsey is a co-founder of Pathfinder SEO. She has over 10 years of experience working in SEO with small to large businesses. Lindsay focuses on teaching business owners and freelancers how to get found in Google, Yahoo, and Bing via a guided approach to SEO. Stay in touch on Twitter - @linds_halsey.

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