how to do keyword research with semrush

Know why so many blogs go nowhere? Their owners have absolutely clue about how to do keyword research. In many cases, they don’t even know it’s a thing.

I was one of those bloggers for many years. I simply wrote about anything that came to mind.

I had no real understanding of what my audience actually wanted – or what they were searching for. 

I want to help you avoid this time-wasting trap. 

Fast forward to now – and I’ve built two profitable blogs generating over 100K visitors per month. Freedom and location-independent income are two massive reasons to consider starting a blog in 2024.

But reaching this stage all started with learning how to do keyword research, with Semrush and other tools.

That’s how I know what I’m talking about when it comes to keyword research.

Today, I’m going to walk you through how to do keyword research with Semrush, based on my first-hand experience with it as one of my favorite SEO tools

Affiliate disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links, so I may earn a commission if you buy anything using them. There’s no extra cost to you – and I only recommend products that I’ve both used personally and think are awesome. Thanks for your support! ❤️

Why Keyword Research Matters

Let’s get one thing clear: good keyword research is the cornerstone of any successful SEO strategy. 

Without understanding the keywords your audience is searching for, you’ll struggle to create content that resonates with them and attracts the right kind of traffic to your website. 

Put simply: it doesn’t matter how great your content is, if no-one on the internet can find it. You’ll be writing into a void for evermore.

Even if you’re the next Ernest Hemingway or JK Rowling. 

Doing detailed keyword research helps you identify the most relevant and high-traffic keywords to target.

It also provides insights into user intent and the types of content that your audience is looking for. 

What’s more, if you learn how to do keyword research properly, you’ll never run out of things to write about again.

In fact, you’ll probably have far more than you can handle. 

A good blogging strategy should always start with keyword research. No exceptions (unless you don’t care about ranking).

You should be researching keywords before you start writing your first blog post. Keywords should inform how you structure your blog (i.e. the categories), how you build out clusters, and how your strategy evolves over time.

Why Use Semrush For Keyword Research?

You’re probably wondering why on earth you should use Semrush for your keyword research.

I mean, there are lots of keyword research tools out there, right? What makes this one so special?

I’ve used lots of SEO tools in my work over the last two years, including Ubersuggest, Ahrefs and lately, Semrush.

All these tools have their benefits. But Semrush offers a more comprehensive set of SEO tools – all under one handy umbrella. 

Here’s why I recommend Semrush:

Massive keyword database – With over 35 million keywords in its database, you can trust Semrush to offer you the most accurate and wide-ranging data – direct from the top search engines.

Powerful competitor analysisKnowing what your competitors are doing is a critical part of any keyword research strategy. Semrush lets you dig deep into competitors’ keywords so you can capture new ideas and learn from their approach. 

Use real time tracking and trends – Semrush has advanced tracking features that keep you right up to date with the progress of your keywords, along with any external influences that might be affecting their rankings. 

Find new keyword opportunities – For an SEO nerd like me, there’s not much more thrilling than discovering a promising new keyword. Semrush makes this process super simple with its ‘Related Keywords’ feature, where each keyword has various metrics including difficulty score, search volume and search intent, so you can easily weigh up if it’s actually worth writing content to target it. 

Dig into backlinks – Building backlinks is one of the hardest parts of SEO. With Semrush, you can easily stalk your competitors’ backlinks and see if any of those sites would link to yours as well. You can also keep an eye on your own backlink profile to monitor for any spammy links or (shock horror!) coordinated spam attacks! 

Protect your site – Websites these days are vulnerable, not only to internal factors like broken links or orphan pages, but also to external threats like spam link attacks or Google algorithm updates.

For the latter in particular – which can be devastating – Semrush offers an excellent feature where it monitors your site compliance with Google’s rules, so you can pre-empt any issues ahead of algorithm updates.

I won’t lie – you could cobble all these functions together from various free tools.

But if you’re serious about growing your blog through SEO, you should invest in a professional tool like Semrush. It pulls everything together into one easy dashboard, which can then act as the hub for all your SEO work.

Once your site’s generating a little income (or even if you’re building it alongside your full-time job) it’s well worth investing in a tool like Semrush to make your work that much easier.

In the meantime, I’ve got an exclusive 14-day Semrush free trial for you – which you could use to follow this tutorial and learn how to do keyword research with Semrush.

How To Do Keyword Research With Semrush

#1. Set up your SEO Dashboard

Ok, let’s say you’ve just signed up for a new Semrush plan.

Before getting started with our keyword research, let’s set up your website in the tool. First, click on the Projects view (in the top left hand corner of your Semrush screen) and add your domain as a new project.

Once it’s in there, you can use the SEO Dashboard view to pull up a comprehensive overview of your site, including backlink audit, position tracker, site audit, and domain analytics.

#2. Start with a seed keyword

We’ll start learning how to do keyword research with Semrush using the Keyword Overview dashboard, as shown above.

The keyword research process typically begins with ‘seed’ keywords from core topics in your niche. These are broad keywords that form the main pillars of your site’s content.

Seed keywords should spring easily into your mind, e.g. for this site, ‘blogging’ and ‘SEO’ would be two of my main seed keywords. Ask yourself “what are the main 2-3 topics I want people to find my site for?”

For example, let’s imagine we want to create a website all about coffee. We could use ‘coffee’ as our initial seed keyword. This would then lead us in lots of different directions, as we discover more specific and narrower ‘long tail’ keywords, all related to coffee.

Here’s what Semrush gives us for a keyword search for ‘coffee’ (for searches in the United States region). As you can see, this seed keyword is high volume (450,000 in the US; 21 million globally), super competitive and extremely difficult to rank for (a Keyword Difficulty score of 100%!).

The good news is – there are 3.1 million keyword variations for ‘coffee’ in the US alone. There are also 349.2K questions around the coffee seed keyword, such as “how much caffeine in coffee?”

Some of these ‘long tail’ keywords will offer perfect opportunities for writing information content to answer our audience’s queries around coffee.

That’s where we’ll start digging deeper into this keyword data to look for opportunities that make sense – both for our content strategy and for the current competitiveness of our website overall.

We’ll focus on question keywords first, as these tend to be long tail and it’s easier to find low competition opportunities among them.

Below you can see how Semrush rounds up a huge list of all the question keywords related to ‘coffee’. This is a goldmine for digging out great ideas for blog posts.

But should we just pick one of these phrases and write a blog post around it? No.

We first need to evaluate whether the keyword is worth targeting. In some cases, even long tail keywords can be too competitive for a new blog.

We can tell by checking the KD% column, which stands for Keyword Difficulty. The higher the difficulty score, the harder it is to rank for.

So we need to filter this initial list of long tail keywords to spot the lower competition opportunities.

Let’s find out how to do that in the next step, using one of the basic Semrush filters.

#3. Filter out keywords that don’t make sense

Here you can see how I’ve applied a custom filter to narrow our results down to show only the keywords with low difficulty scores (KD%). This filters out the more difficult keywords that a new blog would likely struggle to rank for.

I’ve chosen a range between 0 and 29%, which returns keywords classed by Semrush as ‘easy’ and ‘very easy’.

The KD% scores here are all green, plus they have quite high search volumes in the multiple thousands, which is an encouraging sign!

We could easily envisage writing some informative educational coffee content around some of the keywords in this list.

For example, you could target “how to clean a bunn coffee maker”, with a useful how-to guide complete with images and/or video (if that fits into your wider content strategy).

#4. Narrow down keywords that make sense

To enhance the results even further, we can add another filter to get rid of the ‘quick questions’ keywords (e.g. ‘what is’ or ‘can you’) and focus on the meatier ‘how to’ questions.

These are usually a better fit for creating instructional guides – which go a long way towards establishing your authority in your niche.

To do this, I used an ‘Include Keywords’ filter to focus on only the keywords with ‘how to’ included.

As you can see, the resulting keywords make a lot more sense for a content strategy based around educational coffee content. They’re also low competition – double win!

#5. Analyze your target keyword in the SERPs

The next thing we need to do is check the SERPs to see exactly what’s ranking for our target keyword.

This is a critical step because it shows us what Google wants to see in an article about that keyword. It also gives us valuable insights about the top 10 competitors for the keyword.

Let’s use “how to clean a bunn coffee maker” as our example. Clicking on that phrase in the keywords list opens up a new Semrush page with a detailed analysis of that specific keyword.

Scroll down the page until you reach the SERP Analysis section. We’re only going to look at the top 10 results here. Important metrics are Page AS (the overall page strength, from 0 to 100), number of backlinks, and search traffic.

Page AS tells us about the strength of the sites ranking on page 1 for this keyword.

As you can see, we have two pages with zero Page AS ranking on page 1 of the SERPs. These two sites also have zero backlinks to their ranking pages, but they’re still generating a reasonable level of search traffic.

This is great news. If they can rank high with such weak pages, then chances are our new niche site about coffee has a great chance of ranking on page 1 too.

Based on this, I’d recommend going ahead with writing a how-to guide targeting the keyword “how to clean a bunn coffee maker”.

In a nutshell, that’s all you need to know about how to do keyword research with Semrush.

But here’s something extra that will take your keyword research and content strategy to the next level.

Ready? Let’s go!

How to Build Topic Clusters With Semrush

First, what are topic clusters? Put simply, a topic cluster is a group of related content pieces (i.e. blog posts), that revolve around a single pillar post and multiple subtopic posts.

Using topic clusters is a logical and effective way to keep your content organized. It also helps you cover your niche more comprehensively.

As a result, you’ll build up topical authority for your blog in the eyes of Google. That’s one of the best shortcuts to help your blog get ranked more quickly.

So how can we use Semrush to help us build topic clusters as part of the keyword research process?

First, decide on the core topic for your cluster. Key factors to keep in mind include:

  • Does this topic help my audience?
  • Can I easily break down this topic into multiple sub topics?
  • Does this topic area have good monetization potential?
  • How competitive is this topic area in terms of keywords?
  • Do I have the required expertise in this topic area (or does someone on my team have it)?

It’s okay for your pillar page to target a relatively competitive keyword. All the sub topic pages will target less competitive long tail keywords, which are easier to rank. This tactic will eventually help to push the pillar page itself up the rankings.

The Semrush Keyword Gap tool is a great place to start for topic cluster research. You plug in your key competitors and it immediately gives you an overview of which keywords they rank for that you (currently) don’t.

Once you’ve chosen a pillar keyword and a bunch of long tail keywords, it’s time to assemble them into a topic cluster that makes sense.

For example, a coffee blog might use the keyword “specialty coffee” for the pillar page, then have a bunch of subtopic posts as follows:

  • how to make speciality coffee at home
  • what is the difference between speciality coffee and commercial coffee
  • best speciality coffee beans
  • speciality coffee gifts
  • speciality coffee recipes
  • how to start a speciality coffee shop

Each of the above would be researched and published as an individual blog post. Each of these subtopic post would then link back to the pillar post.

The pillar post would provide a broad overview of the entire specialty coffee topic, mentioning each of the sub topic posts. The pillar post would then link out to each one so the reader can get a more comprehensive view of the topic.

Don’t forget to add these internal links – they play a critical role in sticking the topic cluster together.

As always, when building topic clusters keep in mind what would be the most useful and important keyword choices for your reader.

Here’s a nice clear graphic courtesy of Semrush, which clearly illustrates what a pillar page and subtopic cluster structure should look like. (NB: I recommend that you avoid using secondary clusters for now, otherwise you risk making your your blog architecture too complicated).

Source: Semrush blog

If your blog is new, I suggest you start by building out a single topic cluster first.

For example, I’d aim to publish one pillar post and at least 10 subtopic posts before moving on to a second topic cluster.

Approaching keyword research in this way is great for keeping your blog well organized from the very beginning.

Stalk Your Competitors’ Keywords With Semrush

Another great way to approach keyword research is by stalking keywords from your competition.

Using Semrush, you can easily reverse engineer their top performing keywords and check out what sort of content they’ve published.

Armed with that info, you can make a plan for publishing even better content that will (hopefully) blast past them in the SERPs. You could even steal their featured snippets.

Things like this are what makes the SEO game so much fun.

Let’s take a quick look at how you can do this too.

We’ll use our coffee example again, but this time removing all the filters and returning to the main ‘coffee’ seed keyword overview.

This time, we want to look for big competitors who can provide us with lots of juicy keyword ideas.

At the same time, we don’t really want to compete with massive sites like Wikipedia or Healthline for coffee queries.

Instead, we want to find competing sites that have a similar angle to ours, i.e. publishing informational guides about various aspects of coffee prep and equipment.

I’ve chosen The Coffee Folk for this example. See below for an overview of their site.

As you can see, the site ranks for over 26K keywords. That means plenty of scope for finding promising opportunities for our own imaginary coffee blog.

Let’s see how Semrush helps us find all their keywords and narrow down the best ones to target. Scroll down to the Top Organic Keywords report and click the blue button to ‘View all’.

Below you can see what that looks like. As they have thousands of keywords, I’ve applied several filters to pick out the most useful ones for our purposes.

From left to right, the filters are:

  • Position: Top 10 – returns only keywords they rank for on Page 1 of SERPs)
  • KD: 0-29% – returns only keywords that are easy to rank for
  • Intent: Informational – returns only keywords with informational search intent (i.e. users want to learn how to do something)
  • Traffic: High to Low – shows the highest traffic keywords at the top

Based on these insights, I’d choose the following keywords to publish content on:

  • why is my nespresso blinking orange
  • mocha vs latte
  • how to descale breville espresso machine

Before choosing keywords from a competitor, I’d also keep in mind my own content strategy, especially the type of clusters I want to build, and how I’m hoping to monetize my content.

After all, there’s no point writing blog content without a clear route to monetization, whether that’s from display ads, affiliates, or selling your own products,

Which Semrush Plan Should You Choose?

Finally, let’s take a quick look at the different Semrush pricing plans.

There’s no getting around it, Semrush is an expensive tool. When I first started blogging, I had some doubts about paying so much money to support my SEO strategy.

Luckily, the folks at Semrush offer a free trial, where you can access all the features mentioned in this keyword research guide.

Their regular trial is seven days only, but you can use my link to get 14 days for free instead. – perfect for getting a head start on your keyword research process.

Another money saving method is to pay for one month of Semrush, do all your keyword research upfront, and then cancel.

But if you’re determined to build a profitable blog, then it makes sense to invest in the right tools from the beginning – with a mindset of abundance instead of scarcity.

With that in mind, I recommend getting the Semrush Pro plan, which is what I currently have. I find it totally sufficient for my blogging needs at the moment. (NB: if I take on more consulting clients I’ll probably upgrade to Guru).

Want to understand the various Semrush plans in more detail? Check out my detailed comparison of Semrush Pro vs Guru vs Business.

Actionable Next Steps

In this guide, I’ve walked you through my easy steps for how to do keyword research with Semrush.

We’ve also touched upon the importance of the keyword research process for building a profitable blog (and hopefully you won’t fall into the same trap that I did of totally overlooking it).

Lastly, I’ve given you an overview of the topic cluster approach to keyword research and explained how you can get started with building out topic clusters for your blog.

This is a much more effective method than simply writing about any random topic that springs to mind. It’s also an excellent shortcut to help a new blog build topical authority quickly.

Ready to get started with keyword research for your blog?

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