New to SEO? Perhaps the most you know so far is that, unless you grasp SEO and start to implement your own strategies, your website won’t rank and your traffic will be weak. In other words, you won’t get seen on the web.

Moreover, you’ll continue to fall behind the 61% of marketers who made improving their organic search presence a top priority.

The problem is that SEO can sound and look really confusing: white hats, black hats (grey hats?!) semantic cores, PBNs… Does driving traffic have to be so complicated? Not anymore. In this article, we separate the wheat from the chaff in clear, simple language, focusing on the two main aspects you need to concentrate on if you’re to launch a successful SEO campaign: research and analysis.

Your research is what ensures you’re picking the right keywords to rank for, while your analysis tells you what’s working and what needs tweaking or being eliminated from your strategy. We’ll end the article with four tools that will power your success in both areas.

Key to your research? A plan…

Creating an SEO Plan

When it comes to your SEO plan, there are two main things you should be focused on: building a semantic core and choosing the right keywords based on the first step. Let’s break it down in more detail:

Building A Semantic Core

Ultimately, people come to a website to achieve specific goals – be it obtain information, get entertained, ask a question or buy something. If your website helps visitors meet their goal, they will engage, buy, share, like, and come back again – in other words, your site will stay alive and potentially earn income.

Starting with this bird’s eye view of the SEO research task has an important benefit: you align your offer with your visitors’ aims right from the get-go. From here, there’s only a small step towards our first milestone: namely, describing the goals and desired outcomes of the people whose problems your website is solving. A structured collection of such terms is the semantic core of your website.

It is worth noting that the “structured” bit is very important: simply listing the goals is not enough, because it will quickly get messy as you proceed towards keyword research. Instead, try arranging your semantic core in a hierarchy, starting from the most generic words and branching out to more specific ones. Don’t think too much about specific wording at this point – we will tackle that in the next step of our SEO research.

Let’s look at an example: let’s say you have an online shop which sells new and used smartphones. The top layer of the semantic core will most likely contain those actions, as well as non-purchase intents (or, at least, not direct ones), such as guides on how to choose a smartphone or asking specific questions to your support team or a community. The next layers will build on those, adding more specificity:

Buy a smartphone
   Buy an iPhone
      Buy an iPhone 8
      Buy an iPhone 7
   Buy a Galaxy
Buy a used smartphone
   Buy a used iPhone
   Buy a used Galaxy
   Buy a used Sony phone
Get information about buying a smartphone
   Which smartphone should I choose?
   How to buy a used smartphone?
Get an answer to a specific question

When the semantic core is ready and you’ve went through all possible goals and actions of your visitors, it’s time to move on to the second step of our SEO research:

Choosing the Right Keywords

As we’ve discussed above, your potential visitors want to achieve a specific goal, for example, obtain certain information – but they might be using very different language to come and find you. While they’re “coming to the same conclusion” as you, they won’t find you if the way they express their requests is too different.

Let’s say that you are running a blog about how to make money online. People will be using Google to find out how to make money online, but they might not find you specifically because the words and phrases they’re typing into Google (e.g. “get rich on the web” or “earn profits from a website”), and the words and phrases that are on your page might be very different.

In other words, it is crucial to be aware of the possible combinations of keywords and phrases that people are searching in your niche.

Once you have the semantic core in place, you can “put some flesh on the bones” by gathering all possible search terms people use inside the boundaries of your core. These words and phrases can be broken down into three categories, depending on how many people use those specific search phrases per period of time (monthly figures are most often used):

  • High frequency – popular and usually quite generic search terms such as “making money online
  • Mid-frequency – more specific phrases which reflect certain intent, like “easy ways to make money online
  • Low frequency – very specific keywords and phrases like “how to make passive income using a laptop

The high-frequency words are the really popular ones, whereas the low ones are a lot less so. As mentioned, you need to think about the language people are using when they look for your website or business when collecting the keywords. While compiling your keyword list, you will notice that high frequency and mid-frequency phrases and keywords closely correspond to your semantic core (if they don’t you might want to go back to the previous step).

To help you find the right keywords and phrases, you can consider the following two approaches:

Direct Search – for this one, the AdWords Keyword Planner is your friend. To use this free tool, you need to first of all sign up to Google AdWords (you don’t have to deposit funds to have an account there). Once you’re up and running, you’ll be able to find the Planner by clicking on the three dots icon in the top right corner of the window and choosing the “Keyword planner” option under “Planning”.

You will be taken to a separate screen with several options; the items under “Find new keywords and get search volume data” are what you’re after. The first item is the most useful one when it comes to researching new keywords. Clicking on it reveals a section that asks you for keywords, which can be seeded in the first or third fields. You should already have a few in mind after thinking about your semantic core.

Next up is the Get Search Volume Data and Trends section. This won’t help you come up with new ideas, but it shows you how popular or unpopular each search term is. The desirable figures you’ll be looking for depend on your niche and the monetization potential – in some cases 10,000 searches per month is an acceptable market, while in others even a million impressions won’t be too high of a number given that the level of competition is high.

Once your search volume results are in, you can make better use of your results by going a bit more in-depth. Above the graph, you’ll see a drop-down menu called “Search Volume Trends.” Clicking it reveals a series of options that allow for further, more detailed analysis, looking into devices, locations, and other user characteristics.

Finally, the Multiply Keyword Lists to Get New Keyword Ideas tool takes your keywords and phrases and transposes them into potentially thousands of different combinations. Not all the results will be usable – in fact, most of them won’t. But every now and then, you’ll come across a real gem.

Competitor Analysis – sometimes, your competitors will be beating you at SEO, and their website(s) will be ranking higher. The good news? You can copy their tactics.

You know what they say about learning other people’s methods if we expect even half the success they have? It’s the same when it comes to SEO. If you want to keep up with your rivals, there is no better way to do it than by reverse engineering what they are doing.

Google Keyword Planner is a good way to do SEO – but it shouldn’t be the only way. This planner is being used by you and your rivals. As a result, it is difficult to obtain keywords with really interesting combinations of competitiveness to traffic.

To double down on your SEO campaigns and pick keywords that will get you ranking, you need to carry out a competitor analysis – gladly, there are specialized tools that can help you do this, which will be described in the following sections of this guide.

To sum up, competitor analysis is helpful for a few reasons: it gives you some new ideas for keywords, it helps you understand why your competitors are outranking you, and lets you access keywords you never would have thought of otherwise.

Analyzing SEO Campaigns

After you have chosen your keywords and launched your campaign, you’ll need to keep revising it so that you know what is working and what isn’t. Here are a few key performance metrics you need to understand:

Organic Traffic

The number of people that visit your website per period of time shows you the cold, hard evidence that your SEO campaign is going well – or that it’s failing. It’s the most quantifiable evidence there is, and it’s also super easy to track.

All you need to do is access your Google Analytics, click on the “Reporting” tab and select your website. In the sidebar menu, click “Acquisition” followed by Overview. You will see a list of your traffic that’s broken down by various mediums – paid, social, direct, organic, etc.
If you want to view data within a specific date range, access the calendar at the top of the Acquisition Overview page. Here, you can also customise the time period to see how well your campaign is faring compared to a few months ago.


Other websites linking back to yours are a key part of any SEO campaign. If a very similar competing website with same sort of images, same keywords, same bounce rate, et cetera – is still ranking better, you might be left scratching your head as to why. The answer could be that they have more – and/or better – backlinks than you. You can read more about link building for SEO in our special guide.

You can get quick overview of your existing backlinks by visiting the “Search Traffic” – “Links to Your Site” section in the Google Webmaster Console, yet this index is quite basic and is usually not updated very frequently, so for a more comprehensive review you’ll need specialized tools; read on for suggestions regarding the most useful ones.


The ultimate aim for anyone producing content must be to convince a site visitor to take some sort of action – subscribe to our email list, participate in a discussion, make a purchase, etc. In order to understand whether your SEO efforts help you to reach your web project’s ultimate goals, you’ll need to also track metrics such as conversion rate.

Conversion rate measures how many people who clicked on your page then took the action you wanted them to take (subscribed to your newsletter, shared your content on a social network, purchased a product, etc). This click-through rate is an important parameter because it lets you know how effective the keywords you’ve chosen are – in other words, whether the right pages are being seen by the right people.

The opposite of an interaction is a bounce – that’s when a visitor leaves your page without interacting with it in any way (not even visiting another page of your website). The lower the bounce rate, the better, but whether a specific level is good or bad depends heavily on the situation, for example a landing page can have a high bounce rate but the rest of the visitors, the ones who do interact with it, might be very targeted and produce a lot of conversions.

Essential SEO Analytics Tools

As promised earlier, here is a list of essential tools that any self-respecting webmaster should consider using for SEO research and tracking:

Google Analytics can be called the king of free webmaster tools – it lets you track your SEO performance, from traffic sources to page views to bounce rates, all at zero cost. If you want to understand your audience and segment your incoming visitor traffic, Google Analytics is essential, especially if you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford a premium tool yet.

To track your performance with Google Analytics, you need to set up a special code snippet on your website – if you’re running WordPress or another content management system, there’s a free plugin that should help you integrate GA into your site pretty easily.

Google Webmaster Tools lets you monitor the search presence of your website (in the Google search engine, naturally) and complements well the Analytics suite mentioned above as a tool to view which keywords you actually receive organic views and clicks. The Webmaster Tools also allows adding link disavow lists, verifying structured snippets on your website, and many other tasks encountered by any webmaster sooner or later.

Ahrefs is probably the most comprehensive specialized SEO tool created outside of Google’s walls: it is an impressive kit for webmasters with a serious approach to what they do, based on a proprietary index of the entire web which is second only to the big G’s.

Apart from in-depth analysis of a particular web domain (including your own), you can perform a slew of different tasks in Ahrefs, including doing keyword research with the help of their advanced Keyword Difficulty metric, running batch analysis of competing websites, as well as looking for content trends and influencers within your niche.

Ahrefs offers a 7-day trial for $7, after that the basic plan costs $99 per month; this can be a significant price tag for most beginner webmasters, but given the amount of time it saves and the insights it generates that’s very reasonable pricing.

A more recent alternative to Ahrefs, Nightwatch is all-in-one SEO tool that lets you track the average position of your pages, monitor the exact ranking of your website for specific keywords, as well as carry out competitor analysis.

You can sign up for a free trial, during which you’re allowed to slot in your website and perform an in-depth analysis of your SEO campaign – this lets you see the search visibility of your keywords, as well as their click potential. You will also be sent regular reports that help you stay on top of things.

Apart from tracking, Nightwatch can help discover new keywords, which makes it useful for both research and analysis, and it comes with an easy-on-the-eye interface that’s quick to get used to. To get the most out of it – including detailed competitor analysis, you’ll need to upgrade to the paid version, which starts at $19 per month.

Over to You!

Getting good at SEO isn’t as easy as it used to be – climbing the rankings and gaining search engine visibility will take time and effort. However, the outcome of a successful SEO campaign is a constant stream of highly relevant traffic for your website, without the need to pay for each single click – and it’s totally worth the hassle.

Share your experiences with SEO research and analysis in the comments section below, ask questions or share opinions – we’ll be glad to hear what you think. Let’s discuss!

Pour your heart out


As far as SEO/SEM, SEMrush was the next step for me after about 2 months with Amazon’s now owned alexa site. I found it to be a better value for the money and it turned out our company already had a paid subscription but it’s being underutilized. The demo of their tool blew me away. I’ve actually already purchased my own subscription for some personal writing and product work I’m adding better focus to because I don’t want to muddy our company account with the work I’m doing plus no one at work needs to know about my side projects.

I’m a UX designer/researcher and found that these tools helped to deepen my competitive analysis methodologies and process. Traditionally I would get these insights from SEO/SEM analysts or data analysts but in a startup, you have to wear quite a few more hats. Within the first few weeks of using Alexa (the site, not the assistant), I discovered that the senior stakeholders hadn’t given me the name of one of our top competitors and I’m not sure how they could have missed it as it sits at no.2 in most metrics, right under the no.1 competitor in our industry.

Diving deeper into SEO/SEM has been the better part of my learning experiences in 2018.

Thank you Omotolani for the commendation.