How to Use SEMRush for Keyword Research

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Track Keyword Performance with SEMRush

Today, we’re going to review a few tips and the processes for conducting keyword research using SEMRush. SEMRush is our preferred tool to complete keyword research, competitor analysis, and blog topic research here at BNP Engage. But if you utilize a different tool, our tips still apply as many platforms have several of the same standard metrics.

Watch the video below to see a full demonstration from one of our SEO experts, or read on to discover how to use SEMRush to conduct keyword research and analysis.


High-Level Organic Keyword Research

First, we use primarily for keyword research three main areas of SEMRush. We use organic research, keyword overview, and the Keyword Magic Tool. We’ll start with the highest overview. Since we are a digital marketing agency, we’ll base this off of what we would search for. Within your organic research, you can submit a specific URL, a subdomain, an entire domain, or whatever you’d like to choose.

You can input our domain and the country where your business is based. You can’t narrow your search down any further to a city, state, county, or local zip code. But you can get a national feel for what the search behaviors and search traffic are.

SEMRush gives you an overview of how many total keywords are ranking. It’ll also give you the month-over-month breakdown of increases, decreases, and traffic from those keywords. You can also see a nice overview of branded vs. non-branded traffic.

screenshot of semrush overview showing keywords, traffic, branded, and non-branded traffic

Ideally, you’d want a little bit more than half of your website traffic being branded and a good amount of non-branded traffic. You want to hit those general keyword searches and not rely on everybody knowing what your company is. You also want to be able to rank for the services you provide or the products that you offer.

Then, it breaks out into a graph chart where you can see your top three keywords down to 51 to 100 with SERP features. SEMRush denotes when there’s an anomaly detected. Usually, it coincides with an algorithm update from a search engine. It can help explain some drastic keyword ranking increases or decreases.

If you use an aggregation tool or something like BigQuery or Power BI for Microsoft to input lots of data at once, it can be useful to export it and see the information from a bird’s eye view. It’s also helpful to export the information into a spreadsheet that includes what keywords are triggering what the identified intent is.


Understanding Search Intent and Keyword Difficulty

When it comes to search intent, a navigational user wants to find a specific page on the site. Informational or educational is when a user is trying to find an answer to a specific question. A commercial user wants to investigate and learn more about a specific brand, service, or product. Finally, a transactional intent indicates that the user wants to complete an action or conversion. They’re at the end of the funnel and they’re ready to make a decision.

Ideally, your average or current position for a keyword will be one. If it’s not at one, then there’s some SEO optimization you can do to boost your brand visibility and regain your number one spot.

SEMRush also reveals the average monthly searches for each keyword. It can be helpful to sort the list of keywords from the top down to see which keywords related to your brand, products, or services users are searching for the most.

Next is keyword difficulty. This is a good metric because it’s on a sliding scale of 0 to 100. Keywords that are closer to 100 are the hardest to rank for, so they’re marked red. Yellow keywords are easier to rank for, and green keywords are the least competitive.

list of keywords in semrush showing keyword difficulty

Remember that a keyword being hard to rank for doesn’t mean it’s impossible to achieve. It just means that it’s going to be challenging because there are likely a large number of already established, high-authority domains that you have to overtake.

We tend to aim for search intents that have a search volume of at least 100. 1,000 monthly searches or more is ideal for visibility but that’s usually when you get into the more difficult keywords to rank for.

Note that making your target keywords more specific can help in your efforts to rank. A keyword like, “social media companies in Philadelphia,” would be a lot easier and quicker to rank for than more general keywords, such as just “social media”.

But even if a search intent has a keyword difficulty of 10, you’ll still need quality content focused on the keyword’s intent. You can’t just put anything out there and expect results. It should be informative content that’s relevant to your target market.

Back into the overview section, you can go straight to intent. Say you’re only interested in generating leads. You can go to the keywords that search engines flag as transactional. They have the highest likelihood of a user submitting an inquiry or buying a product from you.


Top Pages View in SEMRush

Top Pages in SEMRush looks at data from your organic pages so you can see the traffic difficulty. For example, traffic difficulty for a page could be 30 today, but it may have been at 8 four weeks ago. This indicates that it’s more difficult now to rank for this page.

top pages view in semrush showing URLs

Top Pages will show the overall percentage of monthly traffic that goes to your page, number of keywords triggered, and the intent. If you have paid ads running, it will show the ads keywords there as well.


Keyword Overview in SEMRush

Now, let’s take a look at Keyword Overview. Say we’re only interested in how we can rank for “digital marketing agencies” in general. No geolocation or other filtering, just “digital marketing agency”. Throughout the United States each month, it gets an average of 49,500 searches and it’s difficult to rank for at 87% difficulty. It’s a very popular search term that agencies and their audiences will be searching. All of these elements contribute to this difficulty.

You’re also able to see monthly trends for each keyword. If you’re a new business and looking to rank for a competitive term, take a look at the lowest volume month. That would be a good month to begin your process of optimizing to rank for that keyword – or even 3 months prior. Then, you can see a payoff in the month when there’s historically less competition.

SEMRush also shows the average Cost Per Click (CPC) for each keyword. If you don’t want to wait for SEO to take hold, you can see how much it would cost to run a paid advertising campaign for a relevant keyword.

The tool also gives you keyword ideas and variations. For example, “digital marketing agency,” is difficult to rank for. But geolocating it a little or making it more of a local search and inputting “near me” still gets you a healthy search volume at 5,400 a month, but it almost halves the difficulty.

keyword variations and common questions feature in semrush

Then, you can also break it down by questions. This is a helpful feature if you’re a blogger or you’re writing supporting content on this particular keyword or topic. SEMRush generates a list of questions that users ask on a monthly basis. If you publish a blog post to help support the main content around your digital marketing agency, then this could also rank separately while improving your authority for the keyword and your domain.

For instance, “How to start a digital marketing agency” volume is around 590 searches a month. It’s difficult to rank for at 55 but not impossible. However, “How to start a digital marketing agency with no experience” about halves the volume at 210 but drops it down to a possible.

SEMRush also provides content clusters. If you’re interested in drafting multiple ideas to create multiple pieces of content, you can view all clusters which then branch out into a different content analysis tool. Just based on the “digital marketing agency” keyword, it shows some common ideas that different businesses or users associate with that particular keyword.


The SEMRush Keyword Magic Tool

Now, let’s dive into the Keyword Magic Tool. It’s all part of SEMRush’s keyword research suite. This tool is highly recommended once you’ve identified keywords you’re not ranking for but want to, like “digital marketing agency,” through thorough organic research and analysis. Maybe you’ve also generated ideas for content, blog posts, and related keywords here. Now, it’s time to move to the Keyword Magic Tool.

With the Keyword Magic Tool, you can explore the intent behind related keyword searches, their search volumes, difficulty levels, SERP features, and cost per click for advertising purposes. It helps uncover keywords not found in organic research but are worth focusing on to understand the ranking difficulty.

keyword magic tool in semrush showing variations for the keyword "digital marketing agency"

You’ll find related keywords, such as “digital marketing agencies,” “the best digital marketing agencies,” or “SEO digital marketing agencies,” with modifiers to refine your search. You can filter by themes like WordPress, media, or social or leave it broad. This tool allows you to create lists for blog topics or on-page content optimizations, streamlining your research process without repeated searches.

For instance, modifying to “B2B digital marketing agency” reveals a keyword relevant to our agency, with a healthy search volume and low difficulty level, signifying an easier ranking opportunity. This keyword, costing an average of $21 per click in advertising, is better pursued organically due to its informative and commercial intent.

It’s perfect for creating blog posts or resources around B2B digital marketing, capturing both informational and commercial searches. Plus, you can amplify transactional efforts through email marketing, retargeting, or landing pages as part of a wider digital marketing strategy.


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Jim Van HornApril 30, 2024by Jim Van Horn