Keyword Research Tips - How to Build a Keyword Universe Through Data

In my last SEO article, we talked about SEO basics and how SEO works, including the initial steps of SEO strategy and planning. Now that we’ve thought through our website personas and their unique challenges, it’s time to begin working on our keyword universe.

I’m a strong believer in data-driven SEO. I believe the combination of data, psychology, and empathy is the key to strong SEO performance and website conversions.

In the world of digital marketing, data is abundant. Free and paid tools are plentiful and there are many sources of data to help guide our SEO journey. Today we’ll explore my favorite software tools and data sources for building up a robust keyword universe.

Before we dig into my favorite data sources, let’s first discuss the concept of keyword research, keyword universe, and why we need it.

What is Keyword Research?

In simple terms, we might say that keyword research is a primary SEO task that involves identifying words and phrases people use to search online.

What is a Keyword Universe?

A keyword universe is the total number of keywords or phrases that are used to drive organic search traffic to your website or blog. These keywords can contain phrases you hope to rank for, as well as, phrases you already rank for in search.

A keyword universe could be as small as fifty keywords or as large as a million keywords. It really depends on the size of the website and the industry it serves.

Keyword Research & Universe examples

Let’s look at a real-world example.

According to SEMrush, has a keyword universe of 98,700 keyword phrases. While that may seem like a lot of phrases, SEMrush also estimates only about 10,500 keyword phrases are bringing in website traffic. That variation of total keywords and those that bring in actual website traffic is fairly common.

And while there is a large number of keywords not driving traffic, that doesn’t mean that the other 88,200 keyword phrases aren’t important. These inactivate keywords may be very important and they may be a critical part of our keyword universe and overall SEO strategy.

As we do keyword research, we want to review all phrases to start, then narrow down our list to those phrases that matter most to our target market and our offering. We’ll look at keywords we rank for already and we’ll consider keywords we want to rank for in the future.

Interesting Statistics About Search and Keywords

I could ramble on about my views on the importance of keywords, but it will make a much larger impact by providing tangible data for you to truly see the impact of search and keywords.

Here are some of my favorite data points on keywords:

  • Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.
  • Google sees about 15% of brand-new searches each day. This tells us keywords are always changing and keyword research should be done often.
  • Google’s introduction of BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) allows it to process searches in a much more complex manner. This allows humans to input long, conversational searches and still receive high-quality results. Stated another way, you can search like you are talking to a friend, and Google will reply with a great answer. This changes the nature of our keywords.
  • Ahrefs analyzed 1.9 billion keywords and found that 92.42% of those only receive 10 or fewer searches per month. This tells us to consider keywords of all volumes and not just the ones with massive search volumes.
  • Ahrefs also discovered that 29.13% of keywords with 10,001+ monthly searches are made up of three or more words. This points us to long-tail (aka longer phrases) keyword phrases.
  • 8% of all the search queries made on Google are phrased as questions. This tells us we should not just look at simple phrases. We also need to think in terms of questions that use who, what, where, when, and how.
  • One-third of the search queries made through Google are at least 4 words long. This again reinforces the need for long-tail search terms.

Those last two data points are important because they illustrate a shift in search. 

Ten years ago, people still searched with one or two-word phrases. They did so because Google wasn’t sophisticated enough to produce quality results for longer phrases. But that has changed and this change has driven lots of shifts in search and keyword research.

Artificial intelligence and voice search have quietly taught humans that they can search complex queries and Google will provide them with correct answers. This is a game-changer for SEO and keyword research. It means we need to think about short searches, long searches, and searches that involve questions. 

An important part of building a quality keyword universe is to do research, keep your mind open and think about your website personas and how your target market uses searches in Google or Bing. 

You might be thinking you have no idea how your target market searches. Guess what? You’re not alone! 

We are all in the same situation because it is hard to think outside of our own limited view. This is why software tools and third-party data sources are an important part of building up a strong keyword universe.

20 of the Best Keyword Research Tools and Resources

When I started with SEO fifteen years ago there were very limited options for researching keywords. SEO software was non-existent, and it made the process of keyword discovery painful. I’m so thankful this is no longer the case! 

As an SEO consultant, I have a huge selection of tools and resources available to help me brainstorm keyword options and to guide me down the path of keyword selection. I’d like to share my list of tools and resources with you, so you can have some excellent sources to find high-quality keyword phrases.

My list of favorite SEO tools has stayed pretty uniform over the last few years. I’ve found some great software that has helped provide excellent data, reduces my time spent on research, and helped me make better SEO decisions. If you’re asking yourself how do you find the right keywords, in the next paragraphs I have some great suggestions for you.

Here are my go-to keyword research tools for SEO:

Google Search Console

Provides a list of keyword phrases I currently rank for in Google search. You view keyword impressions, clicks to your website, click-through rates (CTR), and your average position in Google search. 

How to do a keyword research

Google Analytics

Provides a list of keyword phrases that are used by Google search to drive actual traffic to my website. These reports are great because I can also view important data related to pages per visit, bounce rates, and conversion rates. This helps me see what keywords are having the largest impact on bottom-line revenue. Analytics and Search Console are some of the most helpful free keyword research tools you can use for your SEO strategy.

how to find keywords

Bing Webmaster Tools

Provides a list of keyword phrases I currently rank for in Bing search. You can see very similar data as Google Search Console. Because the two search engines have different formulas for ranking keywords, the lists of keywords in Google and Bing will be different.

Keyword research


Provides a list of keyword phrases that I rank for in search, as well as, a list of phrases my competitors rank for in search. It can also help you see variations of phrases, types of search results, and PPC activity for phrases. It is a powerhouse of SEO data.

Keyword research tools


Provides a list of keyword phrases that I rank for in search, as well as, a list of phrases my competitors rank for in search. Like SEMrush, it offers data on PPC too, which makes it a great source for creating a strong keyword universe.

keyword research tips and tricks

KW Finder

Provides alternate variations of keyword phrases based on my initial keywords entered. It allows users to filter keywords based on a variety of inputs, build lists, and even see who ranks for individual phrases. It pulls data from Google’s API, so you can view search volumes per month and applicable PPC bid amounts.

Answer the Public

Provides alternate variations of keyword phrases based on my initial keywords entered. This is a great tool for thinking through keyword phrases that include questions.

If I could only use one tool, it would be SEMrush hands down. SEMrush is a paid tool, but in my opinion, it is worth the cost. From keyword rank tracking and competitor research to website audits, SEMrush is a great all-inclusive tool for digital marketers and consultants.

I don’t just stop at software tools. I also use everyday activities to help me brainstorm and build my keyword universe. It’s the mixture of data and real human activity that provides the highest-quality keyword universe.

Here’s my go-to list for alternate sources of SEO research:

  • Personal Interviews – These one-on-one discussions provide an opportunity to talk to real people and learn what words and phrases they would use to search for your offering. You will be very surprised to learn what the average person uses for search terms.
  • Email or Website Inquiries – Going through old email or website contact form inquiries is another great way to discover keyword phrases that real people use online. I’ve been a long-term fan of Gravity Forms for WordPress and this form plugin stores inquiries online in the WordPress MySQL database. This plugin supports database exports, so you can export all inquiries into Excel and browse through them quickly to see what words your website visitors use in inquiries. 
  • Proposal Requests (RFPs) – Scanning through RFPs will help you see what selection criteria an organization has for purchasing a product or service. Their list of features and/or requirements all translate into keyword phrases.
  • Sales Presentations – I learned long ago that in most organizations, websites get ignored, but sales presentations are living and breathing documents. Because of this I always ask my SEO clients if I can view their latest sales presentation. These sales pitches allow me to scan through files and extract the phrases their sales team uses in pitches to the C suite or procurement teams.
  • Reddit – I am not a fan of Reddit for personal usage, but I do love browsing through it for SEO keywords. You’ll see great questions and answers from regular people that will quickly morph themselves into your keyword universe.
  • Quora – Similar to Reddit, Quora offers a glimpse into the general public’s questions and need for information. You can browse through topics, individual questions, and the associated answers to locate great options for search terms.
  • Facebook Groups – Facebook is placing a lot of emphasis on its group functionality and these communities are growing. You’ll find groups for everything from knitting and baking to gemstones and astronomy. You can use the group search option to locate posts that include your primary keywords, and this will lead you to long-tail phrases you might be missing. Facebook groups also provide an option for interviewing many people in a remote manner. 
  • Support Forums – While not every industry has support forums, those that do offer a large list of keywords within topic questions and follow-up answers. You can manually browse through the forums or you could use tools like SEMrush to data-mine it.
  • Competitor Websites – Always take time to review your competitors’ websites. Browse through their navigation, HTML sitemap, and core content to find phrases you’d like to target.
  • Google’s Autocomplete – As you type in a keyword into Google search, Google will automatically make suggestions for you on longer phrases. These longer phrases are important because they are semantically related to your terms and they are being actively promoted by Google.
  • Google’s People Also Searched For – Similar to the autocomplete feature in Google, the People Also Searched For box is a goldmine of semantically related search terms. These phrases will have lower search volumes, but they are powerful since Google consistently places them in the search engine results page.
  • Google’s Related Searches – At the bottom of most Google search engine results pages is a list of phrases Google feels align with the current search term. These phases are often between 3 – 10 words, so they represent some great long-tail keyword opportunities.
  • Google’s Actual Search Results – Browsing through the actual search results for a phrase is an easy way to see alternatives from competitor websites. You’ll see what they are already targeting, and you’ll have an opportunity to improve upon their activity.

You might be thinking that this is a massive list and I’m a little overboard on my research. But in reality, it’s just the opposite. You have to build up a large keyword universe to get a good set of data to utilize in your SEO planning and execution.

The Next Steps for Your SEO Journey

You now have an excellent resource list to help you dive into keyword research and build up your keyword universe. This means you are empowered to create a quality list of what you’d like to rank for in search.

In my next article, I’ll walk through evaluating these keywords for usage within your website or blog. We’ll learn to pull search volumes, we’ll learn about search intent, and I’ll provide some additional insights into narrowing this list for the best keyword opportunities to win in search and convert these searches into revenue.

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Comments ( 8 )

author avatar

Glenda Walter

Apr 29, 2020

Thank you so, so much for this much needed guidance concerning SEO.

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Apr 30, 2020

Cannot wait for the next post! Thank you for such great insights and resources.

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Digital Gabbar

Apr 30, 2020

Awesome Post REBECCA GILL!

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Apr 30, 2020

Very interesting Thankyou

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May 05, 2020

Thanks for sharing. Useful information to know.

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Eloisa Jerez

May 10, 2020

Thank you !

author avatar


May 12, 2020

There is also an amazing tool I use that has been around for probably only a couple of years. It's called SerpWoo and the keyword tool in it has been really useful for me.

author avatar


Aug 23, 2020

Good wrote up. The post covers : keywords research , keyword research tools for analyzing related factors nicely . I believe , before selecting keyword Competitor's Strength & Weakness analysis is essential , otherwise it would be difficult to rank the website among the tops .


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