How to Do Keyword Research Like Randy Ray

Michael Martinez asked me to contribute some SEO tips to this blog, and I haven’t written about SEO in a long time.

I (reluctantly) said okay.

But I wasn’t sure where to start.

I finally thought maybe I should start with the same activity I start my SEO activities with:

Keyword research.

Here’s how to do keyword research like Randy Ray:

What Is Keyword Research?

I promise I’ll get to the “how to do keyword research stuff” soon, but first, I’d like to answer “what is keyword research” in case someone who’s brand-new to search marketing is reading this.

According to Michael, you can define keyword research as follows:

Keyword Research is the practice of identifying queries that drive traffic to websites; or, it is the practice of estimating how much revenue should be expected from optimizing for specific keywords.

That’s as good a definition as I’ve seen, so I’ll stick with that for now.

Here are a few other factors to consider when doing your keyword research:

  • How related to the overall topic of your website are the keywords you’re coming up with?
  • How well are you able to produce authoritative, expert content on the subjects related to phrases you’re identifying?
  • How likely are those queries to produce some kind of conversion for you?

Here are some examples of why these things are important:

Most SEOs use some kind of tool to create a list of keyword phrases that people search for. These tools invariably involve inputting a seed word or phrase.

Let’s say you’re creating a website about blackjack–the casino game. If you use that as your seed phrase, one of the suggested keywords might be “blackjack pizza.”

That’s a brand name that’s completely unrelated to the topic of your site. You shouldn’t optimize for it.

Let’s say you’re a recreational gambler who has only recently learned to play the game. (I’m sticking with the blackjack example.) You do some keyword research, and you realize that the phrase “card counting” has a lot of searches.

But when you look at the competition, you realize that most of the pages on that subject are above your head.

Deciding what kind of conversions you’re hoping for makes a big difference, too. It’s common knowledge among the gambling affiliate community that having the word “free” in a phrase might result in a lot of traffic, but it won’t generally result in a lot of conversions.

You might be able to optimize for “free blackjack,” though, and create a page that collects email addresses before providing access to a free, playable game.

That kind of conversion might be worthwhile over time.

The main point to take away from this discussion of what keyword research is:

Keyword research should involve more than just inputting a word into a tool and generating a list of related phrases. It’s a process that requires some thought, analysis, and expertise.

Step 1 – Brainstorm (Or, How to Get Started with Keyword Research for a Website)

My process for getting started with keyword research for a website is no different in 2019 than it’s ever been.

I start by deciding what my website is about.

I follow up by brainstorming topics related to what my website is about.

Here’s an example:

I’m creating new content for a website about search engine marketing. I want to start with a list of 5-8 topics related to that, and the content of my site will fit into those main content categories.

Since I know something about digital marketing to begin with, I can just come up with a list of topics off the top of my head:

  1. Keyword Research
  2. Content Generation
  3. Link Building
  4. White Hat Versus Black Hat Techniques
  5. Clickthrough Rates

You may be an SEO expert, and you be able to come up with an entirely different list.

That’s great.

Your expertise and experience SHOULD inform your keyword research. That’s what will differentiate your site from the hundreds of other sites about SEO.

Step 2 – Brainstorm More Keyword Phrases

Many SEOs immediately start using some kind of keyword research tool to start coming up with phrases.

That’s okay.

But that’s not my next step, and I don’t think it should be yours.

I think your next step should be to brainstorm subtopics for each of your main topics. You should easily be able to come up with 5-8 subtopics related to each of the main topics you’ve decided your site will be about.

Think about the keyword phrases you searched for when you weren’t an expert on the topic.

I’ll start with 5 phrases about keyword research from the top of my head:

  1. How to do keyword research
  2. Keyword research tips and strategies
  3. Keyword research mistakes
  4. What keyword should I target when planning my website?
  5. Which keyword research tools are best for SEO?

I’ll move on to the next topic, content generation:

  1. How to write content that ranks well in Google
  2. Which kinds of content convert best
  3. Where to hire expert copy writers
  4. How to come up with content ideas
  5. How to write good blog posts

Link building:

  1. How to get links to my site
  2. What kind of content gets the most links
  3. Does guest posting for links still work?
  4. How much outreach should I do to acquire links?
  5. Can I link to my own sites without triggering a Google penalty?

White hat vs. black hat strategies:

  1. The pros and cons of white hat SEO versus black hat SEO
  2. What are the best white hat SEO techniques?
  3. What are the least risky black hat SEO techniques?
  4. What is a “grey hat” SEO strategy?
  5. Is black hat SEO illegal?

Clickthrough rates:

  1. Do clickthrough rates affect my rankings in Google?
  2. How to get a better clickthrough rate with my search engine rankings
  3. How to write headlines that get more clickthroughs
  4. What’s a good clickthrough rate and what’s a bad clickthrough rate?
  5. Tips and strategies for getting a higher clickthrough rate

You’ll notice that a lot of these phrases are just questions someone might ask about the subject.

That’s all a keyword phrase really is anyway–that’s why it’s also often called a “query.”

I now have a total of 30 topics I can write about, and I haven’t used a keyword research tool yet.

Step 3 – Write Content

Some experienced SEOs are going to think that I’ve gotten my steps out of order, but bear with me.

My next step is to write the pages for the 5 main topics of my site. 

I’m going to write those and publish them to launch the site. I’m also going to add the about page, the privacy policy page, the sitemap page, etc.

Then I’m going to write pages or posts about all the subtopics I brainstormed.

This might take me a week if I have nothing else to do and feel good about what I’ve come up with. I’d have to write almost 5 pages a day, but I could do that if my schedule were free and I knew the topic well.

It might take me a month if I write a single post every day.

Or it might take me 6 months if I write a post every week or so.

But it doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as I do the work on some kind of regular schedule.

And yes, I’m going to start by writing and publishing this content without looking at any SEO tools or any keyword research tools.

Here’s why:

I want to see which longtail keyword phrases attract traffic to my site naturally before I do anything else.

Step 4 – Analyze Search Referral Data

I always have Google Analytics and Search Console live from day 1 on any site I’m working on. (Michael doesn’t like Google Analytics, but I think it’s indispensable, especially when combined with Search Console.)

Here’s why:

I want to see which pages I’ve written are getting traffic from Google.

I also want to see what phrases that traffic search for to find my pages.

I’m not an expert at using Google Analytics, but I know enough to accomplish my goals. If you’re unfamiliar with Analytics, you can find coverage of the subject in this post from Neil Patel: A Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics.

I’m also not an expert at Google Search Console, but I know enough to do what I need to do with that tool, too. If you’re new to Search Console, you can find an excellent introduction on Brian Dean’s site.

The main data I’m looking for with these tools at this point is which queries (keyword phrases) are driving traffic to your site.

What am I going to do with those queries?

I’m going to decide to do one of 2 things:

  1. Write a new page targeting that keyword phrase.
  2. Expand my content to get more information about that keyword phrase into the existing page.

I like to organize my list of keyword phrases driving traffic to my site by their average ranking in Google.

I’m looking for keyword phrases that rank 11 through 20.

That means the page is ranking well enough that it has a shot at the first page. With some tweaks to my existing content, or with a new page, I should be able to land on the first page and start getting more traffic.

See if my thinking makes sense to you:

If I have a page ranking for a keyword phrase on the 2nd page of results, AND I’m getting traffic for it, I’ve learned 2 things:

  1. People are really searching for that phrase.
  2. The content on the first page isn’t good enough. (If it were, searchers wouldn’t be visiting the 2nd page of the search results.)

Now I AM using a keyword research tool, but it isn’t the kind of tool most SEOs think of when they’re doing keyword research.

I’ll cover how to tweak content to rank better for specific phrases in a future post, but for now, know this:

I focus on 2 things:

  1. Repetition
  2. Emphasis

Those are the 2 basic techniques for on-page optimization.

The trick is to not overdo either technique.

Step 5 – Play Mad Libs

But I’m not going to stop there.

Now, I want to generate even more keyword phrases.

And I’m going to do it by playing Mad Libs, just like I did when I was a kid.

And that’s as simple as this:

I’m going to take some of the keyword phrases that I’m already getting traffic for and start replacing some of the individual words in the phrases.

Here’s an example from one of my other sites:

I rank for a phrase, “how do electronic bingo machines work?”

I can easily come up with some new topics to write about just by replacing the word “bingo” with the names of some other games:

  1. How do electronic blackjack machines work?
  2. How do electronic roulette machines work?
  3. How do electronic craps machines work?

The great thing about these keyword phrases is that they’re non-competitive; they’re unlikely to show up in traditional keyword research tools. They might not generate a lot of traffic on their own, but each page I publish will rank for multiple longtail keyword phrases.

My website, my content generation strategies, Google Analytics, and Search Console combine to form an engine that generates more keyword phrases for me on an ongoing basis.

With this strategy, I NEVER have to use any other external keyword research tool again unless I want to.

And I’ll wind up with a site that has a menu and content that is different from other sites in my niche–a site that’s unlikely to get hit by algorithms like Panda and Penguin.

In fact, I can (and have) created websites that got a significant amount of traffic even though I never built a single link to them.

That’s the power of a good keyword research strategy and consistent content generation.


The inspiration for this post on how to do keyword research comes from some conversations I had years ago with Fraser Cain, who at the time offered a tool called “Keyword Strategy.”

It was my favorite SEO tool, and it’s a shame it shut down.

Cain and I had multiple telephone discussions where he explained to me that building links is almost completely unnecessary to compete in the search engines, and it might even be detrimental.

I still engage in link building, but my approach to everything changed after talking to him for an hour.

By the way, if you’re skeptical, take a look at Cane’s main website, which gets more traffic than most websites you’ll ever work on.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d like to ask you a favor:

Leave me a comment.

Let me know how YOU do keyword research now.

Also, let me know if you’re going to make any changes to the way you do keyword research in the future.

If I’m going to start blogging here regularly, I’ll want to engage in some conversations with the readers here. I promise I’ll respond directly to any questions or comments you leave here.