Before embarking on certain user research projects, especially projects that involve understanding user pain points, you need to form a hypothesis on the issues faced by users. While this can be done by communicating with stakeholders like customer support representatives, it is also vital to do some desk or secondary research to become familiar with the relevant issues. I typically look for any pre-compiled reports or articles on the subject. However, I recently started combining this with keyword research, and the results have been phenomenal.
What is Keyword Research?
Often used for SEO purposes, keyword research refers to finding the most searched words or terms (called “keywords”) around a particular topic. I started doing keyword research over two years ago while working as a market researcher and an SEO analyst. When I branched into UX research, I did not know this skill would come in handy until recently.
Keyword Research Tools
You can use several free tools for keyword research. I currently have a free version of Keywords Everywhere installed as a Chrome extension on my laptop. When you search for a word, the tool provides a graph showing the search interest for that word over the past ten-plus years. It also provides related keywords and a list of what people are searching for around that word or term. In addition, it allows you to extract these keywords as a .csv file, if necessary. This has been one of the most indispensable tools I’ve used since discovering it.
When I need more information on questions people ask around a certain word or term, I opt for Answerthepublic.com. This website is automatically set to the United Kingdom, so you need to specify the country you’re interested in getting data on. In my case, it is often the United States. I want to mention that both tools only allow you to get keywords from a specific country — whichever you specify — rather than globally or by region. Like ‘Keywords Everywhere,’ ‘Answerthepublic’ allows you to export your chosen keywords as a .csv file, which you can easily open with Excel, Google Sheets, or Apple Pages.
When I need more specific data on the number of Google searches for terms around my topic of interest, I use Ubersuggest, which allows three free searches per day, or SEMRush, which requires creating an account and signing up. Both tools are helpful if you’re trying to figure out which user issues to prioritize.
Why to Use Keyword Research
You might be wondering why you need to use keyword research while conducting UX research. Well, in summary, keyword research allows you to understand search intent. It tells you how users think. Knowing what users are searching for around your product, company, and/or industry is a significant way to be an empathetic researcher.
Studies have also shown that people often look up questions or words on Google that they would never feel comfortable asking friends or disclosing during a survey or user interview for fear of looking dumb or being embarrassed.
Keyword research can also be done by product designers and product managers while conducting formative research to understand a particular design problem both at the start of a project and throughout the design process.
How I Use Keyword Research for User Research
The first thing I do when conducting keyword research is make a list of relevant topics. A past project I worked on required figuring out why the churn rate of a company was high. I had targeted conversations with stakeholders at the company and found that some users did not even complete the sign-up process.
Talking to the customer support team also helped me discover that most of the questions users had were, in fact, related to the sign-up process. This led me to research queries (keywords) around “sign up” and “onboarding.” Through this, I was able to discern the main issues people faced when signing up for the product, and, in turn, this helped me conduct successful interviews with some of these churned users to validate my hypotheses around their issues.
More recently, I was tasked with discovering the pain points of TikTok users. In this case, I decided that examining social media would be the best route to discover relevant themes and topics around these pain points. I scoured Reddit and Twitter threads for any mention of TikTok issues.
Across both platforms, the main topic I found around TikTok issues was “FYP” (For You Page). I wanted to understand the specific problems people had with TikTok’s FYP, so I looked up ‘TikTok FYP.’ Keywords Everywhere generated a list of terms that people had been searching around ‘TikTok FYP.’
These terms included “tiktok fyp broken,” “reset tiktok fyp,” and “tiktok change my FYP” as seen above. This helped me create several hypotheses around the issues TikTok users face, the main one being “Users do not like that they are directly unable to determine what they want to see on their “For You Page.”
I tested my hypotheses with usability testing and user interviews. It can be difficult to remain unbiased when you have data — or in this case, keywords — showing that users really do have certain issues. However, I was aware of my bias and ensured that it did not affect the questions I asked users and the tasks I had them do.
I found that my main hypothesis was partly right. While remaining aware of my bias, I probed further and found that some people actually like and prefer the randomness of their For You Page, with one participant saying, “that is the beauty of TikTok.”
The usability tests and interviews also helped me discover further issues I had not originally hypothesized, one of which was sorting videos that have been favorited on TikTok. Due to time constraints, I could not test this issue with more participants, as only 50% of the participants had experienced it. I decided to conduct more keyword research. I used Answerthepublic to see what questions people often ask around “TikTok Favorites.”
The results showed terms and questions like “can you organize tiktok favorites” and “how to sort tiktok favorites.” This helped confirm that this is, indeed, an issue that TikTok users face. In this case, keyword research helped validate some of my hypotheses and, in the process, uncover even more issues that TikTok would be wise to investigate.
I hope this has explained some of the reasons why you need keyword research to understand your users. If you’re not already adding keyword research to your user research process, there is no better time to start. You might be surprised by how effective it is.