Performing keyword research is a very tedious process and can take a significant amount of time when done correctly. This is an area of your SEO campaign where corners should not be cut. This is your foundation to your entire campaign - if you skimp here the rest of your campaign is built on a half-effort support system.
Effective keyword research needs to go beyond the numbers found through the standard tools like Google Keyword Planner. The numeric values do provide help in determining the potential ROI or traffic volume to your site. Begin your keyword research with Google Keyword Planner fire ideas, identifying the relevant ones with decent search volume. Then take a deeper look at the keyword - most importantly is it even relevant to your site and is the projected keyword going to convert visitors to customers for you. Is your ROI really worth it. Remember that effective SEO is very time consuming so the return has to be pretty high.
Create your list of keywords and search phrases you want to use and then take a look at each of those individually in Google. Look at what content Google is returning for those specific keywords and search phrases.
I relocated this example from Search Engine Land and their article "Keyword Research Beyond the Numbers".
I’ll give you an example using queries related to acoustic guitars that allows you to see the differences in content type and results. A product-related search like “Fender FA 100” results in product pages on e-commerce sites, most of the pages featuring product reviews and additional article and video reviews.
A broader search related to acoustic guitars produces “best beginner guitar” results in long-form articles with descriptions of recommended beginner guitars, as well as a few category pages. More informational queries, such as, “how to play bar chords” or “how to tune an acoustic guitar” receive answers in the form of Google Quick Answers, long-form articles by sites of many sizes, shorter articles from more authoritative sites, videos and forum conversations.
When looking at the search result pages - look deeper into each result by looking at the content, meta tags and their backlinks. What terms are they using in their content for keywords and search phrases? What are the title tags? Meta description tags? Then look at the backlinks and where they are getting those links from. Is it spamming through forums or comments - or are the links based on substance from other sites.
Just as the name implies - this allows you to spy on keywords. The free version offers a very useful Domain spy tool. You can type in any domain and get data on how much that site is spending on paid search and what they are spending it on. This is not entirely accurate because we researched our own site and it showed we only had 4 organic keywords and the rankings were not accurate either. It's a useful tool to identify keywords and search phrases - but take the numerical data with a grain of salt.
Website: Keyword Spy
This is another useful tool that we use commonly in our keyword research. This tool has and organic and paid section that shows the keywords and their ranking. Again - the accuracy isn't all there in the numbers, but the top keywords and search phrases are available. Another available tool is the related keywords - this is a rare thing to find in a free option.
Don't forget to utilize the Bing and Google Webmaster tools to also enhance your keyword research. Both programs allow for the inclusion of social media too. Google has their analytics programs that you can track it through and Bing allows you to integrate it right into the webmaster dashboard.
After all of this research that has undoubtedly taken hours to complete - you have a good understanding of the competitive outlook for your keywords and search phrases. You have an understanding of what type of content typically ranks and what sort of content you need to create to be competitive.
Quick keyword research doesn't cut it anymore - you have to put in the effort and do the research correctly to get the highest return on your investment.