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How to find trending keywords for SEO campaigns

Updated: February 27, 2024 Author: Abby Gleason

An image of author Abby Gleason, accompanied by search-related iconography, including a search bar, search volume chart, and a key

When’s the last time you switched up your keyword research process?


For the first couple years of my SEO career, I accepted that there was an established, “go-to” method for keyword research, and I relied primarily on keyword data from popular tools to be my guide. This process might sound familiar:


  1. Go to an SEO keyword research tool and plug in a topic

  2. Filter the highest volume keywords that seem realistic to rank for

  3. Create content based off that list


And you know what? This method can work just fine. If done correctly, you might be able to drive some significant traffic to your website this way.


However, over time I realized there are a few key problems with this method:


  • It prioritizes search volume over everything. This data is merely an estimate, and these tools usually do not provide context for search trends or seasonality.

  • High search volume usually = high competition. This often means only the highest authority websites can rank.

  • If you’re using a keyword research tool others can access, then your competitors can see all the same keywords you do. There’s no chance for first-mover advantage.


Yes, paid keyword research tools can prove very helpful in informing your topic selection. But relying solely on these tools leaves a gap in finding highly relevant topics for your website—a gap that only additional research can fill.


Harnessing trending keywords for SEO is an excellent way to fill that gap while also signaling topical relevance to search engines and potential customers.


Table of contents:



Defining trending keywords in SEO


In SEO, trending keywords are search terms and phrases that have emerged recently and do not have historic search volume. Tools may show these keywords as having low (or zero) search volume, but they could actually be driving thousands of searches every month.


Benefits of using emerging keywords

The most successful SEOs and content marketers recognize that finding trending keywords is one of the best uses of their time. This “trend-driven” research process can result in some pretty compelling advantages:


  • Your content “skips the line” (i.e., first-mover advantage). The competition may ignore or completely miss keywords that don’t show up in keyword research tools, which provides you an opportunity to be an early contributor to the conversation.

  • The first-mover advantage can mean that your content ranks better on Google (and other search engines) than it would for more competitive terms.

  • Addressing trends can help you build positive brand perception amongst your customers and prospects—it’s a positive signal for your brand to cover highly relevant topics and provide a unique, authoritative perspective.


Disclaimer: This article is not suggesting your business should write about every trending topic. I’m not promoting a bandwagon approach where every business needs to take a stance on, say, trending political topics. The point is to consider trends in your product area or in topics that your audience is interested in, and create product-relevant content that you have authority on.


Ways to integrate trends into your topic research


So where does one find these coveted, trending keywords? And how can you build it into your existing keyword research process? Let’s dive in.


01. Keep an eye on current events/pop culture

Culture drives demand and new searches. If a singer releases a new album, for example, it can increase searches on Google for a particular style of makeup, clothes, or even furniture featured in the music video.


Take Taylor Swift’s Midnights, released in late October 2022. The new album catapulted searches for every aspect of the singer’s life, from makeup to clothes to even her pets.


Keywords Everywhere trend data for the search term “taylor swift cats”. Search volume is at more than 30,000 searches at its peak in October 2022.

Major cultural events create an opportunity to predict what searchers will be interested in. Go beyond the scope of what’s just happened and consider all interests related to the trend. You can think of this as a PEST analysis for potential content.


An infographic labeled “PEST for trending search terms.” P stands for political, legal, and regulatory changes. E stands for economic changes that impact users. S stands for social interest in popular culture. T stands for emerging industry technology.

Some common aspects of pop culture that play out in trending searches include:


  • What’s being released/trending on popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, etc.

  • Movies that are generating buzz as Oscar contenders

  • What’s popular in music, sports, fashion, video games, etc.


For B2B companies, the same idea applies. What’s happening in the world, and how does it impact your industry? This could include reviewing:


  • Upcoming regulations

  • Legislation that impacts your industry

  • Politics

  • The economy


There is an element of relevance and brand safety that you must also prioritize, so make sure the connection between the topic and what your brand does/sells is apparent.


Tip: If you’re not sure what your audience’s interests are, try an audience research tool like Sparktoro. It can show you behavioral info like what websites your audience visits, social accounts they follow, hashtags they use, and more. Qualitative audience research is best, but this can be a good place to start.

When it comes to trending searches, the goal isn’t just to write about what’s currently happening, but to anticipate questions that people will search around that topic. Let’s use ChatGPT, the AI tool that took the world by storm in 2022, as an example.


For months into its meteoric rise, ChatGPT was a zero volume keyword in popular tools. Yes, really–and there’s examples to prove it, like this case study from Sara Taher. But with 100 million users within the first two months, it’s safe to say there’s interest in all things ChatGPT.


With this swarm of interest, opportunities arose to anticipate other questions that might pop up around this tool. Some low competition content ideas around ChatGPT include:


  • How to use ChatGPT

  • ChatGPT alternatives

  • ChatGPT detector

  • ChatGPT prompts for [industry]


This is just one dramatic example of a rapidly trending topic that drives (and sustains) millions of searches, yet there was very little authoritative content in search results for it.


How to stay up-to-date with current events:


  • Set Google Alerts for when new results for a topic show up in Google Search.

  • Consume news, especially news that is relevant to your industry/audience.

  • Subscribe to industry newsletters to stay up-to-date on what’s happening.

  • Maintain general awareness of what’s trending in pop culture (specifically as it relates to your audience). Twitter’s explore section and Reddit are two places to look, but your best bet is to follow the same publications/sites that your audience follows.


02. Scale your social listening

Social media is a powerful search engine. Want to know what’s trending? Scroll through social media and you’ll be bombarded with whatever’s most popular at the moment.


While you don’t need to spend hours a day on each platform, it’s worthwhile to follow hashtags in your space and regularly review threads related to your topic/niche.


My sneaky favorite social media platform to get topic ideas from is Reddit. You can sort comments by “Best,” “Top,” “New,” “Controversial,” and more.


Tip: Reddit’s search function leaves a lot to be desired. I like to Google my topic and append “reddit” to the search to get the most relevant threads.

Social listening is simple and can be incorporated into your research routine without much effort. Follow your hashtags and topics across different platforms your audience engages on, and check in to see what’s getting buzz. Follow relevant influencers on these platforms and monitor what they (and their audience) share. And no need to become obsessed—schedule it during your work day like you would any other research.


03. Identify your customers’ expectations

How better to learn what your audience is interested in than to hear it from the source?


If you have the opportunity to speak directly with customers or customer-facing teams, absolutely make that part of your research process.


For example, I once worked with a women’s fashion client who connected us with two of their salespeople. We spoke for an hour about common customer pain points, what types of clothes they were most interested in, and the questions the salespeople most frequently received.


After a one hour call, we had 100 new content topics for their website. Yes, 100. Many of which we never would have gotten from traditional keyword research.

The simplest version of this could be putting out a poll on your owned channels (like email or social) and asking your audience what questions they have or what types of content they’re most interested in. Regardless of how you do it, speaking with customers or customer-facing teams at least a couple times per year can be extremely fruitful for your content efforts.


04. Find break-out terms in your user data

Your data tells a story. It shows you what’s working, what’s not, and can even show you what people are trying to find but can’t (which indicates an opportunity).


Here are a few ways you can use your own data to inform your topic selection:


  • Internal search data: Examine the search terms users are searching for on your website. Are there terms that are increasing in popularity? What content do they find when they search for this? Consider creating educational content or product pages specifically for these searches to move them further along the customer journey.

  • Top performing content: What content is driving the most engagement recently? Look for patterns. Are there certain topics or content formats that perform the best? Can you double down on your efforts here?

  • Google Search Console queries: Review your top performing content from the past few months. See what queries you’re being found for that you don’t expressly mention or target in your content. Optimize for those, or create a separate article targeting them.


Here’s a quick case study of this in action:



Here’s the chart from the tweet above:


Tweet by Abby Gleason. “Quick #SEO win made my Monday! Client’s article targeting “how to help” was getting found mostly for “what to say” keywords (source: GSC queries). The post had no dedicated section for that content, so we simply… added one. Organic traffic +95% week over week. Took less than 30 minutes.” Below is a graph showing clicks increasing after the change was made.

Tools for discovering trending topics for SEO


As the cliché goes, the best things in life are free. This can also apply to your keyword research process. Free (or very low-cost) tools are available to help you catch trending search terms quickly and reliably.


Google autocomplete suggestions

Google autocomplete suggests popular long tail search terms related to a given keyword/topic. It’s essentially a free idea generator, as the predictions reflect popular searches and search patterns across the web.


Google notes that while autocomplete looks for common queries, it also considers trending interest in a query. This allows autocomplete to show the most helpful predictions unique to a particular location or time, such as for breaking news events. Here’s an example:


The Google search box with “rihanna” as the searched phrase, showing autocomplete suggestions including “rihanna super bowl,” “rihanna baby,” “rihanna net worth,” etc.

As you can see, a few days after Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show, searches related to her performance (and her surprise pregnancy announcement) appeared at the top of Google’s autocomplete suggestions for her name. You get instant access to trending searches for your topic.


Tip: Tools like Answer the Public can streamline this for you, although I like to do manual searches using my browser’s incognito mode as well to validate the tool’s suggestions and gather additional ideas.

Google’s People Also Ask feature

In Google’s results, the People Also Ask feature surfaces popular questions related to your search. Similar to autocomplete, this section shows common (and trending) questions people are searching for on this topic. Using Rihanna as our example search again, you see a mix of trending and common questions.


The People Also Ask search box with “rihanna” as the searched phrase, showing People Also Ask questions including, “Did Rihanna have her baby?”, “How many kids does Rihanna have?” and more.

As a side note, there are indications that Google will make it easier to identify trending terms in PAA boxes by adding a handy “Trending” label to questions. Google appears to be testing this as of February 2023, but I have not seen one of these tests myself yet.


Google’s People Also Ask search box with a “Trending” label in front of the question, “What are the 7 days of Valentine 2023?”

Tip: Tools like AlsoAsked can streamline this for you as well, but again, I also recommend manually searching in incognito mode to see results in real-time.

Keywords Everywhere

I’m a big fan of this tool, which is a paid (but very inexpensive—my subscription breaks down to less than $1 USD/month) keyword research extension you can add to your browser. When I conduct a search, it shows me estimated search volume, competition level, and related keywords right in the SERPs.


One of my favorite features is the Trend Data chart. Despite being a basically free tool, I find Keywords Everywhere to more accurately capture trending topics than traditional keyword research software.


Remember the example above, citing ChatGPT as a zero volume keyword in popular (paid) SEO tools? Keywords Everywhere is one of the tools that showed otherwise.


Keywords Everywhere trend data for the search term “ChatGPT”. Search volume is at more than 4 million searches in February 2023.

Trend analysis tools

Free keyword trend tools are also available to help you quickly identify search trends across a variety of topics. These include:



I find the trending “Related queries” section in Google Trends particularly useful, like in the example below for “plant care.” So many ideas! In general, I’ve found that these related topics don’t often have much competition in the SERPs, so there’s a lot of opportunity to rank.


Related queries for the search term “plant care” in Google Trends. Rising queries include “how to care for aloe plant indoors”, “how to care for cilantro plant”, etc.
Sort the “Related queries” section by “Rising” to see queries with the biggest increase in search frequency.

Glimpse

If you like Google Trends but want more out of it, Glimpse is your new best friend. Their freemium Chrome extension, Google Trends Supercharged, adds trendlines, volume data, and more keyword insights right into Google Trends.


You can see a great example of how Glimpse works with their COVID-19 Consumer Impact tracker, which tracked some surprising search trends at the height of the pandemic.


A screenshot of a search popularity graph from Glimpse, showing a timeline from 2019 to 2024, with search volume compared to last year’s levels.
Source: Glimpse.

Glimpse offers insights on every topic, so you’re not limited to a few categories. My favorite feature is the weekly email alerts, which send me trending topics in my niche. I’ve sent many ideas to our editorial team based on what Glimpse suggests is trending.


Your intuition

Finally, one of the best keyword research tools you have at your disposal is yourself—trust your instincts. If you are actively engaged in your industry and are generally aware of what’s going on in the world, you’ll catch wind of trends, no tools necessary.


One example we’re all too familiar with is COVID-19. When the pandemic started, many could relate to familiar questions like, “what do I do?” and “how can I help?” These types of questions fit into my former healthcare client’s content strategy, so we created articles to address them.


This LinkedIn post summarizes the success of one of these topics. Tools estimated zero volume, but our intuition suggested otherwise. The bet paid off.




Breathe life back into keyword research


The process I’ve outlined above may seem like extra work compared to relying on paid tools to do it for you. And you’re right, it is more work.


But if you add a few of these tools into your regular process, or schedule a quarterly brainstorm where you do a deep dive, you’ll find that it doesn’t add up to that much extra work after all. What matters most is if the impact is worth the extra effort, and I can say from experience that it definitely is.


And going beyond performance: maybe, just maybe, this process will even make keyword research fun again. In my opinion, that alone is worth the effort.


 

Abby Gleason

Abby Gleason is a content-focused SEO with 6+ years experience leading successful organic search strategies for SaaS and eCommerce brands. She loves to share her learnings and has been published on Moz, Semrush, Search Engine Land and more. Twitter | Linkedin





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