SEO & Search Marketing

Small Business Owner’s Guide to Keyword Research for SEO

Author:  Debra Murphy


Reading Time: 10 minutes
Unlocking SEO Success: A Guide to Effective Keyword Research

Keyword research is one of the most important and valuable activities in marketing. Many people believe that keywords are just for search engine optimization or pay-per-click marketing campaigns.

Despite its common association with these activities, having a list of relevant keywords is important to all marketing activities. In fact, being successful in search is a cornerstone for inbound marketing.

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is a process where you identify the best keywords for your business and marketing campaign. It is how you learn what terms to target and how to structure content. This process should be done each time you need to create new content. Keyword research can identify topics that will guide your content strategy.

What are the benefits of keyword research?

Keyword research helps you understand your audience and the questions they are asking. It gives you valuable insight into what people are actually searching for and how often, so you can tailor your content creation efforts to what’s important to your target audience. It provides direction on the type of content you should be producing to attract your audience. This level of understanding helps you:

  • Eliminate phrases that have no search volume. Note I didn’t say low. Depending on your business, a search phrase with 10 monthly searches could be valuable to you. But you shouldn’t waste time trying to rank for something that no one is looking for.
  • Analyze the competition for a particular keyword phrase. You may have content that satisfies a popular search, but it may be hard to get top ranking because the competition is too strong. Knowing how many people are searching for the phrase and the level of competition for that phrase is valuable information. You may still want that content so when someone does reach your website it’s there to help them.
  • Target phrases that are more likely to help your content gain visibility in the search engine results. Targeting similar or long-tail keyword phrases that are less competitive may help you get to page one more easily.
  • Refine your overall content strategy for your business. By focusing and targeting the right keywords, your messages on how you can help will be clearer to your target audience.

Further reading:

Finding Your Niche through an Effective Target Market Strategy

How people search

We know that people are doing more and more of their research online to determine what they want to buy and who they want to buy from. Consider keyword research as a component of market research that helps us better understand what our potential customers are interested in and what terms they use to find what they need.

With Google placing more emphasis on semantic search, we need to change the way we have traditionally thought of keywords. Semantic search allows users to search entire sentences or phrases to find what they are looking for. For example users will speak or enter “best plumber near me” rather than typing in “plumber Boston”.

Understand what your customers are looking for

Develop the keyword list by clearly understanding what problem your target market is trying to solve and how they search for solutions.

Once you understand your target market, then start analyzing various types of information you have available such as:

  • Web statistics via Google Analytics or Search Console to see how people currently find your site
  • Information from competitor and top rank sites
  • Keyword analysis tools to determine the relevance and popularity of each keyword

Use your judgement on whether the keywords or phrases you’ve compiled are relevant to your specific business. Then prioritize your list. When you are writing materials, you can’t use all the words. Know which ones are critical to your content marketing.

For example, a keyword phrase that could relate to my business is “marketing campaign”. Is that a keyword I want to include in all of my marketing activities? Probably not. Just because it may be related to what I do, it may not be as important as other keyword phrases.

Further reading:

Create a Successful Content Marketing Strategy

Keyword discovery tools

The goal of keyword research is to not only find suitable keyword phrases for your business, but also to understand how questions are being asked by your target prospects. There are many tools you can use to help you with your search, but for small businesses, let’s keep it simple.

First you should start with Google Search Console and see what it has recorded as keywords where you get impressions. Under search results, you can get a list of all queries related to your website. That’s a really good start to your keyword research.

Google keeps track of what phrases people use to look for information. Many keyword research tools provide data on monthly search volume. For small businesses, there are a number of free tools that can give you the information quickly.

Google Suggest

Google Suggest Keyword Tool

Google Suggest is the name for Google’s autocomplete function. It provides the autocomplete function to help searchers find information more quickly.

Take your keyword idea and start typing it into the Google search box to get up to ten suggested search phrases related to your keyword. These more targeted suggestions reflect the search activity of users and the content of web page ideas.

Keywords Everywhere and Keyword Surfer

There are many products that can give you related keywords and search related data. Plus there are many free tools if you are just getting started to help you discover more long tail keywords.

Keywords Everywhere and Keyword Surfer, for example, use Google Autocomplete to generate hundreds of relevant long-tail keywords for any topic. Both have Chrome extensions, and Keywords Everywhere has a Firefox extension.

Not only do you get a great list of keywords to work from, but these can also point you to some content ideas. Keyword Surfer provides search volume, cost per click and competition for each keyword phrase. For a few dollars, you can get the same information from Keywords Everywhere.

The results of your search will give you a number of keywords that you can then evaluate for relevance to your business. When I searched for “digital marketing”, the results gave me hundreds of keywords to review. I can select only those that I want or select them all.

Another tool that can be helpful is to look at your Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools. Both provide performance information that can show you searches where your website gets impressions and the average ranking position. If you are getting impressions but no clicks, you might want to do a content audit and see what needs work. There is more information about using Google Search Console to retrieve page performance information in the post:

How to Conduct a Website Content Audit.

Once you get the list of keywords from any of the tools, you can copy and paste them into a spreadsheet to organize and edit.

Sort, prioritize and refine keyword phrases

Now that you have a spreadsheet of keyword phrases and the average monthly searches and competition for each, it’s time to prioritize the list. Use your judgement based on the relevance of the word or phrase to your specific business. Remove those that are not important and look for those low monthly search but highly specific long tail keywords that are more likely to attract the right audience to your business.

Don’t limit your use of keywords to search engine optimization of your web pages. Whether you are writing a press release, an article, a blog post, updating web content or creating your social media profile, use your keywords effectively to help you be found by those who want and need your services.

Understanding how your ideal client searches for the products or services you offer can help you refine your content marketing strategy that helps you get found more readily. As you develop your marketing plan, be sure to start with a solid keyword list. It will help you make your marketing activities more effective.

Use your keywords consistently

The key to success, however, is that once you have completed your keyword research and compiled a list that works for your business, you need to consistently work it into all of your online marketing activities. Whether you are writing a press release, an article, updating web content or building your social media profile, using your keywords effectively can help you be found by those who want and need your services.

Use your keywords in your:

  • Social media profiles
  • Web content
  • Directory listings
  • Press releases and other marketing materials, and
  • Website to optimize page titles, navigational links and other SEO critical areas of the web page.

Top SEO Keyword Research Mistakes

1. Not doing keyword research

Sounds obvious but guessing how your customers search is a mistake. Spend a little time on keyword research. The time you spend doing keyword research will help you avoid wasting time on content that will rank for something that isn’t going to help you attract customers.

2. Overlooking searcher intent

You need to understand why your audience is searching. Are they looking for information or are they looking to make a purchase?

  • Those looking for information are researching a potential solution. They aren’t necessarily ready to purchase anything yet.
  • Those who are planning to purchase have already educated themselves and are ready to find the right product to buy.

The better you know the intent of your potential customers, the more likely you will be able to target the keywords that they will use in searches. And once you have the right keywords, you can optimize your content to answer those queries.

Further reading:

Search Intent: Optimizing Content to Satisfy Customer Goals

3. Ignoring long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific keyword phrases that people use to narrow search results. They may also be used for local searches or if they are using voice search. These long-tail phrases are used less often and have less competition.

Lower-volume, low competition keywords can help you get some quick wins, especially when you are just beginning your SEO journey. Plus your content will be more specific, targeting a very specific pain point or question that your audience has. Leads from this keyword are more likely to convert and may be ready for help. So less traffic doesn’t mean less qualified leads.

4. Not picking the right keywords for your business

There are different categories of keywords:

  • Relevant – There is a reason why I keep saying all content is strategic. Staying on topic and writing content that your target audience wants, will help you rank higher.
  • Competitive – Words that are high volume and have a lot of competition. This includes single word keywords as well. They will be more difficult to rank for, especially if you’re just starting. You will need to work too hard to rank and it may not bring enough benefits.
  • Irrelevant – You don’t want to waste resources and time to rank for keywords that don’t relate to your business.

Focus on keywords that are relevant to your business and eliminate those that aren’t. Avoid very competitive keywords and try a long-tail variation. Shoot for lower volume and lower difficulty terms that will be easier to rank for and will turn into more qualified leads in the long run.

5. Doing keyword research after writing your content

There’s a reason why you need to understand your target audience. How they search for your products and services will indicate what is important to them. This is why you should do your keyword research before you write.

Many of the keyword phrases relating to a topic will come in the form of questions. This can guide you on what you should be writing about. Plus knowing what keywords you should be using will make your optimized content read more naturally than plugging keywords into your content after the fact.

6. Ignoring competitive analysis and the top search engine results

What are your competitors ranking for? If you don’t know what your competitors are doing, how can you expect to be better than them? Look at the keywords they are appearing for and compare them to your own. Use tools such as SEO Power Suite to discover what your competition ranks for. If you don’t rank for relevant keywords that they do, add them to your content strategy.

You can get carried away looking at keywords and competitors using the tools that provide data. However, also take the time to see what type of content is actually ranking for your top terms. This insight into the top results can help you create better content. And in many cases, the top results aren’t necessarily your actual competitors. They can be other businesses that have written great content to gain visibility for a particular topic.

7. Not monitoring conversions

The flow of inbound marketing is:

Keyword phrase search -> click to webpage -> becomes a lead -> converts into a customer.

The goal is to get to conversions. This is where you make money which pays for your efforts. Some keywords may get you a lot of traffic but if you aren’t generating leads which then convert into customers, then you need to review your keyword phrase choices. There may be other keywords that you can try that may have a better conversion rate.

8. Forgetting to monitor your results

Once you have your keyword list, make sure to monitor your results to make sure your work is successful. Evaluate whether people are actually searching for those keywords and whether your content is rising in the search engine results.

Again, tools such as SEO Power Suite help you do keyword research and provide reports to see where your content ranks. Trying to search for yourself will give you personalized results and may not be what others see when they search.

How much will you invest?

SEO is a long-term investment and keyword research is an important starting point. The success of every activity that you do to market your business online depends on making the right keyword choices before you execute. Investing in good keyword research and well-optimized posts is essential for getting ahead of the competition and increasing traffic to your website. Understand your audience and create an SEO content strategy that will work for your business. Don’t give up and don’t get lazy. This is a process and it needs time to show results.

3 thoughts on “Small Business Owner’s Guide to Keyword Research for SEO”

  1. Great post.!

    Worth a mention: frequently asked question (FAQ) pages are also a goldmine of great info for keyword research and content-ideas.

    The site enables marketers to find and extract frequently asked question data from multiple target websites – enabling the marketer to understand what customers queries are, how the customers phrase their questions, and which specific niche ‘lingo’ they use.

    maybe worth a look.

    • Hello Niall – thank you for the kind words. Yes, FAQ pages are good to have for both providing quality information to your readers and gaining visibility for specific keywords. Thanks for the link to – I’ll try it out.

  2. There are lots of tool available to search keywords, but you need to choose keywords carefully and as per your requirements. As choosing wrong keywords can cause waste of your energy, time and money. I would also suggest here to look out your competitors keywords as it’ll help you to select relevant keywords.

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