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Guide to keyword research for small businesses

Keyword Research For Small Businesses: A How-To

Before you spend too much time creating content for your website, you need to determine what search terms your target audience is using to search for your product/service online. SEOs call this process keyword research, and it is an essential part of any small business’ SEO strategy. In this article, we tell you everything you need to know to conduct keyword research for your own small business website.

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

What is keyword research?

In short, keyword research is the process of coming up with an extensive list of search terms for which you would want your website to rank. In order to compile this list, you need to get into the heads of your audience. What are they typing into Google when looking for your product or service? And what do they expect to find from that search?

With this list of keywords, you can create quality content for your website that will bring traffic to your website and result in higher conversion rates. The only downside to keyword research is that it never ends: if you hope for continued success in the search results, you will need to reconduct your research and update your list of keywords regularly.

Why is keyword research important?

If you don’t know what search terms your target audience is using online, you won’t attract meaningful traffic to your website. And if you optimize your site for different keywords, ones your audience isn’t using, they won’t ever find your website.

Using different words can be a solid marketing strategy, as your product has the chance to stand apart from the crowd. At the same time, however, you run the risk of generating very little traffic, if the words you choose are not commonly searched for. So, for small businesses just starting out with their research, we recommend sticking with the terms you know your audience is using. And the only way to determine what those words are is through proper, thorough research.

How to do keyword research

1. Determine your SEO goals

Before you can actually get into the research portion of keyword research, you need to take some time to determine your SEO goals. Think about the mission of your business and your website. What problem are you trying to solve for your customers? Is your business in a highly competitive market, with large companies dominating the search results? What makes your business stand out from the rest of the competition?

It can help to write these things down in a document, so you can reference them easily as you work through the rest of the research process.

2. Draft a list of keywords

Now that you have an idea of what problem you’re trying to solve for your customers and how your business stands out from the rest, it’s time to create the first draft of your keyword list. We recommend doing this in a spreadsheet, so you can group keywords by category, theme, or topic and keep everything well organized.

Ask yourself what keywords your customers might plug into Google to find your product or service. Focus on the problem you are helping them solve, and how your business is uniquely qualified to help them solve it. This will serve as the beginning of your keyword list.

3. Research the words on your list

Once your first draft is finished, it’s time to dive deeper. There are many tools out there that can help you with your keyword research. These tools will help you come up with variations of keywords, synonyms, and related keyphrases. Add any new relevant keywords to your list as you go.

The first place you should go, though, before digging into these tools, is to Google itself. Search the keywords you came up with and take a look at what Google is suggesting as you type. Those are the questions people actually asked Google. You can also check the “related searches” and “people also ask” sections of the search results for additional ideas.

4. Focus on finding long-tail variants of your keywords

When doing keyword research, many people tend to stick with popular “head” terms, broad keywords like “marketing agency” or “food blog”. Unfortunately, with all the competition out there, most of these keywords are already taken by well-known brands or companies with a large marketing and SEO budget.

Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, don’t have as many people competing for them. Yes, this does mean less traffic; however, this does make it easier to rank in that top spot. Additionally, these kinds of keywords have a higher conversion value. So, people who click through on these searches are much more likely to buy from you, subscribe, or whatever it is you want them to do.

Think back to your unique selling points, your mission statement, and your niche. This can help you figure out specific long-tail variations of that broad keyword that summarizes your business. For example, let’s say you sell organic pet foods for animals with health problems. Naturally, one of your head keywords would be [organic pet foods]. Let’s say you sell a pet food for smaller dogs with digestive issues. You could then add [organic pet food for small dogs with sensitive stomachs] to your spreadsheet as a long-tail variation.

5. Analyze the competition

Once you have a decent list of head keywords and long-tail variants, hit the search results to check the competition. Who is currently ranking in the top three spots in the organic search results? Are they professional websites? Company websites? Do you have a decent shot at competing with them and taking one of those spots?

Then, take a look at the actual content of the pages in the top three spots. Is it well-written and optimized? If it isn’t, you very well might have a good chance of outranking them.

Remember to keep notes of your findings in your spreadsheet. We sometimes find it helpful to color code keywords based on their competitiveness. This will help you later when you decide which keywords you will actively target with your content.

6. Determine search intent for each keyword

For every keyword on your list, you need to understand the reason why people are searching for that particular keyword or phrase. In SEO, we call this search intent. Every question asked needs a specific answer. And understanding why the question is being asked can help you create content that provides the specific answer your customers are searching for.

Generally, there are four different types of search intent:

  • Informational – trying to find information on a topic (ex. [what is a Labradoodle])
  • Navigational – accessing a specific website (ex. [Nike] or [Google Analytics])
  • Commercial – researching before buying something (ex. [safest infant car seats in 2022])
  • Transactional – looking to buy immediately (ex. [buy organic strawberries online])

If you aren’t sure of the search intent for a particular keyword, check the Google search results. Do you see mostly informational blog posts and instructional videos, or do you see product pages? These are all hints to what Google assumes the search intent of a certain query is. Find out what search intent each of your keywords has, and add this information to your spreadsheet!

7. Decide which keywords you will target

If you’ve gone through all the steps up to this point, you should have a wealth of information at your fingertips. Now it’s time to sift through that information and decide which keywords you will pursue.

How do you make that kind of decision? By thinking about your business in comparison to your main competition. If you are much smaller or just starting out, you will want to focus on going after the long-tail variations you found back in Step 4. At least for the time being. If you notice success in ranking for those longer keywords, you can gradually add in some broader head keywords to your strategy over time.

8. Create an optimized landing page for each keyword

Technically, this isn’t actually part of the research. However, it is a crucial step in getting that coveted traffic to your website. Every keyword you have chosen to include as part of your SEO strategy needs to have its own dedicated page. But how do you know what to put on that page or make sure it’s optimized properly?

This goes back to the search intent you researched in Step 6. Think about why your customer is searching for this keyword, and what they would expect to find on a page they clicked in the search results for that keyword. Do they expect to find a product page? Then that is the page you need to create and optimize for that keyword.

Read On: Mistakes People Make When Writing Content For Their Websites

Keep in mind: this step is perpetual. You do not need to create all of these pages immediately. Rather, create them one at a time, starting with your most important keywords first.

9. Evaluate and improve

After you’ve done your research and published and optimized some blog posts and pages on your website, it’s time to wait for a while. Sometimes, it can take up to 6 months to see results. After half a year, check your rankings for the keywords you decided to pursue. You can use Google itself for a cursory glance at your rankings. Are you on the first page, or buried somewhere deeper?

For a more in-depth look at which pages are ranking for which keywords, you can take a look at your Google Search Console performance reports. If you have enough money in your budget, you can keep track of your rankings easily over time with keyword tracking tools like Wincher.

If you find that your pages aren’t ranking as highly as you’d hoped, try writing other articles focused on even more long-tail keywords. Once you rank for those, your chances of ranking for the broader keyphrases increases. Give it some time, then evaluate again. Continue this process until you reach that first page (and even better, one of the top three spots!).

10. Update your keyword research and content regularly

Over time, your business will grow. Your competition might get smarter. Your audience may change or they may start using different words to search for what they want. This means, if you hope to maintain your position at the top of the search results, you’ll need to keep your keyword research and your content up-to-date.

These types of changes don’t happen too often. So, updating your keyword list and website content at least once a year can help keep your business ahead of the curve. If you notice changes happening in your industry more often than this, by all means, keep up with the rest of the crowd. Don’t let yourself fall behind!

Tips for keyword research

When putting all of this into practice, it’s common for people to encounter certain issues and questions. In this section, we’ll give you some tips to help you as you navigate the 10 steps we outlined above!

Prioritize your keywords

How many keywords should you target as part of your SEO strategy? Unfortunately, there isn’t an exact number that works for every business. However, we can tell you that you will need quite a few. When all is said and done, most small businesses easily end up with a couple hundred keywords in their list.

Just remember you don’t need to create pages for every single one of these words right away. Instead, add content to your site a little at a time. This shows Google that you are active and relevant. Moreover, it keeps their bots coming around more frequently to check out what’s new.

So, think about the keywords that are most important, and cross reference those with the ones you think you have a good chance of ranking for. Any words you find in both of those categories should be your top priority. Then, simply work your way through your list one keyword at a time until you’ve planned and published all your content.

Only create one page for a keyword and its synonyms

In the past, every keyword you wanted to optimize for needed its own landing page. Google has gotten so smart now, however, that it can understand the concept of synonyms and other subtle variations of words (verb tenses, for example).

If there are different words in your industry that people might use to search for something, but they mean the same thing, you now can create and optimize one awesome landing page for all of those synonyms. You can use tools like Yoast SEO to help you accomplish this.

In addition to optimizing pages for the synonyms of your keywords, you can optimize for related keywords. These are words that typically deepen the understanding of the keyword you’ve chosen, particularly in Google’s case.

To find related keywords, we recommend using external tools like Semrush or Moz. These tools provide legitimate keyword data – like search volume and trend – you can explore to make strategic optimization decisions. While these tools are paid, they do offer free trials so you can see if they’ll fit your SEO needs and budget.

Decide whether to optimize for singular or plural keywords

You would be surprised to see the difference in search volume for a singular keyword (book) versus its plural form (books). Not only that, but the search results for these two words also look drastically different. This is because Google makes a judgment call about what it believes you are looking for when you search for one of these versus the other. Someone searching for [book] may just want a definition or an image of a book. On the other hand, someone searching for [books] might have a transactional intent and want to buy a book online.

Make sure you always check the search results for keywords like these. This will ensure that your content answers the searcher’s question and that it fits in with the other search results for that keyword.

Keep your spreadsheet organized

We recommend setting up your spreadsheet in a way that makes locating, labeling, and prioritizing keywords as simple as possible. For our clients, we often set it up like this:

How your keyword research sheet might look with search intent added

You can see we’ve listed our head keywords in the left-most column and put the longer variations in the next. We also merged the cells together to make things a bit easier to follow.

You may also notice the different colors assigned to the cells. This is how we catalogue the competitiveness of a keyword. While you can use any colors you’d like, we chose red for most competitive, yellow for somewhat competitive, and green for easiest to rank for.

Finally, we added another column furthest to the right describing the search intent for each keyword. This will help you when deciding what kind of pages to create for your website.

Use a keyword only once

Many people make the mistake of optimizing multiple pages on their site for the same keyword. Don’t do this! If you do, you end up competing with your own content for that top spot in the search results.

The best way to avoid this sort of problem is to clearly mark on your spreadsheet which keywords have already been used on a page. If you’ve already made this mistake, don’t worry. You can fix keyword cannibalization issues with your site content by auditing your content and making strategic decisions about merging, deleting, and redirecting some of the pages that are competing against each other.

Get to it!

Keyword research is an essential part of any long-term SEO strategy. If you hope to be successful ranking in the search results, you should make the investment now and take the time to plan and prioritize your content. Remember: it’s all about your target audience. Their search terms are your keywords. Based on these keywords you can start writing useful, findable content.

Above all, be realistic about the rankings you can achieve with the size of your business, and focus on what will help you achieve your mission.

Keep Reading: Why Every Small Business Should Start A Blog

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