What Every Small Business Needs to Know About Keyword Research
Keyword research is an important strategic marketing practice that never really ends. SEO has changed so dramatically over the last few years that you must revisit everything you think you know about it, and that starts with revisiting how you think about keyword research (spoiler alert, it’s not just a technical aspect of SEO).
Keyword research defined
Simply put, keyword research is a practice SEO professionals use to find and research actual search terms that people enter into search engines.
The key takeaway from that description should be “actual search terms.”
The power of keyword research is the ability to understand the exact phrases people use to search for the products, services, information, answers, and solutions that lead to them becoming your customers.
Why keyword research is not just for SEO
You must do keyword research if you hope to get your content to rank at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). When I say top, it is imperative that your business makes it to page one.
In addition to helping you discover actual search terms, keyword research also helps you better understand search intent and the why behind the search, which will help you unlock new products and services. The more you understand the why, the better you can connect with your audience and build trust.
Keyword research should dictate your editorial calendar, plain and simple. Without content, there is no SEO.
I get it, keyword research can be a very exhausting, complex, and confusing exercise if you sell SEO services. However, anyone with a basic understanding of their business, their ideal client and the problems they solve can conduct effective keyword research with just a few steps and low-cost or free tools.
Make a list
To get started, create a list of keyword phrases and terms that your ideal customers are likely to type into Google in search of solutions. This is a brainstorming session, not your final list. You’ll eventually get the list down to a manageable group, but better to consider from many. When doing this exercise, remember to think like the customer.
Below are a few tried and true methods for finding suspects and few experimental methods that may turn up gold in the right situation:
Step 1: Brainstorm – Ask yourself what questions your customers ask, how they talk about their problems, what they are looking for when they find you, and so on. Also, take a look at which products and services are most profitable.
Step 2: Review boards and forums – Almost every industry has a handful of active bulletin boards and forums that people turn to in search of information. These are great places to spot trends and recurring themes.
Simply search for a “key term + forum” or “key term + board” and you’ll likely find something related to your business.
Step 3: Auto-suggest and related – Now type a few of the terms you’ve found thus far into Google. As you begin typing, you may notice that Google starts suggesting terms related to what you are typing simultaneously. This is often a strong signal from Google that those are popular terms related to what you are looking for that you can add to your list. After you complete this search, scroll to the bottom of the results page and note what’s under “Searches related to ‘keyword’.”
Step 4: Review the Google Search Console – Another good keyword practice is to understand what you already rank for. The Google Search Console is a useful tool to dive into this. By connecting your site to Google Search Console, you’ll be able to see if your pages rank for any keywords currently, as well as find any broken links or pages that might be hindering your search results.
The difference between Foundational and Long-tail
After completing the exercise above, you should have a list of 30-40 terms.
The goal of the next phase is to create two final lists:
1. Your 4-6 foundational phrases
2. Your 8-12 long-tail phrases.
Foundational phrases are the core of what your business does and should be phrases you plan on investing significant time and effort into in an effort to increase rank.
One of the foundational phrases must be the focus of your homepage, and the others must have landing pages or entire sections of your site dedicated to them. Picking your foundational terms comes down to a mix of data points. Certainly, if you are plumbers you’ll probably want to win terms related to what you do, but you must consider a few things as you make these choices – how competitive is the term and how specific is the intent.
When picking your foundational terms, you must consider how competitive the term is and how specific the intent is as well. While you do want some proven search volume for your foundational themes, you also want to make sure that the people using these search terms are looking for what you do.
The second list, long-tail phrases, should be considered because they have great intent. I personally like to make the phrases on this list a monthly focus theme for things like blog posts or a video “how to.”
My favorite tools
Now that you have your well-informed list, it’s time to go to work and test your hypotheses.
The first tool you should turn to is the Google Keyword Planner. Many people who discuss keyword research start here, but in my opinion, this tool is too limiting as a brainstorming tool. Instead, arrive at this tool with your already expanded list that you can refine based on data.
Take each of your 12-16 terms and run them through the planner’s keyword suggestion tool. I like to start by looking at the ad groups Google suggests because it can help you categorize what you are looking at. You can then drill down and see all of the terms related to that group, the estimated search volume for each term and the suggested bid (helpful if you’re implementing an AdWords campaign).
While search volume is useful, it’s just a guide. High volume search terms aren’t necessarily relevant to your business. When you combine search volume with bid price, however, you’ll start to see some important correlations. High bid price often signals high conversion value. You’ll start to see the variance in bid price as an important signal as you do this research. In this phase, your goal should be to identify and edit your actual phrase by using a mix of search volume and bid price.
Three other tools I use to help refine my keyword research include:
- Keywordtool.io: I use Keywordtool because it turns up actual questions people ask about specific terms and to me, this is one of the best ways to find intent in a search phrase.
- Yoast Suggest: Yoast Suggest is a tool from Yoast of the WordPress SEO plugin fame. It uses the data from Google suggest to create a seemingly unlimited set of related search terms grouped alphabetically.
- Google Trends: Google Trends can help you get a sense of how a term is moving or how it compares to several other phrases. Google Trends is also great for showing seasonality of search terms for businesses that need a peak at that kind of thing.
Be sure to check these tools out to see what works best for you and your team.
The role of content in all of this
So, what’s the point of all of this?
Great keyword research informs your editorial calendar and that’s why you never stop doing it.
After I have my list of keyword phrases, foundational and long-tail, I turn to BuzzSumo to find out what kind of content people are writing and sharing around these search terms. BuzzSumo is a search engine that ranks content by how often it’s been shared. This is a great way to start getting even more specific about the type of content you might write about in your upcoming blog posts.
A couple of bonus data points from BuzzSumo: You not only see how many shares a post has, you also get to see what sites have linked to the content and who has shared it. While this won’t be much help if it’s a Mashable post, it will be if it’s a direct competitor.
Side note: I write about BuzzSumo a lot because I am such a big fan of it. You can read my most recent blog about the tool, How to Use BuzzSumo to Smooth the Content Ride, for more information.
Those are my two cents for today. You can learn more about keyword research and everything else you need to know about SEO in my latest book SEO for Growth: The Ultimate Guide for Marketers, Web Designers & Entrepreneurs, co-written with Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Phil Singleton.
What obstacles do you come across with keyword research? What tools do you find helpful?
Need more tips on search engine optimization? Check out our entire Guide to SEO.