Keyword Research 101: How To Find The Best Phrases Your Small Business Website Can Rank For

Woman doing keyword research with ease.

Keyword research is the first step to making sure your SEO strategy works.

It’s crucial to assuring you cover the topics and search terms your audience wants more information about.

And, by finding the right keywords, you can make it easier to write your blogs.

Learning proper keyword research, then, is an important step to marketing your business online.

Every SEO article mentions doing it.

However, they’re often unclear what that looks like.

Today, I intend to clarify exactly what good keyword research includes.

What Exactly Is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is a basic element of search engine optimization.

It’s the process of creating a list of keywords, often extensive, that you’d like your website to rank for.

Building a list of keywords means you need to understand your audience and the search engines.

You need to know what people are asking Google for when they’re looking for what you do.

But you also need to understand what they’re really looking for when they ask those questions.

Knowing their intent is going to take you further than the keywords alone.

This list allows you to produce a blog and other content that drives high-quality traffic and helps earn the right leads.

As I’ve said before, SEO is an ongoing process, and keyword research happens the entire time.

There’s no way to separate the two.

Plan on using this process every time you create content if you want your site to keep getting found.

A team having fun doing keyword research.

Keyword Research Is Important For A Few Big Reasons

There’s a lot of work involved in keyword research.

So, you might find a lot of reasons to want to avoid it.

However, it’s an incredibly important step in making sure your audience finds your content.

Doing the research properly uncovers the search terms your audience uses when they’re looking for the things you offer.

Finding out your audience uses different words and phrases to describe your products than you do is a common occurrence.

But you’d never discover that unless you took the time to do the research.

And that means your audience would never find your website when they’re ready to buy what you have.

It does you no good to optimize your content for search terms that your audience isn’t using to find you. Share on X

For example, it’s normal for brands to use euphemisms to describe their products.

What’s the difference between routine service, routine maintenance, and routine oil changes on a car?

With a routine service or routine maintenance, you might get a little more than just an oil change.

They may include all sorts of other small things, like a chassis lube.

Do people search for a “routine maintenance” place, though?

Usually, they search for “oil change”.

Optimizing for “routine maintenance” might not be such a good idea, then.

Since most people search for simpler, more specific terms when they’re looking for their routine maintenance, you’d be missing a chunk of your audience.

Not the outcome you want.

Considering your audience’s intent, however (which is a part of keyword research), can lead you to much better optimization choices.

Using intent, your content will be there when they ask Google a question.

Some Keyword Research Basics You Need To Know

There are some basic definitions you need to know before we jump into keyword research.

These are key elements in the process, and we’re going to discuss them a lot.

So, knowing what these terms mean will make this whole process easier.

  • Focus Keyword / Keyphrase – this is the word or phrase that you’re focused on when optimizing your content.
  • Head Keyword – The broader, more valuable keywords within your industry.
  • Long-tail Keyword – these are ideas that are far more specific and far less searched for than head keywords. Read about long-tail keywords.
  • Keyword Strategy – your keyword strategy is what you plan to do with your keywords, from the content you create to the way you’ll focus on it to the format you’ll cover it in.
  • Search Intent – search intent is about understanding why your audience is searching for the things they’re searching for. People search for the best pizza place when they want a pizza.

You’ll run across these ideas a lot as you learn about keyword research.

As terms that are central to the process, you’ve got to understand what they mean.

And they’ll also guide the way your keyword research grows and evolves.

Commit them to memory because you’ll need them a lot going forward.

The Steps To Effective Keyword Research

Thankfully, keyword research isn’t rocket science.

It’s a repeatable process that anyone can handle.

Because it takes time most people consider it complicated.

But it’s essential not just to SEO, but to your whole digital marketing strategy.

I have thought about the process of keyword research for a while, and I’ve mapped it into 7 steps.

Follow these and you’ll have all the keywords you need.

Think About Why Your Company Exists

Like everything you do, you need to begin your keyword research with your mission statement.

Why does your company exist and do what it does?

Look at your mission statement and make sure you understand what you’re trying to accomplish.

That direction is going to guide your keyword strategy throughout the research process.

If you’ve not yet created a mission statement, do it now.

Understand that the industry you’re in and the market you serve determine how your mission can help you rank.

Your mission statement is at the core of everything you do, even if that thing is your keyword research. Always focus on furthering your mission. Share on X

For example, marketing companies are highly competitive, and larger marketing agencies dominate the search rankings.

They have huge SEO budgets and resources that most small companies can’t compete with.

When an industry is hard to compete in, the search rankings are equally tough to compete in.

Faced with a competitive industry, it’s the unique qualities of your business that will help you stand out.

Focus on the underserved market that you can serve better than the rest of your industry.

Perhaps you’re a staffing agency that specializes in the medical field.

Providing experience and insight into the needs most medical offices have could be the way your brand is different.

Identifying and focusing on this niche will set your brand apart in both your marketing and in search.

You’ll have a better chance of ranking and a better chance of growing through your search results.

Be warned, though: casting too wide a net in a competitive market will bury your brand.

Instead, carve out space in the industry that nobody can take from you.

From there you’ll have a better foothold to grow from.

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Make Your Basic Keyword List

Now that you understand where you’re coming from, it’s time to put in the work.

The second step is to create a list of keywords.

Usually, this works best in a spreadsheet, but anything that helps you organize your work will be fine.

Starting at your mission, think about the way your target audience thinks.

I mean really get into their minds.

You’ve got to know what your audience is thinking about when they search for your company. Share on X

Consider what they might be looking for or what search terms they might use to find it.

Think about which pain points your product or service helps them with.

Take notes on as much of this as possible.

You should have a clear idea of what your unique selling propositions are.

Those are the keywords you should be looking at.

It’s OK if you only have a few right now.

You’re going to dig further into this list to find more.

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Dig Deeper Into Your Keywords

Now you have a list, although it’s likely short.

You want to expand it next.

Thankfully, you won’t be subjected to wracking your brain for word associations you hadn’t thought of yet.

There are tools for keyword research, and they’ll make the process easier.

I’ve mentioned several of them before, including Google’s Keyword Planner and BuzzSumo.

For somewhat more in-depth options, consider Ubersuggest, Moz Keyword Explorer, or Answer the Public.

These tools won’t just help you expand your keyword suggestions.

They’ll also offer tons of variations and example articles to go with them.

Finding keywords is best when you have an array of tools to help you find insights you couldn’t otherwise get. Share on X

Don’t forget that you can use Google’s dropdown suggestions or related searches to help you as well.

Tools like these can help you massively expand your list of head keywords, giving you plenty to work with.

But even if they don’t expand your list that far (which is very unlikely), you’re not done with ways to add to it.

Especially in a highly competitive industry, these keywords might be difficult to rank for.

It’s going to take a more specified approach to make sure your content gets found.

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Consider Longer Key Phrases

At this point, your list likely consists of keywords and phrases made up of one to three words.

They’re short, head keywords that make great points to anchor from.

However, they’re also the most competitive keywords that fit your business.

And most of the page one spots for these keywords are occupied by the biggest companies in your industry.

Unfortunately, that’s the most common result of keyword research after step three.

Now, think back to that list of definitions we went over earlier.

Remember the phrase “long-tail keywords”?

These get far less search traffic and, therefore, far less competition.

Also, when someone in your target market is searching for them, they’re likely more ready to purchase.

Long-tail keywords are effective because they focus on your niche.

The more you focus on targeting a niche audience the better you’ll do at building your brand through your SEO. Share on X

So, what’s the relation between your head keywords and a related long-tail keyword?

I’ll use my content as an example.

Most of my content focuses on “small business marketing”.

But I can’t optimize every page for those keywords, and I certainly can’t compete in those categories.

My long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are much easier to focus on.

Those might be key phrases like “effective small business marketing strategies for bakeries in California.”

It’s the specificity that makes long-tail keywords effective.

Jump back into your search tools and add as many long-tail keywords to your spreadsheet as make sense.

While making this spreadsheet, consider how you’re organizing your keywords, connecting related keywords logically.

That’s going to help you build your site structure later.

The longer the tail of your keyword, the further into your site structure its page belongs.

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Check Out Your Competition

With a list of niche-specific keywords in hand, you’re ready to see what’s a viable option.

That means checking out who is ranking for the keywords on your list.

You don’t need to know what brands rank highest for every keyword.

Just how competitive those keywords are.

If your head keywords aren’t highly competitive, it’s not worth digging too far into long-tail keywords right now.

Keyword research includes a little SEO benchmarking.

Starting with your head terms, search the keywords on your list on Google.

Check out the websites that come up, looking for signs they have spent a lot to rank where they are.

Professional websites, big names, or other indicators that they’ve got a large SEO budget let you know how hard it will be to rank.

Is this someplace your company belongs in, or are these competitors out of your league?

Bigger brand names make more difficult competition, so find out what you’re up against.

The more well-known a brand is, the more difficult it will be to dethrone them as a ranking brand for their keywords. Share on X

While there is no guarantee you can’t beat them, sometimes it’s less expensive to take a different approach.

Search for Google Ads while you’re at it.

When a search term has no ads attached to it there’s an opportunity for you to come up first.

Using a Google Adwords account, check the cost of the pay-per-click.

A higher cost means ranking is more difficult.

Take plenty of notes on what you find so you can make better decisions when you put your keywords to use.

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Think About What They’re Really Searching For

Researching the competitiveness of your industry should have narrowed down some of the keywords on your list.

But now you’ll do a different kind of keyword research to give it context.

SEO needs to revolve around problem-solving.

When someone has a question that your brand can answer, your content should come up in their results.

But that means understanding what answers your audience is looking for, regardless of how they frame their search query.

There are four types of intent to consider:

  • Informational intent – the desire to find information about a subject.
  • Navigational intent – the desire to visit a specific website.
  • Commercial intent – the desire to understand a product or service they’re thinking of buying.
  • Transactional intent – the desire to complete a purchase right now.

Every time someone searches, they’ve got one of these intentions.

It’s your job to understand that intent.

One way to gather the search intent is to check out the pages that already rank for those queries.

The kinds of pages that come up reflect the typical intent of the search.

Product pages reflect a transactional intent while a video might reflect an informational intent.

Understanding search intent is critical to assure your content and SEO work well for the keywords and phrases on your list.

Take notes about your findings.

They’ll come in handy as you develop your keyword strategy.

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Compile The Data

By now your keyword research should have given you enough data to make decisions with.

Following the previous six steps, you probably have quite a few key phrases and supplementary information.

But what does this all do for you?

You’re going to use it to figure out where you stand and how you need to attack SEO.

Identify if your website can compete with the other websites that came up for your head keywords.

Think of your marketing budget and the amount of work you can afford to put into SEO.

If you’re up-to-snuff with your competition, focus your keyword strategy on the head terms you came up with.

Long-tail keywords aren’t the best option for you in that case.

You need to know when you can compete with the big brands and when you can’t so you don’t lose a fight you shouldn’t be in. Share on X

However, if you can’t compete, form a strategy around a ton of the long-tail keywords on your list.

Combining their results could equate a lot of organic search traffic and a higher ranking for those phrases.

That will make the later effort at ranking for the head terms easier.

With your decision in mind, consider the audience’s intent and how it should impact your content.

More importantly, consider what questions are lacking answers or quality information.

Can you provide the solutions your audience needs?

Once you know how the data affects your keyword strategy, you can create the content your audience wants.

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Keyword Research Is Just The First Step

Now that you’ve done your keyword research, you’re ready to do all the things you can to rank.

The rest of your SEO strategy has a much better chance of working over the long-term with this foundation in place.

But you’ve still got the work ahead of you.

Content creation is the biggest part of SEO, and without it, the work is for nothing.

Blogs are at the core of good SEO, after all.

If you can stick with it, however, your site – and your business – will get found in search.

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Keyword Research 101: How To Find The Best Phrases Your Small Business Website Can Rank For

by Michael McNew Read in 11 min