If your business has a website then proper keyword research is crucial to your website driving revenue.
Hiring an agency to do it can be expensive, they want to add in all of these extra services (and their fee includes the cost of everyone from the assistant to the CEO), we know.
We prefer to empower businesses to do their own marketing where they can. That's why we created this guide: to teach small-to-medium-sized businesses how to conduct their own SEO keyword research so they don't have to contract an expensive agency to do it for them.
1. Intro to Keyword Research
SEO is built on keyword research. If you aren't doing keyword research before you write content for your website then you're essentially shooting in the dark.
As business owners, we want people to find us on Google whenever they search for words and phrases related to our business.
One of the primary pitfalls I have seen when working with clients is that what they think their customers are searching for and what their customers are actually searching for are often very different.
For example, let's say you're a divorce attorney in Paducah, KY and you want to target people searching for that term. Sounds good, right?
Okay, so roughly 30 people are searching for that term per month (likely in the western KY area).
But here we see that the volume for the term "divorce lawyers in paducah ky" is higher.
The search results for each term are different as well. While Google's algorithm has grown a lot smarter over the years in the area of semantic search (understanding when you say lawyer you also probably mean attorney), it's still not perfect.
So a small thing like optimizing for the word "attorney" instead of "lawyer" could cost you some traffic. For most of my clients, a volume difference of 40 isn't a big deal, but for a divorce attorney in a small town that's an opportunity to get 40 additional leads per month.
And that's a big deal.
The attorneys/lawyers will already know this but there's a difference between an attorney and a lawyer.
- Attorney: A person who is qualified and licensed by the BAR to represent clients in court.
- Lawyer: Someone who has an education in the field of law (typically a Juris Doctorate (J.D.)) that provides advice on legal matters (e.g., a professor or a consultant).
The terms aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.
More importantly, there are typically hundreds (if not thousands) of keywords a law office would be missing out on if they focused on phrases like this.
The same goes for any type of business no matter how big or small.
Keyword research helps you discover what topics people use to find the types of products/services you provide and enables you to make intelligent business decisions regarding your marketing budget.
Tip: Have you outsourced your marketing? Make sure they have your best interests in mind. Do your own keyword research (or hire another third party to do so) and then ask them for a report on what keywords they're targeting.
2. Seed Keywords
You need to start with seed keywords. These are the broad terms that define your particular business niche. For example, let's say you're a plastic surgeon that wants to generate more leads via your website. The first keywords that come to mind are things like:
- plastic surgeon
- breast implants
- botox injections
Pretty straightforward, right? No matter what type of business you run just think about the broad types of topics and themes you would talk about related to your business.
3. Generate Ideas
Once you have your seed keywords figured out you'll be ready to begin generating a huge list of related/relevant keywords.
In doing so, you'll also get to know your audience a bit better because you'll come to understand how the people interested in your products or services are searching.
That's a big deal. If you know how they search, you'll know how they think.
Once you have your list of seed keywords, load up Google and begin typing one of them in.
Looks familiar, doesn't it?
Google suggests keywords relevant to what you're typing in. It bases this on user data, your own personal searches, and your location (if location services are enabled).
These are a great set of keywords to add to your keyword list because, unlike a lot of third-party tools, these suggestions are coming straight from Google itself.
In other words: Google is literally telling you what keywords to include (Note: this is a good starting point, it is by no means exhaustive).
You can do the same thing on YouTube by the way.
Google is YouTube's parent company and they work together when it comes to search results.
So we'll add those keywords to our list as well.
Google's Searches Related To
If you run a search on Google and then scroll to the bottom of the page you'll see a section that looks like this above.
This is the "Searches related to [keyword]" section.
The average user only sees this section if they haven't found an answer to what they're looking for on the first page.
Google adds this to the bottom to help searchers better find what they're looking for in instances like these.
Just like the previous examples, these are straight from Google. So go ahead and add those keywords to your list as well.
Open these "related searches" in a new tab and repeat the process over and over again to quickly generate dozens (if not hundreds of keywords) quickly.
Tip: A quick way to open links in a new tab is to use keyboard shortcuts. ⌘ + Clicking the link opens the link in a new tab on Macs (Control + Click on Windows).
Wikipedia is a giant and dominates a lot of search results.
You can get additional keyword ideas by visiting Wikipedia and typing in one of your seed keywords:
If you take a look at the Contents section of the page you can sometimes find additional keyword ideas from there as well.
Starting to see a trend here? The word "risk(s)" has shown up in a few of our keyword research methods so far.
So we can be safe in assuming that we'll likely want some piece of content that covers the risks of liposuction.
An additional note is to always think about how your content can benefit your business as well.
For example, if you were a plastic surgeon and planned on producing a piece of content on your site related to the risks of liposuction you would want to discuss them and inform potential customers how you, as a professional, reduce these risks for your patients.
You can often find additional keywords within these sub-sections as well.
Go ahead and list these also but we'll be qualifying them further to see how much effort they'll be worth.
4. Free Keyword Tools
As with most professions, tools are only as good as the person wielding them. The tools I'm about to cover below are all free but be aware that the data they return is not necessarily 100% accurate.
And that's okay.
Google is the only entity with all of the data (and even they may not know everything haha) so operating off of approximate data is good enough since that's what everyone else is using also.
Keywords Everywhere is a fantastic tool that I recommend every business owner use, even if you're not actively doing SEO.
It's a free Chrome extension that will show you data about keywords from several different sources.
For example, if you perform a search on Google you'll get data like this below your search bar.
Here you see relevant info like Volume, CPC (cost per click), a rough gauge of how competitive the search term is and the ability to "favorite" a keyword (which will add store it in a list for you).
Keywords Everywhere works on sites like Amazon, YouTube, and even Answer the Public as well.
Google Keyword Planner
Google's own keyword planner is technically the most reliable source of keyword data…for advertisers.
To use Google Keyword Planner you'll need to sign into a Gmail account and visit ads.google.com.
If it prompts you to set up an advertisement look for the option to skip past the tutorial and go straight to the dashboard.
Once you're on the dashboard, click on the wrench icon in the upper right corner → Planning → Keyword Planner
From here you'll have two options:
- Find new keywords
- Get search volume and forecasts
We'll be using the "Find new keywords" option:
Google took away accurate volume metrics from us a while back (if we optimize for SEO we won't have to spend as much on Google Ads…and they don't particularly want that).
However, if you have Keywords Everywhere enabled, then you'll get that data included here as well:
You can use this list of keywords as the basis for other keywords related to your products/services.
Review them critically. Not all of them will necessarily make sense for your businesses.
Feel free to include all of the keywords you want but we'll be prioritizing them later based on how much value they can bring to our business (e.g. you would want to focus on keywords related to products/services that have the highest profit margins).
5. Thinking Outside of the Box
Using the basic tools above is a great way to get started if you're on a bootstrapped budget. It also helps to start thinking more holistically as well.
Start trying to think like a customer who has no idea they are even looking to buy something yet.
That is, think about things in terms of problems to be solved.
Using our liposuction example we could target keyword phrases like:
surgery to remove fat
how can i lose weight
diets aren't working for me
I cannot stress enough how useful it can be to just ask your current/previous customers as well.
Especially if you're running a local business.
The way people think and use language is often influenced by geographical location as well.
6. Understand Metrics
At this point, you could have easily compiled thousands of keywords that are potentially worthy of ranking for (assuming you did this for all of the various products/services you offer and not just one).
And that can be a little overwhelming…
So now let's talk about how to shortlist this massive list and focus your energy on the one's that have the best potential for ROI.
Things get a little hard at this point without paid tools and a deeper understanding of SEO.
Something is better than nothing though, so I'll cover a few ways you can narrow down your list without the budget for paid tools.
Keywords Everywhere supplies you with a number that represents the overall difficulty of ranking for a particular keyword or phrase.
If you're just starting out, target very low-competition keywords. Once you begin to rank for these you can gradually increase the level at which you're willing to compete.
Keywords ≠ Ranking
Note: Choosing the right keywords and then actually ranking for those keywords are two very different processes.
Just because you find good keywords doesn't mean you'll rank for them.
In fact, the odds are not in your favor unless you know what you're doing (and even then it can be difficult).
Volume alone is a metric you can depend on. Just because someone has a high volume doesn't mean it'll be a good keyword to target for your business.
You have to ask why that keyword might have a high volume, how difficult it will be to capture some of that volume, and if that volume can actually make your business money.
Let's say you wanted to target the keyword "ways to lose fat" to help promote your business as a plastic surgeon.
Take a look at the Google results for this term. None of them are related to liposuction. That means people are not interested in surgical procedures when they search for this term.
So targeting that keyword isn't the best idea (unless you were to target it by providing a huge list of ways to lose fat and happened to include surgical options as well).
There are a variety of tools you can use to do informed keyword research, but few of them are free.
I use several when I'm working for clients and any serious SEO does. Most of these services have "basic" level options that are affordable for most businesses but let me add a disclaimer here for business owners:
If you or someone on your staff do not plan on investing a lot of time into learning and understanding SEO then paying for these tools will be a waste of money.
Several of my clients came to me after they realized they were spinning their wheels trying to use these tools due to focusing on the wrong metrics and being unable to see the big picture.
That being said, here are a few premium tools you can use to conduct keyword research (and more):
Ahrefs is, by far, the best tool of the three. Here's an Ahrefs keyword research checklist from Platonik that you can use that's specifically written for Ahrefs users.
7. Grouping into Buckets
If you have cataloged all of your keywords into a spreadsheet application like Excel or Google Sheets, you'll be in good shape to begin grouping them into "buckets."
Create a new column next to your keywords titled "Parent Category."
Go through your keywords one by one and assign a parent topic keyword to them (you'll often find that most of your keywords could fall underneath the umbrella of one of the related, higher-volume keywords you've already found).
You'll be basing each major content piece around one of these groups. You can either create a single massive piece of authority content that encompasses them all or another option is to create a "content hub."
Don't ignore keywords just because they don't have commercial value either.
Many of these keywords are what we call "informational" keywords.
While these may not help your business directly make money, they can be a massive asset when it comes to building backlinks and boosting the overall authority of your site.
8. Focus on Value
Ask yourself these kinds of questions as you create the final shortlist of your keywords:
- Can I outrank my competition for this keyword? How difficult will it be? Will I have to spend a lot of money on content marketing/backlink building to rank well?
- Is the traffic potential of this keyword even worth it?
- Will I make a good return if I invest in ranking for this keyword? What kind of return will it be? Direct return (i.e. leads and sales) or indirect return (promotion and brand awareness)?
Have any Questions?
There's a lot covered here and much more could be included. I'm interested to hear what free options you use for keyword research as well, let me know in the comments below.
And if you have any questions or didn't understand anything, feel free to reach out to me via the site's contact form or in the comments section.