Keyword research is critical for businesses who want to optimize their websites for search. Keyword research helps you determine which search terms people enter when searching on Google or other search engines. It can help you inform your SEO and overall content strategies.
In this post, we’ll outline our recommended keyword research process that will allow you to determine which keywords your target customers are searching for. This will help you develop a list of keywords that you should integrate into your SEO strategy.
Step 1: Develop a list of important topics for your business
The best place to start with keyword research is to determine 5–10 high-level topics that you want to rank for. To do this, think of which topics your potential customers may be searching for when looking for your product or service. For instance, if you are a company that sells sports equipment and clothing, you may search for general topic buckets such as “sports gear,” “sports clothing,” “sports accessories” or “sports shoes.” If you use HubSpot for marketing automation, you can use their Content Strategy Tool to get some ideas of which high-level topics you should consider.
Step 2: Fill in your high-level topic buckets with keywords
Once you determine which topics are relevant to your business, identify keywords that fall under these topics. These are the phrases that your customers are searching for and that you will want to rank for in the search engine results. For example, if “sports gear” was one of your topic buckets, some keywords may be “tennis rackets,” “soccer balls,” “football helmets” etc.
If you are having a hard time coming up with these keywords for your business, we recommend talking with your employees who are on the front line. They will have a good idea of the types of language your customers are using and typical questions that they may have. While you’re doing this, keep in mind that this is just part of the brainstorming process; these will not necessarily be your final keywords.
Another great way to determine keywords for your business is seeing which terms your customers have used in the past to discover your business. You can use Google Analytics or HubSpot's Sources tool to do this. Once you’re logged in to one of these tools, look at your site’s traffic sources and review organic search traffic. This will show you which keywords your site’s visitors are using to find your business online.
Step 3: Research related keywords
If you’re still struggling to figure out which keywords people use when searching a topic, you can turn to Google. As you type a keyword in the search bar, Google will suggest other related search terms. You can also search for the keyword and scroll to the very bottom of the Google results page. Here you will find additional suggestions for searches that are relevant or related to your original keyword search.
Step 4: Check for a mix of short-tail and long-tail keywords in each bucket
When developing your keyword buckets, make sure to use both short-tail and long-tail keywords. Short‑tail keywords are usually short—less than four words—and more general. Using our example above, a short-tail keyword could be “tennis rackets” or “football helmets.” Long‑tail keywords, on the other hand, are more than three words and are usually more specific. An example of a long-tail keyword phrase is “women’s Nike long-distance running shoes.”
Having a mix of the two types will give you a balanced keyword strategy. Short-tail keywords are searched for more frequently but have a higher level of competition. As a result, these are more difficult to rank for. You should not expect any quick wins with short-tail keywords, but you should still have a few that you focus on long term.
Long-tail keywords usually have a much lower search volume but are less competitive. Also, if your customer is searching for a specific long-tail keyword, it’s easier to see what that customer is actually looking for. Searches for long-tail keywords are likely much more relevant to your business’ products or service.
Step 5: Use the Google AdWords Keyword Planner to cut down your keyword list
Now that you have a solid list of keywords, you can narrow down the keywords using important quantitative data. It’s important to flag any keywords that have far too little search volume so you’re not focusing on keywords that your customers aren’t even using. Likewise, you don’t want to spend all your time focusing on keywords that have an extremely high search volume and level of competition.
You should use Google AdWords Keyword Planner to review search volume for each of the keywords on your lists.
By following these steps, you’ll be able to have the perfect list of terms that your small business can use to improve your organic SEO rankings. Make sure to revisit your keyword list every few months to ensure that the words are still relevant and to see how your ranking has improved.