How to do keyword research

Keyword research is the process of finding the phrases your customers use to see companies like you in the search engines.

Why is keyword research necessary?

Keyword research will tell you some important things about your SEO campaign:

  • Are people looking for what your company has to offer? If not, you need to think about a different marketing channel besides SEO.
  • You learn to speak your customers’ language. Even if you’re not doing SEO, this is basic marketing. You need to make sure you describe what you have to offer customers using phrases they understand.
  • Once you know the words your customers are searching for to find your company’s services, you can optimize your pages with these phrases. Most people think of this when it comes to SEO (although there’s a lot more to it than this).

What should you expect from keyword research?

At the end of the keyword research process, you’ll have a list of many possible phrases your potential customers might use to find you. You’ll know what pages you need to create on your site from this list. You’ll also have ideas for new blog posts you can write on your site (or other sites for link-building purposes). You can get so much from keyword research that I give these processes away for free.

The Keyword Research Process

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This is how you do keyword research:

Brainstorm your keyword list
  1. Brainstorm. Create a list of all the ways a customer might look for a product or service you offer. Consider: abbreviations, plurals, shorthand, specialized terminology, synonyms, vernacular (even incorrect ways to refer to something you offer). I like to use a spreadsheet to collect this list. Start by Googling a couple phrases. Notice:
    1. Take a look at the website. What products or services does it talk about? Don’t limit yourself to these ideas but use this as a starting point to understand their industry and the kinds of things offered.
    2. Take some of these ideas to Google:
      1. Does Google autosuggest some phrases you should consider? Add these to your list.
      2. Does Google tell you questions that “People also ask”? Write these down. They might not make good keywords but they will make good blog posts, later.
      3. At the bottom of the search results Google might tell you phrases for which “People also searched”. Write these down and click to find more ideas (if relevant).
      4. There are several tools that can help you with brainstorming. Some have free plans. These tools often pull their data from the sources I mentioned above.
    3. Don’t forget to look at your Google Search Console or within your Google Ads accounts for other ideas.
Clarify and gather data for your keyword list
  1. Clarify. Can you be even more specific? Can you modify any of your broader terms with geographical modifiers (or “near me”)? Service classifiers (“company”, “services”, “provider”, etc)? There are several tools that can help you merge lists of phrases that can help. It’s important for you to understand the difference between short tailed and long tailed keywords when clarifying your list.
  2. Gather Data. Don’t assume you know how most people look for what your company has to offer. Use a tool to get objective data and learn how your customers are really searching for you. With data, you’ll know what to focus on. There are several ways to gather this information:
    1. The best tool is Google’s Keyword Planner. Unfortunately, you need to have an active Google Ads campaign in order to access this tool. Fortunately, an active Google Ads campaign is a great way to get real data on how customers might be looking for you.
    2. You can use Google Trends to identify how many people are interested in a particular phrase. This is free, but can be pretty tedious to use.
    3. If you verify your website with Bing Webmaster Tools, you can access the Bing keyword research tool to get search impression data for keywords you enter. Why would you use Bing data to rank on Google? Because this is real search data- albeit at a smaller scale than Google.
    4. There are various paid keyword research tools that will give you the data from Google’s Keyword Planner (or something similar)- for a price. I don’t yet have a recommended tool for this.
Organize and focus your keyword list
  1. Organize. Now that you have a big list of all the phrases your customers might use to find you (with data confirming people are actually searching for the phrase) you should organize this list into topics. Google has moved past merely focusing on specific phrases. Instead Google thinks in terms of topics. You should organize your words into topics that they each have in common.
  2. Focus. Each of your topics should have a corresponding page on your website to focus on. In some cases, you might already have pages for a topic. Other times you might need to create a new page for a topic. Once you’ve designated a page for each topic, you can begin the optimization process.

Doing keyword research for the first time

The first time you do keyword research, I recommend creating an SEO blueprint next. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet listing each page and stating what your main keywords (or better, topics) might be for each of those pages. That’s the next step in the SEO game plan.

Review your previous keyword research in 6 months

I recommend reviewing your keyword research every six months. Over that time, ask yourself:

  • Are there new products or services your company is offering that you didn’t the last time you did keyword research? Research those ideas for possible optimization of those pages.
  • Are your customers or is your industry changing so that the way people are referring to your products or services different? You might update your focus.
  • As you become more familiar with a particular industry or service you offer, is there a better way to talk about it? Maybe you should update your focus on these pages.

What’s next?

Don’t forget to update your game plan spreadsheet with the date you completed this task so you can remember to return to it in a few months. In the meantime, sort your game plan spreadsheet by the “Review” date and proceed with the next item.

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