How to do keyword research for your small business (Warning: Long Post)

In the last post of the What and Why Series,  I told you about keywords and why they are critical to your online marketing efforts.  

Today I will show you one basic method you can use to determine good keywords to use on your website, in your blog posts and your social media campaigns. This method will involve using free tools and a worksheet that I created for you. This is not the only, or the best method of  keyword research, but it can give you enough information to determine which keywords to target for your website or blog — and you can’t beat the price!

First, let me tell you the criteria for determining the best keywords:

The best keywords for your website will have:

  • Significant Search Volume – Obviously, you want to make sure that a significant number of people are regularly searching for the keywords that you are using on website.
  • Low Competition – Search volume isn’t everything in this game. Even if thousands of people are searching for your keywords every month, you won’t have much of a chance of getting in front of millions of other websites are using the same keywords!  Therefore you want to use keywords that have  a significant amount of people searching for them and as little competition as possible.
  • Commercial Relevance  – When researching your keywords you want to make a note of the keyword phrases that clearly show a searchers intention to buy vs. looking for information  or free products.

In order to help you keep track of these criteria as you do your research I have created a free worksheet for you. You can can download it by clicking here.

Notice that there is a column for the keyword you are researching, and one for each of the criteria listed above.

Now, let’s get started!

Step 1: Brainstorm

First, brainstorm a list of about 10 words and phrases that you think people will use to find information, products and service related to what you have to offer.

Remember that it’s important to list phrases, not just words. Nowadays people use phrases (also known as “long-tail-keywords”)  to find what they are looking for, not just single words — and single words are usually to broad and too difficult to rank for so really, when I say “keywords” I mostly mean keyword phrases. Let me give you an example:

Let’s say that you are a travel agent specializing in  “European Adventure Travel for Single Women.”  You may think that you optimize your website for the word “Travel”   However, by optimizing your website  for such a general  term you’ll be facing a lot of competition from local travel agents to  “the big boys” like Travelocity. You won’t stand a chance of getting on page one of search engine results for such a competitive term — and page one is where you need to be! Also, using “travel” as a keyword will bring you  all kinds of visitors to your website —  from people looking to go to Disneyland to people who want to go on an ocean cruise. They will not be your target customers of single women looking for adventure travel!

Therefore, you’d probably want to want to consider and research keyword phrases such as:

  • adventure travel for women
  • european adventure travel
  • travel groups for single women

Also, if you are a local business that includes local customers, remember to include local search terms in your research – these are names of local areas that you serve. After all, if you are a housepainter, you need customers in your local area — not across the globe! Plus —  it’s much easier to rank for “house painter thornhill” than it is for the term “housepainter.”

Two more tips to improve your brainstormed list of keyword phrases:

1)  Ask your friends, families and customers the following:  If they wanted to find your website, but they didn’t know the name of your business, what words would they type into google to find it?  Sometimes other people can provide surprising  insights into the mind of your target customer.

2) If you currently have a website, with an analytics program,  you could look at the traffic data from your current website for keyword ideas.  If you haven’t optimized your website for anything, and yet you are already getting some search engine traffic, imagine how much more you can get if you create a page or post and optimize it specifically for the phrase that is already brining in traffic.

So now we have a list of the search terms that we think people use to find our website. Now I will show you how to determine if the keywords meet the criteria that I listed above.

Step 2: Check for Competition

The first thing we are going to do is check on our competition for that keyword.  Go directly to the regular google search at Do not pass go, do not collect 200.  (Sorry. I couldn’t resist….)

Put in your search term at and hit enter. You don’t need to look at  the actual search results — just look under the search box at the number of results that comes up —


That number is a good indicator of your competition for the keywords that you just typed in! Now, of the ones that came up, only a handful may be actually  “strong competition” but  analyzing the strength of your competitors is beyond the scope of this blog post. For now, use the general rule-of-thumb that if the number of search results  is 500,000 or less, that is a word that will be relatively easy to rank for. Generally speaking, the higher the number of search results, the harder it will be to rank on page one for the search results for that term.

To complete this step,  make a note of that number of search results in the competition column and note if it is low, medium or high.  Now we’re going to go to another website.

 Step 3: Enter Your Words at the Google Adwords Keyword Tool 

Go To

Put your search term in the box pictured below.  Click “exact match” in the left hand column and change the country by clicking “Advanced Options an Filters” if needed. Then click on the search button.


Your results will look like this:



Step 4: Evaluate Your Results.

  1. Keyword Variations – The first thing you’ll see is a long list of keyword phrases. Take a good look at that list and see if it sparks any ideas for other keyword phrases that you had not considered in your initial list.  If so, simply make a note of the additional phrases you would like to research when you are done with your initial list.
  2. Commercial Intent – While looking over the keyword variations, be sure to note if the keywords show that the searchers are seeking infomation, free items, or are looking to make a purchase. For example, search terms that include the terms “how-to” or “tips” might have high search volume and low competition, but they are probably people being used by who are looking to solve a problem themselves — not buy a gadget or hire a service provider to solve the issue for them. These terms may be helpful on your supporting pages or on your blog, but generally do not belong on your main sales pages.

On the other hand, if you see keyword phrases that include the words “best, review, coupon” etc — that that shows that these searchers are probably looking to make a purchase. You’ll want to evaluate these terms closely.

  1. Global/Local Search Volume – Next you’ll want to evaluate the search volume for your term. Global searches refers to international searches. Local searches refers to searches within the country that you selected.  Remember, you want the search volume to be “significant” – but “significant” is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re a local service provider – 300 local searches/month on a term such as “Toronto Plumbers”  may be enough for you to choose that keyword (especially if the competition for your search term is low).  This is where keyword research becomes both an art and a science. The numbers can only take you so far — you have to use your brain and your gut. But the great news is that you can try something, track your results and change your strategy if it isn’t working.
  2. Competition – While where here take a look at the shaded boxes in the column marked “competition.” That column displays competiton for the keyword in the paid adwords section of the search results. In other words, it is an indicator of competition, but not for the organic search listings. Still, the information is valuable. You want the word to have some competiton, because if it didn’t, then it’s probably not a valuable keyword. However, but more shaded the box, the tougher it will probably be to rank for even in the organic search results. So consider this one indicator of competition, and the that you got from the direct google search another indicator of competiton.

Congratulations! After completing this process several times, for several keyword phrases, and filling out the worksheet I provided (or your own spreadsheet)  you will probably  be  have eliminated many useless keywords  and probably found several that you hadn’t considered before.

Now, I want to point out that this is just one way to do keyword research. Most professionals just use it as a starting point.  There are many other ways to do it and a few other tools I use that give me more detailed and sophisticated data — but I chose this one to write about  because it is relatively simple, it’s free, and it’s pretty reliable.  If you have to do your own keyword research,  and you at least do this you’ll be ahead of most other small business owners.

Now all that’s left is to put your keywords in the right places on your website. In the copy and code. I’ll cover that in another blog post won’t go into much detail here but you need to actually USE the keyword phrases in your content for the research to accomplish anything.

Make sure you use your keyword phrases in the Title, Description, Headings, Alt Text, etc. When possible, link from other pages/posts to the new page or post using the keyword phrase. This is called internal linking.  You’ll also want to get external links from websites other than yours. The external links need to appear natural to search engines so don’t obsess over all of the links having the same phrase.

Step 5: Rinse and repeat

Things change over time so conduct keyword research periodically to make sure you are still targeting the best keyword phrases.

Additional Resources 

What are keyword matching options? (More info about Broad, Phrase, Exact, Negative)

Advanced tips for using the Keyword Tool

A series with more information on how to determine local keywords:

How to Use Google Trends and Google Insights for More In-Depth Information

Need More Help With Keyword Research?

If this blog post made your eyes glaze over, and you want someone to do more in-depth keyword research for you,  then let The E-Marketing Maven’s Dream Team of internet marketing professionals help you determine the best keywords to use on your website,  social media accounts, and in all of your online marketing efforts. Click here to contact The Maven. 












What are keywords and why are they critical for your small business’ website &(and everything else that you do online to promote your business)?

 This blog post is part of the “What and Why” Series. You can learn more about the What and Why Series by clicking here. 

In my last post, I explained what a Direct Response Website is and why it is important for your small business.  I also told you that in  each of my next blog posts I would explain five essential elements of a  Direct Response Website.

You may be surprised to see that, according to The Maven,  the first element of designing  a Direct Response Website has nothing to do with graphic design. Actually, it is more related to search engine optimization.  The first essential element of designing a Direct Response Website is to make sure that you know the right keywords to use, and put them in the right places on your website.

Keywords are the words that people type into the search box in a search engine. Yes, they are simple little things — but using the right ones, in the right way, can have a huge impact on your business.

Remember — words sell, pictures don’t. The images on your site should support your words, not the other way around. So it’s best to pick your keywords first, the write the copy around your keywords.

After all, as soon as you’re done designing your website, you’re going to want people to find it…and not just any “people”  — you want your target customer to find your website.  In other words, you want people who are interested in what you have to sell to find your website when they search on the internet for information, products, and services related to what you have to offer.

In order to have any chance of the people who are interested in what you have to sell finding your website when they use a search engine, your site must include the words that your target customers will type into the search engine to find information, products and services related to your business — and those keywords must be in the right places on your website.

Now doesn’t make the most sense figure out the words that your target customer will put into the search engines to find information, products and services related to what you have to offer — and put them into the right places on your website, as you build your site — rather than waiting till the website is done and then having to “backtrack” and modify the site?

Well, The Maven certainly thinks it so! But surprisingly, many website designers don’t agree!

I frequently meet small business owners who have had a website designed by a graphic artist and then then are told to “go have it optimized.”   Then business owners  are upset  when they realize the extra time, money, and effort it will take to perform keyword research and integrate their keywords into their website. (Has this happened to you? If so, please share your experience in the comments below!) Sometimes clients get even more frustrated when the keyword research that I perform reveals important insights into their target customer that if they had known, they would have integrated into the their website and other marketing campaigns.

Keywords are the cornerstone of everything you do online, from creating your website to  blogging to using social media. Every aspect of marketing your business on the internet should be built around your keywords. Therefore, in order to save time, money, and heartache down-the-road, I recommend that you take the time to do keyword research  before you create your website or do anything else online to promote your business.

So, to sum up, the first step in designing a website that help your business get new customers is not actually related to graphic design at all.  The first step is to determine the (key)words that your target customers enter into the search engines to find information, products, and services specifically related to your business.  Armed with that knowledge, you can move forward and design a website that will be extremely effective at more leads and sales for your small business.

Do you agree?

Have you had a website designed and then was upset when you realized the extra time, money and effort it would take to have it optimized? It seems to happen to my clients all the time! Please share your experience in the comments below!

Want To Learn More? 

Then be sure to come back! In the next post The Maven will show you a simple method for finding the best keywords to use on your website.

What is a Direct Response Website and Why Is It Important For Your Business?

This is the first official blog post of The What and Why Series. You can learn more about The What And Why Series by clicking  here.

Everyday I meet small  business owners who have nice-looking websites, and even get lots of visitors, but do not generate business from their site. Their website is just another expense, when it should be an asset for their company!

In fact,  one entrepreneur recently said to me, “I don’t get it. I’m number one in google for good keywords, and my phone should be ringing-off-the-hook, but it’s not! I rarely get a phone call from someone who has been to my website and I can’t afford traditional marketing like newspaper ads! Can you help me figure out what’s wrong? ”

I suspected that I knew the cause of her problem, and one look at her  website confirmed it.  While her site looked attractive and provided adequate information about the business, it was basically an online brochure. It was not set up to encourage visitors to take any action, like to make a call, for example. Her site was not designed to begin a relationship with a prospect, generate leads, or make sales.

A Direct Response Website is a site that is designed to get a targeted group of people to take a specific action(s) with the ultimate goal of generating a lead or a sale. These specific actions can include: calling a phone number, filling out a form, signing up for email, printing out a coupon, engaging in online chat and / or making a purchase.

A Direct Response Website can certainly be attractive and reflect your branding, but  (prepare to be shocked!) it doesn’t even have to look good help put money in your pocket. Even a simple, basic, (dare I say it — “ugly”)  website can be more effective at generating leads and sales than a fancy, beautiful one, if the site is  set up according to the principles of Direct Response website design.

Creating a Direct Response Website, or tweaking your current website to incorporate some of the tools and principles of Direct Response Design is critical to your business for several reasons.  If your website doesn’t  “do it’s job” of generating leads and sales then:

  1. As I said above, it is an expense, not an asset for your company.
  2. You will have to spend more money on traditional advertising to try to attract new customers.
  3. Even if you do spend more money on traditional advertising to get new customers, they will likely look at your website before they decide to call you, come into your store or place an order, so you want your website to encourage them to take action right away!
  4. If you invest time and money in using social media to attract new business, your efforts will likewise be undermined by having an old-fashioned, ineffective, brochure-style website. After finding you on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, people will go to your website to “check you out.”  If your website isn’t set up to generate leads or sales sell, you’ll simply miss out on a lot new business.

Need I say more?

Well, yes, in fact, I must say more…

I’m not going to just tell you about what a Direct Response Website is and why it is important…and leave you hanging…

That would make me a very mean Maven…and “mean” is not my style!

I imagine that, at this point, you want to know how to design a Direct Response Website, or how to tweak your current website to include Direct Response tools and principles.  So below  I will  list  the five essential elements of a Direct Response Website and I will describe each element in greater depth, in the upcoming posts in the “What and Why” Series.

5 Essential Elements of a Direct Response Website Are:

  • Well Researched Keywords In The Right Places
  • Concise, “Emotional,” Action-Focused Copywriting
  • Simple Design & Natural Navigation
  • A “Call-To-Action” On Every Page (but not too many!)
  • A Lead-Capture Mechanism With An “Ethical Bribe”
  • A Blog (Yes. I said it and I mean it! Your company’s website needs a blog. Period.)

That’s all for now. As I said above, I will cover each of these elements of  Direct Response Websites in future blog posts…so stay tuned! Or, if you just can’t wait, and you need help designed a Direct Response Website right now, then contact me here. I have several affordable options to help get your phone ringin’ and your door swingin’!)