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.