• Danielle St. Cyr

5 Steps to Great Keyword Research for SEO

There are few marketing challenges as intimidating to a SMB owner than the idea of figuring out keyword research.


But don’t despair, because we’ve demystified it for you! It’s not quick, and it can be somewhat complex, but you gain so much valuable insight into content creation that it’s ALWAYS worth it. Keyword research will help you create content that helps you rise to the top of organic search rankings and draw interested customers to your products and services.



Just follow these 5 steps to get started on keyword research for SEO:

  • Answer a few questions about your audience, what they’re searching for, and what you can provide to them. This is where having a good idea of your target audience, part of building your brand, comes in handy! Are they local, national, international? What is their demographic makeup? What kinds of things might they be looking for to make their lives easier or more fun? Why would they choose one brand over another, and what do they need to feel comfortable about choosing a product? Then take a look at what your company provides, thinking about your unique value proposition, and how you can differentiate your company online. This research will be helpful when you start focusing on specific keywords later and enable you to choose keywords that matter the most to your target audience and company.

  • Make a list of topics relevant to your business and brand. These should be general topics, not specific keywords. For instance, a hardware store might create topic “buckets” such as house painting, plumbing materials, lawncare equipment, and carpentry tools. These are the things people frequently ask about when they come into your store, that you talk about on sales calls, that you blog about often, and also that you WANT your business to be found for in an online search. Think big and broad!

  • Take a look at your competitors. It is very helpful to understand both who your top online competitors are (because they might not be the same as your brick-and-mortar competitors!) and the kinds of keywords your competitors are ranking for. The place to start is Google, and searching for your topic words should give you a good idea of the search landscape. You can see who comes up in the top spots frequently, and for which topics. You can also see where these top online competitors might be falling short – it’s a good idea to focus on ranking for those topic keyword groups, especially if you’re up against huge national companies.

  • Fill your topic “buckets” with keywords. Think of all kinds of different keywords, from brand terms and product terms, to competitor terms and audience terms (also check out Neil Patel’s great article which talks about these kinds of keyword terms and their relative value). You can use free tools such as Answer the Public (gives data about questions consumers are asking online) and Keywords Everywhere (a browser add-on that does keyword research) to give you ideas and help refine some of your keywords. Don’t forget to include long-tail keywords, meaning those keyword phrases that are more specific (think “berber carpet installers in Boise” rather than “carpet installers”); those keywords have a smaller search volume but you’ll also likely have less competition and your chances of ranking well in searches are higher. A way to find additional keywords that your top online competitors are using is to use Google by entering a search term and then site:competitorsite.com (ie. “coffee pot site:walmart.com”). This will give you a list of alternative keywords that your competitor ranks for in Google for this term. You can add these to your list as well. Another great way to find keywords you might not have considered is to take a look at some industry forums, groups, or Q&A sites, which can give you some insight into what customers are talking about right now, or what questions they might have.

  • Organize and prioritize your keywords. Now that you have what might be an enormous list of potential keywords, where to start? You need to figure out the value of each keyword, both in terms of your business and in terms of ranking. To do this, you first need to look at some metrics. The easiest way to do this is to create a spreadsheet with all of the keywords and list beside them their search volume, impressions, clicks, and CPC bid price (you can use a tool such as Keywords Everywhere, Moz’s Keyword Explorer, or SpyFu). The reason you want to look at the CPC bid price, which is not an organic search metric, is because it gives you an idea of how competitive that keyword is, and how difficult it will be to rank highly for it in organic search (higher price = more competitive). You can also use Google Trends to look at search patterns over time – there may be seasonal fluctuations or patterns to customer searches that you can use to your advantage. You have to combine this information with what you know about your business priorities, your unique value proposition, and your company’s ability to produce content that matches that keyword. While a particular group of keywords might have great metrics, that is not useful to your company or your SEO prospects if those terms aren’t something that is a high priority, don’t match your company’s mission, or aren’t in a topic in which you have authority (expertise).

This refined list of keywords is your starting point for content across your digital marketing efforts. Take a look at your existing content, and how you can use these keywords to beef up or expand on current webpages. See what keyword(s) each piece of content on your site most closely aligns with, and if that content is well-optimized for that keyword. If not, it is time to either do a rewrite, or create a different content structure to better match that keyword. Use this list of keywords as starting points for blog posts and FAQs, and make sure to sprinkle them in social posts and email marketing to both maintain cohesiveness across channels (remember your brand!) and draw your customers to your site – after all, you’ve determined that those are the things they are most interested in! Keyword research can be time consuming, but it is absolutely necessary if you want to show up at the top of those search pages and get those valuable customer clicks.