Intuitive keyword research for small business

intuitive keyword researchIntuitive keyword research is about using your own knowledge about your business to choose keywords phrases that make sense. There are some great tools out there for discovering keywords, and I’ll recommend a few of my favorites, but keyword tools won’t do you any good if you don’t already understand how people think about your business services. In my estimation, most keyword tools will give you about 95% junk and 5% gold. And picking the good ones isn’t about simply choosing the keywords with the most traffic and the least amount of competition. You need to train yourself to be able to recognize the intent behind a search query and pick the phrases that will be best addressed by your business. Sometimes this means choosing keywords with high competition and low traffic–and that’s ok.

The most important keyword tool is your brain

Your brain is your most important keyword generating tool. The 2nd and 3rd most important keyword resources are your employees and your customers. 4rth is probably Google’s keyword planner, but we’ll get to that.


An anecdote

A few years ago I was working for an eBook distribution company (that will remain unnamed) and we hired a high-profile SEO company (who will also remain unnamed) to help grow our rankings. The company was great at selling us on their vast experience, wealth of tools, and deep data. Sadly, when it came down to actually choosing keywords . . . well, they sucked.

The main keyword they chose to focus on for our homepage and place prominently in our title tag was (drum roll, please) “make books.”  Which is funny because, we didn’t “make books.” That’s not what our company did. We were an eBook distribution company.  They placed a border-line irrelevant keyword in arguably the most important SEO element on our site (the title tag for the homepage). The SEO company explained that “make books” was a high traffic, low competition keyword. But that was beside the point.  People who type “make books” into Google are probably interested in book binding, crafts, maybe book printing, possibly writing. Chances are they are not looking for eBook distribution. By changing our homepage title to “make books” we risked confusing anyone who searched for us in Google and read that title.

Long-story-short we fired the SEO company because they simply didn’t understand our business (and they created a bunch of spammy links that we got penalized for).

Now “make books” may have had some value as a keyword if it were used in a different context. Some of these “make books” searchers might “also” be interested in eBook distribution. But the goal of SEO is to give searchers exactly what they want when they search for it. “Make books” might be a good target for a blog post or a white paper where we could provide information about book making. Then we could capture email addresses and build our prospect list.

This is why I think it’s so important for small business owners to understand the basics of SEO. It’s not rocket science. If you understand your business, then you probably have a pretty good idea of what kinds of keywords you should be focusing on. And whether you hire an SEO company or do it yourself, understanding the logic behind SEO will can be a huge advantage.

Building your keyword list

One of the best ways to start building your list is to interview yourself. Ask yourself what you would type into a search engine to find a business like your own. Write down as many keyword phrases as you can and then ask your customers and clients the same thing. I have a worksheet that I usually send my SEO clients to start the keyword research process. If you’d like to download your own copy (for the low low price of free), click here.

Group by intention

Once you’ve brainstormed a keyword list, of anywhere from 50 to a bazillion, group them into tightly related topics based on the intent of the searcher. The intention of the searcher is the most important quality of a keyword phrase. If the searcher’s intent is to buy flip flops and you’re selling dress shoes, it’s not a good keyword for you. Unfortunately, many keywords will have mixed intentions. For example “buy footwear” night include people looking for flip flops and dress shoes. In the beginning, I recommend focusing on keywords that have very clear intentions, like “buy dress shoes.”

if i were selling men’s dress shoes, women’s dress shoes, and  kids dress shoes. I’d create 3 separate groups of keywords based on each type of shoe. And from there I might create subgroups based on color or brand, etc. It’s also important to differentiate and understand the difference between informational queries from transactional queries because they represent very different intentions.

Separate transactional and informational queries

10% of all Google searches are transactional in nature–meaning that the searcher is looking to take action. 80% of all searches online are informational in nature, and the last 10% is navigational (people typing in the domain name they want to go to. Transactional queries and informational queries require different kinds of marketing and SEO strategies so it’s best to separate them. I’ll go into each below.

Transactional Queries

Transactional queries contain the most important keywords to your business. These keyword phrases represent searchers who are ready to take action. People who are looking to buy, purchase, signup, submit, download, etc. Only 10% of all search queries are transactional, so the competition is sometimes stiff. A transactional query reveals the searchers intent to take action.

A few examples of transactional queries:

buy dress shoes
where to buy peanut butter portland,
nearest dry cleaner
signup car insurance
subscribe to magazine

Informational Queries

In order to grow your search engine presence you should regularly create content that targets informational queries. Usually this kind of content comes in the form of blog posts, videos, white papers, and info-graphics.

Informational queries represent the searcher’s intent is to self-educate.

Here’s some information query examples:

best dress shoes for men
how is peanut butter made
should i dry clean my sweater
which is cheapest car insurance
good magazine about pet care

Think about your customers in the various stages leading up to a purchase. What information are they looking for? These searches often begin with question words like “who, what, when where, why, and how” Even-though searchers don’t sometimes omit the question words. For example: “best dress shoes for men” translates to “What are the best dress shoes for men.”

Product/Services and Modifiers

Once you begin building a list of your most valuable keyword phrases, you’ll probably begin to notice that your keyword phrases are usually made up of two parts. Usually you’ll have the main product or services word or phrase and then an additional word or two that narrows the meaning of the phrase.  Your product/service words are usually nouns or verbs: peanut butter, dry cleaning, dress shoes.  Your modifiers are the words that searchers use to narrow down their search results. Words like: salty, nearby, cheap, best, high-end, organic, etc.

Combining your products with different modifiers will often produce a slew of new keywords. At this stage it is sometimes useful to use a tool other than your brain. Try using a thesaurus to discover new modifiers that you can apply to your product service words. How many ways can you say “cheap” or “delicious.”

Ok. We’ve held off long enough. On to the keyword tools. Here are some of the most popular and useful tools. Some of the free versions are limited, but they can all offer useful insights.

Keyword tools

Keyword concepts

Keyword strategy has changed quite a bit over the last few years. Rather focusing on just one keyword per page, it’s better to think of keyword optimization in terms of concepts. You can still focus on a particular keyword in your site title, but don’t feel like you need to sprinkle it everywhere on the page. Instead us highly related terms and various conjugations and formations of the same keyword phrase. If your content is good, this will probably happen naturally.

Don’t forget about the content

Keywords need content. If you have discovered a group of valuable keywords but don’t know what page on your website addresses their needs, it probably means you need to create a new page. Create the content and they will come. Don’t bother trying to optimize for keywords that your website can’t answer. There’s no use focusing on keywords that represent customers you can’t help. If you’re selling only “salted” peanut butter, forget about the “unsalted” keywords. If you’re not providing a tutorial for how to make peanut butter, don’t try to rank for Peanut butter recipes. Concentrate on the searchers that your business can truly help, and you will be rewarded with customers.

What are your thoughts on intuitive keyword research? Please let me know if this article has been helpful (and/or confusing) in the comments below.

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