Keyword research is the first step in a well-thought-out and successful SEO strategy. It’s also a huge component of your PPC advertising tactics. 

Because keyword research is such a determining factor in whether or not prospects discover your business, it’s natural to want to handle it with the utmost of care. But where do you get started, and how can you be sure you’re going about it the right way? 

Gone are the days of off-the-cuff keyword research. Before you outsource your SEO, check out the steps I’ve outlined for you to tackle keyword research from every angle, ensuring you select the most valuable search terms for your industry and company. The results? Your small business will be found more easily online and be able to generate more qualified leads, more effectively filling your sales pipeline and keeping your business top-of-mind.

Let’s get started. 

1. Outline Your Objectives

In a perfect world, your company’s website would rank first. But, search engine rankings are competitive, and only one site can lock in that spot (there’s also Google’s prized featured snippet position to consider). With so much competition, the stakes are high, so you have to weigh the best options out there for getting you as close as possible to that coveted top spot. 

If you only care about being at the top, then right off the bat, you may want to consider paid search. Paid ads generally rank in the first few spots within search results. However, Google considers customer satisfaction alongside the price you are willing to pay for an ad. So, if users are disappointed when they click on your ad, your irrelevant or misleading ad will drop down the list, even if you pay top dollar. 

The best way to avoid customer dissatisfaction is to make your landing pages highly targeted and directly related to specific keywords, and then build your paid ads based on those same keywords. This is why organic keyword research is so vital before you spend any money on ads. 

2. Understand Your Target Users

Your website users are many and varied, but for keyword research purposes, you need to segment them into multiple groups according to the language they use.

Search engines rank each page of your website according to specific criteria, including the words on the page. This means you can target different groups of users and the problems they are trying to solve by using different keywords on different pages. 

For example, if you have many visitors coming from the UK, consider using British phrases rather than American ones on the pages that UK searchers are visiting. Think about using British spellings of keywords in pages that are aimed at UK users. 

If you have a marketing plan, then you probably already have your target audience defined. But make sure you dive a little deeper by examining the types of words and phrases your audience might use to search for a solution related to what you offer. It’s a good idea to chat with your sales team about this to determine any questions they regularly get in their conversations.

Want some help with identifying your target audience? Download our Buyer Persona Workbook

3. Competitor Keywords

Part of ensuring your content ranks higher than competing brands is to know what keywords those competitors are ranking for. All’s fair in the SEO game, so use a tool, like SEMrush, to “steal” your competitors’ keyword research and incorporate it into your strategy. 

SEMrush provides you with a competing site’s keyword overview so you can see what sort of search phrases, variations, and questions they’re ranking for. This is key information that can help you determine what phrases you should focus your content on so you can outrank the competition and shore up any keyword gaps on your website. 

4. Expand Your Keyword Lists

Don’t solely rely on your competitor analysis. Brainstorm other keywords that relate to your industry, services, and product, and start building your initial list. 

Once you have your source keywords, there are tools to give you variations of them. Wordtracker and Moz Keyword Explorer are two tools to consider.

Wordtracker is great because you can simply add in a keyword, and it provides you with a ton of variations related to it. It also includes suggestions that could provide you with other keyword ideas you may not have considered. Similar to most keyword search tools, Wordtracker provides a few free ideas and more when you subscribe.

Moz Keyword Explorer gives you thousands of keyword suggestions for any input. The data you get in the free tool is limited, but that’s a lot of ideas that are sure to get the wheels spinning.

5. Consider Paid Tools

Going the paid route isn’t totally necessary. As long as you see the results you want, you don’t need to advance to paid tools or even outsource a paid search agency. However, if you have some extra room in your budget and want to get more competitive, this section is for you.

Moz and Wordtracker have paid options that expand beyond what you can get for free, but there are many other premium options out there as well. Most keyword tools include a free trial of the paid version, so experiment until you find one that meets your needs.


SpyFu’s basic plan offers many valuable features, including unlimited data and domain searches to find your competitors’ keywords. SpyFu identifies the keywords your competitors target with their PPC ads, so if you’re planning to invest in PPC advertising, the small monthly fee of $33 might be worthwhile.

Keyword Spy

Keyword Spy’s cheaper accounts have search limits but include the ability to see the live PPC ads your competitors are running. If you can base your PPC campaign on the research others have done, it can ease your learning curve and help you format profitable ads sooner. Their prices start at $89.95 a month. 

6. Perform Regular Keyword Research

Keyword research is a never-ending task. Word usage and industry trends change, and people search for different topics depending on the season and news. That’s why making keyword research a regular initiative in your marketing strategy is so important. 

Twitter’s Trending hashtags and Google Trends are good places for ongoing keyword research.

Use the country, date, and category filters on Google Trends to find the most relevant results. And make sure you set a reminder for yourself to check in on these trends every month or so. 

Another keyword research tool to check out is Google Keyword Planner. It’s offered through Google Ads and it’s totally free to use. It provides you with keyword ideas and search volume metrics so you can determine which keywords are the most valuable. It also provides you with forecasts so you can determine if certain keywords will perform well in the future.

7. Measure Your Success

This is an obvious one. How are you going to know if your efforts are succeeding if you don’t check your results? Use a free rank checking tool to check your rank in search engines and indicate if you’re climbing in search results. Keep track of your placement each time so you can compare month over month, and see if any specific pieces of content you’re creating or certain paid ads are helping in these efforts.


The Small SEO Tools checker is free and straightforward to use (and it offers an array of other helpful marketing and content tools, too). 

Don’t get totally hung up on measuring your search engine rank. Remember, rank checkers can never give the whole picture, and Google serves different results to different users depending on their location, previous search history, and even what their social media contacts have reacted to.

How well and thoroughly you perform your keyword research indicates how well your SEO strategy delivers. Make sure that your keyword strategy remains fluid and up-to-date so your content ranks appropriately and becomes more visible to your potential customers.