How to Do Keyword Research for Small Business

Keyword research for small businesses is different from that of larger organizations. Small businesses often don’t have the resources (time, bandwidth, budget) to devote to running a massive SEO campaign. But that doesn’t mean a small business can’t achieve excellent results from keyword research – you just have to find a smarter way to compete with the bigger players.

Keyword research is important for businesses of any size because it can tell you what people are searching for, rather than what you think they are searching for, allowing you to better connect with your customer base. Additionally, it will help you find the best terms you can be competitive on, despite fewer resources.

Below, we explain the four-step process to keyword research for small business and how you can build a strategy that gets the best results when you have limited resources.

Jump to:
Step 1: Discovery

Step 2: Research

Step 3: Analysis

Step 4: Refine

Step 1: Discovery
The Discovery phase is all about seed keyword generation. During this phase, you’ll meet with your internal stakeholders – team members, managers, executives, etc. – for a brainstorming session.

Use your team to generate a wide list of all of the words and phrases that are associated with your organization:

goods and/or services your business provides

terms associated with your brand

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ancillary and niche terms

words and phrases you think your customers might search to find your business (if you have Google Search Console set-up, you’ll be able to see what terms people are searching that brings up your site in search results)

Make sure your list includes both broad and specific terms, as well as “long-tail” terms. Long-tail terms are longer phrases that are usually very specific to goods and services. For example, “carburetor” is a broad term, while “replacement carburetor for craftsman lawn mower” is a long-tail term.

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During your brainstorming session, give special importance to transactional terms – the words people are searching with a high intent to purchase goods and services.

Once you have generated your seed keywords, find synonyms for the words and phrases you recorded and include those in your list as well. For example, if I’m an online candle vendor, my list might include terms like “candles” (broad), “candle gifts” (transactional term), “hand-poured soy wax candles” (niche/long-tail) and “paraffin-free candles” (synonym). Ocubedigital Internet Marketing Agency

Once you have generated your list of terms, it’s time to do research.

Step 2: Research
To conduct keyword research for your small business, you’ll use your list of seed keywords to generate additional keywords you might not have identified in your discovery phase. To do this, you can use a variety of free and paid keyword research tools.

Free Tools for Small Business Keyword Research

Answer the Public, Google Trends, and the autocomplete feature in the Google search bar are all free tools that can help you generate even more keywords and identify the terms your target client base is searching for.

Searching the term “soy candle” brings up “phthalate free candle”,“100 percent soy wax candles” and many more candle-related keywords that might have been missed during the initial brainstorming session.

Use Answer The Public As A Free Tool To Conduct Small Business Keyword Research

Answer the Public

Use Google Trends Free Tool For Keyword Research For Small Business

Google Trends

Paid Tools for Small Business Keyword Research

Paid keyword research tools like Moz and Ahrefs are good choices because they not only help you generate additional keywords, they also provide important data specific to each keyword that can help you decide which keywords to target (we’ll talk more about keyword targeting in step 3). If your organization is already running ads on Google, then you already have access to Google Ads Keyword Planner to conduct research, and at Digital Dynamo our main keyword research tool is Semrush.

Start by entering your seed keywords into your keyword research tool. When you enter a term, your tool will generate a list of related keywords, phrases, and questions.

SEO audit checklist

In the Semrush results above, you can see that “soy candles”, “soy wax candles” and “how to make soy candles” are the top three keyword results related to the seed keyword “soy candles”, as the search volume per month is listed on the right for each term.

If the terms generated in the search are related to the goods and services of your organization, they should be added to a list inside the tool for further analysis. In this example, there are 10,057 keyword search terms related to “soy candles” that may be considered for keyword targeting.

Continue entering your seed keywords into your tool and adding the results to your list. Searching the seed keyword “candle gifts” brings up 2,718 additional results:

SEO audit checklist

Again, add any keywords that are relevant to the goods and services you provide. Stay away from any competitor branding, such as “yankee candle gift set” in the example above. Work through your seed keyword list until you’ve entered and identified all of the keywords you’d like to consider targeting on your website.

Using a paid tool can help you identify your competitor’s keywords, too. Make sure to add those keywords to your list as well (as long as they are relevant to your business). Below, Pure Integrity Soy Candles’ website is ranking for “soy pillar candles”, so I might want to add that phrase to my candle vendor list if the business also sells soy pillar candles.

SEO audit checklist

Once you have identified enough of your relevant keywords, the next step in the process is analysis.

Step 3: Analysis
Now it’s time to examine the data provided by your keyword tool. This is where keyword research for small businesses can differ greatly from keyword research for larger companies. When considering keywords to target as a small business, you’ll want to look at the following metrics provided by your keyword research tool:

Search volume – the average number of times a specific search query is entered into a search engine per month. The higher the search volume, the more people are searching for a term.

Keyword difficulty – a metric that tells you how hard it would be to rank in the top 10 results for a particular search query. The higher the percentage, the more difficult it will be to achieve.

Click Through Potential – the likelihood that a user will click through to your website if your result is displayed to them after their search query. The higher the score, the more likely it is that a user will visit your website

SERP Competition – any result on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) that is not a traditional organic result, such as paid ads, knowledge panels, videos, images, people also ask, and rich snippets. If there are a lot of SERP features taking up real estate on the results page, you may want to choose an alternate term to target. However, you can also use this information to see if there are SERP features that you want to try targeting.

Search Intent – the main goal a user has when typing a query into a search engine. (This information isn’t provided by your keyword research tool, so more on that below)

Depending on the results of your research, your list of keywords could be tens to tens of thousands of words long. Here’s how to begin narrowing down keyword targets for your small business based on the data you’ve collected:

Find the low-hanging fruit.

The first keywords you’ll want to identify are those with a high search volume but a low keyword difficulty (if there are any). This means that a lot of users are searching for the term or phrase, and if you choose to target it, you’ll have a good chance of appearing in their search results when they search for it.

Leverage your expertise.

A term might only have 10 searches per month, but if your business has expertise in that area, there’s a greater chance of appearing on the first page of the search results (or even ranking #1). It’s estimated that the first page of search results accounts for between 71% and 90% of search traffic clicks, so ranking on the first page for a lower volume term can still be an asset to your business if it connects you to your ideal customer and establishes your business as the authority on the topic. This is a great place to capitalize on those long-tail keywords, as most people searching these types of terms are at the top of the sales funnel.

Find your niche.

What niche goods or services keywords can you leverage to stand out from the competition? You’ll have a difficult time ranking for the keyword “candles” as a small online vendor due to the competition from larger companies that have the resources (namely, time and money) to target such a broad term. The term “soy candles made in Iowa”, however, gets 70 searches per month and has a relatively low keyword difficulty score, so if you’re pouring soy candles in Iowa, you’ve found a great niche term to target.

Focus on transactional keywords.

There are a variety of ways that you can use keywords to drive traffic to your website, but as a small business, targeting transactional keywords will give you the most bang for your buck. Transactional keywords are the phrases potential customers are using to find the services or products they intend to buy from your website (as opposed to informational keywords, where the searcher’s intent is to learn and find information about the topic).

In our candle example, targeting “soy candles for sale” will likely drive more buyers to the website who are ready to make a purchase than targeting “what is a soy candle”.

Search intent is the MOST important aspect.

Without a doubt, matching your user’s search intent is the most critical factor in keyword targeting. Here’s an example:

When a user searches for “handmade soy candles” in Google, the SERP mostly displays instructions on how to make your own soy candles, not soy candles for sale. This means that if you target that term as a candle vendor, even if your website appears in the user’s search results, the user will not likely click through to your website to make a purchase.

Here’s another example:

A professional stylist might be interested in targeting the term “personal shopper” on their website, however, a quick Google search of this term brings up results for a movie titled “Personal Shopper.” In this instance, the stylist should see if there is a better term to target because Google associates the query “personal shopper” with the film “Personal Shopper,” and does not list any professionals offering personal shopping services on the SERP.

SEO audit checklist

When considering a keyword for targeting, you can use the free tool Google Ad Preview to see what the SERP will look like with any keyword from any location of your choosing. Below, you’ll see the difference in the SERP when a location modifier is added. Google now assumes the user is looking for a personal shopper service and displays results accordingly. Targeting keywords that contain locations can be especially helpful for organizations that want to connect with local customers.

SEO audit checklist

It’s OK to pick some high volume, high search difficulty keywords to target if the search intent aligns – in fact, you should. Ideally, you’ll end up with a mix of high and low-volume keywords to target for your small business.

Step 4: Refine
In this step, you’ll decide which keywords you plan to target on your website and how. Pick one keyword or keyword phrase to target for each page of your website – your homepage, service pages, product pages, and blog posts, to start.

Targeting one keyword or keyword phrase per page is essential to making sure that Google delivers your web page in search results. It’s best to target transactional keywords on your service or products pages, and keep in mind that you can create new pages, create new blog posts, or edit current ones based on your keyword research and findings. The key here is to send clear signals to the search engine on what each of your pages is about.

If you have multiple terms that are related to each other that you are having a difficult time deciding between for a page, take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of each one. Which one gives you the most opportunity to use within your content, which one gives you the opportunity to rank for other keywords, which one best matches your user’s search intent, which one had the least amount of competition taking up space on the SERP, etc.