If you’re helping clients create the content for their website, you have to do the necessary keyword research. After all, if no one is searching for the way you’re talking about things, you won’t get that organic traffic.
Keyword research for on-page SEO can feel overwhelming, though. It’s hard to know where to start and frankly, a lot of us get bogged down in trying to please Google.
But that’s not what keyword research is even about. Google isn’t performing those searches – the customer is.
In today’s episode, I’m going to walk you through the basics of determining the keywords you should use on clients’ websites, how to do the competitive research, and how to use keyword research tools to refine your strategy.
This can get a bit technical, but I’m going to break it down to be easy to get started. This is the perfect episode to have your Notes app or a notebook handy, so take a second and grab something to write on. Ready?
It’s Not About the Business – It’s About Your Customer
The first thing you have to keep in mind when you’re doing keyword research is that you have to think how your ideal customer thinks.
They’re the ones performing the searches on Google. What happens a lot is that we get bogged down in the industry terminology that a business uses to describe their services. But no one is searching for that; not the people that are going to buy from you anyway.
Throughout this entire exercise, I want you to think like the ideal customer would. What language and words would they be using when they’re searching for things?
Let’s look at your own business. It’s not very likely that a customer is going to search for “WordPress web designer” or “SquareSpace website designer.” However, they might look for things like “Website help,” “Web design agencies,” “Local web designer,” etc.
The ideal customer isn’t buried in our businesses the way that we are. Instead, you have to think the way they might be thinking about the services.
One great way to go about this is to focus on keywords that address a problem the ideal customer might have. After all, they’re looking for solutions to their roadblocks, not a service. You might be able to find these in your client’s customer reviews, testimonials, feedback forms, etc.
Brainstorm Basic Keywords
With that in mind, let’s talk about brainstorming basic keywords.
Take a look at your client’s business and ask yourself what one or two word keywords their customers might be searching for. A coffee shop, for instance, might come up under “coffee” or “cappuccino.”
These basic keywords should be the topics that the business addresses with their main services. You’ll want to have a list of about 5-10 basic keywords that are super broad, but related to what the business does.
Don’t get too stuck on these keywords. For now, you’re just getting basic topic ideas to do the next step (competitive research) before we determine the actual keywords and keyphrases we want to target.
Never Target Single Keywords
Back in the old days of Google, many of us were fighting over those single-word keywords. We want to be ranked #1 for “coffee” because that’s what we thought our audience was searching. But over the last couple of decades that Google has been in existence, our search habits have gotten more sophisticated.
Think about the last time you searched for something on Google. Did you type in just one word, or did you type in a question, phrase, or add a location identifier (like “near me”). Chances are, you haven’t typed a single word into Google for a very long time.
Not only that, but the kinds of people that you’ll get off a one-word keyword will not be the right audience for you. It’s quite possible they’re looking for something else entirely.
These longer keywords are called “long tail” and they’re highly valuable. When someone is more specific in their search, their wallet is probably already ready to go and make a purchase.
Don’t get caught up in these basic keywords. They’re just to help us brainstorm. They’re not what you’re actually going to target.
See How Your Competitors Stack Up
One of the best ways that you can find the right keywords to target for a client’s business is by doing competitor research. They may have provided you a list of close competitors that offer similar services to them and you can definitely start there. However, not all of their competitors will have done the right keyword research upfront or even have the best website.
This is where your basic keyword ideas come into play.
Open up Google and type in those basic keywords. Who comes up as the first few results on the main page? Click on their search result and browse their website. Are they actually a match as a competitor for your client? If yes, write them down and take note of their URL. If not, head back to Google and look at the other search results.
Repeat this process as you go through all of your basic keywords. If you’re not finding the right kinds of competitors, you may need to tweak your basic keywords to be a better match for what your client actually does.
Once you have a list of about 3-5 competitors, it’s time to do some research!
Use Keyword Research Tools
The easiest way to handle the rest of this is with a keyword research tool. Personally, I go straight to the source and use Google Ad’s Keyword Planner (linked in the show notes). You have to create a Google Ads account, but that’s free and you don’t even need to put in a credit card.
You can also use tools like SpyFu, Moz’s Keyword Explorer, or AHref’s Site Explorer (all linked in the show notes), but many of these will eventually require you to pay for their services. For the purposes of this episode, I’m going to walk you through Google Ad’s Keyword Planner.
Explore that Competitor Data
As we mentioned in the first bit of this episode, we don’t want to just use these basic keywords and target them. We want to find the longer keywords and keyphrases that our competitors are targeting.
Once you’ve created your free Google Ads account, you can go to the Keyword Planner by clicking on Tools & Settings in the top right and then selecting Keyword Planner.
On the Keyword Planner page, you want to click Discover New Keywords and then Start with a Website.
Here is where you grab one of those competitor’s domain names and plug it in. You can even select just a specific page to explore, or the entire website, depending on what you need.
Click Get Results and you’ll get a list of keyword ideas. You can even save the ones that you think best fit your client by checking the box next to the keyword and Create Plan.
Look at the Search Volume
One thing you want to focus on is the search volume. You don’t necessarily want the keywords with the highest search volume either. You want to focus on the keywords that are 1) truly the best match for your client and 2) are not going to be too expensive to target.
Google Keyword Planner will tell you whether the competition is Low, Medium, or High. Even if you’re not thinking about running ads right now, looking at the Top of Page Bid columns will give you an idea of how competitive those long-tail keywords are.
When choosing the right keywords, you want to select the ones that have enough monthly searches to be valuable, are not too expensive to run ads for (which might be helpful later), and don’t have a High competition. Personally, I stay away from those keyphrases all together unless it’s an absolutely great match for my client.
Make Sure to Check Search Locations
When you’re using Keyword Planner, Google will default to the United States or your country of origin. At the top of the page, you can and should adjust this to the regions that you’d actually like to target.
If you’re working with a local business, for instance, you probably don’t want to get the keywords for the entire country. But if you’re working with an online service provider, you might want to dig into the keywords and keyphrases of multiple countries.
Search location also matters because how we talk about something may differ from region to region. Your customer’s terminology might literally change whether they’re searching in New York City, Kansas, or Montana. Don’t discount those regional differences.
Creating a List of Keyphrases
Go through every single one of your competitor list and write down the keyphrases that you think are right for your client. Personally, I prefer to create a spreadsheet where I can keep track of the keywords, the search volume, competition, and the bid amount. This is great use for later and means I don’t have to double check in Google Keyword Planner every time I want to remember.
Then, I want you to plug your client’s current website into the Keyword Planner, too, just to see if there’s anything you might have missed (or just to see how off their current language might be).
Make sure that you include some brand-specific keywords, too. After all, your customer wants to be found for their business name and variations of that. Using their website in Keyword Planner will help you to find those variations that Google already recognizes. Don’t forget to add these to your spreadsheet!
Creating Marketing Content
If you’re helping your client with a long-term marketing strategy, you might want to break down how they might create content for these keywords you’ve found and what kind of content they could create.
One easy way to do that is to perform a few Google searches and see what comes up. Are there lots of videos, infographics, or blog articles attached to these keyphrases? What kinds of content are people already creating for those target keywords?
It’s really easy to put together a plan for your client based on what competitors are doing. Even better, look for the gaps. What’s not being talked about a lot but has a healthy search volume? What can your client do better than what their competitors are doing?
Wrapping it Up
There are no right or wrong amount of keywords or keyphrases anymore, but I’d recommend 3-5 for your homepage and overall target, and 3-5 at least for every main page of the client’s website. You might have some overlap which is totally fine, but you want to make sure you’re using the various ways their target customer might be searching for those keywords.
Remember, this is all about the customer, so you don’t want to save keywords and keyphrases that don’t feel like it’s how a customer might talk about the services and what they’d actually search for.
Once you have a basic list, you can do a lot more research and digging in to refine these keyphrases. Just make sure that the amount of research you’re doing matches the budget the client has set.