Keyword research is an essential first step to effective search engine optimisation (SEO) for small businesses who want to be found online.
Undertaking keyword research enables you to identify the most common words and phrases that your ideal clients are using to search for your services online. By identifying popular keywords, you can incorporate them into your website content, Google Business Profile and social media content, to increase your chances of showing up in search results.
For small businesses particularly, it’s important to ensure you’re spending your limited SEO budget targeting the right keywords, and not wasting money targeting the wrong ones.
In this blog post, we’ll be focusing on what good keyword research looks like for small to medium sized businesses. We’ll start with some basics on what a keyword is and how keyword research helps SEO, then walk step-by-step through the keyword research process, before finishing off exploring how to use your keywords in your website and other online content. Let’s go!
What Is A Keyword?
A Keyword is a word or phrase that your potential client types into a search engine when they come looking for you. Keywords can be one or a few words (short tail keywords) or whole phrases or questions (long tail keywords).
Here are some example keywords for an event decoration business:
- Short tail: party; party planning; event hire
- Long tail: DIY party hire Melbourne; linen table cloth hire
Why should you start with keyword research?
As a small business owner with a limited SEO budget, it is a good use of your time or money to invest in keyword research up-front. There is no point putting all your effort into appearing in search results for keywords that your target clients aren’t using when they search!
One of the best things you can do to keep your SEO efforts affordable is to not waste time or money on targeting the wrong keywords!
Keyword research will also help you uncover the keywords or phrases that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Ideally, these keywords will have:
- High search volume
- Low competition
- Include your location or niche.
Keyword research will help you identify, for example, whether your potential clients are searching more often for ‘local bookkeepers’, small business accountants’ or ‘accountants for hairdressers’. You want to match the phrasing on your website to the keywords that have a high search volume.
Keyword research will also tell you how many of your competitors are also trying to rank for relevant keywords – this is referred to as competition for the keyword. Ideally, you want to spot keywords with low competition.
For a small business, it may be difficult to compete for a popular generic keyword like ‘Melbourne accountant’, because an awful lot of businesses – including ones with a bigger SEO budget than yours – will be trying to rank for the same phrase.
However, keyword research might show you that less businesses are targeting a long-tail keyword such as ‘accountant for hairdressers’ or ‘Greensborough accountant’, or even ‘how do I choose the best accountant?
There’s an opportunity here for you to target these niche keywords with a specific page or blog on your website.
If you have a niche focus (such as accounting for tradies) – exploit it. Even if you happen to service multiple niches – such as hairdressers as well as tradies – having separate landing pages or blogs that are optimised for those keywords can be a good strategy to draw each category of clients to you. Keyword research can help you find niche keywords that are particularly apt for your business.
How do you do keyword research? A step by step guide.
You can undertake keyword research yourself using free online tools. Keyword research can be as simple as plugging a competitor’s website url into a keyword research tool, and letting it spit out a list of their most used keywords. Voila!
However, as a small business owner, you need to do better than this, because you will most likely be competing against bigger players with a bigger budget, who will have cornered the market on the most obvious keywords.
Make sure your chosen keywords fully exploit your particular niche or location, as this is the thing that can make a small, local business stand out.
I recommend you take the time to run multiple passes of research on different keyword variations using the steps below, to come up with a shortlist of ideal keywords that best reflect each aspect of your particular business.
As you work through your keyword research, it will be helpful to record all your keyword ideas into a spreadsheet, with columns to record the search volume and competition of each keyword found.
OK, now here’s those keyword research steps….
1. Brainstorm potential keywords
Start by brainstorming a list of relevant topics and phrases related to your business or service. Think about the words or phrases people would use when searching for information related to all aspects of your business.
For most businesses, your list will include words and phrases that related to multiple services or topics, and might include both short and long tail keywords. For example, a dentist’s brainstorming list might start like this:
- Family dentist
- Dental clinic
- Cosmetic dentistry
- Wisdom teeth removal
- Family dentistry Melbourne
- Cheapest dentist western suburbs
You can see that in this example, we’ve included various key services, client types, and location related words.
2. Use keyword research tools:
Now start plugging your initial list of keywords into a keyword research tool such as Google Keyword Planner, Wordstream, Ahrefs, Ubersuggest or SEMrush, to generate further keyword ideas and get insights on search volume, competition, and related keywords.
I recommend doing this multiple times using different keywords, including longer-tailed and more specific keywords. This is especially important for smaller businesses, as you’ll need to find those gems that don’t have so much competition, or are particularly good for your service niche or location.
Another way to use these tools is to enter a web page url (either yours or the page of a competitor), rather than a particular keyword. This is a quick way to get the tool to generate a list of related keyword ideas related to that business, and to show the search volume and competition for each one. If you’re starting this way, be sure to comb through the list of results with an eye on how relevant they are to YOUR business. And go back to your brainstorming list, to check nothing important abour your particular business has been missed.
3. Spot the opportunities:
Each time you run a search on a keyword, enter the results into your spreadsheet. See if you can spot keywords or phrases that have reasonably good search volume but medium-low competition. Highlight those and create a short-list of keywords to choose from.
Remember – always make sure the keywords you choose are relevant for your particular business and client base.
If there’s a particular service that you offer where the only keywords have low volume and/or high competition, still include them in your shortlist. You need to have something that will represent that arm of your business.
4. Rinse and repeat
Don’t just do a single pass at keyword research. Look at a range of relevant phrases, to build up a library of possibilities. Perhaps even try using different keyword research tools (as results can vary across them).
You should end up with a separate shortlist of words related to each important aspect of your business. For the dentist example above, you might end up with separate shortlists of relevant keywords for each of the following:
- Dentistry/dental clinic/family dentist/Melbourne/Western suburbs
- Cosmetic dentistry
- Wisdom teeth removal
Every time you want to write a new blog or add a web page with a new focus, check if there is a relevant keyword in your shortlists. If not, undertake new keyword research to find an ideal phrase for that particular page.
5. Choose your target keywords
For each page of your website, choose one keyword that reflects the key focus of that page. This is going to be the keyword that appears in your page title, content and meta data.
Don’t forget to choose keywords for every blog post on your website, too.
Always use a different keyword for every page or blog post on your website. Do not use the same keyword as the target for different pages.
Well, using the same target keyword on multiple pages can confuse the search engines. It won’t know which page to rank highest, may dilute the authority of both pages, and may show a different page in the results than the one you wanted.
Instead of using the same keyword on multiple pages, choose different keywords from your shortlist. For example, the dentist may use ‘family dentist Melbourne’ for their home page, and ‘Melbourne family dental clinic’ on their About page.
It is really important to get keyword research right, to ensure your SEO efforts are not in vain.
It is entirely possible to undertake keyword research by yourself by following the above steps. However, keyword research is an art as much as a science, can be quite time consuming, and may be outside the comfort zone of many small business owners. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do it yourself, it can be a wise investment to pay an expert to conduct keyword research for you.
Where should you use your keywords?
So now you have your fabulous keywords, where should they go?
Use keywords in your website
To improve SEO, keywords should be used throughout your website:
- In page headings, within the body copy, and in the alt tag of images;
- In the meta tags of each web page (you’ll find these in the back end of your website);
- In the URL of each web page;
- In blog posts that are designed to draw your ideal client to your website (this is known as content marketing).
Note that you should always use keywords in a natural way, and avoid over-stuffing them into the content of your page. While Google and other search engines reward you for using keywords, they will also punish pages that are overly-stuffed with keywords and don’t provide any useful content. Always keep in mind your reader, and make your content useable and readable, as well as containing keywords.
Use keywords in your Google Business Profile
In addition, include keywords in your Google Business Profile (GBP) description, and in posts to your profile. Your GBP can come up in search results, so using keywords is another, cost-free way small businesses can enhance their SEO. Read how to make the most of your Google Business Profile by incorporating keywords.
Use keywords in social media
Finally, consider using keywords in your social media profile descriptions and posts. While these don’t specifically contribute to search engine optimisation, people do still search for information and service providers within social media. So using keywords in your posts creates one more opportunity to be found.
Make sure your use of keywords sounds completely natural in social media posts. That might mean sticking to shorter-tail, possibly more competitive keywords, rather than trying to stuff long tail keywords into awkward sentences. Your first goal with social media posts should be to engage, so don’t interfere with that just to get a keyword in.
Remember, you don’t have to be an expert in doing all of these things. A good SEO copywriter can create keyword-optimised website copy, blog posts or Google Business Profile posts, and write meta-tags for you, to ensure your keyword research is put to best use.
Keyword Research FAQs
Is keyword research still important for SEO for small businesses?
Keyword research is especially important for smaller businesses who have limited SEO budgets – because money spent targeting the wrong keywords is money wasted, and very few small businesses can afford that!
Note that keyword research is only the first step in your broader SEO strategy. You still need to take steps to get those keywords working for you. This should include writing catchy meta titles and descriptions, creating high-quality content that draws your prospective clients to you, and ensuring your website copy is both enticing to your ideal client and a genuine reflection of your unique offering. Your SEO strategy may also include optimising your site loading speed, getting backlinks to your website, and other components.
Can I use the same keyword on multiple pages of my small business website?
Rather than using the same keyword across multiple web pages, use keyword research to identify related phrases and choose a different one for each page. Create cornerstone content with lots of useful info around your prime keyword, and create additional content that targets related keywords. You can then create internal links between all these pages. This way, you show your authority and build up your relevance around your prime keyword, without repeating the use of the keyword across multiple pages.
How do I choose the best location-based keywords for my small business website?
Start by brainstorming a list of relevant keywords and phrases that are related to your business and include your local area. You can then use a keyword research tool to determine the search volume and competition level for each keyword. Try plugging in keywords that include your suburb, surrounding suburbs, region, city and state – as is relevant to your service area. Make sure you reflect the way local people refer to the area. For example, using ‘south eastern suburbs’ or ‘Macedon Ranges shire’ might be a meaningful term for your service area.
Note that sometimes keyword research tools will suggest a location-based search term has a search volume that is too low to be of use. However, you should still consider using these terms. For example, the search results for ‘electrician Bundoora’ may be pretty low in the global scheme of searches. But if I’m an electrician located in Bundoora, I know people will be searching for me using this term, because people like to hire local tradies. On the other hand, people will probably search for a Social Media Marketer in Melbourne or Australia, rather than one in their local suburb, because these jobs can be conducted virtually.
Apply your own knowledge of client behaviour when selecting your location-related keywords.
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