Small Business Keyword Research in 5 Simple Steps

this is your website. on drugs.

I know what you’re thinking:  “Geez, this article I’m about to read will be about as interesting as a home owner’s guide to selecting the proper grout…”

But wait!  I promise to uphold the Geek-Free credo and explain keyword research as simply as possible.

In turn, you must promise to read this, because finding the right keywords to use on your website, local directories, advertising and virtually everywhere you mention your business online, is the most critical factor in getting more clients- your ultimate goal!

Conversely, if you’re currently bummed out by the lack of traffic to your website, I’ll bet a 5-second glance at your home page (as well as your domain,  back links, Google Places listing(s), social media profiles and YouTube videos) will reveal one ugly culprit:  lack of proper keyword use!

In other words, keywords are the DNA that influence every aspect of your online marketing.

Fortunately, the process or finding the best keywords is simple.  And, dare I say… fun!

The Reader’s Digest Version

If I had 10 seconds to explain keyword research to someone…or, if you were going to click away from this blog post in 8 seconds, I’d blurt out the following:

“Keyword research is the process of determining exactly which words and phrases will get you the most bang for your buck in terms of online marketing- generating traffic and influencing where your web pages rank on search engines.”  The way to do this involves a simple, 4-step filtering process designed to eliminate undesirable terms:

Step 1: Make a huge laundry list of all the keywords you think you may want to target.

Step 2: Get rid of  terms that don’t relate to your business.

Step 3: Find out how many people are searching each month for each keyword and eliminate those with low-volume.

Step 4: Determine how competitive each term is and eliminate those that are unrealistic to rank for.

Step 5: Determine where to use your top keywords (for example, on your website, each page should target 1-2 keywords).

See, that’s less than 5 steps!


5 steps. OK, they’re circles.


Step by Step Keyword Research

1. Make a list (and check it thrice)*

The first step in an effective keyword research is creating a large list of “suspect keywords.” The best way to do this is to open a new spreadsheet (Excel, Google spreadsheets, etc.) and dump as many terms as you can, creating a list of 1-300 or more terms.  Sources for suspect keywords include the following:

  1. Competitors websites
  2. Your product/service names and categories
  3. Your marketing collateral (brochures, business cards, etc)
  4. Keyword suggestion tools
  5. Ask friends & family!

2. Keyword Relevance

As you recall from our article on how Google works, search engines respond to each search query by applying a search ranking algorithm that ranks results based on relevance, trust and popularity.  Although each of these 3 ranking factors are very important, this chapter will focus on relevance.  Relevance is determined by how closely the information on your website matches the searcher’s query.  A good keyword is one that receives many searches* that are relevant to your business.  For example, if you owned a hair salon in New York, the following would not be an effective keyword phrase to optimize for:

This is an extreme example, yet most small business owners lack understanding of just how relevant top keywords should be.  In the above figure, notice the topical and geographical elements contained in the search query: “Italian restaurants” is the topical (referring to a specific category of restaurants) and “Los Angeles” is the geographical component.

Keyword Relevance is the first, and maybe last stop in the keyword filtering process. The reason for this is simple: your goal is to obtain traffic to your site  from people who are looking for information, products or services related to your business.

3. Keyword Demand

Keyword demand is the second step in the keyword filtering sequence. Keyword demand (also referred to as keyword popularity) can be simply defined as: the number (volume) of searches (search queries) performed for a specific keyword or keyword phrase.

This is usually measured in monthly units.  The importance of keyword popularity is simple: if you optimized your site for a keyword phrase that is relevant to your business, but receives an average of just 3 monthly searches on Google, you would realize very little or no benefit in terms of traffic or conversion.

Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool is a free and useful resource to use for most local businesses.  Simple go to this site, type in your keywords (or upload your laundry list spreadsheet from step 1) and start sorting by monthly searches.  You can also use this tool to recommend related searches, but don’t forget to get rid of the irrelevant ones (see step 2)!

Tip: Once you’ve narrowed your list down, you can export to excel for easy access and future use.


Example of Google’s Keyword Selection Tool

4. Keyword Competition

Keyword competition is the measurement of the total number of competing sites* for a given keyword phrase. Keyword competition analysis is a very important phase of the keyword research process, as it gives you a clear measurement if just how tough it will be to achieves good search engine rankings for a given keyword.

While keyword relevance and keyword demand help filter your large list of potential keyword phrases into a smaller set of targeted terms, it’s in the keyword competition filter that will really start to narrow your list down to a small set of super-focused keyword terms.

The primary method for obtaining keyword competition numbers for a keyword is to view the number of results for your search term on the Google search engine results page (SERP):

Using SERP’s to gauge keyword competition

How competitive should a term be?  For most local businesses, less than 5 million results would be ideal.  However, this varies greatly based on your geography and business category (“New York Injury Lawyer” may have 40 million results, while “Duluth Dog Groomer” would likely have…like 3.

There are other, more technical methods for determining keyword competition, but these are outside the scope of this article.

5. Keyword Deployment

Finally- the rubber hits the road! Now that you have a final list of 15-20 primary keywords, it’s time to put these to use and start generating traffic!  The most important concept in this phase is to use keywords wisely.

Although we have separate blog posts that explain each aspect of smart local business SEO in detail, the following tips will get you headed in the right direction:

Quick List: Top 8 Places to Use Your Best Keywords
  1. Your domain: If you’re starting a new site or are open to redirecting your current domain, use your top keywords (
  2. Web page titles: use one or two keywords per page, place most important terms first in the title.
  3. Web page content: Ensure that headers, links to other pages and page copy uses the same targeted keywords as the page title (above).
  4. Google places and local business directories: use your top keywords in your business title, description and business categories.  Be sure to describe  all images and videos with keywords as well (including  geographical terms (“Chicago Assisted Living Facility”).
  5. Back-links to your site: whenever possible, ensure to use keyword-rich anchor text instead of your domain (“small business marketing” is much better than ““).
  6. Social media: A common technique is to choose a keyword-rich profile name instead of your business name (“Dallas Divorce lawyer”).
  7. Press releases:  Even the largest companies often overlook this opportunity to build link authority. Use the same way you would anywhere else, with relevant terms!
  8. YouTube:  Video is a very compelling and quickly growing medium. It’s also one that few businesses leverage, and even fewer do right. make sure the title, description and tage contain your top keywords.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but following these simple 8 steps will give you the edge over many of your local competition!

Did I Trick You?

If you’re still reading this, you’ve invested much more than the 10 seconds I promised into learning more about keywords research.  Hopefully you’ve found this useful and Geek-Free enough to put to immediate use!

Please leave a comment let us know how you’ve used these tips to smash your local competitors.

Just don’t tell them about this site.