Keyword Research For Small Business Owners

In this post I want to tackle a super-important part of your search marketing strategy - keyword research. I'm not sure what your gut feeling about these two words are - some people aren't sure what it is, a lot of people hate the idea of it while others see it as the start of something beautiful. Whatever your own thoughts about this process are, I think it's a good idea to get to a place where you can make friends with this concept and see it for what it is - an incredibly important process that, if done correctly, will help yield excellent rewards for you and your business further down the line.

So what is keyword research? Keyword research is just as it sounds - it's the process of using certain tools and data to look really closely at certain keywords and phrases that you would like your website to rank well for. It helps ensure that your 'ladder is propped up against the right wall', so to speak.

Before I start on the main body of this post, here are a couple of questions that you might want to ask yourself as a small business owner before starting work on your keyword strategy.

small business keyword research
How much business can you realistically handle?

I think that this is an important question to ask yourself because it will - at least to some degree - dictate the best choice of keyword for your campaign. For example, let's say you provide lead generation services to small businesses. Although your first instinct may be to try and rank nationally for the search phrase 'lead generation companies', if you did so you would more likely receive way more enquires that you can realistically handle.

Of course, if your plan is to dominate your country, then maybe this is what you should try. However, if you are like most one man band business owners and only serve a relatively small localised area, you'll probably want to think about targeting much more specific keywords. There is no point in spending all the time and budget required to rank nationally if you can't take the work after all of your effort.

How much resource (time/budget) can you put into this?

If you are running a small/micro business and you will also be doing the search engine optimisation work, you should really ask yourself how much resource - both in terms of time and money - you can put into this. Trying to rank for a super-competitive term will take much more of both that a phrase that is less competitive, but still relevant of course.

It's worth thinking about this because you probably don't want the added pressure of trying to rank for very competitive terms if less competitive terms will still send enough customers your way.

In reality, I think that if you are doing the search optimisation yourself,  it's about finding a balance between the following:

  • Targeting strong and relevant keywords (please see notes below on this)
  • The time and effort it will take to rank well for them
  • The rewards that ranking well will offer

So, after you have thought about this, it's time to start working out which keywords you will target. I'm going to use the example of a lead generation provider looking to target their main service - obviously, if you have multiple products or services, you'd start with your most profitable and then work your way through the rest using the same process.

1) Decide The Main Service You Want to Promote

So, my example business owner - let's call him Daniel - provides lead generation services to businesses. He offers online lead generation, digital marketing as well as telephone based lead generation - whichever fits his clients needs best. He only has time to work on one of his services at the moment though, so he wants to have a proper think about the best one to promote. He asks himself questions such as:

  • Which of my services to I enjoy providing the most?
  • Which are the most profitable?
  • Which provide the best results for my customers?
  • Which are likely to generate regular work?
  • Which seem to be the most sought after at the moment?

After spending some time thinking about these questions and others, he decide that he wants to focus on promoting the online marketing lead generation side of his business. Now that he has done so, it's time to have a look and see what - exactly - the best phrases would be for him to target. To do this, he would use keyword research tools, most of which are freely available. 

2) Use Keyword Research Tools To Begin Your Search

(please note: Google have now changed the keyword tool - you should read this post for the actual keyword research part of this process now. Link opens in a new window so you can continue with this post).

When you actually begin to conduct your keyword research, you'll want to use a few tools designed specifically for the job. The two tools that I'll be talking about here are as follows, although if you perform a quick search for 'keyword research tools' you'll no doubt come up with a long list of options.

Keyword tools I'll be using:

  • The Google Keyword Tool (soon to be the Keyword Planner)

So, using the example of a digital lead generation provider, we can see that the term 'lead generation' is a very popular and competitive term (I'm using 'Exact Match' filtering here):

Google Keyword Research Tool

In any case, we had decided that the broad term 'lead generation' wasn't applicable as it wasn't specific enough. However, we could begin to refine the search by making it more specific to the services provided.

How about 'online lead generation' then?:

Google Keyword Planner 2

Okay, so this looks a bit better - it's more specific and it certainly described the kind of service that he wants to promote. However, before he gets too excited, there is something important to consider about this term.

  • Does this term suggest that people are looking for a service provider? Maybe, although it could also be that a lot of people are looking for information to help them manage the process in house. They wouldn't be relevant to him

With this in mind, Daniel then goes back to the keyword tool and has a look at terms that suggest the user would be looking for a supplier to take care of this area for them. After a few moments he comes up with what looks like a perfect target keyword for him:

Correct Keyword Choice

Although the competition is still high and the search volume is lower, he knows that the traffic this will generate him will be highly relevant and that it's therefore worth him spending the effort trying to rank for this term.

3) Recapping Keyword Research Process

So, we can see that from the start, Daniel went through the following process in order to identify his target keyword:

  • He thought about his own business goals - which services he wanted to promote, for example
  • He thought about how much resource he had to put behind his target keyword and how this would affect his choice, ie 'lead generation (more resource needed) or 'online lead generation companies' (less resource needed)
  • He thought about which terms would actually generate the most enquiries - in this case, a phrase with the word 'companies' or similar would probably suggest users were looking for outside help in this area and not just performing research
  • Throughout this process, he used the Google Keyword Planner Tool to gauge popularity and relevance, although he could have used other tools such as Uber-suggest or WordTracker.

A Few Notes To Consider About Keyword Research

As of September 2013, Google have now encrypted all searches, which means you will no longer be able to see keyword data in your analytics accounts. However, although this is frustrating, it doesn't change the fact that you can still use keyword data as shown above to gauge the popularity of target keywords. The only difference is that you won't be able to see how people have landed on your site (unless the visitors come through another search engine such as Bing or Yahoo). 

This is actually a good thing I think. It should be the case that you divert your attention to creating excellent content, after you have identified popular keywords that you can use for themes as follows:


  • Use the guide above to identify strong keywords and themes
  • Create excellent content around those themes
  • Important - use related keywords and phrases in your text to make sure your content covers your theme well. 
  • Don't stress about how your page ranks for one keyword or search phrase (even your initial one) - a well written article centred on a popular theme will bring in traffic from more search phrases than you can possibly imagine

I hope this basic introduction to keyword research and choice has made it a bit clearer as to how you would go about picking your target keyphrases and search terms. I'm in the middle of writing up some notes on how you can use Uber-Suggest too, which I'll turn into a blog post soon :-).

Thanks for reading!

By Alan MacDougall