Learn to love keyword research in 7 simple steps

Keyword Research in Seven Simple Steps (Updated for Keyword Planner)

Choosing which keywords to use for your website, blog, or other online marketing can seem like a complete mystery. I know it has been to me for years. No more!Learn to love keyword research in 7 simple steps

Like it or not, keyword research is a must for any business with an online presence.  Not only will it influence your choice of domain name, your content and your social updates, but it will help you get to know your customers better, as well. Let’s learn to love keyword research together, shall we?

#1 Stop Guessing Which Keywords You Should Use

If you are, for example, and independent pharmacy in Wilmington, NC you may think that your best keywords are “pharmacy”, or even “pharmacy NC”, and that would be nice to dominate in search for those who are logged in and see local results. However, that Google search returns 200 MILLION results, and in my results, local results rule.

If you sell boots, you might think you want to rank #1 for “boots”, but do you really?  Someone searching for “boots” is more likely to be browsing than ready to spend. And, with 493 MILLION results, you probably don’t stand a chance.

#2 Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes

Let’s pretend YOU are in the market for a product or service offered in your pharmacy (to keep the illustration going).  What might you look for?  How about “24 hour pharmacy wilmington nc”? Maybe “fill prescription fast”? Write these down.

Another example: Rather than simply targeting research terms (“types of winter boots”), pretend that you are a customer ready to buy your product or visit your store.  Your search terms will be different! If you are ready to buy a pair of boots, you are more likely to search for, “women’s black leather boots size 10W”  than “boots”- for instance.

#3 Look at What Has Worked

Review Google Analytics for your site and see what is already driving traffic to your site. Write these words down.  Analytics now shows a large number or Google-referred visits for keywords that it does not disclose. You may have to look instead at your most popular pages and see which keywords were used there.

Look at previous email campaigns and even print ads that have worked for you.  Which words did you use?

Starting from scratch? Look at reviews for your pharmacy and others.  In those reviews you will see what is important to your existing and potential customers, and exactly which words they use to describe it. Look at your most profitable or popular products and services.  Make a list of your top twenty for the next step. What do you do better than your competition? What keeps your customers coming back for more? Brainstorming these is going to give you a great place to start!

#4 Get Keyword Ideas from Social Media

How are people talking about your products and services on social media?  Before you say, “they aren’t!”, remember that you don’t have to be specific to your business. For our pharmacy, we could search “drugstore” or  any of the keywords on our list.  What’s revealed in our Twitter search is that “drugstore beauty products” are a pretty big topic.  Might these be worth adding to your list?

In a search on Facebook, visit popular related pages and look at what fans are posting to their page and what kinds of posts prompt comments.  What keywords can you pull from there? If you don’t yet have Graph Search, you can use Facebook’s built-in search feature and filter by public posts to see what people are saying.

#5 Use Tools to Help Expand Your List

Now that you have a short list of keywords, use online tools to expand and to confirm that theses are the right ones to target and to find new ideas. We use Raven Tools for our client reporting, and it provides a mashup of data from sources such as SEOMoz, Google and MajesticSEO.  This allows us to enter a keyword and instantly find our competition and the other keywords they use.  You could do something similar by doing a Google search and looking at the top results.  Look at the page titles that come up for hints about which keywords they are using.

Another tool for finding great keywords includes the Google drop-down search.  Start typing your search term into Google and see which variations pop up. Those might be good words to target. Ubersuggest takes it a step further, searching out alternate terms for you. Yahoo! Clues offers some demographic insights with its search data.

Now, figure out which keywords are good bets – with low competition and high search volume

A good one for analyzing possible keywords and finding other suggestions is the Google AdWords Keyword Planner.  It’s free!  Just set up a Google AdWords account and go to Tools and Analysis > Keyword Planner. Choose “Search for keyword and ad group ideas.” Enter your keyword in “Your product or service” and click “Get ideas.”

The new Keyword Planner defaults to “exact match” when entering key words and phrases. We found that one of our customer’s competitors for “Medical equipment” came up strong for the keyphrase “discount diabetic supplies”.  Put that key word in to the AdWord keyword planner and you get 800 results.  If you are new or a very small business, look for words with low or medium competition and a high number of local searches. The printscreen below shows some low competition keywords that might be worth shooting for.  And, look at “low blood sugar” with low competition and over 20,000 searches last month. Jackpot!  That one is going on the list!

Google Keyword Planner - Find Low Competition High Volume Keywords


Now search for keywords related to “low blood sugar symptoms.”  Repeat until you have plenty of low/medium competition high search number keywords. Collect more than you think you’ll need, especially if you plan on blogging (and you do, right?).

#6 Make Sure Your Keywords Are Trending Up, or are at least Holding Steady

Here’s why: You don’t want to build your site and content strategy around a key word that peaked last year and is on its way down! Use Google Trends to look for patterns. The best contenders will be keywords slowly gaining in popularity and those holding steady over time. Eliminate those that have passed their prime, and those that appear to be a flash-in-the-pan (although if it’s high right now, consider writing a blog post on the subject now, then toss it).

#7 Review and Pare Down Your List

Writing the Perfect Blog Post - Download Now Put your keywords to work with our printable blog post checklist!

Spend a while in Google AdWords and your eyes may begin to cross, your brain to frizzle.  Take a day off and revisit your keyword list.  Go back to tip #2 and make sure your keywords still fit. Did a search for “incontinence products” lead you to add “Attends” to the list?  It may have a lot of searches, but used on its own, it could mean anything.  Either make it part of a key phrase (“attends incontinence products”) or cross it off the list.

You’ll want to end up with three or four keywords to use throughout your entire site. In addition, a large and varied list will be helpful, as you’ll want to pick one of those to target for each blog post.

Your turn! What tips do you have for effective keyword research? 

About the Author Alisa Meredith (311 Posts)

As co-owner and chief inbound marketing consultant at Scalable Social Media, Alisa Meredith spends a lot of time keeping up with online marketing trends for the benefit of our customers. Computers have been a passion of hers since her first T1-99, so inbound and social media marketing is a natural fit.


  1. Thanks for the column Alisa. While I have been working and learning on this topic with our agency blog for 14 months, did learn some new tips/tools.

    One question … how do you optimize for local(county/town) versus national (country … US) versus international. Our topics usually apply to all three, but we wish to optimize to draw customers from local or at most regional.

    Your thoughts?

    • Alisa Meredith

      Hi, Mike. Thanks for stopping by. Did we leave out any of your favorite methods?

      That’s a good question. With Google and Bing now using social media to return customized search results based on searcher information, some of that will happen if you have claimed your place listings on Bing and Yahoo and that your Google Plus profile is filled out with your address.

      Help search engines return results for implied and implicit local search by having your address available on several pages (or all pages) of your site. We like to put that in the footer of our local business customers’ sites. Also, use your town or region name in the description and content of some of your pages (maybe the about page or contact page).

      Get yourself on Yelp, FourSquare, etc. as well. This article has some other, more technical suggestions, too: http://webdesign.tutsplus.com/articles/general/seo-for-local-businesses/

  2. Thanks Alisa … several things that I was not doing. Will start on many of these right away.


  3. Some very real and practical advice here, Alisa, and I’m someone who needs them! thanks for giving me a nice primer to follow.

    • Alisa Meredith

      You’re welcome, Kerry! I intend to refer to it myself. I won’t even pretend that I’ll remember it all 🙂

  4. Great tips! I know that SEO is something I need to learn more on & keywords are huge! Thanks!

    • Alisa Meredith

      Thanks, Carrie. Glad you enjoyed it. I’ve been wanting to learn more about it myself – hence the research and the post 🙂

  5. Thanks Alisa for the article. One problem that I face with keywords research is that I can extract lots of keywords for a website using various tools but when it comes to shortlist keywords it becomes very tough job to decide which ones to select from the list. Can you share some tips on how I can find the most converting keywords for a business.

    • Alisa Meredith

      You’re welcome. Glad you liked it. As the article pointed out, they keywords with low competition and high search volume are going to be the most valuable.

  6. Absolutely LOVE this list, Alisa! I especially love #2. We tell our clients all the time that it’s not about what THEY think is working, but about what the CLIENT (or potential client) is using when searching for THEM or someone in their industry. Definitely something more people need to focus on – this list is a MUST!

  7. Hi Alisa,
    I’m so glad Raven is a good resource for you as you perform keyword research! This looks like a really solid strategy, and I appreciate you mentioning us in it. Thanks!

  8. Great article, Alisa, and list, too! All are great tips!

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