How to Find Traffic-Driving Keywords for Your Small Business
Trying to get a grip on keyword research if you’re not overly familiar with the concept can leave you with more questions than answers. This is because keywords don’t appear in isolation — they appear in subtle variations, overlap, have unexpected connotations, and can be positive or negative depending on the exact circumstances.
The essence of great keyword research is about cutting through all the noise and focusing on only the most important parts — forgetting about those high-level keywords that you’ll inevitably include regardless and concentrating on the long-tail terms with buyer intent that will bring in all the right people.
In this article, we’re going to cover how you can do just that for your small business. Without the inflated budget of a huge brand, there’s no sense in taking the scattergun approach, after all. By being smart with your keywords early on, you can set yourself up for some excellent and relevant rankings down the line, all at relatively little expense. Let’s get started.
Create a list of long search terms with actionable intent
As a small business, you’re not going to stand a chance of competing for rankings with large companies boasting impressive websites, blogs full of rich content, and well-established relationships with influencers in the field (unless you happen to be in an incredibly fresh niche, but that’s very unlikely).
Because of this, you need to view every straightforward search string in your industry as an impassable roadblock for now — you can still make it down the road, but you’ll need to take a more circuitous route through using more niche keywords that larger businesses might not think to target. Quite often, companies that have been around for a long time have never needed to be clever with keywords, so you might well find some useful gaps.
Think about how someone might search to find a product or service that you offer. Imagine that you sold snowboards, for instance — you’d stand zero chance of ranking well for “snowboards” by itself, but is that what you’d actually search for if you were interested in buying a snowboard? Possibly, but you’d mostly end up using a much more specific search term reflecting your needs.
Modifiers play a huge role in this. Things like price, color, material, location, and reception (meaning reviews and other such forms of meaningful social proof) naturally extend search terms. A search that begins with “snowboards” could proceed to “snowboards in my area” and then “maroon snowboards in my area under $200 for beginners”. Think about the USPs (unique selling points) of your products or services and identify the long-tail searches that might match.
You don’t need to fully audit your business site at this point, but a basic website audit will be very valuable. Using a tool like Sitechecker, looking for duplicate content, and Google Search Console to review the keywords you already rank for will be a great start.
Additionally, if your site has an internal search, then you should be able to see what previous visitors have searched for. This will give you a better idea of how your target audience tends to phrase things, and help you see where you might rewrite areas of your site.
In general, though, the easiest thing to start with is to head to Google, type in the primary keyword (e.g. “snowboards”) and see what comes up in the list of autocomplete suggestions. You can also use a keyword tool such as Ubersuggest to achieve something similar.
Rank your identified terms
Based on the nature of your product or service range and the searches you were able to find through keywords tools and your site’s search, you should have been able to create a list of relevant keywords with actionable intent. That’s a great start — now it’s time to rank them so you know which ones to prioritize. See how they fare for the following metrics:
As noted before, you won’t be able to battle with top brands for first-page positions on anything basic — you’ll need long actionable terms to find your way into top-10 rankings. Such terms will have significantly lower search volumes than their simpler equivalents, but even just 10 searches per month can be valuable if you can rank well for that term and stand a good chance of converting, and the ultimate goal with long-tail keywords is to rank for a lot of them.
To know which one to start with, you should order your keywords by search volume. Just be mindful that something that appears to have a certain search volume in a keyword tool isn’t necessarily so limited, because search engines have a strong understanding of semantic links and can fairly accurately infer what someone is searching for based on their search and the context, allowing them to provide results that don’t exactly match the search string.
For instance, Googling “red snowboards in my area” is likely to pick up content talking about “maroon snowboards” or “crimson snowboards” because it knows they involve shades of red, and it’s also likely to pick up “red snowboards in [name of their area]” because Google can swap in their location name to get better results.
Some long-tail keywords are largely ignored, while others have already been heavily targeted. Trying to rank for the former will be enormously easier, for obvious reasons. If all other metrics are identical for two particular terms, you should naturally prioritize the term with less competition. It’ll take less work to win a top position.
Simply appearing in a page of search results isn’t good enough — you need people to actually click on your links and reach your page. Since Google began using Knowledge Graph information to provide information extracted from indexed sites at the top of search pages, it has significantly damaged the click-through rates of many search links.
Because of this, you should be careful to avoid optimizing your content too heavily for the kind of question or topic suitable for a featured snippet on a results page. Not only will the effort be wasted if Google’s snippet renders the link ineffective, but it’s also true that the better you make that kind of page, the more likely Google is to select it.
Some niche search terms are evergreen, potent throughout the year, while others are very variable, gaining and losing search volume and relevance in accordance with seasons, holidays, events, trends, etc. A good keyword strategy can use both evergreen and seasonal content, but you need to be aware of where they fit in your methods before you get started.
Here’s an example: you might find that “best budget snowboards for christmas” is a great keyword phrase to target, but that’s only going to be valuable in the lead up to Christmas. It’s pretty unlikely to get you any traction in July! If you commit a lot of time and effort to seasonal content, you’ll end up with a business site that’s live 12 months out of the year but only draws traffic for maybe 3 of them — not exactly a good return on your investment.
This is why sellers targeting seasonal traffic often opt instead for using seasonal stores and advertising them through PPC: because you can buy, adapt and ultimately flip dropshipping sites through an online marketplace (dropshipping sees a third-party business handle supply and shipping), you can exclusively use temporary content and designs.
On the other hand, “best performance snowboard for professionals” might be evergreen, because pro-standard snowboarders are going to find a way to snowboard throughout the year and might need new boards at any time. Check out your terms in Google Trends to see how they fluctuate in popularity throughout the year.
Take inspiration from your competitors
The great thing about having competitors who have been around for longer than you is that you can learn from their work when it comes to keywords. Pick out the businesses that seem to be ranking very well, and take a close look at their content. What search terms do they seem to concentrate on? How they do work them into their articles and guides?
You can use SERP checkers such as that of Ahrefs to find the pages that already rank really well for general topics you’re targeting, and then identify lists of the best-performing keywords driving traffic to those pages. You can compare those lists to your own set of keywords, and possibly find some interesting avenues you hadn’t previously considered.
Target original content
Taking inspiration from others is extremely valuable, and is going to be the most efficient way of making fast progress, but it isn’t going to get you any closer to ranking for bigger keywords in the future. The only way you’ll do that is by producing the kind of high-quality content that gets attention and starts picking up backlinks from people who want to share your work and use it as a resource.
In ideal circumstances, you could try to use what’s known as the skyscraper technique — this involves finding a top-tier piece of content and seeking to do it slightly better in order to eventually supplant that piece. But since you’re unlikely to be in a position to do that yet, you should instead try to find opportunities for content that has yet to be written. That way, you don’t need to compete with other work — you just need to be innovative.
For gathering inspiration, Answer The Public is a highly-valuable tool. Give it a keyword, and it will generate a wide range of questions, prepositional phrases, comparisons, and related keywords (among other things). I suggest focusing on the questions to begin with, since there’s always value in seeing what people are asking about. You can then search for those questions yourself and see if there are good answers to be found. If not, you’ve found opportunities.
Be careful about overusing variations
In trying to concentrate on using long-tail keywords and semantic links, you might get into the habit of switching up your language to an unnatural extent in an effort to accrue as much ranking potential as possible. This isn’t advisable because Google will penalize your website if it decides that your content is overly-optimized and not written primarily for people (as opposed to search crawlers).
You can definitely use synonyms in a way that doesn’t sound artificial, though. The main issue is going to be with extensively rephrasing things to try to catch subtly-different wording of the same thing. As a general rule, you should be able to read through your content once it’s finalized and not find the writing suspicious or peculiar in any way.
Always keep in mind the audience you’re trying to reach. Consider the example of writing copy for a charity site. Is it important to rank well? Absolutely, because you need visits (here’s a guide on how to find traffic-driving keywords for a charity site) — but it’s a tough task to persuade someone to donate their hard-earned money, and it requires affecting and often-emotive copy. Your writing needs to be SEO-friendly and polished enough to be compelling.
Mastering keyword research comes down to picking your moments. You need to know when to try to rank for a term, and when to let it go — when to add in some more keywords and when to take some out to avoid coming across as spammy.
That might sound tricky, but the great thing is that the process is always essentially the same, whatever the subject may be. Once you’ve been through these steps successfully, you’ll find the next bout of keyword research so much easier, and sooner or later you’ll find yourself nailing your keywords without really thinking about it. Good luck!
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