Picking Winning Keywords For Your SMB Site

I realized that I write a lot about keywords. Or at least I mention them a lot. For example, I’ll often advise using words “people naturally search for” or “terms important to your site” when talking about creating YouTube accounts or writing Web copy. However, picking keywords can be a bit tricky. And if you’re not going after the “right” ones, then it really doesn’t matter how well you do incorporating them into your site. Because you won’t be bringing attracting the right people.

And that’s what keywords are all about. It’s about picking the terms that people are looking for when trying to find companies just like yours. You want to rank for the terms and phrases that are most likely to convert. With that in mind, here are some tips for picking good keywords.

Use Your Brain

Your first step into keyword research should be to make a list of all the terms someone would use to find you. Rack your own brain before you go anywhere else. How would you search for what you do? What terms naturally come to mind? Don’t go for the big dollar terms like “flower” or “dog”. They’ll be very difficult to rank for and won’t covert very well anyway because they’re too generic. Think of both broad and targeted terms. Informational and buying-focused. Get a good mix. Then move one.

Use Tools

Once you have your initial list, trying using keyword research tools to help you narrow it down. Tools give you the chance to “test drive” certain terms before you invest in them. By entering a phrase into Google’s keyword tool, you’ll get valuable insight into the competition for that term, its monthly search traffic (local and global) and related terms that you perhaps hadn’t thought of. For example, though you’d never want to try and rank for [shoe], by entering it into a tool like Wordtracker, you may find promising long tail keywords like [athletic shoes], [converse shoes] or [wholesale shoes]. Make note of how many people are competing for these terms (the competition for advertising is a fairly good metric). This number will tell you how hard it will be to steal rankings for that term.

Below is a list of good keyword research tools to help you get started.

(You may also want to try non conventional tools like Google Suggest, which does an excellent job helping you identify related terms.)

Use Your Site

You may also be able to uncover some hidden keyword gems by digging around your own site. For example, check what phrases users are typing into your site search, what queries they’re using to find you, where they’re abandoning. Use your analytics to collect information about how users are searching and then make changes to your site, as needed. Often, they’re telling you exactly what terms you should be ranking for, you just need to be paying attention to notice. If you’re that local shoe retailer and enough people type in a specific model of shoe, that may be a sign that you should be focusing on that brand more than you are.

Ask Around

Sometimes it’s hard to identify what terms a normal searcher would use to find our site because we’re not “normal” when it comes to our topic. You’re an expert in what you do. The person looking for you isn’t. So it makes sense that they’d use different types of terms to find you. Try asking friends, colleagues, family members or even past customers for help.

Who else can you ask for keyword help? Google! Ever perform a really broad search in Google [“flowers”, “pets”, “cars”, etc] and notice the Related Searches Google populates at the bottom of the page? They’re giving you valuable information about how users search, how terms are clumped together, and what phrases are most popular.

You can also “ask” your competitors by taking a sneak peak at their Meta Keyword tag. What terms are they going after that you forgot? Does their list help jog your memory about another area you can explore? Is it spying? Eh, maybe. But it’s all lying right there on the Internet. 🙂

Keyword research is the backbone of any business’ dip into search engine optimization. It’s about identifying the terms people are looking for to find your kind of business or service. Once you know your keywords, you want to find ways to naturally incorporate them into your Web site. Some common places may be in your Title tag, in the alt attributes use for images, anchor text, headings, page names, etc. Good luck!

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Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

13 Reactions
  1. There is also a great free tool that you can check out your current web search rank and keyword status. Google “websitergrader” or websitergrader.com

  2. Getting the knack for keywords can be difficult to wrap your head around at times – yet, it somewhat simple. After I write a piece, I go to Google and search some terms. Terms that I think I’d end up searching for if I were to land on this piece and find it interesting. Things that relate to the piece you’ve written – so that those that land there aren’t disappointed and have actually found information along the lines they were looking for. If you can get that technique right – and make sure that the terms you’re using are relative to the information provided – you’ll reap bigger rewards because people won’t “land and leave.”

    And follow your stats! Check them out to see what phrases are bringing people into your site and into your specific articles. There’s loads of information there just waiting for you.

  3. Maria Reyes-McDavis

    This is such great information, keywords still matter for websites and blogs… great, simple steps to help your business to get found 🙂

  4. Great advice. I often find that getting clients to be sensible about keywords is a tough task. What I usually do is get an initial list from them and use that to develop keywords myself.

  5. Lisa,

    Thanks for great tips. I tested out Google’s adwords tool when I created an ad some time ago for chocolate products. It was plenty of words to pick from, a huge range! It is fascinating how you could tweak your search results during time.

  6. RedHotFranchises

    Google Hot Trends is also a nice tool to search for the keywords or phrases you would use to find your services. Wordtracker Gtrends also helps to tell if a key phrase is worth using or not. I’ve had some success with it.


  7. Great article, I totally agree that keyword research is SO important. I also use hittail to track my broad matches, discovering keywords I missed. I then add these back into the account.

  8. Catch Search Marketing

    One thing small business owners should pay close attention to is what area they serve. This will play a major role in how to optimize your website.

    For example, while my business may be located in Pittsburgh, more specifically it may be located in a small subsection of the city, for example “Shady Side,” or the “Cranberry.”

    If my business really only serves smaller sections of the city, its going to be better to optimize my website for that neighborhood than a larger area.

    Combining location names with keywords is critical to getting more local traffic. For a complete break down of how to conduct keyword research in order to build local traffic visit http://catchsearchmarketing.com

  9. Jason – thank you for the tool “websitergrader”. that is very helpful!