Keyword research is one of the most important components of search engine optimization (SEO) as well as any other online marketing initiative. Whether you’re a small business owner, a Fortune 500 company, or a new blogger, the time you spend developing a keyword strategy is critical to your success on the web. By narrowing down keywords that accurately describe your business or product, you’ll help potential visitors find you online.

There are countless guides that explain how to do keyword research, but most are either too brief in their explanations or too advanced for the average website owner. The following 5-step plan for researching keywords is the perfect guide for beginners and intermediate users. It will take you from identifying relevant keywords to implementing a successful keyword strategy for your website.

Step 1: Write down search queries you would use to find your business online

To start, you need to come up with 10 phrases that your ideal visitors would enter into a search engine. If you’re having trouble thinking of phrases, then ask yourself the following questions and write down the answers:

1. How would you describe your business in an elevator pitch?

  • These quick, on-the-spot pitches force you to get to the point. In doing so, you’ll find that certain phrases and descriptions come out naturally as your describe your service offering.

2. Which of your products makes you the most money?

  • Focusing on your most valuable product makes sense when investing time into keyword research. Consider how you might describe this product to someone who has never seen or heard of it before. These descriptions will likely come to be part of your keyword strategy.
Pro Tip: If your competitors still include meta-keywords in their code, you can easily find them by installing a product like the MozBar. If you’d like to learn more about the MozBar and other great SEO tools, be sure to visit my post on the best free SEO tools. Google and other search engines no longer use meta-keywords in their ranking algorithm, but it can be helpful to know which keywords your competitors target.

Step 2: Research your initial search queries using a keyword research tool

Once you’ve narrowed down a list of queries that visitors would ideally use to find you, you’ll want to enter those into a keyword research tool. By doing so, you’ll discover whether people are actually searching for those keyword phrases. You’ll also be given a large list of related queries that you can use to form your final list of terms.
The best starting point is the Google Adwords Keyword Planner. This is a free tool, but it can only be accessed by signing up for a Google AdWords account. It’s absolutely worth signing up, as this tool has been the bedrock of SEO and keyword research campaigns for years.

Pro Tip: In recent years, Adwords has made it slightly more difficult for new users to sign up for an account without entering credit card information. Thankfully, we have a little trick to bypass that step. Pay close attention to Step 3 below. If you already have a Google account, this should not apply.


Create your website


Here’s how to sign up for a new Adwords account:

1. Enter or click this URL:
2. Click “Start Now,” in the upper-right corner.
3. When the “Welcome to Google Adwords!” page has loaded, click the blue link that says “Skip the guided tour.” (See the picture above for reference.)
4. Next, enter the email address you’d like to use for your account. This does not need to be a email address.
5. Click “Save and continue.”
6. Enter your name, password, and birthday. Click “Next step.”
7. Click “I Agree” to Google’s Privacy and Terms.

Google Keyword Planner

Search for new keywords using the Keyword Planner

Once you’ve created your account, you’ll want to follow the steps below (or watch the animation above):

1. Select “Tools” in the top navigation bar.
2. Click “Keyword Planner.”
3. Choose the first of four options: “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website, or category”

  •  This section will allow you to find new keywords, as well as average monthly search estimates, based on your initial list of relevant queries

4. Enter your list of search queries into the field provided. 

5. Adjust the targeting of your query entries.

  • For instance, if your potential visitors are mostly based in the United States, then be sure to set the “Targeting Location” to “United States.”

6. Once you’ve entered your list of queries and adjusted your targeting, you’ll see a list of “Keyword ideas.”

  • These are filtered lists of keyword ideas, as well as their average monthly search numbers.
Pro Tip: The actual number of visitors you receive for these keywords will always be much lower than the “average monthly searches” numbers that are shown in Google Adwords Keyword Planner. The number of visitors that come to your website will depend on your ranking in search engines and the click-through rate.

The easiest way to manage this long list of keyword suggestions is to download it as a .CSV file. This will allow you to open it in either Google Spreadsheets, Microsoft Excel, or your preferred spreadsheet tool. From there, you can remove certain phrases that you don’t like or that don’t necessarily make sense for your website.


Step 3: Select your keywords and filter out the unnecessary ones

Now that you have a long list of keyword ideas, how do you know which terms to select and use on your website? The first piece of the puzzle is to understand the three main types of keywords: short-, medium-, and long-tail.

  • Short-tail keywords have higher search volumes, but they are very difficult to rank well for (especially new websites). They are generally 1-2 words in length.
  • Ex. “juice shop”
  • Medium-tail keywords have moderate search volumes, but they are also fairly hard to rank for—though not quite as tough as short-tail keywords. These are generally 2-3 words in length.
  • Ex. “organic juice shop”
  • Long-tail keywords have low search volumes, and they aren’t nearly as competitive to rank well for. These queries are usually 4+ words in length.
  • Ex. “organic juice shop san francisco”
Pro Tip: When it comes to keyword phrases, search engines do not pay attention to “stop words.” These are extremely common words such as the, is, at, which, and on. You may see keyword phrase suggestions such as “organic juice shop san francisco.” But when you’re adding a keyword like this to text on your website, don’t forget to add the stopword back in.

When you’re starting a new website, I’d suggest selecting only medium- and long-tail keywords. This will give you the best chance of getting visitors via search engines. As your website grows and if you begin to rank well for all of your medium- and long-tail keywords, you can always adjust your keyword strategy to include a few short-tail keywords.

Once you’ve selected your list of medium- and long-tail keywords, you should duplicate that list and then add modifiers to each them. Generally speaking, there are four different modifiers that work very well with almost all keywords.

  • Time and/or Date: “organic juices 2014”
  • Quality and/or Price: “cheapest organic juices”, “organic juices under $5”
  • Intent: “buy organic juices”, “find organic juices”
  • Location: “organic juices online”, “organic juices in san francisco”


Step 4: Find out which websites rank on Page 1 of Google for each of your keywords

You absolutely need to see which websites are ranking on the first page of Google for each of your proposed keyword ideas. This is the best way to discover whether your website can compete for the keywords you’ve selected.

If your list of keyword ideas is long, inputting each keyword phrase into Google may seem like a daunting and time-consuming task. But it’s a crucial step, so please do not skip it, as it will cost you website visits in the future.

If you’d prefer to enter each keyword phrase into Google and take a look at each website on the first page of Google, be sure to ask yourself and document the following:

  • Are all of the websites big and authoritative (e.g. Apple, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s)?
  • What is the PageRank of each of these websites?
  • What is the Domain Authority of each of these websites?

To find the PageRank and Domain Authority of websites in search results, you’ll need to install the free MozBar plugin.

If the websites that appear on the first page are not well-known or especially authoritative, then you should consider using that specific keyword. These low-competition keywords will give you the best chance of ranking on the first page. And Page 1 search results account for 92% of the traffic for an average search query.

For those of you that prefer to use actual hard data to drive your decisions, you can sign up for a 30-day free trial of Moz Analytics. They have a “Keyword Difficulty and SERP Analysis” tool, which allows you to enter a keyword phrase and see various data points that will help you easily decide whether to pursue a particular keyword. If you’re interested in learning more about using the tool, Moz offers a helpful video guide on the Keyword Difficulty Tool.
Keyword Difficulty and SERP Analysis


Step 5: Apply the chosen keywords to your website

Once you’ve hand selected relevant and attainable keyword phrases, you need to insert these terms into various parts of your website. Here are the three most important areas of your website where keywords should be added:

  1. Title tags
  2. Meta descriptions
  3. All other text on your website

Title tags

A title tag is essentially the title of a web page—it’s the first line of text that you see when results appear in a search engine.

Title Tags Google

It’s also one of the most important on-page SEO elements for ranking well in search. As I mentioned in my local SEO marketing post, small businesses should consider implementing the following title tag format for their homepage: industry-specific keyword(s) – city, state abbreviation – business name.

  • Organic Juices – San Francisco, CA – Asterisk Juice Co.

As you build out other pages on your website, you should ensure that a relevant keyword is positioned at the front of that page’s title tag. Be careful not to make these too long, as Google will truncate the text after ~55 characters (including spaces).


Create your website


Meta descriptions

A meta description is the preview snippet for a given page. It can be seen below the title tag in search results.

Meta Descriptions Google

While Google and other search engines have said that meta descriptions aren’t used in their ranking algorithms, it’s still important to include relevant keywords here while also explaining what exactly the page is about. A meta description is a web page’s best call to action, so be sure to write compelling copy here, as it will greatly affect your clickthrough rate.

All other text on your website

Lastly, and arguably the most important, include your keywords in the copy of your website. No page should have the same keyword more than a few times per page, and the keyword should also fit naturally into the copy at all times. For example, don’t write sentences like this: I love the organic juice at that best cheap organic juice under $5 place in San Francisco.

Pro Tip: The majority of traffic to your web pages will come from keywords you didn’t optimize for. Don’t ever over-optimize a website or a web page for just a few terms. If you write compelling copy that also naturally includes a few relevant keywords, you’ll do much better in the long run.