Most business owners miss out on a lot of potential business because they don’t choose the right keywords, or worse yet, they don’t put any thought into their keyword strategy at all. Follow these simple steps to find some hidden gem keywords that you’re currently missing.

Before you start, create a system to capture your keyword list. I like to use a Google spreadsheet because it’s easy to share with your team and you can create multiple sheets or tabs if needed. You can start on a whiteboard or notebook, but you’ll quickly want to migrate your list into a digital format that you can easily sort, delete, and copy and paste into other platforms.

Step 1: Brainstorm Keywords

Write out a list of all the keywords you would use to search for a business like yours. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer and think of how you would search. Your intimate knowledge of your business gives you an inside track on behavior. Think about the words and phrases that people use to describe your product or service.

Be careful not to trust your instincts too much, though. Sometimes you’re too close to it to see some big opportunities that “normal people” are searching for. Get input from employees, friends, and family. Be sure to ask people who aren’t as familiar with your industry to get a balanced view.

Current customers are another great source of keyword ideas. Ask them what keywords they searched to find your business. The sooner you can ask them, the more likely they’ll be to remember the exact search phrases they used to find you.

Step 2: Spy on Competitors

While I recommend that you don’t obsess over your competitors, you can get some good ideas on keywords by watching what your competitors are doing. You can identify which competitors are worth emulating by seeing who shows up in Google searches for your keywords.

Search your top keywords and notice the specific phrases that the top sites include in their page titles and descriptions. Click through and look at page headings and content. Look at their blogs and other content pages to see the topics they are writing about. Look at which companies run ads for your keywords.

Use a competitive keyword tool to see which keywords your competitors are using. These tools give an estimate of how much they are paying per click for specific keywords and their total ad budget. A couple of these tools include SpyFu and SEMrush. Just enter your competitor’s domain name and they’ll show you a list of paid and organic keywords for that site, rank-ordered by popularity.

Step 3: Analyze Your Existing Keyword Flow

An often overlooked source of good keyword ideas is your existing keyword traffic. Unfortunately, Google encrypts most searches, so you can’t get much data on organic keywords from Google Analytics, but it’s worth looking at the referring keyword reports to see if anything shows up (Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels > Organic Search). Another great Google Analytics report for keyword insights is the landing page report for organic search visitors (Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium > google/organic + secondary dimension: landing page). Even without seeing the exact keywords, the landing pages give you clues about which keywords are driving traffic to your site.

A great source of insight into your organic keywords for any website is Google Search Console. Sign up for an account to see your top keywords along with a bunch of other handy tools for optimizing your organic Google rankings. Look for good keywords that you haven’t already thought of that are showing up as queries in the performance reports.If you’re running any paid keyword ads like Google keyword ads, Bing Ads, the keyword reports from your campaigns can give some good insights into keywords that are popular. If you track conversions from your campaigns, you can focus on the keywords that generate the most leads or sales, rather than just the most traffic.

Step 4: Keyword Research Tools

Once you have a good list of keywords you can start plugging them into keyword tools. The purpose of running your keywords through these tools is to help validate your assumptions about which keyword phrases are most popular. You will also find additional keyword phrases that you didn’t already think of. Google’s Keyword Planner is a great place to start.

This is the tool that Google uses to sell its keyword ads. Since Google gets 90+ percent of all of the billions of searches every day, they have a decent database of search behavior. Other keyword research tools you might try are Wordstream, Moz, and Ahrefs, as well as the two mentioned above for competitive analysis: SEMrush and SpyFu.

Google also offers some good keyword ideas through their search suggestions that show up at the bottom of each search results page, and the autocomplete suggestions right in the search box. Those suggestions are based on actual searches, so make note of those and add any relevant ones to your list of potential terms to target. Google Trends can also give good insights into localized keyword search popularity and related search phrases.

How and Where to Use Your Keywords

Once you’ve done your keyword research and prioritized the words and phrases you want to show up for, you need to know where to use your selected keywords. There are several different ways to use keywords, and your approach for each will be a little different, depending on how keywords are used in each application.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – SEO refers to organic placement in search engine results. Include your top 1-3 most relevant keyword phrases in the HTML page title for each page of your site. Include keywords where appropriate in the page headings and within the body text. Include local qualifiers to give your site the best chance of showing up for localized searches if your business has a local service area. Resist the temptation to stuff too many keywords in these areas. Always think quality over quantity. And don’t worry about using the exact phrase throughout the entire page. Google is getting good about recognizing different phrases with the same meaning. If you use the same words every time, you limit your reach for all the different variations, and you could trigger spam filters with Google for having a website that is “over-optimized.” Note: it’s not necessary to include a list of your keywords in the meta keywords tag since meta keywords are completely ignored by Google.

Paid Search Ads – If you’ve got an ad budget, keyword ads are a great way to get targeted keyword traffic to your site. The ads are typically bought through an auction-based system where you set your maximum bid price, which is the highest price you are willing to pay for clicks on your ad. Because pricing is completely market-driven, you’ll pay more for clicks if you have a lot of competitors bidding on the same keywords, and you can get clicks for cheap in less-competitive industries. The nice thing about paid search ads is that you can control how much you spend, and you can turn entire ad groups or specific keywords on and off at will. The main drawback of course is that you’re paying for every single click, so if those clicks don’t convert to paying customers, you could give Google a whole lot of money for a whole lot of nothing in return.

Local Listings – The main local listing to focus on is your Google My Business (GMB) listing. There are hundreds of other local directories and citations that include a business description along with your basic business info such as name, address, and phone number. Don’t go nuts and stuff a bunch of keywords into your company name or description, but be sure to include relevant keywords where appropriate. When possible, pick categories for your business that include your target keywords.

Content Strategy – Your keyword research should also guide your content marketing strategy. Whether you’re creating blog posts, checklists, ebooks, videos, or other formats, create content that people are searching for. Explore keywords that tap into different stages of the buying process. Look for questions people are searching where you can provide an answer or solution. The more value you provide through your content, the better it will perform in search, which builds more trust with your audience.

Your keyword strategy will evolve as you see what works and what doesn’t work. Keep an eye on which keywords are driving the most traffic and leads. Repeat this keyword analysis process periodically to find new keyword opportunities as they emerge.

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