Keyword Research: Knowing How Customers Are Searching For Your Business.
Chapter 4: Learning What Your Customers Want
Last Updated: October 18, 2022
By: Brian McCracken
When someone is using a search engine to look for something, they have to enter a string of words or a phrase into the search bar that describes what they need. That string of words, or phrase, is what is known as the keywords, or search query.
While in some cases businesses can begin producing content for their customers and have some success, they will almost always have a greater degree of success if they have a formal plan for what they should write about.
In order to get an idea of what topics you should write about, you have to know what your customers are searching for.
The process of discovering what to write about is what is known as keyword research.
Understanding that a search starts with keywords they will always be the foundation that SEO and content creation is built around. It’s doesn’t matter what changes in coming years, keywords are the entry point after which everything else follows.
Keyword research can make or break you
Imagine sitting in your office, starring at your keyboard and then someone asks you about the Cleveland Browns game. You’re a die-hard Browns fan, you love talking about the Browns, you could talk about them all day.
Knowing you are the city’s foremost expert on the team, and knowing you have to publish a blog post on your company’s website because some SEO Guru told you that you need to write one blog post a month to “Stay relevant” (or whatever justification they use) you begin to author the most in-depth analysis of last weekend’s game that the internet will ever be blessed with. You hit publish, and walk away from your keyboard knowing that you knocked it out of the park.
What happens next?
You have a meeting with your business partner a few weeks later, open up your Google Analytics to see how your SEO is going and… nothing has changed? How’s that possible? You wrote the most informative piece of content that’s ever been published in the history of Northeast Ohio! What happened?
The golden rule of keyword research is that if nobody is searching for what you are writing about, you won’t get any traffic from the search engines, no matter how hard you try or how well the content is written.
As a business owner, your time is valuable. You probably didn’t start your business to become the most prolific author your industry has ever seen. Sure, you need content, but you also have to keep the doors open and take care of your customers.
So if you are going to produce content for your website, you need to have a good idea that the content you are creating is something that your customers are looking for.
Learning the basics of keyword research will get you there, and while you don’t have to master it, at least having an idea of what to look for will be critical to your success. It’s not rocket science and will probably take 20 minutes of your time to get the ropes of.
What keyword research tells you
Keyword research has the unique ability to help you understand who your market really is, how they are searching for your business, it’s products and services, as well as how to satisfy their search intent, which we talked about in the last chapter.
It can help you answer important questions about your customers like:
- What are they searching for?
- How many people are searching for that thing?
- What is their intent when searching those things?
- What content format would best serve their needs and increase the likelihood they complete a transaction with you?
- How should you build the strongest content to attract the largest audience, and have the greatest SEO impact?
Keyword research can also help you
- Understand your business, and the market it is in
- Understand how users feel about your brand
- Know what keywords you currently rank for
- Identify keywords that you need to produce content around to drive traffic to your website
To understand keywords, start with knowing your business and your customer’s needs
Before you open any tools, or get confused by big screens of numbers that don’t make sense, let’s start with the basics. This is often where people try to save time, but it’s a horrible mistake so be sure you do this FIRST!
Your Customer’s Needs Come First
The first thing you need to understand is that what you want to rank for and what your customers need are typically two completely different things.
Let’s talk about us, Cleveland Web Works. We are web developers at heart. We design and develop custom solutions to meet and exceed our client’s needs. NEEDS being the keyword there.
Most people running this type of business would want to rank in the top of the search results for “Web Developer” or “Web Designer.” While that would be great, it would also be wrong in a lot of ways. That’s our product, more or less, but it’s not our customer’s needs.
Our customer’s needs are to have their customers find them online.
Sometimes that means a new website. Sometimes that means marketing advice. It can mean a lot of things, but at the end of the day nobody starts a business to build a great website. People ask us to build a website for them so their customers can find them online.
So, while web designer or web developer would be the obvious thing to want to rank for, in order to properly address our customer’s needs, we should talk about helping them get found online!
Take this SEO guide for example, again.
Fortunately I work for a great company and my boss is an amazing person who knows I understand this stuff better than anyone else from Chicago to Maine, and trusts me to help our clients in the best way possible.
I can have an honest conversation with him and say “We sell websites, but our clients need to be found online, and I need to help them do that” and even though we aren’t talking about our “Product,” we are talking about … your needs.
Have faith in yourself, you are the expert in your own business
Coming back around to knowing your business, nobody knows more about it than you.
It takes courage to not always talk about what it is you sell or provide. At the end of the day your accountant looks across the desk at you and gives you numbers based on those things, so it can be scary to not make them the focus of your SEO.
Instead, focus on your customers and your audience. You’re in business for them. Without them, your account would have nothing to do.
You have all of the experience, and expertise, and knowledge they need to solve their problems. There might be other companies out there that do what you do, but nobody does it exactly the way you do, and for the reasons you do.
Your customers care about their problem. When they are searching for something in Google, they need a solution.
If you take you unique value as a business and offer it to them to help them solve their problems, it will allows pay you back ten fold.
We are going to look at keyword selection next, so keep in mind that what you may want to rank for and what your customers are searching for are not the same thing.
The six keyword questions
When thinking about keywords, it always comes back to answer the same six questions about your customers.
- What are they searching for?
- Who are they?
- When are they searching for these things?
- How are they searching for these things?
- Why are they searching for these things?
- Where are they located?
What Are Your Customers Searching For – Is it your product? Is it an answer to a problem? The mistake most people make is seeing a keyword where people are looking for a solution to a problem and creating a piece of content that shoehorns their products or services into it.
Remember, your goal is to understand search intent and provide the most relevant content that will satisfy their intent. If you put your product or service before their need, it will appear spammy and low-value.
By understanding what your customers are really searching for, you will be able to best serve their needs and have the best chance of ranking and building a relationship with them.
Who Are Your Customers – Are they business owners themselves? Consumers? What else can you determine about them based on this search?
By understand who the person might be behind the search, you can best answer their question in a way that is most meaningful to them.
For instance, this SEO guide is for businesses. So we talk about things from the perspective of a business owner, not a casual blogger, because it will mean more to them if it’s specifically about them and what their need is.
When Are Your Customers Searching With Those Keywords – Do they need a solution right now? Are they looking for something down the road? is it casual?
Understanding what your customer’s potential urgency is when they are searching using given keywords will allow your content to resonate with their perspective and mindset in that moment.
You should also consider where your customers are in either a sales funnel or buyer decision process. Are those keywords the type of keywords someone would use when they still need more information before completing a transaction, or are they ready to buy right now?
Knowing that will help you build content around their true search intent.
How Are Your Customers Searching – Looking at keywords, you can get an idea if something is “Conversational” or not based on the words used.
When a search uses conversational keywords it’s a strong indicator that they are using their cell phone and need a solution more urgently than if they were conducting the search on a desktop or a laptop.
When you search something using your keyboard, your word selection is often more concise than if you use voice-based search on your phone via Google or Siri. When you’re looking at keyword phrases, you can begin to pick out which device those search were probably made from.
If a keyword appears conversational, your content should probably be created to address those more urgent needs and search intent.
Why Are Your Customers Searching – Understanding the motivation behind a search can help you create great content.
When your customers are asking a question, you have two choices. You can tell them what you want them to read – OR – you can tell them what they want to discover. Using SEO as an inbound marketing channel, it is far better to give them the content they want to discover.
Considering why your customers are using a given search term and give you insight on what it is that they actually want to discover, even if they aren’t fully aware of it yet.
Where Are Your Customers Located – When someone searches something, they might be standing inside of a store ready to make a purchase, or they might be doing some late night searching from their bed before they go to sleep for the night.
Taking the keywords you find and considering what that person is doing and where they are when conducting those searches will inform what your content should be to answer them in the best way possible.
Keywords vs Topics
Now is a good time to talk about the idea of keywords versus topics. In some SEO circles you’ll hear things like “Keywords are dead!” On it’s face, that’s partially true, but not for our purposes.
10 years ago, you could pick one short keyword and write an article about only that one keyword, and Google might rank you for it. In recent years search engines, but particularly Google, have gotten much better at reading and understanding content.
That doesn’t mean keyword research isn’t useful now. Just the opposite, but you have to flip your thinking about how you use it.
What they are looking for now is more comprehensive, helpful content that full explains a given topic instead of a possibly spammy article written to just rank for and snipe one particular keyword out of the search results.
So, when we are doing our keyword research, keep in mind that what we are considering is the search intent behind the keyword to write helpful content around, not just that single keyword itself.
A word on relevancy
You already know that Google ranks pages based on their relevance to a search query and it’s search intent.
When you are thinking about your keyword research, it’s important to remember that not all keywords are going to be great fits for what your specific business does, even if they have keywords associated with your products or services in it.
When you start selecting keywords to base the topics of your new SEO content around, make sure that you are able to fulfill their search intent with content that is relevant to both the keyword/topic and what your business provides in the form of products and services.
If it’s not easy to draw a clear line between what you do and offer, and why you would be considered an expert with a high degree of authority on the topic, Google likely won’t be inclined to rank your content for that search query.
Your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness on a given keyword topic
Several years ago, Google became much more serious about evaluating the credibility of websites and article authors when determining if they deserved to rank for certain keyword phrases. That called the system they used to evaluate this EAT, or E-A-T. It stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.
Your website’s EAT is so important that it is also a part of the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.
Expertise – They are evaluating if you are an expert on your topic? Your website and article should tell visitors who you are, and if you a a legitimate source of knowledge. Google wants to rank content from people who know what they are talking about, so be sure you show that you are that person.
Authority – Here Google is evaluating the creator of the content, the website that the content is on, and the content itself. Developing a content plan that enforces this authority is critical to your SEO, and why you don’t want to pick keywords that you aren’t an expert to inform and educate others on.
Trustworthiness – With this Google is looking at the reputation of your website and it’s content authors. Do you get good reviews? Does the author have Wikipedia mentions, their own page on your website, or even better yet, their own website? Do other sites mention the author in similar content? All of these things can help improve the trustworthiness part of your EAT score.
Keep in mind, Google’s goal is to serve the best, most information, and most importantly, factually correct content to their users.
When selecting keywords, be sure to ask yourself honestly, “Am I qualified to talk about this?” If not, it may not be a good keyword for you to build content around even if it is a good fit for your business.
Generating “seed” keywords with keyword ideation
Seed keywords are where you keyword research process will begin in earnest. These seed keywords define you, your business, your services and products, your market, and your competitors.
Just like when someone types a search term into a search engine, almost all keyword research tools will ask you to start with some kind of seed keyword. using that seed keyword, a keyword tool will then generate a huge list of possible keywords, and the quality and size of those lists will vary tool by tool.
The easiest place to start is to just think about what people would type into a search engine to get to your website. If you sell tires, it might be “Car tires” or “Car tires in Rocky River, Ohio.”
If you build custom furniture, it might be “New custom table top Mentor, Ohio.”
If you sell coffee, it might be “Coffee,” “Cappuccino,” or “French Press.”
Start a list and write down everything you can thing of. you probably won’t create individual pages on your site for each of these words, buy you will use them to find longtail keywords that you will use.
Longtail keywords can be through of as extensions of your base seed keywords. If your base seed keyword was “Coffee,” a longtail keyword could then be “The best coffee maker for singles.”
Longtail keywords are easier to write helpful content around, and there will generally be fewer people competing to rank for them. While writing an enormous article about the entire topic of “Coffee” would be a huge undertaking, writing a more concise article that helps someone find a coffee maker for a single person.
PRO TIP: Think about someone’s needs when looking at keywords. If they are looking for a coffee maker for singles, that probably means they are looking for a coffee maker than only makes 2-4 cups of coffee at most, and is very easy to clean. Understanding their needs and search intent will help you craft content with a high degree of relevancy for the search query, hopefully making it more likely to rank when someone searches it.
Using your competitors to generate keyword ideas
A great place to find keyword ideas is to look at your competitor’s websites.
Hopefully you know who they are, but if you need to identify your competitors use the list of seed keywords you wrote down from the step above and begin searching them. Make a list of everyone that ranks for those words. Those are probably your competitors.
if you seed keywords only generate results for super large sites like Amazon, or Best Buy, get a little more specific and granular with your seed keywords until you find sites that are smaller and more closely resemble your business.
Once you have that list of competitors, start to go through their sites and see what kind of content they are publishing. Look at the topics they have written about previously and add them to your list of seed keywords.
Using keyword tools
There are a variety of keyword tools on the market that you can use to help generate keyword ideas, but for now we will use Google’s Keyword Planner.
Google Keyword Planner
The keyword planner tool from is meant to help PPC advertisers find new keyword to build Ads around, but can be used to help you come up with some initial keywords or topics to consider creating content around. It’s not the most comprehensive tool on the market, but it is free which makes it very appealing for newcomers to SEO.
Get started here: https://ads.google.com/aw/keywordplanner/
You may find that you have to create a Google Ads account to access the tool as it is a part of their ads product as we mentioned above. Once in the tool, you should find yourself at a screen similar to the image below.
Step 1: Click on the discover new keywords button.
Step 2: Enter some seed keywords.
After clicking on discover new keywords you should find yourself at a screen similar to what is below. For our example we are going to pretend you own a business in Cleveland, Ohio that sells athletic shoes.
You can enter as many keywords as you would like here, but we are going to start with “Running Shoes” as shown below.
Click “Get Results.”
Step 3: Evaluate returned results
Google should return a screen that looks something like this:
There’s a lot of information here, but for now what you really want to focus on are the keywords listed in the left hand column, and the volume column.
For our keyword of “Running shoes,” we did get a lot of helpful results unfortunately, and that happens when using very board keywords. What Google has done is gone out and said “Oh, you want to know what kind of running shoes are out there to buy?” and then returned those results.
While if you were just opening a shoe store and didn’t know what to carry, that may help, it doesn’t do much to help us create helpful content for SEO purposes.
Thinking back to what we talked about earlier, you may want to rank for a product like “Nike Vapormax,” but that doesn’t really help your customer with what they may need, or what they want to discover about a product.
Using “Nike Vapormax” as an example, let’s help Google find better keywords for us to consider writing content about.
Step 4: Find longtail keywords more suitable for creating helpful content
Let’s start to think about how people that want to discover more about Nike Vapormax shoes would search next if they didn’t find what they wanted.
They would probably start to ask questions, such as “Are Nike Vapormax,” “Do Nike Vapormax,” “How Nike Vapormax,” and “Nike Vapormax for.” Let’s go ahead and give keyword planner those as seed keywords and see what happens.
Now you are getting somewhere! These are much better longtail keywords to consider using as topics to create helpful content around.
Imagine you knew all about the Nike Vapormax shoe. You could probably easily help people know if it was good for the gym, running, or if it tends to run big or small. It’s much easier to write for those kinds of topics, and as a bonus, they are normally easier topics to rank for as well.
Write all of the keywords down that look like they would make good topics, we will user them next.
Step 5: Finding out what else people are asking and searching for
With your list of better longtail keywords, head over to Google and search them one at a time. As an example, let’s take “Are Vapormax Good For Gym” that we found above and use it as a search query.
Towards the top of the search results page, you may find a “People also ask” box. These are questions related to your search query. This is what we saw when searching “Are Vapormax Good For Gym.”
Hey, look at that! More topic ideas you can use for new articles, or to use in the same article to build even more helpful content for your customers to find you with.
As an example, talking about the purpose of Nike Vapormax shoes in the same article that covers if they are good for the gym makes a lot of sense.
On the other hand, the question “Which shoes type best for gym” is probably best as a completely different article idea.
Scrolling to the bottom of the page you may find another box with related searches. In our case, it looks like this:
Here you’ll find some more great ideas to write about! Are Vapormax good for running? Basketball? Standing all day? Wonderful!
You should click on anything that has to do with the Vapormax shoes and see what else they give you. For example, this is what we got when clicking on if they were good for standing all day.
Step 6; Putting it all together
We started this assuming you were a Cleveland business that sold athletic shoes, and you were an expert on the Nike Vapormax shoe in particular. Here’s the keywords we found that were exclusively about those shoes after clicking through the results.
Pretty impressive list of topics, right? And not that hard to come up with.
So do you make an article about each of these keywords? No, that would be decade old SEO thinking. Ideally you’d write just one article that answered all of these questions.
Here’s what an outline for that article might look like:
Title: Just How Good Are Nike Vapormax Shoes And Are They Worth It?
-Then write a little introduction about who you are and the shoes themselves. Maybe include when they were released, and what people think of them.
-Have a section about how they fit: Nike Vapormax Shoes Tend To Run Small… etc. etc.
-Then a section about if they are comfortable.
-And another sections about if they “last.”
-And then a larger section that discusses each sport you found that people searched for, breaking each sport up into it’s own paragraph. So maybe “What Sport’s Are Vapormax Shoes For?”
- Cross Country
Then finish up with a conclusion and how people can reach you if they have any more questions and you’re done!
Whew! Another chapter down and boy, that was a big one! Now you should know what keyword research is, why it matters, and how to start doing it yourself using free tools.
If you’re ready, you can proceed to the next chapter and keep the momentum going!
If this was a lot, and you’re not sure that you’ll have time to do it, we are always here to help.
Revisit A Section
- Keyword research can make or break you
- What keyword research tells you
- To understand keywords, start with knowing your business and your customer’s needs
- The six keyword questions
- Keywords vs Topics
- A word on relevancy
- Your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness on a given keyword topic
- Generating “seed” keywords with keyword ideation
- Using your competitors to generate keyword ideas
- Using keyword tools
We are here if you need us.