Stop Doing Keyword Research For Your Small Business (And Do This Instead!)

Today we’re going to focus on the easiest way to do keyword research, without paying for expensive tools. Learn step-by-step how to find relevant search terms that your customers are actually searching for.

The easiest way to grow sales in your small business? More traffic. We all want the consistent flow of new people and potential customers into our businesses. But in order to drive more traffic we have three main options:

  • Manually reaching out (outbound sales/marketing)
  • Paying Google/Bing/Facebook to display our ads (PPC advertising)
  • Ranking organically on Google to drive consistent traffic

In my experience, if you’re not funded or already making quite a bit of income in your business, paying for a sales team, and/or running ads don’t make sense. These methods are best used when all other ways of driving new traffic have been exhausted. So that leaves us trying to figure out how to drive more organic traffic to our small businesses.

Today we’re going to focus on the easiest way to do keyword research, without paying for expensive tools. I’m going to show you the most tried and true method I’ve used for finding relevant search terms that your customers are actually searching for.

When you combine helpful content with targeted keyword research, you have a much better chance of creating amazing resources for your customers as well as ranking higher on Google.

What is small business keyword research?

Keyword research is all about finding relevant search terms that your potential customers are actually searching for. The idea is, you search and discover related keywords that you can then add to your content in order to show up on Google. Some keywords are very popular, and thus have more competition to rank against.

Keyword Research

In the early days of Google, it was much less sophisticated to get rankings. You could “keyword stuff” a page with every search term under the sun and the less sophisticated ranking algorithm would drive you straight to page one. I have some bad news though, that is no longer the case.

As time went on, and millions (billions?) of pages were created, the team at Google had to make changes to the ranking algorithm in order to maintain the quality of their results. After all, the entire goal of Google’s search engine is to connect their searchers with the best, most relevant content that they are looking for. Having a bunch of keywords about a topic crammed into one paragraph on a page doesn’t say much about real quality right?

Since then, Google has released update after update that makes their ranking algorithm smarter by considering more than just keywords. For example, now they take into account how many shares a post received, how many people click through from search results, how long the reader stays on the page, and even how old your blog or business is. Learn more about off-page SEO in this great guide by Brian Dean at Backlinko

The days of quick rankings are long gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get some serious results from creating helpful content for your readers.

Is Keyword Research Just For SEO?

It’s easy to write-off keyword research as a skill you don’t want to learn, or you’d rather pay someone else to do for you. And there are plenty of “experts” that will sell you a list of the less than great keywords for your business while offering to write less than average content using those keywords.

Researching blog post

The thing a lot of business owners miss when it comes to SEO is the opportunity to prove themselves as an expert and authority in their field. Reading an insightful article written by the owner or executive of a company is just the type of content people are looking for. Not only does it increase your credibility when it comes to selling, but it also cements yourself as an expert with compounding traffic over time.

The act of researching keywords and thinking about the types of searches your customers are typing in brings you closer to your ideal customer profile and also exposes new opportunities for you to add value to their lives. Writing a blog post is a lot easier when you are simply answering a question about something you know and love and can provide a unique insight that only you can provide. And when something is truly valuable, the traffic will follow.

Related Reading: How To Write A Perfect Blog Post In One Hour (Really Fast!)

What about Google Keyword planner?

If you made it this far, I don’t have to convince you of the benefits of implementing keyword research as a monthly activity in your business. You and I can both agree that we want to create content for the right terms, and the right customer on Google. But how exactly do we find these keywords?

Google Keyword Planner

The classic answer is to use Google’s Keyword Planner tool which is part of the Adwords (PPC) platform. This tool was designed not for SEO, but to help advertisers choose popular keywords to show their ads on. For example, when someone types “real estate agent Albuquerque” they’ll be shown ads for people that pay a large amount of money to be there on top.

While using Google’s Keyword Planner can get you started down the right path, and give you some good ideas for potential areas to focus on, often times the smaller keywords are de-emphasized. For example, searching for “Best places to live in Albuquerque” has nothing to do with selling real estate, but someone who is interested in moving to Albuquerque (potential client) would be very likely to be searching for content like this.

Should I buy a keyword tool?

If you do a little research in the SEO space, chances are you’ll be bombarded with offers to try the “Ultimate Keyword Research Tool” that will completely change the game for your business. Avoid the temptation to give in to these offers. Not only are they expensive, with some as high as $99/mth, they literally don’t have accurate data.

Keyword tool pricing

Stop buying keyword tools

This is because Google releases about 2% of its internal ranking knowledge into the wild through Keyword Planner and other methods. It’s almost impossible to estimate the exact search count for many phrases since there are billions of variations used when searching.

It’s not surprising that making assumptions around bad data can do more harm to your business than good. Everyone wants confidence that they have a good idea, and after researching they are no more confident than before. This can lead to bad results, and bad keyword selection, even though you may be targeting keywords with high traffic.

Some of your most productive keywords will be low traffic keywords, but that doesn’t include the related keywords. Paid tools are a waste of time and money, and can lead to bad business decisions. The worst thing you can do for your business is to spend money on a tool that has almost zero ROI.

How To Find profitable niche keywords for your website

So if we’re not going to use any paid tools, and we’re trying to get more specific keywords than what Keyword Planner is going to give us, how can we find good search terms? I want to show you a better way to do keyword research that shows you exactly what your customers want to read about - they’re even searching for it!

Let’s pick a niche.

Pick a blogging niche

My previous company focused on selling websites and software to real estate agents. I’m very familiar with the ins-and-outs of this niche, so let’s use “real estate websites” as our niche for this example. Here’s what page one looks like for real estate websites today. If you don't have a niche yet, checkout Income School's awesome list of niche inspiration ideas.

Google search real estate websites

Notice the number of ads at the top of the results, as well as the size of companies ranking at the top. These are powerful, authoritative sources that Google isn’t likely to replace with your content - it can be done, but will require a great deal of effort.

Instead, let’s find some profitable keywords for this niche. If we simply write content about “Best real estate websites” we’re never going to show up. In fact, there is so much competition (20+ years worth) it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever make to page one for this massive term. It would be a huge mistake to think we can create enough content to bury the rest of the results.

So let’s get a little more crafty: we want to search for terms that real estate agents (our customers) would be searching for.

Using Google To Find Better Keywords

Ever notice how when you’re searching for something on Google it seems to magically be able to suggest the right thing you’re looking for. This is where their search technology really shines - helping people find exactly what they’re searching for. Even cooler? We can use these autosuggestions to find unique and interesting terms to write about that people actually search for.

Step 1: Explore our niche

For example, if we just type “Real estate” into the search bar, we’ll see it populate with some popular terms people are entering. From here we’ll take it a little bit further.

Google search real estate

Step 2: Explore our niche interests

We know our ideal customer cares about lead generation and marketing their real estate business so let’s pick “real estate marketing ideas” and see what we can find.

Google search real estate marketing ideas

We’re getting closer! “Real estate marketing ideas Pinterest” seems like it could have some great potential to create helpful content that is highly shareable online. Write that keyword down and let’s figure out a good way we can compete. “Real estate marketing ideas Pinterest” is a much less competitive keyword than “real estate websites” and has many Pinterest pages taking up the rankings. This means if we create a helpful guide for agents to use Pinterest, we stand a good chance of getting some traffic. But let’s take it one step further and get even more targeted.

Step 3: Find a competitive opening

We want to help agents who are trying to get better at Pinterest so let’s see if we can form a question that they might type into the search bar. Let’s try something like “How to use Pinterest for real estate” and let’s see what we can find.

Google search pinterest real estate leads

Low and behold! We’ve found a great keyword to write about: “How to use Pinterest to generate real estate leads”. Not only does this keyword have very little competition, but anyone interested in reading about this would be a perfect potential customer to sell our real estate websites.

Do you see how much more powerful this technique is than picking a keyword and writing about it? Within 5 minutes of research, we found every way our competition is presenting the information we want to talk about, we found a unique angle that we can add value to, and we found a way to attract real estate agents interested in marketing without being on page one for “real estate websites”.

When you do this over and over, here’s what’s going to happen:

  • You get a little bit of targeted traffic at first
  • When you keep writing, this traffic begins to grow in 3-9 months
  • After 1-2 years of practicing this technique, you will have a broad net in your space with a content library full of interesting content that helps build trust with your audience.
  • Over time, your BIG keyword rankings will increase

I’ve personally seen content like this consistently rank high for incredible keywords and generate 100,000+ visitors per month to a niche business site. This is seriously powerful stuff.

How to determine if a keyword is too competitive?

Deciding whether or not a keyword is too competitive takes a little bit of time researching search results, and experience identifying authoritative sites. A good rule of thumb to follow is if you recognize all of the websites on the front page as big massive sites, you probably should find another keyword to compete on. In marketing oftentimes you’ll see massive brands like HubSpot, Forbes, Business Insider competing for the same keywords you are.

Competitive Keyword

While you can go head to head with the titans of industry if that makes sense for your business, I’ve found it much easier to find opportunities in search results that have lackluster content. Often times you’ll see very small 1000 word articles or social posts that rank for some highly valuable keywords.

Seeing results from sites like Pinterest, Yahoo, Quora, and other small to medium-sized blogs, is usually a great indicator that you might be able to create a piece of content that stands out. It’s much easier to write a longer post with better images to compete with some terrible posts than try to compete with a 25,000-word manifesto that a company has spent endless hours writing in order to rank. As with anything, experiment yourself and be honest about your ability to create a better resource. There is always more low hanging fruit than you think there is.


Attracting new visitors to your website with SEO and keyword research can pay off massively for your business. But in order to do it right, you need to make sure you’re competing for the right keywords, and really thinking about how you can help offer value to searchers online.

If you are starting a business, or already have revenue, starting a content marketing strategy sooner than later is a great idea that will pay dividends for years to come. This guide by Neil Patel is great way to get started with keyword research in your small business 30 minutes a day.

Focus on finding new and exciting opportunities that you can expand on and share your expertise with the world. The best way to create engaging content is to genuinely try to give value to your target audience. Over time, this adds up to thousands of people who know and like you and would be much more likely to conduct business with your company.

What’s your favorite way to find new keywords for your small business?

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