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How to Find Keywords That Deliver Traffic (Small Business Edition)


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

It’s easier than ever to build a business and reach out to the world, but every fresh startup must find a way to handle growing in the shadows of the giant companies that dominate search rankings. Generic keywords that drive revenue are inevitably fought for with budgets that small businesses can’t hope to compete with. How can they thrive in those conditions?

Thankfully, they don’t need to compete with those companies. The key is to find ways to flourish alongside them. This is achieved by looking past the most basic keywords and targeting the less obvious terms that others overlook — whether because they don’t need them, or because they’re not sure how to identify them.

If you run a small business and want to find those hyper-valuable keywords that you can use to bring in relevant and actionable traffic, this guide is for you. Here’s what you need to do:

Use autocomplete suggestions

There are countless keyword research tools available online, and most of them draw their information from the goldmine that is Google’s autocomplete functionality. If you type “red shoes” into a search box but don’t submit it, you’ll be presented with various extensions of that string that have been used before: “red shoes women”, “red shoes ballet”, etc.

This is fantastic because you can keep lengthening a search query for quite a while before the suggestions dry up, eventually highlighting some niche long-tail keywords that might be worth targeting. You can do this manually, or try a tool such as Keyword Tool or Kparser to save some time at the cost of some flexibility.

Find related queries in Google Trends

For getting high-level views of how much interest surrounds particular topics, Google Trends is exceptional. It’s particularly useful when dealing with synonyms or alternative names for products, practices or services, because it quickly and clearly shows you which term gets the most traffic (and should thus be targeted in your content).

Beyond that, though, the related queries box that appears in the results is tremendous. By default, it sorts the suggestions by how quickly they’re rising in popularity, making it easy to pick out terms that aren’t just popular but are also fresh. When you’re looking to win traffic, getting out ahead of a growing trend is a great tactic — as the interest scales up, your early content investment will rapidly grow in value.

Explore your internal search

As a small business, you should already have a business website, whether just a place to read your news or a functional eCommerce site. Assuming your site has an internal search facility (the average modern CMS will provide one by default, so it’s likely), you should be able to review the searches your visitors have made so far, giving you some handy hints about what they’re looking for and what they might want to see that you don’t currently offer.

If you’re still in the planning stages of creating your website, you have a site but it doesn’t have a search facility, or you have a search facility but it has barely been used, then consider this an option to investigate in the future once you’ve established a solid level of traffic. You can then use the internal search queries to achieve further improvement.

Research on social media and forums

How people discuss topics online is very telling, and you can glean a lot about the zeitgeist and the relative popularity of different things by simply following conversations and threads across social media channels and forums. This information is particularly great because it’s raw and untapped, and larger corporations can’t usually pivot fast enough to take advantage.

You can pick up on particular hashtags and other topical identifiers, or look for areas that are particularly relevant (if you’re looking for keywords around “red shoes”, for instance, you could search Reddit for subreddits about footwear, and look for posts around red shoes in particular). If you’re unsure about anything, step in and ask people about what they’re looking for, then take what you’ve learned about their needs and tailor your content accordingly.

Get inspiration from existing sites

Competitor analysis is an essential part of keyword research, and it would foolish to look past it because there’s no value in reinventing the wheel. If you’re running an eCommerce business targeting footwear (to continue that example), why start with original research when there are countless popular footwear businesses out there with finely-tuned websites? By seeing what keywords they’ve targeted, you can get inspiration for your approach, as well as learning to avoid their strengths and exploit their weaknesses.

But you shouldn’t stop with existing sites in your niche. If you get the time, expand your research to SEO-driven website content in general. An online marketplace, Exchange is an option if you’re selling a business, but it’s also a neat resource for budding retailers curious about how different types of products can be represented and targeted. Run through a variety of stores with distinct purposes and you’ll start to get a feel for how different types of keywords link together.

Trace the path of a searcher

If you’ve exhausted all other methods, there’s always value in simply tracing the path of a searcher, whether through investing in user testing, getting someone unfamiliar with your business to do a relevant search and explain their thought process to you, or just imagining that you’re an unfamiliar searcher and thinking about which queries you’d try.

If you knew nothing about existing sites and just wanted to find a particular pair of red shoes, what would you type into Google? Would you type “red shoes”, or would you add in your shoe size and any other requirements? Would you add your area? How do you want to buy? Is price an issue? All of these things can be factors. Sometimes, simply clearing your mind of all your existing assumptions and running through the path of a searcher can make you realize that you’ve been missing an obvious opportunity.

This is also important because other forms of keyword research are never 100% accurate. Autocomplete suggestions and internal searches are limited, existing sites may have been built around incorrect assumptions, and even in-depth research won’t always provide you with the kind of context you need to understand why a particular search string keeps being used. The better you can understand the mindset and circumstances of a searcher, the more well-rounded your ideas for your content will be.

Choosing the right keywords to target is vital to the growth of a small business with online aspirations. Instead of trying to fight big businesses on their own turf, find your own space in the digital ecosystem — there’s enough room, it will cost you much less, and you’ll find that your visitors are significantly more invested.


Patrick Foster is a writer and ecommerce expert for Ecommerce Tips. He sees far too many small businesses try to directly compete with industry juggernauts instead of carving out their own spaces. Visit the blog, and check out the latest news on Twitter @myecommercetips.


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  1. You’ve got an amazing article here.

    The ones that work so well for us are forums and social media. We look at questions a lot of people are asking and create an article on it.

    Thanks for sharing. We recently mentioned this article in our new post.


  2. Well, I implement all these strategies to my website, and these strategies really work well, Thanks for the really helpful content.

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