Imagine you’ve created a business. Your products are wonderful, your location is beautiful, and your staff is ready and willing to serve the rush of customers you’re expecting. But there’s one problem—there aren’t any roads leading to your business!

A week goes by and you find yourself sitting on your hands with zero customers and no revenue. Obviously, until you build roads to your business, you’ll continue to experience the same problem because despite customers knowing you exist, they can’t seem to find you.

This same problem exists on the internet. Simply creating a website does not guarantee traffic. You need to build roads and relevant signage that lead customers to your site. This is where keyword research comes in. More on that later.

Links are the digital roads to your site.

How Do Customers Find Your Website (Business)?

Search engines, like Google, are the digital equivalent of the Yellow Pages. Remember those bulky, tiny-print business directories we used to receive on our doorsteps? Lucky for us, search engines replaced them. The job of a search engine is to index and categorize the world’s information and then provide that information to you when you search for it, quickly and efficiently, by way of a simple search bar. That includes your website and the number of pages on it.

But how does a search engine understand what your site’s about and how it should be categorized? How does it know that you sell bikes, for example, and not pet food? The oversimplified answer is content, also known as the information provided on the pages of your site.

The content (text, images, and other media) you include on your site is the signage that helps search engines find and categorize your business. Content indicates to Google exactly what you sell and what services you offer. The job of the search engine is to then create a link (or road) back to your site that it shows to the potential customers searching for the content you offer.

What Is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is the process of identifying the words your potential customers are using in search engines to find the products or services you offer. The research has the potential to cut through assumptions you’re making about the terminology they’re using and the entire sales journey they’re taking on the internet, which can vary significantly from the traditional journey they take offline or in person.

Sure, without keyword research your site will be visited by customers who are already familiar with your brand. But what about the potential customers who aren’t familiar and are actively searching for the type of product or service you offer? Google alone experiences 70,000 searches a second and almost 5.4 billion searches a day. How does keyword research help you answer the percentage of these searches related to your business?

3 Reasons Your Business Needs Keyword Research

1. Keyword Research Helps Achieve Product-Market Fit

As the business owner, you’re most familiar with your brand. You know the terminology used to refer to your products or services. You might even understand the evolution of the terminology used by your business. But are your assumptions aligned with the actual words potential customers are using in search engines?

The keyword “market” represents the tens of thousands of words and phrases being entered by users in search engines that are related to your products or services. Search engines, like Google, retain this keyword data in their research tools and make it accessible to anyone. Through the keyword research process, your content is aligned with the available keyword market, removing the guesswork and strategically placing the right signals on your site.

You might be wondering why customers would use different terminology than you’re accustomed to. The answer is that not every potential customer has defined the problem they’re trying to solve, and they may not yet possess the vocabulary to name and search for the solution (product or service) you provide. They may be in the earliest stages of discovery. These “stages” make up the sales journey that each customer takes.

Keyword research provides the insight you need to identify:

  • The most common questions your customers are asking
  • The words they’re using to describe their problems

This step in the research process reveals the goals or search intent of the customer, allowing you to create valuable content for every step of their journey.

2. Keyword Research Identifies Search Intent

Search intent is defined as the purpose of a customer's search; what questions they’re asking and why. Let’s consider the journey of a person trying to identify if a dark patch on their arm is the beginning of skin cancer or just a harmless mole they hadn’t noticed before.

What would their journey look like from a keyword perspective?

TopicKeyword 1 (Discovery)Keyword 2 (Awareness)Keyword 3 (Action)
Skin Cancer

"what does skin cancer look like"

*(52k monthly searches)

"skin cancer types"

*(29k monthly searches)

"skin cancer screening near me"

*(1.2k monthly searches)

*Data reported by Ahrefs 5/13/22

In this example, the user starts by submitting the question “what does skin cancer look like” to Google in an effort to discover the similarities between what they’re seeing on their own skin and what qualifies as skin cancer. They’re presented with an article that includes pictures and descriptions of various skin cancers.

They may then be interested in reading about the most common “skin cancer types” and the prognosis for each in an effort to further qualify what they’ve noticed.

If their discovery and awareness searches yielded some concerning results, they may feel the need to book an appointment at a cancer center, so they’ll use a search phrase similar or identical to “skin cancer screening near me” to find a provider near them.

Every search phrase used in this example illustrates a certain intent/goal:

Intent: Informational. The user wants to know what skin cancer looks like.

Intent: Informational. The user wants to understand the various types of skin cancer.

Intent: Navigational. The user would like a medical professional to screen the abnormality on their skin and provide their diagnosis.

A healthcare provider could use this research to focus their efforts on providing website content for the three phases illustrated above, thereby widening their acquisition net and improving their chances of securing a health screening appointment.

Search intent also reveals the expectations each user has at every stage. The page targeting the search phrase “skin cancer screening near me”, for example, should probably include information detailing the screening process and a button inviting the user to schedule their appointment.

3. Keyword Research Provides the Substance Needed for Other Strategies

We’ve shown how keyword research informs the content strategy of your site. What other areas benefit from these insights and how?

Keywords with a transactional/navigational search intent (“skin cancer screening near me”) can be used as targets in paid media efforts (Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, etc.).

The same terms used to align your content with funnel stages are used by search engines to categorize your site. Including these keywords in certain areas of your site (title tags, meta descriptions, H1s, URLs, alt text, etc.) increases your visibility in search engines.

The keyword profile of your competitors can reveal the content strategy they’re implementing on their site. By knowing the keywords they’re ranking for and targeting (their keyword profile), you’ll discover exactly who you’re competing with and the various challenges you’ll encounter as you implement content strategies to outrank them.

Local Visibility: The Benefits of Keyword Research for Small to Medium-Sized Businesses

A common objection we receive to the keyword research process is that organic search is too competitive to allow small- to medium-sized businesses the opportunity to rank highly on search engines. You’re not wrong.

When you optimize your site for organic search, you are competing with every business on the internet, even the largest ones with endless budgets. It is entirely possible that you never rank on a national level for your products or services. From this perspective, it’s easy to assume that any keyword effort is an investment with poor returns. But what if locally, your business and your services stood out the most in search results, more so than your competitors?

Consider how a healthcare provider might use this strategy. Say you’re the director of a local hospital looking to generate more visibility around the treatments and screenings you offer. As we learned earlier, search engines such as Google have evolved to understand the intent of a visitor. As a result, a search for “mammogram screening” may return a set of local results because Google assumes the user is looking for a local hospital that offers mammograms.

The businesses with the highest visibility are, without a doubt, featuring the keyword “mammogram” or some version of it on their sites. Without these signals, local hospitals would struggle to rank for general queries (searches) like the one used in this example.

In Summary

Keyword research is a crucial step in the overall strategy of your site. It cuts through assumptions about terminology and user behavior and delivers the data you need to position your site for maximum visibility and impact, no matter the size of your business.

Take advantage of this crucial step in the optimization process to ensure you’ve built the digital “roads” that give your business the visibility it deserves.

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About the Author Alex Diaz // Senior Content Strategist

Alex Diaz helps clients build strategies that support powerful campaigns and websites. An entrepreneurial spirit, he understands the marketing puzzles that businesses often face, and he thrives on solving them.

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