What’s the No. 1 aspect of doing business online that most of the small business owners I talk to want to improve? That’s easy — traffic to their website. They’ve put the effort into building a website, and they want people to check it out. And maybe even buy something. Or sign up for their newsletter. Totally reasonable.
But taking a “build it and they will come” approach to doing business online does not work.
What does? Search engine optimization, or SEO, which Rand Fishkin has defined as “the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of the traffic that you earn through the organic results in search engines.”
Recently, I sat down with Chris Penn, VP of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications, to talk about how small businesses can use keyword research to drive traffic to their websites. Chris is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology who’s written and spoken extensively on Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. His latest work, Leading Innovation teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change.
In other words, he knows his stuff.
You can watch the video below for the full interview, or read on for the highlights …
Q: What exactly is keyword research?
CP: “In search engine optimization, the goal is for us to be found by the words people are gonna use to inquire about our businesses. So my teacher Mark Davis owns a martial arts school in Boston, Boston Martial Arts Center. And so logically, he wants to be found with words like ‘Boston martial arts,’ ‘martial arts school in Boston,’ ‘martial arts school near 02134.’ You know, all these different terms that indicate relevance. He doesn’t want you to find ‘flower shop, Boston.'”
“That’s really what organic search and SEO is all about —people asking questions of Google or Bing or whatever with commercial intent.”
“Most people don’t spend a lot of time just Googling things for fun … They’re doing it with a purpose in mind. So when we’re talking about keyword research, we’re talking about finding the words and phrases that are relevant to our business and that will catch the people who have made this attempt.”
Q: How can you get started with keyword research?
CP: Go to Google’s AdWords tool and sign up (for free) to access the Keyword Planner. This tool “takes the paid search data that Google is collecting and allows you to see how popular those terms are for all kinds of search.
So let’s say your coffee shop is in lovely San Diego, right? You would start using this tool to find more keywords. And you would type in logical things that make commercial intent, like ‘San Diego coffee shop,’ ‘coffee shop in San Diego,’ ‘coffee shop in the Gaslamp District.’ Put in five or 10 words that you think are reasonable, intelligent descriptions of your business. Hit Search.”
You can then download a spreadsheet with keyword results. Prioritize by the most-searched terms. You want these terms on the most important pages of your website.
“So again, if ‘San Diego coffee shop’ turns up to be the most searched words, then you want to make sure that that’s on your contact page or your directions page so people can find your business. And that page will rank well for that term. And then the further down that list you go, the little niche topics like ‘best espresso in San Diego,’ or ‘most low fat cappuccino in San Diego,’ those you can have as part of blog posts or short form content.”
Q: What mistakes do SEO newbies make?
CP: “One of the biggest mistakes that people make about SEO is assuming that you’re writing for the machine. That was true five years ago … but now that Google and Facebook and all of these companies are using legitimately hardcore artificial intelligence, they are trying to simulate a human being. So if you think like a human, then you probably will do pretty well with the algorithms.”
Q: What other tools besides Keyword Planner could a small business use for research?
CP: If you built your website using WordPress, including a product like GoDaddy Managed WordPress, try the Yoast SEO plugin.
“Yoast tells you like ‘Hey this is the keyword phrase to your page,’ and ‘here’s how you’re using the general factors on site that we think make a lot of sense for this page.’ Use that tool with your keyword to plan out your website.”
Another incredibly useful tool for keyword research? Social media. Chris suggests looking at the words people use to describe the same thing — like a competitor’s product. “By monitoring social media and the words other people use to talk to you and to your competitors, you can expand that keyword list with traces that real people use.”
Great advice, right? For the full scoop, be sure to watch the video!