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The Ultimate Keyword Research Checklist

Many small businesses learned the hard way during the pandemic that modern businesses cannot survive without a website. Of course, that was also the same time everyone did most of their shopping online.

With people at least partially adopting their old, in-person shopping habits, the competition among the approximately 200 million active websites is much more fierce online than it was even a year ago. If you were ignoring SEO best practices like keywords, you need your keyword research checklist in order, pronto.

Not sure what belongs on your checklist? Keep reading for the essentials that should go onto your checklist.

What Are Keywords?

If you aren’t clear on what keywords actually are, here’s a quick overview. Your website is about your business, and you can sum up almost any business with a word or a phrase. By the same token, when people search for businesses online, they use specific words or phrases to narrow down the results to the specific kinds of businesses they want.

You can think of those terms that people use and that sum up what a business is about as keywords or keyword phrases. You use those keywords on your site and in your content. Doing so, along with other SEO techniques, helps ensure that search engines properly identify your business and that customers can find you.

With that primer on keywords out of the way, let’s dig into the checklist items.

Main Keyword

For any given site, the site owner will find one specific term or phrase for which they want the individual pages and the overall site to rank in search results. That term or phrase is your primary keyword.

While this might sound simple, it’s often more complicated than it looks on the surface. Let’s say that you run a plumbing business. You’ll naturally use the keyword plumber as your main keyword, right?

Here’s the catch. Everyone else who runs a plumbing business will try to rank for that exact same keyword, including big national brands with much deeper pockets than you.

In most cases, your main keyword won’t turn out to be the obvious choice. Of course, finding keywords is often a task best done with the assistance of a tool, such as the Google Keyword Planner. Tools like these help you identify keyword options.

Related Keywords

Next up on the list are related keywords. You want a list of handy related keywords for a couple of reasons. One of the big reasons is that it gives you some options while you write copy for your website.

People often use synonyms when they must describe the same or similar things repeatedly. Doing that in your copy and other written content gives your writing a more natural feel, such as the way that someone speaks.

Related keywords also help you avoid the problem of keyword stuffing. If you use your main keyword too often, search engines assume that you used it over and over again just to help your site rank. Instead of ranking better, search engines will push your site down in the results.

Long-Tail Keywords

Most businesses spend at least a little time researching long-tail keywords. These are keyword phrases that typically include the main keyword but build an idea around it.

Let’s say that your run a bakery in Lexington, KY, and you settle on “Lexington bakery” for your main keyword. If one of the services you offer is wedding cakes, then you might want a long-tail keyword like “Lexington bakery for wedding cakes.”

You won’t necessarily get a lot of hits from that keyword, but you will bring in hits from people looking for exactly that service. That often means you get more sales from those hits because people are ready to buy now.

Local Keywords

Local keywords are really just a variation of long-tail keywords with a specific focus on location or geography. For businesses that operate in small towns, local keywords are often just things like “pizza parlor in town, state.”

Local keywords can get very specific for businesses that operate in larger cities. You might include a neighborhood name rather than a city name.

Not every business needs local keywords, but they’re very useful for any brick-and-mortar business running a local storefront.

Search Intent

While it’s more of a concern for search engines, businesses must give at least some consideration to search intent. In essence, search intent is the ultimate goal that someone has when they perform a search online.

You can break intent down into four broad categories:

  • Navigational: find a location
  • Informational: learn about something
  • Transactional: accomplish something, like buying something
  • Commercial: pre-purchase research

Where you can, you should focus on keywords that align search intent with business goals. While you may provide general information, your business goals will mostly align with transactional and commercial search intent.

Keyword Difficulty

A final consideration is the keyword difficulty. Keyword difficulty is a shorthand term for how much trouble you will face in trying to rank for a specific keyword.

High-traffic keywords are almost always in the hard-to-impossible range for ranking well. It’s why general terms like plumber or baker don’t usually make for good main keywords. There’s just too much competition.

It’s why many businesses opt for a related keyword to serve as their main keyword. You face less competition which lets your site pages rank better in search results.

Leveraging the Keyword Research Checklist

The keyword research checklist above hits the main areas you must pay attention to while doing your keyword research. With that said, you should expect a tough learning curve with keywords.

You can spend a lot of time just narrowing things down to your main keyword. It gets even trickier when you start digging into long-tail keywords, which adds time to the process.

If you block out time for the research, though, it can pay dividends in organic traffic and sales.

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