Keyword research is a bit like learning to cook, in the sense that it doesn’t take a lot of knowledge or skill to do the basics. Once you know how to boil water, you can make pasta. Once you know what your business provides, you can use those words on your website.
Every business owner understands this concept. Vinny, the Boston Italian restaurant owner, knows intuitively that his website should prominently include language like “Boston restaurant” and “dinner in Boston.” All he has to do is use some type of free keyword tool, such as Google Keyword Planner, to plug some of those keywords in, verify that they indeed have search volume — usually quantified as “average monthly searches” — and look for some additional related keywords that the tool suggests. Bravo! All done.
Similarly, Nathan, the owner of a software company, knows that his software helps businesses, schools, and churches plan ahead and prepare for emergencies. Therefore, his most basic keyword research will revolve around similar keywords, such as “emergency preparedness software” and “emergency planning.”
In short, basic keyword research starts by identifying what value your business provides. This is a great first step to attract people that already know the solution they want from their search. For example, dinner in Boston or software that helps prepare for emergencies. But what about those people that understand the problem that they are looking to solve, but haven’t figured out the solution they want yet? How do you attract them?
What Problems Are Your Customers Looking to Solve?
Putting yourself in your customer's shoes is the only way to uncover the insights needed for this next stage of keyword research.
This is when keyword research starts to become an exciting practice of discovery. Opportunities to provide value become clear, and you are able to meet customers exactly where they are in their search for a solution. Let’s look at some examples of how this can play out.
Vinny, the restaurant owner, started talking to his customer base as well as customers from other nearby restaurants. He soon realized that a large number of his customers are couples that are going on a date. Some were married couples looking for a fun evening away from the kids and others were young professionals on their first date.
It occurred to Vinny that these people were just as interested in “date night options” as they were in a place to eat, whether that be bowling, a movie, or a delicious meal together. This insight inspired Vinny to do keyword research around phrases like “date night Boston” and “romantic night out in Boston.” He selected the keywords with search volume that made intuitive sense, and used them to build an additional page on his website, titled, “The Best Date Night in Boston.” On this page, he highlighted the restaurant’s romantic ambiance and his “dinner for two” specials.
Soon enough, he was attracting new customers that weren't originally searching for a restaurant in particular, but thought that Vinny’s restaurant would be a great place to spend their date night.
Unlearning What You Already Know To Understand Your Customer’s Search
Nathan, the software company owner, was having a harder time with this level of keyword research than Vinny.
He couldn’t figure out why people weren't finding him for their “emergency preparedness” needs. After talking to more and more prospective customers, he uncovered the hard truth that people did not resonate with his “all-in-one” emergency preparedness product offering. Their concerns were more acute.
Given all of the terrible news of violent intruders and shootings, their primary interest was preparing themselves to defend that type of threat. Nathan knew that his software addressed this need.
He did some Google searching to see what language people were using online to describe this type of defense. He then used that language, terms like “active shooter preparedness” and “violent intruder training,” in his keyword research. This led him to a number of keyword opportunities, which Nathan then used for a new page on his website, titled “Active Shooter Preparedness.” He shared this page as a resource to others, and as people came to him for help, he was able to educate them in person about how his software can not only help them with that need, but also support them in preparing for other types of disasters.
Nathan’s customers were thrilled that such a solution existed, now that they understood its application.
Great Keyword Research is About Listening To Customers
Vinny and Nathan both had to humble themselves and listen to their customers in order to understand the language that would attract more potential customers to their website.
This crucial step is what separates good keyword research from great. Although it’s certainly true that SEO is often not this simple and involves many other factors, the most seasoned SEO practitioners will be the first to tell you that understanding your audience is at the core of the work. It is this process of discovery and exploration that makes keyword research and SEO such a fun and fulfilling form of marketing.
Final Thoughts: The Rise of Customer Conversations
Beyond the realm of SEO, more and more marketers are getting back to an important reality - that businesses exist to serve people and the only way to know how and what to serve is by having lots of conversations with customers.
We see this trend in the rise of “conversational marketing” and in new technology that enables more conversations online. It’s this process of discovery and exploration that makes SEO & marketing such a fun and fulfilling profession.