Keyword Research: Getting Started

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In order to attract search engine traffic, you need to discover the words and phrases that your target audience uses when searching for the information, product, or service you offer. This process is called keyword research.

Step 1 – Set your SEO goal(s)

Like anything else you do, you’re far more likely to get good results if you have specific goals in mind. Your website has a lot of jobs to do, which may include any or all of the following:

  • Attract new traffic
  • Grow your mailing list
  • Educate and inform your market
  • Sell your products and programs
  • Show off your expertise
  • Provide background information for potential partners and the press

Identifying what you’re hoping to accomplish is an important first step in developing your keyword strategy.

The amount of time you invest in keyword research should be appropriate to your goal and your current activity, whether you’re writing a blog post, optimizing your existing content, creating a page to promote your latest product or service, or developing an entire website for your business.

Please note that it may not be realistic to expect a good search engine ranking for the keywords you choose. In very competitive industries, the search results tend to be dominated by large organizations with huge budgets for keyword research and SEO.

Step 2 – Identify your target market

To create content that will appeal to someone who’s likely to purchase your products or services, you need to identify your target market. After all, if you don’t know who they are, how can you figure out what they’re searching for?

Once you have a clear picture of your target market in mind, you can begin your keyword research and start to develop your SEO strategy.

Step 3 – Make a list of keywords

Keeping your goals and your target audience’s mindset in mind, answer the following questions.

  • What are they looking for?
  • What search terms will they use to look for your product or service?
  • What problems does your product or service solve?

Write down as many answers as you can think of. If you have a good handle on your niche, you can probably come up with quite a few keywords that your clients might use at each stage of your sales funnel.

Step 4 – Expand your list of keywords

Next, make a list of one- or two-word keywords that broadly describe what your site is about. These are often referred to as short-tail keywords or seed keywords.

Use this list to generate additional keyword ideas.

In addition, come up with some two- to three-word keyword phrases as well as long-tail keywords consisting of four or more words that will attract traffic to your site.

This is important, because short keywords tend to be fairly broad, so there are a lot more sites competing for that traffic. Since longer keywords are more specific, there’s less competition and a better chance your content will address the needs of the person searching, increasing the likelihood they’ll take action.

Your website analytics can also be a valuable tool, as they will reveal the keywords people are already using to find your site.

Lastly, look for related terms in blog comments, social media hashtags, and anywhere else people are talking about topics relevant to your business. Add these to your list.

Step 5 – Organize your keywords

Create five to ten content buckets representing general topics that you’d like to rank for. If you have a well-organized blog, these might be the same as your blog categories.

Select the keywords and phrases you think are important to rank for, and that your target customer is probably searching for, and assign them to the appropriate buckets.

Keep in mind this is not your final list! The point of this exercise is simply to gather the phrases your target clients might use to search for content related to the topic of the bucket.

Next Step – Research your keywords

In my next post, you’ll learn how to conduct further research so you can determine which of your keywords to focus on.

Photo by IgorVetushko / DepositPhotos

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Janet Barclay

I eliminate stress for my clients by hosting, monitoring, and maintaining their WordPress sites so they don’t have to worry about security, downtime or performance issues. When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, cooking, watching movies, drinking tea, and spending time with my family.

Join the Conversation!


  1. Linda Samuels on August 28, 2023 at 10:05 am

    I’ll admit that I’ve while I use tags behind my posts and highlight/feature certain words (with links) in my posts, I’ve never done the keyword research. My website and blog reflect what my audience wants to know and what they struggle with. The clients that do find me through my site usually reference how it “spoke to” them.

    I also recognize that the research you’re suggesting could be beneficial. Thank you for explaining it so well, so if I do decide to dig in, this will be a great article to refer back to.

    • Janet Barclay on August 30, 2023 at 8:13 am

      I think you’re doing very well! It could be useful at some point to do some basic research and see whether you’ve been focusing on the “right” keywords, but as a solopreneur you only have so much time to allot to blogging and other forms of marketing, so you have to use that time wisely.

  2. Seana Turner on August 28, 2023 at 10:32 am

    I think I’m in a similar place to Linda. I think keyword research is a field I could dig deeper into. It might help me more clearly understand what people are looking for, and hence what I should be writing about. Most of my inspiration comes “from the field,” but there are times when I get stuck and need some inspiration. This would be a great place to start!

    • Janet Barclay on August 30, 2023 at 8:10 am

      It would! I once went through a client’s Google Search Console to find the keywords people were using to find her site, and from that generated a whole list of topic ideas she could work from.

  3. Julie Stobbe on August 29, 2023 at 12:07 pm

    I have done some keyword work in the past. It is not something I focus on. Thanks for explaining it so simply that I could do it again to see how things have changed and to understand what people are searching for now.

    • Janet Barclay on August 30, 2023 at 8:09 am

      You’re welcome! I’m glad you found this helpful.

  4. Janet Schiesl on August 30, 2023 at 6:22 pm

    This is a great blog, thanks for sharing.

  5. Julie Bestry on August 31, 2023 at 1:35 am

    I’ve definitely not done enough keyword research. After 16 years of blogging, I think I write to entertain myself at least as much as to attract traffic, but your first section really reminds us of why SEO is so much more than that. I definitely need to be more intentional about keyword research and usages, and as always, you’ve given us the inspiration and pathway to tackle it! Thank you!

    • Janet Barclay on August 31, 2023 at 8:43 am

      You’re welcome, Julie! Like you, I would probably blog even if it had no SEO benefits, but if we can attract new visitors while satisfying our need to express ourselves in writing, why not, eh?

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