A quick guide to keywords for business owners


One of the topics we are often asked about by business owners is keywords. Having keywords on your website helps you to get found by new customers online. This quick guide explains what keywords are, how they work, why you need them and how to get them onto your website.


What are keywords?

You use keywords on a daily basis, even if you don’t know what they are. Keywords are specific terms that you use to find things online. It’s typing things into Google like ‘Sainsburys opening hours’ or ‘CRM software reviews’ or ‘specialist personal tax advisors’. Google process on average a staggering 3.5 billion searches like these every day.

Guide to keywords for small businesses

Keywords are also what potential customers use when they’re searching to find your products or services online. For example, if you’re a florist, your keywords might be ‘florists in Kent’ or ‘buy flower bouquet’. If you’re a consultant, your keywords might be ‘executive coaching’ or ‘leadership development coach London’.

How do keywords work?

So how does Google connect you with (hopefully) the right website when you search for something online?

It starts by reading or ‘indexing’ websites to find out what they’re about. It picks up on keywords that have been used in the text like ‘florists in Kent’ or ‘executive coaching’.

Google then thinks to itself: ‘Ah-ha. Here’s a business who’s a florist in Kent/ executive coach in London. When someone searches for ‘florist in Kent’ or ‘executive coach in London’, I’ll include them in the search results, because they’re relevant.’

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you’ll straight to the top of page 1. If all you needed to do to get to the top of page 1 was to include keywords on your website, everyone would be at the top of page 1. Which is, or course, impossible.

There are a lot of other factors that Google uses to determine exactly where it will place you in the search results… whether you’ll be at the top of page 1, or at the bottom of page 36. But that’s a mammoth topic in and of itself. For now, let’s just focus on keywords.

Why does my website need keywords?

In a nutshell, if you don’t use your keywords in your website, it will be more difficult for potential customers to find you online. If customers can’t find you online, you won’t get their business.

This is because if you don’t use keywords, Google stands a much smaller chance of understanding what it is you actually do, and therefore may not include you in the search results when a potential customer searches for your services or products. And remember: if customers can’t find you online, you won’t get their business.

Think about it. Google doesn’t have human intelligence (at least, not yet). It’s limited to a mathematical algorithm. Google can’t work out that if you say ‘I help CEOs revolutionise their performance at work’ you’re actually an executive coach in London. You have to actually say it using those words – leaving no doubt in Google or just customers minds about what you do. Those words are your keywords.

How do I find out what my keywords are?

Researching your keywords is one of the most valuable and important activities you can do to market your website. By understanding your keywords, not only do you learn what terms to focus on within your website content, you’re also learning about your customer. With this knowledge, you’ll be more effective at attracting and keeping your customers.

keywords for small businesses

The best way to find out what your keywords are is to get professional keyword research done by a specialist search/SEO company. If you’re not in a position to get professional keyword research done or just want to get a quick idea of what your keywords are, the good news is researching your keywords is not as difficult as it sounds.

DIY keyword research

Here a few quick pointers to help get you started. Keep one thing top of mind as you follow this process – your customer.

Step 1: Establish generic topics

You need to establish a foundation of 5 – 10 generic topics that are most important to your business e.g. consultancy, coaching.

Step 2: Write a list 

Next, within each of these topics, start writing down specific keywords or phrases that your customers might be using to perform searches e.g. leadership consultancy, business coaching. Note – keywords are not limited to just one word. They can be multiple words or a phrase. Tools like Google Trends (www.google.co.uk/trends) will help you come up with ideas. If you can, also ask your customers what terms they use. It’s a great way of gathering first hand research and verifying your own research.

Write up all your ideas in a list. A spreadsheet works really well for this.

Step 3: Review  

Type each of your keyword ideas into Google. Which competitors already rank on page 1 and is this where you want to be? Are there lots of ads? Are there millions of search results? If so, this suggests it might be a competitive keyword to rank for. You should also subscribe to Google’s AdWords service (www.google.co.uk/adwords). This features a Keyword Planner, where you can type in your keywords and see the volume (number) of searches they get each month.

In your list, next to each keyword, note down the volume (number) of searches it gets each month and how competitive it is (e.g. low, medium, high).

Step 4: Get specific 

Increasingly, customers are using longer questions and complex terms rather than short generic keywords. These are known as long tail and short tail searches e.g. award winning wedding florist Ashford (long tail) vs. florist (short tail). Often, short tail is more competitive than long tail so it’s a good idea to have a balanced mix of the two in your portfolio to reflect short and longer term goals. Someone searching with long tail terms is also typically further along the buying process because they know exactly what they’re looking for. If you offer that exact service, they’ll be more likely to convert into a paying customer.

Expand your list to include any relevant long tail keyword ideas.

Step 5: Your top keywords

By now you’ll have a long list of keyword ideas, and a broad understanding of how many searches they get and how competitive they are. But which keywords should you optimise your website with? This comes down to a couple of factors. If all or most of your customers use a specific word or phrase to describe one of your services, this is a strong indicator that this is one of your top keywords.

You should also review your list to see if any of the keywords have high search volumes and low competitiveness, as this will mean that it’s easier to rank higher in Google for that search term and you’re likely to get more traffic and potential customers as a result. Bear in mind that high volume low competitiveness is easier said than done. It can often only be uncovered through professional keyword research. Don’t be dismayed if all your search terms are medium or high competitiveness – this is pretty normal for DIY research.

Step 6: Update your website content

Now you need to consider your website content in light of your top keywords. Do you have pages that are focused around these top keyword topics? Does the text you’ve written contain these exact keywords? Are there any gaps? Will your customers find what they’ve been promised by clicking through to your site? Will it lead them to interact with or purchase from you? If the answer is no, then you may want to think about rewriting or creting new content so you’re more confident you’ve closed the loop. Things you should be focusing on include:

  • a clear page structure that uses headings and sub headings,
  • high quality, unique and easy to read copy that focuses on benefits to the customer,
  • a clear call to action that encourages your customer to perform the desired behaviour e.g. get in touch, go to your shop,
  • including your keyword in the url, page title, sub headings, SEO title, meta description and image tags
  • including your keyword in the main content – as long as it’s in context, and not overused*

* It’s very important to avoid stuffing your pages with keywords, as Google will regard this is spammy. For a 500 word article, using your keyword around 3 times within the main content/ body of the article is sufficient.

WordPress users might want to consider installing Yoast’s SEO Plugin (www.yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo) which enables you to quickly plug a lot of these things in when you’re editing your page.

Step 7: Review, measure, improve

The last thing to think about is that you should really aim to experiment, test, measure (via a tool like Google Analytics) and improve – if not continually because you’ve not got enough time for that, then at least regularly, say every quarter. It’s only a valuable activity if you know the return it’s bringing you.

If you’ve got this far, well done. Let us know how you get on!