How to Figure Out Exactly What Keywords Your Target Customers are Searching For

You know that sinking feeling.

You‘ve poured your heart and soul into creating an amazing website full of products or services that could change people‘s lives. But no matter how much you tweet, post, or share…crickets. No one‘s finding your site, and you have no clue what you‘re doing wrong.

Sound familiar? Here‘s a hard truth: It doesn‘t matter how incredible your offerings are if your target customers can‘t find them. And in our digital world, being found online almost always starts with keywords.

Simply put, keywords are the words and phrases people type into search engines like Google to find information, products and services. And when it comes to attracting high-quality traffic, leads and sales to your site, targeting the right keywords is absolutely essential.

Why? Because 93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine, and over 3.5 billion searches are performed on Google each day. If you want a piece of that pie, you need to show up when your ideal customers are searching for what you offer.

But with so much noise and competition online, figuring out which keywords to target is easier said than done. Where do you even start?

Don‘t worry. In this comprehensive guide, I‘m going to give you a proven step-by-step process for finding the exact keywords your target audience is using every single day. No fluff, no vague theory, just insanely actionable advice you can implement today to start getting your business in front of the right people.

Ready? Let‘s do this.

What are Keywords (& Why They‘re So Important)

First things first, let‘s make sure we‘re on the same page about what exactly keywords are and why they matter so much for your business.

In the world of SEO (search engine optimization), keywords are the words and phrases people type into search engines to find information online. They provide clues about the topics, products and solutions people are searching for.

For example, let‘s say you‘re a plumber in Seattle. Potential keywords your customers might be searching for include:

  • Plumber in Seattle
  • Emergency plumber Seattle
  • Drain cleaning services
  • How to fix a clogged sink
  • Sump pump installation cost

Every time someone types one of these keywords into Google, they‘re telling you exactly what they need or want. It‘s like having a direct line into the minds of your target customers!

And when you know what keywords your ideal clients are using to find businesses like yours online, you can optimize your website, content and ads to show up for those searches. Which means more high-quality traffic coming to your site every single day.

Case in point: 50% of search queries contain four or more words. These longer, more specific keywords (known as "long-tail keywords") make up the majority of searches and tend to convert better than shorter, more generic terms.

For example, someone searching for "Seattle plumber" is likely just starting their research and not ready to hire someone yet. But someone searching "best 24/7 plumber Seattle guaranteed" is clearly much closer to making a decision.

If you‘re not optimizing for those long-tail, high-intent keywords, you could be missing out on your most valuable traffic and leads.

Bottom line? Keywords are one of the most powerful tools in your digital marketing arsenal. And businesses that invest the time into figuring out exactly what their customers are searching for have a massive advantage over their competitors.

How to Find the Right Keywords: A Step-by-Step Guide

Okay, so we know why keywords are so important. But how do you actually find the ones your potential customers are searching for? Here‘s the process I‘ve used to help dozens of businesses discover their most valuable keywords:

Step 1: Start with "Seed Keywords"

The first step in any keyword research process is to come up with an initial list of "seed keywords." These are broad topics relevant to your business, products or services.

For example, seed keywords for a plumber might include:

  • Plumber
  • Plumbing
  • Plumbing services
  • Drain cleaning
  • Water heater installation
  • Sump pump

These keywords give you a starting point to work from. At this stage, don‘t worry about search volume, competition or getting too specific. The goal is simply to brainstorm potential topics to research further.

Quick tip: If you‘re struggling to come up with seed keywords, try thinking about the different services you offer, types of customers you serve, or questions people ask about your business. You can also look at your website navigation, product categories or service list for topic ideas.

Step 2: Expand Your Keyword List

Once you have a list of seed keywords, it‘s time to expand on them to find more specific, relevant search terms. This is where keyword research tools come in handy.

There are many great options out there (both free and paid), but a few of my favorites are:

Simply enter a seed keyword into one of these tools and you‘ll get back a list of related keywords along with data on search volume (how many people are searching for the keyword each month), keyword difficulty (how competitive the term is), and more.

For example, if we plug "plumber" into Ahrefs, we get keyword ideas like:

Already, we can start to see some great long-tail keyword opportunities like "24 hour plumber near me", "affordable plumber", and "residential plumber."

Pro tip: Look for question-based keywords (those starting with "what", "why", "how", etc.) These keywords tend to have lower competition and can help you create helpful, educational content for searchers in the early stages of the buyer‘s journey.

Step 3: Analyze the Competition

Once you have an expanded list of keyword ideas, the next step is to analyze the competition level for each one. Because even if a keyword has high search volume, it may be too difficult to rank for if the SERP (search engine results page) is dominated by big brands or authoritative sites.

Keyword research tools usually provide data on "keyword difficulty" – an estimate of how hard it would be to rank on the first page for a given term (based on the strength and authority of the current ranking pages).

For example, Ahrefs gives "plumber" a keyword difficulty score of 28:

Keyword difficulty score in Ahrefs

As a general rule of thumb:

  • 0-10: Very low competition. Should be easy to rank for with decent content and a few links.
  • 10-20: Low competition. May be able to rank with quality content and strategic promotion.
  • 20-30: Moderate competition. Will take some focused content and link building efforts to rank.
  • 30+: High competition. Will likely require significant investments in content, links and authority building to crack the top 10.

However, these scores are just general guidelines. The right level of keyword difficulty to target will depend on your website‘s age, authority, budget and goals.

Pro tip: In addition to analyzing keyword difficulty, look at the current search results for each keyword you‘re considering. Are the top spots dominated by huge brands or websites that have been around for 10+ years? Then it will likely be an uphill battle to rank, even if the keyword difficulty score is low.

On the flip side, if you see smaller websites ranking on page one with mediocre content, that could be a great opportunity to create something better and steal their spot.

Step 4: Map Keywords to the Buyer Journey

Not all keywords are created equal. Some are searched by people just starting to research their options, while others indicate a searcher is ready to buy.

Understanding the intent behind a keyword is key to figuring out which ones will attract your ideal customers (and which will just bring in tire-kickers).

Generally, keywords fall into three main buckets based on searcher intent:

  1. Informational: Searchers looking for top-level information or answers to a question. Usually not ready to buy yet. Examples: "how to unclog a sink", "what does a plumber do", "when to replace water heater".

  2. Navigational: Searchers looking for a specific brand, website or location. They know the name of what they want already. Examples: "ABC Plumbing Seattle", "Joe‘s 24 Hour Plumbing", "plumber near Pike Place Market".

  3. Transactional: Searchers looking to make a purchase or complete an action. High buying intent and more likely to convert. Examples: "hire a plumber in Seattle", "book plumbing appointment", "get plumbing quote".

Here‘s a simple visualization of how keywords map to the stages of the buyer‘s journey:

Buyer journey keyword intent

As you analyze your keyword list, categorize each term by searcher intent. In general, you‘ll want a mix of keywords across all stages of the journey so your site can attract potential customers from research to purchase.

But if your goal is to drive sales or generate leads, prioritize those bottom-of-funnel transactional keywords that show a searcher is ready to take action.

Step 5: Prioritize & Organize Your Target Keywords

By now, you should have a robust list of keyword opportunities – likely a mix of short-tail and long-tail keywords across different stages of the buyer journey. The final step is to prioritize and organize those keywords to figure out which ones to focus on first.

Some factors to consider when prioritizing your list:

  • Relevance: How closely related is the keyword to your business, products or services? Highly relevant keywords should be a top priority.
  • Search volume: How many people are searching for the keyword each month? Higher search volume = more potential traffic.
  • Keyword difficulty: How competitive is the keyword in organic search? Lower difficulty keywords will generally be easier to rank for.
  • Business value: If you ranked for this keyword, how valuable would the traffic be? Keywords that indicate high purchase intent or align closely with your core offerings should be prioritized.

One way to visualize keyword priorities is with a matrix:

Keyword research prioritization matrix

  • Quick Wins (high relevance, low difficulty): These are your top priority keywords. Highly relevant to your business and less competitive in search results.
  • Big Opportunities (high relevance, high difficulty): Important keywords that will take more time/effort to rank for. Focus on these after your Quick Wins.
  • Low-Hanging Fruit (low relevance, low difficulty): Keywords that are less relevant to your core business but may provide some incremental traffic. Target only if you have extra bandwidth.
  • Not Worth It (low relevance, high difficulty): Keywords to discard. Either not very relevant to your business or too competitive to realistically rank for.

Once you‘ve prioritized your keywords, organize them in a spreadsheet and map out specific pages or pieces of content you plan to target them with. Each core service/product page and blog post should target 1-2 main keywords plus a few related keywords.

Bonus Tips: 5 "Secret" Keyword Research Tactics the Pros Use

Want to go even deeper with your keyword research? Here are five advanced tactics you can use to find hidden keyword opportunities your competitors are missing:

  1. Wikipedia Keyword Mining: Use this hack to quickly find hundreds of long-tail keyword ideas on any topic using Wikipedia (h/t Robbie Richards).

  2. Reddit Keyword Scraping: Reddit is a gold mine for finding the exact words and phrases your target audience uses. Just search for your topic, identify popular threads, and scrape the comments/posts for keyword ideas. Tools like Keyworddit can help automate the process.

  3. "People Also Ask" Expansion: Search for your target keyword, then see what questions show up in the "People Also Ask" box. These make great long-tail keyword targets. Bonus: Click on a few of the questions to generate even more ideas.

  4. Competitor Keyword Gap Analysis: Plug your site and a few competitors into a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush. Then look at which keywords your competitors are ranking for that you aren‘t (yet). Instant keyword opportunities!

  5. Wildcard Keyword Research: Use the wildcard operator in Google search to find long-tail variations of your target keyword. For example, searching "best plumber in Seattle" will show results like "best plumber in North Seattle", "best plumber in downtown Seattle", etc.

Go Forth & Conquer Your Keyword Research

We covered a lot of ground in this guide, so let‘s recap the key takeaways:

  • Keywords are the foundation of SEO and one of the best ways to attract high-quality leads and customers from search engines
  • Start with broad "seed keywords", then use tools to expand your list and get search volume/difficulty data
  • Analyze the competition and map keywords to different stages of the buyer journey
  • Prioritize keywords based on relevance, search volume, competition and business value
  • Use advanced tactics like Wikipedia mining, Reddit scraping and wildcard searches to find hidden keyword opportunities

I know keyword research can feel overwhelming, especially when you‘re just getting started. But don‘t let perfect be the enemy of good. The important thing is to dive in, explore, and start optimizing your website for the keywords that matter most to your audience.

Because here‘s the thing: Your dream customers are out there searching for exactly what you offer, at this very moment.

Will you be there to greet them with open arms and a solution to their problems? Or will your competitors get their business instead?

The choice is yours. Now go out there and make your keyword research matter!