Update: The Google Keyword Tool has been updated, and is now only available to those with AdWords accounts. It is now called the Google Keyword Planner. While the principles of this post are correct, the details aren’t. I’ll be writing more about key phrase research soon.

I’ve just been looking at a website that ranks very well for ten of its owners’ preferred key phrases – only one of the ten isn’t on the first page of Google, and two are at the top, position 1.

The owners want to know why they’re not making money from the site.

The consequences of choosing the wrong keywords

The key phrases they chose, and wrote their copy around have very few searches, according to Google. While they fit the business, they don’t fit what potential customers are looking for.

And with few searches, there are even fewer clicks, and yet fewer enquiries. It’s a bit like putting your shop in the middle of a field, miles from anywhere, with no roads. People just aren’t going to see your shop, and you won’t make sales.

How to put your business right in front of your customers

Make your website provide what your customers are looking for. Now, I’m not saying here that you need to be able to offer them great products they really want to buy. That goes without saying. But it also doesn’t go far enough.

You need to understand how they see what you’re selling; how to speak their language.

Because, when they come to a search engine, they’ll be using the words in their mind, and that’s likely not to be the jargon that’s involved with your business.

Find some people outside your business

If you’re not sure about how people talk about your business and its sector, try talking to your customers. Listen to how they talk about your products and services.

That’s a good first step, but having bought from you, they probably are comfortable with some of your specialised terminology. Ask some friends how they describe what you do – friends are ideal because they’re almost certainly aware of what you or your employer does, but may not be that close.

Make a list of what they say

…and add your own specialised terms, too. You’ll be covering most of the bases this way.

Now head over to Google’s Keyword Tool (if you have a Google AdWords account, I recommend you use the Keyword Tool there. It has no annoying CAPTCHA, and a few more bells and whistles), and paste in your list of key phrases.

Let’s take some key phrases that I might use for Writing For SEO for an example. I’ve just used five so I don’t end up with a huge screen capture; you will probably want to use more for your website.

As we’re trying to increase the scope of your key phrase targeting, I’d recommend you don’t enter your URL. Make sure you have the right country, language and devices selected, and click Search.

I’ve selected UK for the country, because I’ll get results that apply to my potential local customers and the worldwide reach of the website. You may only want the local results or the worldwide ones.

How are your current searches?

Here are the results from my five key phrases:


Click on the first of the two pull downs on the right and select either Sorted by Local Searches or Global Searches, according to where you want to to see the results from. This will make the list of results easier to understand. These are good, with plenty of searches.

If I manage to get these key phrases on the first page of Google, I’ll get lots of good traffic.

There will also be some more key phrase suggestions that you can look at at – I ticked the Only show ideas relevant to my search terms check box so I could look at the just my chosen key phrases.

How about this example? Suppose I was to want to launch a jazz night or a jazz bar here in Worthing, where I live?


Hmm. Maybe not such a good idea. At the very least. I’d have to do some more investigation before committing to the launch. The first step would be to uncheck the tickbox and let Google tell me some more about alternative searches people have been making.

There could be people searching on different key phrases from the ones I thought of.

I’d also need to look at searches from mobile devices, too, by changing the Devices option in Advanced Options and Filters. Mobile search is getting more important and is more applicable to my jazz venue than to Writing For SEO.

Finally, just a quick quick warning. This is not proper Key Phrase Research, although some people may want to call it that. Without further analysis, there’s no guide to the competition for these key phrases, and therefore I don’t know if any of them are the best key phrases for my purpose. Key Phrase Research is a huge subject that I’ll be returning to later.

In the meantime, are you targeting key phrases that people are actually searching on?

Thanks to USAID U.S. Agency for International Development for making the search image available.