Niche Keyword Research for Small Businesses Using Free Tools
Let’s face it! You’re not the owner of Amazon, Google or Wikipedia! Not even close!
As a freelancer or small business you most probably optimize for a niche audience.
Your website can’t compete with the behemoths of the Web!
Keyword research for SEO is difficult enough by now but finding a niche is even harder. Why?
Let’s take a step back and explain what we’re talking about: niche markets.
Niche Market Definition
What is a niche or niche market? It’s a relatively small market that covers very similar things. In case the definition is too broad for you read on.
As long as you specialize in one subject matter and don’t offer hundreds or thousands of very different products and services you need niche keyword research to succeed online as a small business.
Don’t get me wrong — small business is not a judgement — you can have literally hundreds of employees and ship globally and still work in a niche market.
The smallest possible niche is just about one product or service. For example at the beginning I was offering only SEO. Let me give you some examples of relatively big niche markets then:
- vegan meat
- street wear
- wedding photography
These niches are still huge and worth billions of dollars yet they are just a small part of much bigger industries. The food and fashion industries are serving some of the biggest markets that exist.
Photography is a slightly different example. It’s rather a service — especially when it comes to wedding photography e.g. yet it’s still competitive. There are plenty of underpaid photographers around.
Want more? The team of Shopify has created a list of niche market examples. They rather focus on actual audiences you can serve.
Let’s select a proper niche from the start. When you optimize for the wrong keywords or too many of them you won’t succeed even with the best optimized site.
When the site in question is new, small and has literally no authority yet you have to go after an even smaller niche. Keyword research for SEO is the best way to achieve this! How? Read on!
Go after Quality not Quantity
What’s the purpose of keyword research for SEO?
Finding as many keywords as possible or finding the right keywords?
To me it’s finding keywords there is significant demand for, not too much competition and that are relevant based on user intent. Not 100s
Asking for a client.
— Tadeusz Szewczyk (Tad Chef) (@onreact) October 14, 2020
What is the purpose of keyword research for SEO? Do you want to find as many keywords as possible or the right keywords? What are the right keywords anyway? Why not go after quantity instead of quality?
Whew. So many questions! Hold on! Let’s answer them one by one. Of course when it comes to organic reach optimization for Google you need to focus!
You can’t go after numerous keywords unless you have an unlimited budget and years to achieve results or your website is already a huge household name.
You’re not optimizing for an international corporation? Then make sure to focus on a very tight niche — at first at least.
Go after a select few keywords that are both not too competitive but still in relatively high demand. They also need to be lucrative ideally (with transactional intent).
Even for those chosen few you may need weeks or months but don’t fret. Why? There is a shortcut.
You can rank high for Google’s “people also ask” questions that get displayed high above most other results for often very broad keywords.
For example this blog ranks for the search query [twitter] like the social network because one of the PAA questions is “What are the pros and cons of Twitter?”.
When this blog was still new and quite popular I also ranked for all kinds of combinations with the term SEO in them. More specific things like
- [advanced seo]
- [image seo]
- [url seo]
haven’t been covered by every major search marketing publication back then yet. I was among the first.
Over the years my popularity dwindled because I mostly worked for clients while others stepped up their game and created often comprehensive guides for each of those topics.
So these days I have to do niche keyword research for myself. I usually use free tools for that purpose. I have been mostly blogging and doing social media management in recent years so paying hundreds of Dollars every month for professional SEO tools has not been a viable option anyway.
Where to start your niche keyword research? On Google Trends! Even though Google Trends only shows you relatively popular keywords you need that one first to get some ideas what’s really in demand.
I started the keyword research for this article by checking out [keyword research] itself.
Google Trends will automatically show you the demand in your country (for me it’s Germany) so I had to manually select United States or worldwide in the top left after I searched for keyword research on the homepage because I blog for a global audience in English:
There in the “related queries” below right I noticed a “breakout” key phrase on top: [niche keyword research]. I couldn’t reproduce it later to get a screenshot so apparently there was short term spike in demand for it.
By now there are numerous others growing and “breakout” queries that have also a demand peak it seems:
After I found an interesting niche I checked the keyphrase using the free/mium tool Ubersuggest by Neil Patel.
Ubersuggest lets you search for three different keywords for free but you also get a lot of suggestions based on those three. Apparently there are 140 searches per month for niche keyword research. See screenshot below.
Even the paid version is comparatively affordable. So that when you need to research more keywords or more often you can get it for a monthly fee or a one time payment.
At first I wanted to write about keyword research mistakes but realized that with roughly 10 searches a month and dozens of similar articles that does not make much sense. So I found that there is growing demand for niche keyword research.
Go for Specific Terms
When I started out in SEO in Germany at the end of 2004 everybody wanted to rank for the term search engine optimization in German (as almost nobody used the acronym yet in Germany).
It was mostly a question of status. Why? Nobody knew yet what SEO was about so that most searches were from people new to the subject trying to find out what the hell SEO means.
As Wikipedia did not yet exist you had to basically create a primer on what SEO means and how it works. I’ve done that for third party publications but for my own site I decided to play low key and go after a seemingly low value keyword called search engine optimizer (in German though).
Within literally a few weeks I ranked on the number one spot. What happened? Nothing much at first. I was keen on getting the people who already had a user intent of looking for an optimizer to improve their website rankings.
As most people did not even know that such a profession existed, searches were few and often not very lucrative. Why?
Most business people were wary of spending money on something that was considered SPAM by the general public. Instead they preferred to pay Google hundreds or thousands for automated ads.
Yet I got a few clients that way. The budgets were tiny, the work was often tedious as websites used things like text in images, all Flash movies or were completely empty with no content whatsoever.
One day a journalist called me up though and I talked with her for about an hour on what SEO is etc. She was working for the most widely read German economic weekly magazine that existed. When the article went public the phone didn’t stop ringing. How did she find me? She search for [search engine optimizer].
The lesson of those early days still applies. When you go after the big terms that often merely reflect the informational intent to find out what the keyword means you are not very likely to have a lot of conversions despite the big effort to rank there.
Big keywords = big budgets but low return on investment in most cases.
Also by now it’s almost impossible to rank for high profile broad keywords. Wikipedia will be on top usually, not to mention all the Google services and ads being shown above “regular” search results.
Niche keyword research is — nomen est omen — a good example of a niche itself. SEO is the bigger industry.
Keyword research is one of the main SEO tasks and thus still a relatively big “niche” with several thousand monthly searches. The more specific niche keyword research has approximately 140 searches per month and is less far crowded.
Go After Long Tail Keywords but not Directly
Sometimes you may be tempted to go directly after keywords that have a very low demand because they “sound right” or match exactly what you offer.
While the so-called long tail of four, five, six word or longer queries can lead to overall good results it often does not make sense to go after those directly.
Why? Most searchers use basic terms with one, two or three words. Thus only a tiny amount of search traffic goes to actual long tail searches:
“In fact, all long tails combined only account for 3.3% of total search volume.”
Rather you create content for the bigger keyword combinations and the long tail is a side-effect of using many synonyms, combinations and related keywords in your content.
You don’t want to write an article for a keyphrase that only gets searched once or twice a month. Even when there are 10 or 20 searches per month, those are often negligible. Why? First consider the rise ofno clicksearches.
Imagine a modern Google result. It looks like a portal with dozens of distractions meant to keep searchers on Google itself. Thus more than half of peopledo not even clicka single outgoing linkon a Google search.
So there are only 5 clicks left you compete for. One (or maybe even two of those) goes to Google Ads that show on top. So we have 4 remaining. Of those usually the majority goes to the top 3 results.
Out of 10 searches maybe one click is left for all the remaining “first page results”. Even for 20 searches per month you end up fighting for one or two clicks per month unless you are number one or top 3.
You optimize for the long tail by creating long text-based content mentioning all kinds of things — especially in subheadings. You don’t have to look them all up before writing. That would be an overkill and hamper creativity.
Optimize for the long tail but don’t go after long tail keywords directly one by one. It doesn’t make sense without scale.
You can also skip many 10 or 20 searches per month keyphrases. They are not worth optimizing for in most cases unless you can rank top 3 fast for them.
Don’t create a huge Excel table with lots and lots of redundant 10 searches per month keywords. What for? To show the actual end client? What a waste of time! It’s only confusing.
Compare Your Site to the Competition
When you research keywords the obvious thing is to go after the ones often searched for. That by itself won’t suffice though. It will certainly backfire when it’s the sole or main metric.
You have to look for the competition for any given keyword. With Wikipedia, Amazon and the New York Times in the top 3 — good luck optimizing for such a keyword.
Whenever checking keywords you need to look at the actual Google results for that keyword to get an idea of how likely you are to rank there one day.
Ideally you find the spot spot of demand and feasibility — a keyword with significant demand but one that hasn’t been dominated by household names yet.
Even without Amazon, Wikipedia or Google itself overshadowing your website you can select a keyword that is too competitive.
Some of the sites that directly compete with you — not by sheer size and authority but by optimizing for the same market may be doing so for a decade or longer.
Being new in a competitive niche market means that “great content” alone won’t suffice. Even with enough links you may still end up as an “also ran”. Sometimes it takes years to build authority.
As you may above — again on Ubersuggest — the competition is still quite strong for the term [niche keyword research] but it’s not altogether hopeless for an old authority blog like mine.
With on topic content and some link building I might be able to reach the top 10 despite my much lower “domain strength” (DS). This won’t suffice to get significant traffic but over a few years I may get a client or two that way.
Let’s say I end up on spot #8. Then I would get 24 search visitors per year from that single key phrase. After 5 years and 120 visitors and given a conversion rate of 2% I might be able to get 2 to 3 keyword research clients. This is not stellar by any means but also not entirely pointless.
As an experienced SEO I often just flatly ignore those “large” competitive keywords while I take a very close look at the “smaller” keywords that have less of direct competition.
Sometimes you can outrank them, sometimes you can’t. In any case you will have to invest some significant level of effort. The task of the SEO is to determine how much and whether it’s doable for the particular site.
Focus on User Intent
Some words have more than one meaning. Just think apple! What is the user intent? To find electronics or fruit? Most people do not bother to use a capital letter when they look for the brand.
When you search for [apple] all you get is only the technology brand results. Even the image results are mostly logos and just three of 22 are actual fruit images.
Other queries have one meaning but you can still search for different reasons for them. You may want to know what they are or how they look.
Even in case the user intends to buy something and looks exactly for your keyword the person may be not a potential customer but someone working for another business.
Some searches are B2C (business to customer) and others are business to business (B2B).
A popular and low competition keyword might still be a waste of time in case it’s only an informational query (people trying to find out what it is) or people wanting to buy a product whereas you are just offering the manufacturing process behind it.
When you’re lucky there are different terms for different use cases. A customer wanting to buy a product will search for one thing and a business representative trying to find a way to manufacture it will look for another. It’s not always the case though.
You need to make sure to look at the actual search results and see what the implicit user intent is.
For example a keyword might be searched by people who consider a career in that type of field instead of actual customers wanting to buy something. They might be looking for a different term.
Research Keywords for Each Language Afresh
As someone who speaks three languages fluently I realize how much they often differ. Sometimes you have a word in one language that has no direct translation in the other.
Sometimes you have several words instead of one equivalent and the translation depends on context.
When it comes to SEO translating keywords doesn’t make sense for another reason: even when a one to one translation exists demand and usage may vary significantly from language to language and country to country — some countries speak the same language in general but use different words for the same things in many cases.
I sometimes get asked to translate websites to German without a proper keyword research. That’s a nono. You need to start from scratch in each language to get unbiased market and keyword demand numbers.
Research keywords for each luggage afresh and treat every language and country like an almost separate niche. Get inspired by keywords from other countries but don’t go after so called “false friends”.
Use Free Tools from Google and Beyond
With Google dominating the search market almost everywhere in the world (notable exceptions are China, Russia and… that’s about it) you need to be able to view or guess the number of searches you can expect to be able to optimize for the right keywords.
You can see who your competition is and who already ranks by looking at actual search results but you can’t know how many people actually search for them merely by regarding search results.
Google offers at least two keyword research tools that allow you a sneak peak on search demand. None of those is made for SEO really though. Google Trends is a tool that — as its name suggests — shows you general trends.
You can compare demand for keywords relative to each other but not in absolute numbers. Also it fails at showing demand for lesser used keywords — so you can only look up rather broad tendencies on Google Trends.
Then there is Google Keyword Planner. It allows you to dive deeper but it’s meant to drive sales of Google Ads. Thus its data is biased towards paid search and PPC (Pay Per Click) ads. In 2020 Google limited the data even further.
By now you can’t even find proper “average monthly searches” numbers on Google Keyword Planner anymore.
Instead you will merely see estimates for the next month based on the date you are using the tool. They are called impressions and vary significantly depending on what timeframe you are looking at.
Look up the same keywords two weeks later and the number may be almost completely different by then even when you don’t research seasonal keywords.
In case your website exists already for a while you may have some valuable data from Google Analytics and/or Google Search Console that may help you with your niche keyword research. Focus especially on keywords that already have brought you some traffic when they are relevant and optimize the content accordingly.
All these data sources are free because Google makes money by collecting your data or selling you ads. You need to use tools beyond Google to get things right.
As noted above Ubersuggest let’s you research keywords for free to some extent. SEMrush is also helpful, especially to look up the competition. They also let you gain some insights for free.
Prioritize the Ideal Keywords
Sometimes you will find more than one relevant keyword having a similar meaning. Often you will have to deal with a synonym. Sometimes there will be more than one synonym.
In many cases you will have several keyphrases you could pursue given the feasibility and the things you offer.
You can’t rank for a lot of keywords at once unless you have quite an authority already. Thus you have to prioritize. You have to choose a small set of the ideal keywords and optimize for those. In case they’re too competitive you have to optimize for less frequently searched for variations.
In the past — up until 2011 — so called content farms were creating thousands of similar pages to go after every single variation existed.
Content farmers let underpaid writers write fluff articles that were very similar albeit focusing on a given synonym or combination.
After a while Google cracked down upon that until then quite lucrative practice. Ever since the algorithm has become more sophisticated at dealing with similar words and content. You often don’t have to mention the exact keyphrase or synonym to rank organically for it.
When you’re a small business with limited resources — maybe you create content yourself before or after your actual work — you won’t be able to compete for lots of similar keyphrases anyway.
You could also become subject to Google’s various content farm penalties or duplicate content filters.
Just go after the keywords that describe what you do best or when those are too competitive already — go for a lesser known synonym.
When it comes to Internet marketing I do SEO, keyword research but more specifically niche keyword research among other services. Do you need help with finding a niche and the ideal keywords? Contact me at onreact.com!
Tad has more than 20 years of experience in online publishing. For 10+ years he’s been known internationally for writing on SEO 2.0 and blogs of Namecheap, Raven Marketing Tools, Ahrefs, Hubspot, Google Blogoscoped.
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