Andrew Allen


Andrew Allen

Introduction from Hike – this post is the tenth in a series which we’re calling the “Friends of Hike Guest Post Series”. Being a SaaS/marketing company we have friends in lots of different companies, all who expertise in their specialist area. And we want to share their best tips – their best ‘knowledge’ – that can help YOU with your marketing. It’s all about sharing value.

It’s also to demonstrate to our users, and those small businesses/startups, that there are great opportunities for building links to your website if you participate in this ‘expertise sharing economy’. This is exactly what the future of link building looks like, and it’s what Google envisioned as the purpose of links.

Bret at LEAP WORKS who wrote this post has included a backlink to his site. And we are HAPPY to include it, as he is providing true value to our blog and to our users.

So without further ado, enjoy the tenth guest post in this series…

Every business wants to be listed at the top of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for what they do. That’s harder than it sounds though. First, big companies have a lot of money to throw at SEO. If you operate a small business, you’re working with a much smaller marketing budget. Second, the products and services your business delivers are one thing. The terms people use to surface them in search are another.

In this guide, you’ll acquire skills to narrow the advantages big businesses have over your small business as they relate to SERP performance. You’ll learn three things:

  1. How search works and how to think about your keyword research.
  2. How to use 4 free tools to help with your business’s keyword research.
  3. How to monitor the effectiveness of your keywords in your website copy.

How Search Works

Before you do any keyword research, you need to understand how search works. If you’re new to SEO, it probably doesn’t work in the way you think it does.


It used to be; a person had to search for something very specific to obtain the search result they wanted. Search engines are more sophisticated now. They’ve gotten pretty good at understanding user intent, and there are four types of intents. Your website copy needs to answer user intents, or it won’t perform well in SERPs. 

(editors note – we recorded a video here explaining the top two user intent types below, and how it should impact what type of content you create.)


A person wants to learn about a topic. News, encyclopedic knowledge and how-to guides fall in this category.

  • “Who won the World Series in 2018?”
  • “Voyager 2.”
  • “How do I fix a leaky faucet?”


A person wants to buy something or purchase a service.

  • “Buy iPhone.”
  • “Bodum Chambord French press.”
  • “OLED65C9PUA discount.”
  • “Plumber near me.”


This is a lot like typing a destination in your favourite GPS app. The user knows exactly where they want to go. They don’t know the URL or just don’t want to type it in the browser. In SEO we’d call this a ‘branded keyword’.

  • “Facebook.”
  • “Amazon.”
  • “Netflix.”
  • “Best Buy.”
  • “Hike.”

Commercial Investigations

A person intends to buy something but isn’t yet sure what to buy. They’re comparing on features and price.

  • “Nespresso vs Keurig.”
  • “Best TV streaming service.”
  • “Top 5 TVs 2020.”

Build a List of Keywords

Now that you have a sense for how search engines interpret search queries, you can start building your own list of keywords. Be creative. More keywords are better than less. You can make your list smaller later.

Research Your Competitors

You’re competing with other businesses for more than sales, but also for a preferential position in user search results. You need to understand what keywords are returning your competitors as a result of user searches, so those same queries will also return your business as a relevant result.

To identify the keywords your competitors are ranking for, the best free tool is Google’s Keyword Planner.

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When you launch the Keyword Planner, enter a competitor’s website.  You can have Google evaluate the entire site or just a specific product page. Use your discretion. Do what makes the most sense for your/their business.

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Now, look through the results. Google automatically sorts the keywords by relevance. Copy the ones for which you want to rank. You may see variations of the competitor’s name at the top of the list. They’re not necessarily useful to you.

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Repeat this same process for a few of your competitors. When you’re done, you’ll have a healthy list of words to use in your website copy. Search engines will be able to return your business as a search result to the same queries that return your competitors.

Identify Long-Tail Keywords

Like regular keywords, long-tail keywords are an important part of SEO. They’re more specific terms though. Users search for long-tail keywords less frequently than their regular counterparts, but there are fewer competing search results. This makes the search results provided to the user more authoritative.

Businesses that capitalize on long-tail keywords gain a competitive advantage for more than being one of only a handful of results. Users input long-tail keywords as search queries when they’re close to making a purchase. They’re not looking for general information. They’re looking for differentiating specifics.

Google Trends is a great place to find long-tail keywords. When you supply a general keyword term to Google Trends, it will often return some long-tail keywords.

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An insurance agency may sell Workers’ Compensation insurance. Lots of insurance agencies sell it though, making the search results of the insurance line highly competitive.

However, would-be insureds who are seriously considering a purchase will be looking for information about the specific coverage protections it offers. Answering the question, “Does Workers’ Comp cover lost wages?” on a product page or in a blog post could attract visitors looking for the answer.

Google Trends also shows where the searches are happening. This is valuable if you have a business that operates within a geographic region.

For a business like insurance agencies, where state-specific laws frequently change and impact insureds, keeping up with trends affords given agencies the opportunity to become information authorities by answering questions had by people and companies that need insurance. That means more traffic and more opportunities to convert visitors into customers.

Google Autocomplete

Google can automatically complete search queries for its users. As a user types, Google guesses what they’re searching for and suggests results. This saves users time by connecting them to the information they need more quickly. The feature is also useful for businesses that want to optimize their content for SEO.

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Google Autocomplete is a great keyword discovery tool for SEO. Start typing search terms and jot down the terms that Google suggests. When doing so, make certain you’re using an Incognito or Private Browsing window. Otherwise, your personal browser cache will influence the results that Google provides. You don’t want that.

Experiment with Google Autocomplete. It will freely expose search terms users are submitting to Google. As is true for the keywords you find using Keyword Planner and Google Trends, you can use terms found with Google Autocomplete in your website copy, including blog posts.

(editors note – Hike itself uses all of the sources above to generate keyword ideas for its users. See all our small business features.)

Google Search Console

Google Search Console can provide actionable insights. It shows how people are finding you now. Navigate to the Performance tab, and you’ll be presented with a table that details the user search queries that are returning your business as a result.

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If your listed top queries aren’t useful to your business, you need to change your content to rank for different keywords. Don’t be discouraged. It means you have a sizeable opportunity to increase your business’s discoverability.

As you add the keywords and long-tail keywords you’ve identified to your website copy, you should start seeing them in your Google Search Console performance metrics. It can take several months, but it will mean that more people are finding your business for the context you want to be found.

Monitoring Keyword Effectiveness & Adapting

SEO is a continuous process, and the keyword research component is no exception. It follows the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle. You research keywords that you believe will increase your discoverability. Then, you use the keywords in your website copy and blog.

Next, you measure the effectiveness of the changes you deliver. Finally, you make changes as a result of what you learn from your metrics. You might make mistakes along the way, but as long as you follow the process, you’ll see improvement.

One last tip. Don’t be spammy with your keywords. That never works. Always go for relevance.

Author bio: Bret Carmichael is the founder and chief creative at LEAP WORKS. He helps businesses attract new customers and delight existing ones through branding, web design, and SEO. Bret implements strategies that enable brands to differentiate themselves in the market, define and amplify their message, and deliver customer experiences that consumers value. A passionate tech enthusiast, you’ll find him tweeting about technology in his spare time.

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