Keyword Research Essentials: How to Find the Search Terms Your Customers Use

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Keyword research is the most important aspect of your SEO strategy. It creates the foundation for everything else you do.

The goal of keyword research is to unearth opportunities to generate traffic based on what your potential customers actually search for online. It’s the foundation of any SEO strategy.

If you can optimize your webpages and the content you create with the right keywords, you can potentially generate high quality passive traffic to your site by showing up organically in relevant search engine results.

Instead of guessing at the keywords your customers are searching, keyword research is a process for making informed decisions about the keywords you target, based on factors like how competitive a keyword is or its estimated monthly search volume.

Solidifying your keyword strategy through keyword research is the first step you need to take before you start any on-site and off-site SEO—all of which you’ll learn in more detail in my Shopify Academy course, SEO Training for Beginners. 


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Prefer a written version of this video? Below you’ll find a slightly edited summary of how to do keyword research for ecommerce.

Keyword research 101

Before we get into how to find valuable keywords, let's define what "keyword" actually means. A keyword is any word or phrase that gets typed into a search engine. For example, a single word like "cake" or a longer phrase like "how do I make cake." With that, it's also important to understand the three different types of keywords, categorized by searcher intent.

  • Navigational: A Navigational keyword is a keyword someone uses to navigate somewhere. For example, if you type the word New York Times into Google, you’re probably trying to navigate to the New York Times website.
  • Transactional: Transactional keywords are used when someone is trying to complete an action. For example, someone who searches for the keyword “buy running shoes online” is trying to make a purchase.
  • Informational: Informational keywords imply that the user is researching a topic or problem, or gathering context, not necessarily with the intent to make a purchase. An example of an informational keyword would be “what’s the most popular style of running shoes?”

Most ecommerce businesses prioritize on transactional and informational keywords.That’s because ecommerce keyword research largely focuses on searchers with the intent to buy. While not every keyword you’ll target needs to be in pursuit of a purchase, knowing the implied intent behind a search query is crucial for figuring out what content your page should have, whether that’s high-level information in an educational blog post or a sales-focused product page.

Just keep in mind that even with the right keywords, search engines will only reward you with their top spots if your content or product pages are able to add value by meeting the needs of the people searching for those keywords.

While keyword research has a surprising amount of depth, getting started is actually a simple process. I have a 3-step strategy and specific tools I use consistently to find the right keywords for the business I’m marketing.

Step 1: Make a list of topics relevant to your business

The truth is, there isn’t one “best” way to brainstorm your initial list of topics. Start by thinking about your industry and the products you sell. As you get going, think more about what kinds of questions your potential customers might have and what kinds of content they might be interested in.

Here are a few questions to help you as you brainstorm keywords:

  • When someone searches for this keyword, what are they expecting to find?
  • Is the keyword relevant to the products you’re selling?
  • How do you want to be discovered?
  • How do your customers talk about your product?

For example, if you are selling coworking office space, does your customer call it a “coworking space” or a “shared office space”? Brainstorm some of the different ways that people might search for your product when they have the intention to purchase. Despite being similar in meaning, keywords can still vary in intent, how frequently they’re used, and other ways.

But you don’t want to only target transactional keywords that people search for when they’re ready to buy. Think about using informational keywords to fuel your content marketing. This can be done by writing blog posts or creating new pages dedicated to educating your audience and moving them towards purchase intent.

So while the end-goal is to encourage a visitor to purchase your product, building a page on your store that addresses a specific concern or topic can increase your chances of getting found in the first place through informational keywords.

For example, if you sell garden hoses, a transactional search would be “rubber garden hose.” Meanwhile, an informational keyword might be “how to choose the right garden hose.” Throughout the brainstorming and researching process, you’ll find new variations, associations, and related search queries that help you paint a better picture of how your customers could potentially use search engines to find your business.

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Step 2: Find “Searches related to” and write them down

As you start creating your keyword list, one concept you’ll want to familiarize yourself with is long-tail keywords, or keywords that are typically three to four words or longer. Long-tail keywords have less competition, but also lower search volume, so they’ll only be useful to your business if they’re highly targeted; that is, they send especially valuable traffic to your store. We’ll talk more about competition for keywords later in this article.

As you’re thinking about keywords, head over to Google, type in a word or a phrase, and then scroll down to the bottom of the page to the “Searches related to” section. Add relevant keywords you discover here to your list from Step 1.keyword research example

Learn more: SEO Is About Humans First, Search Engines Second

Step 3: Use a keyword research tool to expand your list

There are many tools that help make the keyword research process easier. One free tool that I recommend is called Ubersuggest. It will show you the estimated number of times a given keyword is searched for on Google each month to help you prioritize your list. It will also recommend additional keywords for you to consider. I highly recommend you start here.

Another option for getting monthly search volume and keyword suggestions is Google Keyword Planner. The main value of this tool is that the information comes straight from Google so it’s more accurate than other tools. However, you need a Google Ads account to use it and you won't see all the data unless you start running ads.

Another good tool is Ahrefs, which is much more advanced than what we’ve listed so far. This is a tool that people use when SEO is their full-time job. The beginner plan is over $100 a month. I’ve found Ahrefs is well worth the cost when your store is generating consistent revenue each month, and when SEO is a cornerstone of your distribution strategy, but if you’re just getting started, it may not be in your budget.

How to conduct keyword research: A recap

Now that we’ve covered the basics of creating a keyword strategy, let’s review the three essential steps for conducting keyword research for your own online store.

  1. Make a list of relevant topics to your business
  2. Find “searches related to” and write them down
  3. Use a keyword research tool to expand your list

Now, it’s time to carve out some space to brainstorm a big list of potential keywords that you can refine over time. Remember, you’re in the exploration stage, so try not to filter your ideas until it’s time to narrow down your list.

Once you have your list in hand, you can head over to the next lesson in my free video course on Shopify Academy, SEO Training for Beginners, where we’ll cover how to narrow your initial list so you can focus on keywords that will actually grow your business.