SEO Keyword Research Quick Guide

3-Step Quick Guide: SEO Keyword Research For Startups Competing Against Bigger Competitors

In the early days of SEO, savvy entrepreneurs could hack their way to the top of search results using unsophisticated tactics because search engines weren’t sophisticated.

All they had to do was focus on the search engines themselves — stuffing keywords and building lots of low-quality links.

Today, it’s more different.

Search engines are more sophisticated, which means modern SEO is focused squarely on optimizing content for the human user experience, not algorithms, as it should be.

The better your content is the higher it ranks. There is no gaming the system.

But this shift in SEO hasn’t closed the door for startups to compete with bigger companies. On the contrary, I would argue that it levels the playing field even more.


Because search engines don’t judge you by the size of your marketing budget. They judge you by the quality of your content. Create the best content and you’ll rank the highest.

How do you create the best content?

The answer is actually very simple. The best content is the content that best satisfies search intent.

Search intent is the why behind every search engine query. Why did the person type that keyword or phrase into the search engine? Do they want to learn something? Are they looking to buy something? Or, are they trying to find a specific website?

Remember, Google’s only goal is to provide users with the most relevant result for their query.

If you identify the keywords your customers are typing into Google and create content that better satisfies their search intent, you’re rewarded with traffic to your site.

But it all starts with finding the right keywords you can compete on. And that requires the following 3-step approach to keyword research.

Le’s get started.

1. Identify Relevant Keywords

Keyword research is one area of SEO that many businesses rush through, and that is a big mistake.

After all, even if you adopt all the right SEO strategies, choosing keywords that aren’t relevant to your business and what you want to promote means that most of your efforts will be in vain.

In other words, you’ll be wasting time and money.

So, taking the time to conduct proper keyword research is a fundamental starting point to any effective SEO strategy, but what exactly makes a good keyword?

In short, there are three variables that you should consider while analyzing possible keywords:

✔ Keyword Intent

First things first, you must ensure that the keywords you’ve chosen are relevant to your business, particularly to your business’s bottom line (that is, your income).

As an example, if you had a pizza shop, the keyword “pizza dough” would be relevant to your business, but not necessarily to your bottom line, since you don’t sell dough, but actual pizzas.

You want keywords that have buyer intent (aka commercial intent). In other words, keywords that show someone is actively looking to make a purchase.

✔ Keyword Volume

The second thing you want to make sure your keyword has is a high search volume.

Keyword search volume refers to the volume (or number) of searches for a particular keyword in a given timeframe. 

It’s important to mention that there’s no definite answer to the question, “What is a good volume?” because it depends on who you’re targeting. 

For instance, we’ve worked with clients that wanted to optimize their content for keywords that had fewer than 10 monthly searches, but that was for a product that, when sold, would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in one single sale.

However, if you’d like some general guidelines, for local SEO, anything from 20 to 200 monthly searches is good.

In case you’re competing nationally, we’d suggest going for 100 or more searches per month but, once again, it truly depends on what your business is.

✔ Searcher Satisfaction 

Last but not least is searcher satisfaction.

Searcher satisfaction is achieved when you understand the search intent of a keyword and create content that satisfies the reason for their search. 

For instance, if you look up food dishes, you’ll notice that sometimes search results return recipes, while other times they return restaurants.

Therefore, you always want to take into account the intent associated with each keyword you’re considering (which you can do by googling the keywords and analyzing the results yourself) so that Google returns your website in the most relevant occasions. 

To find keywords that meet your standards of relevant, volume, and search intent, there are several affordable SEO tools you can use, including:

These tools will provide you with relevant keywords with their associated volume, but it’s up to you to put yourself in your customers’ shoes to understand their search intent.

2. Determine Which Keywords Are Competitive

The keywords you choose need to also be measured by their search competitiveness, mean how hard would it be to outrank the existing content in search results. 

To assess a keyword’s difficulty you need need to assess the top 3-5 search results for that query. You need to take a deep dive into each piece of ranking content to assess it’s quality and determine if you can create a piece of content that can compete.

Here’s how to assess that content:

✔ On-Page SEO

Determine if the content has a high-level of on-page SEO by assessing if the keyword appears in the following places:

  • Title tag
  • Meta description
  • Header Tags
  • Body content
  • Image alt text

✔ Off-Page SEO

  • Determine if the content has a high-level of off-page SEO by assessing the following:
  • How many internal links point to the page?
  • How many external links point to the page?
  • How many social media posts mention the page?
  • How much traffic does the post get?
  • Does the website have a high DA/DR?

Most of these factors can be assessed using the keyword research tools we mentioned above: Google Keyword Planner, SEMRush, Ahrefs, Moz, and Ubersuggest.

✔ Searcher Satisfaction (once again)

Once again we return to the ultimate ranking factor: Searcher Satisfaction.

The best way to assess this is to put yourself in the searcher’s shoes and read the content with the following in mind:

  • How well does the article answer your question?
  • How well does the article solve your problem?
  • How well does the article help accomplish your task?
  • How easy is the article to read and understand?
  • Is the article designed well?
  • Is the article written by a credible expert?
  • Does the article provide you with additional useful info?

3. Prioritize Your Keywords

Once you have your roster of keywords that have the right level of relevancy, volume, and difficulty, it’s up to you to prioritize them based on your own ability to create and promote high-quality content.

Time and resources are finite so you have to be selective on what keywords you decide to invest in.

So the question is:

Can you create a piece of content that is more in-depth, better designed, and satisfies searchers more than the current ranking content?

A good way to approach this is to use the writing framework created by Benji Hyam of Growth & Convert.

Benji asks himself following questions before he sets out to write:

  • What is the most commonly held beliefs or beliefs system around this topic?
  • What is wrong with the way most people approach it? (Or right too?)
  • What’s a better solution/process to this problem?
  • How can I back it up with evidence?
  • What are the objections they’re going to have?
  • How can I overcome those?
  • What actions do I want them to take or what do I want them to take away from this?

This framework helps you decide if you can create a better piece of content than the existing articles dominating the search results.

Wrapping It Up

Since the 1990s the Internet has provided startups with a battlefield they can compete on.

Using SEO, startups can reach the same customers their larger, more established competitors are targeting with traditional advertising for pennies on the dollar.

As the organic search gets more competitive SEO Keyword Research becomes more important because it allows you to pick the battles you can win.

There’s a beautiful quote from the Sun Tzu Art of War that’s apropos:

“Every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought”

In the context of fighting a war, it means that the preparation leading up to the battle decides who is going to win in that battle. In other words, how well you prepare determines your chances of success.

The same applies to SEO Keyword research.

A well-executed keyword strategy is essential to creating winning content that outranks the competition.

And therefore, the keyword research you do before you even write one word will decide if you have a shot at ranking after you’ve hit publish.

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Editor’s Note: The article is part of the blog series Grow Your Business brought to you by the marketing team at UniTel Voice, the virtual phone system priced and designed for startups and small business owners.