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FREE online SEO course: Keyword Research 

Asking the Business

8 lessons


How to Align Your Keyword Research with the Business

Hey, I'm Greg Gifford. In this lesson, the second in the Keyword Research course, we're going to be talking about how to start your keyword research process by asking the right questions.

Whether you're starting a keyword research project for your own business or for a client, you can't start without understanding the ins and outs of the business. You need to understand what makes the business tick, who their customers are, what those customers care about – and you have to align everything with the business's goals.

Here's where most in-house marketers fail – and, honestly, a fair number of agencies as well. Yep, I'll be the first to admit… keyword research is boring.

You already know your business, why waste time on boring stuff? Just jump right in to the content creation and link building, 'cause those are more fun, and have a more obvious tie to ROI.

But that shortcut can kill your entire SEO strategy.

Focusing on Your Target Audience's Needs

It's quite common for businesses to think they need to rank for certain concepts, when in fact their audience couldn't care less about those concepts and is in fact searching for something completely different.

You've got to focus on the audience and potential customers, so you can understand how they fit into what the business is looking for.

Defining the Business's Goals

You've got to ask questions before you start your keyword research project. Until recently, when I moved to a new agency, I had been doing SEO exclusively in the automotive vertical for over 8 years. Even though I was always working with car dealers, we still made sure to ask questions during the onboarding process.

Even within a single vertical, every business is different, and has different goals. One dealer might really want to push trucks, while another really wants to push their used car inventory. Another dealer up the street might specialize in selling commercial vehicles.

If we just rolled in and started doing the same SEO for every dealer, they'd all get the same broadly targeted SEO strategy.

You need to start by asking questions about the business. What do they sell, how do they operate, what makes them tick. Make sure you ask about their business goals – not their goals for results from SEO, but their main goals that drive day-to-day business.

Finding Out How They Reach Their Customers

Then move on to ask about their customers or their audience. Do they know how people search for them? Do they have audience personas already created that can help you form your strategies? Are there any seasonal trends in their audience behavior?

Then you need to try to sort out the “why”. Sure, they sell colored widgets, and their customers buy colored widgets… but WHY do their customers buy colored widgets? What problem are they solving for their customers? What need are they satisfying?

Finish by asking their expectations of what you'll provide – how can you help them satisfy what their customers or audience are looking for?

Tips on How to Survey Businesses for Your Keyword Research

It helps to put a questionnaire together to help walk new clients through the discovery process. If you work exclusively in one vertical, you'll become familiar with the main facets, and you can customize your questions to dig even deeper.

If you work in multiple verticals, it's even more important to have a solid discovery process for onboarding new clients. The next client you work with might be the first business in a particular vertical that you've ever encountered, so your questions have to be on point.

I like to send the questionnaire to new clients as soon as they sign up. When I email the document, I let the client know that I don't want them to fill it out and send it back. Instead, I just want them to glance over the questions and start thinking about the answers.

Then I set up a call a few days later to walk through the questions with them. That way, they've had time to think about the more difficult questions and you're not asking them to answer off the cuff.

If the business is nearby, it's always a better idea to go through your discovery questions face to face. If they're not close enough to make that possible, use a video chat solution so you can still see each other. When they can see who they're talking to, they're more engaged and likely to give better answers to your questions.

Let them share their expertise – they have a wealth of knowledge about their business, and they'll be happy to share with you. The more you understand about their business and their customers, the more focused you can be with your SEO strategy.

Understanding the Business: Lesson Summary

So that's it for lesson 2 of the Keyword Research course, we hope you learned something awesome. If you've got any questions, feel free to tweet them to me directly at @greggifford or the awesome team of pros over at the SEMrush Academy at @semrushacademy.

Don't forget to check out the next lesson about query intent, and when you think you're ready, head over to the SEMrush Academy page and take the test for this course so you can get officially SEMrush certified.