Keyword Research 101

Tripp Stanford

The foundation of every digital marketing plan is keyword research. In this article, I’ll walk you through three simple steps to get started on your keyword research journey.

By researching what keywords your customers are using to find your product or service, you’re essentially building out a thesaurus of words you’ll use within every piece of communication throughout the marketing plan.

Through this process, you’ll discover words you didn’t know existed, learn the intent behind specific phrases and build a deeper understanding of your customer than you had before.

Usually, the first step your customer takes when researching your product or service is typing in a query on Google. Your job as a marketer is to figure out what language they’re using when searching for your product or service and use it on your website, marketing material, emails, social media posts, etc.

Here are a few easy steps to find the phrases your customers are using the most when searching.


Brainstorm a series of at least 20 phrases you think your customer will use in a search and write them down.

For example, if you own a local real estate firm, you can write down something as direct as, “Realtor near me.” It would also be beneficial if you wrote down, “three bedroom house for sale.” Investing your time in brainstorming at least 20 phrases will help you think outside the box for what keywords people are using and how they’re using them to search for you.


Once you’ve written down the 20 keywords, I suggest using a keyword research tool to exponentially grow your keyword list. A couple tools that are helpful are Moz’s Keyword Explorer and Google’s Keyword Planner.

Both have a database of keywords and their monthly estimated search volume. They also can take your base set of keywords and suggest hundreds of new ones.

Take each phrase you brainstormed and enter them into the tool you prefer and start downloading the suggestions and monthly search estimates into spreadsheets. I normally upload these spreadsheets into Microsoft Excel to easily manage and audit the lists.

You should now have hundreds if not thousands of keyword opportunities with their estimated monthly search volume.


To really start understanding how your customers are searching and the specific phrases they’re using to search for you, you need to clean and organize that huge list. I like to create groups of keywords that all answer a specific question or are related to a specific product or service.

If we reach back to that Realtor example, I’d group keywords into sets of phrases that answer queries focused on types on real estate in general, and then into themes focused on house size and amenities.

For example, “Realtors near me” and “Realtors Chattanooga” would both be grouped in the same keyword group, but “three bedroom homes” and “studio apartments” would be grouped in a separate group.

This is the most revealing part of the process, where you really start to see how and what your customers are searching for. Organizing that spreadsheet takes a little time and should be done thoughtfully. When you’re done, you will have a better understanding of your customer.

You can use this research through the next year to lead your strategic marketing direction, overall structure of your website and the sound and feel of your copy in your communication.

Tripp Stanford is a digital marketer at Papercut Interactive, a web development and digital marketing company founded in 2001. Papercut services include website audits, custom website development, search engine optimization and digital marketing. Learn more at

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