How to Do Keyword Research and Use it to Improve Your SEO, from Localist’s Alex Parent

Moving up in search rankings can boost your audience and generate new sales. It all starts with the keywords you focus on in your SEO strategy. Labs mentor and Localist marketing manager Alex Parent hosted a session all about SEO best practices for early-stage startups, including the research to do before you start optimizing for SEO, how to organize your keyword research, and how to track your progress.

When it makes sense to focus on SEO (and when it doesn’t)

The first question to ask yourself when it comes to SEO for your startup is “whether you should even invest time in it,” Parent says. “Everybody who hears that says, ‘Yes, of course you should,’ but I disagree with that. It depends on whether you’re pre or post-market fit.” It takes time for SEO efforts to yield results—we’re talking months, not weeks. So “If you know that you’re going to make drastic changes to your product six to nine months down the road, or you’ll have a completely different product by that time, it’s probably not worth it to invest tons of time in SEO,” Parent says. “You can do all the keyword research and optimizations that you want, and it can go all out the window by the time you actually see the results.”

You should also do a little preliminary research into the keyword demand for your product before you spend time optimizing your site. “That’ll give you an idea of whether you have a lot of competition, if you’re going to have to spend a lot, or do a lot of market education to essentially drum up interest in your own keywords,” Parent says. If the searches for your keywords are not very high, SEO may not be high priority for you. “Likewise, if it's super competitive to a point where it's almost going to be impossible to rank anywhere on the top three pages, it's going to be an uphill battle,” according to Parent. You may decide your efforts are best focused elsewhere, or you may decide that search rankings are important enough to your business that you need to bring on an SEO expert to help you.

Whether or not you decide to invest time and effort in SEO depends on your business and your goals, but asking yourself those key questions before you do any optimization can give you clarity on whether SEO makes sense for you. (And here are nine basics every founder should know about SEO, from the experts at Conductor.)

It all starts with keyword research

If you choose to work on your SEO, “everything starts and ends with keyword research,” Parent says. “Forget those articles that you read like, ‘SEO Hacks’ and ‘Top 10 Ways to Get on the First Page.’ If you don't have the keyword research, you’re rudderless.” Parent has a four-step process to find the keywords you should be focusing on.

Step 1 - Brainstorm

Open up a Google sheet, “make a ‘brainstorm’ tab and just start writing down the keywords that you think define your product or company,” Parent says. “Without doing any background research, just start writing keywords you would want people to find you through.”

Step 2 - Use Google autocomplete

Open up a second tab in your spreadsheet and “use Google’s autocomplete feature. Start typing in the keywords you came up with during your brainstorm into Google,” Parent says, to see what the most common searches associated with those keywords are. You’ll likely come up with new keywords you hadn’t thought of.

Step 3 - Use Google Search Console

This free resource from Google hooks into your website and “tells you what keywords you're currently ranking for,” Parent says. “It shows all the search queries that are coming to your site and then where you rank position-wise. If you know the number one term you want to rank for, this is how you can track your position relative to all your other competitors. It requires historical data from your site before it can give you results, so the sooner you set it up, the better.”

Step 4 - Go to Google Adword’s Keyword Planner

Once you have a robust list of keywords (Parent says there’s no magic number, but you should aim to have at least 100), It’s time to see what the traffic estimates are for each one and the competition. Plug each of your keywords into Google Adword’s Keyword Planner, look at the potential traffic, how tough the competition is to rank on, and “prioritize your list of keywords,” Parent says. “This could help you prioritize some content efforts or website updates that you want to make, or maybe you want to make a new landing page for a keyword you can realistically compete on.”

Step 5 - Group your keywords by intent

Having a grouping methodology to your keyword list can also help with prioritization and strategy. Simply take the long list of keyword searches you have now and put similar ones together. For example, if you were working for WeWork and you were doing keyword research, you’d probably see keyword searches that focused on location, some on price, others on amenities, and so forth. These can all become grouping categories that help you better understand why and how people are finding you online.

“There’s no right or wrong way to group them,” Parent says. “It’s just a way to help you make sense of all the research you just did.” Now you can get to work on putting that research to use by making optimizations that’ll help you rank higher on your priority keywords.

Quick ways to improve your SEO ranking

There are handful of low-lift ways to boost your search rankings—“on-page SEO like adding meta-titles, or descriptions,” Parent says. “These are optimizations that you can make on your own based on that keyword research.” These steps also include adding title tags, checking your URL structure, spending a bit of time on internal linking throughout your site, and creating content that’s centered around a specific keyword or search phrase. Now that you’ve done your keyword research, there are good resources out there, like Moz, that can walk you step-by-step through the above on-page SEO items.

You can also use a CMS plug-in like Parent’s favorite tool, Yoast. “It'll grade your content as it scans the page and as it looks at your meta-description or meta-titles,” Parent says, and suggest ways to improve your on-page SEO. “You can’t take every suggestion it gives you, but for people who are new to SEO, it does a lot of the leg work for you,” Parent says. “And the free version does plenty for you.”

You can also use Google trends to look at search trends for specific keywords, and “if you’re more of a localized service or company, it will break down search intent for a particular keyword based on a state or geographical region,” Parent says.

Track your progress with two key questions

All this research and optimizations won’t do much good if you’re not tracking and analyzing the progress you’re making with your SEO efforts. The two key questions to ask yourself as you’re looking at this data are whether you’re getting more traffic and whether you’re getting more leads. And your source of truth for that will likely be Google Analytics. You don’t need to be driving yourself crazy closely monitoring all of the keywords you could possibly be ranking for; just “take your top five, take your top 10, and you can really do the in-depth look how you're ranking time period over time period for that keyword and then decide what optimizations you want to invest in or not,” Parent says.

“Just remember that it’s easy to get caught up in very technical SEO items, and you might feel overwhelmed, but taking it step-by-step you will set yourself up for success,” Parent says. “Do your keyword research, set up a couple of great free resources, monitor your top keywords, and move on from there. Even if you decide it’s time to hire someone to help you with your SEO efforts, you’ll be way ahead of the curve if you’ve followed some of these steps and have a better sense of the impact they potentially could have.”

This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

Interested in connecting directly with this mentor? Ask your Labs Manager for help.

You've successfully subscribed to WeWork Labs Insider
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to WeWork Labs Insider
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content. Check your email If you are not already signed in.