A Complete Guide to FREE Keyword Research for Small Businesses

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free keyword research

You understand the importance of choosing the right keywords for your business’s website, but struggle with just how to find those keywords.

And looking at guides to keyword research across the internet aren’t much help. They’re either overly complicated or tell you to sign up for subscriptions with expensive tools and websites.

You don’t need any of that to successfully select the right keywords for your website.

If you’re willing to put some time, attention, and thought into researching what keywords to use for your business, you can select them without ever spending a dime.

Here’s your guide to free keyword research for small businesses:

5 Steps for Keyword Research

Before you ever set out to create a full-stack marketing strategy to boost your website’s traffic and leads, you need to find the keywords people use to search online for your goods and services.

Here are 5 important steps for conducting keyword research for your small business:

Start a List

keyword research list

The starting point for keyword research isn’t actually research at all: It’s sitting down and making a list based on what you already know.

Using a pen and paper, or a blank document on your computer, start collecting a list of words and phrases you think of when it comes to the products or services your business provides. Some types of words and phrases to collect include:

  • Your specific offerings
  • Any geographic areas where you do business
  • Anything that makes your business unique

Don’t be too concerned about having too many words and phrases on your list at this point. You will go through your list and add and delete items throughout the process. This initial listing phase is more about collecting the potential keywords you already know apply so that you don’t pass up opportunities.

For the purpose of this article, say you own a car repair shop. Some potential keywords you could list include:

  • Car repair
  • Van repair
  • Truck repair
  • Engine service
  • Oil changes
  • Broken headlight repair
  • Transmission service
  • Fluid change
  • Mechanic
  • Car AC repair
  • Auto mechanic

The goal of this exercise is to provide you with a collection of “seed” keywords you can use to inform your research and find better, more specific keywords. 

Because many of your words and phrases at this point are very broad, they aren’t likely to make too much of an appearance in your final keyword list since there’s a lot of competition for these broader phrases. But they will form the basis of some of your crucial keywords, so getting them down on paper is helpful.

If you don’t have a whole lot of words and phrases on your list at this point, don’t worry. You’ll be adding plenty of options to your list as you conduct your research.

Start Brainstorming

Your initial list will now be put to good use in thinking up additional options during the brainstorming phase.

Take one of the seed keywords from your list and take some time to think about additional phrases that utilize that seed keyword. Don’t get too worried about these keywords being completely related to your business; the point of this exercise is to write down as many options as you can and then you’ll sort through them later.

Let’s start with “car repair” for the purposes of this exercise. Your brainstormed list may include:

  • Car repair near me
  • Car repair shops
  • Import car repair
  • Domestic car repair
  • How much does car repair cost
  • Car repair insurance
  • Car repair for accidents
  • Car repair estimate
  • Foreign car repair
  • Mobile car repair
  • Car interior repair
  • Car body repair
  • Best car repair shop

Repeat your brainstorming process with each seed keyword on your list.

Understand the Intent

Your website gets visitors for a variety of reasons. One of the keys to making sure your website captures as many people as it can is to use keywords that target individuals at all stages of the buying process.

While it’s important to track the keywords that are crucial to your business’s success, your “money” keywords, they are not the only keywords you should include in your list or your strategy. You need a mix of keywords to:

  • Build awareness
  • Answer important questions
  • Give visitors reasons why they should choose you over your competition
  • Give specific instructions for how to make a purchase
  • Give directions on how to use or care for the product you offer
  • Overcome objections to the need for your services

Meeting user intent in your website’s content is one of the key factors in search engine rankings, making choosing keywords with intent in mind an important metric to meet. Additionally, it’s simply good business practice to offer visitors as much information as possible about your products and services prior to them making a purchase.

The more questions you can answer for your visitors before they actually become customers, the easier your sales process is and the happier your customers are.

Evaluate each of your keyword lists and determine whether you have lists that meet a variety of searcher intents. If you don’t yet have keywords that speak to all parts of a visitor’s journey, keep that in mind as you move on to researching new keywords.

Research Relevant Additions

keyword research

Finally, we’ve arrived at the part of the process that’s actually “research!”

For this step, you need to sit down at a computer (your phone won’t show you the full range of options, so it’s best to use a computer for this) and investigate what people are really searching for that may not have occurred to you.

Open a tab for Google and type in one of your seed keywords. Do not hit Enter. Instead, let the list of auto-suggested options populate and look through it.

For our seed keyword “car repair shops,” we get a list that includes many items we’ve already thought of during brainstorming. However, we also get:

  • Car repair shops open near me
  • Car repair shops open on Sunday
  • Car repair shop for sale
  • Car repair shop taking too long
  • Car repair shop nearby
  • Car repair shops in my area

This doesn’t give us a lot of new keywords, so let’s put in one of our brainstormed keywords.

Here’s what “car repair insurance” gives us:

  • Car repair insurance companies
  • Car repair insurance cost
  • Car repair insurance for older cars
  • Car repair insurance scams
  • Car repair insurance average cost
  • Car repair insurance coverage

Repeat the process with at least all your seed keywords, but also a fair amount of your brainstormed keywords.

Just as in the earlier brainstorming phase, don’t worry too much about writing down too many potential keywords. You’ll go through the process of evaluating your complete list and deleting any words that won’t work for your business.

4 Steps to Choose the Right Keywords for Your Small Business Website

Now that you’ve finished your research and collecting potential keywords – and that you’ve done it for free! – it’s time to narrow your list down to those words and phrases that will help move your business forward.

Here are 4 steps to take that large list of keywords and find the right ones to integrate into your SEO strategy:

Understand the Main Keyword Factors

Part of the way you’ll begin narrowing down your keyword list is by evaluating each phrase to ensure it meets three conditions: Relevance, authority, and volume.


The keywords on your site need to be relevant to both your business goals and the information your visitors are looking for. If your keywords don’t meet both these goals, your content isn’t going to rank with the search engines and you’ll have wasted your time.


Search engines give more weight to content it views as authoritative, meaning it provides readers with helpful information that answers searchers’ specific queries.


Being on the first page for a keyword is fantastic, but it’s a worthless metric if no one ever searches for that keyword. Instead, find keywords that have a decent monthly search volume that are also relevant to your business.

You can find this by looking at your keywords in Google Trends.

This tool allows you to see the monthly search volume of keywords over time and search volume by region.

Mix Short- and Long-Tail Keywords

short-tail and long-tail keywords

Searchers look for both short-tail keywords (single words or very short phrases, such as “auto body shop”) and long-tail keywords (longer phrases, such as “auto body shop for hail damage repair”).

As you select keywords for your business, you need to find a mixture of both short- and long-tail keywords to capture as many searchers as possible.

Short-tail keywords often are higher competition because you’re putting your brand up against websites everywhere targeting the same keyword. However, these keywords do have high search volumes, making them attractive. Long-tail keywords can be easier to rank for, but they tend to have lower search volumes.

Choosing the right mixture of short- and long-tail keywords is dependent upon your business and your website. Typically, the main pages for your products and services target short-tail keywords, while blog posts and informational pages target long-tail keywords.

Evaluate the Competition

As we’ve discussed, some keywords are more difficult to rank for than others. This is called keyword difficulty, and you need to take it into consideration when choosing your final keyword list.

If you have a keyword that’s very high difficulty and nearly impossible to rank for, it’s best to know that up front so you don’t waste your time and effort. And, if you’re looking for quicker results, choosing keywords with lower keyword difficulty can give you some quick wins.

The ideal range of keyword difficulty is between 5 and 20, so focus your strategy first on boosting your content and use of keywords that fall within this range.

You can check the difficulty of your keywords by using Ahrefs’s free keyword difficulty checker.

A cautionary word, though: Don’t just delete a keyword from your list if it’s got a high difficulty score. Instead, look for ways to include it naturally on your website without making it the sole focus of an individual page, or add modifiers and geographic locations to help decrease the difficulty score.

Start Editing

keyword list

Now that you’ve evaluated all the potential keywords on your list, it’s time to prioritize or delete options that won’t work.

On your first pass through your list, choose keywords you know you’ll be able to boost easily (those with low difficulty scores that are relevant to your business) or that are particularly valuable to your business. Add these to one list that you’ll use when crafting your strategy. 

Next, strike any remaining keywords that have no relevance to your business or your goals. These are keywords you wrote down in the brainstorming and research stages and were hesitant to add to your list.

The remaining keywords on your list will be put on a “later” list. These keywords are still relevant to your business but they may have higher difficulty scores, lower search volumes, or they may speak to more tangential portions of your offerings.

You still will use these keywords in your overall SEO strategy, but working them into your content and SEO efforts won’t be your top priority.

SEO Strategy for Small Businesses

As you can see, keyword research can be a time-consuming process that many small business owners don’t have. At 270net Technologies, we’ve got a team of skilled, experienced SEO strategists who can help research the best keywords for your business and craft a comprehensive SEO strategy to take you to the next level. Contact us today!