Every business owner knows how important it is to have a solid SEO strategy. No matter how much money you spent on a web designer, you need people to come to check out your site — aka traffic.

The more traffic you get, the more awareness you brand will receive, and the more people you will convert into whatever you sell. SEO is the number one way to generate free, scalable traffic for your website.

And who wouldn’t want that?

But many marketers, too focused on high-level SEO elements such as meta tags and page speed, often forget to effectively research the Google keywords that they want to rank for.

So, what makes keywords so essential to your SEO strategy?

Think of your SEO as a boat and you, the business owner/marketer as the captain of that boat.

Would you grab the steering wheel and just sail… somewhere? Of course not! You need to know 1) where are you going, and 2) how to get there.

Well, that’s where Google keywords come into play. They are the compass that guides you and gives you direction. Without them, you’ll quickly find yourself roaming aimlessly through the sea –and no progress will ever be made!

What can you do to make sure your keyword research is successful?

Here are our three tips that will help you start your SEO strategy on the right foot:


Think like your ideal customer


There are more technical ways to find your ideal keywords (don’t worry, we’ll cover them later on), but the first step should always be to brainstorm what your customers are more likely to search on Google.

If you are having trouble identifying what their searches could be, talk with your sales and customer service representatives about what are the questions that repetitively come up in their conversations with clients.


Use long-tail keywords


Longer keywords are more specific and niche than shorter keywords. They receive less traffic, but the traffic they get is often more qualified and valuable.

For example, let’s say you are a criminal case lawyer in New York City. If you try to rank on Google for the keyword “lawyer,” you’ll be wasting your money and time. It has too much competition for you to make any meaningful progress.

Instead, it would be much more useful to rank for “criminal case lawyer in NYC.”  The traffic directed to your website will be from people actually looking for your services.


Focus on rising keywords


Some keywords get more popular as time goes by while others are searched less and less until they disappear. As you can imagine, betting on rising keywords is an excellent long-term organic strategy.

But how do you know which one is which?

Google Trends needs to become your go-to place to find if your targeted keywords are on the upswing or fading away. You can compare keywords and see their number of searches and trends.

For example, the keywords “digital marketing” and “internet marketing” are mostly synonyms. Despite “internet marketing” being the most common search in 2004, “digital marketing” slowly grew for years until it surpassed “internet marketing” in 2013.

What’s the one thing that you are struggling the most on your keyword research? Let us know in the comments!

Marti writes about digital marketing and entrepreneurship. Find him with coffee and a laptop while traveling back and forth between Barcelona and Charlotte. Connect with him on LinkedIn.