I speak to many small businesses working on organic search marketing. They usually understand the concept of keyword research, but often they miss a basic step that makes the difference between a successful search program and one that just bumps along without creating much of an impact.

Sure, they follow the basic steps. They analyze their logs to see which words are bringing the most traffic, the better to optimize for them. If they are smart, they analyze which keywords bring the most conversions, not just the most traffic. They understand the priorities and they use them to improve their Web site to drive even more traffic with those keywords. Great job, right?

Well, not exactly. It's good as far as it goes, but there is a big missing step that can make a big difference in organic search success. You must also think about the keywords that aren't bringing any traffic to your site right now.

For large sites, this is less of an issue. Larger sites get so much traffic that almost any keyword shows up in the referral list somewhere. But for small sites, that's not true. For small sites, it's easy for a referral list to miss important keywords.

What can you do to find these hidden keywords?

  • Check your competitors. You might be missing these keywords, but someone is getting them. See what words your competitors use on their sites and see if you are missing some of them on yours.
  • Brainstorm outside your team. Get a perspective from your customers and others who are less familiar with your offerings. They might use words to describe your products that you don't.
  • Expand your buying cycle. Too often, we focus only on the later parts of the buying cycle. We focus on product names and model numbers and all the words people use when they are near purchase, but we forget the words people use at the outset of the cycle. Often we have no information on our sites about the problems our products solve—keywords about the problems are often overlooked.

If you've been focusing only on the keywords that already bring you traffic, think about whether there might be keywords that you're completely missing. Finding just a few of those hidden keywords might provide you the boost your organic search program has been missing.

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October 15, 2009

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


I would definitely say that my clients fill the spectrum, from small to Fortune 1,000. And this seems to hold true for all of my clients. The smaller they are, the more likely they are to completely miss out on certain keyword opportunities.

The opposite can be a danger to, though. I've had a client who has literally no faith in their own abilities and therefore wants to mimic EVERYTHING their competitors are doing. While this can be a fairly safe bet when the competitor is significantly more successful, it's not a recommended practice to just copy strategies without any analysis. Who says your competitors are any smarter than you?

It's a question that should at least be asked and thoughtfully answered.

Great point, Daniel. I wasn't advocating copying what the competitors do, but rather augmenting your own list with what they have. Thanks for helping me clarify it.

Hi Mike,

Good points...I especially like the idea of checking competitors for missing keywords. Do you happen to know of any software available to automate the process of spying on competitors keywords? Seems like there should be something out there already that does that for you....

There's nothing specific that monitors keywords, as far as I know, but I used WatchThatPage to pay attention to any change that competitors make on the important pages on their sites.

Hi Mike,

I'll look into WatchThatPage....I imagine you could tweak Google Alerts to do that sort of thing, in a limited way...will have to check that..

Great point. I agree about checking the competitors because through this you already know what keywords to use. It is also helpful if we will not stop looking for new knowledge about SEO.

Before I started my blog I did a lot of learning on keyword research. However I have over looked the the point you made about what keywords your competitors are using to bring in search engine traffic.

Recently I put this advice into practice and am starting to get more visitors from the keywords I have optimized for in recent articles. Although this has just been a test run, (I still have keywords I would like to opimize for first), the results have been very promising.

Thanks for the article and fingers crossed I will get more traffic to my site using competitors keywords.


Great Post. Most small business owners are unaware of the potential for increased search engine visibility by researching and exploring both informational, navigational and transactional keywords. And Google Analytics is a great way of spotting keyword trends while monitoring conversions.

A great post with some good ideas. Never really thought of any of these tips but they will definitely help with keyword research in the future and will add to other resources for finding keywords such as Google keyword tool. Thanks for the article.

This is very helpful information as I am doing some holiday keyword research planning now. I am looking for the missing link, and hidden keywords just may be it. Thank you for posting this.

I use ispionage.com for my competitor research. Great tool

Check competitors for mising keywords is really important to expand your list of targeted keywords. In addition, if you are using any of web statistics tool to check your search engine referral keywords, you can check how visitors finding your website.

also you can try to use semrush - a brilliant tool for my mind! have you heard about it?

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