Consider your target market: It's never a good idea to assume or guess what terms and phrases your target market will be searching for online. There's no substitute for actually asking people directly. For example if you were going to a launch an online shop selling ladies golf clothes, would people search for "ladies golf clothes", "women's golf clothes", "women's golf clothing" or something else? One way to find out would be to visit a local golf club and ask people's opinions.
Study the competition: While there's no guarantee your competitors have done their own keyword research properly, you can get a good idea of what phrases they're targeting either by searching online or using a tool such as Keyword Spy.
Localise your search: If your business only serves a certain geographical area then you should use this in your chosen key phrases. An example of this would be if you were a builder who only worked in the Nottingham area. In this case having "builder Nottingham", "home extensions Nottingham" would be advisable rather than just the general terms.
Use an online keyword research tool: When you've got your list of potential keywords and phrases you want to target the next step is to use a free online keyword tool. Keyword tools such as WordTracker, WordStream or Google's keyword tool will enable you to see the volumes of traffic that search for each keyword or phrase and how much competition there is.
Don't aim too high: There's nothing wrong with a bit of ambition when it comes to SEO but you could be throwing your time and money down the drain if you aim too high. For example, if you're a new small business in Aberdeen offering mortgage products to consumers there will be little point in targeting "mortgages" or "mortgage adviser" as keyphrases in your SEO campaign.
These terms are fiercely competitive and you'll be up against companies that spend thousands on SEO every month so it's best to concentrate on local phrases that are easier to rank highly for.
Don't always go with the obvious: If you're a joiner in Bristol, an obvious choice of keyphrase to target is "joiner Bristol" however this shouldn't be your only phrase. Longer phrases often called "long tail" can have less competition and still bring in valuable business. For example you may want to target "emergency 24 hour joiner in Bristol" as well as the more popular search terms.
Remember to be relevant: Trying to be over ambitious and optimise your web pages for a whole range of different keywords and phrases can easily back-fire. Taking a relevant approach is the simplest and most effective way to get results; this involves choosing one main keyword or phrase per page and focusing on that rather than trying to be too clever and optimise a page for seven or eight unique phrases.
Analyse your website: Whether your website is new or has been around a while, you can learn a lot from analytics. Many analytics tools are free, such as Google's and let you see the keywords and phrases people are using to find your website. Using an analytics tool will also help you identify opportunities for new keywords and phrases to target.
Keyword placement: It's all very well having a list of perfect keywords and phrases for your small business website, but if you don't know how to use them, you won't get the results you're looking for. Using your keywords and phrases strategically within your website in the meta title, meta description, headings & sub headings, anchor text links and alt tags will all have a positive effect on your search engine rankings.
Keep looking to improve: Once you've chosen and implemented your keywords and phrases into your SEO campaign, you shouldn't stop there. Depending in your industry, there may be new phrases to target from time to time that could bring you valuable traffic and customers. For example, if you're a heating engineer and a boiler manufacturer has just publicised a known fault, there may be a sudden rise of searches for related keyphrases in your area.