Keyword research : it is not just about SEO

Should keyword research be confined to the geeky world of SEO or should it underpin almost any business plan? Some thoughts inspired by a new vegan cafe.

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I just nipped out of the office to get a hair cut and noticed a new cafe has opened in Colchester. Not just any cafe – it is a vegan cafe.

This is an area that I cannot boast any knowledge / experience as I have neanderthal-esque carnivorous tendencies, but the sign outside the cafe got me thinking:

vegan cafe Colchester

The sign piqued the inner SEO geek within me as I found myself asking why it is the first vegan cafe in Colchester. Is this reflective of a non existent market or are the owners on to an absolute winner?

I instantly found myself walking a bit faster to get back to the office to do some keyword research.

I am a massive believer in keyword research and I am constantly amazed by how few people actually use it to research a market and understand more about the language that potential customers use. In my humble opinion, it should not be thought of exclusively in an SEO context – good kewyord research can tell you a lot about a business idea long before  you actually start thinking about optimising a website.

I really don’t want to sound pessimistic about the chances of success for The Den as it is fantastic to have variety and it looks really good, but initial keyword research does not fill me with confidence:

vegan cafe keyword research

If Google’s data is to be believed (which should not always be the case), then it would appear that the demand for a vegan cafe or vegan restaurant in Colchester is simply not there.

Even nationwide, there are just 140 searches per month for the phrase ‘vegan cafe’ so it is definitely not a highly sought after eating destination and I fear that the odds are stacked against them.

Judging by the evidence, a chinese takeaway restaurant would be a much safer bet, with a proven volume of searches each month and low competition:

chinese takeaway

It is, of course, absolutely possible that this data will be totally irrelevant and the new cafe will thrive simply by being in the right place and doing a great job of serving interesting food to people who had never considered vegan food.

I can’t, however, avoid a mild sense of dread and worry for the long term future of the cafe as the keyword data is not encouraging.

I genuinely hope that I am proven to be wrong and their (at time of writing) 1,861 likes on their Facebook page, which is curiously a lot higher than the Colchester Vegan community page’s 658 likes, would suggest that they have a loyal fanbase. Only time will tell and I wish them well.

My recommendation to anyone starting up a new business is to include keyword research in your planning phase. You have the absolute right to ignore the data and trust your instincts that your business will be a success, but going into something knowing that there is no search volume will at least allow you to launch the new venture with your eyes open and appreciate the challenge that you will face to create demand.

What do you think? Am I being too much of an SEO nerd, or should offline businesses use keyword research to help support business cases? Please feel free to share your thoughts below.


6 thoughts on “Keyword research : it is not just about SEO

  1. Personally I am more of a fan of qualitative research which gives you thick, rich, descriptive quality data as opposed to crunching numbers based on a word search. If you had been there on the launch days and actually spoken to the owners you would know exactly how high the demand is in reality! There have been many occasions where they have had queues of people down the street and they calculated that they served one customer per minute for six hours straight on days one and two. The vegan community is thriving in Colchester (see Colchester’s vegan fair and the regular vegan pot lucks throughout 2013) and people have been travelling from hundreds of miles away to eat at this venue. Vegans can hunt out good vegan food and are prepared to go to extrodinary lengths to get it! I am glad that the cafe has caught your attention though…perhaps next time stop by? (A loyal customer of The Den)

  2. I guess also, you would have to consider the likelihood of people using keyword search versus the impact of ‘word of mouth’ marketing and social media campaigns both of which were and are still done really well by the owners of the Den and supported by a very loyal customer base.

  3. Thank you Bethany and Amy for your comments.

    Please believe me, my post was not intended to bash The Den. I absolutely want it to thrive and I have promised myself that I will go and try it but I just couldn’t help thinking it through from a keyword research perspective.

    You are right that word of mouth and passionate owners who are doing a great job of managing their social media presence will help draw in a loyal customer base. I would still question just how big that community is (based on the number crunching) and whether the loyalty will be strong enough to support the high rent / rates that the cafe must be paying. It is great to hear that there were queues down the street but will this be maintained in the months to come?

    I very much hope so. The last thing that Colchester needs is to become yet another town dominated by Pret A Manger and other chains. Although I am not a vegan, I am looking forward to trying it.

    Crouch Street should be the perfect street but how many businesses have you seen come and go (especially on that half of the street)? I am full of respect for anyone who has the balls to launch a new venture but cannot help myself assessing the chances of long term success.

    Market research is always an important factor in that process and, personally, I think that keyword research is a massively undervalued tool when conducting market research. I find it odd that people will trust a group of ten people gathered together to act as a focus group but ignore the data that Google gives you. I see keyword research as a massive focus group that reduces the likelihood of getting biased opinion.

    Only time will tell and I hope that this will be an example where keyword research proves to be completely wrong. If, in a year’s time, the cafe is struggling to attract a customer base that pays the bills and gives the owners a healthy profit then I will not be saying ‘I told you so’, but it will boost my belief in listening to what keyword research can tell you.

    Thanks again for sharing your views and it is great to see that you care enough to comment.

  4. Hi Joe,
    It’s Jen here, co-owner of The Den (along with husband Rob).

    We read your blog with interest, and would like to share the story of how The Den came about!
    It’s true that we didn’t research into SEOs, but that’s not to say we just popped into existence without doing any research at all..!

    To begin with I started out with a tiny home vegan bakery business 5 years ago. I had no idea if there were any other vegans in the area, however it was a low risk venture so I thought I’d give it a shot!

    Turns out there was a market, and over the years, because of cakes, I met more and more vegans/dairy free folk, and started building up quite a good network of vegans in this area.
    Cafés started selling my cakes too, which helped with exposure, and I continued taking private orders alongside my day job, and making more and more contacts.

    Last year I realised that there are actually loads of vegans in this area and so myself and a couple of friends organised a vegan fair. (the first of it’s kind around here), and every stall sold out of food in around 2-3 hours.
    I also started organising local vegan food share nights, which proved hugely popular too.

    Through all of this I realised that yes, the demand and clientele is here in this area!

    Statistics can be useful, but for us it was even more important to get to know our local clientele, and to get them to spread the word on our behalf!

    Thankfully since launching our cafe 3 months ago we’ve surpassed all of our expectations.

    We set out hoping to not just attract vegans, but also meat eaters/meat reducers too. We’re pleased to say that is the case, and our customer base consists of all kinds of people (and we imagine that most of them just visit because they’re near-by and hungry, not because they’ve been googling looking for cafés!).

    It was very interesting to read your blog and your views though.
    Thank you for wishing us well and complimenting the look of our cafe. We do very much hope to still be there in a year’s time. If we aren’t though it could be for any number of reasons-not solely because we only sell food made of plants!

    We would really love for you to come in and try our food-everyone is welcome, even the most carnivorous of carnivores!

    Kindest regards,

    Jen and Rob,
    The Den at 23

    1. Hi Jen,

      Thank you very much for your comments and excellent story. I am genuinely really pleased to hear that everything is going well and will promise to come and say hello in person.

      I am sorry if my post implied that I thought that you had gone into it without any form of planning / research – that wasn’t the case. I had seen and was impressed with the loyalty of the community that you have managed to build.

      I was just interested in thinking of it from a search perspective. Given the relative lack of vegan cafes / restaurants in the UK, I would have assumed that Google would have been a popular tool to find out where they are. I was therefore surprised that the numbers were so low and I couldn’t resist the urge to pose the question.

      As I hope I indicated, Google’s data is far from the gospel and I absolutely agree that the experience that you built up through hands on engagement with the vegan community is a better barometer than Google’s keyword tool.

      I also think that the passion within the vegan community is going to be a real asset. You are doing a great job with social media and clearly have earned the respect of the vegan community. I just hope that the community continues to support you with wallets as well as words.

      In the meantime, I will look forward to challenging my carnivorous instincts and hope that we have helped, in a tiny way, to raise the profile of The Den.

      Thanks again,

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