The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Best Keywords for your Government Contracting Business
Competing for government contracts is such a challenge. Vendors complain they can only compete for the solicitations they know about, but what of all the opportunities that never come across their radar? Simply put, contracting professionals can’t possibly identify all the suppliers with the ability to fulfill their customer’s requirement, and sometimes they don’t even find the best. Other times, agency policies permit buyers to pick three vendors during market research and then move on to the solicitation process.
Public Spend Forum created GovShop to help address this challenge of connecting buyers and suppliers early in the acquisition lifecycle, when productive conversations can still occur. As a supplier, you will never be able to identify, read, and compete for each solicitation that matches your company’s capabilities. But by creating a free profile on GovShop, you can at least be in a position to get more direct contacts from public sector buyers who are using GovShop for their pre-award market research.
If you can determine how buyers think about your company and capabilities, you can begin to predict with accuracy the potential search queries that your target customers are using when they search for what you sell. This is useful not just when buyers are searching within GovShop, but when they are conducting general online searches as well. If your website doesn’t have a relevant title tag and meta data description that describes your company and key value proposition, you risk being passed over for more attractive entries on the search engine results page (SERP). Your company’s description is the first thing buyers see in a search results page and will heavily influence whether they decide to visit your website or view your profile in GovShop. So, the best way to show up in more search results is to include relevant market research terms in your GovShop profile, and to review your title tags and metadata description on your own website.
There are some great resources for learning about title tags and meta descriptions (check this one out from Moz), but in this blog we’re going to focus on how to research and find keywords to make your GovShop profile stand out among the crowd with these tips:
- Do your research
- Review your capability statements and marketing material
- Use Google to your advantage
- Talk to your customers
- Treat your profile as a “living” document
First, let’s take a look at a GovShop SERP page. The screenshot below shows results for the term “surveillance cameras.” Note how GovShop highlights the keywords in the profile, and how none of the records show an exact match for that search query.
Govshop search results show company descriptions with matching keywords, like this search for “surveillance cameras”
Now in an ideal world, you’d know exactly how buyers search for your offerings and the specific words they enter into the search bar. But that’s easier said than done, and in actuality, you’ll never predict with 100% accuracy the search terms that buyers have in mind. As a premium subscriber to GovShop, you will have access to data on the search terms that are actually being used to find your company. But when you first set out to complete your company profile, there are techniques you can use to describe your company with keywords that are most likely to result in “search hits” for your profile.
Do your research
Maybe “surveillance cameras” isn’t the standard industry term for what you actually sell, but does every buyer know that? Of course not. Some will search for “security cameras” while others may search for “surveillance imagery.” This is where you’ll need to do your own research to determine the most common keywords that your target buyers use. Your first stop should be prior solicitations, starting with the statements of work or product descriptions that are included in all of these documents. Federal contractors can start with FedBizOpps to find solicitations; state and local contractors should refer to the opportunities platform used by their target clients. If you aren’t familiar with such platforms, reach out to your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) for free assistance.
Download a selection of these solicitations and then copy and paste all the descriptive information you can find into a text analytic tool that will show you the most common words in a block of text. There are plenty of free and fun tools that exist, and many will create easy to interpret visualizations like the word cloud shown below, which we created from a selection of cybersecurity solicitations:
Text analytic tools like word clouds are an easy way to visualize common keywords in large blocks of text
Here are some great word cloud tools you can check out for this exact purpose:
Review your own capability statements
One of the first things companies do when selling to government is to create a one page capability statement that succinctly summarizes their offerings. If these are well done, they are a great source of keyword terms for your company description. However, because these are used primarily for marketing purposes, they can be heavy on buzzwords and other jargon.
Sometimes it is fine to use buzzwords in your GovShop profile, but only if you are confident that government contracting and program professionals are actually using these words to describe the products they seek. Cloud computing is a good example; while an IT expert knows this term barely scratches the surface of what is technically being offered, there’s no doubt that government people are using it in GovShop searches. On the other hand, “disruptive technologies” is a buzzword you may want to associate with your company, but it’s unlikely that buyers will use that in an actual market research query.
Use Google to your advantage
Have you ever scrolled all the way down to the bottom of a Google search results page? If you have, you may have noticed a section called “Searches related to….” This is an amazing resource for understanding common keywords that are related to a particular search. For instance, when we search for “surveillance cameras” on Google, we get the following suggestions:Use Google’s “Searches related to…” feature to find related keywords for your company profile
Using this approach to find related keywords is a great technique to differentiate your GovShop company profile from the competition. These are also great resources for your title tag and meta descriptions, as they represent actual searches performed by real people.
If you want to go even further (and you’re prepared to spend some money), you can subscribe to a tool like Ahrefs that uses big data on all the searches performed on popular engines like Google to show you which keywords are resulting in traffic to your website. A subscription to Ahrefs can cost upwards of $1,000 per month, but if you know what you are doing and are serious about search engine optimization (SEO), it may be worth it. Alternatively, you can hire an SEO consultant or agency that has access to these tools already, and have them recommend search terms that are most relevant to your business based on actual user searches.
As we continue to develop GovShop, we’ll be able to provide premium subscribers with this type of information based on all the searches happening on GovShop. But until then, you’d be wise to at least use Google’s “searches related to” resource to find additional keywords for your company description.
Talk to your customers
When we launched GovShop at the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) World Congress 2018, we spent hours talking to users and watching them perform searches on GovShop. This type of feedback is crucial, but not easy to obtain when you are a government contractor. Between buyer hesitancy to communicate with vendors and the challenge of competing for their attention span, many companies find it difficult to establish a line of communication with their target customers.
Joining associations like NCMA if you’re a federal vendor, or the National Institute of Government Procurement (NIGP) if you primarily serve state and local governments, is a fantastic way to gain access to buyers and program owners in your target markets. These associations do charge a membership fee, which can be a deterrent if your business development budget is non-existent or already committed to other opportunities.
There are free options, like Public Spend Forum’s Open Global Community, where you can participate in online discussions and webinars side-by-side with public sector professionals. This type of participation allows you to hear how your target customers are describing the products and services they seek to buy. Check out our calendar of events and sign up for upcoming sessions, almost all of which are free to attend.Public Spend Forum’s open global community is a free place to connect with buyers and program owners in the public sector
Treat your GovShop profile like a “living document”
Even if you create what you feel is a terrific company profile on GovShop, we recommend checking in from time to time to make sure it reflects your current offerings. Got a big upcoming opportunity that you and your team are tracking? Make some temporary edits to your profile so those relevant keywords are included in the first three lines of your company description, which buyers can see directly in the search engine results page.
If you have any questions about completing your GovShop profile in an optimal manner, we are here to help you. Take advantage of your complementary onboarding session to get a step-by-step walkthrough of the profile fields, to include tips and tricks from our customer care team.
Thanks for your interest in GovShop, and we look forward to helping your company be found by more of your target customers during the government market research process!