How to Develop a Keyword List for SEO

This post was originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog in June 2008.

It’s critical, when starting work on a new website, to develop a list of the most productive keywords and phrases to work into the content and structure of the site. It can also be a useful exercise for existing sites from time to time; content changes, search patterns change, and a minor content and SEO face lift may be just the thing to reinvigorate traffic growth.

Start by jotting down a list of the obvious search phrases for the site. Try to think like a prospective customer—what phrases would they likely use to try to find the product, service or information you offer?—rather than your internal company jargon. The list doesn’t need to be long; 15-25 phrases is sufficient unless you are working with a very large website.

Next, run your initial list of phrases through a keyword tool in order to 1) determine the relative search volume of the terms on your initial list, and 2) identify high-potential related search phrases. Trellian’s Keyword Discovery is an excellent tool if you can justify the cost; if not, Google Suggest (and the AdWords keyword tool if you have an existing AdWords account), the SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool and Yooter are helpful, free tools. In Reader Poll: Best Keyword Research Tools, search guru Lee Odden reports on the popularity of 15 keyword tools.

Finally, the most important step of all: after combining all of your original and the tool-suggested terms and sorting the phrases by search popularity, apply human intelligence to reduce the list to a final, manageable list of terms to SEO the site for. Not all of the terms that a keyword suggestion tool identifies as “related” to your initial list will really apply to your product, service or information. In addition, some terms will be too broad for SEO but may be use for a search engine marketing (SEM) program (SEO vs. SEM terms will be the topic of a future post).

The final list of terms can then be worked into page URLs, titles, meta tags and content to help the search engine spiders figure out that your site should show up well for these search phrases.

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  1. Since you’ve written this, Google has added the “WonderWheel” option to their searches. Just look to the left sidebar for additional options during a Google search. This shows very strongly related searches, and is a great place to start.