Creating the right SEO keyword list is one of the first steps to defining an SEO strategy that will work. This happens during a site audit and is a strategy that informs every piece of copy you ever write. This is because keywords are the backbone of your SERP analysis and all of your SEO improvements.
Keyword lists that work need to be:
- Well-sourced: the information you get about keywords should come from three places: what you are ranking for, what you want to rank for and what your competitors are using.
- Organized: keyword research for a midsize company, for me, means at least 10,000 cells in a spreadsheet. The sheer volume requires exact organization, otherwise you have a lot of words and not a lot of useful information. I’ll show you below how I color code and sort in a way that gives me the most meaningful information.
- Tiered: not all keywords have the same level of importance. I typically sort them into five tiers, one-five, one being most important. That way, you know how to organize the highest-level keywords on each page (with your H1, H2 and meta description, etc.).
- Targeted: it’s easy to get caught up into using very brand-specific language or the words that a client wants to describe their ethos or values. That has a place. But that isn’t the point of SEO copy. SEO copy is meant to generate traffic and, so, the keywords you pick and place have to be done so with that end in mind.
- Comprehensive: there is a balance between including every variation (plurals, alternate spellings, misspellings) like you would in a PPC negative keyword list. With the addition of long-tail keywords, it can seem like the possibilities are infinite. And they are. That’s why your three sources of info (listed above) need to be the primary keywords you use. Comprehensive but realistic. Save the everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach for your long-form or pillar content, not for your standard website pages.
How to Find SEO Keywords
Sourcing starts with the right information streams. Any good SEO software can audit your site and tell you what it’s performing for in terms of organic search keywords. These may or may not be the keywords you want to perform for. It’s kind of like targeting a competitor in your PPC campaign. It’s a way to do it. But if you have any kind of budget, it’s not your smartest marketing spend.
Instead, let your SEO keyword search be heavily informed by a few key aspects of your industry and brand:
- What do you know about your customer? Do you know how they find your company? When they search, what do they search for? These are valuable clues that will guide your use of SEO keywords.
- What are the terms and categories unique to your industry? You may sell something highly-specific or target a very unique customer. This creates an opportunity for highly targeted, low-competition keywords.
- What is the difference between your marketplace and keyword competitors? Like I said, these are often two different groups. When they are, there is either a gap in your strategy or theirs. Someone’s ranking for the wrong thing. Don’t let it be you.
SEO Keyword Audit
Your starting point for building an SEO keyword list is auditing what you’ve already got.
- What keywords are already present in your copy?
- Are your present keywords prioritized (into H1, H2)?
- Are the keywords in your URL slugs?
- Are the keywords in your meta-descriptions?
You can run your website through an organic search audit and find out what Google is ranking you for. Exported into an Excel spreadsheet, that keyword report will look something like this:
Once you know what you’re ranking for, you’ll want to look at your competitors. When I do this, I run them through the same report. Here’s how I perform the next steps that result in an excellent SEO keyword list.
Creating an SEO Keyword List
- Collect all of your organically ranking keywords.
- Collect all of your competitor’s organically ranking keywords.
- Put them all on a single spreadsheet.
When you copy and paste them one at a time, create a color key for each competitor and then highlight their keywords with that color on the spreadsheet. You will probably end up with several thousand cells. But, don’t despair. The color-coding is your saving grace.
It will look something like this (covered up for client confidentiality):
Next, SORT the keywords (expand selection) 1-however many. In other words, get those highest-ranking keywords up to the top of the list. Now, you can see at a glance what keywords you and your competitors are organically ranking for. You’ll see who has the #1 slot, #2, etc.
Tracking with me?
FROM HERE, you have all you need to start the SEO keyword list that you will actually use to write copy on your website.
This is where the process does become a bit manual. Combining all of the research from above on BOTH the brand and keywords, you will want to begin getting very specific about which keywords you want to use and rank them accordingly. Here are the data points I look for with each individual keyword or long-tail keyword (yes, I said individual, I told you this was excruciating):
- Keyword monthly volume
- Keyword difficulty
- Organic CTR
Incidentally, I usually do this on Moz, which I open side-by-side with my spreadsheet. I analyze maybe the top 50 keywords in terms of all of these metrics. You can get 10 queries a month with a free Moz trial. I’ll use that kind of account in the example. You can see what that research would look like here:
With this analysis, you can easily see what competitors or authority sites are using the same keyword and get keyword suggestions, in case a different form or version may perform better for your site.
Final SEO Keyword List
Because it is a secret sauce kind of thing, I won’t share any actual final keyword lists. But this is what mine look like:
Basically, I take all of the research and info from above and hand-pick the absolute best and most perfect keywords for the site. I rank these based on the SERP metrics, picking the ones that fit the brand’s current and projected traffic trends (IOW, don’t pick a 6k word for a 20-visit site).
This list will then be used as the blueprint for all SEO copy. The only caveat is to let you know that it changes. As search trends change and consumer behavior changes, this strategy requires agility and adjustment. That’s why SEO specialists are on retainer or at least check-in with a brand on a regular basis. It is a fluid process. However, with the right foundation, all of your moves will be in a winning direction.
Hire Someone for SEO
SEO specialists or SEO consultants can be hired to help you through this kind of process. Their expertise means that they can do it faster and with greater accuracy. Hire a Writer offers SEO specialist services. You can contact us for more info on that. In addition to doing the technical dive, we specialize in SEO copy that performs. That takes this research and applies it in a useful way that maximizes your ROI by improving your website’s organic search rank. Worth it.