How to build a keyword list

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Whilst the search engine optimisation landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years, the one thing that has remained constant is how to build a keyword list. This article will help you build a list and then refine the words and phrases that you want to rank for.

Step 1: List what you know about your business and what you are good at

This is about the generic topics you want your website to rank for. Ideally you should come up with 10 topics, we’ll use these later to come up with specific keywords and phrases.

If you are a beauty therapist or salon owner looking to build a beauty website, you will have generic topics such as ‘nail care’, ‘massage’, ‘waxing’ and ‘hair removal’.

Step 2: Expand those topics

Now we want to try and expand on those topics and identify keyword phrases that you think are important to rank for in the SERPs (search engine results pages). It’s important to do this, because chances are your target customer is probably performing searches for those terms. For example, let’s look at the topic ‘nail care’

  • Manicure
  • Pedicure
  • Shellac Nails
  • Nail polish
  • Do’s and don’ts for healthy nails
  • Tips for filing your nails

This step is not about creating a master list of keywords. At this stage we are just creating a list of phrases that we think our potential customers may search for.

Step 3: Create short and long-tail phrases

Short-tail keywords are short keyword phrases (typically one or two words in length), whereas long-tail keywords are longer phrases of three or more words in the phrase.

It is important to identify both short and long-tail phrases because often short phrases are nearly always more competitive and therefore more difficult to rank for. Long-tail phrases tend to be less competitive and thus easier to rank for. You need a balance of both to bring a flow of organic traffic to your website.

Which of the following terms do you think is easier to rank for?

  • Manicure
  • Where is the best manicure in Birmingham?

If you chose the second term, then correct. Realistically, the traffic you’ll get from the term “Where can I get the best manicure?” will be more advantageous.

Why is this?

A stranger searching for something this specific is a more qualified searcher for your manicure services than someone simply searching for manicure.

Now check your list and make sure you have a good mix of short and long-tail phrases.

Step 4: What does Google suggest?

Google can provide you related search terms. If you search for ‘Where is the best manicure in Birmingham?’ in Google, at the bottom of the page you will see some suggestions:


If you do this for all the various long tail terms that you have devised, before you know it your list will have doubled. What’s more because Google has made the recommendations, they are actually search phrases that are being used by your potential customers.

Step 5: Use Google Adwords Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner will enable you to establish search volume and traffic estimates for the phrases you are looking to use. Moz, also have some very useful keyword tools that enable you to determine the competitiveness of each phrase, and this will give you an idea of whether your content will be a quick win or a slow burn. Moz can also help with Step 6.

The Keyword Planner will enable you to refine your list. There’s little point chasing words and phrases that have no search volume, nor is it likely that you will achieve good rankings in the short term for hugely competitive phrases that have high volume and traffic. Try to find a good balance of search volume and traffic.

Step 6: Check your competition

Following in your competitors footsteps is not always wise, however there is no harm in determining exactly where your competitors are ranking. Often these phrases are not quick wins, because your competitors may have built links, likes and shares over time – it will take you time to match their rankings and supercede them. However, if they are the phrases that your customers are using, then you should build better content that will drive organic traffic and attract more links, likes and shares.

You also need to develop content that features the phrases that your competitors are not using. These will often be quick wins and bring a good source of customers.

How you have a good selection of keywords and phrases what do you do with them? Be sure to check out my post SEO for beginners and novices to learn how to incorporate your chosen phrases into your website content, pages and posts.

What you should do now

If you are serious about having a great website, you should read my blog, it’s packed with ideas and suggestions to help improve your site.

If you’d like me to dramatically improve your website and bring you new customers, visit my website designs for small businesses page and then contact me for more information.

And if you have any comments or questions about this article, contact me.

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