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How to Build a Keyword List

Perhaps the most important task in any search engine marketing campaign – whether it is for organic search engine optimization (SEO) or pay per click (PPC) advertising, is building a list of relevant and searched keywords.

Unfortunately, most people do not know what keywords are actually being used to find what they are offering. Developing a list of keywords takes time and patience. In order to create and develop a comprehensive set of keywords, plan on spending at least 8 hours of work if not more. It could actually take days to develop your first list and from there on it is an ongoing process.

Here are the basic steps to conducting keyword research for either organic search engine optimization (SEO) or pay per click (PPC) advertising.

Step 1: Identify Your Target Audience

The first step is to identify your target audience. Who are they? Are they performing the search at home, in the office or both? It may be helpful to assign titles and personas for the target audience to help determine and organize what words they use and how they search.

Step 2: Brainstorm

With your target audience defined, proceed with a brainstorming session. Write down as many keywords you think your target audience would employ to find your products and services and enter them into a spreadsheet master list file. Do not edit this list even if some of the keywords are too broad. 

Step 3: Review Your Log Files

Next, review your log files for other keywords. Log files are the files your Web server keeps about each and every visitor to your website. Each time a person (or search engine spider) comes to your site, a file is created about that visitor that contains helpful information. Using a log file analyzer or Web analytics, learn which search engines people came from, what keywords they used to find your site, what time of day and day of week they visited, what browser they used and more.

Step 4: Research and Analyze the Top Ranked Sites

Next, take the keyword list and enter these keywords into Google, MSN adCenter. Now visit these top-ranked sites and review the Meta tags (Title, Description and Keywords tags) of these sites. If these top-ranked sites have good keywords that apply to your business, then add them to your list.

Step 5: Research and Analyze Your Direct Competition

Now visit your competitor sites. Once again, review the Meta tags including Title, Description and Keywords tags of these sites. If these top-ranked sites have good keywords that apply to your business, then add them to your list.

At this point in the development of a keyword list, most people feel they have a good list – that is, until they have used one of the keyword tools. The next step is to use some commercially available tools to identify other keywords and to help validate your current list.

Step 6: Employ Google AdWords Keyword Tool

Google offers a keyword tool as part of its Adwords program. The Google Adwords keyword tool is also available at no charge. Here at Bruce Clay, Inc., we are also Google AdWords qualified. The Google Adwords keyword tool allows you to build extensive, relevant keyword lists through itsinterface. The tool will provide keyword ideas, traffic estimations for existing and new keywords, and allows the addition of keywords directly to your ad groups.

It also allows you to find keywords based on your site's content. Instead of filling out your own set of keywords, use the "website content" option. Simply enter the URL of your website, and AdWords will extract relevant keywords based on your site.

It will identify negative keywords, too. The keyword tool will depict keywords that don’t apply to your business. You can elect to add the suggested keyword terms to your campaign or ad groups as negative keywords. This will keep your ad from showing on searches for keywords unrelated to your business, which will help keep only interested customers seeing your ads.

As you have done before, add the new keywords to the master keyword list.

Tip: Don’t worry about duplicate keywords or keyword phrases, they will be consolidated later.

Step 7: Employ Other Keyword Sources

We recommend clients obtain data from other sources that might apply to their industry, association or special interest group. To make sure we have exhausted our keyword list, some of these are subscription- based; visit the Keyword Discovery tool,,, or WordTracker.

Step 8: Sort and Filter Keyword List

The final step in building a keyword list for organic search engine optimization or pay-per-click program is to sort and filter the list. You really need to review each keyword by itself and then decide if this is a targeted keyword. At a minimum, you should apply three filters to the keywords:

1. Relevancy
2. Popularity
3. Conversion

The keywords should be relevant to the site, be reasonably popular and have a high likelihood of or a history of converting well. Once you determine what keywords you want to bid on, the next step is to decide how you want the search engines to match them up to user queries. Do you want your ad served up only if the query is an exact match or is it OK to have other relevant words in the query string?

If you decide to use broad matching, you might also want to apply a filter to keep out queries for certain words that do not apply to your product or service. Proceed to the next section for more information on keyword matching.