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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 develop a comprehensive set of keywords, plan on spending at least 8 hours of work if not much 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, then 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 Web site. Each time a person (or search engine spider) comes to your Web site - a file is created about that visitor that contains helpful information. Using a log file analyzer or Web analytics, you can learn whichsearch engines people came from, what keywords they used to find your Web site, what time of day and day of week they visited, what browser they used, etc.

Step 4: Research and Analyze the Top Ranked Sites

Next take the keyword list and enter these keywords into Google, MSN and Yahoo!. Now visit these top ranked sites and review the Meta Tags (Title, Description and Keywords tag) 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, 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 developing a keyword list, most people feel they have a good list – that is until they have used one of the commercially available 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 the Yahoo! Search Marketing Keyword Selector Tool

The first keyword tool we recommend clients use is from Yahoo! Search Marketing. In July 2003, they purchased a company called Overture (formerly and then re-branded Overture to become Yahoo! Search Marketing in March 2005.

Using the Yahoo! Search Marketing tool is an excellent way to begin your keyword research.

The keyword selector tool pulls data from its data marts and attempts to offer a count of the number of searches for the keyword you enter into the search box. In addition, the tool also attempts to provide other associated keyword combinations and permutations.

Using this tool, you need to manually enter your list of keywords into the Yahoo! Search Marketing Keyword Selector Tool and identify new keywords. This often takes some time. As you are identifying new keywords, it is also a good idea to keep track of the relative amounts of monthly queries for each keyword. This will help you later when you start determining which keywords to keep and which keywords to drop. Note, we employ a Yahoo! Search Marketing Ambassador.

Step 7: Employ The Google Adwords Keyword Tool

Once you have completed using the Yahoo! Search Marketing Keyword Selector Tool, we recommend clients employ a similar, but different, tool offered by Google. Google offers another keyword tool as part of their Adwords program.

Like the Yahoo! Search Marketing Keyword Selector Tool, the Google Adwords Keyword Tool is also available at no charge. Note, we are also Google AdWords Qualified.

Unfortunately Google does not share the number of monthly searches, but it does offer another value. Google segments the keywords into 3 groups: More Specific Keywords, Expanded Broad Matches, and Additional Keywords to Consider. As a search engine marketing professional, this segmentation is often very helpful in identifying keywords not found in brainstorming, log file analysis and the Yahoo! Search Marketing Keyword Selector Tool.

As you have done before, add the new keywords to the master keyword list. Once you have completed using the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, we recommend that you double-back to the Yahoo! Search Marketing Keyword Selector Tool and enter these keywords to obtain monthly counts.

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

Step 8: Employ WordTracker for Meta Keywords

At this point, your list is fairly complete, but there is still some work yet to complete. We recommend clients employ a keyword tool from WordTracker. Worktracker is not a free product – but if you are into search engine marketing – it really is a must have. You should be able to do all of this in one day if you are able to spend a few hours on it. If you plan on doing this a lot, then we highly recommend an annual subscription. That way it is available whenever you need it. Unlike Google and Yahoo! that provide data from their distribution, Wordtracker collects data from the Meta Search Engines or Crawler. Most search engines like Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc. collect their search listings by literally crawling or spidering Web sites. Meta Search Engines do not crawl or spider Web sites. Instead, a Meta Search Engine is a search engine that pulls data from many other search engines and compiles this data into a set of search results on its site.

For example, if you perform a search or query on a Meta Search Engine, it then queries Google, Yahoo!, MSN and other search engines and then compiles this data into one master list – dropping duplicates along the way. The general idea is that getting data from multiple sources is better that just obtaining data from the same source.

Wordtracker Step #1

Go to Projects and import all the keywords from steps 1-8 into a Wordtracker Project

Wordtracker Step #2

Go to the Home Page and begin further research using Compressed Search. See other choices below. Don’t forget to copy and paste the results into your spreadsheet.

Tip: In Compressed Search, enter one word and see what other words the results might show you that you can use to create information pages.

  • Compressed Search: Removes unnecessary characters (+, -, ") and compresses all forms of the term to lower case. E.g. 'POKEmon', '+pOkEmon' become 'pokemon'.
  • Simple Search: If you are targeting engines that place different weights on uppercase vs. lowercase words, then use Simple Search. Otherwise, just stick with the Compressed Search. Right now, none of the major engines are case-sensitive, so your best bet is Compressed Search.
  • Exact Search: This returns all the upper and lower case combinations for the keyword you have selected. E.g. If you enter 'HELLO' you will get back 'HELLO', 'Hello', 'HelLo' etc. There are three options available for Exact Search (Please note this search is restricted to 4,000 keyword phrases.):
    • The default option is the Exact Search. This means that if you enter a term like 'mp3', Wordtracker will bring back MP3, Mp3, mp3, mP3. That is, all upper and lower case variations of the keyword you entered.
    • If, however, you want to combine all the upper and lower case combinations (MP3, Mp3, mp3, mP3) into lower case (mp3) and add all the count figures together, then please select the Compressed Exact Search, e.g. If you enter 'mp3', and the exact search returned MP3 with a count of 10000, mP3 with a count of 100 and mp3 with a count of 12000, then selecting the Compressed Exact Search will bring back 'mp3' (in lower case) with a combined count of 22100.
    • Finally, you can enter 'mp3' and get back 'mp3' just the way you entered it. So this will not return 'Mp3' or 'mP3'. You may select this option by selecting the Precise Search button below.
  • Misspellings Search: Pretty self explanatory.
  • Comprehensive: Allows you to word stem. Notice that you can word stem to the right e.g. 'hellontheroad', or both left and right, e.g. 'othellos'.

Be sure to export these words and add them to your spreadsheet and also add them to your Wordtracker project.

Wordtracker Step #3

Go the the Home Page, select Keyword Universe and begin further research using options on left and right side.

Tip: You will now be clicking on keywords to put them in your basket and adding them to the others. Duplicate keywords will not be added, so click away!

Wordtracker Step #4

When you have exhausted your research and if you are ready and have the time to begin the search engine research, proceed to Wordtracker Step 5. Otherwise, export and save the keywords in a new tab on your spreadsheet.

Wordtracker Step #5

Competition Search: Choose 2 Engines or Directories and Proceed. Repeat this process until you have exhausted all the keywords in your basket.

Wordtracker Step #6

  • Return to the home page and select "view all your results".
  • Next select the search engine's results you would like to view.
  • In the resulting page, highlight the keyword results and copy them
  • Paste them into a plain text file like Notepad and save it with a .csv extension
  • Close the Results page
  • Clean up your text file by taking out any non-line item verbage or empty lines
  • Save your text file one last time

Wordtracker Step #7

In a new tab on your spreadsheet:

  • Select Data from the top menu
  • Select Import External Data,
  • Select Import Data
  • Find your .csv file and open it into your spreadsheet

Step 9: Employ Other Keyword Sources

After completing WordTracker, 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, our staff will often visit the Keyword Discovery tool,, or

Step 10: Sort and Filter your 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 targeted keyword. At a minimum you should apply 3 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 broader 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.