Advanced Lesson – 6 Key points to Keyword Selection

Choosing the highest quality keywords is the single most important factor when it comes to getting not only more traffic to a web site but higher quality traffic.  There’s a lot of information out there on how to seed your site and integrate keywords when building links back to that site.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of blogs, books, how-to sites and expert articles don’t really go into the sequential process of choosing, refining and grouping keywords.

Sure, they cover the basics – use research tools like Keyword Discovery, the Google keyword tool,  or any of a dozen other popular tools that can show you how many times people have actually searched for a given word or phrase, and also show other similar phrases.  Except every one of those is going to give you different results, which is a problem in itself.  But worse, all of them are only as good as the phrases you enter in the first place.

And when it comes to evaluating dozens, hundreds or thousands of phrases, there’s almost nothing on the web about how to do that refinement process.  So here’s a list of the six key points to maximize keyword selection.


CAVEAT – This is an advanced technique process and is NOT for everyone.

You may find that it’s overwhelming to do this level of research.

It could mean having to evaluate and choose from among hundreds or thousands of keyword phrases.

Yet if you truly want to succeed, this is the most important step in the entire search engine optimization process.

If you feel this would be too much trouble, you may want to reconsider whether being found on the first page of Google is really important to you, or alternately, hire an expert!

Estimated Research Time for Keyword Selection for the average web site:  3 to 20 hours

For a newcomer to this industry: 6 to 40 hours


1.  Customers keywords differ from yours

You know your business better than your customers do.  Which means you know the words or phrases that describe your products or services.  Except that also means that when you come up with an initial list of key words and phrases, you’re overlooking the fact that your customers will just as likely use different words or phrases when they’re searching for what you offer.

Keyword research tools will provide some help when you use them to determine how many people actually search for a given word or phrase.  They’ll offer synonyms and alternatives to what you enter.  But that’s only as helpful as the data matching and thesaurus-type functionality of the software you’re using.  What if your initial list is missing the bigger picture though?

Examples of keywords from different points of view

If you sell “firearms”, your customers may be in the market to buy “handguns” or “guns” or “pistols” or “rifles” or “personal protection” or “weapons”…

If you sell “designer handbags”, your customers may be in the market to buy “hand bags” or “bags” or “purses” or “hobo bags” or “celebrity handbags” or “unique totes” or “Jessica Simpson handbag”…

If you are a “personal trainer”, your clients might be looking for a “wellness coach” or a “fitness instructor” or an “exercise coach”, or “help with exercise”…

The concept is that we can’t limit ourselves to just the words or phrases that come up when we think about our products or services.  We need to step into the shoes of our customers and clients.


One of the best ways to come up with phrases is to ask existing customers, employees, friends, family…

This can be as informal as a simple email or in-person question.  Or it can be as formal as a written survey.  Either way, by asking others for their opinion on the keywords they would use to find your offerings, you’re giving your site the chance to be found by every other future potential customer.  And when you look at that new list, you very well may think of other phrases that you’d originally missed as well…


2.  Don’t miss out – spoon-feed the Google keyword tool

Once you have a list of five, ten or twenty possible phrases, you need to find out which phrases are the most valuable.  And which other phrases have actually been used over the history of search that aren’t yet on your list.  Now this is where experts differ – which keyword selection tool or resource to use, when, and how… Over the years, I’ve used the (now defunct) Overture selection tool, WordTracker, KeywordDiscovery (both the free and paid versions), and a half dozen others.

Yet what I’ve personally found to be the best so far, is the Google Keyword Tool.  Whether it’s just a personal preference, the fact that the data comes directly from Google, the type of data provided, a hunch, or whatever, I don’t know.  All I know is that I’m happy with the results, since it’s getting clients on the first page of Google for as many phrases as possible that’s my primary goal.

In any case, what I’ve found is that if I have a starting list of a dozen, twenty or even fifty or more phrases, rather than loading them all into the keyword ideas box at one time, I prefer to spoon-feed them, five or ten at a time.  I do this because Google will return only so many phrases at a time – most of which will be similar phrases that others have used in the past.  And you could easily miss out on real gems or much more important phrases.

Reading the data

Once you enter a handful of preliminary phrases (leaving the “use synonyms” checkbox checked), you’ll get back a table of results that looks something like this (click to enlarge image):

Sample Google Keyword Tool Results


DOUBLE DATA – Look For the Keyword Gems

This part of the weeding out process is just as much subjective as it is scientific, so don’t panic in thinking that either you have to get it right, or that it’s simple.  The fact is that if you do a good enough job now, you can always run it again later to choose other keyword phrases on new pages of your site…

For many phrase results sets, you’ll see two sets of data – the top set will show those phrases that you entered, along with the ones that are the most similar.  Below that will be a plethora of other possible related words or phrases.   If any of the results show “Not Enough Data” it means that phrase may have been searched, but not enough to register.

If a phrase has a massive amount of activity, it could be too broad for your purposes.  This is important to understand because when you optimize your site, you need to go head to head with every other site that is optimized for the same phrases.  And if you try to go too broad, you’re competing against exponentially that many other web sites.

If two phrases have the same or nearly the same total search volume, but one has a lower competitive threshold (the bigger the “Advertiser Competition” bar the more competitive), then it means you’re more likely to reach your market using the phrase that has less competition.


3.  Refine with a keyword spreadsheet

If you start out with a dozen preliminary phrases, you could easily end up with hundreds or thousands of possibilities.  To manage this madness, I always export the results (from both the top and bottom data sets) that Google provides.

Refining step 1 – Export to Excel

At the top of each data set on the left side, there’s a link to download the results.  I do this for every spoon-fed set of results I get back.  I then combine them into one massive spreadsheet, then repeat the process for each primary topic I’m working on – with a separate tab in the spreadsheet for each topic.

(NOTE – by spoon-feeding, it’s inevitable that I’ll get some duplicate data back – fine by me – I’d rather not miss out on other phrases that would be overlooked if I tried to run all my phrases at one time through the system at Google.)

Refining step 2 – Re-Sort

Once I have that spreadsheet, I then have to re-sort the results.  Personally I sort them as follows:

Local Monthly Searches – Descending


Advertiser Competition – Ascending (in the export process, those green bars convert to numeric values).

Refining step 3 – Elimination Process

Here’s where it takes time and patience…

Once all the results are re-sorted, I add a new column called “refined”.  I then take the time to go line by line through the results.  Some of the phrases will obviously be too broad, others will obviously be irrelevant for your specific offerings.  I place an X in the refined column for every phrase that seems to be a good fit (skipping duplicates).

Also, be aware that at some point you need to cut off your work.  Typically, if any single search shows less than 1,000 actual searches, and if there are more than enough that I’d previously flagged as refined, I don’t bother continuing. (Or if there are only a few dozen phrases that really fit, that number may be 100 searches…)


Just because a particular phrase has a tiny fraction of the total search volume as another phrase does not automatically mean you can discount that phrase.  For example, if you offer services where just getting one or five or ten new clients a month can mean all the difference to you, then it may be worthwhile to consider those phrases that get much lower volume activity than other phrases.   This is especially true if the more popular phrase has a very high competition score and the less searched phrase has no competition.  It’s an easier target to optimize for.


Quite often, there may be two, three or more phrases that are almost identical.  One might be “designer handbags” and another might be “authentic designer handbags”.  In this case, if you optimize your site for “authentic designer handbags”, then you actually are optimizing the site for both phrases.


Like many aspects of the SEO process, the issue of whether you should use the singular or the plural version of a word or phrase is up for debate.  My view is that if you want to cover all the bases, use both.  If two sites are identical in all aspects except one has the phrase “designer handbag” and the other has “designer handbags”, then someone doing a search for “designer handbags” is going to see the 2nd site show up first.  There are over 200 factors that Google now uses for site ranking that can alter how important this is, but in the end, it’s best to optimize for all instances.

If I have to choose between the two, my general rule is to just go with the version that communicates your offerings more accurately.So if you are an SEO Consultant, it would make more sense to seed your site with the primary phrase “SEO Consultant”.  From there, you can always add in the alternate “consultants” within the content.

Refining Step 4 – Re-Sort On Refined Column

Once I’ve X’d all the phrases I think are good, I’ll resort the spreadsheet.  This time, its:

Refined – Ascending


Local Volume – Descending


Advertiser Competition


4.  Group keywords by category

The next task, if you have enough phrases chosen that are refined, is to add a new column called “Category”.  Go through the refined phrases, and assign them a one word description that will allow you to group similar phrases.

For example if you have:

keywords advertiser competition Local Search Volume Refined
designer handbags 1 15000 x
celebrity hand bags 0.86 14500 x
designer clutches 0.2 12000 x
authentic designer bags 1 1000 x
unique handbags 0.73 1000 x
Jessica Simpson clutch 0.6 700 x
trendy bags 1 500 x

Then after categorization you might have:

keywords advertiser competition Local Search Volume Refined Category
designer handbags 1 15000 x handbags
celebrity hand bags 0.86 14500 x hand bags
designer clutches 0.2 12000 x clutches
authentic designer bags 1 1000 x bags
unique handbags 0.73 1000 x handbags
Jessica Simpson clutch 0.6 700 x clutches
trendy bags 1 500 x bags

Once this is done, re-sort on the Category column and you’ll end up with:

keywords advertiser competition Local Search Volume Refined Category
authentic designer bags 1 1000 x bags
trendy bags 1 500 x bags
designer clutches 0.2 12000 x clutches
Jessica Simpson clutch 0.6 700 x clutches
celebrity hand bags 0.86 14500 x hand bags
designer handbags 1 15000 x handbags
unique handbags 0.73 1000 x handbags

This process lets you decide how to group phrases for use on individual pages on your web site.


5.  Don’t overlook localization

If you are offering products or services where you are trying to bring in new business on a local or regional scale, you’ll need to incorporate the name of a particular town or region into your keyword phrase work. This can be a daunting task, because it’s best  to first do the previously described work, and only after you’ve done your refinement work run the refined phrases but this time include the town or region name in the phrases, because not everyone who does a search actually includes the name of the town or region in that search.

For example, if you run the phrase “business coach” and the phrase “business coach Marin” and the phrase “business coach bay area” you may find that there’s very few actual searches for one or the other, or even “not enough data”.

Now remember though, that “Not enough data” just means there’s not a whole lot of volume over time for it to register.  Yet if even only four people search for a phrase a month, they are all potential clients – and if you charge $2500 each, that’s potentially $120,000 a year in income!

Exactly how much and to what extent depends on a host of factors, and is subject for it’s own article, however these are the guiding principles that will get you going.

See the Magic of keyword combining below for one example of this.


6.  Match keyword groups and site content

Once you have done the above leg-work, it’s time to figure out which phrases you want on which pages of your site. Now is when it gets fun.  This can be quite challenging if you’ve decided that you only want one paragraph on the home page, only your business contact information on the contact page, and you’ve got all the information about all of your services on one page.

It can quite often mean that you’ll need to re-think the content that you have or will have on your site.  And it’s for this very reason that I urge every client to have this keyword research work performed BEFORE deciding what content to place on the site and in what hierarchy or on how many pages…



Page titles are the first thing Google looks at when examining an individual page for keyword relevance.  Yet you shouldn’t over-stuff a page title with too much repetition.  And only the first sixty characters of a page title will be displayed on the Google results pages.

One of the tricks I use to overcome this was briefly touched on earlier in this post.  That’s taking two phrases that are similar and using the one that incorporates both the shorter and longer phrase.  In that example, we had the phrase authentic designer handbags and the phrase designer handbags.   By using the longer phrase we get both onto the page.

A more advanced method of this process would be shown in the example from one of my actual current clients:

Restaurant Accounting San Francisco


San Francisco Restaurant Consultant

Here we have two four word phrases.  But because the words “San Francisco” happen to appear at the tail end of one phrase and leading the other, we can essentially combine these for use on the page title like this:

Restaurant Accounting San Francisco Restaurant Consultant

Now because this can be more than a reasonable mouthful for someone reading this phrase, in the page Title field, I would use the “pipe” symbol like this:

Restaurant Accounting | San Francisco Restaurant Consultant

The pipe symbol gives a visual split that makes it easier to read and more understandable to digest.

And the sweet bonus here is that you’ve also included in this the non-location based phrases Restaurant Accounting and Restaurant Consultant!



I’d love to be able to get all my important phrases on every page of my site.  The problem with this is that you’re competing against thousands or millions of other pages that share at least some of your phrases.  As a result, it’s vital to limit the total number of phrases on a single page so that you can get the most seeding and content related to those phrases possible without exceeding a number of “potential spam” rules…

Note -You can then add in two or at most three additional phrases within the content of a page however you need to be sure they’re laser-focused in how closely related they are to the primary topic of the page.  If you try to go too far in variety of topics on a page, you dilute it’s focus.



There is so much to cover when it comes to choosing keywords, grouping them intelligently and wisely, and figuring out which page on your site to associate them with.  Some of the tools out there will give you all sorts of data such as something called KEI (the WordTracker “keyword Effectiveness Index”). SEO book even has a fancy Keyword Strategy Flowchart. (Personally the chart makes me dizzy, but it may be just the right tool for you).  SEO Chat has the Ten Commandments of Keyword Selection.

Some of it’s good, some of it’s hokey.  Some of it’s relevant for some industries and not others…

Of course, you’re free to explore the web and see what you can find, however if you use this article as a foundation to work from, you’ll find yourself way ahead of the pack…

And once you’ve gone through all of this, you’ll need to know how to properly seed the site.  Yet without this foundation, your SEO efforts are going to be like a house of cards that may or may not rise high enough to be seen by the right people, and may or may not stay up in the long haul.