Advanced Keyword Research Strategies

Keyword selection will haunt your search engine optimization campaign forever, so in this article we aim to help you make better choices. In this first part of a two-part series, you will learn where to find an abundance of keywords, and how to narrow them down to the ones that will be most effective for your web site.

Pole Position Marketing has done a great job with their Keyword Selection Guide, which I highly recommend that you download and read. This article will focus on some of their advice mixed with more knowledge of keyword research and selection.

You won’t find tools or tips for beginners here, since I assume you are already familiar with some keyword research techniques. If you’re new, explore the SEO Chat keyword research section or do some Google research.

Create a List of Top Level Keywords

Start by identifying “top level” or “core” keywords. Those are one-, two- and three-word long keyword phrases from which many other keywords blossom.

For example, here are the top level keywords for a shop that sells shoes:

  • Running shoes

  • Wholesale shoes

  • High heel shoes

  • Sandal Shoes

  • Casual Shoes

  • Shoes on Sale

In this example the word “shoes” is the absolute core keyword, but it’s too competitive and general to spend time on. There is money in it, no doubt, but it will take at least a year to hit the first page on Google, even with a huge investment of time and money. 

The search terms above can be combined to produce more keyword phrases. For example, we can consider “wholesale running shoes” or “high heel shoes on sale.” At this stage, focus on top level terms and don’t worry about anything else.

Dig For More Top Level Terms

Go to your own website and browse through page titles, sections, H tags and links. Identify top level terms. Whenever you spot one, write it down or enter it into a list (using Word, Excel or whatever works for you). Don’t record “wholesale running shoes,” since the term is already covered with two other top level terms: “running shoes” and “wholesale shoes.”

After you’ve gone through your site, move to your competition. Analyze their page titles, H tags, links and content.

{mospagebreak title=Places to Get More Keywords}

Once you finish with site and competition analysis, move to other sources.

  • Brainstorm words you think people would type into search engines looking for your products and/or services.

  • Consider visitor intent as they visit your website. This will help with overall selection.

  • Use industry magazines, blogs and news publications to spot more lingo.

  • Thesaurus and Dictionary

  • Examine sites from DMOZ and the Yahoo Directory.

Dig into your server log files for more keywords. There you’ll find plenty of long tail terms, but very few top level terms. I personally use log file keywords for marketing and content planning, since you can learn a lot about what visitors actually want to find in your industry. Data is limited to rankings, though, so beware.

Once you have finished with the previous stages, head out to your keyword research tools and do some more top-level selection:

On top of the keyword phrases these tools return, search with the phrases already in your list. You will always find a few more top level terms with each search. It’s time consuming, but remember: you’re stuck with the keywords you select.

Geo-Specific Terms

This section depends entirely on your industry. If you’re a moving company in California, it makes sense to optimize for all California cities and towns, or at least for locations in which you operate. If we’re talking about an online shoe store, how much can it get out of local rankings? Users searching with local terms usually aim to visit you in person, so unless you can accommodate them in person it doesn’t make sense to optimize for local results.

There’s another coverage factor. If you’re after national markets, it doesn’t hurt to have listings for each city on the map. Ouch – that’s a lot of work and dough on links!

Don’t go after everything at once. Select local phrases that can be achieved within your project’s time frame.

{mospagebreak title=Making Choices}

Using the above methods you’ll find a lot of useless crap. Expect it.

As you research, there will be a lot of terms that look like top level terms, but turn out to have no real search volume. Just continue your research with keyword research tools. It’s better to eliminate the crap than to miss the gold and find it when it’s too late.

Here are some of the core terms for our online shoe store:

  • Sneakers

  • Track shoes

  • Golf shoes

  • Bowling shoes

  • Climbing shoes

  • Hiking shoes

  • Walking shoes

  • Skating shoes

  • Ski boots

  • Skateboarding shoes

  • Cycling shoes

  • Snowshoes

  • Wrestling shoes

  • Ballroom shoes

  • Work shoes

  • Platform shoes

  • Boating shoes

  • High heels

Your list may be a lot larger or way smaller, depending on the industry. Don’t worry if it gets too big; there can never be too many terms.

Once you have finished compiling top level terms, it’s time to decide which are going to be at the core of your business. There is a straightforward way to decide this. Look at the search volume for each top level term and select the one with the most searches. Keep in mind relevancy and the relationship of the term to your business. The point of top level terms is to be 100% relevant to your business goals and have the highest possible search volume.

Use Google Tool | WordTracker | Keyword Discovery to identify search volume. Cross compare to be sure.

Also consider profit factors. Running shoes may have a higher search volume, but high heel shoes may bring in more profit (that’s just a guess, as an example).

Don’t make a choice based on something that you don’t offer at the moment. You may not offer it now because there’s no demand coming your way, but once rankings are there, will you be able to supply the products/services in question? If the answer is yes, and dollar estimates look good, go for it.

Search Engine Keyword Phrases

Now that we have top level terms, we can combine them and create search terms. Search terms in this sense are combinations of the core terms. Finding search terms is very easy. Simply enter the core term into keyword research tools and they will return search terms.

For example, here’s what search terms for “golf shoes” look like:

  • ladies golf shoes

  • mens golf shoes

  • discount golf shoes

  • womens golf shoes

  • spikeless golf shoes

  • golf shoes sale

Don’t forget to research using plurals and singulars.

Copy search terms produced from the list of the top level terms. Don’t worry about the analysis of each term, just copy each one and get the task done.

Each top level term can produce anywhere from 0 to 1000+ keywords. If a top level term produces 0 results, it can be thrown out.

The size of the list depends entirely on your industry.

{mospagebreak title=Combining and Splitting Top Level Terms}


As you do search term research, some of the top level keywords may produce too few results. If two closely related top level terms produce too few search term results, it’s safe to combine them.

In the Keyword Research and Selection guide, Stoney G deGeyter combined "duffelbag" and "dufflebag" as top level terms (notice the swapping of the e and l.), since they produced few search terms.

You can do the same with two closely related top level terms that produce little value.


Sometimes there’s a need to split. If a top level term produces more than 100-200 phrases than there may be a need to split it.

As we searched for golf shoes, many results came up, such as:

  • ladies golf shoes, womens golf shoes, women’s golf shoes

  • mens golf shoes

Both of these sets bring immense search volume. Separate analysis shows that both keywords have even more related search terms, each one unique. This is a good reason to split the golf shoes into “womans golf shoes” and “mens golf shoes” top level terms and continue analyzing “golf shoes.”

There may be a need to split 10 times or more, depending on how many search terms each top level term gives. This splitting stage is important, because it makes your keyword list more refined, rather than spread out. It produces longer tail phrases which not only consume less time and money when you optimize for them, but produce better conversion rates.

Keep your eyes open during this stage.

You will also find top level terms that produce very few search terms, with relatively low search volume. It’s a good idea to combine some of those search terms onto one page as H tags. Since competition is pretty low, you may rank well for a few of them on one page. Make sure phrases are closely related and have low search volume if and when you use this tactic.

When writing text, don’t get stuck on just using “womans golf shoes.” Use “golf shoes for women,” “girls golf shoes” and so on. Be as natural as possible.

In the next article we’ll continue on the topic of keyword selection, and cover keyword sorting, keywords that convert, high volume keywords, organizing the keywords and more.

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