SEO 101: Finding Your Keywords and Phrases

Identifying the best key words and phrases for your website is a huge part of search engine optimization, and another area that is grossly misunderstood. If you’ve done the homework assignment given at the end of my last post, you have a good start on identifying the most important keywords for your business. The trick now is to distill those ten to fifteen questions into the core words and phrases that relate to you, your company, product(s) and/or service(s).

For example, if you are a private investigator you probably get a lot of questions from people who want to know if their spouse is having an affair. So, if one of the questions on your list reads something like, “How can I find out if my husband/wife is cheating on me?” the key words in that sentence are “husband”, “wife”, and “cheating”.

Let’s take this one step further. You don’t just want key words. You want key phrases.

People think in phrases and sentences, and that is what they are going to enter into the search engines when they go looking for something. So if we take the example above, we can use combinations of the individual words in order to form phrases that will have more effect than the individual words themselves. For example, instead of “husband” and “cheating” as individual key words, you might want to use “cheating husband” as a key phrase. (Sorry guys… I’ll pick on the ladies next time around. Promise!)

Let’s test how effective this is. As I write this article, the single word “cheating” returned over 32 million results in Google, and those results were a pretty mixed bag covering everything from cheating in school to cheating on video games. Cheating in relationships was also represented, but those results are mixed in with everything else. That means I have to work harder to find anything meaningful to my quest to find out how brave, loyal and true my hypothetical husband really is.

If I change my query (that’s the geek word for “question”) to “cheating husband”, my total results drop from 32 million to a mere 723,000. But more importantly, the links displayed on that crucial first page have titles specifically related to my dilemma. The search engine has been able to return much more meaningful content to me because I gave it more specific information.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “OK, but what does that have to do with finding the keywords I should be using in my site?


Working with search engines is an interactive process between you and your customers or clients. It’s a two-way street, just like any other relationship, and if you want to get the most out of your interaction you have to put some effort into it.

  • Making your list of questions was Step 1.
  • Distilling those questions into the nouns and verbs relating to your business is Step 2.
  • Combining the individual words into phrases with more punch is Step 3.
  • Step 4 involves taking your initial list of words and phrases and using that list to find related words you might not have thought of the first time around.

For example, we’ve already identified “husband”, “wife”, and “cheating” as the key words for this demonstration. But what about “infidelity”? “Unfaithful”? “Adultery”? And do we really want to exclude people who are involved in relationships but aren’t married? That means we need to add “boyfriend”, “girlfriend”, and “partner” to the mix.

This process of identifying and distilling the core ideas related to your business is crucial to building a successful website. The more time you spend here, figuring out what your customers want and need, the better you will be at giving it to them.

Next time, using web analytics to find still more words and phrases you didn’t know mattered.


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