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SEO Website Audit

Back to SEO Basics: Choosing Keyword Phrases

June 29, 2011

With all the talk in the SEO world focused on "content marketing" lately, many website and business owners are focusing their SEO attention on their blogs and the long-tail traffic they can receive from people looking for general information. While that's great on many levels, often I see that their main service and product category pages have been neglected in the Keyword Research CloudSEO department. This is not only a shame, but a waste because these pages should be the cornerstone of your SEO campaign. When you optimize the top-level pages of your site, you can target competitive keyword phrases that will bring search engine visitors who are looking specifically to buy the products or services that you offer.

In my previous "Back to Basics" article, I explained how to research keyword phrases  for which you would ultimately optimize your website. Be sure to read that one first, and do the necessary keyword research before you try to choose which phrases go on which pages.

Keep this at the forefront of your mind: As you try to choose the best keyword phrases for each page, you will have to work them into the content of that page. They absolutely must be highly relevant so that you don't drive your copywriter crazy when s/he sits down to do the writing.

Without further ado, here are my 14 steps to choosing keyword phrases:

1. Create a new worksheet in Excel.

2. Using your existing website's navigational structure (or the wireframes if you're working on a new site), create a column heading for your home page and each top-level category page featured in your main navigation.

3. With your previously compiled keyword phrase list in hand, find 3 to 5 of the most competitive phrases that are highly relevant to your business and website as a whole, and paste them under the home page heading of your spreadsheet.

4. If you have existing content, do an internal website search to learn where you might already be using some of your important researched keyword phrases, and paste them into your spreadsheet under the proper page heading. In order to find the exact phrase within your site, be sure to use quotes when doing your site search. You can use Google for this by typing:

"your keyword phrase"

into the search box.

6. Review your web analytics to learn which landing pages are currently receiving keyword traffic, and paste those phrases into your spreadsheet appropriately. (This is so you don't lose any existing search engine traffic.)

7. Using your original keyword research, match your main keyword categories with their appropriate main category landing pages, and paste the most relevant and sought-after phrases under their spreadsheet heading.

8. Review any leftover competitive phrases that don't seem to fit well into your top-level category pages, and determine if they would make sense on deeper product or service pages. If so, add those pages and phrases to your spreadsheet.

9. Review the rest of the keyword phrases for which you have not yet found a related page, and determine if they are truly relevant to what you offer. If they're too peripheral, remove them from your keyword lists.

10. Now try additional site searches for your phrases, but this time, do it without quotes. This will show you the pages of your site that are using some of the words that exist as part of your keyword phrases. Review the content on those pages to determine if your phrases would make sense within that content, and add them to your spreadsheet as necessary.

For phrases that don't seem to fit into the existing website, try the following additional steps:

11. Carefully read through each page and decide upon its ultimate theme.

12. Review your remaining keyword phrases, look for those that might be synonymous with the basic theme of each page, and paste them accordingly into your spreadsheet.

13. Once again, if you still have phrases that don't seem to have a good home within your website, determine if they really are relevant to what you offer, and remove those that seem to be stretching it.

14. Finally, if you *still* have phrases with no corresponding pages, find out why. It's likely that your website is missing important information, in which case, simply add new pages that cover the missing areas, and add them and their corresponding keyword phrases to your spreadsheet.

At this point, any keywords that are left are most likely the less competitive phrases, the long-tail type of keyword phrases. This isn't a problem, and in fact can help provide you with ideas for content that can use them in a natural way at some point in the future. Keep them handy and use them as a source for new content ideas on your blog or within videos.

What you should have ended up with is a page-to-phrase map that you can provide to your professional copywriter. This keyword map will provide the theme of each page of your site, as well as which keyword phrases to keep in mind while they're writing. If the writer has trouble using some of them, you may need to revise or rearrange them onto different pages.

Don't be afraid to make changes down the line as necessary. Think of this document as somewhat flexible. It's a lot easier to choose the phrases when you're not doing the copywriting, but that means you'll sometimes get it wrong. If you want the best content for your site visitors and the search engines, listen carefully to your copywriter's feedback and be sure to adapt accordingly.

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Services company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalenJill Whalen

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 Ken Jansen said:
Great stuff Jill. As always. For SEO lovers, beginners and oldsters alike I think your SEO course on is fantastic and well many times the member ship fee.

I like a thesaurus, google wheel, wordtracker, brainstorming and looking at the competition too.

Thank you Jill.
 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks, Ken! A lot of the above info is from the Lynda course in fact!
 Chris said:
These are some really useful tips Jill! I might just have to print this out... =]
 Michael said:
Firstly thank you for some great article advice. While I agree with everything you say in the article there are some factors outside our control as webmasters.

I refer to Google uses this directory in its search but most important of all it can use the DMOZ description which is written by the DMOZ editor and may or may not be of benefit to you.

If you contact DMOZ to update your listing there, one of their guidelines states that you must not use any promotional language in your description. I wonder would using your key phrases be considered as promotional language?

So you see the dilemma you choose your keyword
phrases carefully and Google ignores them and uses whatever they find in DMOZ.

Of course Google does not use DMOZ for everybody, sometimes whilst your competitors are also listed in DMOZ their DMOZ descriptions may or may not be used.

In a nutshell Google can take text from your page, use your description tag or take the description to describe you in their listings.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Michael I'm not sure what dmoz has to do with this article on choosing keywords, sorry.
 Michael said:
Sorry but I was not so sure about whether this was the correct place either when I wrote it.

If I can reply however, I was accepting of all your advice but despite this some material outside the webmasters control it used to describe their websites.

That was the main point I was making. Thought it might be valid comment particularly in a keywords article.
 Jill Whalen said:
Off topic, but you need need to add the noodp meta tag. That will solve your problem. There's more info on the forum and other artcles.
 Anonymous said:
Thanks Jill I thought about the noodp tag but not sure if it will hinder DMOZ link but will use it on all pages.
 Ivan Temelkov said:
I love the detail in your article. It very much goes along the strategies I use when performing keyword research. Glad to see that there are SEO marketers out there still willing to educate and go the extra mile for new beginners with Search Engine Optimization.
 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks, Ivan!
 Aimee Beck said:
Hi Jill -- great ideas on KWR! Learning how to perform in-depth keyword research and analysis can most definitely be overhwleming to newbies. Heck, even as seasoned SEOs it can sometimes get complicated!

I'm always interested in learning how others organize their keyword lists. It's all too easy to get caught up in our own way of doing things that we forget to look up every now and again to see what new tips and tricks we might be missing out on. Thanks for sharing!

 Sam Beamond said:
Thanks for sharing the Jill. It's comforting to know that I have a lot of these points covered BUT as always I did learn a thing or two!
 Fitness Body 4 Life said:
Thank you for this post ... i just got done watching the video that you did on seo and it seems to be the same which means it is more-than-likely something everyone needs to take into consideration when trying to rank their website in search engines!