Keyword Research (Part 2) Your Core Keywords

Once you’ve come to the conclusion that all keywords are not created equal you’ll be ready to move into a deeper understanding of keyword research.

To learn which keywords you should target and which one’s should be left by the wayside, you should take some time and start by trying to determine your “core” keywords.

To discover your core keywords you need to determine the core purpose of your website.

Your core description and purpose

To get started with the first phase of keyword research you simply need to write down a concrete description of your website; a short summary that describes the main purpose of your site in a concise paragraph.

At this point you should keep it brief, yet broad; ideally you’ll summarize your site in as few words as possible.

Note: If you have an existing mission statement you might consider reviewing this first and saving yourself some time. A mission statement is usually a fairly short summary of your site or business’s purpose so it would be a logical place to start.

Lets take the example of a site that sells art supplies.

At first glance you might think this is your core term: art supplies; but are these two words the best description of what you sell?

Ask yourself, “What types of art supplies do I sell”? Do you focus on artist paints and canvases or do you stock more “crafty” supplies like beads, fancy papers, or wood items?

Maybe your core audience is painters; you obviously would NOT want to target the words “art supplies” because it’s a very broad term.

It will be very difficult to rank for a broad term like this. For your site you might consider “core” keywords along the lines of “artist paints” or “art paints”.

You might even consider a combination like “art paints and canvas” or target specific types of artist paints like oil paints or acrylic.

You might even consider trying to rank for the companies that manufacture the paints; suggested terms could include “Affordable Windsor Newton paints” or “Windsor Newton art paints”.

The point here is to notice that the words “artist paints” and “art paints” are much more specific than the words “art supplies”.

These words are much more relevant to your “core” business if you just sell paints and canvases. This is a much better starting point for your keyword research.

If you start too broad it will be much harder to rank your site for anything worthwhile. Plus if you do happen to get ranked for a broad term like “art supplies” you’ll almost certainly get a large amount of traffic that you don’t want or need.

Essentially all you’re doing is spending a lot of extra time optimizing your site for a bunch of traffic that you could get easier if you took the time to optimize for your core terms.

Sidenote – Dealing with broad categories:

If you sell many categories of art supplies you might opt to attack the entire art supplies category. (Good luck my friend) Actually, I don’t believe that ANY keyword is impossible to rank for. What I do believe is that you’ll have much more success if you can be specific and targeted.

So if you’re goal is to rank well for a very broad category you’ll drive much more traffic overall if you break your core keywords into multiple lists: one for painters, one for wood workers, one for jewelry makers, etc. Going this route will allow you to optimize for each category specifically instead of shooting for a large, broad category like “art supplies”.

I would much rather have half the traffic from 10 targeted and specific keyphrases than twice the traffic from one broad phrase.

So, after you digest all this you’ll probably come to agree with me that a site that sells mostly art paints and canvases will have a description and purpose that’s something like “we sell top quality, yet affordable paints and canvases for artists”.

From this sentence you can pull thousands of keyword and key phrase combinations that are highly targeted to your specific business without being too broad and general.

The process of choosing your core keywords

Now that we understand what your core terms are and where to start, let’s go through a quick checklist about how to choose your core keywords and phrases.

Open up a copy of Excel, log onto Google Docs or just grab an old fashioned piece of paper to record your initial words. Remember, keep it simple and broad at this point and don’t get lost in specific phrases and combinations.

For example, we want to discover the broad words like paint, painter, painting, canvas, canvases, artist, artists, arts and not phrases like “affordable art paints” and “high quality cotton painting canvases” at this point. This deeper research will come in the next phase.

1) First, write down the purpose of the website along with a detailed description. I just explained this in exhaustive detail so hopefully it’s clear.

2) Next, decide on one word or key phrase that’s THE core term that sums up your site.

In our art supply business example you would probably choose something like “artist paints and canvases” because you don’t sell all types of art supplies and you don’t sell house paints or deck stains. The point is to be as specific as possible.

3) Your first major step in the actual research phase is to go through your existing site and pull out core words. If you have an existing site there’s a good chance that it’s already full of your core keywords.

Since you know your own business very well there’s a good chance that you unknowingly included everything that’s relevant already.

4) If you’re just starting your site and you haven’t written any text or developed an e-commerce store, you can find a lot of your necessary core keywords by researching your top competition.

Perform a search for your core keywords and deeply review the sites that come up first. These sites are your mortal enemies; they can be a great resource though.

Examine all the combinations of words and phrases that they’ve used.

View the HTML source code on the page and see if they’ve included the keyword and description meta tag.

Your competition can be a tremendous resource if you take the time to look. Use their site against them and try to determine their strategy.

5) Ask yourself some questions about your business. What words would you type into a search engine if you’re looking for what you do or sell.

Ask your friends and family how they would find you. Depending on your industry or niche, there might be multiple words that say the same thing.

The same thing holds true for your area of the country or world. Ask yourself what visitors are trying to accomplish. In our example above you might consider if you’ll be better suited to target people searching for “affordable acrylic artist paints” instead of “museum quality oil painting supplies”.

Think about how your website solves problems and what questions people might have. Review industry reference materials and support sites, consult your thesaurus, taxonomies and ontologies.

6) At this point you can start utilizing your keyword software tools and various services. Your own mind can only take you so far and this is a great time to bring in reinforcements in the form of software tools like the Google keyword tool and other sites like

We’ve discussed the basic free SEO research tools previously.

7) If you have an existing site, look at your site stats, server logs and – if you’ve planned in advance – review your stats from Google analytics and your Google webmaster account.

Once you’re done and have exhausted all of your resources for uncovering your “core” keywords, combine them all into a spreadsheet and prepare for the next step in the process.

Our next step will involve sorting and deeper research into your target words and phrases so that we may ultimately get inside the mind of your potential customers.

Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3a | Read Part 3b | Keyword Research Checklist

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