Keyword Research (Part 3) Sorting Key Phrases

Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future.
– Susan Sontag

Keyword relevancy–or weighted popularity–as some call it, is the practice of deciding “yes” or “no” regarding the question of “if” a key phrase is truly a real world search by someone who’s looking for you or your services.

This is the first step in the key phrase sorting process. Essentially we need to determine if our key phrase is truly relevant based on nothing more than our ability to examine and deconstruct the term.

We do this by going through our list and examining each of the key phrases; during this process we need to ask ourselves one simple question “Was the person who typed these words looking for me?”

The process of sorting keywords and assigning relevance is not an exact science.

There is no way for you to officially know “what” a person was searching for. It would be great if Google could record a person’s thoughts and motives as they type in their search quary–but alas–it’s currently not possible. (Thank God)

What you need to do at this point is to be brutally honest with yourself and assign a percentage grade to each term that represents potential relevancy.

For example, one term might be rated at 100% if you’re completely convinced that this person is searching for what you do or sell. Another term might be rated as 50% because the decision could go either way.

To illustrate this point let’s consider a key phrase list from a car dealership. The dealer might have a phrase on their list that says “Buy 2008 Ford Mustang Convertible”.

Well, I’m not sure that anything could be more specific. This term would obviously get a 90-100% relevancy rating.

They might have another term that says “Current pricing Mustang Convertible”. This term could be someone looking to buy a car or they might be researching the current street value of the classic 69′ mustang sitting in their garage.

This person might have no intention to buy or sell.

At the same time, this term could actually be someone that’s looking to buy a brand new mustang but we have no way of knowing. So the relevancy of this term would probably rank somewhere around 50-60% overall since their intent is unknowable.

Using our art supply business as an example, you might have the words “canvas”, “painter’s canvas”, “paint canvas” and “artist canvas” on your list.

The first three words on the list would not rank with a relevant percentage of 100% because the person searching for the item might be looking to buy a canvas to cover their furniture while they’re painting their ceiling.

The last term “artist canvas” is more specific and probably one that we can confidently rate at 100% if you sell canvases for artists to paint on.

Hopefully this illustration is clear and we can now move on to assigning a relevancy rating to our key phrases.

This will be a fairly time consuming process if you have hundreds or even thousands of key phrases. The work will be worth it though because you’ll end up with a tightly refined list of key phrases that you can sort by relevancy. This is the first step toward building a perfectly targeted SEO campaign.

Quickstart Tip: It might be prudent to remind you that the best terms are not always the one’s with the largest search volume.

One word phrases tend to garner the largest volume of searches but (as we’ve shown in the past) broad phrases are not targeted phrases and they’re usually hard to rank for.

Studies have shown that multiple word key phrases are searched more overall and the more “targeted” the key phrase, the more chance the inquiry is from someone that’s interested in buying.

Targeted key phrases with at least 3 or more terms produce highly qualified traffic; this is the traffic that we want and these are the key phrases you should target. A term like “art” is a general term and should receive a relevancy rank of somewhere around 20%. A key phrase like “buy art supplies” should receive a 100% relevancy score.

Search volume:

The second step in the sorting process should involve reviewing your words by search volume. My mother always told me to keep the volume down on my stereo. My wife is still telling me the same thing since we have a new baby in the house.

This isn’t the type of “volume” that we need to address though. We want the volume to be as high as possible on our website.

Search volume refers to the total quantity of search queries that are performed for a keyword. Other than finding relevant terms and phrases, this is the primary purpose of services like and

You want to determine if a key phrase is worthy of your time; the easiest way to do that is to sort your key phrases by how many people are actually searching for them.


Analyzing the total competition for a key phrase should be your next step.

A key phrase with a lot of competition (other sites that target the same key phrase) can be harder to rank for. Your goal is to determine which words are your best key phrases and then sort them by which phrases have the least amount of competition.

Targeting these words first will jump start your campaign and help you reach the top of the search results faster.

It’s somewhat outside of the scope of this article right now but we’ll address how to measure your competition in another post here soon.

In general you should consider the following: How many sites/pages are competing?

How well linked are the top ranked sites?

How much are people paying for PPC traffic?

Quickstart Tip: Have you ever noticed that Google returns a number at the top of the search results regarding the total available results returned?

Something like “Results 1-10 of about 10,000,000″ is a pretty standard result.

In general, this is a very bad way to measure results.

Even the most obscure searches return thousands – most of the time – tens of thousands of results. What this means is that the words have been used in some way on the page. It definitely doesn’t mean that it’s relevant or that these pages will be hard to beat in the rankings.

Focus on what will convert

The next step in the process is to evaluate your keywords based on what you think will “convert” the easiest. In sales, the words “convert” and “conversion” refer to how we turn searches into customers or clients.

We want profitable key phrases, not just high traffic (high volume) phrases.

The practice of “converting” a search involves many things but the first step is to analyze the key phrase and ask yourself “Does this mean that the person searching wants to buy?”

Go through your list and review all your key phrases and ask yourself the previous question for each key phrase.

Next to the key phrase in Excel you should create a column where you can enter a number from 1-10 that represents the likelihood that this is a keyword that will convert; the number 1 being most likely and the number 10 being highly unlikely. Through this practice you’ll have another means to sort your list further.

Remove the excess fat

After you’ve fully evaluated your list you should consider further removing some key phrases–or at least–consider shelving them until you’ve successfully ranked well for your best key phrases.

I refer to this practice as “cutting the fat” and you should be brutal and honest with yourself as usual.

Evaluate your key phrases and look for information seekers.

These are people that are looking for information on something and not looking to buy. If you go back to our art supply company example, someone might search for “properly mixing paints” or some version of a “how to” question.

This would be someone looking to learn “how” to paint, not to “buy” painting supplies.

I recently worked with a client regarding SEO for their custom woodworking business.

They provide high quality wood and lumber for all the beautiful wood finishing in your home. We were looking at various key phrases and our big dilemma was to decide whether a search was performed by someone’s wife looking for ideas to give their existing contractor or if it was a contractor looking to spend $10,000 on the spot.

In general it was hard to narrow it down; in the end you may have no idea. The point here is to do your best to weed out obvious “shoppers” and “searchers” in favor of “buyers” if possible.

Quickstart Tip: Not sure if a key phrase is a good one? A good way to determine if a key phrase is worthwile is to invest some money into PPC (pay-per-click) advertising. It’s an easy way to track your search volume and conversions before investing heavily in SEO.

It’s not necessary to do this for all key phrases but with just a little bit of money you can garner a boat load of valuable information. Google provides you with “impression” data which essentially shows how many times your key phrase showed up in a search.

If nobody clicks on your ad you still get an “impression” that you don’t have to pay for. This is just another affordable resource for measuring the quality of your search terms.

Misspellings. This is a tough one. It’s obvious that people misspell words all the time. (I’m probably a good example) So why not target these people if there is a significant amount of search volume for a misspelled word?

The problem here is that you don’t want misspelled words mixed into your actual site content. It looks unprofessional and it will degrade the overall appeal and quality of your site. Make no mistake, people will make their decision based on this so it’s a good practice not to use misspellings in your actual content.

Google is getting better and better at this as well and they may rank you lower if your site is full of misspelled words. It show that you’re serving up low quality content; something that Google doesn’t want in their results.

You want to convey a sense of quality and present your self as a reputable business owner.

If it appears that you can’t spell it might mean that you can provide a quality service or product as well.

Lastly, consider if your key phrase is seasonal. The last thing you want to do is start an SEO campaign for a term that’s related to the summer season at the end of summer. Put these key phrases aside for later and focus on your most immediate targets so you can quickly jump start your campaign out of the gate.

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

Leave a Comment: