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September 1, 2013

SEO web design starts with keyword research

keyword map

Keyword research and analysis is a major piece to optimizing your site for search engines.

Does this sound familiar? If it doesn’t that’s okay. In this article I’ll explain what this means and give you step by step details on how you can create a list of keywords on your own if your budget is tight. I also hope you gain enough knowledge about the process and why it’s important, so if you need to, you can find a company or individual that specializes Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to help with SEO web design.

The ideas in this article are by no means written in stone. There are many ways to go about keyword research. Ultimately, you’ll find a way that works for you. This is more of a suggestion than a rule. However, the principles will remain similar.

Keyword research is for some, tedious and not exciting work to begin with. Why should you make this one of the first steps in your website development strategy?

For one, the results you come out with will help give direction to your architecture, design and copywriting for your website content. Wondering how? You’ll see why once we walk through an example.

Another reason to make this part of your initial web design strategy is because this will help you create a strong foundation for your website, enabling your site to be found by your targeted users. This will in turn help your business succeed.

One more reason: the legwork you do now will help you if you decide to run a Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaign such as Google Adwords to drive traffic to your site.

Let’s get into it!

Let’s start by defining what keyword research is. Keyword research is the practice of refining words and phrases your target audience is using to find your business’s service or product online into an organized list. This list could be categorized by priority to your business, a targeted group, type of keyword(s), the average number of monthly searches for a keyword(s), how competitive the market is for that keyword(s), or the average cost-per-click (CPC). More on that later.

To begin, brainstorm a list of words in your preferred way. Do words flow freely when you write them down on paper? Do you think best using a spreadsheet to jot down words?

Choose how you work best to generate a list of keywords that come to your mind when you put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Think like they think. What would they type into a search box to find your business?

If you sell cars, you might think “car” is a great keyword. It is, but not by itself. The #1 job of search engines like Google is to return relevant material to every search query.

The search term “car” is vague. Does the user mean toy cars? Or the history of the car?

Remembering that search engines want to deliver the most relevant results, your car selling website would rank higher having keywords like “Best fuel efficient car” or “blue 2013 Toyota Camry” or other words and phrases that you think your customers will search for. These are sometimes called “Long-tail keywords”. Long-tail keywords are more descriptive keywords that are extremely relevant to your business objectives and are easier to rank higher for since the competition for these keywords is lower. More on how to know the competition for certain keywords a bit later.

For now, go online and search for your competitors, writing down the keywords that work the best. For example, an accountant might search for “San Francisco startup accountant” if they’re opening a practice in San Francisco targeting startups.

Notice the first few results in Google below the paid ads (in the orange box). Are they competitors? If so, that’s a good keyword phrase to jot down.

Another way to kick-start your research is to find a competitor in your industry that is ranking high in Google. Look over their website. Do you see keywords being repeated? Jot these down.

Tip: A concentrated keyword list can be found in any web site's meta description and keyword tag. To view these on any site, in your browser find the “View > Source Code” menu command and click on it. A new window will open up (don’t be alarmed at the HTML code, this is correct). Near the top of the page you’ll find tags that look like this:

<meta name="description" content="We research, design, build and market smart web applications to help grow businesses and brands. We are Little Red Truck Idea Co.">

 <meta name="keywords" content="develop cloud based applications, design mobile website application, logo development, increase brand awareness, social media strategies, affordable seo web design ">

The “description” and “keywords” meta name tags on high ranking sites are great sources to find SEO keywords.

So you’ve brainstormed your list, what’s next?

How do you know your list of keywords will help optimize your site for search engines? Are there more keywords that would be better?

There are many keyword tools, I prefer Google Adwords since it’s free. If you don’t have a Google Adwords account you can create one.

Once you’ve logged in, click on the “Tools and Analysis” menu and click on “Keyword Planner”.

Take some time to get familiar with this tool and it’s features. Trial and error are perfect for this tool. Dive in and get your feet wet. You can enter your product or service and have the tool pull data from Google to generate keyword ideas for you. You could enter words from your list and see how they stack up. Remember that SEO is an ongoing and organic process. It’s not a do it once and you’re done task. You’ll begin and then use tools to track how well certain words are working. You can change keywords over time as your business grows.

Tip: By entering a URL in the Planner, it will crawl that page and return what it thinks the keywords are for you, automatically.

After combining brainstorming and using a keyword tool like Google Adwords, you’ve got a pretty solid list of keywords to base your SEO strategy on.

To finalize your efforts and move onto the next step (keyword distribution mapping, stay tuned!) you might want to ask yourself these questions, to make sure the keywords you choose will serve your business well.

1. Is this keyword or phrase relevant to my business? Does it accurately demonstrate my product or service?

2. Is the keyword or phrase typed into search engines regularly? You want high volume, in other words if your keyword(s) aren’t searched for often you won’t be found. Google’s Keyword Planner has a column of data labeled “Global Monthly Searches” that you can use to see how high or low the volume of searches for your keywords are.

3. Competition. You want low competition. Keyword competition is the number of pages using a certain keyword or phrase. You can see how competitive your keywords are in the Keyword Planner. There’s a column labeled “Competition”. A score of “Low” is ideal.

Did you find this article helpful? Do you have any advice to add? Please leave a comment. If you have any questions feel free to contact me by visiting


  1. Hi ,

    google adwords tool has one disadvantage.
    Competition is shown related to paid Ads and not
    based on search per month / week etc.
    Kind regards,

  2. Hi Alex, thank you for the comment! You're absolutely correct - I've been meaning to update this post with the strategy of using a keyword tool like SEO Majestic's or Wordtracker. And while I know the search results metrics themselves aren't reliable, the numbers can give one an idea of volume and competition when comparing numbers from the same keyword tool. Thanks again!