Decide "Core" Keywords

Generate Variations

Setup Rank Tracking

Integrate With Content

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What are your "core" keywords?

First, identify no more than 20 relevant, short phrases. Then, we'll weigh the risk/reward of pursuing unpaid search engine rankings for each.

The goal is to fully represent the most valuable "short tail" search phrases (those 2-3 words, max). These keywords are typically directly tied to a brand's products/services. You'll need to make a copy of this template before you begin.

Once you've made a copy of the template, we're going to want to add our phrases to the Core tab under Core Keywords. Use the steps below to help you identify them.

Is the template configured? Is the template configured?

On the "Configure" tab, enter in the two-letter country code for the primary country that we're targeting, and if necessary, an SEMrush API key. If SEMrush is not available, you'll need to add in keyword metrics in the "Core" tab manually later.

How are offerings currently described? How are offerings currently described?

Let's not undervalue how the business has evolved while describing its own offerings. We're seeking two-word descriptions. Three words max. Check the existing website and promotions and record each major variation.

Does the brand use Google Ads Search Network? Does the brand use Google Ads Search Network?

If so, take a hard look at existing keywords bids to determine what performs best. Conversion rates matter most, followed by click-through rates. It's also a good idea to look at the View Search Terms report to see keywords that have done well from broad match queries.

Are there other search ads? Are there other search ads?

Like Microsoft AdCenter or search retargeting. Similar as above, look at what's working and what isn't. Use this data to influence an organic strategy.

What does a keyword demand tool drum up? What does a keyword demand tool drum up?

There are options here. They're not all made equal, and they mostly present different data. So, you might want to try more than one.

  • The Google Ads (formerly AdWords) Keyword Planner has always been the gold standard, but they now require you to create and fund an Ads account. Their "broad match" data is the best at nailing down variations.
  • Moz Keyword Explorer is second best. Out of all the tools in Moz's suite, almost all have better alternatives available. This is not one of them. This tool is absolutely wonderful at suggesting related keywords with search demand.
  • Honorable mention to the SEMrush and Ahrefs keyword suggestion tools for this task.

What variations exist?

After establishing core keywords, let's build a matrix on possible all major variations for reference.

This portion of the study results in millions of keywords. Unlike "core" keywords from the previous step, we won't directly target most of them, but they do serve a purpose, which we'll get to soon.

What adjectives work? What adjectives work?

Drop in ideal adjectives associated with the product/service in the prefixes column. Examples:


This will vary by product/service. It's also very sensitive to brand messaging (ie. "cheap"/"free" won't fit many, even though these almost always draw traffic). Thumb through reviews for more ideas of what language is being used naturally to describe the brand/offerings.

Is there a local element to the product/service? Is there a local element to the product/service?

If so, drop any major variants of that location in the prefixes column. Consider country, state, county, city, district, neighborhood, etc.

What suffixes fit the brand/offering? What suffixes fit the brand/offering?

Is it a firm, service, offering, deal, etc.? Punch core/secondary keywords into UberSuggest to get the most common permutations for the industry. Put the results in the Descriptor column.

There are 5 more steps in this audit.


... to continue.

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