This is “Well-Researched Key Phrases”, section 6.3 from the book Online Marketing Essentials (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here.

For more information on the source of this book, or why it is available for free, please see the project's home page. You can browse or download additional books there. To download a .zip file containing this book to use offline, simply click here.

Has this book helped you? Consider passing it on:
Creative Commons supports free culture from music to education. Their licenses helped make this book available to you. helps people like you help teachers fund their classroom projects, from art supplies to books to calculators.

6.3 Well-Researched Key Phrases

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand how key phrases fit into search engine optimization (SEO).
  2. Understand how to research key phrases.

Key phrasesThe word or words a page or Web site is being optimized for. Also used to refer to words that are utilized by search engine users. are the very foundation of search. When a user enters a query on a search engine, she uses the words that she thinks are relevant to her search. The search engine then returns those pages it believes are most relevant to the words the searcher used.


Keyword or key phrase? Key phrases are made up of keywords, but you can get away with referring to a key phrase as keywords.

Search engines have built a sophisticated understanding of semantics and the way we use language. So, if a user searches for “car rental,” the search engine will look for pages that are relevant to “car rental” as well as possibly “car hire,” “vehicle hire,” and so forth. Search engines have also built up knowledge around common misspellings and synonyms and common related searches so as to try to return the best results for a user.

Because of this, it is crucial that Web sites contain content with keywordsA word or words used by a searcher on a search engine. In SEO, keywords are the words that a Web site is optimized to rank for, and in PPC, keywords are bid on by advertisers. that are likely to be used by their target audience. Web sites need to appear when their potential customers are searching for them.

As a Web site owner, or the marketer for a Web site, we need to build a list of some of the terms our potential customers are likely to use to find the things we are offering. A big part of keyword research is understanding search psychology. When we build our key phrase or keyword list, we are tapping into the mental process of searchers and putting together the right mix of keywords to target.

There are four things to consider when choosing a keyword:

  1. Search volume. How many searchers are using that phrase to find what they want? For example, there is an estimated monthly search volume of over two million for the keyword “hotel” but an estimated 385 searches per month for a keyword like “Cape Town waterfront hotel.”
  2. Competition. How many other Web sites out there are targeting that same phrase? For example, Google finds over 611,000,000 results for “hotel” but only 14,800 for “Cape Town Waterfront Hotel.”
  3. Propensity to convert. What is the likelihood that the searcher using that key phrase is going to convert on your site? A conversionA visitor completing a target action. is a desired action taken by the visitor to your Web site. Related to propensity to convert is the relevance of the selected term to what you are offering. If you are selling rooms at a hotel at the V&A Waterfront, which of the two terms (“hotel” and “Cape Town Waterfront hotel”) do you think will lead to more conversions?
  4. Value per conversion. What is the average value per prospect attracted by the keyword? Depending on the nature of your Web site, the average value per lead varies. Using the hotel example again, consider these two terms: “luxury Cape Town hotel” and “budget Cape Town hotel.”

    Both are terms used by someone looking to book a hotel in Cape Town, but it is likely that someone looking for a luxury hotel is intending to spend more. That means that particular lead has a higher value, particularly if you have a hotel-booking Web site that offers a range of accommodation.

Keyword Research

How do you know where to start on building your keyword list? It requires a little thought and a fair amount of research using tools that are readily available to help you both grow and refine your list of keywords.


Think about the words you would use to describe your business and about the questions or needs of your customers that it fulfils. How would someone ask for what you are offering? Consider synonyms and misspellings as well.

Bear in mind that people might not ask for your services in the same way you describe them. You might sell “herbal infusions,” whereas most people would ask for “herbal teas,” although some might request a “tisane.” If you are selling Tamagotchis, remember that the spelling can be tough to recall, and you might need to consider common misspellings like “tumagochi” or “tamagochi.”


Misspellings are important, but when you are selling something, consider what the misspelling tells you about the traffic you are getting. With everything, analyze your traffic to assess for quality.

Survey Customers and Look at Your Web Site Referral Logs

Look to see what terms customers are already using to find you, and add those to your list. If they are already sending you some traffic, it is worth seeing if you can increase that traffic.

Use Keyword Research Tools

There are several tools available for keyword discovery, and some of them are free! Some tools will scan your Web site and suggest keywords based on your current content. Most will let you enter keywords and will then return suggestions based on past research data with the following:

  • Similar keywords
  • Common keywords used with that keyword
  • Common misspellings
  • Frequency of the keywords in search queries
  • Industry-related keywords
  • Keywords that are sending traffic to your competitors
  • How many other sites are targeting your keywords

See “Tools of the Trade” in Chapter 6 "Search Engine Optimization", Section 6.6 "Emerging Trends" for some tools that you can use.

Bearing in mind the factors that make a good keyword, you need to aim for the right mix of keywords. Low-volume terms, with low levels of competition, may be a good way to get traffic in the short term, but don’t be scared off by high levels of competition in the high-value, high-volume areas. It might take longer to get there, but once there, the revenue can make it all worthwhile.

It is a good idea to create a spreadsheet of the list of keywords, where you can also store information relevant to that keyword.

Figure 6.1 How to Tabulate Your Keywords and Store Relevant Information

This will help you to choose the right keywords to target. These lists should be created for the whole Web site; they can then be broken down for each page you want to optimize.

Key Takeaways

  • Keywords are the foundation of search.
  • Search engines have built a sophisticated understanding of semantics and they way we use language.
  • Sites must use keywords that are likely to be used by their target audience.
  • There are four things to consider when choosing a keyword:

    • Search volume
    • Competition
    • Propensity to convert
    • Value per conversion
  • Keyword research is important for building a list of keywords. Brainstorming, surveying customers, and using keyword research tools are some of the best ways to get keywords.


  1. Why do you think misspellings are important to consider when building keyword lists?
  2. Using Google’s keyword research tool (, develop your own list of keywords for a particular brand.