This is part 3 of a 12 part series on keyword research. This series will guide you through four distinct phase of the keyword research process, providing you step by step guidelines to help you gather, sort and organize your keywords into an effective marketing campaign.

How to Find Core Terms

In Part II of this series we defined what a core term is. Today I'll show you the research steps involved in finding good, strong core terms that will be the basis for the rest of our research, and provide us some actionable intelligence that will be used throughout the keyword research process.

It's very important that during this core term discovery phase that you don't give up too early. There is never a point where you have too many core terms or "enough" to work with. To stop researching before you have uncovered just about every possible core term can leave you handicapped in not only the rest of your research, but also in the success of your optimization efforts.

I should also point out that keyword research isn't a one-time process. No matter how hard you try to be as thorough as possible, you simply won't uncover everything right now. That's OK. As time goes on and new core terms come to mind, or search patterns change, continue to add these new core term ideas to your lists to be researched and optimized in the proper time.

Step 1: Pour through your website

Where to look for core terms

The first step in finding core terms related to what you do is to dig through your own website. Most of you reading this will be dealing with their own site while a few others will be researching keywords for friends, your company or even a client. Regardless of who's site it is, or how well you think you already know the content of the site, it's important that you take your time moving from page to page looking for anything that may useful as a core term.

Read through the text looking for unique terminology. Certain words will jump out at you that likely would not have come to mind just by brainstorming.

There are several key areas that you want to pay attention to:

  • Title tags
  • Meta keyword tags
  • Meta description tags
  • Page content
  • Navigation words
  • Product names
  • Product descriptions

All of these can provide excellent intelligence while helping you find and identify the theme or themes of each page. It may be beneficial to make a note as to which pages any particular core term or terms was found. This can be helpful later.

You'll want to go page by page, scanning each of the areas noted above. If you have an exceptionally large site then hitting every page may be unnecessary. You'll find most of what you need simply by looking at category and informational pages, but don't leave out product pages if you can or if you continue to find valuable core terms.

Step 2: Brainstorm

Brainstorming questions

Once you've dug through your site it's time to do a little brainstorming of your own. The reason why the brainstorming comes second in the process because 1) we don't want to exhaust our time brainstorming what we'll already find in the site, and 2) because we want to be able to answer some very specific questions that the site has not been able to answer for us. Familiarity of the site is crucial for the brainstorming process.

There are a number of questions that can be used to get the brainstorming gears in motion. This list doesn't cover every website in every industry so be sure to develop a list of your own questions as well. But here are a few to get you started.

  • What is the average customer looking for?
    Are your customers looking for something specific or requesting it in a specific way? For example, are they looking for walking shoes, running shoes, or tennis shoes? Now it's likely most users would know the difference in this example, but you'll need to try to get into the mind of the customer. Looking through email communications and tracking key words used in phone calls can be a great help.
  • What are my visitors trying to accomplish?
    What is the goal your customers are trying to achieve. Is it to purchase shoes that don't hurt their feed, endure through rugged use, or that give them a sense of style? Are they looking to compare products or just purchase their favorite brand. Understanding the goals can help you find additional terms that could be relevant to your customers.
  • What can I find in Thesauri, taxonomies and ontologies?
    Go outside your site and start looking at additional resources. This can help you find words that have similar meanings and relevant to how your customers might search for what you offer.
  • What terms are used in industry glossaries and reference materials?
    Look at other industry related materials to see how the same ideas are expressed. Industry glossaries and outside reference materials can provide a goldmine of information.
  • What questions are my visitors asking?
    This takes us back to analyzing emails and phone calls right along with any other communications that come through the website. The words customers use can be key to identifying how they describe or think about your product or service. This is the clearest indication of how they might actually be searching.
  • What related categories can I find in search directories?
    Looking at web directories such as the Yahoo! Directory and DMOZ can provide additional insights. The directory categories and sub-categories can often bring up new words that you hadn't already thought of.
  • Are there any geographical phrases that are relevant?
    If your business is local, or serves a very local audience, you need to take geographical references into consideration. These references can be zip codes, city names, county and state names, even city and county districts. Make a list of all the different geographical references that may come into play.
  • What terminology describes problems I solve?
    Every product solves some kind of problem. The words you use in explaining how you solve any such problems can be crucial in identifying core terms that speak to a very specific, yet highly converting audience.
  • What solutions do I provide?
    The terminology used in the solution is often different than the terminology that describes the problem. If the problem is "uncomfortable shoes", the solution may be "extra arch support". Look for the terms that describe the specific solutions you provide.

Step 3: Comb through competitor's websites

Areas of the competitor's websites

After you have looked extensively through your own site and began brainstorming through a series of questions, you're ready to start digging through your competitor's sites as well. Having answered a number of your own brainstorming questions you can use this opportunity to see how well your competitors answer those very same questions. The answers may be worded differently using core terms that so far you have not uncovered.

Keep in mind that many of the core terms you find will be specific only to the particular sites you are reviewing, assuming some offer slightly different products or services than you. Keep a record of these unique terms. Perhaps you can provide answers to some of the questions that would be asked of your competitor using such relevant core terms.

No Trademarked TermsIt might be tempting to try to capture traffic from searchers looking for a competitor's product which you don't offer. For legal reasons, going after trademarked competitor terms needs to be done with great care. While researching, it will be a good idea to document these questionable terms separate from the terms that are relevant to your site, and only pursue them if and when you've talked with a lawyer.

Tomorrow we'll look at three more important steps in researching and finding core terms that will be essential to your online marketing efforts. Each step provides you with more information and ensures you are properly armed with all the knowledge needed before moving on to the next phase.

Missed one of the steps in this series? Click here to go back to the introduction and follow the links at the bottom.

October 13, 2008

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


So far i use google keyword tools for keyword searching. Can you tell me what is the best keyword research tool for free besides this?


I think that those questions that you pointed out in the Brainstorm section are very useful and it's a great starting point in understanding of how to research not only for your keywords but how to offer what your customers expect.

Thank you

@ organic - You'll simply have to look around and try different tools. Everybody has their own preference and you simply have to find the tools that you're most comfortable with. I do tend to like and

@ Toma - Thanks, I'm glad to hear those are useful!

Very good points. thanks for sharing.

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Comprehensive Guide to Keyword Research, Selection & Organization, Part III