This is part 6 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.

Phase II: Discovering Search Phrases

What is a search phrase?

Before we go any further, let's discuss the difference between a core term and a search phrase. For the purpose of this document a core term and search phrase are similar in that both will be searched and both can provide potential traffic to your site. Core terms, represent a broader topic while the search phrases are simply core terms with added qualifiers, therefore representing a narrower focus. Both core terms and search phrases will be optimized into your website to drive traffic and hopefully, be instrumental in generating strong conversion rates.

In the research process each core term will be used to uncover dozens, if not hundreds of search phrases which collectively will bring in the bulk of your targeted traffic.

There are four main types of search phrases, and you'll see, each of these is related, in some way, to the core term itself. We'll use the illustration below as an example, with "school supply" as our core term.

Example of search phrases

Stemmed variation: Take any core term and vary it a bit by adding a different stemmed ending, such as 's,' 'ed,' 'ing,' 'tion,' 'ies,' etc. In the example above we come out with "school supplies." Each core term will give you different options, allowing you to create new phrases from multiple stems being added to either or both words.

Attached modifiers: You can also modify your core term by adding one ore more qualifiers. This gives you potential for hundreds of new search phrases all comprising of the core term itself. With the "school supplies" example we can attach "discount," "home," "budget," "elementary," "first grade," etc. to create a pretty long list of phrases.

Stems with modifiers: Of course, any combination of the two above work just as well. Alter your core term with stems and then add your qualifiers and you can create several more dozen search phrases such as "home school supplies," "discount school supplies," "elementary school supplies", etc.

Any phrase containing core words: You can also build search phrases by creating a string of words that uses all individual core words but not necessarily keeping the core words (or their stems) together. For example "school store supplies," and "school store supply" are both fitting. Notice that the word "store" is inserted between the two words that make up the core term. In addition, you can also add localization qualifiers provided that is relevant to you.

Be careful that you don't just throw words together. When you add qualifiers or rearrange word order you can often change the meaning of the phrase. It's not the words that make a search phrase, it's the meaning of the words, and if the meaning changes then it won't be much use to you at all.

How to find search phrases

Searching out your core terms for related search phrases is a relatively simple process, especially with all the keyword tools available to you. Let's look at some quick steps to getting all your search phrases downloaded into your spreadsheet.

clock with research stepsThe time factor

Preparing yourself time-wise is important. While finding search phrases is easy, it can also be very time consuming. When things are easy, we tend to want to rush them and that's a mistake. By rushing you'll end up missing or removing some very important terms, or missing some other crucial steps in the process.

The research factor

Finding your search phrases is what WordTracker and Keyword Discovery help you do best, but don't simply rely on those tools. Other sources will produce data that you can't get anywhere else and it's important for these terms to be included as well.

Keyword results funnel

Simply search for any core term in one or more of the available tools and you'll be given a list of search phrases that contain the core term entered. The results will include multiple qualifiers, stems and modifiers. Be sure to search using both plurals and singulars ("sports bag" and "sports bags") to ensure you get the most complete results.

The deletion factor

Eliminate junk wordsWhen you choose to go through and remove unnecessary phrases is really a matter of what is most convenient for you. You can start this elimination process as soon as you research each core term, or you can research out a number of core terms first, then go back and work through the elimination process. Decide what you're comfortable with, but be prepared to analyze keywords for long periods of time, depending on the amount of the results you have to sort through.

Some keyword research tools will let you put in some elimination words, so you should at least perform this part of the elimination process at the time of the research. Removing junk phrases in bulk let's you burn through a lot of eliminations without having to look at each individual keyword.

Phrases with bogus words: Words such as "free," "cheap" (as opposed to "discount") and "uk" (if you are solely US focused) are great easy terms to eliminate. These are just a few but as you scan through your list of phrases you'll probably discover a lot more specific for each query. Each word that you determine is a bad phrase should be documented. This will allow you to have an instant list of eliminations for as you sort through other core terms. (This negative list can work for sitting up your PPC campaigns as well.)

Don't worry about eliminating every junk word. You're going for bulk here, so just focus on the what is most obvious, and leave behind anything that may be questionable.

Change meaning of intent: You also want to see if there is any particular word ordering that changes the intent of the search. For example "defensive measure capabilities" has a different meaning than "measure defensive capabilities". Both come from the same core term, "defense measure", but the change in word order makes for an entirely different meaning. Look for anything obvious and get rid of it.

Unrelated terms: In your search you'll find a fair number of qualifiers that are completely unrelated. Maybe it's brand names that you don't offer, or specific features that are being search that you don't provide. Look for these terms and remove the unfitting qualifiers. But don't be too hasty to remove the entire phrases. Many times by simply removing the non-relevant qualifier you can leave yourself a phrase that is relevant but otherwise didn't appear in the results.

There will be more elimination in Phase III so don't worry too much about getting it perfect here. The idea, however is to eliminate the obvious. Go through your list a couple of times to ensure you pull out anything that you know just won't work. If you're unsure about any particular phrase keep it. You can always eliminate it later. Bringing it back is a bit more difficult.

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

October 16, 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.


Yes, Your idea is good, but I often find myself in the trouble of limited recommended keyword count. There are different experts suggesting as optimum number 10-20 keywords and all different phrases doesn't fit in..


@ Jack - I think I addressed that issue in the first post. It really depends on the page being optimized. if text is limited then you can only work in so many phrases. If text is robust then you've got more room to work in good keywords. By organizing keywords by core term first, it's a lot easier to get more terms on a page because they all revolve around one particular "core" phrase.

Thank you very much, Stoney. Your solid grasp of, and ability to relay the information is priceless; at least to this aged neophyte of SEO. While I knew enough basics to be functional for what I must do, you have opened new territory for what I can do. Kudos!!

Comments closed after 30 days to combat spam.

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