So you want to improve your website’s ranking in Google’s search results? Great! One of the very first things you will need to do is identify the keyword phrases you want to target. It’s important you get this right as it will shape your SEO efforts to follow – no different from making sure you have the right compass heading before setting off on a journey. Get your target keyword list wrong and you’ll waste a lot of time (and possibly money) going in the wrong direction.

Here are five key points to keep in mind when putting together your list of keyword phrases.

1 – What is a keyword phrase?

This is a good place to start. It’s important to understand what we’re going after here and what the end goal is. A keyword phrase (sometimes just referred to as a keyword) is a word, or string of words, that we want our website to rank for.

To explain this, imagine you sell blue socks. You most likely want to appear high up in Google’s search results for keyword phrases like “buy blue socks”, “blue socks shop” or “blue socks prices”.

Obviously, the number of products and services you offer could be expansive – you may not just sell blue socks. You may also want to target shoppers at various stages of the sales funnel – those who are researching blue socks, those who want to read reviews from other shoppers or anyone looking to compare prices.

To organise your keyword lists use a spreadsheet to divide them into related groups. You might split them up by buyer type, buying stage, product type or region.

Avoid adding keywords which are simply extensions of what you already have – this isn’t a game of Boggle ok! If you already have “buy blue socks” you don’t need “buying blue socks” – Google generally does word stemming automatically.

2 – Refine your keyword list

It’s likely by now you have rounded up a large collection of keywords you’d like to target. Hold up there tiger – you’re not ready to conquer the world just yet so just scale it back a little.

Now’s the time to determine your niche. When you understand that there are thousands of websites out there, and more getting added every day, then you quickly realise you can’t compete with all of them. But it’s ok because you don’t need to be successful – there’s plenty of business to go round but you’ll do best by focusing on your area of specialty – be this your region or unique selling point.

The more targeted your niche, the easier it will be to get higher in the search results.

Let’s go back to the blue socks example. Imagine your blue socks had special space pirate designs and were triple thickness. Then your targeted keyword would be more like “blue space pirate socks” or “triple thick pirate socks” – you get the idea. It’s a lot easier to show up on the first page of Google for keywords like that, because you have less competition.

Some attributes that can refine your keyword list include:

  • Country, region, town or even suburb e.g. NZ, Canterbury, Waikato, Southland, Riccarton etc.
  • Product attributes such as colour, design, shape
  • Special offers such as free shipping or gift wrapping
  • Unique problems your product or service might solve e.g. Auckland first home buyers
  • Anything specific or unique about your business

One note to keep in mind is that the more narrow your niche the smaller your market. So while that’s good for making it easier to rank in Google, it does mean a smaller number of buyers.

3 – Review how competitive the keywords are

One trick to figuring out keywords that are worth targeting is to look at what advertisers are willing to pay for them. Google AdWords allows website owners to have their ads show for specific keywords – you’ve probably seen these ad listings when you type in a keyword into Google. It’s a fast and effective way to show up for your targeted keyword but it will cost you.


You can Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner to give you some valuable feedback on the keywords you want to target. In particular you can check the expected CPC (Cost Per Click), which is the amount advertisers are willing to pay to show for this keyword. If it’s more than about $2 (for the NZ market) then it tells you this is a keyword worth spending time ranking for – advertisers generally don’t spend money on keywords that don’t translate to sales – well the smart advertisers anyway.

This is sometimes referred to as “commercial intent” or CI, which is basically a way of indicating that a keyword is something used by people looking to buy, not just looking for information or entertainment.

Keep in mind highly competitive keywords might be best left for later if you’re just starting out – tackle some easier ones before taking on the big boys.

NB: Keywords you choose to rank for in the organic (non-paid) search results may well differ from keywords you use in advertising (you will generally target shoppers at the buying stage of the sales cycle, not just someone looking for free information) but the tools can still be helpful.

4 – Check your current ranking

Before you start optimising your website with your chosen keywords, check your current ranking. This will help you to chart your progress over the coming weeks, and help you determine if your efforts are working.

There are several ways to check your current ranking. You could just google it yourself, and then scan through the results, page by page (ps quick tip: you can change your settings to show more than just 10 results on the page). If you do this, remember to change the Results setting to Verbatim (at the top under Search Tools). This removes the personalisation that you normally see, which tends to push websites you’ve previously visited higher up in the results (which incidentally is a good reason to encourage visitors to your website!).


Another way is to use an online tool like this one to check your current position in Google’s search results.

There are also paid tools such as Wordtracker or AWR that can provide you more detail and pretty charts to track progress.

While it’s nice to see a jump in the ranks, don’t put too much trust in short term changes – it’s the long term progress that is key and if you keep at it you’ll see improvements over time. Remember SEO (or keyword optimisation) is, and always has been, a long term commitment – don’t let the marketing crooks out there tell you any different.

5 – Periodically review your target market

You most likely know that some of the keywords your customers use to find your product or service will change over time. New product trends or abbreviations for existing products will affect the keywords you will want to target.

It’s just a case of keeping up with what’s happening in your industry and updating your keyword list accordingly. For example, in the website business, a keyword that has grown in popularity over recent months is “mobile-friendly websites” as more and more people use their smartphone or tablet to browse the web (as a side note all PogoStick websites are mobile friendly!).

Like everything in the business world the goalposts tend to keep moving so make sure you’re moving with them.

What do I do with my keyword list?

Now that you have a curated list of keywords you want to target, what now? Start putting them to work on your website, whether it’s blog posts centred around a specific keyword, updating page titles or simply peppering your website with the keywords you want to focus on.

You can also use them when getting links from other websites (referred to as anchor text).

And of course it’s the perfect place to start when you’re looking to kick off an SEO project. If you want more help with that, or just optimising your website in general then get in touch.

How do I choose the right keywords for SEO?