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SEO 101 – Part 9: Everything You Need to Know About Keyword Core Terms

The following series is pulled from a presentation I gave to a group of beauty bloggers hosted by L’Oreal in New York. Most of the presentation is geared toward how to make a blog more search engine and user-friendly, however I will expand many of the concepts here to include tips and strategies for sites selling products or services across all industries.

Research Takes Time

Research Takes Time

The process of researching your keywords isn’t something that should be rushed. Each phase of the research process needs to be performed deliberately, ensuring that you take the time to find all relevant terms and discard the irrelevant. Any attempts to rush through the keyword research process will likely lead you down the wrong paths at best and at worst cause you to have to rethink your entire keyword targeting strategy.

Unfortunately the research process isn’t always linear. You can often be working on several phases of the research process at a time depending on what your focus is on at a given moment. There is a lot of overlap and moving backward and forward through the processes but care needs to be taken that you don’t skip over or leave any of the phases out.

Brainstorming Keywords

Brainstorming Keywords

You can start the keyword research process anywhere, but I like to start with a clean slate. What keywords do you start the research process with? Do some brainstorming.

Brainstorming allows you to get a list of keywords from an unbiased perspective. The brainstorming process doesn’t mean just sitting around and thinking up phrases, though can be a part of it. Good brainstorming starts with asking questions that can then lead to answers. More times than not, those answers will also be your keywords.

First, think of what questions are relevant for you. Don’t try to answer them, you have time for that later, but compile your list of quetions that will help you find the keywords you are looking for.

Once you have a good list of questions do whatever research is needed to find the answers. Those answers give you a base of keywords you can then take to the online research tools to look for related phrases. These related phrases produce a wide-range of variations in how your topic is searched. Some relevant, others not so much.

Find Core Terms First

Find Core Terms First

Undoubtedly in the brainstorming and research process you’ll amass a list of hundreds of phrases. You want to keep the process as simplified as possible so we’ll start by eliminating everything that is not a core term.

A core term is a keyword phrase boiled down to the essentials. It’s specific enough to produce a relevant result but broad enough to cover a wide range of much more targeted phrases. Generally a good core term is two, maybe three words. On rare occasions a core term can be a single word, but only when there is no room for alternate interpretations.

Only use qualifiers on a core term when it is necessary to ensure that the searcher will be led to a relevant page. For example the word “bag” could mean anything from a garbage bag to a sleeping bag to a travel bag. This is a core term that needs a qualifier in order to be relevant to the searcher. If it’s not relevant it’s not a core term.

Each page of your website should have a single core term associated with it. You may find several pages on your site that are a good fit for a single term. That’s fine during this research process but later you’ll want to make sure you select only the most appropriate page for any single core term. The others will have to find their own core terms.

Don’t stop your core term research until you are certain there are no more possible variations that produce measurable traffic. Using the keyword suggestion tools available in most keyword research programs, find all relevant variations on each of your core terms. For example a “travel bag” can also be a “back pack”, “luggage” (a rare case of a one-word core term) and a “duffel bag.” Each of these can be searched to find even more possible core term variants.

In almost every industry I have worked with I have been able to find different ways searchers think of the same product that the site owner hadn’t. Sometimes these variations don’t get searched much while other times they are more popular than the terms that the site owner said were the most important. Knowing these options in advance can make a dramatic difference in the direction you go with your optimization campaign.

Core Term Site Mapping

Core Term Site Mapping

After you have put together an exhaustive list of core terms and before you start performing deeper research into finding specific phrases, you want to map out where your core terms will be integrated into your site. For some industries it’s as easy as looking at the content and assigning core terms to pages. For others, where there are a lot of core term variations that mean the exact same thing, it can be more difficult.

Assigning core terms to pages must be done very carefully. You need to ensure that the content of each page is either a 100% natural fit or the content can easily be adapted to fit that core term. A good example is “cost segregation” versus “cost segmentation”. Both essentially mean the same thing but both are frequently searched (though one more than the other.) The content of a page about “cost segregation” can easily be adapted for “cost segmentation” without altering the meaning or focus of the page.

If you can’t make a keyword fit without significantly altering the message of a page, then you find another core term, or another page for the core term.

I recommend prioritizing your core terms before assigning pages to them. Figure out which terms get more search volume, are most relevant, bring in targeted audience and which produce the best sales. These are all important factors of determining which core terms are more important than others.

By prioritizing your core terms you can research and optimize those that are most important first before moving on to lower priority terms. The optimization of your high priority terms can take some time so leaving the secondary terms for later is good optimization strategy.

Before you move into the next phase of the keyword research process you have enough information to start optimizing your website. With the core terms and the map of where each core term will be implemented, you can begin to perform a very broad and quick optimization of the website. Going a page at a time, optimize title tags, meta description tags, headings and even a bit of content.

I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on each page as you can go do a more indepth optimization later, once you have more keywords to work with.

Missed a part of this series?
Part 1: Everything You Need To Know About SEO
Part 2: Everything You Need To Know About Title Tags
Part 3: Everything You Need To Know About Meta Description and Keyword Tags
Part 4: Everything You Need To Know About Heading Tags and Alt Attributes
Part 5: Everything You Need To Know About Domain Names
Part 6: Everything You Need To Know About Search Engine Friendly URLs & Broken Links
Part 7: Everything You Need To Know About Site Architecture and Internal Linking
Part 8: Everything You Need To Know About Keywords
Part 9: Everything You Need To Know About Keyword Core Terms
Part 10: Everything You Need To Know About Keyword Qualifiers
Part 11: Everything You Need To Know About SEO Copywriting
Part 12: Everything You Need To Know About Page Content
Part 13: Everything You Need To Know About Links
Part 14: Everything You Need To Know About Link Anatomy
Part 15: Everything You Need To Know About Linking
Part 16: Everything You Need To Know About Linking

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