SEO 101 – Key Phrase Research (The Most Important Step)

Key Phrase Research

I have always said that this step in the SEO process is the most important that there is. If you do this on a whim or you mess this part up, none of the rest of your SEO efforts will matter. Choosing the right key phrases to optimize for is very, very important.

What does it mean to choose the right key phrases? Key phrases are the words that people actually type into Google when they are searching for what you offer.

So let’s say you sell a how to guide on starting and running a dry cleaners. Some of your key phrases might include, “dry cleaning business”, “starting a dry cleaning business”, “how to start a dry cleaning business” etc.

How do you know which key phrases to use? This is where the research comes in. There are several online tools available to use that will literally tell you what key phrases people are searching for. Here are a few keyword tools that I think are very useful:

Google Keyword Tool – this tool is free and just started to give you actual number of searches per month although I question the accuracy of the numbers. This one is my favorite to use.

SEO Book Keyword Tool – This is another free option that I use a lot. I’m not sure how they get their data but it is somewhat accurate.

Keyword Discovery – There is a fee involved to use their tool keyword tool which I have never paid for.

Word Tracker – this one is not free either but again provides valuable information

I have used all of these tools and have found all of them to be useful at one point or another although you can get along just fine with the top 2 free keyword tools.

Now that you have the tools necessary to find what phrases you should optimize, I will show you the best way to use them.

Let’s revert back to my original example of selling a how to guide on running a dry cleaning business.

When you start your research you need to pick the term that is relevant to your site that is the most broad term you can think of. In this case I would say that the term “dry cleaning” is the most broad. So you type in the term dry cleaning into the search bar of one of the above keyword tools. It should return a long list of terms that looks something like this:

dry cleaning
dry cleaning supplies
dry carpet cleaning
delivery service laundry and dry cleaning minnesota
dry cleaning franchises
chem dry carpet cleaning
dry cleaning fluid
dry cleaning machine
laundry dry cleaning
dry cleaning equipment
dry cleaning hair brush how to
dry cleaning shirts versus wet
dry cleaning versus wet
dry cleaning business
lou monticello + dry cleaning
dry cleaning drop off business
home dry cleaning
is dry cleaning safe
dry cleaning marketing
how to start a dry cleaning business
dry cleaning coupons
dry cleaning themes songs
fantasy maid service dry cleaning delivery service
statistics and dry cleaning businesses

I have only included the top 25 results for this example but you should really see at least 100 key phrases if you search for dry cleaning. The first thing you should do is open an Excel spreadsheet and import this list in to the spreadsheet. It will be much easier for you to work with this list that way.

Now, these are the top 25 key phrases that people actually type into Google, Yahoo and MSN that have to do with dry cleaning.

Now as you look down this list you can use common sense to deduce that many of these key phrases are not relevant to what we are actually looking for. For example, you can remove the third option (dry carpet cleaning) immediately because that clearly has nothing to do with the product we are trying to sell. Having said that, many of these key phrases may appear to be irrelevant but you need to be careful as you select which ones you keep.

Because your actual list is going to be so long, your time will be much better spent first going through and picking out the key phrases that you know are relevant to the product your selling. In this case, we can see that “dry cleaning business” is on that list as well as “how to start a dry cleaning business” just as we suspected.

Now if you look at the 5th key phrase on that list we see “dry cleaning franchises”. This is not a phrase we had originally thought of but it actually gets more monthly searches than the other terms we did think of. If you get into the mind of a person searching for dry cleaning franchises you should deduce that they could be looking to start their own dry cleaning franchise and thus would be a very targeted visitor to your site if you could rank for that term.

You should go through the entire list of key phrases and then create a second list on your excel file pulling out the ones that make the most sense to use and these will be the terms you will try to target.

So far the top key phrases are:

dry cleaning business
how to start a dry cleaning business
start a dry cleaning business
dry cleaning franchise

Now, the work is not yet finished. We have a good start on some of the key phrases we should target but we need to find the rest. Our research would be incomplete if we stopped there.

Before we used dry cleaning as our most generic term we could think of that relates to our dry cleaning business site. We also need to look at derivatives of that main term. The best example is “dry cleaners”. So you should start the process over by again using one of the keyword tools I mentioned and type in the term “dry cleaners” into the search bar.

You will again get a big list of terms which you need to filter through and find the phrases that will bring you targeted visitors. Add those terms to the second list you created of terms you want to use.

Follow this same process starting with all of the generic key phrases you can think that are relevant to your business.

IMPORTANT: The more specific a phrase that someone searches, the more targeted visitor they are and the more likely they are to buy what you sell.

So because these terms are what people are actually searching for on the search engines and they are relevant to your website, these are the terms you want to rank for with your website. These are your key phrases.
When you are starting a new website you should choose less competitive terms to be your main terms in the beginning. For example, even though dry cleaning business is the term that ultimately you want to rank for, in the short term you should choose key phrases like “starting a dry cleaning business” which doesn’t get as many searches but will be much easier for you to rank for initially. You’ll also find that these more specific terms convert higher than the generic terms as well.

Once your site has gained age and link popularity then you can target the more competitive terms.

You really need to be thorough during the entire key phrase selection process. Again, this is the most important step in the SEO process. If you target the wrong terms all of your efforts will be in vain.

Adam White is a 20+ year entrepreneur having built and sold 18 internet businesses. He currently runs JustReachOut and SquidVision, a new type of landing page optimization software for SaaS companies, and does SaaS and SEO consulting at He lives in Tennessee with his wife and kids and in between SaaS businesses he writes and directs feature films.

8 comments On SEO 101 – Key Phrase Research (The Most Important Step)

  • Thanks for the info, Adam. I’m just beginning to learn SEO and affiliate marketing and your site has been an invaluable resource.
    Thanks again,

  • Not really sure if the comments is the best way to get a response.. if not I’ll email you guys.. but when it comes to SEO I’m new. I’ve been reading a lot of what you’ve explained here regarding keywords. Forgive my ignorance, but there are just a few things I’m not sure about.

    1. How many keywords should you be targeting (assuming they all are specific and relevant)? Can you have too many?
    2. What do you do with them once you have found the ones you want? I’ve read already that meta keyword tags are useless.. so is just implementing the keywords in your content and anchors throughout your site the only thing you do with them?


  • i have same question to Kevin Hamil. How many Keywords that i have to use in my blog/website?

  • You want to keep the amount of key phrases you use on your website pretty low, maybe 1%-3% key phrase density.

  • Great post, Adam. I never thought about looking these up on Google. Good info. For everyone else, I saw the same thing on one of Adam’s videos. Check out Prosperly on Youtube and tune in to Adam’s channel to view it.

  • so what do you do with your filtered list of keywords? how do you use them?

  • Junza, I divide the key phrases up and try to optimize 3-6 phrases per page on the site. If I don’t have a good page already for certain key phrases, I create it.

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    I have recently started a site, the information you provide on this website has helped me greatly. Thanks for all of your time & work. “Yield not to evils, but attack all the more boldly.” by Virgil.

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