I see a lot of SEO strategies that are hindered right out of the gate because they target too few keywords. They focus on only a couple of keyword terms with a single piece of content. In some cases, only a single term is targeted.
When you consider the time and effort that goes into content creation, this kind of practice is damaging. Not only are you limiting the SEO potential of your content, but this in turn means you’ll be generating less traffic, engagement and fewer people in your target audience exposed to that content and the value it provides.
There’s no reason to target a single keyword, or even a handful, when you could be targeting dozens. Grouping relevant keywords into logical clusters makes it easy to maximize the reach of your content and drive additional organic reach.
This discussion will explore how to build your SEO keyword lists to leverage more terms in each piece of content.
Collection Stage: List Every Keyword
The first step to creating keyword clusters is collection — gathering as many relevant keywords as possible. There’s a number of sources you can use to begin your keyword collection.
- Third-party data tools, such as AuthorityLabs, SEMrush, Moz, WordStream Ahrefs and others
- Your own data via Google Search Console, Google Keyword Planner and so on
- Good ol’ fashion pen and paper brainstorming
- Creating new keywords by combining smaller terms into longer ones
- Looking at what Google suggests with its autocomplete function or “Searches related to”
- Browsing your competitors’ pages to see which phrases and words they are ranking for
The ultimate goal of the collection stage is to gather every keyword imaginable, so there’s no need to have to go back and find more terms later on. At the end of this step, you should have thousands of keywords, unless you’re operating in a very specific niche.
Overwhelming, right? Don’t worry, we’ll cut that list down in the next stage of keyword clustering.
Filtering Stage: Delete The Duplicates, Remove The Irrelevants
Having a list of thousands of potential keywords is hard to manage. The next step is to shrink it to an appropriate, manageable size.
Because we casted such a large net in the previous step, we’ve picked up a lot of unwanted fish. It’s time to comb through that expansive list and find the duds to eliminate.
Here’s what to look for:
- Duplicate terms.. there’s going to be a lot of them
- Irrelevant keywords that don’t pertain to your business, website or its content
- Branded keywords, particularly of your competitors and their products
- Phrases or words that contain misspellings or grammatical errors
After filtering, your keyword list will be much more manageable. That said, you still want to keep it relatively long and robust. Remember, we’re trying to maximize the number of terms we’re targeting. So, don’t be afraid if your list is still hundreds of terms long.
Analysis Stage: Find The Big Winners
With the manicured list in hand, our next step is analysis. We start small by determining the basic keyword components that appear the most on the list. These are typically singular words that form longer keyword strains. However, there are some two- or three-word pairings.
In example, let’s consider this small sample of keyword phrases for an auto body shop:
- ‘car maintenance tips’
- ‘top car brands’
- ‘how to repair brakes’
- ‘check engine light on’
From this small list, we have a number of smaller components that we can begin to use for our analysis: car, maintenance, tips, top, brands, how to, check engine light… etc. Notice that, while the majority are single words, some components, like ‘how to’ and ‘check engine light’ have two and three words.
The goal is to determine how frequently certain keyword components show up. To determine this, you can run your keyword list through tools like the WriteWords Word/Phrase Frequency Counter. This will display how often words and phrases appear. You can import this information directly into your excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet.
You can even add another dimension to your frequency data by using an excel formula to add extra weight to keyword components with two or three words.
The end goal of the Analysis Stage is to funnel your filtered list of keywords into a VIP room full of the winning components that appear the most. These hot words will form the basis for your keyword clusters.
Preparation Stage: Ready Our Top Words For Clustering
With the list of highest frequency keywords in hand, we’re almost ready to begin forming our keyword clusters. Before we really get started, it is important to review this list of most valuable keywords and, if necessary, trim it down further.
After all, if your final list of words is particularly long, the clustering process is going to be a nightmare. As a rule of thumb, I aim to have no more than 40 or so. You can sharpen your list by removing any high frequency keyword components that you deem are either negative or don’t directly apply to the scope of your business, website or content.
You also want to consider words keyword components that share the same meaning or root. For example, if you ran a fitness/workout focused website, words like health, healthy, healthier and healthiest can all be grouped together under the same root of “health.”
Synonyms can be grouped in a similar fashion. Our auto body shop example from before may pair “car” and “automobile” under the same grouping, as these are two different ways of saying the same thing.
I also try and create a Top-10 list of the words I find most relevant and important to the site.
At the end of the Preparation Stage, you should have narrowed your highest frequency word components down to a very succinct list that is free of redundancy and irrelevancy.
Finalizing Stage: Formulating Clusters
There’s two ways to approach finalizing keyword clusters. The approach you choose will largely depend on how expansive your list of premiere word components is after the Preparation Stage.
If your list is long, the spreadsheet method will give you quantifiable evidence towards which keyword clusters make the most sense.
For shorter lists, you may be able to simply use your best judgement and intuition. This may not be the most accurate approach, but you’ll save some time.
For the spreadsheet method, we’ll use our auto body shop again. Here are the steps:
- Copy your list of filtered keywords and phrases into a fresh excel sheet
- Paste/input your “hot words” across the top row
- Use =IF (RegExMatch(A3, “car”), “YES”, “NO”) formula for each primary keyword listed along the top; you’ll have to alter the formula to fit each column’s keyword component
- You can clear up your spreadsheet further, by using Find and Replace to clear up the “NO” responses
This resulting table will make it very easy to identify the clusters that have the most value. That said, you still may need to rely on some intuition and judgement as to how relevant those groupings are for your website.
I recommend starting with the most specific and niche terms first, as these will have the least amount of overlap with other clusters. You may also find that some groups are incredibly broad, which may require you to break them down into sub-clusters.
Again, even with the spreadsheet method, you’ll still be relying on your own best judgement and intuition.
What’s The Point Of All This?
Content creation is absolutely essential, but it is one of the most involved digital marketing strategies we have. The planning, creation, distribution and monitoring of content is time consuming and costly.
In order to make the most out of our time and money, we want to do everything in our power to increase the impact of every single piece of content that we produce. This is why keyword clustering is important. It allows us to improve the SEO potential and visibility of our content by incorporating more search terms into a single content piece.
The more relevant keywords you’re able to implement into a single piece of content, the better its potential is to attract organic traffic and build your audience engagement.
Keyword clusters can also help influence our content ideas and make for an overall smarter development strategy. Some of the more specific, niche keyword clusters can provide a wealth of ideas for future blogs and other types of content that are guaranteed to match what audiences are searching for.
With your keyword clusters made, you may be itching to begin creating highly optimized content. First, however, I’d recommend taking a look at the pages and content you’ve already created.
Consider the keywords you targeted on each page and then check the cluster that those terms belong to. Are there other keywords in the same cluster that you can incorporate into those existing pages?
This is an immediate, effective and low-effort way to begin using the information included in this discussion.