How To Develop A Keyword Plan

Since last time, you’ve been busy growing your keyword seeds into little seedlings, using those handy Excel tricks I wrote about. You’ve likely got thousands of keywords now, and may have no idea what to do next.

If you’ll forgive me, I’ll continue the planting analogy for categorizing and mapping keywords. It seems appropriate, with spring upon us. You’ve found your seeds, planted them in little cups, and gotten seedlings from them. Now it’s time to plant them in the garden and watch them grow.

But just as you shouldn’t drop a bunch of seedlings into the ground in no particular order, you have to have a plan for your keywords as well.

Sample Vegetable Garden Layout

Keyword Categories are like Garden Plans

In case you aren’t familiar with planting, I’ll digress briefly to explain. When you plant seedlings, you need to plant them in groups according to how much sun they need and how aerated the soil should be. You also want the plants to be visually appealing when they grow, so they need to be spaced appropriately and you’ll want to have a plan for how tall they grow and what colors they’ll be at maturity. It is actually the same with keywords.

Keep in mind while you do research that these “search volumes” that you retrieve (whether it’s from Google or some other source) are just estimates. The values are useful for determining trends and relative volume, but should never be used to estimate expected traffic.

What’s That Mean?

To begin with, you’ll need to think about what your keywords really mean. Don’t sort them into groups too early based on something arbitrary like what word they contain.

For example, don’t sort real estate keywords into “house” and “home” type keywords. Sort them according to what they mean. For example, you might have keywords that people use when they are looking for a house/home that is new construction vs. people who are looking for a house/home that is in an “established neighborhood”.

You might still have another set of keywords for people looking for townhouses or apartments. Seem too granular? It’s really not.

Patterns Take Practice

To categorize effectively, look for patterns in the way that people search. Are they looking for a specific type of something, or do they seem concerned with style, color, features? Is there a local component to their searches?

It’s actually easier to do this if you’re working on your own site because you know the subject matter so well. But if you are helping a customer, you’ll need to take time to get familiar with the subject matter first. The more you do keyword research, the better instincts you’ll have.

As you sort keywords and determine categories, make sure you do a quick search for anything that you aren’t 100% sure what it means. Put the keyword into Google or Bing and look at the results.

Do these seem like your customers? Are your competitors showing up? There’s nothing worse than wasted effort on a keyword that won’t convert to visitors and customers.

If you find a keyword like this, take an extra minute to go back and take out any similar keywords. Keep in mind that you might change categories a couple of times as you get more familiar with the patterns. It’s always better to start with too many categories and consolidate them later than to go back and re-categorize one that was too broad.

Questions Are The Key To Great Content

As you categorize the keywords in this way, keep an eye out for questions that people are asking about the topic. This is a great opportunity for you to create more content on your website later that specifically meets searchers’ needs, or to change existing content so that it more exactly matches the search terms that you found.

After you have everything sorted, take a look at the estimated volumes and make sure that they match what you expected.

For example, do more people search for “washers”, or “washing machines”? Does that match how you refer to them on your website? If “washing machines” as the technically correct keyword is searched less often than “washers”, are there ways you could work references to “washers” onto your site also?

Draw A Keyword Map

The last step is to look at the categories to see how they correspond with pages on your site. Are there perfect or near-perfect matches? Go ahead and match those up and optimize those pages for the corresponding keywords.

Are there keyword categories that don’t match anything you have on your site? Make a quick editorial calendar of content to create. Prioritize the content however you want; you might choose to do the highest profit margin areas first, or the areas where you currently have the lowest traffic, or you might even have a seasonal product/service that it makes sense to write about first. This editorial calendar will help you continue to create relevant, interesting, keyword rich content over time.

Don’t worry about creating all of the content at once; even one new piece of content per month can make your site more attractive to search engines. As you create the content, don’t forget to add it to your Google/Bing sitemaps.

Done & Done, Or Are You?

Now you have a great list of keywords that are categorized by customer intent and mapped to the right content. You even have an editorial calendar of content that needs to be created, which keeps your website fresh and interesting over time (a key component to great ranking).

So you’re done, right? Nope. You’ll need to refresh this research periodically, because people change the way they search for things over time. You’ll also want to refer back to this research each time you create a new page or add a new product or service. But it will be much easier next time, since you won’t have to start from scratch.

And that’s the seed method of keyword research! If you’re reading this out of order, be sure and go back to the other articles in the series:

Photo from Used under Creative Commons license.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | How To: PPC | How To: SEO | Keywords & Content | SEO - Search Engine Optimization


About The Author: is the President of an online marketing consulting company offering SEO, PPC, and Web Design services. She's been in search since 2000 and focuses on long term strategies, intuitive user experience and successful customer acquisition. She occasionally offers her personal insights on her blog, JLH Marketing.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Marc Ensign

    Great article!  I really like the visual of the garden – definitely resonates with me as I’m a pretty visual person.  Nicely done!  I just posted an article on Keyword Research this morning on my blog where I tried to break it down into it’s simplest form for fear of giving anyone that doesn’t do SEO on a regular basis a nervous breakdown.  That’s the hardest part with this stuff…trying not to lose the  folks that are just starting out or are trying to optimize the site for their own business without any experience but still adding value to those with advanced knowledge of SEO.  It’s certainly a dance!  I think you did a good job with it!  Would love it if you could check out my article and let me know what you think!

  • Tiggerito

    You’re giving away the secrets ;-)

    I follow a very similar approach to my keyword gathering and analysis. On slight difference is I use the term tagging in place of categories. A keyword can be tagged several times and therefore show up in multiple parts of the garden. e.g. I could tag a keyword as a question, brand, local or tags defining topics.

  • RogerJH

    Very useful ideas here. I love the gardening metaphor! It is so helpful to create analogies that can be related to from everyday life. 

  • Jenny Halasz

    Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. My goal with the series was to expose both old and new SEOs to a slightly different way of thinking about keyword research.

  • Jenny Halasz

    Yes, many keywords will overlap “categories” or “tagging”; however you want to refer to it. That’s why I encourage people to look both within and across categories when determining volume and trends.

  • Jenny Halasz

    Thanks, I’m glad you like it. It started a while back and I’m just lucky that it ended up being Spring when I finished the series. ;-)

  • Alexandra Barcelona

    Excellent post on keywords. As someone without too much experience in SEO, the whole process is a bit intimidating, but you did a great job breaking it out into easy-to-digest steps. I know SEO takes time, but how much time do you usually allot to the keyword portion of an SEO project?

  • Jim Watson

    Excellent two articles Jenny – nice work.

  • Jenny Halasz

    Thanks Jim. It’s actually a series of 4 articles; I hope you’ll read them all!

  • Jenny Halasz

    It depends on the depth and breadth of the research, but for an average site, it usually takes about 10 hours to really do it right.

  • Steve

    I rarely get to see posts (actually, this is a series – even better) like this on the keyword planning topic. Good job!

  • Michael Locker MD

    Thanks–quite helpful.

    Michael Locker MD

  • Vasko Tashevski

    Thanks Jenny!

    This looks like a great pattern for a keyword research.
    I could give a try and share the results with you.


  • Ian Hanson

    I loved this piece, have you written anything on the approach a content writer should take while writing for unforeseen, unknown or relatively new topics? How much time do you think one should devote to gathering materials. Thanks.

  • Hui Cao

    讲的很好! 谢谢!

  • Nicholas Hughes

    Hi, this is a great post and keywords search is the base of SEO. Thank you for sharing it.

  • website optimization

    Great one Alexandar and I support you.Actually Keyword plan stage is an important stage in overall SEO plan .

  • nancy thomas

    This is the beginning of my Internet Life. I have reitred from the grind. There are a lot of topics on the Internet and
    I am reading on many of those and commenting. You have made your blog more interesting than most that I read
    web desinginng


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide