If you’re running any kind of online initiative and you’re not using a keyword list, just stop, now. Rebuilding your site? SEO? Content and social? PPC? Yes, just stop. If you don’t have a keyword list I really don’t know how you’re making so many of the decisions that matter. You’re wasting your time and money.

Search is such a critical success factor and, for the time being, all search is text-based.  So you need to be disciplined and strategic with the words you’re using,

Even with video, as yet, there is no reliable way of searching a video’s visual content. So search engines use the title, description and text tags added to the video to decide what a video contains and rank it in search accordingly.

What is a keyword list?

Though it’s a somewhat innocuous name, ‘keyword’ is absolutely appropriate as the list will unlock the doors to the digital space you’re trying to occupy.

The list will comprise around 15-20 terms that your priority audiences may use to search in relevant areas and terms you want to use to define your organisation’s digital presence.  They can be single words or phrases but the skill is in getting your keywords as close to actual searches as possible.

In certain circumstances, a keyword list can run to dozens or even hundreds of terms but let’s start with a basic list which can cover the most common terms associated with the space you want to occupy.

You need to know enough about your audience to understand what they’re looking for but there’s plenty of help out there, some of it free, some of it needs paying for.

How do you know which terms to use?

There should be terms on the list that define your organisation, a combination of factual descriptors, positive terms you want to be associated with and, if it’s relevant, geographical indicators. Combining these might give you a term like ‘Best Scottish smoked salmon’ that is powerful in positioning your organisation online.

Knowing what your market wants is a constant learning process but these are useful guides:

1) In your Google Analytics package, go to Acquisition/Channels and click on ‘organic search’. You will see a list of terms your site visitors actually used to find you. The vast majority will be categorised as ‘not provided’ but some will not.

2)Search terms in Google. You’ll see who’s ranking well for those terms. Check those entries out and see if there’s anything obvious they’re doing that you can use.

3)When you’re searching, take note of the ‘related searches’ Google shows at the bottom of every page. These are terms Google knows other people are using when searching this topic.

4)If you have a Google Adwords account, Google will suggest alternative terms you might want to consider including in your keywords alongside the ones you have entered.

Search volumes are an excellent proxy for interest and demand in any given area. Even if you don’t believe the data is exact to the nearest search, a term with 10x the search volume of another is clearly more relevant and valuable.

Clearly, some terms are extremely valuable and it will be very difficult to ‘own’ them but consistent use with carefully chosen qualifiers will produce results.

Once you’ve made the keyword list, what do you do with it?

It might be easier to say what you don’t do with it! The keyword list should be used in website page titles, website copy and headers, image captions, image tags, video titles and tags, press releases, boiler plates, blog content, tweets, posts and hashtags. It needs to be your ‘go to’ resource whenever you are producing any kind of text you’ll be using online.

Using it effectively takes discipline and time and it is important to benchmark your current position so you can measure your progress. Do not be tempted to make short term changes if you don’t see immediate results, keep working with your terms and your search results will improve.

A good keyword list is one of the most valuable digital assets you can create. Refine it over time as your audience’s needs change and it will handsomely repay the time and effort you have put into it.

About the Author: pro-user