How To Find the Right Search Words and Terms

Alan Belniakguidelines, Marketing, Social MediaLeave a Comment

Google search resultsRecently, I was asked: “how do you go about determining which keywords to research?  As in, I know that my product does ___.  How do I figure out how people are talking about that, and how do I get involved in those conversations?  It’s almost like I don’t know where to start.”

As I sat down to write out some steps, I did a quick search to see if others have covered this.  Sure enough, there’s a great post over at CMI, titled How to Find the Right Keywords for Your Content Marketing Efforts, talking about this same topic. This post here will overlap it (this is a quasi-re-blog), as well as offer up some of my own thoughts on the matter.  Either way, after you read this post and CMI’s post, you will be in good shape to start.

What’s Your Search Term Objective?

In this case, I knew my co-worker’s objective: get found in search results for these terms, and get people associating those terms with our product.  I’m going to assume that for now, this is your objective as well.  But this should be the first step you take: what is it, exactly, that you are trying to do?

In my co-worker’s case, it was to increase the position in SERPs (search engine result pages) for this product when using these terms.  Note that trying to jump several positions in search for a very broad term (like, ‘Internet search’) is going to be a challenge.  But if you combine your search term with another key word (like ‘Internet search Samsung mobile’), it now becomes an easier game to play.  You’re going after longtail search terms, and those, by definition, are easier to get.  In time, as you start to earn the street cred for ‘Internet search Samsung mobile’, you’ll start to get share for ‘Internet search’.

In Your Own Words, How Do You Describe What You Are Looking For?

You’ve got to start somewhere.  When you talk about your product internally, what are some of the words you use to describe it?  If your mom asked you, “So, what is it again that you are working on these days?”, how would you describe it to here?  There will be a few key words that you can use as the cornerstone of your searching.

Next, print them out, big ‘n bold, and use these words whenever you create content: blog posts, press releases, tags in YouTube videos, meta tags in audio files and podcasts, tweets, partner press releases (if applicable) – you get the idea.  The point is, anywhere words can be found, use these words.  This will help these specific words gain street cred, as well as cement them in your own mind.

Putting Your New Search Term Knowledge to Work

You know what you want to do, and you have a starting point – great!  Now rank those words in order of importance (like, if you could only win the search war on five terms, what would they be?  And the next five?  You get the idea).  Then, filter out the straightforward ones, like ‘search’ (too difficult to ever gain any meaningful share).  Some of this should be intuitive.  As a litmus test, go into Google and search for that one word and see how many results show up.  On the left side of the page, change ‘anytime’ to ‘Past 24 hours’.  The number of results will drop, but it will still give you a rough idea of how competitive ‘owning’ that search term will be.Past 24 hours

Here are some tools to help you understand where these words are ranking in search.  I suggest entering your top few into these engines and see what comes up.  Go to those sites, and see how they are discussing the topic.  What other keywords are being used?

Want to take this a step further?  Find the top sites that are using these keywords, and visit them.  View the meta tags on the page [usually ‘View Source…’ in IE] and look for the text near the top – look for meta name description and meta name keywords. This is the site saying to Google: “classify me as this”.  True, Google places less emphasis on this than in years past, but use it for what its good for: an indicator.

Other Keyword Search Word Resources

Re-read the first link above from CMI about this.  Inside that article, there are a few other jewels I’ve mentioned in the past and still use today (like  You can also ask someone on your web team (if applicable) to run a SiteCatalyst, Google Analytics, or some other metric tool for the top words people use in search to end up on your current page of your site, or another page that is similar to the product you’re launching soon.  This will show you yet another view into how people are using search.

Next, take the first few sites you’re using for search and put them into Google.  Yes – Google the site that you know exists.  Stay with me.  If you’ve read my How to Use Social Media For Recruiting post, and can recall the second image (Google’s “similar” tool), then you know what I mean here.  By looking up the site in Google, you’ll see a bunch of other matches.  You’re not really interested in that.  Instead, in the first result (the site you entered), look for the word “Similar” next to the word “Cached” (note that they are not always present).  Clicking this will show you a new page of results – a page of results that Google thinks, based on its algorithm/s, are similar to the site you entered.  Look at the keywords used there, look at the titles, site navigation, and general ‘feel’ of the site.

One other tool to consider (hat tip to Greg Boser for this one) is using the ~ in Google search.  The Google Guide explains this well, and you can jump right to the tilde search operator here.  Using the ~ in front of a search term (one or two words) will yield what Google considers synonyms.  So, ~cheap would yield used, budget, and last-minute.  Try using synonym search for some of the core keywords you’re considering, and see if they are worth adding to your list.


This will take some of your time.  If it could be completed in five minutes, everyone would do it, and then the process would get gamed, and it would ultimately take longer.  Doing this, though, will put you very close to your market and in tune with what people are saying and how they are saying it.

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