Effective Keyword Research: How to Brainstorm a “Seed” List of Keywords

effective keywords research

Image by @Nexternal

In the previous post of this Keyword Research 101 series, I discussed the keyword search cycle, and how it should influence your choice of keywords for your pay-per-click campaigns or search engine optimization efforts.

In today’s post we’ll jump into one of the fundamentals of keyword research: how to brainstorm a “seed” list of keywords.

Developing a Seed Keyword List: The Difference Between “Head” and “Tail” Keywords

A seed list is simply a list of short, generic keywords that get a lot of searches. These can also be thought of as “head” keywords, as demonstrated in the graph below:

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Source: KeyWebMetrics

As you can see in the graph, there are relatively few head keywords, but each head keyword gets lots of searches. Here’s an example of a head keyword: “yoga”. This keyword gets 301,000 “exact match” searches on Google globally each month. In other words, every month people type just the word “yoga” into the Google search engine.

In contrast, “tail” keywords get few searches each, but there are LOTS of tail keywords. Here’s an example of a tail keyword: “yoga teacher training New York”. This keyword gets 210 exact match searches on Google each month. But you can imagine that there are hundreds of variations of this keyword searched every month on Google (e.g. yoga teacher training Los Angeles; yoga teacher training Toronto; etc.)

Why You Should Have a Broad List of Seed Keywords

Having a broad a list of seed keywords is extremely important, because if you don’t start your keyword brainstorming off broadly, you might miss some great keywords that are easy to rank for, or that turn out to be a great source of sales through pay-per-click advertising.

Here’s an example: say you have a website that is dedicated to teaching people how to become a yoga instructor. If you live in New York, you could just advertise on the keyword I mentioned above (“yoga teacher training New York”). But that would be a mistake, for two reasons:

–          Low volume. The keyword “yoga teacher training New York” only gets 210 searches on Google per month. If you only advertise on that keyword, you’re not exactly going to make enough money to put Kraft Dinner on the table, are you? (Okay, I know yoga instructors don’t eat Kraft Dinner! J

The point is, you want as many opportunities to get a customer as possible. That means advertising on (or optimizing your site for) as many keywords as possible.

That leads to the next point:

–          Putting all your eggs in one (keyword) basket. Simply put, you probably won’t be able to tell ahead of time which keywords will be a “winner” for you. In other words, you might think that the keyword “yoga teacher training New York” will make lots of sales through pay-per-click advertising, or will be easy to rank for, but you might be proven wrong.

If you target 100 (or 1,000) keywords, however, you increase your chances of hitting on a handful of profitable keywords.

(A related side note: in my experience, the “80/20” rule applies to keywords. Twenty percent of your keywords – far fewer than 20%, actually – will result in the vast majority of your sales. I’ve heard many other internet marketers say the same thing.)

8 Steps to Building a Broad List of Seed Keywords

To demonstrate my point that you should build a broad list of seed keywords, let’s go through the steps I follow to brainstorm a list. Here are the main steps, in order:

1.      Start by writing down some keywords related to your audience’s problems. Before starting your keyword research, you should have done some niche research to determine the main problems/challenges/pain points facing your target audience, or the desires they have.

If we follow the yoga example I started earlier in this post, one of the desires you might have come across in your audience research is the desire to become a yoga instructor. Here are some related keywords that come to mind:

  • Yoga instructor
  • Yoga teacher
  • Yoga teacher training
  • Become a yoga instructor

Try to write down 10-20 keywords like this for each of the problems or desires that your audience has.

2.      Use a “semantic” tool to get related keywords. Semantic tools show you synonyms of your root keyword, or words that are related to your keyword in meaning (but not exactly synonyms).

Here are some good semantic tools that you can use to research related keywords:

  • Google Sets is a Google Labs tool that “creates sets of items from a few examples”. (In plain English: when you enter a keyword it shows you related terms.)

Continuing our example, here is the result I get when I type “yoga instructor” into Google Sets:

Click image to enlarge

Notice that I picked up on a couple of keywords that are potentially useful: “pilates instructor” and “personal” trainer”.

How are these keywords potentially useful? I could include them in articles in my site (for example, “Yoga Instructor or Pilates Instructor: Which Should You Become?”), to expand the breadth of keywords that are bringing traffic to my site. Or, I could advertise on the keyword “personal trainer” on the Google content network with an “interruptive” ad like this:

Become a Personal Trainer?
Yoga Instructors Get Paid More!
Learn How in My Free Guide.
  • Deeper Web is a cool search engine (powered by Google) that shows a “tag cloud” when you do a search. It’s easiest to describe what a “tag cloud” is by showing an example.

I typed the keyword “yoga instructor” into Deeper Web. Note the

“Deeper Cloud” box on the right side of the screenshot:

Click image to enlarge

I picked out a couple more potentially useful keywords from this cloud: “iyengar” and “kripalu”, which are both types of yoga.

  • Quintura is a “visual search engine”, and is similar to Deeper Web in that it shows you a cloud of related terms.

Here’s what came up when I typed “yoga instructor” into Quintura:

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Note the keywords “holy yoga”, “zen yoga”, and “certified yoga”.

  • Yippy is another “cloud”-type search engine, but it presents its clouds in a slightly different way (in the form of drop-down lists).

I typed in the term “yoga teacher training”, and came up with a couple of interesting results:

Click image to enlarge

There’s that word “certification” again. And I also find the reference to “Thailand” interesting. I know from experience (my wife is big into yoga) that a lot of the yoga gurus hold teacher-training courses in exotic locations, and one of the more popular places is Thailand.

Click image to enlarge

Google Insights also lets you see the top related keywords – and a feature that’s particularly interesting is “Rising searches”, which allows you to see related keywords that are rapidly increasing in popularity:

Click image to enlarge

3.      Use thesaurus tools to get synonyms.

Some of the most popular thesaurus sites are Thesaurus.com and Merriam-Webster.

When using thesaurus sites, you have to be a little creative, because sometimes the site won’t give you the result you’re looking for right away.

For example, I typed the keyword “yoga instructor” into Thesaurus.com and got nothing back. But when I typed in the word “instructor”, these synonyms came up:

  • Adviser
  • Coach
  • Guide
  • Mentor
  • Trainer
  • Tutor

These words would be great to combine with “yoga”. So instead of building pages on your site that just include the main keyword “yoga instructor”, you could also mix in “yoga adviser”, “yoga coach”, “yoga guide”, etc.

4.      Research broad keywords on Wikipedia. This is a bit labor-intensive, but by using this technique can you can find some really obscure keywords that your competitors would never have thought of.

Researching keywords on Wikipedia is as simple as typing in your keyword at Wikipedia.org and scanning the page that comes up.

When I typed the term “yoga instructor” into Wikipedia, there was no directly-related entry, but an entry for both “Yoga” and “Yoga as exercise or alternative medicine” came up. I clicked on the latter link, and found some interesting keywords that could be used in SEO or PPC:

Click image to enlarge

5.      Use Wordtracker’s “lateral” search. Wordtracker is one of the original keyword research tools, and they offer a range of tools that you can use to grow your seed keyword list.

The best thing about Wordtracker is their “lateral” search function. This tool allows you to enter a single keyword and search for hundreds of related keywords.

The thing that separates Wordtracker’s lateral tool from others on the market is the way they gather related keywords. When you type in your seed keyword, Wordtracker goes out and scrapes keywords from the top websites that rank for your seed word.

In other words, when I type the keyword “yoga instructor” into Wordtracker’s lateral tool, the tool searches for that keyword on Google, then scrapes the keywords from the top-ranked sites, and brings them back to me. Pretty cool!

Here are some of the results I received for “yoga instructor”:

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Unfortunately, the lateral tool is only available in the paid version of Wordtracker. While I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to have a paid subscription to Wordtracker, if you’re serious about keyword research, and will be doing a lot of it for your sites, I think it’s worth subscribing.

There have been many times that I’ve come across valuable related keywords that I wouldn’t have discovered without using this service. (Having said this, I think the lateral search function is the ONLY thing that sets Wordtracker apart from its competitors.)

If you’d like to get a feel for Wordtracker, you can use the Wordtracker Free Keywords Tool.

6.      Google’s Keyword Tool. This is the most commonly used keyword tool out there. I’ll be coming out with a complete tutorial on how to use Google’s keyword tool soon, but in the meantime here’s how you can use it.

There are two ways you can search for keywords using Google’s tool: (1) by entering a root keyword, or (2) by entering the URL of a web page.

Here are the steps for searching by root keyword:

  • Type in your seed keyword (in this case, I’m going to use “yoga teacher training”)
  • Check the box next to “Only show ideas containing my search terms”
  • Enter the “captcha” (the mishmash of letters that lets Google know you’re human, and not a “bot” spamming their system)
  • Click “Search”

Here are some of the results I got for “yoga teacher training”:

Click image to enlarge

The results from this search show a couple of things:

o       A lot of people search for yoga teacher training by city (see the keywords with a red box around them)

o       A lot of people search for yoga teacher training by type of yoga (see the keywords with a yellow box around them)

Google also lets you do keyword research using the URLs of websites. When you enter the URL of a site into the Keyword Tool, Google tells you what keywords it associates with that site. (This can be an interesting exercise to conduct on your own site(s), as it will let you see your site through Google’s eyes.)

Here are the steps for searching the Google Keyword Tool by URL:

  • Go to Google.com
  • Type in your seed keyword
  • Copy the URL of the first site on the results page (the organic results, not the paid results)
  • In the box that says “Website, paste the URL of the first site that came up on Google.com
  • Enter the “captcha”
  • Click “Search”

* Note: if you know that the niche you’re researching has products on Clickbank, that can be a GREAT source of URLs for this step.

I typed the term “yoga teacher training” into Google.com, and the first site that came up was www.yoga-teacher-training.org. So I pasted that URL into the Keyword Tool. Here’s what came back:

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In addition to the keywords that I expected to come up, these interesting terms also appeared:

–          online teacher certification programs

–          online yoga

Now, the first phrase probably isn’t related specifically to yoga teacher training. But it’s an intriguing idea – I wonder if there are some people who would like to become yoga teachers by studying online? Worth exploring.

The second phrase shows how much interest there is in doing yoga by watching online videos (I assume). Also an interesting avenue to explore.

7.      Browse the index of books related to your niche. This is one of the least-known keyword research techniques, but can yield HUGE results. Again, it takes a bit of work, but you can dig up some real nuggets using this technique.

This technique involves using the “Look Inside” feature of Amazon.com. Follow these steps to find keywords by browsing the indexes of Amazon books:

o       Go to Amazon.com

o       From the “Search” drop-down box, choose “Books”

o       Type in your keyword

o       On the results page, look for a book that has a decent amount of reviews (i.e. more than 10, ideally more than 30). More reviews usually means that a book is more popular

o       Click on the “Look Inside” link near the top of the book

o       On the next page, mouse over the “Look Inside” link, and choose “Index”

o       Scan through the index and pick out relevant keywords

Again, this isn’t an effortless process. But if you’ve taken the time to find a niche, and identify the problems of your niche audience, you want to go broad to find as many keywords as possible.

8.      Harvest your site’s web logs. If you already have a site that’s getting traffic, this is another overlooked technique that can yield great results. To continue the “yoga teacher training” example I’ve used in this post, let’s assume that you’re planning to launch a paid program that teaches people how to be a yoga instructor. If you already have a website, and it’s been up for longer than a few months, you’re probably already getting traffic.

By looking in your Google Analytics account under Traffic Sources > Keywords, you can see all of the keywords that people typed into the search engines that led them to your site. Below is a screenshot showing this for one of my sites:

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There’s one particular reason why this is a powerful technique: because just like using the “URL search” feature in Google’s Keyword Tool, looking at your site logs tells you what Google thinks your site is about.

This can help you in planning paid search campaigns and search engine optimization – because in both PPC and SEO, you want to build on your strengths (which in this case could mean aligning your PPC campaigns and SEO efforts with keywords and themes that Google already associates with your site).

It can also serve as a wakeup call, if you find out that Google doesn’t think your site is about yoga teacher training (for example). In that case, you need to get to work in revising your site’s text, meta tags, etc. so Google starts associating your site with the keywords you’re targeting.

Summing Up

Keyword research is a crucial component of building an online business, whether you’re doing the research to gain more traffic (through pay-per-click advertising or search engine optimization), or to get insight into the needs of your niche audience.

The trick to doing keyword research right, however, is to start with a broad group of “seed” terms that cover the full spectrum of keywords related to your site.

In this post I’ve covered some of the techniques I use to brainstorm seed keywords. If you use any techniques that I’ve missed, please leave a comment below.

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  1. says

    Hi Moe

    Would you please expand on your note, “if you know that the niche you’re researching has products on Clickbank, that can be a GREAT source of URLs for this step.”

    Do you mean that one could use the URLs of the product producers in ClickBank and paste them into the Google Keyword Tool to see which keywords they are using?


    • Moe says

      Richard, you said: “Do you mean that one could use the URLs of the product producers in ClickBank and paste them into the Google Keyword Tool to see which keywords they are using?”

      Yep, that’s exactly what I mean. I’ve found some gem keywords using that technique.


  2. says

    OK you need to stop this now Moe 😉

    Seriously – I have read this for about an hour now so I need to say first off, thank you for AGAIN providing such insight into your processes, processes that you have proven work I might add – and creating such an incredible post with such depth.
    But secondly , I need to say in sarcasticon font – Thanks a lot! Now I am another hour behind what I am supposed to be doing

    Respect Moe, really.

    • Moe says

      It’s my pleasure to impinge on your productivity, Alex! 😉

      And thanks, as always, for your kind words. I look forward to seeing your readers around here!


      P.S. Love your use of the word “arsed”. I think Canadians can learn a lot from Aussies on creative use of language.

  3. says

    Btw, will be posting on Monday and linking to your blog, telling them: “I cant be arsed writing a really really indepth guide on finding a niche, which works out well because someone already did it, and did it better than I *might* have done” 😉

  4. says

    I am amazed again at how good your articles are! Awesome! Thanks again Moe! (On a side note, your interstitial refuses to close on my Droid. Just a headsup.)

  5. says

    @Moe similar to Alex, I just realized a week has went by and I have been in a constant state of analysis. Any suggestions on avoiding the “paralysis by analysis” syndrome?

    • Moe says

      @John – I agree with Alex (and have posted about this on the blog) that taking action is the only way to know FOR SURE if a site/niche will be profitable. You have to put a site up and send (or wait for) traffic, then see what happens.

      In terms of the actual amount of time I spend building a seed keyword list, I cap it at one working day (and once you get good at it, it takes less time than that). That might seem like a lot of time, but getting a good grasp of the “keyword universe” for a niche is extremely important.

      Don’t forget that behind every search is a person looking for a solution, so spending some time (but not too much time) analyzing keywords is time well spent. So set aside one day for keyword research, then start building your site!


  6. says


    THe best advice I can give on this matter (because I have been there – Oh How I have been there!) is to simply take action. Now that’s advice, but the motivationthat will help you do this is the following knowledge:
    No matter how good the research is, you will ONLY KNOW if its profitable and/or works once you have built it.

  7. says

    I have been relying on Market Samurai exclusively for my keyword research; The search engine like yippy does look really good. Will plonk in my existing keyword lists before I start my niche sites next month.

    Awesome post.

  8. rene reyes says

    Hello boss, I just want to thank you and what I’ve learned from you. I got a keyword search job.

    Many thanks,

  9. says

    Oh, seems like I stumbled upon this a little later after it got posted but it’s all good :)
    Thank you so much for providing this information! I certainly did learnt more about keyword research. I’d say SO much more as a beginner.


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