Keyword Expansion: How to Expand Your Keyword List Past Your Initial Research

black-and-white-crowd-looking-upIt’s an enviable position to be in: your site is ranking really well for all the keywords you targeted when you launched your initial search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. Leads are up, traffic is rocking, smiles all around. Time to pop the champagne, right? Sure, pat yourself on the back a bit since it isn’t easy to excel in the organic SERPs these days, what with sites (legit sites too) getting mauled by Pandas and Penguins. But you can’t get too complacent.

Success in SEO breeds even greater expectations and a whole new set of goals to achieve for your client, your manager or your executive team, which means more traffic, more leads, more, more, more… So what’s your next move?

Given how well the site is ranking, continuing to hammer away on that initial list of keywords may or may not make sense from an input vs ROI perspective. So it’s time shift to the next phase of keyword targeting, known as “keyword expansion.”

What is Keyword Expansion & Why is It Important?

The goal with keyword expansion is to target new keyword opportunities by discovering potentially untapped search verticals that are both relevant and traffic/lead-driving. In some instances, you’re improving on your initial keyword research by finding new modifiers or stems you may have missed the first time around. In other cases, you’re unearthing entirely new keyword ideas or concepts that you can use to author brand new landing pages, blog posts or linkable assets. But in the best scenarios, it’s a healthy mix of both.

So where can you find these new keyword opportunities?

Tools and Tactics for Expanding Your Keyword List

    1. Competitors sites can be a great source of inspiration and ideas for discovering keywords that are highly relevant to your site that you’re not already targeting. There are a few ways you can harvest ideas from a competitor’s site:
      • Use the Google Keyword Tool: Most SEOs use the Google Keyword Tool to get keyword suggestions for a site for the initial keyword targeting list. But what many don’t know is you can also add a competitor’s domain to the tool (in the “website” field) and generate a list of recurring keywords extracted from that competitor’s site.
      • Explore a competitor’s site: Take 15 minutes and click around a competitor site. Look closely at pages where keyword opportunities may hide, like resource sections, solutions sections, glossary sections, HTML site maps, footer links with exact match anchors (tell-tale sign they’re doing SEO and targeting those keywords). Looking at title tags of products and services pages is also effective too.
    2. Google related searches is another great way to uncover new keyword ideas and modifiers that you may not be targeting. AJ Kohn had a fantastic write up on using related searches for keyword research and expansion.
    3. Synonym SERP prospecting using the tilde (~), which is the Google search operator for finding synonyms, allows you to exhume phrases and terms that are similar to the seed keywords on your original list, which can be particularly helpful if you’re trying to familiarize yourself with a brand new niche.
    4. Targeting semantically related keywords is another way to augment your initial keyword research with terms and phrases that are conceptually related to your original list of target keywords since all search engines perform semantic analysis, a subject David Harry has been championing for years. A couple of my favorite tools to discover semantic themes are:
    5. Keyword Tools, both free and paid, are used to fuel your initial keyword research, but you should also be leveraging them for ongoing keyword expansion opportunities. Besides the Google Keyword Tool, I also like to play around with some of the tools-less-traveled to get a fresh take on keyword discovery, using tolls such as:

Since those tools don’t use have Google’s estimated search data (which is really the only data I have confidence in), plug any new keyword opportunities into the Google Keyword Tool to gather monthly exact match search data.

  1. Exploring Wikipedia for topics that are either directly related or tangentially related is a really fruitful keyword discovery exercise. Pull up Wikipedia pages on topics/keywords you’re already targeting and examine those pages, paying particular attention to inline text links and the “see also” section at the end of each page, since those are prime places where you’ll often find a bounty of new and relevant keyword ideas you can add to your list.
  2. Mining your analytics is a high value strategy because this is proprietary data on keywords that are proven to drive traffic and conversions for your site. When mining analytics (be it for a client site or our own sites), I often find keywords and new keyword modifiers that site’s are getting traffic for but not really targeting at all or not as effectively as they could be, which presents a valuable, “low-hanging fruit” opportunity to improve existing content or roll out entirely new, dedicated landing pages.

Keyword Expansion: It’s Like a Shark

If a shark stops moving, it dies (or so I’ve heard). The same goes for keyword discovery and expansion, which should be an ongoing, continuous and iterative practice you perform for the life of a site. Failure to do so could spell the death of your site, or at least the death of meaningful traffic growth.

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