Beyond the Obvious: Creative Keyword Brainstorming for Search Marketing Success


Brainstorming is an essential phase of keyword research for both paid search campaigns and search engine optimization. The goal of brainstorming keywords for a site is to generate a large, diverse pool of potential phrases without regard to search volume, cost or competitiveness just yet. Brainstorming keyword phrases is not a task that should be rushed. Taking the time to thoroughly think through variations that may be used to search for sites like yours can help you uncover potentially lucrative keywords you may otherwise neglect. While the final keyword list for a site is chosen based on research and focuses on quality, brainstorming is all about quantity and allowing your ideas to expand upon one another.

Remember that each page of your site you want to optimize or promote through PPC needs its own set of keywords. Usually you will find the best keywords for the most important pages of your site, but sometimes keyword research may uncover a targeted, untapped key phrase worth building a landing page around. The brainstorming pointers below can help you generate keyword phrases fitting for either situation.

  • Consider the level of expertise in your target market.
    One common problem with brainstorming keywords is that we become constrained by the vocabulary and industry jargon familiar to us, when in fact consumers are using totally different phrases to search for products. Let’s assume we are brainstorming keyword phrases for a website selling a highly technical product, LED signs. Some search phrases obvious to those in the industry are:

    • LED signs
    • LED display
    • scrolling LED sign
    • outdoor LED sign
    • programmable LED sign

    While the above phrases are common to those in the industry, consumers often search for LED signs using their own vocabulary, such as:

    • LED moving message sign
    • electronic LED sign
    • scrolling sign
    • moving message display

    Sometimes, layman descriptions that would make industry insiders cringe may be exactly what users are typing in. Even better, your competitors may be focused on the obvious keywords, giving you the opportunity to capitalize on less competitive but frequently searched terms with minimal investment.

  • Include phrases used in the research phase, before the purchase process.
    Let’s say we are brainstorming keywords for a website with the primary purpose of selling supplies for making paper. Our initial brainstorming session may generate something like:

    • papermaking supplies
    • paper making supplies
    • paper making equipment
    • paper making kit

    Once we have a few phrases on the list, mental block often kicks in and tempts us to move to the next step armed with only the most obvious key phrases.
    Instead of quitting there, we decide to brainstorm phrases we can target on our informational pages to attract consumers who are researching papermaking. Including original, informative content on your site adds tremendous value for both users and search engines, and can boost your conversion rate since consumers are more likely to purchase from a company they perceive as an authority on the subject.
    We add “how to make paper” to the list. Now for demonstration, let’s take a look at the approximate monthly search volume for each phrase on the list, based on data from Google’s keyword tool:

    • papermaking supplies 390
    • paper making supplies 720
    • paper making equipment 210
    • paper making kit 590
    • how to make paper 201,000

    Wow, one informational keyword accounts for a big difference in potential targeted visitors to the site. While search numbers from any tool should not be taken literally, they can give us helpful clues about the search volume for certain keyword phrases relative to others. In this case, “how to make paper” appears to get thousands more searches than any of our other phrases so far, and is definitely worth keeping on our brainstorming list.

  • Think about keywords that describe alternatives to your products.Maybe you sell bamboo floring but you also want to get your brand in front of consumers in the market for wood floors. Or perhaps you want consumers searching for dog training services to find your new book on the subject. Marketing for alternative or competing products is usually more efficiently accomplished through paid ad campaigns, but can be an effective SEO strategy under the right circumstances. If you are publicizing a new-to-market item for which no one searches, for instance, you may build awareness by writing about products your innovation replaces or supplements so that people searching for existing products may find your site.
  • Target specific uses or desirable features of your products.When searching for products, people often have in mind specific uses or features they want. Include in your brainstorming list adjectives or descriptive phrases that point out specific selling points for your products. Here are a few examples:
    • Storage chest vs. Waterproof storage chest
    • Cell phone vs. cell phone with GPS
    • Coffee table vs. wooden coffee table
    • Toaster vs. Mickey Mouse head toaster (seriously)
  • Develop seasonal or current event specific keywords.Depending on your product offering, promoting seasonal keyword phrases or those related to current events or trends can bring an influx of qualified traffic. Here are a few examples:
    • Father’s day gifts (or other gift-giving holidays)
    • Superbowl party ideas (or other sporting/special events)
    • Back to school clothes
    • Snow shovels
    • Thanksgiving tablecloths

    If your products fill a need for a specific season or event, brainstorm how you can work that angle into your PPC campaign (or SEO campaign if the return is worth the effort).

Some other considerations to point you in the right direction when brainstorming key phrases are:

  • Language differences among geographic regions (think soda vs. pop vs. coke)
  • Commonly used slang expressions
  • Differences in jargon used by people in different age groups
  • Acronyms and abbreviations for phrases
  • Common misspellings (generally for PPC)
  • New words or phrases that emerge with new technology (like “webinar” or “ringtone”)
  • Targeted long tail phrases for which there may be little competition
  • Alternate ways your products may be used (“tennis balls for walkers”)

One final tip: Ask your customers, friends, family, colleagues and anyone who may fall into your target market what keywords they might use to find a business like yours, which can give you valuable insight into the language that is commonly used by those inside and outside your industry. Only when you have an exhaustive list of brainstormed keyword phrases should you move into the next phase of researching which of these phrases will attract the highest volume of qualified traffic to your site. Starting with a well thought out list of brainstormed keyword phrases will provide a solid foundation for the rest of your search marketing efforts.

-Pam Westbrook, Ecommerce Marketing/Copywriting

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