It is widely accepted that SEO has evolved from simplistic initiatives such as keyword density and frequency within a page of content. Search algorithms are continually evolving to understand context and attitudes based on advanced semantic analysis.

That said, understanding the target keywords of a given web page will always remain a key focus for SEO development. The main principal remains; each page should have a clear and unique theme.

When briefed on SEO strategy, content creators frequently ask for a methodology by which they can identify the target keyword for a given page. To this end, over time I have constructed a five point checklist that can be deployed to help determine the target keyword for a given webpage. Each method can be used together or in isolation. They are designed as a guide rather than a strict process.

1. Empathise with the user. In my opinion this is the most simple but valuable stage of the keyword identification process. Anticipating the potential search terms that could be used in order to accomplish the task that the web page sets out to achieve is a fairly rudimentary practice. Nevertheless, it is advisable to benchmark these assumptions using the following methods.

2. Searching Online. Before building content around a particular page, it is fundamental to have a basic idea of the search landscape for the given subject matter. Conducting searches around the specific area in question will help to identify competition and opportunities for differentiation within the relevant space.

3. Competitors. If there are other websites already publishing content around the subject matter it is worth evaluating their pages and identifying trends within page content and titles and descriptions. Very often websites automate the population of key fields, making their SEO objectives very transparent.

4. Online Tools. There are a number of online tools that can help to devise keyword lists around a particular theme. The Google keyword tool is a simple example of one of the numerous free tools that are available showing both global and local search volume on a particular keyword and importantly, the level of competition on these terms.

5. Paid Search. Impression and click volume data from PPC accounts will help to construct an analytics portfolio behind each potential keyword choice. This complements the information derived from any online keyword tools. Cost per click data will also inform the competitiveness of each potential keyword choice. 

Another aspect that needs to be considered when determining target keywords is the requirement to identify the correct opportunities to achieve a competitive advantage and ensuring that resource is not misplaced targeting keywords where the chances of securing a high ranking are limited. For example, if I were to launch an online mortgage advisory service, it would not be realistic to expect to gain high positions on the term "mortgages".

This is an established area, with many organisations having targeted their SEO strategies around these terms for a number of years. Therefore, it may be better to build content around longer tail keywords where there is a better chance of securing high ranking search positions and consequently more traffic.

In the majority of cases, identifying the target keyword for a given webpage is a relatively simple task. Pages are built in order to fulfill an objective and the target keyword can generally be derived from this objective. However, there are still many occasions where the target keyword is not immediately apparent. In these instances it is of value to deploy techniques such as those described above in order to make content creation for SEO more efficient.

Richard Hartigan

Published 19 July, 2010 by Richard Hartigan

Richard Hartigan is a client side online marketing professional and blogger. The views expressed here are personal and do not represent those of any organisation.

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Comments (4)


Emily Smith

I often find that identifying keywords can either be one of the most interesting parts of a website - or can be the most frustrating! I think it is important to review keywords on a set basis - for clients, I like to look at the SEO every 3-6 months and make required changes. Looking at the analytics and which keywords are driving traffic can sometimes rally be an eye-opener!

about 8 years ago


Gaby Abi Aad

thanks for the post: I particularly relate to point 1 about empathy, I would call it having a sound business understanding of a client's industry, and if not, at least the inclination to dig and understand it: Search Engine Optimization specialists should really be consultants, they need to bridge the gap between business and keyword tools etc... I posted a short article about such business savvy here: Cheers.

about 8 years ago



Richard...Thanks...All good comments.

I believe Effective Search Marketing all starts with one simple equation - Effective Keyword Strategies plus Quality Links pointing to a webpage equals High Search Engine Rankings.

The more competition for a keyword, the more search engine authority (links) required for your webpage to gain a high ranking. The longer the keyword or more obsure the term...the easier it will be to obtain high rankings with fewer links. This all has to be balanced against the amount of search volume for any particular term.

As with anything...but especially with's all about trial and error and a great deal of patience...Thanks again

about 8 years ago


Depesh Mandalia, CEO & Founder at SM Commerce

Identifying keywords is one challenge, the other is building your keyword strategy into the guts of your website. You can create a set of target keywords for a page, but a common challenge, especially in retail but also transcending other verticals, is in creating keyword rich pages when the brand insists on more 'brand' copy which customers are unlikely to search on. At this stage you start looking at 'satellite' pages *integrated* into your site or being a little more creative in your SEO/Branding page strategy and the pros and cons of each approach

about 8 years ago

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