Lucy Richards
8 minute read

According to Clicktime.com, an effective keyword list will help you repeatedly rank on the first page of Google. You can read their full article here.

Whether your goal is getting more blog subscribers, demo requests, direct sales, or simply increasing brand awareness, ranking on the first page of Google is a tremendous achievement, and a key part of any SEO plan.

But regardless of your motives, the first step to ranking content is organising your keyword research and prioritising your best attempts into an organised keyword list.

So, without further ado; open a spreadsheet and we’ll show you how to create & prioritise a keyword list.

Step 1: Audience

In this tab, write down what you know about your buyers, what’s important to them and when, and important dates to track.

Your buyer (or whoever you consider to be your audience) should always be front and center during this exercise. If you already have personas mapped out to the typical sales cycle, refer to that while you start writing categories of keywords.

If you’re still learning about your buyer, it's a good idea to go through the classic persona exercise or you can conduct some of your own market research to gather first hand data. 

Move onto step 2 when you can answer these questions:

  • Who is your buyer?
  • What are you trying to convince them to do with your content?

Step 2: Categories of keywords

In this tab, write a list of topics that you want to dive into with specific keywords. You’ll end up transferring this list of categories to a keywords tab, so just treat this as your brainstorming section.

The result of this step will be a list of topics (or buckets of content) that represent:

  • Intersections between your buyer and your product
  • Areas where you or someone on your team is a product or industry expert
  • Concerns that are important to your buyer and are at least tangentially related to your product

If your goal is lead generation, then create categories or topics that are right at the intersection of pain points and problems you’re trying to solve.

If your goal is broader (e.g. you want to use content for a longer play like thought leadership), layer in categories where you’re a subject matter expert and can lend true education on things your buyer cares about.

This can be a challenging exercise, so be easy on yourself. You’ll have the opportunity to go back and refine this list. Just let your imagination and ideas flow. The main thing to keep in mind is your buyer.

Step 3: Keyword list

In this tab, copy over your categories and start listing keywords that fit under each category. You should have multiple keywords per category (when possible).

Treat this step like step 2. The result of this step will be a list of actual keywords that you will try to win in specific pieces of content. While the names of categories may not explicitly show up in content, these keywords will. So, phrases and longtail keywords should end up on this list.

While there are a ton of best practices out there to build a list of keywords, your brain is the best first place to start. Draw upon your own experience, instinct, and knowledge. Trust yourself in this process, and since it’s not the final product, this is a powerful moment to brainstorm. Again, you’ll have time to pare this down later.

Make this step more enjoyable and fruitful by working with a colleague. If you’re in marketing, work with someone in sales, customer success, or product. This will help you look at all parts of the funnel and create a keyword list that hits the entire customer lifecycle.

Step 4: Check volume

  • In the same keyword tab, create a column to track average monthly search volume.
  • Sign into Google AdWords.
  • Go to Keyword Planner under Tools.
  • Go to Get Search Volume Data and Trends.
  • Cut and paste your list of keywords.
  • Adjust targeting.
  • Download your results and update your keyword list.

If you’re just starting out and want to test the waters, look at keywords that get at least 50 average monthly searches, and tackle one of those. It might be easy to win, depending on the strength of the content on the first page of Google. And it feels great to get those first wins! It will really boost your confidence as you continue down the road of getting content to rank on Google.

Step 5: Relevance score

In the same keyword tab, create a column to give a relevance score to each keyword. Here’s your first step to prioritisation.

Keep this simple, score from 1-3:

  • Score a “1” for keywords that are closest to your goal. If you sell boutique pet food, then the keyword for “best grain-free dog food” would score a “1”.
  • Score a “2” for keywords that imply someone is acting, but not necessarily looking for dog food. For example, a “2” might be “help dog lose weight” or “healthy diet for dog.”
  • Score a “3” for keywords that are flat, not necessarily actionable, and more focused on education. Some examples are, “what is kibble” or “types of dog food.” The topic is relevant since you sell pet food, but there are too many reasons why a person might want to learn what is kibble and too many of them are not real buyers.

Step 6: Prioritise

Overall, prioritisation will happen on three levels: buyer, volume, and "win-ability" (i.e. if you can’t beat what’s already ranking, then cut your losses and move on).

Prioritisation can be thought of in two ways: existing keyword opportunities and new keyword opportunities.

Existing Keyword Opportunities

Add a column in the keywords tab for links to existing content.

One of the greatest benefits of the keyword list is you can start getting more out of your existing content. You'll want to see if you’re currently ranking for keywords or already have content you want to rank for those terms. You'll be better able to optimize this content for one or even multiple keywords.

The goal here is to rank better, drive more traffic, and eventually create more conversion off existing content. There are several content optimization tools out there, including Mushi Labs, which will help score and give keyword suggestions based on analysing content ranked on the first page of Google.

New Keyword Opportunities

Hopefully your keyword list has a healthy amount of existing content tied to it. Anything remaining are your new keyword opportunities.

New keyword opportunities come from a variety of sources: overlooked synonyms, the long-tail of existing high-value keywords, new feature releases, new products, etc. When considering new keywords to go after, keep in mind your buyer, volume, and win-ability (can you create high-value content that can reasonably beat some of the results on the first page of Google?).

The final step to prioritisation is a combination of those same three things and the resources you have available. Remember that content is the key to ranking well. Sometimes you'll find a keyword opportunity but lack the right content. Other times, you'll have content already and need to optimise it to rank higher for the right word. Prioritise your list based on what you can accomplish well, with what you already have.

Final Thoughts

The beauty of a keyword list is it allows you to be more strategic and smarter with your time. Whether it’s getting more out of work you’ve already created or strategically going after important, winnable keywords to rank on the first page of Google, the keyword list will help you focus and get more disciplined in your content efforts.


Lucy Richards

Lucy Richards

Marketing Manager
Lucy is the Marketing Manager at Digital First, she focuses on social media management, content creation and branding. She previously worked in the investment banking industry for over two years, but decided to pursue her dreams of travel and marketing; and emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. She graduated from the Glasgow Caledonian University in 2014 with a Bachelors degree in Entertainment and Events Management.