What is a Seed List?

The first and most important step of any search engine optimization (SEO) campaign is the keyword research. You and I can think of a lot of great keyword phrases as possible optimization candidates… but ask yourself, are humans searching on these phrases? After all if no one is searching on a particular phrase, then that phrase certainly won’t bring traffic to your site. It’s absolutely imperative that your site is optimized with phrases that people search on. To find these phrase we have to conduct some keyword research, research based upon your seed list.

So how do I create a seed list?

I tell my clients to create a list of every phrase they can think of that has to do with their product(s) and/or service(s). Have their co-workers, parents, grandparents, pets (well maybe not pets) submit their ideas as well.

An Albuquerque attorney might have the following phrases in their seed list:

personal injury
dog bites
divorce law
child custody

Sometimes, depending on the niche, the above exercise can create enough phrases for you to start with. Sometimes it doesn’t. That’s when you get a bit more aggressive about where you find these phrases:

1) server log files
2) competitor sites
3) thesaurus
4) online bidding tools
5) client
6) offline advertising

Let’s go over these:

1) Server Log Files – Looking in your log files is a great way to find extra phrases and ideas. When you dump these in your keyword research tool of choice (I use Wordtracker first, then export into KeywordDiscovery.com) you can get the hard numbers on these phrases. I use Wordtracker first because it has such a great thesaurus tool. Sometimes when you’re so entrenched into a niche, it’s hard to think outside the box and think of things the average searcher might type in a search engine.

2) Competitor Sites – look at what they’re using in their title, on their page and in their navigation. This may give you some other ideas for phrases.

3) Thesaurus – check with an online thesaurus (or offline thesaurus if you still believe in books!) for other ideas. For example, “shoe” might yield:

childrens shoes
snow shoes

This is one of the most important tactics in the list (IMO). Sometimes you’ll find that clients are so entrenched in their niche that they don’t think outside of the box.

4) Online Bidding Tools – Even though I don’t use them for gathering my search metrics (bidding history is not the same data as overall search data) they’re great for generating other phrases; just ignore the search numbers and any other numeric data.

5) Client – as suggested above, ask your client to compile you a list of phrases using the criteria state.

6) Offline Advertising – look at trade magazines, pay close attention to commercial and print ads that are related to the product/services you or your client work with.

After you have their seed list, you’ll then want to make sure you have all permutations of the phrases (lawyer, lawyers, attorney, attorneys – as in the case of our attorney example).

Locally, Nationally or Globally

What about location? Is your client offering services locally, nationally or globally? Make sure that if you’re client is seeking local business/traffic only, that they send you these geographical areas along with their seed list (note: I actually send out a focus analysis that allows them to send their seed list as well as all the geographical areas they want to target):

Using our attorney example, we might get these areas:

Rio Rancho

In this case, our attorney would take a case from any of the areas above. Our list might look something like this now:

Albuquerque personal injury lawyer (lawyers, attorney, attorneys)
Rio Rancho personal injury lawyer (lawyers, attorney, attorneys)
Placitas personal injury lawyer (lawyers, attorney, attorneys)
Corrales personal injury lawyer (lawyers, attorney, attorneys)

The list, it grows!

If your client wants a site that competes at the national/global level (meaning they’ll take traffic/clients outside of their local region), you don’t have to worry about geo-targeting.

Once you’ve completed the tasks above (or your client), you’ll have a great list of phrases all ready for analysis (competitiveness, search metrics, etc).


1) Do NOT include words like:

The Best

2) Make sure your geographical areas are unique.***


Cooks County

There are several Cooks Counties in the United States. If you find yourself in this position, try to find other geographical areas that could be possible candidates for optimization. If not, you’ll be competing against other areas. This optimization effort would be best spent optimizing your site for unique areas.

*** [Note added 3/13/2011] Due to Google’s localized search (serving you up results based upon your geographical location) this is no longer a major concern. If you were in TX and searched on a phrase containing “Cooks County” you’ll more than likely be served results from TX and not IL. However, to FORCE TX results, add a geographical modifier such as “Texas” or “TX”

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