The Advanced Guide to Keyword Clustering

Posted by tomcasano

If your goal is to grow your organic traffic, you have to think
about SEO in terms of “product/market fit.”

Keyword research is the “market” (what users are actually
searching for) and content is the “product” (what users are
consuming). The “fit” is optimization.

To grow your organic traffic, you need your content to mirror
the reality of what users are actually searching for. Your content
planning and creation, keyword mapping, and optimization should all
align with the market. This is one of the best ways to grow your
organic traffic.

Why bother with keyword grouping?

One web page can rank for multiple keywords. So why aren’t we
hyper-focused on planning and optimizing content that targets
dozens of similar and related keywords?

Why target only one keyword with one piece of content when you
can target 20?

The impact of keyword clustering to acquire more organic traffic
is not only underrated, it is largely ignored. In this guide, I’ll
share with you our proprietary process we’ve pioneered for
keyword grouping so you can not only do it yourself, but you can
maximize the number of keywords your amazing content can rank

Here’s a real-world example of a handful of the top keywords
this piece of content is ranking for
. The full list is over
1,000 keywords.

17 different keywords one page is ranking for

Let’s dive in!

Part 1: Keyword collection

Before we start grouping keywords into clusters, we first need
our dataset of keywords from which to group from.

In essence, our job in this initial phase is to find every
possible keyword. In the process of doing so, we’ll also be
inadvertently getting many irrelevant keywords (thank you, Keyword
Planner). However, it’s better to have many relevant and long-tail
keywords (and the ability to filter out the irrelevant ones) than
to only have a limited pool of keywords to target.

For any client project, I typically say that we’ll collect
anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 keywords. But truth be told, we’ve
sometimes found 10,000+ keywords, and sometimes (in the instance of
a local, niche client), we’ve found less than 1,000.

I recommend collecting keywords from about 8–12 different
sources. These sources are:

  1. Your competitors
  2. Third-party data tools (Moz, Ahrefs, SEMrush, AnswerThePublic,
  3. Your existing data in Google Search Console/Google
  4. Brainstorming your own ideas and checking against them
  5. Mashing up keyword combinations
  6. Autocomplete suggestions and “Searches related to” from

There’s no shortage of sources for keyword collection, and more
keyword research tools exist now than ever did before. Our goal
here is to be so extensive that we never have to go back and
“find more keywords” in the future — unless, of course,
there’s a new topic we are targeting.

The prequel to this guide will expand upon keyword collection in
depth. For now, let’s assume that you’ve spent a few hours
collecting a long list of keywords, you have removed the
duplicates, and you have semi-reliable search volume data.

Part 2: Term analysis

Now that you have an unmanageable list of 1,000+ keywords,
let’s turn it into something useful.

We begin with term
. What the heck does that mean?

We break each keyword apart into its component terms that
comprise the keyword, so we can see which terms are the most
frequently occurring.

For example, the keyword: “best natural protein powder” is
comprised of 4 terms: “best,” “natural,” “protein,” and
“powder.” Once we break apart all of the keywords into their
component parts, we can more readily analyze and understand which
terms (as subcomponents of the keywords) are recurring the most in
our keyword dataset.

Here’s a sampling of 3 keywords:

  • best natural protein powder
  • most powerful natural anti inflammatory
  • how to make natural deodorant

Take a closer look, and you’ll notice that the term
“natural” occurs in all three of these keywords. If this term
is occurring very frequently throughout our long list of keywords,
it’ll be highly important when we start grouping our

You will need a word frequency counter to give you this insight.
The ultimate free tool for this is Write Words’ Word
Frequency Counter
. It’s magical.

Paste in your list of keywords, click submit, and you’ll get
something like this:

List of keywords and how frequently they occur

When you look at this now, you can already see patterns start to
emerge and you’re already beginning to understand your searchers

In this example dataset, we are going from a list of 10k+
keywords to an analysis of terms and phrases to understand what
people are really asking. For example, “what is the best” and
“where can i buy” are phrases we can absolutely understand
searchers using.

I mark off the important terms or phrases. I try to keep this
number to under 50 and to a maximum of around 75; otherwise,
grouping will get hairy in Part 5.

Part 3: Hot words

What are hot words?

Hot words are the terms or phrases from that last section that
we have deemed to be the most important. We’ve explained hot words in
greater depth here

Why are hot words important?

We explain:

This exercise provides us with a handful of the most
relevant and important terms and phrases for traffic and relevancy,
which can then be used to create the best content strategies —
content that will rank highly and, in turn, help us reap traffic
rewards for your site.

When developing your hot words list, we identify the
highest frequency and most relevant terms from a large range of
keywords used by several of your highest-performing competitors to
generate their traffic, and these become “hot

When working with a client (or doing this for yourself), there
are generally 3 questions we want answered for each hot word:

  1. Which of these terms are the most important for your business?
  2. Which of these terms are negative keywords (we want to ignore
    or avoid)?
  3. Any other feedback about qualified or high-intent

We narrow down the list, removing any negative keywords or
keywords that are not really important for the website.

Once we have our final list of hot words, we organize them into
broad topic groups like this:

Organized spreadsheet of hot words by topic

List your keywords in the first column.

Screenshot of keyword spreadsheet

Now, use “Find and replace” to remove all of the NOs.

Screenshot of Find and Replace popup

Part 5: Keyword grouping

At this point, you’re now set up for keyword clustering

This part is half art, half science. No wait, I take that back.
To do this part right, you need:

  • A deep understanding of who you’re targeting, why they’re
    important to the business, user intent, and relevance
  • Good judgment to make tradeoffs when breaking keywords apart
    into groups
  • Good intuition

This is one of the hardest parts for me to train anyone to do.
It comes with experience.

At the top of the sheet, I use the COUNTA
to show me how many times this word step has been
found in our keyword set:


This is important because as a general rule, it’s best to start
with the most niche topics that have the least overlap with other
topics. If you start too broadly, your keywords will overlap with
other keyword groups and you’ll have a hard time segmenting them
into meaningful groups. Start with the most narrow and specific
groups first.

To begin, you want to sort the sheet by word stem.

The word stems that occur only a handful of times won’t have a
large amount of overlap. So I start by sorting the sheet by that
column, and copying and pasting those keywords into their own new

Now you have your first keyword group!

Here’s a first group example: the “matcha” group. This can
be its own project in its own right: for instance, if a website was
all about matcha tea and there were other tangentially related

Screenshot of list of matcha-related keywords

We want to not only consider search volume, but ideally also
intent, competitiveness, and so forth.


You’ve successfully taken a list of thousands of keywords and
grouped them into relevant keyword groups.

Wait, why did we do all of this hard work again?

Now you can finally attain that “product/market fit” we
talked about. It’s magical.

You can take each keyword group and create a piece of optimized
content around it, targeting dozens of keywords, exponentially
raising your potential to acquire more organic traffic. Boo

All done. Now what?

Now the real fun begins. You can start planning out new content
that you never knew you needed to create. Alternatively, you can
map your keyword groups (and subgroups) to existing pages on your
website and add in keywords and optimizations to the header tags,
body text, and so forth for all those long-tail keywords you had

Keyword grouping is underrated, overlooked, and ignored at
large. It creates a massive new opportunity to optimize for terms
where none existed. Sometimes it’s just adding one phrase or a few
sentences targeting a long-tail keyword here and there that will
bring in that incremental search traffic for your site. Do this
dozens of times and you will keep getting incremental increases in
your organic traffic.

What do you think?

Leave a comment below and let me know your take on keyword

Need a hand? Just give me a shout, I’m happy to help.

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