Programmatic Keyword Tagging

in Search Engine Optimization

How to tag your keywords 10X faster and beat your SEO competition on insights

Do you know the pain of tagging keywords? Maybe you delegate that task to the intern and try to forget it.

Either way, keyword tagging can be a long and tiresome process.

Before we get into how to hack the process, let’s address the question: “Why do we even need to tag our keywords?”

The big benefit of keyword tagging

Keywords are still an important part of an effective SEO strategy.

However, the advances in semantic understanding, relevance and so forth is moving SEO in a direction from only keywords to topic and intent based optimization.

People, your customers, are asking Google hundreds of questions every month. Expecting to find an answer. This data is obviously valuable for your content strategy.

For example, we might want to know how many people want an electrical car vs. a hybrid car vs. a conventional car. We could the answer to this question by tagging our car keywords by those 3 dimensions.

The goal is to get insights and advantages from your search data.

Your most meaningful questions will vary depending on the industry and organization. However, search queries can help answer many interesting hypotheses.

Google has often been called Truth Serum, while Facebook and other social media is the #SeeMyAwesomeLife Serum.

No man would ever ask Facebook: “How to convince my wife to buy a new car” but they might search Google to find the answer.

Strategic advantages

I used to be an external consultant for HBO, and if you are in the movies, film and streaming industry, you want to know;

  1. How many people search for genres? and which?
  2. Do people search mostly for series generically or for a specific season and/or episode?
  3. Which movies in the assortment are the most sought after?
  4. Which of our series are the most sought after in Google?
  5. Where in the sales funnel are the majority of searches?

In order to answers these important strategic questions, you need tagging.

By adding every keyword to 2-5 groups/tags, you will soon be able to look at buckets of keywords instead of individual keywords.

Like this bubble chart with competition on the y-axis, average rank on the x-axis and the size of the bubble is the amount of searches per month. Instead of analyzing specific keywords we are now evaluating categories, themes, types etc.

Competition searches and rank

Example: Let’s take a keyword like “Game of Thrones season 5”. Now let’s imagine we have 4 different tag categories. We will give this keyword a tag for each tag category.

For example; A: Series, B: Specific series, C: Game of Thrones, D: Season.

  • We use the A tag to determine if the search is for series, film og unknown.
  • The B tag is for separating queries for specific series from genre or thematic queries.
  • The C tag is for grouping search relating to a specific series.
  • The D tag will include generic/season/episode, so you can seperate those on a large scale.

Keyword tagging is not a goal in itself – simply the process.

You can enhance the process and find the golden nuggets of the future; The groups of keywords with low competition, many monthly searches and potentially yearly growth (see Paul’s awesome python script).

Adding that data will allow you to view your data like this:

SEO Market Landscape
With yearly growth on the x-axis we can find the golden nuggets of the future.

By getting this grouped data, we can make smarter strategic decisions.

I even used geo mapping to show the local geographical search behaviour on an actual map. The map below shows the concentration of Danish searches for travel to those destinations:

I did this using Google Fusion Tables. However, Google it terminating that dec 3. 2019.

It helped everyone understand the data much better and definitely improved our strategic and tactical approach.

Analytical advantages

Apart from enhancing our strategic insight, we will also be able to track our strategy much more efficiently.

Instead of looking and investigating on a keyword level, we will now be able to evaluate our SEO efforts on a grouped level. Say, we decided to focus on improving our ranking for seasonal searches – now we can track our SEO performance of that specific part of the market.

You could even consider using the BCG matrix to manage your portfolio of categories. Every heard about dogs, stars, question marks and cash cows? Take a look at this:

BCG Search Matrix

It is obviously important to have a great strategy, but it also important that you are able to track your progress to ensure you are sticking to the defined strategy.

The boring manuel proces

First of all. The big issue with keyword tagging is that most just don’t.

Many SEO specialists either don’t understand the value of this work. Being able to slice and dice a SEO market by several different variables is massively underestimated.

Some projects or budgets are obviously too small to justify a big SEO analysis. More often, however, specialists have simply never build a report with more than one level of tagging. They can do better, without spending too much time.

Hopefully this blog posts can help get them started.

The second big issue with keyword tagging is how time consuming it can be.

Imagine you have 2.000 keywords and you need to give each of them 4 tags. Even assuming you only spend 5 seconds per tag it would take you roughly 11 hours to finish.

That calls for some hacking.

Hacking the process

Today, tagging is usually done in a spreadsheet where you write the tag in a column next to the individual keyword.

What if…

You could just make a rule, that all keywords that include “season” should get a seasonal tag. All keyword that contain “throne” should be giving the tag “Game of Thrones” and so forth.

Surely every rule we build would apply to many keywords.

How quickly would you now be able to do a deep and nuanced tagging?

I built a tool that does exactly this.

Click here to open it. Then click file and make a copy.

First, you insert your keywords in column A of the tab called keywords.

The tool

Secondly, you go to the tagging tab of the sheet. Here you can input words in the input columns (A, D, G & J). The rule is: If the word is in the keyword then the follow tag will be applied. Next to the word you write the tag it should get.

Keyword Tagging

Keep in mind that you can, and probably should, use the same tag in multiple rows. So simulate something like, all words that contain either “Game of”, “GOT” or “Throne” should get the tag “C: Game of Thrones”.

Once you have repeated this process for just half an hour you should see some incredible results. Back in the keywords tab your keywords now have multiple tags attached:

SEO Tool

I had a case with the global tattoo platform, Tattoodo, where we had 42.000 keywords. We managed to add 67.500 tags (!) across 3 tag categories in just 3 hours using this method.

That is most likely impossible for anyone to beat manually. That is the power of this  automated keyword tagging system. After the tagging I was able to tell them exactly how many searches for a tattoo in relation to any body part, motive og style:

Find your own questions. Go nuts. Get your insights.

I hope you will get a lot of value from this simple tool, and begin looking more at groups, topics and specific verticals instead of individual keywords.

Why not use a NLP?

NLP is short for Natural Language Processor and could in many cases be (and is) used for categorizing and tagging keywords. However, it can be a bit of an overkill. Unless you are a really big and talented agency, then moving from manual tagging to this smart proces is the first step you need to take.

Furthermore, many languages outside english, spanish etc. isn’t supported by something like Google Cloud Natural Language, which otherwise does a great job of getting the context, entities and sentiment of whole texts.

Good ideas for tagging

Here are some ideas that might help you see everything a bit clearer.

If you are in the webshop sphere, then it might be valuable to know certain things that a platform or B2B company would not need to know.

Imagine you have a tennis webshop. This might be a good setup to start of:

  • An A-tag dedicated to categories. Examples: Racquets, shoes, shirts & string.
  • A B-tag dedicated to subcategories. Examples: Junior racquets & womens shoes.
  • A C-tag dedicated to brands. Examples: Nike, Adidas, Wilson & Yonex.
  • A D-tag dedicated to adjectives & verbs. Examples: Price, cheap, review, size & buy.

As you should notice by now, this tagging would allow you to compare searches for specific brands – even look at which brands are the biggest inside certain categories. Like, which brand is the most searched for when it comes to racquets.

Furthermore, it will enable you to know which adjectives and verbs to use most frequently.

This should all help give you a competitive advantage against your competitors and help you grow your website’s traffic from Google.

It is effective for all kinds for businesses, however, it is your job to have a good intuition and ask the correct industry specific questions. Add the tags accordingly.

Happy tagging, Christian.

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  1. This is really powerful, Christian. I would love to apply this to our b2b product search console data. Any specific method of tagging that you believe we should be following?

    • Thanks Vivek. Glad you found it useful.

      I usually choose tagging based on the questions I want to answer in the specific case.

      There is not a set formula that I can recommend for all B2B companies.

      What does you company do? 🙂

    • Hi Peter, glad you enjoyed this piece.

      That makes sense. Conditional logic for keyword tagging is more a method than a tool – you can use a wide variety of tools instead of Google Sheet. Could be SQL in BigQuery or even doing it in Tableau or Power BI.

  2. I loved this. It sounds similar to word2vec, although I’m not too savvy with it yet. I’ll be putting this in to practise where possible and will for sure be sharing it amongst my team. Cheers Christian 🙂

    • Hi Tom

      The premis is fairly similar. Tagging, understanding and categorising words. However, using a NLP or another tool to create vectors based on words are in a totally different ballpark. The beauty of the tagging framework I outline is how powerful it is compared to the simplicity and ease of use (+ you can make it work in all languages).

      Glad you liked it. Cheers, Tom.

  3. If you have to extend past row 51 in the tagging tab, what’s your recommendation? I’m not seeing the data populate and wondering what should be done.


    • Hi Frank

      I think you can easily exceed 50 tags if you are tagging something like brands across a big dataset. However, I would consider if you should include more than 50 tags. In case you need it, you “simply” need to modify the code in the Sheet 🙂 The sheet is currently only setup to handle 50 tags per tag-set (A, B, C & D).

    • Hi Richard, thanks for the compliment.

      It sure does save you hours or open up new opportunities if you are tagging manually (as most are) today 🙂

  4. Nice work, Christian! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Would you happen to have any further leads, guides, references, etc. on using NLP for keyword tagging?


    • Hi Zach

      I primarily work with enterprise companies in Scandinavia. There is no great NLP for danish, swedish, norwegian and finish. Therefore, I am lacking experience working with language API’s in this regard, so far.

      Thanks for you comment though!