You should always do your research before you start developing a search marketing strategy. And I'm not talking about keyword research. Before you even get there, you need to understand the landscape or environment that you're working in.
With a strong understanding of the search marketplace and competitive environment, you can develop a plan that capitalizes on key opportunities and minimizes any potential threats. Intelligence research can also help demonstrate a business case – internally or externally – on the importance of undertaking search marketing in the first place.
Before developing your search plan, you should understand the following:
Searcher Interest and Behavior
Are users actually searching for information related to your category and offerings?
What specific types of information are people searching for?
Is there any seasonality or patterns in the search behavior?
The Competitive Environment
How much competition exists for desired keywords, and how much will they cost you?
Are your direct competitors undertaking SEO (define) and SEM (define), and what are their approaches?
Which properties/sites appear to be "winning" at search, and why?
Let's look at some online tools – many of which are free – that can help you answer these key questions about your search marketing landscape.
A quick overview of each tool is provided below. You should test out each of these to understand how they work and find out which are most useful for your planning efforts.
Key Tools for Analyzing Searcher Interest and Behavior
Visually presents associations and sequencing among queries in the same session
Detects and displays keywords that are similar or related to the search term entered
Displays commonly misspelled terms or alternative spellings of the search term
Forecasts search inventory and demographic makeup of term searchers
Key Tools for Analyzing the Competitive Environment
Google AdWords Keyword Tool (free) (Although this tool is also already included in the Searcher Interest and Behavior section, it also has specific aspects to help measure and understand your competition.)
Enables you to view competition levels for your target keywords and related terms
Displays average CPC (define) prices for top positioning on those keywords
Permits you to set a max CPC and displays estimated ad positioning for those terms
Lets you sort by CPC or advertiser competition to identify niche or low-cost terms
Julie is a member of the senior strategy team at Klick Health, focused on online media and digital. Julie initially established and led the media practice at Klick for several years, relinquishing leadership to expand beyond media into additional digital tactics. She brings a wealth of experience in search marketing, digital media, and all facets of digital strategy to bear, helping Klick's clients develop innovative digital solutions. As her role has evolved, so have her contributions to ClickZ, which she has been writing for since 2007.