Keyword Forensics 101

  |  October 18, 2010   |  Comments

Investigating the meaning behind the keywords and searcher intent leads us to some valuable insight into human behavior.

Keyword research is, as I have said before, foundational to any Internet marketing campaign. Learning which keywords will drive the right traffic is very important. When we spend time researching keywords it is usually in the context of simply finding keywords for our campaigns. However, investigating the meaning behind the keywords and searcher intent leads us to some valuable insight into human behavior. Some call this keyword forensics.


For all of you CSI fans, you have probably heard the term "forensics." Instead of following fingerprints to solve a crime, we are using keyword research tools and investigative skills to learn more about the "what," "why," and "how" of our target audience. In essence, we are studying search trends and behavior to learn more about searcher intent so we can lead them to and then serve them the content they are looking for.

Using Keyword Research to Learn Human Behavior

People have flocked to the Internet and use it as a tool for many reasons. Your job is to get a better understanding of their true purpose. So as you conduct your keyword research, think in terms of "human behavior" not just a bunch of statistics about the keywords. However, look at the statistics and interpret the deeper meaning. What is the purpose behind the search? This is the kind of mindset you should start getting accustomed to.

So start training your mind to look beyond keyword popularity and begin looking at trends and any insights to user intent. For instance, a simple search on the word "full suspension mountain bike" showed there were about 18,000 global monthly searches.


However, if you look at the use of the word over a period of time you get a deeper understanding. So I looked it up using Google Insights and found that the volume of searching for this phrase was higher in the spring and summer. If I were to develop a campaign around this keyword I would consider increasing my PPC activity around those months. Additionally, I would make sure my website had highly relevant content to support this keyword.


If you use a Web analytics tool, and you should, you will find more keyword trend information as it relates to your website. Learn which keywords are bringing in the most traffic, which is converting the most. What behavioral path are people taking as they navigate through your site. Is it the right path? Then based on what you learn make any course corrections necessary to make the experience that much better.

Interpreting Searcher Intent

Keyword forensics takes us beyond what we think the right keyword phrases should be and forces us to look at the searcher and their motivations, their intent, and desires. For example, what can we learn from a person who searches for "digital camera"?

First, they might be in the market for purchasing a digital camera. But because of the general nature of the keyword they probably aren't ready to purchase one. I would guess that they are in the beginning of their buying cycle. Within your industry or company you might have access to research about the time it takes from initial research to making a purchase. This may be helpful as you plan your campaigns in this case.

Now, contrast this with a search for "Canon EOS 5D Mark III." What can we infer from this keyword phrase? In this case, the searcher knows exactly what they are looking for. They have likely finished their research and found the specific model they have an interest in. It is probably safe to assume they are ready to make a purchase and they are now looking for the best price.

So what can we do with this information? Well, the more you can learn about what searchers are looking for you can try to anticipate their needs and set up your campaign accordingly. Those campaigns should be designed to take the searcher directly to the page on your site that will satisfy their need. By doing this you have created a highly relevant campaign that has a higher probability of leading to a conversion.

Learning the use of Trigger Words to Explore Behavior

There are certain keywords that lead a searcher to take action. These "trigger" words can provide insight into intent. Some of these keywords like: "learn," "information," or "how to," help us learn that the intent is to gather information. Additionally, keywords like "free," "cheap," or "savings" tell us that these searchers are very price conscious. If you have a premium or a luxury product you will want to use negative keywords to avoid this kind of traffic to your site.

As you conduct your keyword research always look for clues for the purpose behind it. Identify the root word, then look at the descriptive prefix or suffix words. What extra meaning do they tell? As you get used to the idea of looking for deeper meaning behind the keywords you use in your campaign, you will find that your campaigns will grow to a new level. The more you know about human behavior, the better you can prescribe the right content for them and how they come to find it.

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Ron Jones

Ron was president/CEO of Symetri Internet Marketing, which provides strategic SEM consulting and training. Ron was actively involved in the SEM community and spoke and trained at conferences and seminars. Ron also served on the Board of Directors for SEMPO and was one of the authors for the SEMPO Institute Fundamentals and Advanced courses.

Ron also published a book called Keyword Intelligence: Keyword Research for Search Social and Beyond. This book outlines various methods and tips for conducting keyword research but more importantly outlines many ways to use keyword research for social media, site design, content development and marketing, and even traditional marketing and branding.

Ron passed away on June 30, 2012.

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