3 Tips for Identifying Top Performing Keywords

  |  October 31, 2011   |  Comments

The many ways Google can help you with keyword research.

Keyword research is becoming more and more important as marketers see the value of having this information before, during, and after marketing campaigns. This knowledge especially takes on more meaning when it comes from your own website data. Let's look at some solid methods for identifying top performing keywords.

Using Google Webmaster Tools to Identify Keyword Impressions

Google's Webmaster Tools is sometimes an overlooked resource that can help marketers as they work on improving their websites. It can also be a great tool for learning more about keyword impressions and segmentation data.

Before you begin gathering these insights, make sure you have an account with Webmaster Tools and that it is verified. If you need help, please refer to Webmaster Tools Help on verification.

Start by visiting the dashboard of the site you wish to examine and click on "Your site on the web." Then click on "search queries." Immediately you will see your list of keywords sorted by the number of impressions as you can see below. This impression data is one piece of information you cannot currently get from Google Analytics. This adds one more piece of the puzzle to understanding how keywords are performing on your website.


If you wish to segment this list of keywords by type of search, location, or traffic, you can click on the filter button near the top to bring up another window that allows you to break down the data by - let's say mobile smartphone users in the U.S. With these filters you can identify top performing (and worst performing) keywords for each segment. Those that are not performing well might be opportunities. They may be performing poorly due to lack of optimization. If so, get in there and optimize to get them performing better or discard them if they are not driving the right traffic, which can be determined through Google Analytics.


Tip: You can select different dates to see performance over time. Additionally, export the data to Excel to help you with data manipulation.

Using Google Analytics to Identify Top Performing Keywords

Google Analytics allows you to take your research further and provide more granularity with the results. To get started, you need to insure you have Google Analytics installed and tracking, preferably for at least a month or longer. If you need help getting Google Analytics installed, please read this post.

To find the keyword data we are looking for, first navigate to "traffic sources." Then go to "sources," then "search," and finally "organic." This report shows you the organic search traffic for your site by keywords as you can see below.


The beautiful thing about this report is that it shows you your top performing keywords by the number of visits. To then see if your visitors stayed long enough to look around, you need to glance at the bounce rate for each keyword. A higher bounce rate indicates your visitors did not like what they saw when they landed on your site and then bolted. A lower bounce rate indicates more of your visitors lingered around. This in combination with the number of visits paints a pretty clear picture on keywords that drive traffic to your site and are working for you.

To check keyword performance, you can look at the conversion tab. You again need to have your conversion goals set up in advance. With this setup you can find top performing keywords that are not only driving traffic to your site but are helping you reach your goals.

Keyword Segmentation With Google Analytics

Next let's look at breaking these keywords down by segments to see what we can learn. To start, click on "advanced segments" near the top as you can see below:


Let's start by selecting "new visitors" and "returning visitors." Then click "Apply." This will show us how effective your organic keywords are at driving new and repeat traffic to your site. You can do this for other segments as well like paid search traffic.

You can also create custom segments. To get help with creating custom segments, you can read this post on Google's Analytics Help site. As you can see above, I have created custom segments for Twitter and Facebook traffic. It helps if you can isolate just the traffic and see how your keywords perform from each of these sources.

Another one of my favorite custom segments is branded keywords. This will help you to focus on how well your branded keywords are performing compared to the rest of your campaign.

Important update: Google has incorporated SSL for search on Google.com for users that are logged in. Why this is important is that Google will not pass the keyword search term for visits from users that are logged in. The visit will show up as an organic search but there will be no keyword associated with it. This is being done in the name of improving data privacy. Right now this represents a small percentage of traffic but may increase. More details are on the Google Analytics blog site.

There are many good keyword tools out there that provide great insights into general keyword performance but nothing is as good as looking at your own data. Don't forget to add these methods for finding and tuning keywords and keyword performance to your keyword research processes.


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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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