As I consult and train people on Internet marketing, I typically ask whether keyword research is a strategic function or a tactical one. Often people think it's tactical because of the tedious nature of the work. I submit it is not only strategic but also foundational to all marketing channels you will use. If you take the time up front to outline a killer keyword strategy, you will find your campaigns will be higher performing and more successful. In this column, I will outline seven tips for developing a killer keyword strategy you can use to take your campaigns to a higher level.
1. Branding or converting strategy. One of the first things to consider in developing a keyword strategy is what you want to accomplish when you reach your target audience. Do you just want to generate an impression for branding purposes or do you want to invite them to your place where you get them to make a purchase? Here are three types of strategies to consider:
Conversion: This strategy is what most of us are after. We want our keywords to draw traffic to our website or landing page, and then we want that traffic to convert by making a purchase or otherwise doing something specific like filling out a contact form, picking up the phone, or downloading something. In this case, long-tail or more specific keywords will likely work best for you.
Branding: The branding strategy is just that. You value impressions over new leads or conversions. Whether or not people come to our website isn't as important as being seen as a player for that keyword. In this case, broad search terms are likely going to work best for you.
Hybrid: You can of course bring both of these strategies together and have 90 percent of your keywords dedicated to a conversion strategy. Then the other 10 percent are dedicated to branding and impressions. You would want to segment your keywords accordingly for each campaign.
Identifying this up front will help you put your keyword research in the right perspective. As you refine and pick your top keywords, you can sort them accordingly based on which strategy you're targeting.
2. Define how will you measure success. This is probably one of the most important questions to answer before you begin any campaign. As a consultant, this is one of the first questions I ask a potential client. The answer as you might expect is page one ranking. If your objective is branding only, then this is fine, however, if like most organizations yours is a conversion strategy, then I would caution you to not be so short-sighted. Your objective should be how many conversions you want to achieve for each keyword. Top ranking will help you with visibility, which is a good thing, but if you bring in traffic from that keyword and those visitors do not engage and convert, then why bother? You must set your sights on keywords that convert.
To do this, you want to analyze your analytics frequently by keyword and observe visitors' behavior when they come to your website or landing page. Don't fixate on just traffic alone. How much time are they spending on your site? What is the average number of pages they are viewing? What is the bounce rate? A high bounce rate like 80 percent will tell you that most of your visitors leave your site immediately upon landing on your site. They're not engaged and see no content clues they arrived at their desired destination. This can be fixed by making changes to your landing pages as long as they are relevant to the keywords that brought them there.
The final and most important metric is conversion. Make sure that you set up your conversion goals within your analytics. That way you can see which keywords are not only driving traffic but out of that traffic what percentage is converting. That is how you can measure keyword success. If you're not doing this, then it becomes more difficult to identify your highest performing keywords.
On a frequent basis, you might want to transfer this information to a spreadsheet to track your keywords to monitor your higher performing keywords. Simply sort your spreadsheet on the conversion column since this is our most important metric as you can see below:
3. Mapping keywords to the right landing pages. One way to insure you get the best results from your keyword campaigns is to make sure there is very high relevance between the keywords you use and the associated landing pages. This is a very important principle. What happens when you click on an organic listing or a PPC add from a SERP (search engine results page) and the content has little to zero keywords on that page that you used to search on? Right, you bolt and head back and click on another link. Make sure your landing pages are optimized to handle your keyword traffic to make them relevant.
More importantly, take the time as you conduct your keyword research to segment and categorize your keywords to map to the right landing pages. If the page doesn't exist on your site yet, then that is your cue to build a new page for that set of keywords. By doing this you will achieve the relevance that will lead to more engaged visitors and higher conversion rates.
Another way to do this is to analyze the keywords that are driving traffic to your site and match the user intent to the right page of your site. In the figure below, you can see a typical buy cycle for a new searcher. They will start off using broad keywords to get a general idea of what content is out there. Searchers who use these broad terms would infer that they're in the information gathering stage of their search. So ask yourself, which page on your site is best suited to help them gather the information they're seeking? Do you have an article, how-to, or comparison page you can lead them to that helps them get the information they need?
Now as searchers start to gather information, they begin to refine their search and start using more specific terms. Then finally they begin to use very specific terms. They have switched from information gathering to a transactional mode. If someone searches on the term "canon eos mark III," what does that suggest about their intent? That they have done their research and are ready to buy. So do you send them to your home page? Absolutely not. You need to send them to your product page that has the product, its features, maybe related products, the price, and most importantly the "buy now" button. They don't need more information; they're probably price shopping and are looking for a trusted source with the best price.
4. Choose keywords based on more than just high search traffic. Depending on which strategy you're using, branding or conversion, you should not fall into the trap of just looking at search volume when judging which keywords to use. Just because one keyword has a whole lot more searches than another doesn't necessarily mean it will be a better performing search term. Take the time to analyze other factors that provide more granularity. Here is an example of other factors you may want to look at:
In the figure below, you can see I have set up a keyword rating spreadsheet. I first gathered keyword data from a keyword tool to populate the orange columns. In this example, I used the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. From there I began looking at each keyword and gave each one a score from one to 10. For some I built a formula to automate the process, which comes in handy with larger keyword lists.
Business relevance: This is where I rate how relevant the keyword is to my business or site landing page. This is a manual process but a very important one. As you should have noticed by now, relevance is vitally important to keyword success.
How specific: This is where you need to refer to your keyword strategy. If you're using a branding strategy, then you'll give a higher score to broader keywords. If you're using a conversion strategy, then you should give a higher score to longer tail keywords.
Competition: How competitive is the term you're going after? If too many people are pursuing your keyword, you may want to consider others that have less competition. They're likely going to be easier to rank for and less expensive. I give a higher score to those keywords that are less competitive.
Search volume: This is what most people focus on. Obviously keywords that have a higher search volume represent an increased opportunity for visibility and traffic, so score accordingly.
Intent: This isn't as much of a scoring column as just indicating the type of keyword related to user intent. Just another factor that might help you judge which ones you may want to use.
Overall score: Finally, you simply add up the scores and divide by the number of columns you have. This will give you an overall score. Then you can sort your keyword list by overall score and voilà, your keywords that are likely to perform the best for you bubble up to the top. You can weight each column if you like based on which factors are most important to you.
This is just an example on how to score your keywords and illustrate how to look at more factors than just search volume. You can add more columns with other factors to your liking.
6. Use social media to help provide context for user intent. Another important keyword strategy is to align your social media efforts, especially the "listening" part, to help provide context to your targeted keywords. I have outlined a few ways in this column to infer user intent by keyword but to see the search term used in a tweet or blog will provide a much better context to user intent and usage. You can gauge user wants, needs, and sentiment that will help you as you construct your landing pages with keyword-relevant content.
7. Use a keyword research brief to share for unified messaging. The final tip is to attempt to break down the silos that are typical in medium to large organizations and share with them enough keyword data so they can be encouraged to use your targeted keywords in their respective messaging. One way to do this is to develop what I call a keyword research brief. This is simply a document that is like an executive summary of keyword research for your top keywords. This document should be no more than one to two pages. It should be a quick read. See an example of this below.
By sharing this information, you can align all stakeholders that are involved with any kind of messaging (i.e., print, TV, PR, SEO, PPC, email, blog posts, etc.) and get everyone consistently using your targeted keywords. As your audience observes messages from each of these channels, they will see that consistency. This can highly influence which keywords they then use when they use a search engine to find you or your products. These are, of course, keywords you already rank well for, which will help to increase visibility and branding even more for your entire organization.
As you can see, keyword research is a very strategic aspect of any marketing campaign. By taking the time up front to consider these tips, you can develop a killer keyword strategy that will have a much higher success rate and provide you with the results you are looking for.
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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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