Keyword Research: Optimization for Conversion

Somewhere, someone is online looking for your product or service. He has a specific need to fill. Do you know what that need is? I may not know the answer to that question, but I can tell you how to find out for yourself.


When I consult with clients, their keywords are among the first things I look for. Keywords are mental images linked to what lies in the heart of your customer. Your customer searches for a specific need they want filled. They come up with a keyword or phrase that to them best describes a product or service that will satisfy the need. The key is to find the keywords your prospects use and feed them back. When you do that, two things happen: You know what they want; and you know how to tell them you have it.

To produce and optimize a Web site without understanding what your customer wants is like opening a steak house for vegetarians. With keywords you can set up your Web site to create the persuasive buying momentum needed for each visitor.

Keywords Build Confidence

None of your visitors will be persuaded to buy unless your presentation elicits an emotional reaction. Keywords comprise the language that elicits emotions. The most important emotion your visitor is looking for is confidence they are finding what’s relevant to their needs.

This past week at the conference, consultant/researcher Kelly Mooney expressed it this way: “Online shoppers do not conduct the linear purchases that many retailers envision. Rather they browse a catalog, talk to friends, go online to research a product, visit the store to experience it, go back to the Web to comparison shop, then make the purchase either online or offline.”

“Retailers think of shopping as a funnel,” Mooney continued, “but it’s non-linear, sporadic and [unpredictable”. Under the old model, the purchase was the end result; under the new model, confidence is the end result. It used to be that consumers would make the purchase and hope they made the right decision. Now, they can say they know they made the right decision.”

When your Web site uses your visitors’ language, they see you have the solution they seek. If your points of resolution include the keyword they thought to enter into a search engine, they’ll conclude your site is the one they searched for. When points of resolution include a hyperlink to the information expected, they know they’re on the trail and, like a bloodhound, they salivate before the reward. You can’t use keywords to drive just any traffic. They must be used to drive the right traffic.

Because keywords are much more than a way to build traffic, prioritize each one. Categorize your traffic using these four criteria:

  1. Traffic potential

  2. Prospect’s intent

  3. Stage in the buying process

  4. Likelihood to convert

This helps determine the importance of each keyword. More specifically, it tells you who your customers are, and who they should be.

Calculate a Baseline Conversion Rate

Once you have all your keywords, strip out any that are bringing traffic that doesn’t convert. Top search result rankings that bring traffic but no action dilute the overall conversion rate. Be careful not to strip out terms with latent conversions. Understand that this latency is usually related to what stage in the buying process a prospect is in, and whether it’s an impulse, a simple-considered purchase or a complex-considered purchase. A site that sells sugar gliders tracked people from when they clicked on a PPC ad to when they purchased. We observed the following behavior:

Search Term Latency to
Sugar Glider 14 days
Sugar Glider Supplies 6 days
Sugar Glider Food 2 days
ZooKeeper’s Secret
(food brand)
1 day

When prospects have confidence and know they made the right decision, they convert. Which of these terms would you think has the greatest likelihood to convert? ZooKeeper’s Secret, of course. Visitors searching on a product name declare their intent to purchase. There’s no reason why a term like this shouldn’t convert at 90 percent and better. This is no fantasy or bold assertion; it holds true for several of our clients’ sites.

Keywords as Triggers

Many sites, tools and databases can help locate keywords. Find them, test them, use them to your advantage. Remember to consider plurals, synonyms and misspellings. Brainstorm keywords into pairs and select the best ones to create keyphrases.

Keywords often broadcast online shopper intent. Trigger words talk to specific personas based on the keywords they use. For “stylish overcoats” a site might tell a humanistic persona, “so many people find our stylish coats perfect for…” and link to a page where testimonials to your style appear, before the next point of resolution. For the competitive persona you might write, “Our stylish coats are made from the highest-quality…” These people tend to care more about the prestige of the best coat, not the most stylish. Keywords paired with the correct trigger words are the most powerful asset a site can have to persuade visitors to buy.

Use keywords and trigger words to attract visitors. Include the keywords at the point of resolution. Anticipate and answer your prospects’ questions as expressed through their search terms. Do these simple things well and your bottom line will feel the impact.

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