Keyword Research Revisited, Part 1: Log Files

The core of every search engine marketing (SEM) campaign is the keyword list. It’s the foundation of a paid search campaign and the key to organic (unpaid) search engine optimization (SEO). Having an ever-growing, ever-adapting keyword list and using keyword data to tune a campaign are critically important. That’s why keyword and keyword phrase research and enhancement are worth revisiting as the SEM landscape evolves.

Keyword research is a regular topic at the Search Engine Strategies conference (I’ll speak at the NYC event next month). This series covers keyword research and implementation. The first keyword research tool at your disposal is your own Web log.

Your Web log is one of the richest sources of actionable keyword research. The Web log (or third-party Web analytics vendor) captures the keywords searchers used to find your search links and click on them. Web logs and Web analytics tools capture the exact keywords typed in by searchers.

In most cases, reports include both paid and unpaid search traffic. This is important. As a keyword researcher, you’re interested in both paid and organic search behavior. If you have a large site with significant quantities of unique content that’s well indexed in the search engines (either organically or through an XML paid inclusion feed), your organic search traffic is likely to be diverse (lots of different keyword phrases).

Smaller sites with just a few pages usually have shorter organic keyword lists. Search engines seek relevance. That means each page will be relevant for a particular set of keywords. If you tag your paid listings’ inbound URLs, you can see the difference between keywords that drove organic traffic and those that drove paid traffic.

Discovering and analyzing keywords that drive your organic traffic is a great way to tell how the site’s showing up in unpaid listings. Remember: Organic traffic only shows how the site is found, not how you’d like it to be found. By looking at how the site is found organically, you can evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether the same keywords and keyword phrases belong in your paid search campaigns. Include all appropriate phrases in paid campaigns, and pay attention to which pages get the organic traffic. If the search engine algorithms are doing their job, those same pages may be good paid-search landing pages, due to their high relevance.

Paid-inclusion-driven keywords are very similar to organic-traffic keywords because each site page generates traffic from a diverse basket of keywords. Usually, one concept or phrase will drive a significant percentage of organic or XML traffic to a page. The other, less popular keywords are important, too. XML-paid-inclusion-driven keywords form the basis for tuning XML feeds for better relevance. They also contribute to your overall paid-placement keyword lists.

In the early days of SEM, paid-placement listings were exact match only. In Overture’s early days (as GoTo), the keyword in the referrer was almost always an exact match to the keyword defined in the DirecTraffic Center (DTC) listing.

Now, Google has three match types and Overture has Match Driver, Phrase Match, and Broad Match. Expanded match options in paid placement means the paid traffic arriving at your site comes from searches that go beyond the keywords provided to the engines.

Why does it matter what keywords result in clicks to your site if your campaigns are successful? Each engine has separate ways of handling broad and phrase matching. If you run a broad-match campaign on Google, there are three reasons your log-file keywords should be used to adapt your campaign:

  • Popular keyword phrases for a broad-match listing might work best within their own AdGroups with tuned creative (specifically written for the phrase that’s a significant traffic driver). Separate, tuned creative is likely to get a higher CTR than a general broad listing. In Google, that can mean lower costs and higher position.

  • Sub-phrases coming from the original Google listing might have a higher return on investment (ROI) and better conversion with a landing page tuned to the keyword phrase.
  • Look for keywords that are part of phrases on broad matches that don’t belong. You have an opportunity to use negative matches any time you run phrase or broad match. By looking at your logs and the mix of inbound phrases for a listing, you can eliminate nonperforming keywords.

In Overture, standard match listings are always displayed ahead of any other match type. That means every time you identify a new word or phrase based on search logs, there’s an opportunity to have your listings appear in the first upper set. Of course, Overture requires any keyword or phrase gets at least 25 searches a month (based on the prior month’s data).

Next, additional sources of keyword research, including free tools and paid keyword research resources.

Want more search information? ClickZ Search Archives contains all our search columns, organized by topic.

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