You should always do your research before you start developing a search marketing strategy. And I’m not talking about keyword research. Before you even get there, you need to understand the landscape or environment that you’re working in.
With a strong understanding of the search marketplace and competitive environment, you can develop a plan that capitalizes on key opportunities and minimizes any potential threats. Intelligence research can also help demonstrate a business case – internally or externally – on the importance of undertaking search marketing in the first place.
Before developing your search plan, you should understand the following:
Searcher Interest and Behavior
- Are users actually searching for information related to your category and offerings?
- What specific types of information are people searching for?
- Is there any seasonality or patterns in the search behavior?
The Competitive Environment
- How much competition exists for desired keywords, and how much will they cost you?
- Are your direct competitors undertaking SEO (define) and SEM (define), and what are their approaches?
- Which properties/sites appear to be “winning” at search, and why?
Let’s look at some online tools – many of which are free – that can help you answer these key questions about your search marketing landscape.
A quick overview of each tool is provided below. You should test out each of these to understand how they work and find out which are most useful for your planning efforts.
Key Tools for Analyzing Searcher Interest and Behavior
Google Trends (free)
- Estimates relative search volumes for category keywords
- Demonstrates search trends over time
- Highlights key news events as they correspond to spikes in search traffic
- Enables you to filter by geo-location
Google Insights for Search (free)
- Provides detailed analysis on one keyword or a group of keywords
- Facilitates comparison by search terms, location, or time range
- Returns lists of top related searches and search terms that are rising in popularity
- Enables you to filter by geo-location and category (e.g., “health” versus “food and drink”)
Google AdWords Keyword Tool (free)
- Enables you to enter one term to generate a list of hundreds of related queries
- Helps you quantify historical search volume, filtered by geo-location
- Displays search volume trends over time in graphical format
- Assists in building initial keyword lists for your AdWords campaigns
Microsoft adCenter Keyword Research Tools (free)
- Visually presents associations and sequencing among queries in the same session
- Detects and displays keywords that are similar or related to the search term entered
- Displays commonly misspelled terms or alternative spellings of the search term
- Forecasts search inventory and demographic makeup of term searchers
Key Tools for Analyzing the Competitive Environment
Google AdWords Keyword Tool (free) (Although this tool is also already included in the Searcher Interest and Behavior section, it also has specific aspects to help measure and understand your competition.)
- Enables you to view competition levels for your target keywords and related terms
- Displays average CPC (define) prices for top positioning on those keywords
- Permits you to set a max CPC and displays estimated ad positioning for those terms
- Lets you sort by CPC or advertiser competition to identify niche or low-cost terms
Compete.com Search Analytics (basic – free; advanced – subscription required)
- Analyzes top keywords driving into your competitors’ Web sites
- Identifies top keywords being searched for in a given industry or behavioral category
- Isolates top destinations receiving traffic on your desired keywords
- Compares how you fare against your competitor for the same set of keywords
comScore Marketer (subscription required)
- Identifies top traffic destinations for any one or set of keywords
- Provides searcher profiles (demographic analysis) for any one or set of keywords
- Displays lists of keywords driving paid and organic traffic into your competitors’ sites
- Offers insight on which traffic sources generate entries and exits on competitor sites
Spyfu (basic – free; advanced – subscription required)
- Provides a sense of how much your competitors may be investing in paid search
- Helps you understand which keywords are performing best for your competitors
- Enables you to view competitor ad copies and understand frequency of ad copy updates
- Identifies the other advertisers competing in the space