SEO Keyword Research and Strategy
Choosing the right keywords to target in SEO should start with and depends on your objectives. Once those are determined, the most effective way of meeting the KPIs you’ve identified is to evaluate potential keywords across several different characteristics (not just volume). Employing a keyword research process that considers the different performance dimensions of each keyword will ensure you meet your goals in the most cost-effective fashion.
There’s no shortage of articles available that will outline how to develop an effective keyword research “process”. Those articles focus on finding the terms people use, in significant volume, to search for your product or service. But to truly develop a robust and successful SEO strategy, there’s more to consider. In this article, we’re going to take things a step further and introduce additional resources and ideas to help identify objectives then generate a list of targeted keywords that will be most likely to produce measurable performance improvements with the highest ROI possible.
SEO Keyword Objectives and Measurement
We’re assuming that most businesses have evolved passed the point where the only SEO related objective is to “find relevant keywords with high volume.” This is because the work that goes into actually showing up for those keywords is increasingly difficult. More and more it requires investment in things like website architecture, content, and press hits. So, we recommend an approach where we set clear objectives in advance of any keyword research undertaking. This ensures that the eventual efforts required to effectively target the keywords we surface will be worth the trouble.
The first step in any keyword research process should be to determine and align on how success will be measured, considering some or all of the following commonly applied KPIs:
- Awareness (Quick Answers)
- Cost Savings
- Audience Pool Contribution
Rankings – This is straight forward. We ultimately want to say some variation of “we improved position from 17 to 2 for keyword XXXX.” This will be at least part of the goal for any SEO initiative.
Traffic – Also straight forward. If our keyword targeting did not result in an increase in organic traffic, then it’s hard to say the efforts were justified.
CTR (Click-Through Rate) – This might seem less important up front, but in a world where Google continues to populate more and more content directly in their search results along with four paid search ads pushing down the search real-estate, setting expectations with respect to a baseline CTR makes sense. There could also be cases where we find we have “good enough” rankings for keywords, but because pages have titles and descriptions that are not well optimized for the targeted keywords, we do not see as big a CTR as we could.
Awareness (Quick Answers) – This depends significantly on the type of brand and vertical. Most firms employing SEO will ultimately want to drive traffic through organic search primarily. However, some businesses can benefit from SEO as an extension of their communications and awareness tactics. For instance, if “Dick’s Sporting Goods” wants to be seen as something of an authority when it comes to soccer and soccer ball sizes, this featured snippet, which appears directly in search results, is doing them a big favour:
Of course this featured snippet is also effectively moving them to position 1, so a traffic increase would also be expected.
Engagement – Similar to awareness above, some brands are looking for SEO to assist in capturing searchers who are in the higher stages of the decision-making funnel. A website like ratehub.ca, for instance, features tons of informational content on investing, mortgages etc. to capture a prospecting audience before they eventually funnel down into comparison shopping.
Targeting keywords with an eye towards engagement metrics, even exclusively, can further the business’ goals to be perceived as a thought leader and build brand awareness. This can also help with remarketing audience pool sizes which we’ll discuss soon.
Cost Savings – This too depends significantly on the nature of the business and their internal priorities. Keywords can be targeted through SEO and through Paid Search (also known as SEM). A firm with a mature cross digital program is almost certainly spending a good portion of their budgets in Paid Search. While both SEO and Paid Search efforts require investment, SEO typically offers the ability to pay significantly less per keyword targeted (in the long-term) while Paid Search offers immediate, more measurable results. In some cases, part of the SEO deliverables might include finding a way to generate enough organic traffic from the same keywords targeted in Paid Search so that spend can be scaled back in that channel. Cost savings data can be extrapolated from real world Paid Search account data, namely: how much do we spend per keyword we target in Google Ads.
Conversions – Aside from traffic, this is really what it is all usually about. Getting clear about the post-click activity we expect from any organic traffic increase is an essential part of evaluating keyword potential.
Audience Pool Contribution – A neat way of synergizing SEO efforts with other digital channels is to target upper funnel keywords to drive organic traffic to your website, and then turn around and use those website visitors in a remarketing list applied to channels like paid search and programmatic. This is an often underestimated SEO contribution, and if we take the time to measure the content marketing efforts the keyword research eventually led to, we often find a substantial increase in our audience pools used across all digital channels which help improve conversion rates significantly.
Limitations (and how to Overcome Them)
It’s necessary for us to point out here that we often run into a wall when it comes to evaluating or projecting conversions from organic search at a keyword level. This is because there is no tool we can use to directly map organic traffic from search terms to the post-click activity they drove once people arrived on site. That said, there are some workarounds that can be established.
- We can use paid search data, in cases where we are targeting the same keywords in SEO as in Paid Search. Assuming the appropriate Google tracking tags have been setup, we can infer that if keyword XXXX has a conversion rate of 4% in Google Ads, it would have the same conversion rate if secured through SEO.
- We can use landing page data, at least directionally. Just about all analytics platforms will help us piece together conversions and conversion rates associated with a specific piece of new or revised content. So, for example, if we better optimize a specific page to target select keywords and see that those optimizations left to a +15% increase in traffic and +10% increase in conversions, we can infer that our keyword targeting had a demonstrable impact on conversions.
Therefore Keyword 1 has a conversion rate of 7.5% (15/200).
Evaluating the Success of the Keyword Research Process
It’s important to ensure that whatever efforts were catalyzed by the initial keyword research phase of any SEO project are mapped back to most, if not all, of the performance metrics above.
We want to ensure we produced the results we expected first and foremost.
Additionally, we want to take away some lessons learned in cases where specific keyword or specific keyword categories did not produce the expected results. Did our keyword rankings not improve as much as we thought for certain types of keywords? Perhaps the competitiveness was greater than estimated. Perhaps there were new competitors for those terms who entered the space somewhere between the keyword research phase and the execution of the recommendations. Both scenarios are important insights that can and should yield a tangible shift in strategy moving forward.
Moreover, some metrics like Engagement and Conversions can be very difficult to project and evaluate in advance. As we mentioned earlier, mapping specific keyword traffic to these metrics is not possible. But consider a scenario where a new page of content was published to target ‘dog toys’. The page traffic had above average time on page and traffic to that new page seemed to generate higher conversions than baseline. Now we know exactly where we want to steer future content and keyword research efforts if our objectives are engagement and/or conversions.
Finally, we want to pay close attention to metrics we don’t necessarily remember to attribute SEO work too. For instance, “Audience Pool Contribution”, if measured in terms of incremental traffic to the optimized page, gives us a lens into the degree of support the keyword research efforts had with respect to paid digital campaigns that leverage remarketing in their campaigns. It’s essential to identify keywords that drove incremental traffic, but the value of that traffic should be considered holistically as well, if only to more completely measure the ROI of SEO investments.
Closing the Loop
As with all things SEO, the magic is found in the final “rinse and repeat” phase of the work. We learn from what works and what doesn’t, but that learning must be enabled by clear objectives at the start. We begin with an understanding of what we hope to achieve, how we will measure those objectives, and then eventually what series of tough decisions we need to make to meet the stated goals. Do we target the keyword with the most traffic? Or do we prioritize the one with a $80 cost per click in paid search? Once those decisions are made and the work is complete, the final piece is look back at the results vs expectations to ensure whatever insights that post-mortem yields work their way into future SEO and keyword research related projects.
Want to Learn More?
If you’re curious to learn more about Media Experts’ approach to SEO Audits or need assistance in shaping an “always on” SEO strategy, please feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can setup a free consultation within the week.