Keyword research - part 3: keyword strategy

In the first part of our three part series, we covered the basic terms and concepts behind keyword research and sketched out a plan for creating keyword lists. Part two laid out which keyword research tools should be used for this task. But simply finding good keywords isn’t enough if you plan on using them as part of an SEO strategy for various onpage optimisation techniques. In order for a keyword strategy to truly work, it’s important to also evaluate the identified keywords and coordinate them with the structure of the online project you’re aiming to optimise. Part three of our series deals with keyword analysis, keyword prioritisation, and keyword mapping.

Keyword analysis

When completed, a thorough keyword research results in an extensive list of search terms that you can use for the online project that you plan to optimise. In order to develop a solid keyword strategy you need to run both qualitative as well as quantitative analyses on the search terms you’ve identified and prioritise these according to their relevance for search engine optimisation (SEO). Factors like the respective search volume levels of individual keywords, proximity to conversion as well as the level of competition for these terms in the search engine results pages (SERPs), are all relevant criteria for a keyword analysis. Words with multiple meanings also have an effect on how they can be used for SEO.

Search volume

A term or phrase’s search volume indicates whether and how often a keyword is used within a web search. Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner show the average monthly search rates of individual words. These values are of considerable importance for website operators, as they reveal insights on user behavior. Remember, the goal of search engine optimisation is to achieve a high ranking in the SERPs through relevant keywords and generate as many visitors as possible. That’s why words that feature high search volumes are prioritised when developing a keyword strategy. Following this, keywords that don’t have any search volume whatsoever should be struck off your list.

Proximity to conversion

In contrast to search volume, conversion proximity cannot automatically be determined. Instead, values for each individual keyword need to be determined while collecting data. One standard that’s proved quite useful for this task is the AIDA model. According to this, customers go through four phases until they finally make a purchase decision: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.

The trick of this part of the analysis is to find out where (i.e. which stage of the purchasing process) a user was when they used the keyword in a search. While informational search queries may reveal a more modest conversion proximity, terms that indicate a wider interest in a specific product or service show a middle conversation proximity (e.g. red shoes). High proximities to conversions are assigned to search terms featuring transactional indicators (buy, rent, etc.)

Competition

Research tools, such as Google’s Keyword Planner, can also help give insights on the competition (i.e. their status within the SERPs). Just how influential these results are to your keyword strategy is a question that depends on your budget. With enough resources available to also reach highly sought-after keywords, the competition becomes less of an important factor to consider. Without deep pockets for a more robust campaign, however, tough competition may mean needing to adjust your keyword strategy; often focusing on promising long-tail or niche keywords may be your best bet. In addition to finding other competitors, Google itself is also a force that you’ll have to reckon with when drafting a strategy. With AdWords ads, shopping suggestions, image bars, and answer formats, like the Knowledge Graph, the search engine giant reserves valuable space in the SERPs for its own content or services that may be relevant to the searched keywords.

Ambiguity

If you’ve got any ambiguous search terms (homonyms, polysemy) within your keyword list, you should carefully consider just how useful these are for generating potential customers. The following example shows why carefully considering whether or not to include such terms is important: a Google AdWords search reveals that the term, watch, has an average monthly search volume of 1,220,000 hits. Jewelers and small retailers need to therefore evaluate for themselves how many of these searches were actually intended for a Casio or Rolex—and how many were searching for the verb, to watch.

A simple Google search will show you whether ambiguous keywords are relevant for the project you intend to optimise. Search engines interpret ambiguous search items according to how the majority of searches have been carried out using this term. If a Google search of the term in question yields results showing that the competition has an offer that matches the web project you intend to optimise, then it would make sense to include this term in your keyword set. If, on the other hand, Google displays results that reflect an alternative meaning of the word, then it can be assumed that the majority of searches are being made with this variant in mind. Putting in the effort of implementing an onpage optimisation of the term doesn’t offer as much potential. When the majority of users associate different content with a specific keyword, then it’s less probable that a higher ranking will be achieved through alternative interpretations of that same keyword. In such situations, it’s often best to eliminate such vocabulary from your keyword lists.

Threshold keywords

If it’s your goal to optimise an existing project, then carrying out a status quo analysis will generally help you discover which keywords your website ranks for. You should take this positioning into account during the prioritising phase. Current rankings can also be identified via the KeywordMonitor. Here, threshold keywords are of particular interest, as they show how much potential there is for a significant rise in visitor numbers. Such potential is exhibited within the example positions of 11, 6, 4, and 2.

Keyword prioritisation

When weighting keywords according to the criteria above, the following approach has proven itself useful: during the first step, the search volume priority and the conversion priority of all keywords are determined according to scales ranging from 1 to 3. These are then tallied up according to the corresponding weighting. The result is a keyword priority, which is then further adjusted through an additional filter in the second step: despite the proximity to conversion and high search volume, keyword ambiguity as well as how the competition ranks with the desired words can result in the devaluation or elimination of search terms. Threshold keywords, on the other hand, should be more strongly underscored in the keyword strategy.

Search volume prioritisation

Depending on the industry and range of products on offer, the search volume of a project’s keywords may vary. That’s why no generally accepted threshold can be defined when prioritising keywords according to search volume. The criteria that determines whether a keyword is preferred isn’t its individual value; it’s the search volume of a given term in relation to the cluster or entire keyword list. So when referring to a search volume as being ‘high’ or ‘low’ all depends on context.

One reliable approach when prioritising search volume is the ABC analysis, which sorts keywords in descending order according to their search volume and separates them into the three segments A, B, and C. How the segments are weighted depends on the project. Typically, however, a distribution of 10, 30, and 60 percent is implemented. In this case, segment A encompasses 10 percent of the search terms for which the highest search volumes were identified. These are then given priority 1. Logically, this is followed by segment B, priority 2, and segment C, priority 3.

Keyword

Search volume

Search volume priority

Bike

1,220,000

1

Discount bike

450,000

2

Mountain bike

368,000

2

Racing bike

49,500

2

Bike repair

22,200

2

Bicycle wheel

22,000

3

Used bike

22,000

3

Vintage bike

18,100

3

Custom bike

14,800

3

Retro bike

9,900

3

Buy bicycle

6,600

3

Broken bicycle

1,000

3

Conversion prioritisation

In addition to quantitative keyword analysis, which is based on search volume, qualitative aspects together with conversion proximity also influence keyword prioritisation. Website operators should always take their own offers into account when evaluating keywords. A keyword like last minute flight may have a high conversion proximity, but it can only be effectively used if the website also offers such corresponding products or services. Prioritising according to conversion proximity is carried out manually and at the discretion of the site operator or the SEO expert who’s conducting the keyword analysis. And given that the conversion prioritisation is accounted for in the next step with the search volume prioritisation, it’s wise to scale the values according to the same scheme (e.g. priority 1, 2, and 3).

If the website you’re optimising contains terms that are already being used for search engine advertising purposes (SEA), then it’s possible to create a prioritisation of these keywords with the help of automatically obtained conversion rates. Alternatively, you can combine the benefits of both SEO and SEA by running ads on promising search terms. This allows you to test your assessments before SEO measures, like content creation and optimisation, are employed.

Conversion priority 1

Conversion priority 2

Conversion priority 3

Used bike

Bike

Bike repair

Vintage bike

Mountain bike

Broken bicycle

Discount bike

Racing bike

Retro bike

Buy bicylce

Custom bike

Bicycle wheel

Weighting the evaluation criteria

If the results from both the quantitative and qualitative prioritisation are to evenly influence keyword priority, then a term’s search priority (SP) and conversion priority (CP) are added together and then divided by two:

     KP = (SP + CP)/2

Keyword

Search volume

SP

CP

KP

Bike

1,220,000

1

2

1.5

Discount bike

450,000

2

1

1.5

Mountain bike

368,000

2

2

2

Racing bike

49,500

2

2

2

Bike repair

22,200

2

3

2.5

Bicycle wheel

22,000

3

3

3

Used bike

22,000

3

1

2

Vintage bike

18,100

3

1

2

Custom bike

14,800

3

2

2.5

Retro bike

9,900

3

3

3

Buy bicycle

6,600

3

1

2

Broken bicycle

1,000

3

3

3

Depending on the project, it makes sense to weight the keyword prioritisation’s evaluation criteria differently. For example, a website operator in charge of a site that exclusively offers informational content would be able to ascribe less value to the conversion proximity of a term and take this into account when prioritising keywords. In this case, a weighting coefficient would be used:

SP weighting = 70%
CP weighting = 30%

KP = 0.7*SP + 0.3*CP

Taking further evaluation criteria into account

If the keyword priority has been calculated according to search volume and proximity to conversion, then it’ll be worth your while to do some manual fine-tuning of the keyword set. This is done by taking optional filters into account. Some examples include: the situation of the competition, possible ambiguity of keywords, or current search engine rankings.

Keyword Mapping

If you’ve used keyword research and keyword analysis to identify and evaluate all of your relevant keywords, then the last step on your way to developing your keyword strategy is to match the search terms with the structure of the site you’re optimising. This is known as keyword mapping, a process which takes into account both existing subpages as well as new landing pages for central keywords. The keywords are allocated in clusters. For this process, related search terms are grouped together. Depending on the scope of the text, it’s recommended to optimise websites for 5 to 7 keywords—focus on the search term for which you were able to identify the highest search priority. Of course, clusters that are too large can also be reduced by removing less-relevant keywords. If you think it’s worth the effort to create a new landing page, then make sure your decision to do this is based on the identified keyword priority as well as your available budget.

Using the keyword strategy for SEO

The keyword strategy is the starting point for a website’s onpage optimisation. It’s important to know which search terms your target group is using in order to search for products and services that are related to your product. You can use this knowledge to create corresponding content. What’s more, keyword strategies can be used to implement internal links and construct backlink profiles. If you want to create new landing pages based on keyword strategies, then make sure that you strengthen these internal links with high-quality backlinks. And in the context of internal linking, use the keywords gained from this process for anchor texts.


About the author

Andre Alpar’s entrepreneurial career in online marketing began in 1998, during his degree in economics and computer science at the TU in Darmstadt, Germany. After founding several companies, he was in charge of strategic online marketing advice in a managerial role at Rocket Internet. Alongside his professional career, Mr. Alpar has acted as a Business Angel for over 40 internet startups, while he was also responsible for initiating the online marketing conferences OMCap, PPC Masters as well as Content Marketing Masters. His current role is CEO of the 170-person search and content marketing agency Performics in Berlin. Performics has over 2200 employees globally and is considered a major player in performance marketing.


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