Keyword Research Competitor Analysis Tips and Tricks

In this article we will look at a few tips and tricks related to keyword research competitor analysis.

I'm going to assume that your target page isn't as high up in the SERPs as you would like, and that you have done some basic strategic keyword research to figure out which keyword phrases you should be targeting (depending on whether you have picked a Value or Volume keyword selection strategy.)

The reason the selection strategy matters is because the first technique is entirely keyword driven.

Search Competitor Analysis

Before anything else, you need to know who is in the Top 10 for your target keyword phrase.

The easiest way to do this is to go to your search engine of choice, and type in your search phrase as a query. Here are some important key points:

  • make sure you conduct the search in an "anonymous" browser session (also called InPrivate);
  • set the right geographic context by using the correct location-based engine URL (i.e. etc.);
  • start with a narrow match (i.e. put the keywords "in quotes").

Once you have your list of direct search engine result page competitors, open each target link in a new window, and copy and paste the URL to a notepad or spreadsheet. Do as many as you see fit, across a wide spectrum of URLs (if a lot of them come from so-called "content farms" be wary), but make sure you have at least 10 unique domains / sub-domains.

Keyword Density

Once you've figured out who the competition is, use a tool like SEO Tools Keyword Density Checker to make a list of the one, two and three word keyword phrases, and rank them according to their relative density.

Why does this matter?

Keyword density is one of those measures that used to have recommended hard and fast rules about what the number should be. In the early days, keyword stuffing, a technique that consisted of repeating the target keyword phrase as often as possible in an article got results.

These days, however, search engines "recognise keyword stuffing as a disingenuous tactic" at best (source: Enge et al (2010) The Art of SEO, US:O'Reilly, p. 211) and "can actually get your pages devalued via search engine penalties" at worst (ibid).

Using the tool is easy: just plug in the page that you have identified as being in competition with your own, and then pick out the keywords and their relative densities from the resulting list. Now you know two things:

  • the best keywords;
  • the densities that are currently working.

Of course, the more pages you analyse, the better your keyword density research will be, and since the results are always relative to your own performance, you should also conduct the same exercise on one of your own pages.

Strategic Keyword Competitor Analysis

Another tactic you can use to expose keyword phrases that your competitors are targeting is to copy and paste the URL into the AdWords Keyword Planner tool.

In the same way that the SEO Tools utility above picks out keyword phrases, the Keyword Planner will analyse the content of the page, and pick up keywords from the Google and AdWords' keyword databases.

The result is a list that can be used to create content to rival that which is being put out by the competition, lifted from their own text. Incidentally, the technique can also be used as a cross check for your own content (to make sure Google is picking up the right keyword phrases) or s a way to pick out keywords to target with an AdWords campaign.

The Keyword Coach Keyword Research Tutorials are a good place to start if you need some tips on how to analyse the resulting lists of keyword and search data, or just search the blog for "long tail keywords".

Processing lists of keywords to find those that match your strategy is a useful skill to learn, and the Keyword Planner results are a great (free) data source to start with.

Finally, the SEMRush tool is great for giving you an overview of your competition, and the keywords that they are targeting. What's great is that it works well for sub-domains as well as domains. However the tool performs but less well for pages on a domain.

Maintaining a list of keywords that are preferred by the competition is a good way to add keyword research and keyword marketing to your ongoing competitive advantage, just assign some time in your keyword research strategy and process to apply these techniques and stay ahead of the pack!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Keyword Selection Strategies for Your Keyword Research & SEO Projects

One of the questions that comes up from people following the free Keyword Research & SEO Tutorials is "How do I implement a keyword selection strategy?"

This article comprises top tips from the Niche Blogger Content Blueprint book, with a slight twist to help you apply the theory regardless of whether you're:
Strategy: Keyword Selection

  • a product creator
  • an author
  • a store owner
  • blogger, niche marketer or affiliate...

These are tips for everyone, whether they have an offline or online business; or are playing the hybrid game -- taking offline online and vice versa.

The Volume Strategy

This is, on the face of it, and easy one.

If you are looking for volume, then just pick the keyword phrase with the most searches (on average) per month, right?

Wrong. Or, at least, half wrong...

For a start, keywords are seasonal, and so your target keyword selection needs to be seasonal, too.

(You can download monthly keyword statistics right from within Keyword Planner.)

Then, keyword search volumes differ by geographic location; remembering that you have two geographies to take account of -- your own, and your market's -- and so, keywords have to be selected from a pool that makes geographic, as well as seasonal sense.

Get these two right, though, and you'll be making the best start.

But what if volume isn't your only priority?

The Value Strategy

There are two values in this strategy, both linked to the Suggested Bid calculated by the Keyword Planner.

The Low Value strategy places the emphasis on the cost of advertising to a group, whereas the High Value strategy looks at a niche that has a relatively high advertising spend as one that offers potential riches.

If you are an advertiser, the balance is towards a wide reach (Volume) and low cost (Suggested Bid, or Cost-per-Click). This is the Low Value strategy, which is a bit of a misnomer, because if you get it right, it can bring in a great ROI.

The trick is to make sure that you do the keyword research properly to identify a high-converting phrase (not just a high click-rate, but a high conversion rate once the visitor hits your page)  with a relatively low CPC.

The other side of the coin is to look for niches with a very high value (Search Volume x Suggested Bid) and make that the basis of your keyword selection. However, I would caution against using these keyword phrases in an AdWords campaign because, unless  you have a very high conversion rate and margin, it can become an expensive project!

The Competition Strategy

Anyone who has hired an SEO specialist has probably heard the term "KEI" (Keyword Effectiveness Index) which is a weighted calculation that tries to take account of the fact that not many people read past the first 10 results of a search, and of those that do, the click rate tails off noticeably...

(If you want proof of this, just look at your GWT / Search Console data, and order it by SERPs, and watch the click-through-rate plummet! To take advantage of this "lost traffic", check out my Zero Traffic Keyword Research post.)

The theory behind the KEI is that the more competition you have, the less attractive a keyword.

Up to a point, I agree.

However, as keywords become more and more long-tail in nature, this may well change, and a more modern index might be in order.

For a start, if you are going to try and evaluate the competition, use an appropriate search context:

  • the correct search domain (i.e. etc...);
  • keywords "in quotes" (narrow match);
  • PTB (phrase-to-broad) ratio, where available.

The first two are pretty obvious, but the last one is a specific ratio that some of the bigger automated tools provide and which is tough to calculate on your own. Your best bet, if you're doing the job manually, is to construct a query:

  • using the allintitle: option (Google-specific, sorry!)
  • break the phrase into "quoted" "sections" that represent the "long-tail"

If you apply these two in conjunction with the correct context, then the estimated number of pages returned by Google should fairly represent the competition.

Just remember that the value is relative and so the absolute number is irrelevant. My advice would be to put the results on a logarithmic scale, and use that as the basis for your keyword selection process.

Your Keyword Selection Strategy

Of course, you can use these principles to roll your own keyword selection strategy; we do that every time a client buys one of our keyword research services.

It's an easy thing to do using a spreadsheet. For example, if you have the search volume in Column 'B', and the CPC (suggested bid) in Column 'C', then a value-weighted strategy might use a formula such as:

  • =B * (C^2)

On the other hand, if you want to skew by volume:
  • = (B^2) * C
Other factors, such as the Competition Index (KEI or equivalent -- free download from Launch2Success here) can be built into the formula, too, so that you get the best keyword selection strategy for your own specific use.

To see the keyword selection process in action, check out the Niche Blogger Content Blueprint or one of our free tutorials (links at the top of the page.)

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Keyword Research for Hotel SEO Strategy

With direct bookings both more profitable and becoming more frequent, it pays to have a keyword research and SEO strategy specifically tailored to the hospitality industry. There are two drivers for this:

  • Search engines become smarter and attuned to local search;
  • Consumers becoming more comfortable booking online.

While sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia are also key to a hotel's success and cannot be ignored, more and more consumers are turning to Google first to find their perfect getaway location.

Along with some excellent advice in the Hospitality Net article "How to Jumpstart Your Hotel's Direct Bookings Through Search Engine Marketing" there are some surprising figures to back this up. According to the article 61% of potential customers come through a search engine with a 20% year on year increase in relevant searches performed on Google.

This would indicate that SEO is going to be a deciding factor in a hotel's long-term direct booking success.

Hotel SEO Strategy 

While it is entirely possible to reduce the SEO process through concentrating on "7 Steps for Your Small Business Survival" (NuWireInvestor web site) including local search, social engagement and creating attractive, valuable content, many experts seem to gloss over the keyword research strategy as part of the marketing process.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) both rely heavily on an integrated keyword management strategy, and so it is surprising that it doesn't seem to get the emphasis that it richly deserves.

For example: while a long tail keyword research policy can help identify a good starting point for SEO and SEM activities, unless it becomes part of a test, measure and adjust cycle the research will always be second hand.

Keywords are the communication conduit between your target market and your hospitality offering, so properly researching them ought to be a priority: and conducted by a keyword research specialist rather than consigned to being merely part of the SEO/SEM process.

Keyword Research for Hotels

For those who have the time and confidence to go it alone, here are a few salient tips from the trenches of keyword research strategy.

Firstly, local search is highly important. Search engines can not only deal with hyper specific local searches (such as "hotel near <landmark> in <city>") but also there is a rise of the "near me" syndrome: as in "hotel near me".

However, this last is also very location-specific, so the key takeaway here has to be to remember to use geographic targeting when researching keyword usage using a tool such as the Keyword Planner.

There is a big difference between a search conducted locally ("hotel near me") and a search conducted for a location ("hotel near new york grand central station"), and this difference needs to be reflected in the SEO/SEM strategy and in the keyword research.

Next, review local restaurants, landmarks, museums, events and places of local interest in order to generate useful, valuable, attractive content, but make sure you concentrate on those that qualify in one of two ways:

  • high search volume
  • long-tail low-traffic low-competition

The first is obvious; it takes very little effort to create a piece of content highly optimised towards a very popular attraction, and if it has a very high number of requests you may find yourself with a (small) piece of a large traffic pie.

The second might not be so obvious. However, if your hotel is the only one where a visitor from out of town can get a great idea of what the event (restaurant, attraction, landmark, etc.) has to offer, then you will naturally score highly and attract high conversion rates.

Finally, remember to go for social sharing and engagement with other local businesses. For example, consider writing a piece that is highly optimised towards your chosen long tail keywords (i.e. "hotel near conference center in miami with sauna" -- I made that up, by the way!) and encouraging other local businesses to publish it, and link out to your site from theirs.

At the same time, use social keyword research to find out what conversations people are having about hotels and facilities in your area, and then jump in on the conversations with opinion (and links to your hotel booking facility) as well as using that keyword research to fuel content creation.

All of this takes time, granted, but is worth the extra effort. While The Keyword Coach has some very reasonable plans (you can take us for a test drive for $5!), there's no reason why computer literate, internet savvy hoteliers with time on their hands can't use the information in our keyword research and SEO tutorials to make a start on their own.

Just remember: Research, Test, Track, Adjust.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Keyword Research for Email Marketing

Many businesses find that email marketing remains one of their channels with the highest ROI.

This is mainly due to the fact that they have responsive email lists, built up from customers who have already put their hands up in one of the following ways:
  • downloaded and taken action upon a free report;
  • purchased a relatively cheap item;
  • engaged with the business.

The most responsive of the above are, clearly, existing customers. Indeed, many marketers go one step further and claim that customers' appetite for products will usually exceed your capacity to create new ones.

Subsequently, considering building a list is free, and as long as the list is correctly segmented and the appropriate message sent to each one, the conversion rates can lead to very impressive results.

What is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is often merely described as an email message sent to a prospect with commercial intent.

But that's like saying that marketing is equal to display advertising, which is patently untrue. To get an idea of just how untrue that is, I usually refer clients to Figure 1.1 in "The Marketing Book" by Michael Baker and Susan Hart which depicts the whole of marketing as an iceberg.

Advertising is at the top -- it's the bits you see -- whereas the 90% that you don't see, and which is often neglected, is the true nature of marketing, whose purpose is not only to reach a market and convince them to buy but also to understand that market, related markets, the customer's needs and products that can be presented to them.

So, if you're using email marketing just to send a coupon out (Advertising, Promotion & Public Relations in The Marketing Iceberg) then you're doing it wrong.

Email marketing should also be viewed variously as:

  • a tool for Market Testing;
  • a platform for Product Development;
  • a way to conduct Market & Customer Needs Research.

Each type of list (customer, prospect, etc.) has its use: there is no point, for example, trying to elicit feedback about a commercial product that you know the list recipients could not have bought because they are on a prospects and not a buyers list.

So, where does keyword research come into the equation?

Using Keyword Research for Email Marketing

The first thing to remember is that different list segments will react to different messages.

A buyer probably doesn't need a lot of encouragement to buy again; they just need you to offer them a credible product that is related to something they have already bought. And if you're doing your strategic keyword management properly, you'll already know where their pain/passion points are.

Prospects, on the other hand, need to make that first decision to buy with you: and that's usually a decision that they make with their gut and then justify with logic.

It needs to feel right: so the emotive trigger words come into play.

Not only do you need to participate in a conversation that they are already having outside of your relationship (again, keyword research will throw up these conversations) but you need to push their buttons to drive them to take action.

Of course, you can also use email marketing to elicit reaction (market research), test new product ideas (free downloads in return for market research) and develop a relationship with new markets (referral and affiliate marketing).

However, each interaction needs to come with a healthy dollop of keyword research, as this is the only real way you can be sure that you are communicating with the target market.

Benefits of Keyword Research for Email Marketing

That communication underpins the key benefit: contact.

Every email is contact with the target market, existing market, or to use a more current term, your tribe.

Each time you make contact with your tribe, you build confidence. As confidence in you and your leadership of the tribe grows, so does the trust between you, and your influence within the tribe.

Using keyword research effectively shows that you understand your tribe: you speak to them using words they have either used themselves, or that make perfect sense to them. When combined with well-known trigger words (Richard Bayan's Words that Sell has a good list), your message will become very difficult to refuse.

To get started, check out the Keyword Research Tutorials or take The Keyword Coach for a test drive with one of the low cost keyword research services. Remember: there's gold in those hills, and you can learn how to mine it!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

How To Use Keyword Research to Get More Sales

Most (if not all) business owners would like to get more sales: online, or offline, sales are what drives a business forward.

Sometimes it doesn't take many sales -- high ticket items that command a high price point can generate a healthy income with one or two sales a month -- but all businesses rely on having paying customers.

There are three keys to making more sales:
  • finding more potential customers;
  • converting more potential customers;
  • selling more to existing customers.
Keyword research can help each of the above; it's all about knowing where to find your market, how to communicate with them, and then how to keep them interested.

Using Keywords to find Potential Customers

Potential customers (those who are willing to buy) use keywords differently to those who are just looking for information.

For example, they will be using terms like "how much" or "where to buy", as well as geographic trigger words such as city names. All of these indicate a person ready to buy, as opposed to someone merely researching.

Brand and model names are also useful indicators, especially when combined with words such as "versus" or "reviews".

Keyword research helps to isolate phrases that can be used to create content designed to pull in potential customers via the SERPs (search engine result pages) rather than merely appealing to everyone.

There will be fewer hits, but conversion rates should be higher.

Converting Visitors into Customers using Keywords

One of the highest converting complementary keywords is "free".

It is an emotional trigger word, as well as a way to convey the idea that the prospect is getting something for nothing.

However, in some circles it can also devalue your product offering; and there are even people who wouldn't even count a person who has downloaded a free gift as a customer at all.

So, although the word "free" crops up repeatedly in keyword research, it's unlikely to be a great indicator of a potential paying customer, unless you can find a way to convert them down the line.

But, it's an important first step; since even the act of downloading something and reading it requires some effort: it might have been zero cost in monetary terms, but it has cost effort and as such these people are to be considered customers.

Keyword research can also be used to reveal what non-free keywords your potential customers are looking for. Using those keywords in your text ought to help convert them into customers because you are participating in a conversation that they are already having with themselves.

Leverage Your Customer Base with Integrated Keyword Research

Every contact with existing customers -- those who have put their hands up by buying from you or downloading something from your site -- should be geared towards a Call to Action (CTA).

The more that your customers can be encouraged to engage with you, the more they will spend.

Provide a search function on your site; and integrate the keywords searched for with your regular keyword research activity. This way you will leverage their engagement to yield new avenues through which you can provide them even more value.

After all, that's all that you are trying to do with your search engine and keyword marketing: find out what the market needs, how they are trying to locate products to satisfy those needs, and providing them with the best solution on the market.

Anything less will not provide a basis for long term competitive advantage, and making keyword research part of that competitive advantage should be one of a business' strategic plan. 

For a more detailed look at how keyword research can help to get more sales, check out how answering these three questions that can triple your bottom line!

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Rise of Guided Search and Autocomplete

In a recent article "The Rise of Organic Search", writer Brian Bridges of Lumentus pointed out that "majority of every company’s website traffic now comes through organic search". While this might not be news to hardened SEOs, it raises a couple of important points related to autocomplete, which I call guided search.
  • The first is that there is a decline in the hit rate on destination sites; places where you know the URL and type it in directly to the address bar;
  • The second is an anticipated rise in finding brands and companies by sentiment and intent rather than by a purely factual search query.
Explaining these phenomena is not trivial, but has its roots in the advent of autocomplete, a feature offered by virtually all search engines.

What is Autocomplete?

Autocomplete is a deceptively simple service: it merely suggests search terms that the user might be about to type based on previously used search terms, and the user's own input.

However, one has to wonder what the proportion of autocomplete to organic search actually is. 

While Google doesn't provide any statistics, autocomplete behaviour coupled with the claim by Bridges that "77% of users only click on the first three links" of a results page, could well be distorting true organic search in favour of something I call guided search.

The Rise of Guided Search

There are two places that Google (for example) suggests keyword phrases for users to pick as their search term.

The first is in the box that appears under the search term box, and is a result of typing a term into that edit field. This is the traditional autocomplete or auto-suggest location.

Users can simply click one that was either the term they were looking for anyway (the convenience argument), or pick one that looks interesting. The latter is an example of guided search, and it comes with the risk of contamination of the user's original intent.

The other location is under the first set of (usually 10) results, as a double-column wide list of suggested searches, which the user is free to pick from. Again, this could be argued as helpful, or convenient, but is also a good example of a guided search.

It's the same for retailers such as Amazon, who routinely suggest extra items that the customer might be interested in: that could be termed "guided shopping".

Why is this Important?

Guided search, at its worst, leads to a kind of mob mentality when it comes to finding online resources.

It's a feedback loop of sorts, rather like the kind of feedback loop you get when you use only those keyword phrases identified in your log files to create new content. It's only a matter of time before two things happen:
  • you start to repeat yourself;
  • you paint yourself into a (popular) niche.
Guided search suffers from the same issues. The more search users click on the first, second or third proposals the engine makes, the more that engine reinforces its opinion that these are things that people are searching for -- to the exclusion of everything else.

It can't be helped, and the best that we can do is anticipate the effect of guided search by using keyword research.

How Does Keyword Research Help?

If you type in your brand or company name, Google (for example) will suggest various options to elaborate the search, and these options represent queries that have been previously executed by search users.

They can be captured manually, simply by going to the search engine and performing the queries; but it is much more efficient to use a tool such as to reveal en masse the various combinations of keywords that have been used with your brand.

On the one hand, it's a good way to gauge both sentiment and intent by seeing what words are used in combination with the brand, and the brand's product lines.

Alternatively, it 's an excellent way to see what people are searching for, so that you can react to it.

Taking this one step further is the AnswerThePublic service; which specifically links questions, sentiment and intent through matching your root keyword phrase with various question-words (what, where, why, etc.) and prepositions.

Evaluating the results is an important part of maintaining your brand identity and reputation.

To learn more about keyword research, head over to the Keyword Research & SEO Tutorials page, and learn the ins and outs of running complete keyword research campaigns for your brand.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

How to Find Blog Post Ideas using Keyword Research

One of the most useful aspects of keyword research is as a guided brainstorming tool to help find blog post ideas that are valuable and useful, and above all, popular.

As long as you follow a process, you can almost guarantee never to run out of ideas. However, the process also needs to deal with ways to track and organise those ideas and topics so that you can make the best use of them.

Luckily, popular blog platforms such as Blogger and WordPress, as well as tools like Search Console, Analytics and Stat Counter can all be used to help you make sure that you are getting the best out of the keyword research and blog idea generation process.

How to Get Blog Post Ideas

The following is a simple, pretty unrefined process that ought to serve as a great starting point for generating a simple blog post. Before you begin you need to identify your Root Keyword Phrase, which can just be a single word, to represent the part of your niche tat you want to write about.

For example, for this post (you don't think I do these things in the dark, do you?) I simply chose the word 'blog' and picked the first phrase that fitted from a simple Keyword Planner search, ordered by Volume.

I ended up with 'blog post'.

Next, head on over to, and type in your Root Keyword Phrase, copy the result list to the clipboard, and paste it into the Keyword Planner. Do another search, then select, this time by a combination of Volume and CPC, the most appropriate result: this is your Target Keyword Phrase.

In this case, I chose 'blog post ideas'. Topical.

Finally, go to the web site, and enter your Target Keyword Phrase and hit Search. From the resulting collection of Questions, Prepositions and Alphabetically Listed results, you need to select the best 4 to use as H2 Headings, and one to use as the Title.

Simply put these into blank blog post, and write 500-700 words of great content!

Of course, what's likely to happen is that you get distracted by lots of shiny new objects in the form of rather attractive keyword phrases.

It would be a shame to discard them completely, so instead it's a good idea to organise them for future use.

How to Organise Blog Post Ideas

Typically, you will end up with groups of blog post ideas:
  • questions - "where to get blog post ideas"
  • how-to's - "how to get blog post ideas"
  • reviews - "what's the best blog platform"
  • discussions - "should I blog for business"
  • etc.
The trick is to separate them out into Titles and H2 Headings. I like to use a mind map to group the H2 Headings under the Titles; as well as making sure that I pay attention to where, when, and how they have been used.

Tracking them in this way has two advantages: one, you know which ones are generating traffic, and secondly, you can interlink pieces according to topics, to generate a web of content that will be picked up by search engines.

How to Track Blog Post Ideas

Tracking goes beyond whether you've used an idea: you also need to keep account of how many articles it appears in, what the competition was at the time it was 'discovered', and what the traffic generation (acquisition) profile has been.

For example, for my target keyword phrase 'how to find blog post ideas' I know that there are 8,740 results in Google's UK database. I also know that there's about 100 searches for this exact phrase every month.

At the same time, I know that for "blog post ideas", there's about 10,000 searches, at an average anticipated cost per click (thanks Keyword Planner!) of around £1.

As yet, though, this post has not generated any traffic, according to Analytics, nor has it been viewed in search engine results pages (SERPs) according to the Search Console.

These are all metrics that you should track in order to create a picture of the success of each blog post.

Blog Post Ideas for Businesses

Top of the list has to be FAQs, or Frequently Asked Questions, about your products, brand, services, etc. I have another phrase for FAQs, though, and that's Fairly Anticipated Questions: the hint is in the title -- don't wait for the questions, use AnswerThePublic to actively look for them.

Obviously how-to's are another great subject: especially if they can be linked to subsidiary products, or repeat purchases and alternative uses for your products or services. Again, though, don't forget to do the keyword research to establish demand, and include CTAs (Call to Action) on each carefully-tuned page.

Another important one is the checklist post. These include lists of items that you believe customers should be doing. Each one has to be a carefully constructed keyword phrase, however, in order to get the best performance from the post.

Finally, reviews, previews, and industry news commentary are all very good blog post ideas for businesses. Use keyword research to find blog post ideas by combining root keyword phrases together and using them as search queries in Google.

Scroll right down to the bottom for a selection of Google-suggested blog post ideas!

For more ideas, get The Niche Blogger Content Blueprint for tips, ideas, processes and repeatable procedures that will help you to generate, track and test blog posts that are based on real world keyword research.

Happy blogging!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Defining a Basic Keyword Research Process

A basic keyword research process must start with an understanding of:

  • What the goals are;
  • Where the keywords are to be used;
  • How a successful campaign will be measured.

If you can answer thee questions, then you stand a chance of being able to develop your own repeatable keyword research process. It is important that the process is both repeatable and measurable, as well as being easy to perform.

Unless you are outsourcing your keyword research tasks, you should aim to keep the process simple, and constrained. It is easy to waste a lot of effort trying to uncover the next big thing in your niche, but if you keep the focus narrow, you stand a greater chance of success.

What Are Your Keyword Research Goals?

The first thing to ascertain is what you want to use the keyword research for, as this will influence the tools and processes that you use. For example, you could want to get more traffic, in which case your evaluation of keywords will be skewed towards Search Volume.

On the other hand, if you want to increase conversion rates (get more sales), then a slightly more sophisticated approach needs to be taken, where you identify trigger words as well as identifying phrases associated with higher Cost Per Click figures.

A higher CPC usually means that there is money in the niche available for advertising, but the other side of the coin is that you might be looking for ways to reduce advertising expenses. Therefore, looking for High Volume, Low CPC keywords will also play a part in the research process.

Where Are The Keywords to be Used?

Having decided what the outcome should be, you then need to consider where the keyword phrases will be used. Clearly the two questions are linked, most obviously through the use of keyword phrases in a PPC campaign.

This will lead to different selections than, for example, keywords that are to be used for on-page SEO (search engine optimisation).

And, off-page SEO (inbound marketing) use will also influence the choice of keyword phrases, especially in relation to trigger words, and words which enhance brand image.

How Will You Measure Success?

Finally, in order to know if the keyword research process has worked, you need to be able to measure the impact of using the keywords. Common measures include:

  • Engagement - how much traffic, how many repeat visitors, ratio of repeat visitors to sales, etc.
  • Stickiness - when visitors land on the site, how long do they spend engaging with it?
  • Hits - the raw number of visits / per page.
  • Conversions - how many visitors become customers?

There are other important measures, but if you at least concentrate on one or two of the above in the first instance, you will begin to see the benefits of the keyword research process. It is an investment in your underlying business, rather than the bolt-on that many people seem to see it as.

However, to enjoy those benefits, a proper process must be followed.

Define an Appropriate Keyword Research Process

The process itself will have four phases:

  • Research - defining the root keyword phrases;
  • Expand - taking each root keyword phrase and finding long tail keyword phrases;
  • Analyse - checking the past performance of each phrase;
  • Deploy - put the keywords to use, and check the results!

To help in the Research phase, I've listed my favourite free keyword generator tools, with a brief how-to for each. In order to help you Expand into a complete basket of keywords, the long tail keyword generator process explained on the blog is an excellent starting point.

The techniques from the Research ad Expand phases also contain elements that enable you to Analyse keywords: for example, extensive use is made of tools such as the Keyword Planner (AdWords) to help determine search volume and anticipated cost per click.

Finally, the Deploy phase is all about using the keywords and seeing what effect they have. It doesn't need to be complex, but it is important that you stick with a defined process in order to generate repeatable results.

My advice is to start with The Keyword Coach PDCA / Smart goal setting process tailored to keyword research, and extend it according to your own needs. The best way to get started is by actually running a small project and seeing where your niche and business will benefit most from an integrated basic keyword research process.

Friday, 25 November 2016

What is Keyword Research: A Definition for Modern SEO

If you type "what is keyword research" into a search engine, you get a flood of results. Here are a few quotes:

"Keyword research is a practice search engine optimization (SEO) professionals use to find and research actual search terms that people enter into search engines." Wikipedia page on Keyword Research
"Keyword research is one of the most important, valuable, and high return activities in the search marketing field" from the MOZ Guide to SEO

"keyword research tools can help you find the right keywords to optimize a website for search engine users." from

All of these are good quotes, but they only really scratch the surface. Keyword  research is much more than just finding the right keywords...

Keyword Research is Market Research

Your future customers use keywords to communicate with the world: when they go to a search engine and type in a query, they are looking for a solution to a problem. They're looking for something that may or may not already exist; if it exists you can sell it to them, if it doesn't, you can create it.

The combination of words is also important, because each word can carry both meaning and intent.

For example, consider the difference between the following:

  • "free eBooks about online investing"
  • "where to buy books about online investing"

The sales pitch for an online investing course will be very different, depending on which of those phrases delivered the visitor. Learning how to gauge intent is a valuable part of the keyword research process.

The proportion of "buyer intent" keywords versus "buyer research" ones will help to give you an idea about the size of the market as well as its needs.

Keyword Research is Product Research

From the above example, we can also surmise that people want both eBooks and real books. There are people willing to pay, and those who want to sample a free eBook first.

However, there will be a number of phrases that don't come loaded with any intent. These so-called "buyer research" phrases provide valuable insights into what products exist, and what skews might be considered.

By combining brand and product names with your keyword phrase, you can begin to work out the demand for various product skews, as well as look at those already on the market. Once you find a product that satisfies the market, there are also techniques that you can use to extract the keywords from the page to see what the maker is using to attract customers, as well as find out about the competition.

Keyword Research is Competition Research

Using a tool such as SEMRush can help with both the Market and Product Research, but is really good at finding out where the competition is, and what they are using to create opportunities.

Again, intent can be inferred from some of the keyword research, as words like "review", "problems" and "good" (or, indeed "bad") can help to create a picture of how the competition is viewed, and how it might be succeeding (or failing) to satisfy the market.

Keyword Research is also for SEO

Finally, the purpose of keyword research for many people is not to find a new market, or design new products, but to attract people willing to spend money.

The keywords you use in your web content are just another form of communication. You are communicating what your page is about to the search engines, as well as proving its value.

Picking the right keywords helps search engines match the intent of search users with your intent as a content producer. Get it wrong, and your site may never be viewed by a single potential customer; get it right and you may well tap into a market larger than you thought possible.

Learn more about keyword research in the Niche Blogger Content Blueprint; a guide not just for bloggers but anyone who wants to create an online presence.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

A Simple Free Long Tail Keyword Generator Process

There are a number of keyword generator services available on the web these days -- from to -- but all that these do is produce what SearchEngineLand's Nate Dame recently called "long lists of words and phrases ... that can dramatically increase nothing about an SEO strategy." (Source: Why You Should Never Do Keyword Research Again).

Using a keyword analysis tool like Keyword Planner helps, but even it cannot weed out the irrelevant as it is only really designed to tell you what you already suspect: some phrases have more volume than others.

In fact, keyword definition strategy needs to take account of many factors, including working out what keywords people actually use, and then evaluating them from there. Traditional methods like brainstorming just don't cut it any more, and generic one and two word phrases are too competitive to even think about targeting.

However, follow this five step keyword generator process, and you will at least start out on a reasonably solid base!

Step 1: Determine Your Root Keyword Phrase

This step is quite important, but needs to be fairly instinctive. The root keyword phrase has to sum up something that is a bit more narrow than just a niche word (diet, health, money, etc.) and yet not too narrow that you start to preclude possibly useful variations.

Step 2: Extract Search Suggestions

Having decided what it is you want to know about, you can then visit Google and type in your root keyword phrase. Put your blinkers on, and ignore all the results, and scroll down to the bottom of the page, where you'll find a list of suggestions.

Harvest these for the next step (highlight, hit Ctrl-C, open up Notepad, hit Ctrl-V, and you're done -- Mac, Chrome and Linux users will have to use their own equivalents!)

Step 3: Use a Keyword Analysis Tool

Open up the Google AdWords Keyword Planner tool, and select the "Get ideas" option. Copy and paste your list of suggested keyword phrases into the box, and set up your geographic, language, timescale, and most importantly, set the match to "Narrow" (and not "Broad").

Step 4: Select By Volume or Value

In the resulting list, click a column heading to either order the results by "Avg. Monthly Searches" or "Suggested Bid". More advanced users can download the results, and use a formula to created a weighted version of these numbers in order to add a little finesse to the filtering process.

Step 5: Maintain Your Keyword List!

Take the top 10 results, which ought to be fairly long tail (i.e. three to four words long) and specific, and use these either as-is, or as root keyword phrases. My own preference is to first use them, note them in a spreadsheet, and generate new phrases (which also go into the spreadsheet).

Once I have a list to maintain, I can see what keyword phrases attract traffic, and which ones don't. Then, it's back through the process from time to time to generate some more.

Refinements include: seasonality tests, analysis of landing pages (to check the right keywords are being picked up) and near constant observation of behaviour using Analytics and Search Console. But those processes are for another day.

(And yes, before you ask, this article was entirely created around its own process; no prizes for picking out the long tail keyword phrases that were generated along the way!)

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Strategic Management + Search Engine Marketing = Strategic Keyword Marketing

Today, I'm coining a phrase: strategic keyword marketing.

It might not be the catchiest catch-phrase out there, but understanding it is vital to your business; be it online, offline or hybrid. At least, that's my position: and I'll do my best to explain it to you in the next few hundred words.

It all starts with marketing, and as discussed in "The Marketing Book" by Michael Baker and Susan Hart (an excellent read if you really want to get into the guts of modern marketing), the fact that a lot of people miss out on the opportunities offered by marketing.

The reason is that marketing is one of those iceberg topics, where we all see the tip, and try to base our marketing around that, without a deeper understanding of 75% of what goes into a proper marketing plan.

For the record, the iceberg idea, as applied to marketing, is presented by Baker & Hart on page 5 in the very first chapter What is Marketing? It's that important.

They also identify three items at the tip:
  • Advertising
  • Promotions
  • PR
These are the obvious external signs of a marketing campaign. A campaign.

As consumers, that's all we every really see: the adverts, the money off promotions and the PR stunts or press releases.

The rest, all of which has been vital in getting the organisation to the point at which they can construct adverts, promotions and manage the PR around a product launch, is below the marketing iceberg's waterline.

Those activities are aligned with their strategic marketing efforts, and consumers never really see them.

Strategic Marketing

Any organisation, from a one person blogger pushing products as an affiliate, through to international, multi-tiered behemoths that have become something of a hallmark of globalisation need to have some kind of strategy.

There are many strategies, and this isn't the place to go into them all.

Everything from a low-price, high volume discount through to a high price, low volume, quality differentiated product line represents a strategy. And, all aspects of a business need to align with a central strategy, that is usually linked to a core vision and mission statement.

In "Applied Strategic Marketing", by du Plessis, Jooste and Strydom, the field of strategic management (which pulls together all the aspects of a strategy) is merged with that of marketing to give a marketer's viewpoint of the development of strategy.

Specifically of interest is how the below-the-waterline stuff relates to an ongoing strategy. This includes:
  • Selling
  • Market Testing
  • Innovation & New Product Development
  • Identification of Marketing Opportunities
  • Market Intelligence
  • Researching Customer's Needs
(List adapted from Baker & Hart)

All of the above need to be aligned in order to derive competitive advantage from the marketing activity. Advertising, Promotions and PR are important, too, but the business is won or lost on the basis of the other stuff.

So, what does this mean for modern business?

Search Engine Marketing

One of the most popular ways for dynamic, modern businesses to satisfy the tip of the iceberg is by engaging in search engine marketing, and there are any number of SEO and search engine marketing books to choose from that will help you construct an entirely online-biased business view.

That's okay, as far as it goes: but it doesn't really deal with the strategy behind the advertising or promotional push.

Current books deal with the nuts and bolts. How to get ranked. What keyword phrases to target. Where to try and get back-links from for best effect. How to create content, where to post it, and, importantly, how to get your message across.

This is all important stuff, but worthless if you get the underlying product, market and customer needs wrong.

Enter strategic keyword marketing.

Strategic Keyword Marketing

The one thing that ties this all together is keyword research. But, on its own, KWR isn't enough; it's just a series of tools and methods to work out what the target market is trying to communicate to us, the entrepreneurs.

Keywords are a means of communication. We use them to communicate with search engines, to tell them what we're about. Our customers use them to communicate with search engines to tell them what they want.

Our advertising copy uses keywords to impress on the customer the value of our products.

Keywords, trigger words, words that allow us to imply buyer intent: these are all important things to research, track, and make part of an integrated online, offline, or hybrid marketing strategy.

Even if you don't have a web site, strategic keyword marketing is vital for the insights that it gives you into your market, and your future markets.

All aspects of the marketing iceberg can be influenced and enhanced by a proper understanding of strategic keyword marketing.

As more and more people use online means to communicate, research, and reveal their wants, needs, and desires, it is up to us to make sure that we tap into this cheap, reliable business and market intelligence resource.

That's why I'm writing the book on Strategic Keyword Marketing.

To get on the list, and receive the discounted version of the book, just join The Keyword Coach private mastermind group on Facebook. Let's unlock your web site's true potential as a strategic marketing asset.

(And make you some real money at the same time!)

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Why Are Long Tail Keywords Important for SEO? A Practical Example from the Trenches of Keyword Research

One of the most important aspects of modern keyword research that I teach in Niche Blogger Content Blueprint is the use of long tail keyword phrases to both attract traffic (SEO) and determine market trends.

The hands-down best description of the long tail philosophy can be found in the Harvard Business Review article "Should You Invest in the Long Tail?", from 2008, written by Anita Elberse. In the article, whose conclusions I don't necessarily agree with, there is an excellent discussion of Chris Anderson's 2006 theories presented in his book "The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More".

The thrust of Anderson's argument is that, from a 2006 perspective, the long tail will get both longer and fatter. In other words, there will be a higher volume of long tail keyword phrases, and they will attract more visitors.

Elberse disagrees, stating that her data show that, at least in the DVD and music industry that she looked at, the long tail is getting longer and flatter: "Thus the tail represents a rapidly increasing number of titles that sell very rarely or never."

My take is that while she may be correct (at least in 2008, in one industry) as regards sales, when it comes to SEO, it really doesn't matter if the tail is flatter or fatter.

This is supported by a paper from the 2016 paper "How Relevant is the Long Tail?" which presents research across a million sites conducted by researchers at universities in Hamburg and Cologne, in Germany. Their key conclusion is worded as follows:
"Therefore we argue that the long tail contains valuable information and is a rich source for the diversification of web search engine result lists."
The paper points out that even if the tail is getting longer, the results are still vital to the search engine user, and therefore, by extension, I would argue important for the keyword researcher.

While I don't have a million clients (yet), I can provide one example from a model rail site in the UK, whom I encouraged to examine their own long tail through the lens provided by the combination of StatCounter and Google's Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools).

What Are Long Tail Keywords?

Essentially, long tail keywords are just the phrases that attract fewer clicks but which represent much more precise search queries and hence a higher chance of action than shorter, more vague keyword phrases.

Deciding, for your niche, what represents a long tail phrase is often part of the challenge; and one that requires intimate market knowledge. Consider the following screen shot, which represents the first few hours of a specific day:

Looking through the list, several things are apparent. The first is that a lot of the phrases (ordered by Search Engine Impressions) are long-tail in nature. For example, "hornby trakmat" while a short phrase, is effectively long tail due to it's incredibly niche nature.

What we can also say is that the site does a better than average job (on this evidence alone) of attracting visitors interested in "model railway buildings free download", a worse than average job regarding "hornby trakmat" and is relatively poor at converting impressions into clicks across the board.

Questions that need to be answered include why 67% of visitors get converted for "model railway buildings free download" while 0% are converted for the phrase "scratch built model railway buildings" which are ostensibly covering similar topics.

Finally, a quick bit of maths leads us to conclude, that for the restricted time frame that this snapshot refers to, the site is missing out on an additional 30% of available traffic, following a simple calculation that I encourage all site owners to do:
  • Sum all relevant Impressions with a Pos < 11 (1st page)
  • Calculate the average CTR
  • Subtract current traffic generated (Clicks)
In this case, the calculation is:
  • 78 Impressions for model rail related queries on the 1st page...
  • From two results, a 40% CTR is the average...
  • We already see 4 Clicks...
  • ... so the addressable traffic is around 27 hits (78 * 40% - 4)
According to the application of my favourite PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) process improvement theory, we now have all we need to take action!

How to Use Long Tail Keywords in SEO?

We want more traffic. That's what SEO is all about. Forget for a moment that I usually preach getting the right traffic (as readers of "Niche Blogger Content Blueprint" will know) and concentrate on what you would do to just get more traffic.

My first piece of advice, in this case, was to tackle the top of the list: "scratch built model railway buildings".

The site had no page for this, so I had them put one up, linked to an already working long tail keyword phrase for which content was available: "model railway buildings free download".

To decide on what content should go into the page, I used keyword research to uncover, rank, and target the top questions asked on Google relating to the primary keyword phrases and, importantly, sub-phrases.

Those were: "scratch built", "model railway buildings" and, of course, "scratch built model railway buildings".

Finally, with content plans in hand, it was back to the client for the actual word-work, and then back to me for SEO tweaking.

Only time will tell if the result is a significant increase in traffic, as it will take a moment for the pages to get picked up by the search engines, but the chances are good that if the Pos improves, then the CTR will follow.

If you want a sneak peek into the methods used to evaluate the long tail phrases used to research this piece, then sign up for the free eBook "The Outlier Method"!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Free Keyword Tool / Generator List

Top 5 Free Keyword Tool / Generator List

Anyone who is conducting keyword research on a regular basis needs to have access to tools that save time. Those who follow me will know that I have a specific view of tools -- they should only automate something you understand fully how to to manually -- and my reasons why.

(Hint: it's to do with tools being put beyond use.)

The following tools, by and large, are just time-savers. You can replicate their core functionality given a browser and some time, but they will make your life a lot easier!

This was among the first general-purpose auto-suggestion scrapers. It has retained its simplicity, and in the paid version, has added some search volume and CPC stats. Since these are available through other channels for free, I'm not sure how much value access to these numbers adds, but it certainly streamlines the keyword research process further. also works across sites -- Google, Yahoo, Amazon, etc. -- and has a useful 'question seeker' mode which often uncovers valuable problems, needs, wants and desires in niches.

Somehow, I've always found Ubersuggest's interface to be somewhat cumbersome, but you can't fault the results. 

It does the same thing that does, but returns more results and lets you see them as text, alphabetically, or as a word cloud. Whether these are useful to you will depend on your point of view.

The ability to expand keyword phrases from within the interface, as well as explore each one on Google, Trends, and so forth also add to the power (but also make it a bit distracting). Nonetheless, it stays on my bookmark list because for the few times I've wanted to fool around with a phrase for myself or a client, it has worked wonders!

(Just remember to stay focused, or you can get easily drawn into spending hours mixing up phrases!)

SEO Book Keyword List Generator

SEO Book's free keyword phrase generator is a bit daunting at first. But, ultimately, it is rewarding once you get what it's trying to achieve.

Firstly, it only works if you know what keywords you want to combine.

Given up to five lists of words, it will then combine them in each and every way, allowing you to then input the list into other tools to measure the anticipated effectiveness of the keywords.

It's one of those tools that you need to play around with before deciding whether it's right for you, but it's likely to find a place on your bookmark list because it's a quick and effective brainstorming tool.

SemRush works in one of two modes: you can give it an URL and it will extract the keywords and measure the SEO effectiveness of the site, but equally, you can give it a keyword phrase for a report on what the keyword landscape looks like for that phrase.

It can make for very interesting reading: from the number of searches, available results, and anticipated CPC figures through to lists of related keywords and phrase matches. Of course, the free version limits the quantity of these keywords returned, but it is great for a first look at a niche.

Personally, I recommend it as a tool that can be of great use early on, before a site is created and optimised, and then later on to track the performance of a site in search engine marketing terms. Agencies and keyword research professionals will probably find themselves able to justify buying a license for the expanded results, too.

Individuals, not so much, as a lot of mileage can be got out of the free version as long as you only have one project to evaluate.

Google Keyword Planner

There's always one that breaks the rules, and this is it.

The Keyword Planner does something that cannot be done elsewhere. It matches advertising needs with Google's search database. The result is that you can use it to generate alternative keyword phrases and get search volume and PPC stats by keyword phrase.

Not to mention, that if you have a collection of keywords generated by, say or the SEO Book generator, you can test them using the Keyword Planner.

The Google Keyword Planner is available, for free, to those with AdWords accounts (not necessarily  funded accounts at present.)

(Note: the reason it breaks the rules is that, if you base your entire keyword research philosophy on it's output, then if it is ever taken away, you will not be able to replicate your own results manually.)

Which is the Best Free Keyword Tool / Generator Combination?

Of the five three free keyword generators listed here, my preference is for simplicity; and that's why I regularly turn to However, if I'm working with a client who has a specific handle on their niche and keywords, then the SEO Book generator enables a list to be created based on combinations of sets of keywords.

It's a great time-saver if you already have the words, just want to know the best way to put them together!

Of the two evaluation tools, I personally use the Keyword Planner a lot. Probably more than I should, but then I'm also an AdWords and AdSense user.

What's great about SEM Rush is that it gives a great dashboard-style overview which can be replicated manually, and with more detail, using a combination of third party tools -- including the Keyword planner -- but is both prettier and more practical.

If you're a beginner, I'd use in conjunction with the Keyword Planner. But, the decision is yours!

Friday, 9 September 2016

3 Simple Ways to Multiply Keyword Effectiveness: Immediately!

A big part of my philosophy for strategic keyword management centres around three core activities:

  • Knowing how people become aware of your site;
  • Tracking how many of them actually visit your site;
  • Observing what they do whet they get there.

Retailers who have primarily a bricks and mortar establishment can substitute "site" for "shop", "salon", "showroom", "office", and so on. The principle is the same; this isn't about pure SEO.

So, why are these three aspects of keyword research so important?

Keywords Help People to Find You

It doesn't matter whether you are the author of a book, a web site owner, or run a seaside café, people find you because they have needs or desires.

They will express those needs and desires in keywords; whether they want to ask someone in the street, or search online.

Someone who is looking for a latté in Bournemouth is going to be a lot more interested in a café that has a big sign in the window saying "Best Latté in Bournemouth or Your Money Back!" than one offering "Cut Price Cream Teas for Students".

It's the same online.

When someone performs a query, they're only going to click on a site that appears to confirm their needs or desires through the use of keywords. Not just the keywords they type, by the way, but also those that make one sit more attractive than another.

Knowing what keywords people have used to find your site (whether they've clicked through or not) is useful. It's also a measurable statistic provided by the Search Console, and also, via integration with SC, in (although they still call it GWT!)

And, this metric is also useful offline: just ask customers how they found you, and from that you'll quickly work out what internal keywords they had in their minds when they made the decision to choose your establishment compared to the others on the high street.

Doing this analysis -- and acting on the results -- takes you from merely advertising, to attracting.

Measuring Attraction Helps Build a Better Campaign

Once you know which keywords are getting you visibility, you need to know which of them are also getting you visitors, or better still, customers.

Typically, a keyword campaign can have one of several goals:
  • building awareness;
  • attracting new customers;
  • re-attracting existing customers;
In the first case, all you want to know is whether your brand is getting seen. Search engines are making that a lot easier these days by including extracts from the landing page associated with a keyword alongside the result.

Managing that meta-data is a vital part of SEO.

The second case is linked to actions. You need to know, having gained awareness, which conjunction of keywords and search entry lead to action. That means putting non-active keywords in the meta-data so that it is displayed.

A non-active keyword is one that is not part of the keyword phrase which defines the primary motive for a search user: for example, the query "latté bournemouth" will return a page of results, and if one of the displayed meta-data snippets contains the word 'free', that café may well find the attract more custom, but "free" is not an active keyword.

The resulting campaign may well be a combination of the active and non-active keywords, for example, a PPC campaign using the keyword phrase 'free latté bournemouth'. 

(I'm not saying that's necessarily an example that will work in the real world, by the way, but if you go through the motions, the result may well be positive!)

Finally, using trackable keyword phrases in your re-activation campaigns also helps to improve them; re-attracting customers by email or physical mailing is much easier if you have researched the keywords that your target market uses to find your competitors.

All of these work online as well as offline. Offline measurement methods just tend to be a bit more involved. Offline or not, however, measuring the behaviour that stems from a simple customer visit provides the best measure of how effective a keyword campaign has been.

Behavioural Analysis Measures the Effectiveness of Keywords

There used to be -- actually, I still use a variation -- a measure called KEI. This stands for Keyword Effectiveness Index, and was supposed to represent the relative ease with which it was possible to score highly in the SERPs.

It was a simple measure: all it really did was manipulate the anticipated volume and number of competing sites to try and gauge your chances of hitting the top 10.

Here's a funny anecdote, though.

On one of my own sites that I use for researching strategies, I have a highly effective keyword that isn't in the top 10. It's barely in the top 100. And, in terms of the CTR alone, it's reasonably effective:
What's more, as you can see from the screen shot, it's also not an isolated case; there's one right next to it with a similarly impressive CTR.

When I dig into the "Visitor Activity" log provided by, I can see that, for the target market, these queries both have above average engagement based on the landing page:

  • higher visit time
  • more pages viewed
  • repeat visits

This view is derived from knowing which page a visitor is likely to land on as a result of the query (by conducting a live query) and reviewing the Visitor Activity for that URL.

Expanding the search to related pages confirms that this query is more effective than many that appear nearer the top of the SERPs. That is, for the pages that are also returned as a result (but even lower down the SERPs) they also show high levels of engagement and conversion.

This is part of the attraction of the so-called long tail, of course. More specific pages with highly niche information that don't necessarily attract the most traffic are quite often the most effective when measured in terms unrelated to pure volume and cost.

Bigger, as they say, is not always better.

For a solid, step by step approach to keyword research that has consistently proven to be unaffected by algorithm changes, download the Keyword Research Blueprint!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

How Answering 3 Simple Questions Can Triple Your Bottom Line!

The chances are that if, as an online or bricks and mortar retailer, you can't answer these three questions, you are leaving most of your profits up for grabs by your competition.

So, what are those 3 magic questions? Glad you asked:

  1. How did the customer find you?
  2. What did they do when they walked through the door?
  3. Did they buy anything, and if so how much did they spend?
This could have been the shortest article on the blog, because I've just given you the three magic keys that will unlock the potential of your retail business. And, that's not just sales hype.

(Okay, there's a bit in there, because I want to to get excited -- you'll take it in better -- but bear with me: I'm not selling anything except myself!)

Whoever you turn to for marketing philosophy, and my favourite is Dan Kennedy, the initial message is usually the same. A retail business has to do three things:
  1. Get customers.
  2. Get customers to spend more.
  3. Get customers to spend more frequently.
See the link?

Obviously, there are many different ways to approach this -- from referrals to mailing lists, product launches to affiliate schemes -- as well as huge differences between online and offline strategies, but all growth strategies start by looking at these three areas.

Let's do a little walk-through.

If you know how your current customers find you, then, you can figure out how to get more. Even if you don't have any customers, or even visitors, you can still work out how to get more by using the Zero Traffic Keyword Research Technique.

What about number 2? Well... ideally you'd like to give everyone that walks through the door a stopwatch and GPS tracker to see what they get up to. 

In the bricks and mortar world of retailing, the closest you can realistically get is a simple time-and-motion study to try and see what products are being sold. Not to mention whether they're sold together, and where shoppers spend their time...

Online, however, there are many tools to help you figure out what your visitors are doing. For example, Google Analytics has a graphical display that shows you where they come in, where they drop out, and what they do along the way (as well as how long they spend doing it.)

Most of my clients has only ever used this for funnel analysis; but I think that's a waste, especially since you can combine it with Search Console data to see which keywords are driving their behaviour!

Then there's number 3, which is always a tougher nut to crack.

If you're in a 'replenishables' business (think printer cartridges, or razor blades) you have a built-in reason to get your customers to come back and buy more of your products.

In both the online and offline world, the best way to achieve repeat sales is through a list. An online mailing list through which you can continue to offer wisdom, ideas, and solutions, or its offline equivalent which is usually combined with a loyalty programme.

Of course, unlike in Ghostbusters, these streams can be mixed.

Keyword research is helpful here, too, because you want to participate in a conversation that is already going on in the market, and the best way to make sure you're doing that is to see what the market is looking for online.

Those are the three questions; and I've given you some of the many ways that they can be answered. The next bit is over to you -- depending on how much groundwork you've done, it might take an hour per week, or it might take a day.

The trick is to do it on an ongoing basis, and make sure that you are getting 100% out of your online traffic, or real world footfall.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Plan Do Check Act, SMART Goals and A/B Split Testing

Split testing is a valuable part of strategic keyword management. For a start, it allows you to throw away those keywords that aren't bringing in the results -- but at the same time, it gives you an opportunity to improve on so many areas of your retail marketing effort that learning it is a transferable skill in itself.

Of course, this article looks at split testing from the point of view of keyword management, but it can be, and has been, applied to all kinds of result-dependent activity.

By result-dependent we mean an activity that has a clearly defined and measurable goal; one which produces results that further our guiding strategy.

In strategic management terms, these are results that keep us in line with our mission and contribute to a sustainable competitive advantage.

At the core is something that I may well have alluded to before: PDCA.

Plan Do Check Act

The PDCA cycle (also known as Deming's Cycle) is something that I first came across in the context of process improvement. For a great overview, try the US Navy's Handbook for Basic Process Improvement, which is part of their Strategic Planning collection of documents.

(It's pretty lengthy, so don't get sidetracked, but there's a lot of useful flowcharts in there that can be easily applied to outsourced projects i.e. manual keyword expansion from a root keyword phrase, and checking of vital keyword effectiveness metrics against baseline measurements, and so on.)

The point of PDCA is that you first make a plan. Then, you carry out a process that has been created to achieve the goal set out in the plan.

Next comes a period of checking -- were the expected results achieved? -- and adjusting the process (the Do) part so that there is a higher chance of achieving the goals set out in the Plan.

In a nutshell, that's the Deming cycle, and it can be applied to a lot of different activities. Such as: A/B split testing of keyword rich headlines that form part of an advert campaign (on AdSense, for example).

However, before we look at A/B split testing (the process, or 'Do' part), we need to make sure that we understand what it is supposed to achieve. For that, I like to use SMART goals.


There's a great discussion of the various meanings behind the SMART moniker on the Project Smart web site. While you're free to choose a set that make sense to you, here's what I recommend:

  • S : specific (i.e. not at all vague)
  • M : measurable (i.e. numerically)
  • A : achievable (i.e. not unrealistic)
  • R : results-oriented (i.e. has to take you to where you want to go)
  • T : time-bound (i.e. set a time and/or cost limit)

In this case, your goal might be to increase click-through rates by 1% within 6 months by varying keyword placement in an advert heading.

The goal is set, but what is the process that will deliver the desired result?

A/B Split Testing

The driving principle behind A/B split testing is that you have two test cases, and you want to see which one performs the best. When you find that out, you devise another case and pitch it against the current best performer.

It sounds simple... and it is.

Within our PDCA process, it's the 'Do' part:

  • Plan : "increase click-through rates by 1% within 6 months by varying keyword placement in an advert heading";
  • Do : execute split testing for up to 6 months (or when CTRs increase by 1%)
  • Check : did we achieve the goal?
  • Act : if not, how can we improve/change the process?
The point is that Google AdWords will present you with hundreds of keyword phrases, along with data to help you pick the best one. But, it's the best one from Google's point of view, or at a push the best one that's identified using anonymised data.

It might not be the best one for you.

By split testing across candidate keywords, you can easily figure out which gives you the best return on your investment. Here, we've only put the goal in terms of CTR, but it could equally have been oriented around the eventual action of the visitor.

I've also talked about varying keyword phrases, but what about varying the words around those phrases? A great source of variations can be found in a free eBook "87 Marketing Secrets of the Written Word" by the legendary Ted Nicholas (link goes to his main site, and isn't an affiliate link.)

By picking carefully and pitching different combinations of words against each other, you will quickly build up a reliable list of variations for your chosen niche, as long as you follow PDCA, SMART and A/B Split Testing principles.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

On Tools & Conversion Rates: Notes from the Trenches of Strategic Keyword Management

Today, you get a twofer: as in, two for one.

Firstly, an update on this post about tools being put beyond use. Now, I'm not going to name names, but two of the tools I pay for and use regularly have been put beyond use (albeit temporarily) thanks to an AdWords change in the Keyword Planner.

Remember that I postulated that this was, at least, one tool that wouldn't be changed in a hurry?

It turns out I was partially wrong. In their recent article "Google says bots are the main target of Keyword Planner changes", Search Engine Land's Ginny Marvin says the following:

"The reality is that Google’s keyword research tools were designed to help advertisers develop their search campaigns. The availability of the External Keyword Tool for years, however, set expectations that it should be open and available to all."

For those who are unaware of the pending changes -- I say pending, because not everyone will be affected straight away, and it's likely that different accounts will be affected in different ways  -- they centre around restricting data to accounts that have been designated as research-only.

In other words, if you don't spend with AdWords, then you don't get the data.

Economically, with my academic hat on, it makes sense. Strategically, though, it's a bit at odds with Alphabet's Don't be Evil mantra, and the SEO / KWR part of me can't help but think that limiting data that helps content creators research what people are looking for, and willing to pay for, is only going to result in content blanket bombing and post-publication keyword research.

In other words, we're going to go back to speculative content spinning around known search terms, just to see where the content gets placed in Google's index (via the Search Console and Analytics reports) rather than pro-active keyword research.

While reactive keyword research -- as I call it -- certainly has its place in your keyword research toolbox, what we don't want is a sudden glut of spun content designed to test the viability of keywords, and provide no real value.

Meanwhile, the tools I mentioned? They rely on API access, and seem to be being throttled, either by the tool's creator, or by the API limits, such that they have ceased working. I'm sure a fix is in the works, and I have standby techniques that, while a bit more long winded, get me to the same place.

A case of do as I say, and as I do, for once!

Meanwhile on a more positive note...

There's a great graph on Jason Tabeling's Search Engine Watch article "Online-to-offline search value is exploding with 'near me' searches"that illustrates something that I've been pushing out to retail clients for a while now.

In a recent post "How Keyword Research can help High Street Retailers", I pointed out that many people are now comparing retailers on the high street whilst actually being on the high street with mobile devices in hand.

The anecdotal evidence is borne out by Tabeling's research, and it turns out that "near me" searches are pretty likely to be conducted on a mobile device, which is interesting.

More interesting from a retailer's point of view is his assertion that advertisers "are paying 30% more for 'near me' searches compared to searches with other terms, even though our data showed literally ZERO conversions for 'near me' terms."

Readers of my "Cheat Sheet" eBook will know that part of the strategic management of keywords pivots around PPC campaigns, and looking for the money in the market (think Search Volume x Cost Per Click).

Tabeling's research shows that 'near me' searches attract a very high CPC, have solid volume, but don't get the clicks. In other words, advertisers are spending for the sole purpose of exposure -- probably with their physical address -- near the top of the SERPs, or in AdSense side-bars.

He suggests that it's time for all advertisers -- and I would say, clicks'n'bricks retailers especially -- to review how they track conversion rates for so-called online-to-offline traffic, as in this new digital advertising reality, conversion "might not be from the traditional online search, but from a find a store visit or a click-to-call action."

Measuring the ROI might not be the simplest part of strategic keyword management, but as in other aspects of retail, it is vital to know how much you are getting back for the spend that is being forced upon you.