Thursday, 28 July 2016

Strategic Management of Keyword Research for Competitive Advantage

I'll apologise at the outset for the slightly highfalutin title of this post; but expressing these concepts any other way would have required a great deal more text than a blog title may have.

That, after all, is the point of these labels that we attach to larger concepts: they're shorthand.

They are, in fact, keywords.

One of the points I try to get across when coaching people about the use of keyword research in business is that all they really are is a two-way communication tool. The market tells us what it wants, and we tell the market what we've got, and why they should get it from us.

If you don't believe me, get a copy of one of Ted Nicholas' excellent books -- I recommend Magic Words that Bring You Riches or Billion Dollar Marketing Secrets -- and take a look at the tests that he has done using specific trigger words in online and offline advertising.

However, dipping into these secret pools of words and pulling some out is only half of the story: no amount of magic sauce is going to help if the basic keyword research is not aligned with your ongoing strategy.

That's where the examination of competitive advantage, and the strategic management of keyword research comes in.

The Quest for Competitive Advantage

Your competitive advantage is based on what makes your business unique, and there are competing and interesting theories on how it is best expressed. My own view tallies somewhat with what is known as the resource based view: that is, your advantage is made up of the resources at your disposal.

These resources can be tangible -- machinery, buildings and so on -- or they can be intangible -- intellectual property, processes, etc. -- but in order to contribute to your competitive advantage, they must also be valuable, not easy to replace, or imitate, and rare (the so called VRIO and VRIN frameworks).

So, for keyword research to contribute to competitive advantage, it must fulfil the VRIO/VRIN criteria by being tightly coupled to your business, forming part of the intellectual property and processes that give you an edge over the competition.

This is both time-consuming and intellectually challenging, but luckily we have a framework that can help both manage the ongoing evolution of keyword research as a competitive advantage, and stcuture the keyword research process itself: strategic management.

Strategic Management

The goal of strategic management in this context is to identify, create, and leverage a competitive advantage, in this case keyword research.

In the 1980s, Michael Porter presented a wealth of research into the emerging fields of sustainable competitive advantage and strategic management. If you want to dig a little deeper, Porter’s own YouTube channel presents his ideas much more eloquently than I have space for here.

There are, however, some basic steps in the process that are useful to examine:

  • Examination of internal and external business environments (SWOT);
  • Long and short range strategy formulation (mission);
  • Strategy implementation (including budget control);
  • Performance evaluation (measure, test, compare);
  • Action through feedback (Plan-Do-Check-Act).

(Adapted from Kuratko & Audretsch, 2009)

This framework gives the business owner an excellent general-purpose tool for guiding their business through good and bad times, but also, crucially, can be aligned with the processes of keyword research and subsequent use of keywords identified as being in line with the stated strategy.

Strategic Management of Keyword Research

Here's a step-by-step process based on the above:

  1. First, look at the specific keywords that define your products, as well as those being used by your competitors;
  2. Decide what the strategy is to deliver as a mission statement -- more traffic, higher conversion rates, higher customer lifetime value, and so forth;
  3. Use keyword research and analysis to measure the effectiveness of keyword phrases being used by the target market, and calculate the cost of traffic acquisition (online or offline, via flyers for example);
  4. Set up appropriate means to measure performance;
  5. Establish a regular feedback loop to take corrective action where necessary.
These five core steps are the basis of establishing keyword research as part of your competitive advantage, and, when tailored to your specific business, make it a valuable, rare, and hard to imitate resource that cannot be easily substituted to achieve the same effect in another organisation.


  • Kuratko, D. & Audretsch, D. (2009) “Strategic Entrepreneurship: Exploring Different Perspectives of an Emerging Concept” Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, Jan 2009, Baylor University