Friday, 19 August 2016

What if All Your Keyword Research Tools Disappeared Overnight?

How To Avoid This Often Terminal SEO Mistake

Recently I had a client whose favourite -- indeed only -- keyword research tool had been put beyond use.

Behind the initial panic was the growing realisation that they didn’t actually know how the tool did what it did. It was selecting excellent keywords, and had served her well in the past, but she had no idea how it worked under the hood.

To be clear on this point: “put beyond use” can mean any one of the following:

  • A temporary glitch;
  • The provider went out of business;
  • The fees went up beyond your capacity to pay them;
  • The source of the data that the provider was using was put beyond use.

The first is easy: it’s a waiting game. Just make sure that you are always a few days (or weeks) ahead of the data point. In other words, don’t leave it until the last minute to have a basket of keywords to work with: use seasonal and outlier analysis to keep ahead of the game!

The rest of the items in the above list are catastrophic if you have no idea how to replicate the service manually.

So, here’s the first lesson: don’t use metrics provided by third parties that you can’t replicate manually. Any services you use should merely be time-saving conveniences; if they have special sauce, one day you’ll be left with only a dry bowl of pasta.

You’ll still eat, but it won’t be pleasant...

Make Sure You Have An SEO Plan B


Even if the absolute worst case scenario is manual calculation using the most basic tools, it’s better than nothing. With the right preparation, it can be outsourced, releasing you to perform business functions that add value to your proposition.

For every SEO action -- from keyword research to social posting and link building -- make sure you have an alternative to the time-saving tools you use on a daily basis. There are some that you can’t do without (Google Search, AdWords, and the actual social networks themselves, for example) but make sure that these are:

  • In the minority;
  • Unlikely to be put beyond use.

In the keyword research field, we often deploy third party tools that gather up data and then present it in a way that lets us draw conclusions. For example, the AdWords Keyword Planner, or SEMRush analysis tools pull together a number of data points -- some proprietary, some not -- as a way to save time.

Decision tools such as Market Samurai, and automation tools like KeywordTool.io and Power Suggest Pro*, also fall into the category of must-haves for people embarking on serious strategic keyword management projects.

As long as these are used as labour saving devices, and not crutches, that’s okay. In fact, although I used -- and have paid -- for some of the above, I never use them for anything except baseline research: just the numbers.

For decision-making, I prefer to rely on my own metrics, which sometimes includes charting the data and just using my eyes. However, I do have three so-called ‘first cut’ metrics that I’ve rolled together to help make sure I weed out the non-starters.

These are automated, but could be done manually, if my toys get taken away from me!

Create Your Own Keyword Research (and SEO) Metrics


Probably the most important metrics are those I call ‘first cut’. The idea is to cut away a first set of keywords that aren’t likely to be useful. The metric that you use tends to be one of the following:

  • Pure volume - search volume vs. results returned;
  • Market value - amount of free advertising capital in the niche;
  • PPC Campaign - reducing the cost of a PPC campaign for maximum exposure.

Obviously, to calculate these, you will need tools. For example, my own go-to metric for a pure volume project is to emphasis the addressable market over the sheer number of searches: sometimes referred to as the KEI.

To calculate the KEI, you will at least need two numbers:

  • Search Volume
  • Number of Results

The second of these is easy enough to scrape from a Google Search (either manually, or with a simple script) but the Search Volume is only really available via the AdWords Keyword Planner.

The same is true for the market value metric, where the anticipated cost per click is used to test a keyword for available advertising spend against search performance, and picking outliers for inclusion.

Again, Keyword Planner is the only real source; luckily it is unlikely to be put beyond use for the foreseeable future, as it supports most of the Google keyword economy.

That’s good, because the last first cut metric, specifically used to remove expensive keywords, is almost the opposite of the market value metric, and specifically uses data from Keyword Planner.

Tools can help apply all of these metrics: for example, Market Samurai can be set up to filter for commerciality, or cheap keywords, and remove everything else. However, if you don’t know how to do the work manually, and those tools are taken away, you’ll be unable to replicate the results and you’ll have to start from scratch.

Learning how to calculate first cut metrics isn’t a good thing to have to do in a hurry. The best advice is to start now, and roll your own set of metrics: not only will you have a safety net, but you'll also learn a lot in the process. I guarantee it!

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* Disclosure: I participate in the Power Suggest Pro Affiliate Scheme, and the article link is an affiliate link. If you prefer not to click it, use www.powersuggestpro.com instead.