Ian Lurie // May 19 2011
“You own a shoe store? Then you should optimize for shoes.”
I actually heard an SEO tell that to someone at a conference, many years ago. The hapless listener (let’s call him HL) owned a shoe store.
I don’t know if the SEO involved:
Or, he was a complete dunderhead.
Keyword research is not about traffic volume. It’s about opportunity.
So, before you go off chasing keyword unicorns, check out this process. The Portent SEO team has come up with it over the years, and it generally keeps us out of trouble:
If you have access to analytics, do the following:
In analytics, go to referring keywords. Filter out branded terms. Sort by any of these, depending on what data you have:
Take the top N terms, where ‘N’ is the total number of unique pages on the site. Export that list, and be sure to include:
Now, get your current ranking for each of these terms, and the ranking page. Add that to the spreadsheet, too.
You should now have this:
This is your seed list. Obviously, if you already rank #1 for a particular term, you can ignore it, or at least move it to a separate list.
If you saw my SEO + analytics = Content presentation, you already understand opportunity gap. If you haven’t seen that yet, you should watch it before you read this. It’ll make a lot more sense.
For each term in your seed list, fetch the monthly local search volume from Google Adwords or your favorite keyword research tool.
Remember that any search volume data you get is suspect. You have no choice, so you gotta use it. But don’t stake your career on Google’s or anyone else’s public data.
If you don’t have access to analytics, feel free to panic. You’re kind of screwed.
Now, compare the seed list of terms to the top pages. The goal here is to find:
This is your initial list of optimization targets. You’re not done! But in a pinch you can use this to get started.
This list should not drive keyword decisions. It’s just a reference. Just because a bunch of competitors are all being stupid doesn’t mean you should, too.
But, if you see great phrases for which you don’t rank, add ‘em to your seed list. Grab traffic (if there is any), search volume and competitiveness data just like you did above.
Now, expand your keyword list.
Now, remove all the terms that make no sense. There are bound to be some.
“Makes no sense” means they aren’t relevant. It does not mean ‘too difficult to rank’. Super-competitive phrases need to remain on the list.
Make one more run through the list. Highlight any terms that balance potential for growth and ability to rank.
If your site already has well-optimized pages, you’ll probably need to create more content and add it to the site, interlinking the new pages to create high-relevance hubs.
If the site doesn’t have a page or pages optimized around the term, you’ll either need to pick existing pages (and add them to the spreadsheet) or designate new pages and a content strategy.
The not-so-quick but still-very-dirty keyword research method we use at Portent.
And yes, I did leave out a few things. I’m not giving it all away for free, folks.
Ian Lurie is founder and CEO of Portent Inc., an internet marketing agency that has provided internet marketing, including PPC, SEO, social and analytics services, since 1995. Read More