Interview with Take Ten Podcast

During PubCon Vegas I has the opportunity to be interviewed by by old friend and former co-worker David Temple from OMCP about the state of Online Training and Certification. You can read the transcript or listen to David’s Take Ten Podcast

Keyword List Building – Start with What you do!

This is a mini rant on a topic that has been bothering me a lot lately.  Yesterday I saw two new articles on keyword research from prominent “Celebrity SEO’s” and they talked about everything except making a list of what your business actually does.  Now this may be an assumption that you have that but from my experience the vast majority of people do not.    I did a keyword model for a company a few month ago for a consumer product and their first response to it was it was “sort of underwhelming” in that it did not have a lot of sexy terms and hundreds of variations or as they were looking for “cross-pollination phrases” where they could offer their product in that context.   I tried to explain that in the first phase we want to focus on what you do… ironically they did not have content for 60% of the words that directly related to their business.   So people, lets not jump into the deep end until we have built out our underwhelming list of words.

I was doing a keyword modeling project for a global company and asked them for their product list, product category list and model numbers.  The content team looked at me stunned and admitted they had no idea where to get that.  We ended up getting it from a number of sources.  I compared these to their paid search keywords and their rank checking list and only 20% of the product categories and products were even on the list.   When I brought this up in the review meeting they said they had three leading agencies, at different times, develop their keyword sets and they “assumed” they must has added them.

A few months ago in China I had 20+ brand and marketing managers in a room during a training session and it took nearly 20 minutes to come up with 20 words that described their products.   Most of these were aspirational such as “the best x in the world” and different campaign slogans but it was not until prompted that they started calling out their categories, product attributes and even the sizes and other descriptors.  Once we finished with the 10 brands they were all pros.  They asked the two agencies in the training why they did not approach keywords this way and some of the responses were – “We use what the tools give us” and “We are looking for other variations” and the best of all “You did not include those in the campaign brief.”

Just last week I had a request from a client in Europe that wanted to understand all the words related to how a person might look for their product as a gift.   They wanted me to break it out as if they were an expert, a novice or buying for an expert or novice.  Also any nuances related to different holidays and seasonalities.  Was a great request and a very interesting process to try to develop the lists.   Unfortunately, it did not vary much from how people search for it normally.  While the product is skewed towards men, there were interestingly fewer searches for this product for Fathers day then there were for Christmas.  The reality is there is no magic.

I wrote this related article recently that goes into the “underwhelming” approach to keywords and keyword expansion called “The Underwhelming Approach to Keyword Research and Expansion.




Developing your Underwhelming Keyword Research Process

I just finished presenting an initial list of keywords to a client and suggested they focus on them as a starting process.   They read through the list and the report and send me an email back telling me the keyword analysis report was “sort of underwhelming” and that they expected a much more expansive list of words.  One specific set they wanted were what they called the “cross-pollination” list of words that you might recognize as the “You want fry’s with that” or for those not old enough to know that fast food companies did not always have combo meals “People who bought x were also interested in y”.

I walked them through the data but first took them to the report that showed they had no page ranking nor did I find any pages with many of the phrases on their site.  Since they don’t have content for what they directly offer should we not start with that before we go looking for the other types of content.  After the initial shock wore off they calmed down and said I was correct and we need to fix that problem before we go into expansion and related opportunities.

Why does this happen?  It happens since no one wants to focus on the basics.  Everyone wants the sexy and cool and latest greatest technique.  Another problem I have ranted about is tools.  Too many people start with tools before they use their greatest tool their brain.   The vast majority of the articles on keyword research  jump into the deep end trying to find every possible variation or sacrificing opportunity by going to broad in their search.  I have seen a number of companies paralyzed from one of these exhaustive research reports from an agency on all the keywords they could target.

Where should you start and what should you master for your keyword list?

 Step 1:What Categories phrases describe our products or services?

What phase is used to describe my product or service?  For example, if you sell laptop computers then that needs to be on your list.  What about lawn moving services?  This can be “landscaping services” or “lawn care services.”  You have to capture both those in the know and people that don’t know.   You also have to be careful if your or your industries classifications.  For example, vodka is known in the industry as “white spirits” which is completely foreign to the average consumer.

Step 2: Identify product attributes and descriptors that help define a “searcher journey”

The Searcher Journey is that set of queries done from the first query to the last to understand a product category.   This step helps you understand specific demand for the product attributes of your offer.   Using our laptops example we can start to segment searchers – those looking for ” lightweight laptops” or “gaming laptops” but often these are filters on pages.  One laptop retailer does not use the phrase and to find them you need to use a filter of less than 3 pounds or less than 5 pounds.  While that is a filter criteria, it does not match “lightweight laptops.”   In our book Search Engine Marketing Inc, Mike Moran and I go into detail on this process with a fictional camera company. We describe the process from the first search on “digital camera” to the last search on a model looking for the price or deals.

Step 3: Understand the Purchase Journey of Searchers

Once you know the category and attributes of your product universe you need to understand if and how they want to purchase or engage them, especially online.   There are many categories or situations where they prefer to research online and buy offline and you need to understand and integrate that into your thinking.     Buy cycle terms are search query modifiers that help you identify people researching products or those who are ready and looking for a place to purchase. These phrases and data are one of your best indicators of opportunity in a local market.  Are searchers looking for the price of a product, or if it is on sale, or used or what do phrases might they include to describe their purchase intent? If your research finds there are not many later stage buy cycle searches then maybe they are not actually buying online which would require additional research on market viability for an online store especially one not located in market.    The more you understand the Searcher Journey for each market and the more of the query “refinements” you can identify and integrate into your content the more engagement potential you will realize.  This is true if your selling a product, service or you have an ad-supported site that requires local market traffic.

While so far this seems relatively simple it can get fairly complex quickly. Many brands jump into their keyword selection too quickly and don’t understand the implications of the words they do and most importantly do not choose.   While it might be underwhelming it can be very effective to improving your bottom line.

Monetizing Site Search Queries

I believe once everyone starts thinking clearly again after the last round of Penguin updates and focuses on their actual business rather than trying to find ways to game the system and mass produce activities that are not scalable we can get down to action that can actually move the needle.

One of the ways to find large god nuggets are in your site search queries.   While most keyword research best practices suggest you take a look at them I have found very few companies that actually do it.   For example, at a recent search conference I asked a room of 250 how many had even looked at their site search queries let along mine them and only four people raised their hands.   Talking to attendees after I round most don’t think it will yield any value, did not know where to get the data and others just did not think about it.

Why are site search queries important?

Site search queries are the voice of intention of your customers.   Site search queries represent products, services or information the searcher expects you to have since they are looking for them on your site.

The following are some ways you can use site search data to improve your search performance.

Mining Questions

In my Big Data Mining session at SMX West I gave an example of a large tourist destination where we set up a process to mine their site search data looking for anything related to tickets.    In the table below are some of the key data points I will explain.


The first thing we did was look for any phrases that were questions such as how, can I/we, where, when and what are all the basic questions as shown with their volume in the screen capture below.   We looked for variations of these with tickets, names of passes and other ticket related phrase.   What we found astounded us.  There were over 27,000 individual questions related to tickets.   We them took those questions and extracted the never of searches done using them which identified 600,00 searches in the current year.

We then wrote a script to test the site search appliance to see if any results were generated for each of the phrases.   We also did a check of Google for the top phrases to see if there was anything externally as well.    What we found was 60% of the queries were not generating any results.  Meaning if a searcher came to the site looking for answers to their questions on how to purchase, upgrade, exchange for an annual pass etc. nothing was presented.



The next step was to review the questions to identify which were actually merchandiseable.   We looked for questions such as the following:

  • Where can I purchase family pass tickets online?
  • Can I upgrade my day ticket to an annual pass?
  • Can I upgrade my single park pass be upgraded to full access?

Once we finished our review, we found that 15% of the questions and over 225,000 searchers we should be able to monetize them.   The idea was simple, if they want to upgrade from a day pass to an annual pass they should be able to click a link and upgrade online or at least be given instructions on where to go at the park or who to call online.

The Marketing Director of the company looked at conversion rates and average sale for these types of products, day passes to annual passes, single park to multi park passes and assigned a average conversion value of $200 and a average conversion rate of 10%.

We then estimated that is we can convert those questions at that rate and value it would represent  $4.5 million dollars in revenue.  Now, we did assume that even with the horrible state of site search that many would figure out how to do these transactions elsewhere so we cannot count all the revenue but at least we had a number we can work with.

They created a number of pages of new content to address these questions and updated their ecommerce booking engine to accommodate upgrades and were are now able to measure the number of transactions that are made due to a positive result in site search for money questions.

Site Search Queries Improve Navigation

A few years ago a large B2B site updated their international home pages removing many of the product links and replacing them with interactive links based on where the visitor mouse over.   We found that nearly 85% of the non-US users who came directly to the home page immediately went into site search.    Seeing the 85% and the words they were searching the UX team determined that the users were not recognizing or did not want to deal with the mouse over functions and were going into site search to find what they wanted.  They switched back to the original version and the site search rate dropped to less than 40%.   Little by little they adjusted the home page to include visual clues to the most common areas of the site which stuck the balance of creativity and function.

Identifying Non-Relevant Paid Search Queries

The second case I encountered recently related to paid search.  This B2B company was gating paid search visitors to only download a whitepaper.  The searchers clearly wanted something else with nearly 65% using site search to find what they wanted.   The PPC vendor wanted to remove site search from the navigation to stop this but it would only lead to increased use of back button.  We looked at the words and found the campaign was too generic and made adjustments to words and ad copy.  This did result in a decrease in clicks but a significant increase in engagement.   For those other words that were resulting in site search we increased performance in organic results and set up awareness campaigns to better interact with the searchers who wanted more specific information than getting the whitepaper.

Why Should You Organize Your Keywords?

Some people live to organize and we see all sorts of advantages in organizing everything in our lives. If you’re in that category, you probably have already convinced yourself that organizing your keywords is important, but what about the rest of us? We need convincing.

Some search programs contain hundreds of thousands—even millions of keywords—and you can imagine that it isn’t easy keeping track of all of them. Even if your program has far fewer keywords—10,000, say—you can be forgiven for not looking forward to organizing all of those keywords. In fact, you can be forgiven for not even believing that organizing your keywords is an important activity. Everyone knows that paid search keywords need to be organized by accounts, campaigns, and ad groups, but keyword organization can go far beyond that—and includes organic keywords, too.

So, here’s the simple reason why everyone needs to organize their keywords far beyond the standard accounts and ad groups—money.

If you aren’t categorizing your keywords according to myriad criteria, you’re missing out. Here are just some of the benefits of organizing that can jump start your keyword optimization:

  • Separate categories allow separate analysis. If you’ve ever performed market segmentation, you know the power of organization. Segmentation allows you to identify the keyword groups that convert the highest, produce the most loyal new customers, produce the best return on investment, and many other prized segments.
  • Organization allows optimization. Understanding those prized segments allows you to optimize your approaches—better keywords bidding strategies, more time spent on optimizing organic pages, common messaging to persuade similar targets, and many more.
  • Common categorization helps co-optimize paid and organic. If you’ve only organized your paid search keywords, you’re missing a big opportunity. Focusing on both organic and paid keywords with the same categorization approaches allows them to be optimized together rather than separately.

So, what kinds of categories can be helpful? Anything that allows you to consolidate your message across groups, rather than keyword-by-keyword:

  • Target market. If you have already segmented your markets based on other criteria (B2B vs. B2C, demographics, industry, or others), you can use what you know about your segments to identify which keywords appeal to each segment.
  • Purchase funnel. Search keywords reveal exactly where in the buying cycle searchers are. There’s no reason to offer a coupon to someone in the initial research stages, so organizing by purchase funnel stages allows message optimization.
  • Benefits. Some keywords reveal which benefits the searchers desire—“cheap flights” or “five-star hotel” or “quiet restaurant”—and that lets you target the messages to match. Grouping keywords for value, luxury, or other benefits allows you to scale your learning as to which messages are most persuasive.

Don’t settle for one-dimensional keyword organization that does nothing to optimize your messaging. How you organize your keywords can make the difference between an average search program and a great one.