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.