Recently I wrote a post on the increasing number of companies that are adding search marketing risk statements to their quarterly reports to indicate the risk of loosing their organic traffic and the increased cost of paid activities to recover the lost traffic. One of the recommendations I made to companies to to have better management of their AlwaysOn Keywords and use them as a early warning device.

AlwaysOn Keywords Defined

AlwaysOn keywords are those keywords that would be considered mission critical to the organization and need to have significant or 100% representation in the top of the Search results. Not having this this positioning will have a detrimental impact on the business.

AlwaysOn Keyword Strategy

Any keyword phrase that ranks at the top of the search results page receives 100% exposure to searchers using that keyword phrase ensuring brand exposure and increase opportunity for engagement.

The AlwaysOn Strategy is to put in place a set of activities and management systems to ensure the optimization changes necessary tor critical content pages, for their related keywords, are represented “above the fold,” in the search results.

AlwaysOn Goals and KPI’s

Brands will be required to achieve and maintain a Top 3 organic search position in their market’s dominant search engine for any designated AlwaysOn keyword. For any AlwaysOn keyword where a top 3 position is not achieved, the brand is required to engage paid search to for a minimum of 80% of the search volume until the Top 3 position is achieved.

The following KPI’s are mandated:

1. AlwaysOn Keyword Clusters will achieve a Top 3 Position in Organic Search
2. AlwaysOn Keywords PLP’s must be the highest ranking page
3. Keywords not in Top 3 will purchase 80% share of voice in PPC

Business Value of AlwaysOn Keywords

These are the various reasons I have given to companies to create and manage a set of AlwaysOn keywords. Due to company cultures some work better than others.

1. Significant Impact on Sales – these words, if they did not have proper representation in the Search Results would reduce traffic and the associated online sales for these products. As I wrote in 2012, about a company that lost 7 always on keywords and the cost to replace them with Paid Search traffic was over $2.8 million. http://whunt.com/the-cost-of-not-ranking-organically
2. Significant Impact on Brand Perceptions – You can argue if you are market leader in a product or service and you don’t rank people may have a negative perception of the brand or not even be aware of your brand and never add it to their consideration set.
3. Executive Wrath – There are always some keyword phrases that management latch on to that if you don’t rank your entire efforts are viewed as wasted effort. Many times these should be on a second tier list but depending on the pressure add them to this list.
4. Force SEO Best Practice Compliance – Brand content teams are often the ones who deviate from SEO best practices and modify templates or content to meet “brand” or creative desires. For this mission critical set of words, exposure and traffic should be as if not more important than making pages look great.

Managing your AlwaysOn Program

1. Executive Sponsorship – Get s senior executive to sponsor the program. It works best if it is the CEO, CMO or even the CFO since there are financial impacts. This person is the enforcer and arbitrator of creative vs. optimization decisions and is also aware and cares about the negative impact on the business.
2. Monitoring Tools – To demonstrate the KPI’s achievement and enforcement there needs to be a tool that can do the monitoring and show how you are performing especially when performance has a drop.
3. Education – You need to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the keywords and their respective pages and how their contributions have both a negative and positive impact on the performance.
4. Communication – You need to share the performance consistently and constantly to all stakeholders so they understand how you are performing. The Executive can help motivate those teams that do not respond.
5. Alignment – There must be alignment with the Paid and Organic Teams to ensure when organic performance changes alignment of either tactic is implemented.
6. Keyword Clusters – You can break words into key clusters to help manage them. It is rare that you have thousands of words but even a small

AlwaysOn Keyword Challenges

1. Incorrect Keyword Classifications – This challenge takes two forms of words that should not be on the list. The first are words that are too broad. For example if you are Salesforce and you add “Software” to your AlwaysOn list that is incorrect. While you have software, you have a specific form of software. The other are safe words to improve your score. At IBM we have a couple of business units try to add IBM Products or “IBM Software A – Z” the argument was that we need those since people looking for a list of all of our software need to find it. Fortunately, it would be almost impossible for IBM to not rank for IBM Software A-Z since that is specific to IBM and the title tag of the A-Z page. Doing that query the first 8 results are for IBM.
2. SEO Team & Keyword Difficulty – There are a number of SEO’s that live and die by the various Keyword Difficulty scores. We can argue that IBM or HPE would have “servers” or “rack servers” on their AlwaysOn list but most of the tools would score this phrase as too difficult so the SEO team may not want to add it to the list yet we can argue not being seen for the phrase “rack servers” would be a serious problem for either of these companies.
3. Managing Keyword Performance – Most people simply look at rank and not if the right page is ranking and what the share of clicks are. It is important you you see the full picture of the keyword phrase. This is something that DataPrizm does very well.
4. Alignment of Paid and Organic Search – given that when words are not ranking they need to be backfilled by Paid Search there needs to be close alignment with these teams. Not having alignment ensures failure.
5. Budeting – This will be a big problem. If you stop ranking for a primary keywords and to backfill, as the example above, where does the assertional budget come from to make up the shortfall? Clearly if the word is mission critical you need to pay for it but what gets cannibalized until you do?
6. SEO Kills and Alignment – I should make this the top challenge since many SEO’s may not be able to function at the level. They may not have the communication skills to identify the necessary changes and work with the teams to ensure success.
7. Lack of a Keyword Czar – the Keyword Czar is the person at your agency or internally that owns the words. They need to reconcile the performance and adjustment to the list with the business units.