As most of my colleagues know, I’m a lover of tracking – especially when it comes to SEO. Yes, we track changes in search engine (SE) rankings, inbound links, etc. but we also like to track referring search engine traffic and how a site is found. Why? Because this tells us if we’re increasing the number of searchers who visit a site for the first time – vs. visitors who already know the site (typically repeat customers).
To do this means going to the log files, looking at the keyword search results for how people find a site, and then looking at the terms themselves to determine how many people found the site from searches that include the site’s name (or brand name) and how many found it using industry terms (those that describe the product or service).
Good SEO will result in the number of visitors from industry-related searches growing larger and larger. That’s because visitors who find a site using industry-related search terms are highly likely to be first-time customers. In other words, new customers. In fact, Google Analytics shows what percentage of traffic for a particular term is from first-time visitors; typically the percentage is higher for industry-related terms and lower for site-name terms.
Consider a recent (new) client. They were very happy because more than 50% of their traffic came from Google and organic searches. Great job! Sort of…turns out 90% of their visitors found them for terms that included their company name. That basically means that their site functions primarily as an information source for existing customers and prospects who already know them. Even if prospects searched for the site because they saw the name on an ad or in an article, the site is still functioning mostly as an information source – not a “new lead” generation tool.
To optimize a site so that it generates new leads (aka, “new customers”), it should be optimized for the terms that the target customers use when searching for the site’s product or service. As Dan Thies has expertly advised in his SEO Fast Start, the ability for a site to target customers is pretty much determined by what terms the site is optimized for.
Following are the basic steps for creating a strategic keyword map, meaning one that can be used as a road map for optimizing a site to target new customers. For more detailed steps, be sure to check out Dan Thies’ Search Engine Optimization Fast Start.
1) Determine Core Terms
These are the major (or “core”) themes that will be used to create groups of terms, each organized within a core term category. This step is basically research. Start by talking with the site owner or customers to determine what terms and phrases people use to describe the company’s product or service. Then look at the website (if available) and competitor sites and pull out their “keywords” by looking at meta tags (including title, description, keywords and H1) as well as keyword density (there are several free keyword density checkers – Trellian’s KeywordDiscovery offers a good paid tool). Also look at Google Adword (or similar) keyword lists if available.
(If you’re short on terms, utilize historical search databases, such as Trellian’s KeywordDiscovery or Google Adwords keyword suggestion tool, to get more core theme suggestions.)
2) Create Core Term Categories
Once the list of core terms is compiled, organize them by major theme, term or phrase. An easy way to do this is to scan the list for repeated words and major themes; you’ll start to see similarities and patterns. Group similar terms together in a column (using excel for example) until all the terms are organized in a related column. Give each column, or grouping of terms, a title (this should be fairly obvious; if not, choose the term that best describes the core theme). This title is the core term. There may be 20+ core terms (and related terms underneath). Prioritize the core terms so that you end up with 10 to 15 core terms and keyword groupings. These are the core term categories.
3) Create Keyword Groups
Now overlay the core term categories (and related terms) with actual search data from historical databases such as Trellian’s KeywordDiscovery or others. This tells us which terms are most popular (based on number of searches), most competitive (based on number of occurrences) and which are most likely to rank (assuming the keyword database used includes KEI or similar information – Trellian does). Run search results on the core terms to find (a) related terms and (b) search and competitive history. Do this for every core term category. If you’re building an excel doc, organize these lists of terms (with their historical data) under each core term category. There may be hundreds or thousands of terms for each category; we typically cap it at 50 or 100 each. Once completed, you’ll have a keyword map that identifies the core terms for your target market, key search terms for each core term category, and historical search results.
4) Target Your Keywords
Using your completed keyword map (above), you can now organize it based on search popularity, competitiveness and ranking potential. In deciding which terms to target, don’t necessarily start with the most searched. Chances are those are also the most competitive. For a newer site, trying to rank for a highly searched and competitive term might be a waste of time and money. Instead, focus on the less searched keywords, which tend to have fewer competitors and also benefit from delivering more targeted traffic.
5) Overview and Full Versions
A well-organized keyword map is truly a tool for easily using a huge heap of data. So make it easy on yourself. We like to create three versions of the keyword map for easy reference and use. One, organize the core terms in descending order of popularity and list the top 10 terms (organized by likelihood of ranking) under each; this provides a good “snapshot” (again, we like to use excel). Two, make the keyword “snapshot” the first worksheet in the excel document, then list the top 100 search terms for each category in separate worksheets (one worksheet for each list of search terms); for example, if you have 10 core terms, your excel doc will have 11 worksheets (one for the “snapshot” and then 10 for the full search term lists). Three, a running list of all terms which can be graphed out to create a picture of the long tail search. These aren’t all necessary, but we like to utilize all three to get as rich a picture as possible.
The more we know about how our target market searches, the more strategic we can be in optimizing sites for generating new client leads. Oh, and don’t forgot to check the referring stats to see how traffic finds us. If done properly, we should see an increase in visitors from non-brand, industry-related searches – which is hopefully reflected in an increase in new client sales. Job well done.