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Week One: Keyword Research

So how do you find the best, buying focussed and profitable keywords?

That's what you'll learn today in Part One of this six week SEO mini course.

✓ How to find the most accurate data on the best key phrases
✓ How to pick buying focussed keywords
✓ Common pitfalls and misconceptions about keyword selection

Get the Real Data

The Google Keyword Tool is an excellent tool for finding key phrases that you may never have even considered before.  But you can't rely on it as your sole source of keyword traffic statistics. 

Why? Because it's free.

The data provided by Google is given free of charge to it's AdWords advertisers (even non advertisers), so you can't expect exact, accurate or even reliable numbers from it.  At best it's a guide to point you in the right direction, to show you that "plumber north shore" gets more searches than "plumbers north shore".

The real data is in Google Analytics, or even better Google AdWords.  The impressions, traffic numbers and conversions you get out of Google AdWords is perfect data for choosing the best key phrases to optimise.  That's why we recommend all our clients start with AdWords before beginning professional search engine optimisation.  Through AdWords you can discern which key phrases bring the most conversions via your site, and also which key phrases deliver a lot of impressions, but don't convert as well.

Key Point

If you're generating conversions through a specific key phrase and the cost per conversion is low enough to make a profit, then SEO will work for that key phrase.  You're just going to get more traffic, organic traffic for that phrase and conversions will follow in step.  In some cases, the quality of organic traffic is higher than paid traffic, but we'll leave that topic for another day.

Client Example

Recently we had a prospective client in the solar power business go through this process.  Initially the client wanted to rank highly for "Solar Power", plus a few other key phrases.  While we said we could optimise the solar power key phrase for his site, we recommended testing with Google AdWords to find the key phrases that generated the most enquiries per dollar spent. 

GA_Keyword_Research_Data_-_SPP

After a month, the result was clear.  While "Solar Power" was still a viable key phrase due to the high number of impressions and conversions, we found "Solar Power NZ" to be a much more favourable key phrase.

Here's Why:

Searchers who type in a location after the primary keywords are buying focussed searchers who are looking to buy.   They want a phone number, an email enquiry form - a way to contact people who can serve them in their local area.  We find in the gift basket and flowers market that searchers using "NZ" and "New Zealand" after the key phrase "Gift Baskets" are particularly valuable because they tend to be expats (New Zealanders overseas, particualrly in the United Kingdom and Australia).

These expats have friends and family in New Zealand that they want to buy a gift for.  They have a deadline to meet (a birthday, Mothers Day or Christmas) and because of the conversion rate to New Zealand dollars, the price isn't so much of a concern.  These searchers are willing to spend more and than your average New Zealand buyer.

Location Searches

Note that this strategy isn't just limited to gift businesses.  It can work for almost any business, even service businesses like plumbing.  Overseas property investors regularly type in "Plumber Auckland" and "Plumbers NZ" to find a local plumber to tend to their property investment.  Even for local searchers, ranking higher for local search terms such as "Plumber North Shore" and "Plumber Auckland" can be more valuable that ranking #1 for the keyword "Plumber".

A Real NZ Client Example

One of our clients, Cosmetic Dental in Remuera ranks #2 behind Wikipedia for "Teeth Whitening".  They also rank #3 for "Teeth Whitening Auckland". At one point Cosmetic Dental ranked #1 for "Teeth Whitening Auckland" and was receving more traffic for this search than for "Teeth Whitening".

GA_Keyword_Research_Data

Even though the traffiic for "Teeth Whitening Auckland" is half that of the generic "Teeth Whitening", it is still more valuable than the higher searched term.  That's because people from all around New Zealand can search for teeth whitening, but as Cosmetic Dental are based in Remuera, Auckland, they can't become paying customers.  But every searcher who types in "Teeth Whitening Auckland" is highly likely to be a bona fide customer, and this is part of the reason why this search phrase has become more competitive in the last 12 months - because local SEO companies are beginning to see the value of local search phrases.

Common Language

When deciding on key phrases, it's best to use common language that you would use in everyday conversation.  One way to test is to verbalise the key phrases to ensure they make sense to you.  For example, "Plumber Auckland" without an "s" makes more sense than "Plumbers Auckland". 

GA_Keyword_Research_Data_-_AP

And as you can see from the table above (screen shot taken from our high ranking plumbing site: aucklandplumbers.co.nz) the "Plumber Auckland" gets more traffic in a month than "Plumbers Auckland".  Not to say "Plumbers Auckland" is not a worthwhile search phrase to optimise (because it most certainly is), but there are better key phrases out there to focus on initially.

Exact and Broad Match

Here's how to really sort the data you get from the Google Keyword Tool. 

Once you type in several search phrases to get traffic volume data for, take a look at the broad statistics.  Let's use teeth whitening as an example.

Teeth_Whitening_Keyword_Research

If a searcher types in "Teeth Whitening Auckland", this counts as one broad search for "Teeth Whitening" and "Teeth Whitening Auckland". 

But if another searcher types in just "Teeth Whitening", then this counts as one broad search for "Teeth Whitening", but not for "Teeth Whitening Auckland".  That's why the general "Teeth Whitening" shows up higher in the traffic volumes for broad searches.

Step One: Search query for "Teeth Whitening Auckland"

Search Term Number of Broad Searches
Teeth Whitening 1
Teeth Whitening Auckland 1

 

 

 

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Step Two: Search query for "Teeth Whitening"

Search Term Number of Broad Searches
Teeth Whitening 1
Teeth Whitening Auckland 0

 

 

 

So there are 8,100 broad searches a month for "Teeth Whitening" and only 720 for "Teeth Whitening Auckland". 

On the basis on this, you would have to say that "Teeth Whitening" is the most important.  As explained earlier, this is not necessarily so.

This is where Exact Searches come in.

Teeth_Whitening_Keyword_Research_-_ES

Exact Searches are as the term suggest, they are exact searches for that particular phrase, with no other keywords entered into the search box.  They use [ ] around the [key phrases] they are giving exact search volumes for.

You can see that as a percentage, "Teeth Whitening" has 12.3% of the searches being exact, while "Teeth Whitening Auckland" has 66.7% being exact matches.  This signifies that the traffic is much higher quality for "Teeth Whitening Auckland".  The number of exact searches are also an approximation of the amount of real traffic (not just search impressions) that will come to the websites in the top 10 results.

Search Impressions are not Traffic

Sometimes website owners using the Google Keyword Tool see 5, 10 or more thousand people searching for their keywords and think "If only I could be on the first page for those keywords, then I'd be getting 500, 1000 or maybe even more people to my site a month."  However, the numbers generated from the Keyword Tool are not traffic.  They are just a rough guide as to the number of searches performed in a particular month. 

Not everyone who searches ends up clicking.  Some people search, but do not click on any search result.  Even the number of search impressions Google gives you is not accurate.  They are often rounded to the nearest 100 or 1000 searches performed. 

This is why Google Analytics and AdWords are important tools to finding the best key phrases to optimise.  AdWords gives you accurate traffic and impressions data because you are paying Google for this service. It has an incentive to ensure that you get value for your advertising spend.  Google is also trying to improve the relevancy of the your ads to make them more useful to it's coveted searchers.

Test, Test, Test

If there's one guarantee with Search Engine Marketing, it's that you need to continually work on and improve your campaigns.  Like all marketing, you won't get it absolutely right the first time.  The learning we discovered about "Solar Power NZ" versus the general "Solar Power" was found through trial and error. 

Even this SEO mini course was the result of trial and error. We tried something that worked (Google AdWords), then modified our approach by offering a free, no obligation 6-week SEO mini course rather than trying to get people to call us right away.  Now our SEO mini course is the biggest source of new clients for us, and that's because we tried one approach, experimented with another until we found one that worked consistently.

You'll no doubt find new key phrases in time that are more valuable than the initial keywords and key phrases that you started with.  That's ok.  In reality, this is actually a good thing.  That's because finding the most valuable key phrases require you to test, measure and improve.  Your competitors in most cases won't do this, especially of they are a large company that doesn't focus on SEO.

In the next weeks installment of the SEO Mini Course, you'll learn how to optimise your website content to suit Google's constantly changing preferences.