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6 Free Steps to Practical SEM Keyword Development

February 16, 2011 By Michel Leconte
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As marketing channels evolve, so does a marketer's job. An increasing number of marketing professionals are tasked with developing lists of potent keyword phrases to drive search engine optimization strategies (SEO) and power pay-per-click search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns. Inevitably, questions emerge as to what best practices can be established to drive success for this critical step. Here is a practical approach to how marketers can most effectively approach keyword development.

Relying on a flawed keyword list is akin to building a house on a poor foundation: It jeopardizes the return on investment of your PPC campaigns, wastes a significant part of your SEO budget and is a bad omen for your job prospects. Keyword development can become rapidly overwhelming, but a little bit of organization and setting aside a chunk of uninterrupted time help a great deal.

1. List What Works Right Now
Leverage all data pertaining to sales origin, conversion, keywords, CRM, Web analytics and Adwords. This is the part you can rely on; you control it. Congratulate yourself if you have been tracking lead origins, because these are about to become a valuable part of the process. Place the keywords you know convert into sales within the first sheet of your spreadsheet—that's the A list. Place the high volume terms triggering no conversion onto another sheet.
  • Instant Takeaway: If you don't do anything else today, start by setting goals in Google analytics and Adwords.
  • Bonus Takeaway: Set up a remarketing audience in Google AdWords with 540 days of cookie length, and ask your webmaster to add both the conversions code of your successful URL and remarketing code of your website (or at least cover the homepage).

2. Google Webmasters Tools: Do More of What Works Right Now
Go to your webmasters' tools account/search queries. Select your market and see all queries in the filter settings. Sort by average position and highlight keywords from your A list within that table. Download the data to CSV, or comma-separated values. You can get some great ROI by focusing your efforts there; especially if you rank anywhere between No. 3 and No. 15 for some of these keywords. That's the priority AA list for your organic efforts, and you'll double down by setting broad PPC bids around these later on.

If you did not have solid prior conversion data, you'll have to guess which query would yield good conversion rates.
 
3. Identify what Keyword Phrases Make an Impact for Your Competitors
Take a list of your top competitors, go to www.alexa.com and—if they are within the top 100,000 sites—you can confidently harvest both organic and paid search query data.

This is the B list: keywords that generate traffic to your competitors' websites. (Although the PPC opportunities listed on Alexa have little value.)

Instant takeaway: While you're there, read the summary for your competitors. Note the accurate bounce rate and compare it to that of your websites. This can give you clues on how to improve your homepage conversion rate.

4. Google Instant: Identify Opportunity Gaps and Position for the Future
You may have noticed that Google's search box has become interactive. It now attempts to predict users' search intentions by automatically suggesting search terms as they type.

Through Google Instant, search results are displayed in real-time and shift as the user types additional letters. Also, the additional space taken by the suggestion box cannibalizes space usually occupied by one to three results. What does this mean?

First, many users will settle for one of the proposed options if they're close enough to what they have in mind, or will expand their initial search terms if they notice inadequate search results appearing. We expect a concentration around these keyword phrases to occur over time—a bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Imagine that someone types 10 keyword phrases indifferently with the same intent—the keyword phrase with the most volume, i.e. the longer keyword tail, will rise to the top of the bucket, just like cream in a pot of milk. The popular should only get more popular.

So what now? Seed the search box with the first word of the keyword phrases found in your A and B lists. Make a note of the suggestions surrounding your keywords and then decline the alphabet A to Z and copy down what appears to be Google's most potent suggestion from each list. This is your C list.
 
5. Adword Search-Based Tools: Retrieve Volume, Costs and Set Everything in Motion
Now, you have a decent set of keyword phrase lists. By assembling AA, A, B and C, you find phrases that already generate business, some that likely generate business for your competitors, and others that show current and future potential.

Google Adwords will display volume and PPC costs for you on a phrase basis. Why? Based on the previous section about Instant search, we want to cover not only suggested keyword phrases, but also all the long tail keyword phrases (additional keywords) hiding behind ... at least until you can gather conversion data—which will be easy now that your tags are well in place—refine and sort things out. It's a no-brainer to add the low PPC keyword phrases to your campaigns and pay attention to volume and trends.

For the higher volume keyword phrases and wherever you see a constant increase in volume for a keyword over time, append it to your AA list as an organic search content development target. This is good for your PPC campaign, too, if budget permits.

Remember the list of keywords with decent volume that don't convert you identified in step 1? Make sure these don't sneak back into your PPC list. However, these same keywords might be targets for monetization through partnership or affiliation. If you sell handmade gifts but attract hobbyists as your traffic, then you might want to partner up with an arts and crafts store. If that type of search is huge compared to your target, your overall site positioning might need a major adjustment.

Instant Takeaway: The new keyword search tool features top terms in each category queried on google.com. Looking at top searches in your keyword categories is always educational and gives you insight into how Google sorts topics and subjects.

6. What Comes Next?
How do you validate your content strategy against your keyword phrase list? Understand searchers' behavior and break down keywords into types. For instance, if you're in the e-commerce space, you may break your keyword phrase list down into:

  • Software and solutions;
  • Design and designers;
  • Hosting;
  • Market research/Benchmarking; and
  • How to.

From there you can coordinate content strategy development.

Finally, as you set your remarketing up in step 1, you laid down the foundation of your next highly cost-effective marketing channel: PPC display advertising for the remarketing audience. But this is a topic on its own …

Instant Takeaway: The Reality Check. How do you know when you have not spent enough time doing keyword identification? Chances are that if you don't need to develop any new content and/or re-organize your website to fuel and align with the strategy at the end of this process, you're missing something. Spend more time or hire someone to bring a fresh perspective to the job.

Michel Leconte is the CEO of Dover, Del.-based search engine marketing firm SEO Samba and SEOTOASTER, an open-source website builder. He can be reached at michel@seosamba.com.


 

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