In a recent episode of Whiteboard Friday, Rand Fishkin of Moz describes how unreliable Google Adwords keyword volume reports are. In short, he makes the case about how using this tool alone as a way to define keyword targets is “insane”.
For anyone who’s dabbled in SEO work in the last decade, this is a stunning pronouncement from one of the leaders in the SEO field. Most people look to Google’s keyword planner as the main data source for keyword searches. After all, it’s coming from Google itself.
But for those who work in the SEO field, this isn’t surprising. We’ve witnessed a number of changes in the last few years that make pre-campaign keyword analysis problematic.
Furthermore, even the data on actual keyword searches – again, coming from Google – is inconsistent. Case in point is the search console data from Google Analytics vs Search Console, which we’ll discuss.
Let’s take a look at how to make better use of keyword with data examples from marketing360.com. For this example, we’ll look at specific keyword set targeting “barbershop marketing”.
First, an important point. We did not go to the keyword planner, analyze the phrase “barbershop marketing”, and discover it was a high volume keyword. That was not the basis for targeting this keyword.
Instead, we made several assumptions. There are thousands of independent barbershops operating in the USA, and they all need to do marketing. We then considered what a person running a barbershop might search for if they needed marketing help. The two most basic terms we came up with were “barber marketing” and “barbershop marketing”.
We checked these in keyword planner and found some volume on these searches. But we started off with these short-tail, seed terms based mainly on intuition.
We also used intuition to plan for the searcher’s intent. We assumed people doing these searches would want ideas and tips on how to market a barber shop. We then did further keyword research to discover what variations of these terms we’d need to consider.
Then, we developed this article with tips on how to market a barbershop. We wrote this article to help people. We made it as useful and complete as possible. Other than the basic considerations of our keyword targets, the content was not created to try and match a search algorithm.
We published it and let it run.
Gaining Ranking and New Keyword Insight
We made another assumption about this content. By looking at the what was ranking already, we could see this would not be a highly competitive concept to rank for. It was, as they say, low-hanging fruit.
This assumption was correct. Within a month, we were #1 for “barbershop marketing”.
This put us in a new position. Instead of using uncertain keyword data from Google, we could begin to see traffic that was coming in as the result of the content we created. In other words, we can track the actual search queries people used to find the content.
But again, the consideration of the data Google provides. Here is the data we get from Google Analytics:
Here is the data we get from Search Console:
Long story short, you need to be on Search Console to see the actual traffic coming into your website, which is what we use for Marketing 360® reporting.
The above data is organized based on how many clicks come through to the website. The top term for the month, “barbershop business ideas”, is not even a term that came up in our initial keyword research. It had no search volume in Keyword Planner.
Yet we rank in the top position and received 42 visitors from this search. The click-through rate is 29.79%; you can see the click-through rates for all these terms are excellent.
As we noted, this is not a high-volume, competitive keyword phrase. But it’s delivering targeted traffic.
We use this same strategy for hundreds of concepts and business verticals that our audience potentially searches.
- On marketing360.com, we have 742 pages earning organic impressions.
- In the last 180 days, this has resulted in 36,610 clicks into the website.
- For paid search, our average cost per click is $6.71.
- This means the organic traffic earned what would have cost approximately $245k in paid advertising.
This is excellent ROI on our organic campaigns. Initial organic visits contribute to brand lift (a barber might first find our barber marketing page, then later search on our brand name “marketing 360” to return to the site). It also puts people into our sales funnel by exposing them to our social media channels and getting them on retargeting lists.
Developing Your SEO Strategy
The shift from trying to target particular keywords with tools like Keyword Planner to targeting user intent and concepts is the result of RankBrain.
RankBrain is the artificial intelligence component of Google’s search algorithm. Its purpose is to understand the intent behind a search query and provide the best content available to satisfy that intent.
This means that Google is no longer trying to rank pages based just on a term’s relevance in content. It seeks to understand the concept of the search, then provide the best content.
This is why, for example, our barber page ranks #1 for the phrase “barbershop promotion ideas”, even though we never use that phrase in the content. The information we provide matches the intent of that search, so Google ranks us for it.
You can use this to discover new keywords you’re starting to rank for and need to push up to higher positions. For example, we have a page about how to get the Google Guarantee on Local Service Ads Listings. Here are the phrases we’re ranking for:
We’re on page one for these keywords but at the bottom of the page. We know from data across-the-board that if you’re ranking higher on page one, your organic click-through-rates will increase, often dramatically. We can now revise our content and linking strategy to see if we can push our ranking higher on these terms.
A well-developed, useful piece of content can now rank for dozens of keyword phrase variations. If you nail the concept, you’ll rank well for any search that matches up with the user’s intent.
At Marketing 360®, we’ve spent the last several years writing hundreds of articles that provide info and answer questions about small business digital marketing concepts. As of this writing, we are on page one for 2017 different keyword phrases (note how this number goes up each period).
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Now just a few years ago, we might have analyzed a high volume search term like “internet marketing” and tried to focus all our SEO efforts on gaining ranking for that one term. We would have hoped for big results if we could outrank everyone on that one term.
Today, you can’t even be certain if the data on these high-volume, big targets is accurate. Furthermore, with more general terms, it’s harder to make assumptions about the intent of the search. A shoe retailer might love to rank for the word “shoes”, but what does that search even mean?
Rather, the best SEO strategy in 2018 is to start with the concept, make assumptions about searches people might do based on intent, then create content that matches that intent. As you rank for seed terms, you’ll also get data on all the variations people use in actual searches.
If you’re uncertain about word choice as you start, use some of the keyword tools available – Google Trends is one of the best. This will give you starting points for seed terms and concepts.
But don’t just zero in on a few high volume phrases then try to rank with outdated keyword use and backlinking strategies. If you do this, it will take you forever to rank for the most competitive terms, and all the while you’ll miss a garden of low-hanging fruit that – when combined – delivers superior SEO results.