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SEO Keyword Selection and Calculating Value

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen when companies (or agencies) kick off an organic search marketing campaign is the keyword (or key phrase) research. Making comparisons to offline marketing, key phrase research is your market research, even though you’re “one step ahead” in the process.

Traditionally speaking, a marketers’ first job would be to ascertain the audience, get demographic information and try and work out the best placement for their advertisements. Search marketing makes at least part of this job a lot easier. With most search campaigns being based around the big three, Google, Yahoo! And Live, you know where your audience is. The situation for finding the consumer is also flipped on its head, for instance if you’re selling spare parts for Raleigh bikes and you’re targeting the search term “Raleigh Bike Spare Parts” it would be a fair guess that the user is interested in spare parts for Raleigh Bikes, their demographic information is secondary.

This train of thought can lead you down the slippery slope of grabbing your notepad, writing down your “list of keywords” and ten minutes later giving yourself a pat on the back. As you can probably guess, this would be a mistake. Let’s have a look at some of the considerations when building a key phrase list.


Why are you even writing a keyword list?

It’s an interesting question, have you thought about it? Just because you build a keyword list, it does not magically change the range of products or services that you offer. If your website does not offer that service, product or have the relevant information: don’t add it! It is not uncommon for a business to provide a keyword list and when questioned about why they wish to rank for “service x” when they don’t offer it , the reply is “Well, it’s something we’d still like to rank for”. If you don’t have the content, don’t try and rank – you’re wasting your time, the visitors’ time and you’ll achieve very little when you could be focussing your efforts on more fruitful terms.

Focus is one of the main things a keyword list can give you. Even at the early stages of site design and development, producing a “mind map” of key phrases will give you a good idea how to structure your site in a logical hierarchy. Having your website and pages laid out in such a fashion makes it much easier for end users to navigate and increases your chances of ranking your website well within the search engines.

For instance, you may have your core services as top level pages, then specifics within these sectors as sub-pages as you navigate deeper into the site. While this makes perfect sense to the user, you are also presenting the more competitive “core” search phrases, higher up your site, which should give them more link equity and increase their chances of ranking. The deeper sub-pages will naturally be focussed around “long tail” search terms, which will have less competition and may rank particularly well without much concerted effort.

The reason you’re creating a keyword list and looking where you currently rank is simply to provide yourself with a benchmark. There are many different ways to judge the success of a site, with keyword ranking being one of them. It is not unusual for us to look at some analytics for a website and see it has had traffic for over 30,000 search terms within a month, however we would not benefit from tracking every single one of these, so we should already have a core group of valuable terms which we are tracking. These terms may change over time, however looking at a specific part of your site gives you focus for your link building campaign and gives you a good toe in the water as to how your site is performing in the search engines.


The longtail of keywords

If you’ve spoken to an SEO about your website, chances are you’ve heard the word “longtail” thrown into conversation more than once. Longtail refers to the kind of search queries that are very specific, maybe four or five words. Generally longtail terms have relatively low monthly searches and are not particularly competitive (depending on the field) to rank for.

“The Longtail” is something that is discussed at great length in SEO circles but it is actually quite a simple concept. As long as you have good on-page SEO (and by this I’m referring to good use of page titles, header tags and internal linking) you don’t really need to make endless lists of possible longtail variations.

Gone are the days when a content writer is scratching his head working out how to stuff his keyword just once more into the last paragraph, Google (and its smaller cousins) have got really good at rating page relevancy (partially by looking mainly at off-page factors as well), so writing should be done naturally, without trying to stuff keywords in.

If the on-page elements of your site are optimised correctly, it is simply a matter of using a little guidance from a tool such as the Adwords Keyword Tool [link]. Using this tool, add several variations of what you think would be a good (and descriptive) title for your page, set the filtering to exact, no synonyms and suggestions and you’ll see the title that will likely provide you with the most traffic.


On choosing core key phrases

Choosing your “core” set of keywords is another matter completely. While they will drive infinitely more traffic keyword vs keyword, they will likely be far more competitive, tougher to rank for and broader in terms of user intent. It may take you several months of work to achieve a good and solid ranking for a core key phrase, so you need to make sure you’re backing the right horse.


How to identify potential core key phrases

When choosing your core key phrases you will need to consider:

• Monthly searches for these terms

• The competition for these terms (i.e. how much investment it will take to rank)

• The value of each of these terms (how well they convert and how much money they make)


Calculating Monthly Searches

Now that Google has provided a keyword tool that provides real numbers, it is easier than ever to predict potential traffic from specific search terms.

Logging into the Google Keyword Tool will give you this interface:

Google Adwords Keyword Tool Interface


You can enter your primary list of keywords in the box and you may wish to leave the “Use Synonyms” box checked. This along with the “Show new keyword ideas” (in filter options) will allow Google to use its data to give you potential search terms you may not have thought of.

When displaying the results you have a “broad” or “exact” option – there is an important distinction.

Google Adwords Keyword Tool Broad/Exact Match


Broad Match: Will give you results for any key phrases that include the keywords entered. For instance, if you entered “Raleigh bikes” as a key phrase, it would also count searches for any terms that include this term such as “What is the history of Raleigh bikes?”, which may well not be what you’re looking for if you’re selling bike spares!

Exact Match: Tends to be more useful. This will only return results that exactly match the keyword you have entered. This will give you a much truer outlook of the potential searches that are out there.
This should be enough data to make a base list of possible key phrases and perhaps scrub some off your list. Keep in mind that while numbers are good, they do not reflect the value of a particular keyword. Always keep in mind the question “what exactly is the user looking for?” when examining search terms.


Calculating Competition
Calculating the competition and how hard it is to rank for a particular term is a bit more difficult and certainly not an exact science. This is really where you can test the salt of your SEO agency. There are various tools around which can try and estimate “page strength”, which will look at a number of comparative factors and try and estimate how difficult it would be to rank for a particular key phrase. While this can be useful, you will need somebody with SEO experience to use their judgement with any such type of number.

A great tool for looking at the competition is the SEOquake plugin for Firefox. This will allow you to see the vital stats of competitor websites directly from the search results page. The kind of things you want to be looking at are:

• How old is the domain? Older domains tend to be harder to outrank

• Is it a single page ranking or a homepage? Homepages tend to be harder to outrank as they naturally attract more links and indicate websites dedicated around this search term

• How many links are there to the domain? Domains with high link popularity carry authority and can pass this within their website.

• How many links are there to the individual page? Links to the individual page are an indicator of good content.

• How quickly does this competitor gain links? Look at the age of the domain against how many links they have gained in this time

• How many pages do they have indexed? This will give you an idea of their keyword coverage and their longtail strategy

• How does their content compare to yours? Do they offer more content than you? Better prices? More information? To compete you need to be at least as good, preferably better!

All of these factors can be tabled and compared to your current website. This will give you a very basic outline of your strengths and weaknesses in the market. There are some things you can’t do much about (i.e. domain age) and there are other things that can really make a difference (i.e. content).

Once you have established what you need to achieve, you can put this information into your strategy formulation to give you a better idea of timescales.


Calculating The Value of Search Terms

To calculate the value of a search term, you first need to know how much traffic it will deliver. Unfortunately, the numbers gleaned from the Adwords Keyword Tool won’t accurately reflect that. Organic search has click-through rates, which will have a massive impact on how much traffic you will receive. While there are no exact numbers (as things like titles and meta descriptions play a part) this table has proved reasonably accurate when gauging potential search traffic via position in the results:


Average Google Click-Through on Organic Search results


Using your earlier competitor information, your current standing and a dash of SEO knowledge, you should be able to plot a rough roadmap against your target keyterms and how long it will roughly take you to achieve the desired rankings.

The next step is looking at the value of each individual user. This requires some historical data, but can be achieved by measuring the value of an average purchase or an enquiry. Let’s work through an example.


Calculating the Value of Search Terms For An E-Commerce Site

If you don’t have any e-commerce data yet (maybe because you’re not getting any traffic), this would be a great time to look at doing some research with paid search, such as Google’s Adwords platform.

Adwords will allow you to track clicks, conversion rates and basket values, which is exactly the information you need. For this example we will say we have set up a fictional campaign for “buy raleigh bikes”

After buying 1,000 clicks you obtain this data:

1 in 7 visitors purchase a Raleigh bike after coming from this keyword (14.29% conversion)

The average basket value is £150 for each of these conversions

The average profit margin on these sales is 50%

This can tell us that:

Each visitor from this search term is worth approximately £21.43 in revenue

Each visitor from this search term is worth approximately £10.71 in profit

From our keyword research we know that:

“buy Raleigh bikes” has 500 searches per month (made up for ease of this example!)

Using our chart above we can say that:

Ranking #1 for “buy Raleigh bikes” would get us approximately 282 visitors per month

Using our above data we can say that:

Ranking #1 for “buy Raleigh bikes” would be worth approximately £6,043.26 in revenue and £3,021.63 in profit.
Now these are made up numbers for this particular example, but this kind of data will give you an idea on what you can afford to outlay over 12 months to rank for these terms. You could build your top 10 keywords into a timeline, tracking predicted revenue and profit as search positions change over 12 months and apply this to your search campaign.

Once you’ve ascertained your internal cost, you should have a good idea of what you could spend on an SEO campaign and if an agency could achieve these rankings for you at this cost (or lower, hopefully).

This model does not just apply to e-commerce websites. All that is required is the “value of action”, so if you’re a website that generates enquires, work out how many visitors on average you have before you get an enquiry, how many enquiries do you convert, what is the average value of an enquiry and its end profit?

Overview of Calculating Keyword Value:

Step 1: Establish the end average value of the target action (enquiry/purchase etc)

Step 2: Establish how many users it takes on average to achieve this action

Step 3: Calculate the value of a visitor (Action Value / Number of users per action)

Step 4: Establish potential search volume (Adwords Tool Value / Click Through %)

Step 5: Calculate monthly value of search term (Value of visitor * Potential Search Volume)

Step 6: Establish how long it will take to achieve rankings

Working with the above information and an experienced SEO agency, it will be possible to draw up a costed timeline which can give you predicted revenues against SEO spend, which can give you estimates that can greatly help manage expectation and put the campaign in focus.
Top Tips For Keyword Selection

In summary, as takeaway points for keyword selection:

• Only focus on keywords relevant to your site’s content

• Do not guess at keywords: Use tools such as Google’s Keyword Tool, Trends, WordTracker

• Don’t get bogged down in Longtail strategy, make sure your site is SEO friendly and use Keyword data on the fly to guide article titles and headers

• Research your current search position strength and weaknesses compared to your competitors

• Gather data before investing with pay per click platforms

• Build your data into a roadmap to predict costs and revenue



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  • anon / 13 years ago

    Good advice, this pretty much covers my current strategy. I would also suggest that less experienced SEO's limit themselves less competitive keywords. I would say as a rule of thumb when the first 3 competitors for a keyword have about 4,000 inbound links (according to yahoo) you should be able to rank using some very basic techniques.

  • Justin Brooke / 13 years ago

    Keyword selection will always be a big part of any campaign to boost the profitability and the prominence of the site. Good to know that the best places to insert the keywords will be on the first and the last paragraph.

  • Tim Benjamin / 13 years ago

    Great article Mark. Do you recommend judging the intent of someone searching a keyword by the time of day they search? If so, which tools provide that information?

  • Mark / 13 years ago


    Sorry for late reply - totally missed this comment!

    Time can be a tricky factor, it certainly depends on the country (or countries) you are targeting and the product.

    In a situation targeting one country/area for a specific product, using Adwords can be a great way to try and get a handle on when people are more likely to interact in the way you want.

    With Further's PPC, we log the day and time of enquiries and try and establish patterns that improve our success of where to spend budget.

    With SEO, hopefully you'll be enjoying those rankings 24/7!

  • Paul Quincey / 12 years ago

    That's clarified a few things for me. But I am still going to try to do it without using PPC. wish me luck!

  • Mike @ Oystermedia / 12 years ago

    Wow, thanks! That is a really solid article with some fantastic pointers that I will certainly be adopting into our benchmarking/KW opportunity calculations.

    Only one area that I can contribute to is "Calculating competition" - I run advanced search queries on Google to determine if the site has been on-page SEO'd. I use a search query of "in-title" "in-text" "in-url" "in-anchor text" to see which sites on page-1 of Google are being SEO'd.

    I am amazed at the opportunities that present themselves when you can find terms that aren't currently being optimised for.

    I'm not suggesting that you chase KWs that are not being competed for but this is a fast way to identify quick wins - especially in long-tail search.

  • Jason Gilbert / 12 years ago

    Thanks for the great article. I have a more detailed keyword selection question.

    For example, my site targets computer monitoring/spy software and I have a long list of results from my keyword research. There are many keyphrase variations that are very similar, the keywords are just in a different order or there is a singular and plural version of the same keyphrase. Do I need to create a page for every single variation that I want to target...including capture the "exact phrase" match traffic?

    My keyword research shows search volumes for broad, phrase and exact searches and you say to focus on exact. To make the site user friendly and not have pages every single variation (computer spy software, spy monitoring software, spying software, pc spy software, etc.), isn't there a way/logic to select one variation of a keyword and capture rankings/volume from other similar variations?...isn't that the concept of the broad search numbers?

    Or do you really select the one variation with the highest exact search volume with a competitive profile you can beat?

    Thanks in advance.

  • Mark / 12 years ago

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for the questions, I'll go in sort of reverse order if that's ok with you!

    The concept of broad match and exact match within the confines of the Google Keyword Tool are the same as Adwords, meaning:

    Exact Match = Searches for that exact phrase

    Broad Match = Any search containing those words.

    So for instance an broad match for "scuba" would not give results for variations of scuba diving, but actually all searches that include the word scuba - which isn't particularly helpful in regard to keyword targeting.

    To be frank, I would only use the numbers that Google provides via this particular tool as a rough guide, as there are instances when they give somewhat inaccurate information.

    In you want to compare relative search volumes for phrases, I would actually use the Google Insights tool, as it seems to provide higher quality data (that sometimes says the opposite of the keyword tool). So to continue with my example on scuba diving:

    This will show you the relative search volumes. Note that Google is counting "scuba diving egypt" and "egypt scuba diving" as essentially the same search term.

    When trying to target these different iterations of keywords, it's hard to give specific advice without a specific example. My general advice would be that if from a user point of view, there is no need to create another page, then don't do it. If you want to get keywords within a set of iterations the advice would be:

    1) Create the page optimised for the highest volume terms (url/title tag etc) - you should be able to get at least 2 in the title.

    2) Target the iterations of these term within the page copy - make it clear and highlight these terms, maybe using headings.

    With the above as a yardstick, you should find you can rank one page for multiple terms. More importantly than this, if you've created a single page resource that is more useful to users - you're much more likely to get links, which is going to help your rankings more than creating individual pages.

    Generally, it's not worth going for them as Google now shows the correct spelling anyway as the top result.

    In summary:

    Use GKW Tools only as a guide

    Insights can be useful to compare search volume

    Don't go overboard creating individual pages (certainly don't for plurals etc)

    Don't chase misspellings via your page content

    Try and create pages with the highest value for users - so there may be instances to create separate pages if for instance you are answering specific questions in an FAQ section.

    Hope that all helps!

  • Martin Carter / 12 years ago

    Great article Mark.Its very informative.

  • Erric Ravi / 4 years ago

    I prefer, when working with webs with historical data, to look at Search Console and other programs than bring you more data like your positions, traffic, competitors and metrics like links, domains, Ips, trust and others..

    I look for keywords on 2nd and 3d pages in Google, I see the whole traffic, analyze competitors and see how difficult it could be to be in 1st page taking in count all the previous data.

    In this sense, you got not just volumes, but possibilities for optimizing your budget investing in those keywords that have the best ROI and a relation money investing for getting x positions / traffic-conversions they bring.

    Nice to read your post.

  • Mike Bravo / 4 years ago

    I am applying your rules to find out the keywords for me blog and finding the value of each keyword. Thanks for sharing such useful post. Looking forward to read more such posts from your end. Can you please also share something about increasing the digital marketing traffic?


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