For Great SEO You Need Great Keyword Strategy
So you wrote an excellent, well researched blog post. Kudos to you! But you notice that the views aren’t piling up quite as you had hoped. What gives?
Inbound marketing endeavors to put your brand front and center with authoritative and useful content to entice any reader – that is, potential customer – who seeks out information within your business space.
If you have the authoritative and useful content, but don’t show up anywhere near front and center, what have you really accomplished? Zilch. That's why you need to optimize your content for maximal exposure on search engines.
The thing is, search engines are a lot like people, they don’t like being manipulated. A search engine best serves its users when it turns up the type of things that people want to see. To do this, it operates according to certain rules and implements certain heuristics when crawling the internet to index the mess of information.
Tasked with mapping the thick jungle of the internet, search engines look to identify what might be valuable to whom and what’s little more than brush. These context clues include:
How sophisticated is the language on the page? Is it too difficult for most readers?
Is the content featured on the page duplicated elsewhere? If it’s a copy-paste job, you’ll be flagged and penalized by search engines.
- Repetition of key terms:
Words that appear on a page repeatedly and in similar arrangements tell search engines the focus of the writing. (Key for relevance-based indexing.)
- Historical popularity:
The more people visit a website, the more confidence a search engine can have that that’s the sort of thing that people are looking for.
- Internal and external links:
Are people referring to your pages as references for their own content? Do you give credit in your content to the sources used? These are important factors in building up the credibility of your domain as well as giving people easy access to your pages.
- Quality of references:
If you use a statistic in your content and link back to a friend’s Facebook note as your source, it doesn’t build much credibility. Likewise, if a link to your page appears on Yahoo! Answers it doesn’t mean as much to a search engine as it would if it appeared in Forbes.
- Image use:
People like pictures and search engines know that. It also speaks to the effort invested in the piece and suggests a level of quality.
Since search engines are still in the infant stages of being able to read images, naming conventions (Alt-text) and any information stored on the backend of the image file matter a lot.
Search engines are looking for any clues they can find, so invest in all the details. If your low resolution image gives your page a distinctly outdated feel, chances are it’s not helping as much as it could.
SEO: The Logic
All rules have loopholes and all heuristics fail in the face of situational complexity. Those gaps in the system constitute the wiggle room with which we marketers try to advance our content. Seizing on the oddities of search engine logic, we can artificially boost our visibility to those engines. That added visibility leads to greater exposure.
Search engine developers and search engine optimizers are fundamentally opposed. Developers want to create a tool that offers objective insight, while optimizers want to exploit vulnerabilities in the tool’s design to subjectively skew its insight.
When an exploitable algorithmic dimension is taken advantage of – distorting the search results to no longer accurately reflect user preferences – the big brains at Google and Yahoo! quickly get to work to close the gap and return the system to order.
It’s a game of cat and mouse. For marketers though, it’s all about leveraging that back-and-forth. While optimization techniques based on defined algorithmic dimensions are fleeting by nature, you can move from one technique to the next and make a big difference for your clients in the interim.
It All Starts with A Great Keyword Strategy
Are you still with me? I know this can be a bit much, but focus. I promise you’re only a few words away from SEO gold. With all those different SEO elements mentioned above – images, readability, repetition, links etc. – it’s fair to wonder where to start.
You needn’t wonder anymore. Without a doubt, your starting point needs to be your key terms – also known as keywords.
What goes into a great keyword strategy? For starters, you shouldn’t have a page-by-page keyword strategy, you should have an overarching keyword strategy – implemented with each new page.
You should have a large pool of ready-to-go keywords from which to draw for each and every page on your website and blog.
These keywords should all be interconnected and partly overlapping. They should be vetted for relevance, opportunity, and difficulty. That way, with each new page of content, you’re cumulatively building to your goal of great SEO.
This is exactly how I do my own keyword research, in 12 easy steps.
1. Meet SEOBOOK – KEYWORD DENSITY TOOL:
SEOBOOK is a free web application that I can't recommend highly enough. Using the Density Analyzer, input your domain URL and press enter. A list will be generated displaying the terms that your webpages currently feature most frequently. (Arranged according to 1, 2, and 3-word phrases.)
2. Review results:
There’ll be some throwaway phrases in the results, like “meet our team” and “read more” in the example above. That’s fine. Just discard those results and move on.
Make sure the rest of the results make sense with whatever it is you do and are consistent across 1, 2, and 3-word phrases.
Special attention should be given to 2 and 3 word phrases since you’ll always have less competition with word strings than with individual words. Less competition means more opportunity. (You’ll also get fewer gibberish results there.)
3. Look for problems/opportunities:
It’s your industry and you know it. Remember that. It’s a brave new world with the complexities of the internet, technology, and digital marketing, but it’s important that you not abandon your intuition and instincts. In most cases, they’ll prove the most powerful tools in your arsenal for a great keyword strategy.
You’re delving into the intricacies of SEO to identify the best terms for your company to improve its digital visibility. That doesn’t mean that you can’t recognize if a term is relevant to your business or not.
If you see the wrong type of terms popping up too much or the right type of terms not appearing enough, before getting into the finer points of search engine strategy, you know you have a problem. Mark that problem down so that every step taken from here on is born with its resolution in mind.
If you see some great keyword phrases on the list but they’re lower down than other, less relevant phrases, you know exactly what to do. Use those phrases more. It’s normally not very difficult to add relevant keywords, so don’t be lazy. Put them where they make sense and fit naturally.
Before building more content, you need to tweak your existing content to better reflect your brand and register results appropriate to your target audience.
4. Export SEOBOOK list to a spreadsheet:
Keep all the relevant keywords and delete all the irrelevant keywords. Congratulations! You’ve created a baby keyword database.
Now bust out the Miracle-Gro. HGH isn’t out of the question either – it’s time to grow up, baby!
5. Run competitor sites through SEOBOOK:
Repeat the same process, only for your competitors’ domains. Seeing the keywords that appear in their domain with the highest density will give you a pretty good idea of the terms that you don’t want to compete with them for.
Why go head-to-head with a formidable foe when you can go head-to-pinky?
Taking a look at the 2 and 3-word phrases appearing lower down on their lists may give you some good ideas for relevant keywords that you can easily out-optimize them on.
You know the old phrase, right? “All’s fair in love and SEO." Take whatever you can from your competitors’ lists. Add any attractive (relevant) and attainable (underused) target keywords to your database.
I like to keep things methodical, so I normally have separate Excel tabs for my original keyword pool, my competitor-derived keywords, and for the consolidated list.
7. Keep it in the family:
Using your list of keywords, taken from your own site/intuition and expanded courtesy of the competition, you should now begin organizing it. Sort all of the keywords you have into categories – or Logical Keyword Families. (LKFs) I like to do this in a fourth tab.
These Logical Keyword Families should be based on your core competencies and/or industry-relevant subjects. The number of LKFs according to which your database is segmented will depend on the size and complexity of your product/service offering. As a rule of thumb, aim to build out at least 4 families.
For Penguin Strategies, it could be inbound marketing, marketing automation, social media marketing, and marketing strategy. Each one of those things may have a lot to do with the others, but they remain disciples unto themselves – hence a Logical Keyword Family.
Every single keyword phrase in your database should be assigned to one of your LKFs. If you can’t figure out where one of your keywords rightly belongs, that’s normally a good indication that you should create a new LKF.
These categories will prove helpful in mapping out your content strategy and can also fall in line with your buyer personae and buyer’s journey stage segmentations.
8. Don’t forget to clean up!
Now you have a pretty considerable keyword pool, organized for efficient implementation. But just because your keywords are relevant doesn’t mean they’re strategically viable.
Filter out the impractical and illogical keywords. For Penguin Strategies, a keyword such as “inbound marketing” would be impractical. There are simply too many bigger players already entrenched around that phrase. We could never compete with the likes of HubSpot. (Good thing we’ve teamed up with them!)
There’s actually a standard SEO metric for assessing the impracticality of terms. It’s called keyword difficulty. I find that the most reliable free tool for gauging difficulty is the MozBar.
After downloading and activating the MozBar, simply enter your keyword into Google and click on the Keyword Difficulty button to the right of your query.
This will produce a percentage between zero and one-hundred reflecting the difficulty of ranking for that keyword. Generally accepted wisdom states that – unless you’re a massive outfit with a large and dedicated content team – anything with a difficulty score of 50% or above is better left alone. (“inbound marketing” comes in at 64%.)
Don’t forget to use your logic to remove keywords that you can’t develop content around, could mean different things, or somehow slipped past the screening of the earlier stages.
9. Fill in the gaps:
Logic and intuition aren’t only good for removing keywords, they’re also good for adding them. Go over the list and manually add keyword options that are absent but make sense based off of your marketing goals and buyer persona interests.
Add strategically significant phrases. Even if the phrase is very particular, if it’s something that a potential customer is likely to search, it wouldn’t be a great keyword strategy without it on your list.
Many SEO experts stress building your keyword strategy around terms with low difficulty and high average monthly searches, but they’re too focused on the marketing side to see the sales side tie-in.
Even if only 15 people search a phrase a month, if those 15 people are serious about a product/service such as yours, it’s totally worth developing content for them.
Those niche visitors are easily converted into quality, qualified leads. Depending on your product or service, a single new customer can more than cover your added content costs.
10. Check in Google and refine:
Something people often overlook is that, despite all the cloak and dagger having to do with Google’s algorithm, we all have easy access to see how Google works simply by using it.
Type your keywords in and see what pops up. If the first page of results for a given keyword is taken up by industry players out of your league, it’s not a very good keyword for you.
Likewise, if you’re curious about the sort of results turned out by terms peripherally related to your industry, type them into Google and see. You might just stumble on a backchannel traffic stream through which to syphon prospects out from your competitors’ dragnets.
For an insight into the actual searches that people are running, type your keywords into Google and see what auto-complete suggests. This could be a great way not just to round out your keyword strategy, but also to tell you the specific angles to take when drafting content.
11. Flush it out:
Now you’re in the final stages of putting together your great keyword strategy. It’s time to expand that list to its limits. I won’t lie to you. This part of the process is pretty annoying.
You want to stretch your pool of keywords include a bank of variations. Use modifiers like “top,” “new,” “next,” “best,” etcetera. If you’re good with Excel, you’ll probably want to build a macro to help you with this.
This will increase the size of your database exponentially and help you build your SEO rank for some of those more difficult keywords. Just because the phrase “inbound marketing” has a difficulty rating of 64% doesn’t mean I can’t rank for “top 2016 inbound marketing tactics.” (Difficulty rating 28%.)
The more keyword phrases including “inbound marketing” that I rank highly for, the more I’m able to slowly but surely build my rank for the root keyword phrase “inbound marketing.”
Each root keyword phrase in your LKFs should now have a cluster of variations branching off it. If you’re a very visual thinker, you may find it helpful to graphically depict these clusters in the manner suggested by Matthew Barby.
Personally, I like to color-code them into chunks within my spreadsheet. I find that to be the easiest and fastest way to make sense all the data in one place.
12. Prioritize the list:
Now, I mentioned above that the importance of average monthly search volume is generally overstated. That’s true. Still – all else being equal – If you can make an impression on 15 quality prospects or 150,000 quality prospects, you’d be wise to opt for the latter.
Use Google AdWords’ Keyword Planner tool to see average monthly search volume. You can even see the results filtered by region for a deeper insight into your specific market. Given limited resources, this tells you (again, all else being equal) where to spend them.
Take all your chunks and rearrange their position within each Logical Keyword Family to reflect how they’ve been prioritized.
Now, whenever you move forward on a content project, you can consult your database and immediately know what keywords to bear in mind during the content creation process.
As your organization grows and its marketing strategy matures with it, your keyword strategy should too. Your database needs to be continually updated.
If you launch a new product, it needs to be reflected in your keyword strategy (and most likely in your Logical Keyword Families). Same goes if you change your branding or develop a new core competency.
Don’t misunderstand me – a great keyword strategy is not a one-and-done SEO solution. SEO is an infinitely complex discipline. That said, without this type of keyword database, you’d be hard-pressed to get anywhere. This is the starting point, and with it, the sky’s the limit.
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