The world of organic search has evolved dramatically over the past 10 years, as has the search engines results page (SERP) itself and the SEO tactics required to achieve success in the space.
Even with the dynamic evolution of the channel, some principles have remained true throughout the years and continue to work. These include:
- Applying a direct response methodology to organic search.
- Going granular in keyword-level data analysis.
- Striving for quality, not quantity.
Companies that are driving large-scale, sustainable revenue, and customer acquisition through the organic channel have embraced these principles. In many cases, they treat and measure SEO much like a paid search program with discipline around testing, experimentation, and granular analysis. And it all starts with keyword selection.
If you’ve been in the organic search field for any length of time, this is second nature to you. Search volume is clearly a critical factor in determining the keywords you’ll focus on, so we won’t expound on this factor. But don’t stray from low volume terms simply because the traffic is on the lower end of the scale.
Massive amounts of online revenue can be generated from a collective set of low volume, long tail terms that individually only receive a handful of conversions each month, but collectively make up more than 70 percent of all non-brand revenue. This is usually achieved through a well thought out technical architecture within large e-commerce sites.
Relevance & User Intent
Without relevance, you’re dead in the water. Forget about ranking for a keyword that doesn’t appear on your site. It’s that simple.
User intent can be thought of in many ways. Is a user who searches for “Delta” looking for airline tickets or a faucet? Understanding and researching multiple meanings for individual search terms is important.
More important is the mindset of the consumers in their decision-making process, and the impact this has on conversion. In the keyword realm, we often speak of this as head, torso, and long tail keywords.
Think of it as a spectrum, where head terms commonly drive the volume and brand exposure, but not necessarily the end goal of conversion as they are more research-driven. Moving through torso to long tail and SKU-level terms, you’ll find the volume begins to thin out as the conversion rate increases. Building revenue opportunity models that factor volume and conversion will usually lead you to a focused set of keywords that include a healthy mix of each keyword type.
This is the most interesting attribute to consider when selecting and judging keywords, as it compounds the attributes referenced above while adding in metrics that are specific to your business and goals. We’re talking about things like incremental revenue lift and margin-based keyword selection. When setting up and analyzing keywords, there are a couple key points to remember:
1. Stop Obsessing Over Rankings Reports
Could you imagine analyzing the performance of your paid search program by saying “let’s start off by looking at our Average Position report?” Absurd.
Back in the early 2000s, companies lived and died by rankings reports. Rankings are the pathway to acquiring customers, but are often a distraction when metrics like traffic volume, AOV, conversion rate, and margin aren’t considered. Universal search, localization, and personalization, as well as the high volatility of an individual keyword ranking itself, make it impossible to judge a program by rankings alone.
Many ranking reports only capture a sample of the total number of keywords you rank for in the first place. Businesses are often sitting on thousands of valuable keywords ranking on pages three, four, or five that they aren’t even aware of, or focusing on, because they don’t appear on a rankings report.
Look beyond the first three pages of the SERP to identify opportunities in your program, and match this up with metrics that matter like traffic volume, AOV, conversion rate and margin.
2. Measure Incremental Non-Brand Lift
It should be a punishable crime to take credit for revenue or lead volume that you didn’t directly impact as a result of your efforts, yet it’s done too often in the world of organic search.
While complete attribution modeling can be complex, expensive, and somewhat subjective, you can take a few concrete steps in filtering out what you did and didn’t impact. Start by breaking out your brand and non-brand data, and analyze it at the keyword level.
If your organic revenue spiked 38 percent month-over-month, don’t plant the flag of success too quickly:
- Where exactly was the lift achieved?
- Did your brand terms drive the revenue as a result of a display blitz campaign?
- Did non-brand search volume naturally increase that month due to the seasonality of your business?
Look beyond the surface to make breakthroughs. Look year-over-year at keyword-level data to isolate precisely where increases and decreases in the program occurred. Then develop strategies around these keywords – and derivatives of these keywords.
The world of organic search is fascinating. It’s also an incredibly efficient customer acquisition vehicle for businesses when planned and executed properly. Businesses are prospering right now by applying a direct response mindset to organic search. If you’re not, take the plunge and you will reap the benefits that your competitors may be experiencing right now.
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