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Keyword Research: Dealing With Uncertainty

vandergraaf-peter
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When selecting the keywords you would like to rank for, you must take several factors into account. Preferably you’re able to calculate its potential ROI by finding out what effort is required for a return in profit. There are, however, various uncertainties that you can choose to minimize.

keyword-roi

The interesting doodle above shows that you need to take a certain effort from your current situation to reach a desired ranking. This gets visitors to your site, who in turn could convert to your desired reward. The ≈ however indicates that nothing is entirely certain in this equation. Reducing this uncertainty requires time consuming research. So how certain do you need to be?

Effort for Specific Ranking

Effort Leads to Ranking

effort-ranking

To estimate the effort required for a top position in any type of search results, you need to know the basics of the algorithms behind them. If regular organic search results are what you’re aiming for, you look at the accidental and intentional SEO effort taken by the sites in the top-10.

Competitiveness Over Time

competition-over-time

Uncertainty can be reduced by further investigating the probable SEO effort of the competition over time.

Do a Basic Scan on the First 10 Results

In this example my situation is that I don’t have a page for the selected keyword combination yet, but I’m able to create one with nearly perfect keyword focus on a page directly linked from my homepage. My domain has 200 links to it from various news articles, directories, business partners, customers, and blogs.

  • Is the search term represented in the title? 
  • Is the page likely to be high within the navigation of their domain? 
  • Does the domain have a lot of quality links to it?

If a scan shows the following top 10, should I aim for this search term?

  1. An exact match domain with 5,000 links to it. 
  2. An affiliate with a well optimized page and just 50 directory links to the domain. 
  3. Wikipedia with an article on the subject and millions of links to the domain. 
  4. An affiliate with a partial match on the keywords and 100 directory links to it. 
  5. An old blog post with accidental keyword focus on a domain with little relevant links to it. 
  6. A local business with mild keyword focus and 10 links to it. 
  7. CNN with accidental keyword focus and millions of links to the domain.
  8. A foreign domain in a foreign language with good keyword focus and 100 foreign links to it. 
  9. An affiliate with accidental keyword focus and 30 links to it. 
  10. A Flash site with 5000 links to the domain.

During the scan you should look at listings comparable to your situation and see with what amount and quality of links they’ve reached that position.

  • Number one has a great domain, likely search term focus (no need to investigate further) and more links than I can gather in a short timeframe. That spot will be out of my league for some time. 
  • A well optimized page is comparable with what I’m going to offer, so that’s probably going to be a draw with No. 2. The links however show me that it took the affiliate only 50 links to beat Wikipedia. 
  • Wikipedia might be hard to compare and match, but the affiliate above it is a lot like my site. Wikipedia is beaten by the affiliate because it only has a relevant page incredibly deep in its site. 
  • All remaining results show me that the ranking of the affiliate on No. 2 isn’t based on one single fluke. More than one low quality competitor ranks for the keyword without much effort. 
  • If not the second spot, I can surely rank somewhere in the top 10 if I just create a well optimized page high in my navigation. That is the effort required with a high certainty.

Further Investigation

If the websites currently in the top 10 are less comparable to mine or show a close call in the initial scan, you might consider a more detailed scan. Because this does require more SEO knowledge and additional time, you could just mark the keyword as “hard to determine likely top-10” and leave it at that.

There are more keywords to investigate. The traffic potential of a keyword and value for your site determine how much effort you should be willing to take. The required effort itself determines how certain you need to be of a successful outcome.

Time

Don’t forget to take time into account when looking at the effort of your competitors. What happens when you take someone’s No. 1 spot? Will they increase their effort? Is the scan being done off-season for a keyword with seasonal trending? Is this an emerging market?

For how long will your desired top position hold with the effort you plan to take?

Effect on Multiple Keywords

If your web CMS requires several updates, or if you need many additional links to rank for a keyword, it will be hard to justify with just that traffic. Estimating which additional keywords will benefit in what way is hard to determine. Experts can provide you with closer estimates, but this will always remain one of the biggest uncertainties.

From Ranking to Visitors

Ranking Leads to Visitors

ranking-visitors

To estimate how many visitors will be reached with a certain position in search results, you need to know how many people click that result. To figure that out, you need to take a separate look at the metrics involved.

Position Gets Seen and Leads to Clicks

position-visibility-click

  1. Search query volume shows how many potential viewers there are. 
  2. A lower position is less likely to be seen and clicked. 
  3. Seeming less relevant between others reduces your click-through-rate.

Keyword tools show an estimated amount of searches for specific (past) periods. These are, however, rough estimates and can be either spot on or totally off for future volumes on individual keywords. Your question should be: “How accurate is this data?” If you need more certainty because a top position requires a substantial effort, you can always launch a paid search campaign to discover actual volumes.

Search volume is a rough indicator of visibility. If a search engine result page (SERP) shows 10 local results first, your No. 3 position could be worthless. If the first two results are however off-topic and there are no universal results, your No. 3 is likely to be very visible.

How many visitors your position gets is highly dependent on the intention with which the query was typed and the relevant answer you seem to give. Having the right page score, showing an appetizing title and description, leading to a very relevant product offering is even more important than achieving the ranking in the first place.

With search volume and probable ranking, you can start calculating what amount of visitors you are likely to have with what click-through-rate (CTR). For certain keywords you might be the only possible answer and ranking No. 1 might get you over 25 percent CTR. On average you might get 15 percent CTR on a No. 1 and for less relevant keywords you could start your calculation with 5 percent CTR on No. 1.

Create your own table with averages from ranking 1 to 10. This provides some reference for future calculations. Update these numbers once you see how keywords are really performing.

From Visitors to Conversions

Visitors lead to the Justification of Your Effort

visitor-profit

What visitor is a valuable visitor? Keywords give some idea of the type of person who is visiting your site. With various assumptions in place you can estimate how many visitors will become customers, but only time will tell.

A Presumption Leads to the Right Entrance That Leads to a Logical Conversion

idea-entrance-conversion

The more obvious a keyword is about someone’s intention, the easier it is to meet expectations. A landing page has the opportunity to link that initial desire to whatever you have to offer. After that, it is up to the quality/comparability of the offer and the accessibility of an online conversion.

More generic keywords might get a lot of visitors, but if you don’t match the presumption with which they clicked your result, they leave the site immediately. Some of these keywords require an enormous investment for a top 10, so if you’re not willing to offer every possible service they might be looking for, this is where the keyword might not be the right choice for you.

If you don’t have exactly what someone is looking for, you could convince them to reconsider. When you know what someone typed, providing pros and cons in comparison to your alternative might just work.

Don’t make the route to your potential online conversions an obstacle course and provide a logical last step for every visit. Not only direct sales are potential conversions. If you have taken your visitor by the hand from entering your site with a specific desire to the route they’ve taken from there, you know if someone is in a buying mode. If not, try alternatively to have them return later or promote you to their friends.

Every action has a real or virtual value attributed to it. Use this to calculate the value of certain types of visitors. Only large amounts of real visitors can verify your assumptions.

Now in Real Keyword/Effort Selection

All strategic SEO choices can be based on additional effort versus additional reward – especially when you need to justify a bigger investment. This virtual case is no different.

Choosing the right search phrase for your homepage is one reason to use this approach. The homepage is in many cases the strongest page within a website. Integrating a phrase that is too competitive will result in a missed opportunity for a less competitive one.

A phrase with little competition will make it harder for more competitive ones that are now deeper in your site. The effort for all search terms could be the same, but choosing one leaves out the others.

After some research we have to choose between the following phrases:

keywords-fertilizer

When you only offer organic lawn fertilizer ranking for “fertilizer” makes you relevant for only 30 percent of all potential traffic. The other search terms are over 90 percent relevant, but things like price, location and brand perception might still hinder an online sale. Sales margins are on average $10 per purchase and the current sales conversion rate lies at 10 percent of all visits.

In this virtual case you might get the following results:

“fertilizer”

  • 5 percent chance on top 5 is a bit low and only an investment over $10.000 makes it more certain. Risk I’m only willing to take if other search terms aren’t very interesting.
  • 15.000 searchers with maximum 20 percent CTR of which I’m only relevant for only 30 percent of them gives me less than relevant 900 visits a month. The conversion rate might also be below average, so 5 percent of these visitors are likely to make a purchase. This comes down to 45 purchases a month at a $10 margin, so $450 a month makes $5,400 a year (which is an absolute maximum and only if I rank very high).

“organic fertilizer” or “organic lawn fertilizer”

There is only a small difference in probable conversion and click-through rates between these phrases if they would rank the same. The main difference will be in the difference in CTR between No. 1 and other positions in the top 5. In this occasion let’s work with the following maximum percentages (which are high).

  • 1: 20 percent 
  • 2: 15 percent 
  • 3: 7 percent 
  • 4: 5 percent 
  • 5: 5 percent (which makes the average of No. 2 to No. 5 8 percent)
  • 4.400 x 20 percent CTR x 90 percent relevance x 10 percent conversion x $10 x 12 months = $9,500 at 30 percent likeliness 
  • 4.400 x 8 percent CTR x 90 percent relevance x 10 percent conversion x $10 x 12 months = $3,800 at 80 percent likeliness 
  • 1.000 x 20 percent CTR x 90 percent relevance x 10 percent conversion x $10 x 12 months = $2,150 at 60 percent likeliness 
  • 1.000 x 8 percent CTR x 90 percent relevance x 10 percent conversion x $10 x 12 months = $850 at 90 percent likeliness

This shows that the risk of not reaching a desired ranking for “organic fertilizer” is all worth it. You could always try to integrate “organic lawn fertilizer” as well once the position is achieved. You can always see how this influences ranking for the main keyword combination.

The calculation also shows that you can always do additional link building if your ranking is disappointing.


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