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Looking for the Juiciest ROI? Pluck the Low-Hanging Keywords

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One of the most effective "next step" keyword targeting strategies for clients involves focusing on "low-hanging keywords." This means concentrating SEO efforts on keywords and corresponding documents that rank in the “sweet spot” of the search engine results pages (SERPs), which for us is anything ranking in positions 5 through 15.

I call this a “next step” strategy because we typically roll it out as part of a “phase two” for a client engagement cycle.

In phase one, we've identified lists of relevant, traffic driving keywords to target for the client. We've also engaged in link building (both domain level and deep page links) as well as content marketing and social media marketing efforts to raise the relevancy, popularity, and authority of the overall domain and all corresponding SEO landing pages.

Where phase one is about establishing foundational SEO value and casting a very wide net with keyword targeting, phase two is about getting more surgical with our keyword targeting efforts. This means concentrating on improving visibility for our list of low-hanging keywords.

Why Focus on Low-Hanging Keywords?

There are a few reasons why we prioritize low-hanging keyword opportunities. Targeting low-hanging keywords is:

  • One of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to demonstrate results.
  • Where we consistently see clients getting the best return on their investment.
  • The path of least resistance.

You see, since we've already done foundational SEO efforts and we’ve built up the trust and authority of a domain, additional efforts to improve organic visibility for a specific swathe of keywords in our SERP “sweet spot” (positions 5 through 15) becomes a force multiplier. And the consequent traffic and conversion growth can be exponential.

It’s also much more interesting from an ROI perspective to execute against low-hanging keyword opportunities than to focus on keywords that fall outside that sweet spot – say anything ranking on pages 3 through 10 – or brand new terms that don’t rank at all, where it just takes far too much effort to move the needle and demonstrate results.

Now, I’m not saying only focus on keywords that rank in positions 5 through 15. You still need to target terms and phrases that live on deeper pages in the SERPs, or else you’ll never have anything that moves up into the sweet spot range (unless it happens fortuitously). Rather, I’m suggesting you can prioritize the bulk of your efforts on low-hanging keywords as an ongoing strategy with clients or your own affiliate and lead gen sites.

Finally (and this is more of an aside), many in SEO view keyword rankings as “worthless” because of the myriad of SERP variables at play, like personalization, localization, segmentation, semantic search, etc. However, we absolutely do still value rankings as an important KPI (hence this post). And this is largely because they’re directionally accurate – especially in aggregate – and still do reflect the efficacy of your SEO efforts.

Putting Your Low-Hanging Keyword Targeting Plan in Action

Even though targeting keywords in a specific SERP range may be somewhat of a novel concept, the process for finding and determining which to concentrate on is largely the same as any keyword targeting campaign, but with a few different wrinkles. Consider using this effective process:

  1. Run a keyword ranking report. One solid option for ranking reporting software is Rank Tracker. Besides tracking rankings on a keyword level, Rank Tracker also reports on the overall visibility, so you can see fluctuations on everything from keywords, to entire keyword groups to your keyword list as a whole.
  2. Sort your list by keywords that rank between, and include, positions 5 through 15. Export keyword rankings into an Excel spreadsheet.
    • Note: be sure to grab the URL found for each keyword as well since it can and should play into your targeting decision making (more on that later).
  3. Copy and paste all those low-hanging keywords into the Google Keyword Tool (GKT) to pull search volume.
    • For match type settings, I like exact match for this particular exercise because it gives me the most precise data to base my decisions from.
    • There’s a good chance you already have this data from your initial keyword research efforts, but it’s worthwhile to rerun the keywords through the Google Keyword Tool again, since search volume changes over time and you’ll want freshest data set to base your decisions on.
  4. Export monthly search data results from the GKT and export it into a new column with your other data points (keywords, rankings and URL found).
    • FYI you can get search volume data for 100 keywords at a time. Be sure to check and export only the keywords you input--labeled "search terms"--and not the keyword ideas Google spits out, since this is about surgical keyword targeting vs. keyword expansion or discovery.
  5. If you have access to keyword-level conversion metrics, definitely include that info too, since this should also inform your targeting decisions.

How to Determine Which Low-Hanging Keywords to Target

Once you have your keyword dashboard in Excel with rankings, search volume, mapped URLs and hopefully conversion data, you need to figure out which terms to target.

Now, depending on how many keywords you’re tracking for a client (how big your list is), this may be totally obvious (e.g., 10 of the keywords we’re tracking rank between positions 5 through 15), so let’s focus on improving visibility for those specific terms. Bam! Done.

However, if you’re tracking dozens or even hundreds of keywords, then deciding which low-hanging terms to focus your efforts on can be a little trickier, and can hinge on a range of factors.

To help guide that decision making process, I use the following four Ps:

  • Position: Obviously, where the keywords ranks is a big part of this, and again we want to target keywords that rank in that SERP sweet spot of position 5 through 15.
  • Popularity: How much search demand is there for one particular keyword (or set of terms) vs other low-hanging terms? Obviously, traffic potential will help you prioritize your list.
  • Production: Does the keyword convert? Is the traffic it yields high intent? Keywords with high intent that drive qualified traffic and have proven to convert are arguably more valuable than keywords with GKT traffic estimates that are as yet unproven.
  • Payout: Which keywords offer the highest ROI potential for the client? What’s the most cost-effective approach for you, the consultant? When selecting keywords to target, pay attention to inputs and outputs: effort, time, hard costs invested, etc. And do some cost benefit analysis as well.

In addition to the four P’s I outlined above, there are some other aspects and qualifiers to consider when making your keyword targeting decisions which include:

One of the best ROI subsets of the low-hanging keyword strategy are terms ranking in positions 11, 12 and 13. These are keywords that rank at the top of Page 2 and are poised to roll onto Page 1.

Often, you can help those terms “graduate” to page one with just a little bit of effort. One low effort/high impact tactic we use to give this subset of keywords a bit of “nudge” is to flow internal link equity (and semantic relevance) from your "link rich pages" to your target URLs. For more ideas there, check out my post on internal link building tactics.

Take note of multiple occurrences of the same URLs in your spreadsheet. This is why I mentioned to include “URL found” as a data point earlier.

Sort by URL found in your spreadsheet and if you have multiple keywords ranking in positions 5 through 15 that are mapped to the same URL, definitely think about prioritizing those. Why? Because it’s a fantastic way to scale your link building efforts where PageRank (and semantic relevance) passed from a single inbound link can positively impact rankings for multiple terms mapped to the same URL (a rising tide lifts all ships). Just be careful not to get carried away with exact match or commercial anchors here.

Again, keywords that convert – even if search demand is low or anemic – can be more valuable than one's that don't or have low conversions. So make sure you have a solid handle on what your client values and what their expectations are, which helps to inform your decision-making when compiling and prioritizing your low-hanging keyword list.

If you’re struggling with which low-hanging terms to target, try playing around with different views of the data sets in your keyword spreadsheet. Sort by monthly search volume (highest to lowest) first, and then by keyword ranking (smallest to largest), and then by conversions (volume and rate). Reconfiguring the list with different views of the data is great way elicit an “ah-ha” moment and help you realize where the opportunities lie and where to channel your energies.

Low-Hanging Keywords: Don’t Let Them Spoil!

So there you have it: low-hanging keywords. If you’re not already doing so, I urge you to adopt this process as part of your ongoing keyword targeting strategy.

What I love about this process is it’s iterative and repeatable. So as you’re able to move your target terms up and out of the 5 to 15 range, new keyword opportunities take their place in that sweet spot. Then it’s wash, rinse and repeat with a whole new batch of low-hanging keywords.


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