Search Terms, Competition, and Keyword Metrics

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Search engine marketing can be a very complicated business, folks. You can oversimplify it all you like… or you can make it a lot more complex than it needs to be. Either way, it all begins with search term strategy. When I think of search term strategy, I see a lot of factors in play, but let’s start with these:

Relevance: When I speak about the relevance of a search term, I’m really asking a simple question: what percentage of folks using that search term are actually interested in what your website has to offer? When I say interested, I mean someone who is ready, willing, and able to take action or buy. Relevance can vary seasonally – people may search for ski lodges in the summer, but they are less likely to actually make a reservation.

It is possible to improve the relevance of a website, and along with it the relevance of a search term. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, such as adding content, or changing the landing page where searchers arrive. Website owners often overestimate the relevance of extremely general search terms, but there are some simple methods you can use to get better estimates.

Business Relevance: Another way of looking at a search term is to consider how relevant it is to you. A site designer with a set of Flash tutorials on their site may be less concerned promoting those, because people seeking Flash tutorials are less likely to become clients.

To simplify matters, we’ll define business relevance in terms of money – how much would we pay to get an interested visitor to our website or landing page? This is different from what we’d be willing to pay for “any” visitor. We want to consider how much would you pay for someone who is ready, willing, and able to take action or buy.

It is possible to improve the business relevance of a search term. Increasing a site’s conversion rate is the easiest way to increase business relevance. Alternatively, our hypothetical designer might place Adsense ads onto the tutorial pages to generate revenue, or offer Flash training to other designers.

Some businesses see greater “lifetime value” in their customers, which also increases business relevance. In my business, most of our clients buy from us repeatedly, so I am willing to pay more to win the first sale.

Popularity: The popularity of a search term, for our purposes, is defined as the number of times it’s used in a search. This will vary across different search engines, from month to month, etc.

To simplify, we will define popularity as the number of searches in a given month across all search engines. Determining the true popularity of a search term is impossible, but there are tools that let us make a reasonable estimate.

There isn’t much you can do to improve the popularity of a search term, although people do try sometimes. The concept of “memeword marketing” is based on the idea of coining a term and promoting its use. Best of luck with that!

Competition: The competition for searchers’ attention can also be difficult to estimate. This has been a strong area of focus for my company, since keywords are our business, and we’ve developed a lot of different metrics that help us understand the competitive landscape.

Understanding the competition helps define the level of effort required to get in front of searchers. Level of effort translates, on some level, into the cost of competing. Competition metrics also help us understand the degree of risk involved, or the possibility that the effort will be unsuccessful.

Measuring competition is a very complex business, and I’ll begin addressing it next week.

What Can We Do With All That?

Now that we’ve defined a few metrics, let’s throw out some concepts and formulas to put some meaning into it:

Weighted Popularity: The “weighed popularity” of a search term is the relevance multiplied by the popularity. So if we believe that 10% of searchers are interested in what we have to offer (relevance), and that there are 10,000 searches per month (popularity), the weighted popularity formula says that there are 1000 (10,000 x 10%) targeted searches per month.

Potential Value: The “potential value” of a search term is the weighted popularity multiplied by the business relevance. So if we believe that there are 1000 targeted searches per month, and we’re willing to pay $1.00 to get an interested visitor to our website, the potential value is $1000 per month, if we could somehow get all of those searchers to our website.

The Really Really Big Question!

The big question that comes out of these two formulas is how much of that $1000 potential value we can bring into our business, and what it will cost to do so. I’d like to tell you that it’s a simple question, but it’s not. I’d like to tell you that it’s less complicated when you use pay-per-click advertising, but it’s not.

Next week, I’ll discuss how you can use the keyword metrics and methods we’ve developed to answer that big question, and how it all fits together into a solid keyword strategy. We’ll look at estimating competition and level of effort for organic (SEO) campaigns on Monday, sorting out pay-per-click on Wednesday, and then check out some helpful tools on Friday.

Dan ThiesDan Thies
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