Keywords Research: Back to the Roots Of SEO

by Terry Van Horne December 16th, 2009 

Keywords that click by Barry Welford inspired an exchange between Ruud and I resulting in Ruud emailing me and asking me to expand on my thoughts on the audience being less a part of the keywords discovery process. I think of it more of a case of SEO's loosing touch with their audience.

By the way it's not that I think tools like Google Insights and others that provide behavioral data or concepts as Barry put it are not useful, quite the contrary, I just need a reason to use them. Generally if I feel uncomfortable with the resulting strategy from the keyword discovery I will try other tools. At that point I still prefer to go to the source, the audience.

Old School Keyword Research

Before SEOs had a gazillion keyword research tools our only available sources for keyword discovery information were the audience, what we had between our ears, referrer logs (with every request listed) and a few search engines had "suggestions" which were indicators of the query space.

I learned audience search behavior because with nothing else I had no other choice. Second generation SEO's had a keyword research tool via Overture so seldom or never were exposed to the need for observing the user search process. Data drives their campaigns with often ill conceived initial keyword targets.

I relied heavily on watching how people search to understand the query space and how their choices affected the query suggestions the Search Engines were providing above results. As I watched them I asked why they chose the input they did which indicated the thought process while refining the search.

I asked the client and if possible a person in "the trade" and lastly the least internet savvy person I knew how they would search for the product etc. we were marketing.

Keywords Research Today

SEO has become too fixated on data during the keyword discovery phase to truly understand the audience, engage it (landing page) and guide the customer towards a conversion. Today SEO to some in the industry is somewhat like telemarketing and junk (e)mail/response/direct marketing, just another numbers game. I can say that because, other than UCE email, I've played all those games.

The line between Social and Search is blurred with the majors implementing Real Time Spam, errrr Search. With the addition of the Twitter Stream the lines separating Social and Search may be erased entirely.

Social Media & Search

Social Media is about engaging an audience of real people, SEO is about crawlers, indexing, people searching and Search Engines providing a variety of content in various media types from many content pipes or search verticals to hopefully satisfy the searcher's needs.
Now when customers search where they are in the conversion funnel/purchase process may have changed from where it was a few years ago. These are the unknowns that become clearer with time and study. SEO's need to re-learn the user search process.

Social Media Soup
courtesy jernejk

The Social Soup

It is not just Facebook and Twitter but Social networks in general. To confuse things even further smarter internet aware devices have added "ubiquitous connectivity" to the chaos. Stir in local and a little mobile search and you have a hyper local soup of Twitter/Social, local and mobile looking more viable than ever!

Now I often use keyword tools to seed my keyword discovery. One of my favorites is Google's Adwords keyword tool which includes a crawler option which is very useful for SEO.

I will be reviewing the new addition to my tool box the Wordstream free keyword research tool at the end of this post.

Keyword Tools

I do less of the the audience "one on one", however, when I do it is usually because I'm not comfortable with my understanding of the business/service/site or query space and I am double checking to be certain my strategy is sound.

I don't have to do this as much now because I understand the customer search/thought process, therefore, I understand that a "top term" in total queries may not be a top converter justifying top priority in the SEO process. That is what the audience contact was for. Learning the query refining approach of the audience.

In the past I have used Aaron Wall's keyword tool, the Google tool mentioned earlier and the Wordstream free Keyword Tool. I was fortunate enough to be a beta tester for two new tools by Wordstream developers.

In the name of full disclosure I have been contracted to do blog posts for Wordstream, and at this time am in the process of fulfilling that obligation. Wordstream had no input into my review beyond providing access to the tools. Whether I reviewed the tools was left entirely up to me.

As I mentioned I do use a variety of keyword research tools in the discovery phase. I use the Wordstream tools to prioritize the keywords list based on my belief in the terms value to the site, the sites ability to meet the needs of the searcher/customer which is heavily influenced by product mix and price point and of course the number of queries.

To some degree that is difficult because the Wordstream tool doesn't show actual query numbers but rather representations. If I had actual numbers I'd take a page from Dan Thies book and weight the keywords using percentages based on the terms value to the site. I have two spreadsheets with my macros in place to provide an SEO and PPC worksheet.

The two new tools are the Free Keyword Niche Finder and the Free Keyword Grouper tools.

The Niche Finder is simply one of the best tools I've seen for quite some time. One thing I truly love about the free keywords Tool is it provides far more keywords then any other tool I've used outside of the Google tools.
Wordstream Niche Finder

The Niche Finder takes this huge list and breaks it into many lists that are great for wireframe and Information Architecture modeling and building PPC campaign and AdGroups. The later would have saved me hours of work back when I was managing 000's of keywords in PPC campaigns.

The Keyword Grouper takes a comma or tab delimited list and makes new terms from the words in the list. This tool was clumsy to work with and quite simply the terms often made no sense at all.

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6 Responses to “Keywords Research: Back to the Roots Of SEO”

  1. I think these days more and more firms need to know less about an audience to get keyword research done which is sort of wrong because than you are relying on a tool to drive traffic but I think when you where your marketing hat and conduct research you put yourself in the shoes of an audience and isolate the right words.

  2. Hey Nick! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Well IME, there is too much reliance on the tools and I question whether many junior and second gen SEOs really understand how users search. Do they realize that often general keywords that get a lot of queries may not get all the traffic it appears they are because queries are often translated as traffic when they are often not ending in clicks. The user may very well just refine the query to a more specific keyword phrase understanding how they are refining that keyword is what I was trying to relay and the best way IMO, to learn that is to watch and ask questions of people surfing.

  3. I have been using Google's Keyword tool but I appreciate these other links. I really does make it easier to see what most/more people are searching on in your market without having to query all your friends!

  4. Nice post, Terry! Agree with you stance about audience behavior. As much as many of us joke about real-time search spam, weeding through it all does reveal what people are really thinking.

    Keyword count from tools shows demand, but potential for conversion insights come from internal search and analytics – bounce rate, time on site – ideal user behavior.

    I, too, am really enjoying WordStream's tools for discoverability. Look forward to your blog post.

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  6. [...] Keywords Research: Back to the Roots Of SEO – m’homey Terry Van Horne decided to go old school and get back to user engagement. For the record, ‘engagement’ is my 2010 topic… look for more and more here. [...]