Master Keyword Research in 7 Days

A Quick Note

To complete this course you will need to use some 3rd party tools. All of them should have a free tier, and if you use the links I have provided in this course (affiliate links with specific tracking parameters) you will be given a sweeter deal than you would otherwise.

In addition to some 3rd party tools, this course does get technical (not writing code technical) but it does involve using some Excel formulas, which I provide to you – but you need to be ready to get your hands dirty and do the work.

However, I promise you that if you complete all 7 lessons, and follow these steps – you will truly have a grasp on how to leverage keyword research to increase both traffic and conversions for your websites.

This is the exact process I’ve developed over the past 15 years – which I’ve used to grow new websites to 100,000 organic visits per month in only 9 months and new sites to over 1 million visits in only 6 months and was the process behind the SEO success in this case study.

I’ve combined this approach to fold in websites that I have built to absorb hundreds of thousands of visits, and continue to grow.

It’s also the process I use to increase my Ecommerce stores qualified website traffic on average 40%, resulting in millions of additional dollars in revenue for my companies.

All I ask is that you take this seriously – keywords are the building blocks of organic search, and can be used to build neighborhoods of successful websites – and increase the size of those houses exponentially until they become traffic mansions.

Lesson 1 – The Nuances Between New vs. Existing Websites

Tools used in this lesson: SEMRush (<– use link for 7 day free trial they don’t offer otherwise)

To get started, I want to introduce a concept that is constantly overlooked; the nuances between doing research for new websites versus existing websites.

The difference between the two is actually much greater than you may have realized; existing websites provide the opportunity to analyze existing directional data, whereas new websites require a much greater front-load of competitor research.

I feel like this distinction is not given the attention it deserves and all of the big publications don’t speak to how to properly approach each scenario for maximum impact.

I’m all about deriving value from existing assets, so I’m going to start with how to approach doing keyword research for existing websites and then move onto new websites. If you are not looking for information on keyword analysis for existing websites please scroll ahead to the new website’s section.

Starting Keyword Research for an Existing Website

When performing keyword research for an existing website you have a few beacons of intelligence that offer you some light on which path to take:

  1. Analytics data
  2. Rankings data
  3. Contextual data

Each of these data sources offers its own unique value when used to start the keyword research process.

Using Analytics Data

For the first, assuming you have been using Google Analytics, Clicky, or some other 3rd party analytics platform to capture and record your traffic data, you can look back over the previous 12 months to see what sent you 1) the highest volume of traffic, and 2) the most valuable traffic (the visits that created conversions).

Using Ranking Data

Looking at what you’ve both 1) historically ranked for, as well as 2) what you are currently ranking for  – which can provide visibility into where there’s immediate opportunity.

This is not the most straightforward path as there’s really only a few tools you can use to get this information, one being SEMRush (which is great to an extent, and for the purposes of this lesson we will be using), and the other is SearchMetrics, which is crazy expensive, but also an incredible tool.

As mentioned, for the purposes of this lesson I’m going to lean on SEMRush for 2 reasons; 1) use my link for 7 days of premium access at no cost (so you can use the full version to get the data you want without having to pay for it) and 2) if you choose to continue using the premium tool (as I do) it’s only $99 per month, opposed to all the big enterprise tool that’s are thousands of dollars per month.

Grabbing Your Rankings Data from SEMRush

Head over to SEMRush and sign up for your free 7 day account (if you don’t already have one) so you can export your data.

Once you’re logged in, enter your website URL into the top field:

Then scroll down to the “Organic keywords” sections and click on the “Full report” link:

That will bring you to the organic overview screen, which you can verify by looking back at the URL field up top, which should say your domain followed by (by organic).

Within this view you will notice a large table underneath the rest of the shorter tables labeled “Organic keywords 1 – x” with x being the number of rankings your current website has. On the far right side of this table, at the very top, you will see a button to “Export:”

Click that button and choose Excel:

Once your file has finished downloading, crack it open – now it’s time to do a bit of formatting.

I’m going to run through the intuitive, straight-forward pieces without visual aids so I don’t have to wad this email full of images, but for anything even slightly unintuitive I’ll be using them.

Start by selecting the first row, your header row, by clicking the #1 on the top left side. Then turn on Filters by clicking Data > Filter:

Click the “Search Volume” column header and select “From largest to smallest:”

You should now have a list of all of your existing rankings sorted by highest keyword search volume.

Now we’re going to make it a bit easier to visually scan this file for opportunity’s, so head over to Column B (Position) and select the column, by clicking the B:

From the top visual menu, select Home > Conditional Formatting > Color Scales > Then the second option from the left (Red – Yellow – Green Color Scale):

You now have a visual guide highlighting your largest traffic opportunities from SEO; the yellow to red highlighted cells closer to the top are the keywords with the highest monthly search volume and the lowest (but existing) rankings.

Create a new sheet in your Excel file; call it “low hanging fruit,” or “opportunities,” or “existing rankings” – something obvious.

Now grab each of these rows, by clicking on the Row number and then copy and paste each of these individually into your new sheet. Don’t forget to also copy and paste the column headers into the top row so all of this data makes sense.

You now have a shortlist of existing rankings (with traffic) that you should be targeting. The reason you created a new sheet for this will make more sense later in the course.

Using Contextual Data

In addition to this list from SEMRush, you can go see how Google currently contextualizes your website. This is quickly and easily done using the Keyword Planner’s URL functionality.

Open up keyword planner >

Select the top option “Search for new keywords and Ad Group ideas:”

Enter your website into the URL field:

This next part is a small, but important distinction: Click the “Keyword options” panel and turn “ON” the first option to “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms,” this is so you get a true sense of how Google is currently contextualizing your website:

Click the blue “Get Ideas” button, and then from the next screen click the tab for “Keyword ideas:”

Click the download button and save this data down as a CSV, you will need this data in the next lesson.

Approaching Keyword Research for a New Website

Back to my opening points for a moment; approaching keyword research for a brand new website is very different from having all of the data above at your fingertips to jump start your process.

You essentially are starting with a dollar and a dream. What I mean specifically is you really don’t know what you need to be ranking for or how you will fair for terms important to your business; all you have is your beliefs.

So that’s where we’re going to start.

Take what you believe to be the best root keyword for your new website, and head over to Google to help us answer some questions. What you are specifically looking for is the following:

  • Does this website offer my product or service, or one closely related to it?
  • Is the content on this page relevant to my audience?
  • What other words are being used in this context?

Use Your Ranking Barometer

Here is where you need to use some common sense. You are looking for websites that are in your wheelhouse; specifically sites that are not in the Alexa 1000. Or in other words, websites you might actually be able to outrank.

Don’t pay attention to tier-one publications like national newspapers, Wikipedia, or major media portals like Yahoo! Answers, Quora, Forbes, Inc, etc.

You are on the hunt for a webpage (more specifically a URL) that you can use to steal intelligence.

For the purposes of this example I picked search engine optimization, please note this is actually not a great keyword as the intent is informational (we’ll cover that in a later lesson) and the competition is almost purely reference, so all evergreen. But I think it will help to get my point across.

As I scan the SERP I see mostly storm clouds that I don’t want to go near; Wikipedia,

Google.com, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, etc. *But* there is a glimmer of hope, I see an agency site; mainstreethost.com

That’s going to be our first mole; grab the URL and save it somewhere for reference, and let’s keep going.

The Trick To Getting Started

Is finding a contextually relevant root keyword that you can use to start you down a brainstorming path.

With the “search engine optimization” keyword example as I look over the results, I see that outside of mainstreethost.com and 1 other agency site, that all the results are informational resources – so unless I’m trying to rank reference content – this is not going to be a good fit.

Keep running additional variations and pay close attention to competitor title tags – at this stage in the process there is no need to reinvent the wheel, and it’s best to let others who have put in the work provide us with initial directional data.

Pay Attention to Paid Search Results

As I dive deeper into the search results; page 2, 3, and so on I’m starting to notice a pattern; the keywords “SEO Company” and “SEO Consultant” are showing up more and more in paid search.

These seem like they may be better conversion-focused keywords for me than the more informational keyword “search engine optimization,” so let me run a quick search for the consultant term (as it’s more relevant to me as an individual) and see what it returns.

Yahtzee!

The paid search results are for services, so is the first organic results (for Outspoken Media), and I even get a local result for an individual consultant – this is a better head term to look at.

Grab The Search Data

Now take the URL you’ve found and fire up Keyword Planner, and we’re going to run through the same process as above but using this competitive URL.

  1. Click “Search for new keyword and Ad Group Ideas”
  2. Enter the URL into the “Your landing page” field.
  3. Set the “keyword options” to “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” And click “Get Ideas”

On the next screen, select the tab for “Keyword Ideas” and then export this data to a CSV file. You will need this data for the next lesson.

Nice Work!

Lesson 2 – Expanding Your Keyword List

After completing the first lesson, you should now have a CSV file that you exported from Google Keyword Planner with a base of relevant keywords.

This is in no way comprehensive or very actionable, so the first thing we’re going to do is expand on potential words and phrases.

There is a bunch of ways to do this, but one of the best is using Google’s autosuggest feature, which I’ll come back to later in this lesson.

I want to review one of my favorite manual techniques for finding valuable keywords; analyzing your competitors.

Specifically we want to look at 3 buckets of keywords:

  1. Conversion Keywords – Anywhere there is a direct cost.
  2. Traffic Keywords – Anywhere they can edit their anchor text.
  3. Engagement Keywords – Anywhere they have control over their description and search visibility is important.

Conversion Keywords

The quickest way to identify conversion focused keywords is to analyze what are being paid for.

PPC

Use this SEMRush Report to see specifically which keywords they’re bidding on.

ReTargeting

This is a bit sneaky, and not an exact science (as in it doesn’t work if your competitors don’t have an active ReMarketing campaign), but when possible it can provide some insight into which keywords they’re using to drive re-targeting campaigns, or in plain English, the keywords they consider to be valuable enough to show you ads, twice.

Scan through the results in the SEMRush Report, look for non-brand terms (keywords that are not their brand name or the name of any of their products), and write a few of them down.

Now open a browser tab, and Google the first keyword.

Look for your competitor’s ad, and click on it. Yes, this is going to cost them some money, but you need to get that paid search remarketing pixel into your browser.

In that same browser window open up 3 new tabs and go to the following websites:

  1. www.linkedin.com
  2. www.facebook.com
  3. www.mashable.com

Do you see anything for your competitor’s website? If not, close all your windows and repeat – do this for all of the high impression keywords you grabbed from the SEMRush report.

Traffic Keywords

Traffic keywords are exactly what they sound like; these are the terms that are being targeted for maximum search traffic.

The easiest way to find these is to look at:

  • Page titles for category’s, products, and any top-level landing pages
  • Blog post titles
  • Guest post titles and anchor text (find where they’re guest posting by searching for people’s names who are actively writing on their blog – do this using a simple query of “by Person’s Name” in Google, and make sure to include quotes (“”) around your query.
  • Social profile anchor text (Linked In, Twitter, and Google+)

Engagement Keywords

Engagement keywords are the words that your competitors are going to use to position themselves in your market – often times these can be great search terms.

For instance, blog comments are a great way to glean this intelligence, here an example; on a post on MOZ’s blog about front-end content development, let’s look at the first comment:

I’ve highlighted some of keywords that jump out at me immediately, and if I had to guess Patrick is involved with website design and front-end development.

Looking closer at this profile and his company (he’s a founder), they in fact offer digital design and marketing services; perfect example of how blog comments are often used my people to position themselves and their company’s.

Additional sources for engagement keywords are:

Executive Bio’s on websites, professional and trade organizations, and LinkedIn:

Above in a dentist and here is a sales executive at content firm Brafton:

Beyond bio’s, look for language in groups (LinkedIn), Yahoo Answers, Quora, and Twitter; I almost always find some terms I wouldn’t have thought of.

In addition to analyzing sources for more conversion, traffic, and engagement keywords – there’s one more well-kept secret for finding golden keywords; your customer contact channels.

Looking at the actual language your customers use when they are looking for help or are trying to figure out if your product is right for them are usually the highest converting keywords.

These come from channels like support tickets, website contact forms, online chat, and emails between your sales or support staff. Emails are probably the most commonly overlooked data source for money keywords. A lot of pre-sales questions get answered via email, after contact has already been established.

Ok, back to the AutoSuggest Tactic

This is really tedious and very inefficient.

The good news is people have built a number of tools to do this for you, the most popular ones being UberSuggest and KeywordTool.io. UberSuggest only looks at Google, where KeywordTool.io has filters to let you mine keyword suggest data from YouTube, Bing, and the Apple AppStore (super convenient).

I really do like KeywordTool.io, but there are 2 important data sources it’s missing; Amazon and Ebay. Being as these are 2 of the largest shopping destinations in the world – there’s a lot of important product queries happening on those websites that we want to include.

My favorite tool to crawl the suggested keywords across Google, YouTube, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon, and Ebay is actually the free keyword tool at semantic.io

The way that I like to use it is to take the 1 keyword from keyword planner that is the most relevant for my project with the highest monthly search volume.

Pay close attention to the relevance factor. For example if you have a store that sells shoes, and you have a great new model you really want to start pushing. It’s a pair of blue shoes with stripes, but you also have a lot of other variations of blue shoes. You might be tempted to enter in “shoes,” but that’s not the *most* relevant high volume keyword.

Within your initial data set you see that there’s also search volume for blue shoes, and even for blue shoes with stripes. Blue shoes with stripes is very low volume though, only 40 per month – where as “blue shoes” get 590 searches each month.

“Blue shoes” is the best keyword to use to seed your initial scrape.

What I love about Semantic.io’s tool is:

  1. You can start running it and just let it run in the background, continuing to gather gobs of keywords.
  2. You can add filters for words you don’t want to include in your results, including “greater than” a number of terms, as well as matching filters like contains, starts with, and ends with.

Bonus Tool

This is one of the best kept secrets in the whole SEO world; the Google Trends keyword correlation tool. This tool actually describes what it does best “Google Correlate finds search patterns which correspond with real-world trends.”

One important element to be aware of is that all of these tools are just to mine raw keywords; none of them will provide you with any search volume or cost per click data – we’ll have to go back out and get that.

I hope you found this helpful and you’re in the process of building a big list of great keywords. Keep churning through this step; it takes a few times to develop your own rhythm.

Try to get to a base of at least 5,000 keywords as when we start to tag and pair them down we will be cutting a lot of them out (usually at least 80%).

Lesson 3 – First Cut Filtering & More Data Mining

Tools you need for this lesson: TermExplorer

I know the last 2 lessons have been long, so the good news is today’s lesson is relatively short (but a bit more technical).

Now that you have that mound of raw keywords, we need to do a bit of sifting before we can go grab all the rest of the data we need.

Keyword research at its core boils down to a process of discovery and refinement; first you want to find all words that are both relevant and being searched for. Then you need to cull your list and prioritize.

Finding Your Priorities

I find it best to prioritize based on time versus value. Keywords that have a very large search volume, and are extremely competitive (which is how that tends to work), shouldn’t be your core focus out of the gate.

I find it’s best to design a strategy that supports those keywords, without focusing a lot of resources on them at any one time, and instead look for quick wins. Keyword research and building a sustainable SEO strategy is not about quick wins, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

What today’s lesson is going to focus on is getting your keyword data in a place where you can start using it create your roadmap – your keyword priority list.

So today we are going to focus on making the “first cut” to cull down this list before we start collecting all the data we will need to start dialing priorities.

Quick Wins in SEO

These tend to be small but can add up to something tangible. An example might be a long- tail keyword with only 10 searches per month, but a 50% conversion rate – meaning if you rank #1, that’s an extra 2 sales each and every month.

Better still is that when you find these kinds of little “SEO gems” they tend to be pretty easy to rank for; create a page in the right place on the right site, and change some internal anchors to point at it, go grab 1-2 mid-DA links and boom, you have a new sales channel.

That’s really what keywords are – individual sales channels.

Making The First Cut

The first thing we need to do is get your CSV formatted for the process. It’s a bunch of small things you’ll click in Excel and should only take about 5 minutes, so I’m going to just run through them:

  1. Open your CSV in Excel and save it as an Excel workbook
  2. Select row 1 and then from the header menu click Data > Filter
  3. Now click View > Freeze Panes > Freeze top row
  4. Now select the column titled “Avg Monthly Searches” and sort “Largest to Smallest”
  5. Select Column C, right click and “Insert”
  6. Name that column “Best”

You should now have a file that looks like this:

Simple, right?

Now you have a shiny new “Best” column, and here comes the human part of keyword research; the first cut.

So I have good news and bad news; bad news first: you are going to be manually reviewing all of the keywords in this file. Now the good news, and there’s 2 pieces of good news:

  1. You don’t have to be perfect; just try to think logically about the potential relevance or potential piece of content you might be able to use to target more abstract keywords as you review them.
  2. This is the most manual work you will have to do in this process AND you likely have less than 1,000 keywords right now (oh yeah – we’re going to go get a whole bunch more still).

I realize this is an arduous process AND you probably thought this was going to be all clicking buttons, uploading, downloading, and all that fancy automated stuff, which is great and all, but this step is going to pay off in the end – I promise you.

Don’t tag every keyword, be picky as to what’s really relevant for your business.

Do not worry about intent at this point, regardless of whether it’s a very generic (informational) query or a juicy commercial intent or transactional query, just think in terms of relevance.

Pay specific attention as you start to get down to keywords with under 100 searches per month; this is usually where the money terms hang out.

To tag a keyword, just place a “y” (for yes) in the best column, no need to tag the “no’s.”

Go through the whole file and tag all your best keywords.

Quick Wins in Paid Search

You’re going to add another column. Select column F (Competition), right click and insert.

Name this column PPC.

We’re going to move onto one other area in this file real quick to grab some paid search opportunities. Head over to the “Suggested Bid” column and sort from smallest to largest.

Now start from the top of the “Avg. Monthly Searches” column and tag all of the relevant keywords that have a low suggested bid AND search volume (any search volume), especially since a lot of these keywords will have a minimum bid of $0.05.

Off to the Data Mines

For the last part of today’s lesson I’m going to introduce you to one of the most powerful tools in my arsenal, TermExplorer.

Term explorer (TE) is a keyword research engine on crack.

But to get the most out of all of the data we are going to be using TE to get, you need to start with the best data possible, otherwise you end up with GIGO (garbage in – garbage out).

So once you’ve finished tagging all of your best keywords, click on your “Best” column and select “Sort Z to A” to bring all of your “Best” keywords to the top of the pile.

This is going to be your seed list for TE, and speaking of TE, head on over there and fire up an account.

Once you’re logged in, go to the “Bulk Keyword Tool,” then “Start a Bulk Keyword Tool” Job, and give this data run a name (I try to always make them as obvious as possible for later). For this exercise (and just to get started) we’ll stick with a “Tiny Job” of 1,000 keywords, but usually as a bare minimum I go with a “Small Job” which will generate 10,000 keywords.

See the part where you’re supposed to enter your keywords?

Remember those “Best” keywords you just got done tagging?

Copy and paste them in here, and start your job. Keep this tab open and don’t close down your computer until it completes (it shouldn’t take too long).

Great Job!

You’ve just completed the 3rd lesson. In tomorrow’s lesson we’re going to maul over all the shiny new keyword data that TE is going to give us, I’m going to show you how to quickly filter through all of this data right IN TE, and then we’re going to run a report to grab even more data.

Lesson 4 – Keyword Sorting & Conditional Analysis

Let’s dive into TermExplorer and pick up right where we left off yesterday.

Once you’ve logged back in, go to Bulk Keyword Tool > View Saved Bulk Keyword Tool Job and open up your saved job from yesterday.

You should now be looking at a screen like this:

In today’s lesson we’re going to use some of the scrubbing tools in TE to narrow down our list to just the best targets, but first – we want to capitalize on all of the search volume data that TE went out and got for us on this initial set – so you want to Export the current CSV (before we start chopping it up), BUT FIRST (and this is very important), scroll all the way to the bottom left-side of your screen and click the “Display” dropdown and select “All,” otherwise it will only export the data on the screen.

For today’s exercise we’re going to focus on boy and head terms, so we want to first grab

all of the lower search volume (long tail keywords) and save these down into a separate file. So using the filters box on the left-side of your screen, type “30” into the “Less than Local Searches” field like so:

Now check and make sure that the “Display” is still set to “All,” and Export the CSV, save it, and set it aside for later.

Now we’re going to start work on pruning down this list, so you’re going to delete the “30” from the “Less than” field and now type it into the “Greater than” field (it’s just the next one up).

So after applying the minimum 30 searches per month filter my keyword list went from 1,246 to 1,055.

Next we’re going to start building our list of negative keywords to filter this list against. Negative keywords are specifically words that make a keyword irrelevant to your business or product.

So for this exercise I’m using keywords related to SEO, so reading through some of the suggested keywords in TE, I see the following words that are not going to be relevant to my blog and want to filter them out:

  • software
  • montreal
  • vancouver
  • guarantee
  • cms
  • cheap
  • matt cutts
  • denver
  • checker
  • nashville
  • black hat
  • dallas
  • houston
  • chicago
  • st louis
  • quake

It should look something like this:

*PLEASE NOTE*

Term Explorer is a fantastic tool, but running queries in a web app is harder than it may seem – so occasionally I’ll be in the process of building my negative keyword list and the data will go to 0 and show “your search has not yet returned any keywords.”

Don’t Panic. The best thing to do is to copy and paste your list of negative keywords into somewhere easily accessible (Google Doc, email, notepad, whatever), then click the green button to “Clear Filters.”

Once the data reloads, enter the number 30 back into the correct field, paste in your negative keywords, and click the button to “Apply Filters.”

Keep Going

Keep filtering down your list until you start seeing only highly relevant keywords. For this specific list I would recommend trying to get it down to under 500, but as long as it’s under 800 you’ll be good.

Ready for the best part?

Gathering Competitive SERP Intelligence Data

Now that you’ve got your list tuned to a specific set of highly relevant keywords all with a base of 30 searches per month, it’s time to have TE go gather the rest of the data we need.

Click “Select All” then click “Send Checked keywords to Keyword Analyzer:”

You should now be looking at this screen:

Give this file a name (Tip: make it the same as the bulk keyword job but add the word “Analysis”).

Then click the blue “Start Project” button.

Now TE will go out and begin aggregating all of the competitive intelligence data we are going to need. This is a very resource intensive process (you’ll see why when all the data comes back) so it can take a few hours for this to complete depending on how many jobs are concurrently hitting the server.

Once this is completed you will see a screen like this:

Looks interesting right? The best part is this is only the very surface of all of the data that TE actually just went and got for you. To get to all of the data we want (and are going to need for this lesson), you will need to Download the CSV (don’t forget to check and make sure the “Display” is set to “All”).

Open your shiny new CSV file and save it down as an Excel workbook.

Now we’re going to go do a whole bunch of color coding to make this file into a useable document.

First though you will want to do a bit of spot checking to make sure all of your data is clean (TE tends to mess up alignment on at least ~5% of rows due to strange breaks and characters in some of the URL’s.

The fastest way to clean this up is to turn on filters (Data > Filter), go to the furthest right columns with data in them, then go one more over (it will most likely be Column W) and sort from Z to A; it will look something like this:

Then when you find all of these rows, highlight them yellow (this is just for temporary reference), and scroll back to the far left side of the columns.

99% of the time the problem is some funky URL’s, so we’re going to go delete all the URL funk (don’t worry we’re not losing anything important here) and have the rest of the cell data shift left so it lines up which the correct column headers”

Then once we delete and shift cells left, we have a nice clean data set to work with:

Now we go to work.

Getting Started with Conditional Formatting

The first thing we’re going to do with our new mountain of competitive SERP data is to color code all of the columns to make it easier to visually scan for outliers (opportunities).

First we’re going to start with ‘Global Searches’ and sort from the highest to lowest (using the Data > Filter):

This gets our keywords quickly sorted by largest traffic opportunity (not necessarily the *best* opportunity in terms of intent and relevancy; just the largest average monthly search volume).

Now add a bit of formatting to make it easier to visually scan; click the comma button then decrease the decimal’s by 2 places (this is not required, just a personal preference).

Now highlight ‘Column C’ and then navigate to Home > Conditional Formatting > Color Scales > Green – Yellow – Red (the first option):

Now we’re going to run through the rest of the data in the sheet and add the same filters, switching between the ‘Green – Yellow – Red’ and the ‘Red – Yellow – Green’ (the second option in which is the inverse of the first, i.e. the larger the number the more red versus the more green) – this is specifically to highlight where competition is too high ‘at a glance.’

To make this a bit easier to run through and reference quickly, I’m going to use abbreviations for each series; GYR for Green – Yellow – Red, and RYG for Red – Yellow – Green.

Skip columns G through I and S for now, these are logic statements and require different formatting, so we will come back to these.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet for which columns should get which filters:

  1. Search volume – GYR
  2. Average CPC – RYG & add $
  3. Number of Keyword Occurrences on Page – RYG
  4. Total Word Count on Page – RYG
  5. Number of Outbound Links – GYR
  6. Relevancy Score – RYG
  7. Page Backlinks – RYG
  8. Page PageRank – RYG
  9. Domain Age – RYG
  10. 10. Domain PageRank – RYG
  11. 11. Domain backlinks – RYG
  12. 12. Trust Score – RYG
  13. 13. Link Strength – RYG
  14. 14. Difficulty Score – RYG

Your file should now look like this (I’ve hidden columns G-I & S to highlight conditional colors):

Now onto the columns with 0’s and 1’s: for these we are also going to use conditional formatting, but a different option; ‘Highlight Cell Rules’

Select columns G I, then go to Conditional Formatting > Highlight Cell Rules > Equal to > Format Cells That Are EQUAL To: 1 with Light Red Fill with Dark Red Text. The ‘1’ represents TRUE, and since these are all keyword conditions, if TRUE than they are more competitive.

Now repeat the exact same except set Format Cells That Are EQUAL To: 0 with Green Fill with Dark Green Text.

Now for Column S (Is Domain an EMD; exact match domain), do the same; 1 = TRUE set to RED as these will be likely more difficult to outrank.

Your file should now look like this:

The best part about this is all of these filters are dynamic and will stick to the cells, so in later lessons as we filter through this data set now we have an easy interface to quickly identify opportunities.

That’s it for today, I know it was a data heavy lesson – but you made it, so as my nephew says “Big Job!”

Lesson 5 – Analyzing Keyword Intent

Today we’re going to continue your journey toward mastering keyword research by dissecting some of body parts of keywords to better understand their searcher’s intentions.

Understanding search intent is fundamental for driving visitors through your conversion funnel and knowing how and when to ask for the sale.

Just like there are 4 stages of the conversion funnel (AIDA), there are 4 types of keyword intent. What’s more is that they actually directly mirror the conversion funnel:

The 4 buckets of keyword intent are defined as follows:

Informational – Informational search probably covers the largest bucket of keywords, and is generally representative of users looking for a quick answer. These are people looking for a phone number, directions, or even a piece of recent news, such as a sports score or headline.

Navigational – Navigational search is when a searcher is looking for a pre-determined destination. Think of the people, most likely your parents, who still type a domain name into the search box.

Commercial Investigation – Commercial Investigation is, as Fishkin notes, “straddling the line between research and commercial intent.” These are queries where the searcher is looking to gain information to help them inform a buying decision, even if they do not convert; this is the gathering of information that has the potential to later lead to a sale.

Transactional – Transactional is the obvious one: these are queries where the searcher is looking to make a purchase, find a place to make a purchase, or complete a task. These can range from queries looking to make a purchase online, to looking up the address of a store, to signing up for a service.

In a study conducted in 2007 by Penn State researchers that looked at over a million queries submitted for by several hundred thousand searchers. They uncovered visibility into common intentions and preferred use of search engines.

Findings indicated that approximately 80 percent of the queries classified were informational, with the remaining being split almost equally between navigational and transactional.

My favorite part about the study is that they look at some of the specific characteristics of the informational queries:

  • They use question words like “ways to,” “how to,” “what is,” etc.
  • They contain informational terms like “list,” “playlist,” “top,” etc.
  • The searcher tends to view multiple results pages.

What’s more, the study compared its results to another piece of research where they studied queries of “non-meta search engines,” and found the largest session sizes were actually for searchers running one and three queries, at 53.9% and 29.4% respectively, versus users who ran two queries, making up only 16.6% of the sample.

Example Intent Modifiers

At this stage in SEO evolution, there has been enough data analyzed to uncover some common patterns of search intent among keywords.

Here are some of the most common modifiers to look for when tagging your keywords for search intent:

Informational: The key characteristic to an informational query is that it is non-commercial in nature, and the searcher’s goal is just to gain information – not make a purchase or relinquish any of their information. These are most commonly keywords containing terms such as: info, more information, information, details, details, features, benefits, definition, location, directions, [person] name.

Navigational: Indicators of familiarity with you, your company, or your product(s). These are most often referred to as “brand” terms, as these keywords show an existing level of awareness for your brand or its products. These searchers are simply using search engines for their convenience is finding you. In ecommerce especially, navigational keywords tend to generate the most revenue – hence the importance of ranking well for keywords containing your brand name(s).

Commercial Investigation: These keywords show the searcher is relatively familiar with the product they want, and are now just trying to gain the final bits of intelligence to assist with their decision. The most common keywords that indicate commercial investigation are: small, medium, large, kids (sizes); mens, womens (sex); black, blue, gray, orange, pink, red, green, purple (colors); versus, vs, best (comparative); price, pricing, reviews, deals, accessories.

Transactional: Transactional keywords are what I like to call “credit card in hand” terms, these searchers are ready to buy and just looking for where they can purchase. These are often longer, and much more specific queries such as; buy, purchase, sale, coupon, promo code, discount, online, free shipping.

Example Funnel to Intent Content

The best way to understand how keyword intent impacts the visitors experience is to look at real world examples in the wild of how this content serves its target purpose.

Here are example pages at each stage of the conversion funnel:

Informational

Keyword: backpacking tents

#1 search result: http://www.rei.com/c/backpacking-tents

Now the searcher has been exposed to the REI brand of tents, and if not engaged on the page, may bounce back to Google and use a navigational term.

Navigational

Keyword: REI tents

#1 search result: http://www.rei.com/c/tents

*This term is also a commercial investigation term, but that is going to be the case for most online retailers (Ecommerce websites), if searchers are looking for product queries containing your brand name – they are further down the funnel than searchers using informational terms.

Commercial Investigation

Keyword: gray backpacking tents

#1 search result: http://www.sportsmansguide.com/product/index/hq-issue-backpack-tent- gray?a=1687375

Transactional

Keyword: buy gray backpacking tent

#1 search result: http://www.amazon.com/HQ-ISSUE-Backpack-Tent- Gray/dp/B00JN905HC

*OBSERVATION*

I chose this example to highlight something that I see more and more online retailers doing, and personally it makes me nervous (and is not something we do at Traffic Safety Store), being outranked by Amazon for our own product for the transactional keyword.

Here’s the Amazon page:

It’s the exact same product as the results page for “gray backpacking tent” from Sportsman’s Guide; the HQ ISSUE backpack tent in gray.

Now I will give credit to Amazon, they do tend to crush rankings for transactional terms – what’s funny in this specific example is look at the retailers page (the one that ranks #1 for the commercial investigation keyword):

Notice anything? The price is exactly the same as Amazon unless you’re a Buyer’s Club member (in which case it’s $4 cheaper).

Where the Money Is

Visitors are most likely to make purchases in the latter half of the funnel, commercial investigation (they are seeking further reinforcement before making a purchase) and transactional (they have their credit card out or are logged into Paypal and ready to pull the trigger on the sale).

Tagging For Searcher Intent

As part of prioritizing your keyword list and mapping them to your content strategy and editorial calendars – you should tag for intent; and make sure you are ranking your informational (top of the funnel) content for informational keywords, then category pages for commercial investigation keywords, and product detail (or conversion focused pages) for transactional keywords.

The way I like to do this is to create a new column in the Excel file titled “Intent.”

For smaller sets of keywords you can do this manually, but for larger keyword lists (those over 1,000 keywords) I’ve written an Excel macro that with a little bit of configuration you can use to automatically do all the tagging for you.

Here’s a link for a free copy of the macro template.

There are instructions on the Gumroad purchase page for how to use it – it’s pretty straightforward and has saved me a TON of time.

Here’s a tutorial on how to save the macro to be used on any file across all your Excel workbooks.

*NOTE: Semantic.io does this all automatically for you 🙂

I hope you have a much better understanding of keyword intent – that’s all for today’s lesson. In the next lesson we’re going to bring this all together and I will step you through the process for identifying low-hanging fruit keywords, short-term and long-term priorities, and backing in how to find the most valuable, long-term targets.

Lesson 6 – Keyword Prioritization & Creating Your Target List

Hopefully you spent some time going through your file yesterday and familiarizing yourself with search intent. I added in my Excel macro to my file and ran it, so I’m all tagged up and ready to start sorting and filtering through all this organized data to identify priorities and slice out different types of targets.

The gist of today’s exercise is to find the cross sections between high value (high volume and/or high intent) with low competition.

In today’s lesson we’re going to cover a range of exercises:

  1. Identify opportunities to crack page 1 rankings for high volume / high value terms
  2. Identify opportunities SERP’s that can be easily attained – potentially including Top 5 rankings
  3. Identify opportunities to gain instant high value / low cost traffic with PPC

Opportunities to Crack Page 1 for High Volume / High Value Terms

What we’re looking for here is bands of green across the row (remember how I told you all that conditional tagging was going to be useful?) for URL’s that are currently ranked at #10 for high volume keywords.

First thing you need to do is sort ‘Global Searches’ from ‘Largest to Smallest.’

Next you need to sort Position (Column A) by Number Filters > Top 10

Your file should look something like this:

Now highlight all of this data starting with the header row (pictured in Row 6 in my screenshot above) and copy and paste this into a new sheet (make sure you use the “paste option” for “values only” so you only bring over the filtered data); this is your high volume PAGE ONE list.

Now we’re going to do the exact same thing for ‘High Value’ terms on page one, so first sort your ‘Intent’ column for ‘Commercial Investigation’ and ‘Transactional’ by unchecking the checkboxes in the sorting dropdown for the other 2 intent types.

Your file should look something like this:

Notice the URL column I highlighted? This is the best part; you can now completely dissect

these specific URL’s to figure out the minimum amount of work needed to crack page one for these keywords; and as you scroll to the right – look for rows with more green tinted cells, as they will be the easiest keywords to rank for.

Just like last time, copy and paste this data into a new sheet – these are your ‘High Value’ page one targets.

Low Authority SERP’s

Next we’re going to filter for SERP’s that have the lowest barrier to rank for – what we’re looking for specifically is low domain authority and a low number of page backlinks.

So first you need to clear the ‘Top 10’ filter from Column A (Position) and the ‘Intent’ filter (I used Column C) – since these are perpetual filters (meaning they will stay on until you turn them off).

Now sort your ‘Domain PageRank’ column from ‘Smallest to Largest,’ and then filter your ‘Page Backlinks’ column by ‘Number Filter’ > ‘Less Than,’ and enter a number based on your confidence in building/acquiring/manufacturing links (I chose 30).

Your file should look something like this:

Select all of the data from Domain PageRank 0 to Domain PageRank 3, and just like before, copy and paste this data into a new sheet – these are your low-hanging fruit terms. In addition, you can add more perpetual filters such as Intent (for high value terms) or global/local volume over 50 for searches that have a reasonable amount of searches and are still high intent (value).

Opportunities to Gain Immediate High Value / Low Cost Traffic via PPC

Since the data is all at our fingertips at this point, I want to show you a really easy way to find high intent keywords that you can use to get high intent visitors to your website for less than $1 each (or $0.50, $0.30, or even $0.10).

First thing – clear ALL THE FILTERS from you column headers.

Go back to your ‘Intent’ Column and select the checkboxes for “Commercial Investigation” and “Transactional.”

Set a filter on your ‘Global Searches’ Column for ‘Number Filters’ > ‘Greater Than’ > 50

Set a filter on your ‘Average CPC’ Column for ‘Number Filters’ > ‘Less Than’ > Enter a cost figure that you’re comfortable with, I chose 1.00.

Your file should look something like this:

Notice anything? The top of your list is literally filled with keywords that are high intent, have search volume, and have NO MINIMUM BID; this means for as little as $0.05 per click you can get high value traffic right to your conversion pages.

Pretty cool right?

Keep playing with all of these filters now that you have ALL THE DATA’S and see what you can come up with – if you find anything particularly cool, please reply to this email and let me know. I’ll include the tip in a round-up post I’m working on for SEONick.net (and of course give you credit and a link).

In the next lesson we are going to take all of these keyword lists and build out an opportunity model to figure out the relative costs and returns from SEO.

Final Lesson – Finding Keyword Opportunities

You made it!

Welcome to Your Final Lesson, I had to resist making a really bad Star Wars joke there, but I bet you can guess what it was. Anyway – you’ve made it to lesson 7 – nice job.

But we’re not done yet, and today’s lesson is a BIG one, both in terms of value and also literally; this is the biggest lesson in the course, so grab a glass of water, stretch, and get ready for some serious keyword analysis.

In today’s lesson we’re going to take all of the hard work you’ve put into building out your pile of keywords data, and turn it into an actionable list of opportunities.

By the end of today’s lesson you will have a roadmap for which keywords you should be targeting immediately, what kinds of content you should be creating to establish the right kinds of rankings for keywords at each stage of your conversion funnel, and finally – how to spread your energy and resources out for maximum impact.

A Quick Disclaimer

Before we dive into the model I’ve developed to project potential returns from organic search, I want to first clarify that this is *not* an exact science – with well over 200 signaling attributes for rankings AND more than anything, with the constantly changing interfaces Google is creating for different types of queries; not all keywords and not all SERP’s are the same.

Furthermore, webmasters leveraging search as a traffic acquisition channel are continuing to see a divergence in the CTR’s between desktop and mobile SERP’s. There will never be a “good” model for projecting CTR across a range of SERP’s, but you can begin to dial in potential CTR on a SERP by SERP basis – so please keep that in mind.

With all that said, the most recent study I’ve seen that had 1) a reasonable sample size

(over 2 billion impressions from over 2.2 million keywords and over 2.68 million clicks) and 2) adjusted their CTR curve for both desktop and mobile, was done in late October by seoClarity.

The data graphs:

My Keyword Opportunity Model

All this model attempts to do is give you the methodology from which to customize for your own keywords, bringing in your own historical data from previous rankings, the traffic acquired, and Google Webmaster Tools will allow you to get as close as possible to accurate projections.

Moving on – the first thing we need to do is establish some assumptions that we will use to evaluate potential opportunities.

The key assumptions we need to make are:

  • Rank Click-through Rate – the average click-through rate (or percentage of average monthly search volume) that is expected from a given search engine ranking.
  • Conversion Rate – the average rate at which a visitor to a web page will convert on your offer (this could be a purchase, form submittal, additional click-through, email sign-up, etc.). This will differ dependent on the intent of the query, and we will come back to that later this lesson.
  • Average Revenue Per Conversion – For the purposes of actually projecting revenue per keyword we are going to assume that “Conversions” here equal money. The average revenue per conversion will represent that amount of revenue realized per sale, averaged over the population of sales. For an Ecommerce store this would be represented by average order value.
  • Average Cost Per Page – This is a blended figure and needs to contain your average cost to have a new page created (written, designed, and coded), published (added to your website, given a URL, added to your sitemap and navigation), and indexed.
  • Average Cost per Link – This represents the average amount you spend to acquire a link from a new linking root domain for your new URL. If you have an agency building 30 links for you for $1,500 per month, your average cost per link is $50.If you own and operate your own network, this is the cost of your time averaged down to how many links you are building per hour at your hourly rate (to factor against opportunity cost). For the purposes of this lesson I am counting all links as equals (I realize this is a large abstraction from the actual power of links, but I need to normalize this somewhere to make it generally applicable).

One More Note on Links

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m using the term link to represent a link with a minimum Domain Authority (DA) of 25 or Domain PageRank of 2, Page Authority (PA) of 30 or Page PageRank of 1, and Trust Flow (TF) or Citation Flow (CF) of 15, from a new linking root domain (not additional links added from domains that already link to your target domain).

Also, link count numbers are likely to change, and often. It’s important to complete this

analysis in a timely manner (like 1 week) so the data is as accurate as possible at least during your analysis – moving forward it’s important to use tools like Ahrefs, majestic, and even MOZ’s fresh index to stay on top of new links coming in and old links dropping off.

The formula for calculating potential keyword value from SEO is actually pretty simple:

The formula for calculating the projected cost for gaining the rankings to reap this value; is not.

So far the best approximation I’ve come up with is to evaluate the authority metrics per keyword at the SERP level.

So for example, using my keyword file for the term “seo services” the averages look like this (down in the bottom in the row I highlighted with bright yellow):

A Quick Analysis of This Data

So based on these metrics, unless I have either 1) a very authoritative domain (PR5 or higher) or 2) I’m able to create a very authoritative page, likely through a mix of very high DA links with varying anchors around words and phrases including and contextually related to “seo services,” I should probably stay away from this keyword as a target – at least globally.

But here’s my favorite part about this data set that we have now put together; 2 things jump out at me quickly: a URL ranking #2 with only 40 page backlinks (but a domain PR of 7) and URL with a domain PR of 2 with 1,467 links.

That actually seems potentially doable – let’s grab that URL and take a quick look; https://managedadmin.com/solutions/phoenix-seo/

The content on the page is thin at best:

And the links are, well… I’m really not into outing so I’ll just leave these screenshots here quick from some of the most powerful links they have, and let you draw your own conclusions:

Example linking site #2

Not to stray too far afield, but after looking at a quick sample of links from this site – I would include this keyword on my 6 to 12 month roadmap, since it has both commercial investigation intent and nice search volume with an average of 8,800 global searches per month.

And moving on…

Go to Your Low Authority SERP Sheet (from Lesson 6)

We are going to use this data to cull our short-term priorities list into 2 parts:

  1. Priority terms for 1-3 months, and
  2. Priority terms for months 4 through 6.

The first thing we need to do at this point in the process is to sort this list into the 2 buckets I just mentioned so we can chop out all of the additional authority metrics since we won’t need them anymore.

I realize this is counter-intuitive since we worked so hard to get them, but you still have your master sheet that you will be able to use as a master index to reference all the metrics; and once the analysis is done and decisions are made it all becomes noise.

One Quick Note for Your Sanity

The process we are about to run-through, configuring and formatting a file to calculate approximate keyword development costs and potential returns is a bit intense for anyone whose day job is not being a financial analyst.

I have every confidence that this walk-through is straight-forward enough that you can complete the process, but for the purposes of doing this exercise together – and you not getting completely burned out, I’m going to run through building out one model using your Low Authority SERP data. Tomorrow (or perhaps even the next day) you will need to run back through this process on the other 2 priority sheets we carved out yesterday.

Each sheet will be its own set of opportunities; this first one is your 6 month roadmap, broken up into 2 chunks; short-term (1-3 month priorities) and mid-term (4-6 month priorities).

Remember this course is designed to teach you the methodology and give you the understanding of the process and the “why” so you can replicate this over and over again for your websites or your client’s websites.

Back to the Data

Before we start axing existing rows – we need to add one (that won’t be chopped out). So to the right of your intent column add a new column, and name it “Priority.”

Now turn Data > Filter back on, select the “Intent” Column dropdown, and uncheck all the boxes except for “Informational.”

For this exercise we are not going to look at brand keywords since these are generally the easiest to rank for, so our priority scale will be from 1 to 3, with informational intent keywords being last on that list. So enter in the number “3” in the top cell of the Priority column and use the little black square at the bottom right corner and drag it down to fill all of your informational keywords with a Priority of 3:

Now do the same for “Commercial Investigation” but use the number 2, and then again for “Transactional” but use the number 1.

Go back to your “Intent” dropdown > Select All > OK. Select your “Priority” Dropdown > Sort Smallest to Largest, and your file should now look something like this:

And now it’s time to start slicing. Select Column B (Keyword) > Data > Remove Duplicates:

When the dialog boxes pops up asking if you want to “Expand your selection” click “Remove Duplicates” > Unselect All > Check ONLY “Keyword” > OK.

You should now be left with a unique list of keywords:

Time to break out the Axe; delete (or hide if that simply scares you too much) the following columns:

  • Position
  • URL
  • Number of Outbound Links
  • Relevancy Score
  • Page Backlinks
  • Domain Age
  • Domain EMD
  • Trust Score
  • Difficulty Score

And you should now be left with a file that resembles this:

The goal now is to get this list down to 100 keywords or less (but ideally right around 100), which will eventually be split into 2 lists; short-term and mid-term.

There’s also some clean-up that I like to take care of at this point, but in the future you can do it sooner in the process if you prefer.

I sort “Global Searches” from “Largest to Smallest” and then add in a quick formula into the “Priority Column” that will fill in Priority as I tag intent on keywords that may have been missed as we used bulk processes.

The formula is a simple string of IF statements;

=IF(B6=”Informational”,3,IF(B6=”Commercial Investigation”,2,IF(B6=”Transactional”,1,”N/A”)))

Then drag that formula down into all the rest of the “Priority” column cells.

Now I filter intent for all keywords that aren’t currently tagged with intent by unchecking all the intent types, and I run through and manually tag intent. Do your best – it doesn’t have to be perfect, but this is an important manual step so you don’t miss any golden nuggets that may be hiding.

This quickly took my count of n/a keywords down from 147 to 80, and helped identify a ton of additional commercial investigation terms and a few transactional keywords.

Cut out as many irrelevant keywords as you can; for me in my example data set it’s all the localized queries outside of my local area (Philadelphia).

Now We’re Getting Somewhere

We need to add in a couple of rows up top to house the assumption data I mentioned earlier.

Use the following columns for the following assumption data:

  • Column A Title: Revenue Drivers
  • Column B: Actual Data
  • Column C Title: Average Costs
  • Column D: Actual Data
  • Column E Title: SERP CTR
  • Column F: Actual Data

In Column A enter the following:

  • Conversion Rate (this is a sub-heading)
  • Brand
  • Info
  • CommInv
  • Trans
  • Avg $ per Conversion

So for conversion rates you can choose to go 1 of 2 routes;

    1. Enter in a gross average conversion rate next to the sub-heading, likely a figure between 1 and 2%, or
    2. Enter in individual conversion rates based on query intent, for instance on one of my ecommerce sites I would use the following:
      1. Brand:22%
      2. Info: 2.2%
      3. CommInv: 3.5%
      4. Trans: 4.8%

And for Average $ per Conversion I’m going to use an actual average order value figure from this same website: $280.

All of these figures should be entered into the Actual Data column, so they can be used to drive computations down in the data and be adjusted in only one place.

Also, to clean up the initial development of the file, hide the binary keyword columns (G-J), your file should now look like this:

Calculating Average Costs

Like everything else in SEO, this can also go a number of different directions; the more simplistic route (if you prefer) or the complex.

The simple approach is to try to calculate an average production cost and assign a nice round number per link. The more complex approach is to back in your actual employee or contractor’s hourly rates, the average rate of production, and then blend the cost to have a piece of content written, assets designed, your content manager (or web person) to publish, and then you (or your SEO person) add it into the sitemap, navigation, tweet it out, and submit it to Google.

Then you have your link costs; I’m going to use a mix of placed and partner links – represented by a blended rate of $75 each. Again, I’m assuming these links meet the criteria I specified earlier in the lesson.

For the purposes of this exercise I’m going to walk-through some basic cost elements but then use a simple approach within my file.

In my file under Column C I’m going to list out:

  • Content Cost (~1,000 words)
  • Asset Cost (graphics)
  • Production Cost (includes all steps to get it live on the site and added into all the appropriate places)
  • Link Cost
  • Total

Time to Add More Columns

Depending on which conversion rate route you’ve taken, you will need to add in a “Conversion Rate” Column, which I like to abbreviate as CR, as either a static value column (linked directly to your CR assumption), or as a variable which I’ll explain below.

Conversion Rate

If you chose to go with option 2 (which I did) then you need to add this column AND add in another simple IF formula so it pulls the right conversion rate (based on the keyword’s intent).

The formula needs to reference the relative location of the row variable (the intent) and then the static conversion rate you defined in your assumptions above, to do this use anchor cells, i.e. instead of B9, to anchor the cell reference you would use $B$9 with this formula:

=IF(B9=”Informational”,$B$4,IF(B9=”Commercial Investigation”,$B$5,IF(B9=”Transactional”,$B$6,$B$3)))

Then drag this formula down through the rest of the CR cells. This formula also defaults “non-matches” to brand conversion rates, so if you didn’t finish tagging all of your intent then you will need to set a more reasonable (likely lower) conversion rate assumption for this intent type.

Revenue

Next to your Conversion rate column add another new column titled “Revenue.”

This column will be a summation column using the formula mentioned above; =(Global or Local Searches * CTR)*(Average $ per Conversion * CR) where CTR is SERP Click- through rate.

You can base the click-through rate on a very conservative value (say Desktop #10 = 2.2%), on a #5 ranking, or as I like to at this stage in the game; an average of the top 5 desktop CTR’s = 9.54%.

If your columns are all laid out the same as mine this formula, with variable and anchor references, is:

=(D9*$F$7)*($B$7*Q9) then drag that formula down to all of the revenue columns underneath.

Cost

For the cost portion of this formula, specifically for this exercise, we are going to use an over-simplification; URL development cost (the sum of all your per URL costs) plus the number of links of the ranking URL (+1) multiplied by your per link acquisition cost.

So =$D$5+((M9+1)*$D$6)

If you want to dive deep in the weeds on how to approach cost approximation, check out my post that goes into this specifically.

Breakeven as ROI

For our final piece of this pie, and since the revenue cell in each row is showing you your monthly revenue from this keyword, we are going to calculate how long it will take until you break-even on your per-keyword investment.

To do this divide your cost by your revenue and the result will be the number of months that it will take until your revenue equals and then exceeds your investment.

Sorting for Opportunities

You can probably guess what comes next; now we sort our Break-even Column from smallest to largest, and separate at above 3 and below 3.

Above 3 but less than 6 are your mid-term priorities and anything less than 3 is a short-term priority.

At this point your file should look like this (I threw in a conditional color for some flare):

Creating Content Based on Intent

The last step to putting this into action is to start thinking about which pages are best suited to rank for your different keywords – and not they keywords themselves per se, but the keyword types.

For informational content, resource pages are going to generally be a good fit – usually the more evergreen the better.

For your brand searches you want to make sure your homepage ranks for the more general terms and that your product pages absolutely rank for any brand query containing a product reference; this is why it’s important to have your brand name in all your page titles; to create passive relevance site-wide.

For commercial investigation keywords it depends on the site’s purpose; for Ecommerce these are best served by ranking category or sub-category pages. For software or service content you want to rank more informative content that paints your offering in a positive light, such as comparison pages, benefit pages, or case studies.

And lastly, for transactional keywords you want to rank your detail pages, product sales pages, landing pages or any page where a conversion can occur directly, not a doorway  page. IF you manage to rank a page that is one funnel step above your transaction page for a transactional keyword – consider re-directing that page to your transaction page and creating a new page at a new URL to fill its place.

Wundebar!

I hope you found this course valuable and you continue to practice with these lessons until you build enough muscle memory that they become second nature.

For more continuing SEO education make sure you follow me on twitter.

What’s Next?

Now that you’re left with a prioritized list of keywords to go after, you need to design a strategy focused on building rankings. If you found this guide useful, I recommend you check out my guide on how to implement a keyword strategy.

Looking For Additional Support?

I’ve teamed up with Matt Barby (Director of Acquisition at HubSpot) and Ian Howells (Director of SEO at LendingTree) to launch Traffic Think Tank, the #1 private SEO training community in the world. Join for personal, hands-on support for your SEO projects (or client projects) and instant access to over 300 hours of member exclusive content.

How SamAsh.com is Failing at SEO

I was curious, and decided to check out the site at SamAsh.com.

What I found is a horrendous mess of terrible SEO mixed with equally horrible user experience… pretty much throughout the site.

Down the SEO Rabbit Hole We Go

So to be fair, I should start by saying that my hunch as to why some of these issues exist is due to their current Ecommerce platform, Websphere Commerce by IBM.

So likely a mix of limited functionality, SKU turnover, and some seemingly bad SEO direction has caused the following issues (from a high level) that I’ll call the 3 biggest opportunity areas:

  1. The majority of organic rankings are stuck on page 2 (of the ~100k organic rankings they currently have on the first 5 pages of Google, only ~17% are on page 1, compared to ~27% on page 2.)
  2. Inconsistent and often times bloated or flat out weak information architecture across the product catalog.
  3. 3rd party integration URL’s being rendered in HTML and then redirected to their destination URL’s.

I’m going to dive into each one of these individually, so buckle up for a fun SEO rollercoaster ride.

1. Less than 20% of Top 50 rankings are on Page 1

Amazingly enough, more times than not a lot of rankings are stuck on page 2 – which is the case with SamAsh.com, with almost 27,000 of their rankings on the first 5 pages of Google living on page 2.

For finding even more tools check out this post on keyword tools.

Check out some of these page 2 rankings:

Now let’s pick a few of these keywords and look at the page that’s currently ranking on page 2.

First up: bass guitars

So I head on over to samash.com/bass-guitars/ but the rollercoaster takes a sharp turn and drops me at samash.com/electric-bass-guitars-2/ instead.

Oh look at this lovely redirect chain:

but hold on a second, Bass Guitars is still showing up in the breadcrumb navigation…

Let’s give it a click.

Well that’s confusing.

So the page ranking for bass guitars is their old /bass-guitars/ page that now redirects to /electric-bass-guitars-2/ but bass guitars in their main navigation links to /bass-guitars-1/ with their sub-cat for electronic bass guitars linking to /electric-bass-guitars-2/.

So it’s a double whammy of sad SEO;

  1. The page Google see’s as the most relevant result is being redirected to a subdirectory for a modified version of the head term, and
  2. There’s a new (essentially empty) page in the product architecture that’s cannibalizing the relevance of the page being redirected to.

Technical SEO issues are at least entertaining.

Check out /bass-guitars-1/ if I scroll down just a bit…

One of the main reasons this makes me pull my hair out is the only links on this page down to the SubCategories are in navigational components; the top (main) nav and the side nav – not in the page content.

Look here;

Having your SubCategory links in the main navigation is great, but you should also be leveraging in content links to flow equity from category pages down to SubCats.

Next up: drums

Another meaty head term that Sam Ash is in a unique position as a major brand to compete for, with drums coming in at an average of 49,000 searches per month on Google.com.

Yet here we are again with a giant hole on a top-level category page:

and then they amplify their relevancy issue by directly cannibalizing the keyword – check this out:

I mean… at least they have their alternate tags set correctly for the mobile site.

These are all just little, simple SEO 101 things. Let’s look at one more keyword stuck on page 2 before we move onto the more important stuff.

Last up: guitar strings

So I realize we just took a giant leap in terms of customer value, with the average packet of guitar strings running about $5.

But, with ~60,000 searches/month in the U.S., this keyword is more about capturing new clients (likely as a loss leader) to have a chance at capitalizing on customer lifetime value, which my guess is closer to $500.

So at first glance the guitar strings page doesn’t look too bad;

After spending some time on this website I realize that there’s no featured products on this SubCategory, but it’s also not a priority since it has no additional contextual content on the page:

So outside of the opportunity to better dial in semantic relevance with more content on this page, let’s check out the links:

My first thoughts are 12 links from 6 domains, not great but not terrible – at least there are some deep links to this page, but when we look closer;

Unfortunately, these are complete shit links that are likely causing more harm than good. Link building is still important, but you have to do it right.

My biggest issue with this page is actually not the page at all, but more so the architecture, which brings me to opportunity #2.

2. Inconsistent and Bloated Information Architecture

There’s a bunch of fun stuff to talk about here, but picking up on the last point let’s first look at guitar strings at the product level;

So rule #1 for product page SEO; when there’s no search volume for product attributes, don’t include them in the architecture.

SamAsh.com for most of their products, they nest them underneath a Category or SubCategory parent directory:

So here are some of the URL’s for a handful of their guitar string product pages:

  • https://www.samash.com/acoustic-guitar-strings/ej11-3d-light-80-20-bronze-acoustic-guitar-strings–3-pack–12-53-dej113dxx-p
  • https://www.samash.com/acoustic-guitar-strings/ej13-3d-80-20-bronze-acoustic-guitar-strings–custom-light–3-pack–11-52–dej133dxx-p
  • https://www.samash.com/acoustic-guitar-strings/exp16-3d-light-phos-bronze-acoustic-guitar-strings–3-pack–12-53-dexp163dx-p

Notice some of the key modifiers at work here;

  1. Light
  2. Bronze
  3. 80/20
  4. Acoustic
  5. 3D
  6. Phos

Here’s a quick snapshot of monthly search volume for some of these terms:

Stay with me – here are the other SubCategories within the /acoustic-guitar-strings/ SubCategory:

Based on all the components I presented above, if I were doing SEO for SamAsh.com I’d be recommending they create new facet’s under acoustic guitar strings for light, bronze, and 80/20.

I’d also have them pull a lot move to a root architecture for products and pull a lot of these keywords out of the meta attributes at the product level to allow for stronger focused targeting and reduce all the keyword cannibalization that’s currently happening.

Onto even more information architecture problems

I imagine ranking for guitar terms is pretty important to SamAsh.com.

Yet, they’re using a mix of site search queries and landing pages to build these important pages… look at this page for Fender Telecaster:

Not a bad looking page, but look at the URL:

Or how about this page for Gibson Les Paul Guitars:

Same deal, not a bad looking page, but look at the URL.

Note the use of a new directory /lp/ versus using their previous site search approach, i.e. /s/term/.

How about the version of that page that lives at this URL: https://www.samash.com/lp/gibson%20les%20paul?krypto=bQc5yk74E%2FwZJfUOVr%2Bn5Lr%2FFM%2FqR8Qde33MKhMjZEObmKU3ceiGCewT6PHvgwoys4qTSZ6V2L4VF%2B04PbE2%2B4k5JhKleOoPB3xcUnH3tH0%3D

So ignore for a second that instead of this being at /gibson+les+paul it’s at /gibson%20les%20paul, you’re probably thinking

But Nick, that’s not a big deal as I’m sure they’re blocking the *?krypto= query parameter?

But you’d be wrong:

Instead wouldn’t it make more sense to have the Gibson Les Paul page live underneath the Gibson Guitars Category?

More so, look at the SubCat list

Yup.. no SubCategory for Les Paul 🙁

This last piece of IA feedback is purely an SEO frustration

So an apparent brand merchandising campaign that SamAsh is running is focused on Guitars of Distinction, so they’ve created a category for these guitars, multiple SubCategories, and what perhaps hurts the most, a crap ton of internal links with the exact match anchor text; guitars of distinction…

I’m all for merchandising when it comes to Ecommerce, in many instances it helps to provide a moat against Amazon.

But your merchandising campaigns shouldn’t bleed their efforts into components that effect SEO, for instance;

Instead I might use the various meta attributes afforded to me to target keywords like:

Just a thought.

Onto my final frustration with SamAsh.com’s SEO;

3. 3rd Party Integration URL’s

Personalization it really important in modern Ecommerce. So much so that I’d go as far to say if you’re not using any form of automated/intelligent on-site personalization you’re leaving a lot of money on the table.

However, many of the personalization platforms available now can be integrated in ways that are essentially undetectable 9as they should be), one in particular I know of that integrates pretty much invisibly is RichRelevance, which is apparently not the case for iGoDigital.

Look here at these prime link locations on the homepage:

Guess where they links to?

To their respective product URL’s of course….

Nope.

Instead they link to these generated tracking URL’s and then redirect back to the product page URL.

That’s a lot of diluted link equity from the most powerful page on the website, not to mention, these personalization boxes of links appear all over the website; categories, subcategories, product pages, and so on.

Internal links are a really strong way to sculpt the keyword relevance of pages on your site, and if you’re using a 3rd party integration that requires the links to run through a redirect every time, you’re leaving a lot of link equity on the table.

In Closing

This post was a bit ranty, but I had a surprising amount of time digging through the site like this.

To be fair, this is not a traditional approach to either enterprise or technical SEO, where I’d start with a few site crawls and dial in from there.

This was entirely for my own fun and enjoyment and to give a glimpse into how I manually teardown Ecommerce websites.

If you’re game, I’d love to know what you think in the comments.

SEO Case Study – See How We Grew Traffic (and Revenue) by Over 300%

I originally published this post on From The Future

Everyone loves a good case study, especially in SEO.

Funny thing is there are so many “SEO Case Studies” but there’s still a huge gap in this content – specifically – case studies that provide truly actionable strategies and takeaways.

I’m here to fill in that content gap with this post.

Over the past week I’ve reached out to thousands of people (almost 22 thousand to be exact) and presented them with the site’s I planned to report on for this case study.

What I received in return was a fantastic list of exactly what they are most interested in seeing from a new case study on organic search.

If you would like to be one of these people in the future, make sure you join the mailing list so you too can receive the next email 🙂

First, let me show you the results I’ll be diving into – and how I got to the number in the title.

For this case study I’ll be reviewing the SEO results from 3 different websites, in 3 totally different niches, that all have different conversion metrics for “success.”

Here are the screenshots of the organic traffic results from SEMRush:

SEO for Ecommerce

SEO for B2B Lead Generation

SEO for Hotels (or Hospitality SEO)

Before I dive into the numbers, I wanted to share some of my favorite responses that I received via email. These will frame out most of what I go into in this post.

What People Want from an SEO Case Study

These are some of the email responses I received when I asked what would make this a truly valuable case study:

*All email screenshots used with permission from senders.

To Summarize the Points Above

What that breaks down into is the following case study criteria:

  • How to grow traffic without scaling content
  • How to increase keyword spread
  • What the critical issues are that need to be addressed and how to identify them
  • How many backlinks are needed
  • How to approach building links in each of these niches
  • The time from receiving backlinks until the effects are seen
  • How to map keywords to content
  • Step by step what actions were taken
  • What are the KPI’s during the campaign and why
  • What’s the time to rank and see results
  • How to marry UX and CRO, especially for mobile SEO
  • For Ecommerce SEO is it better to rank category or product pages
  • How does mobile impact SEO for B2B Lead Generation
  • What are the sources of links for each niche and how were they identified
  • How to optimize content for SEO

So the above list is EXACTLY what I’ll be diving into for this post.

Back to the 3 Example Websites

Before I dive into breaking down all the SEO components listed above, let’s first run through the numbers from the screenshots I cited at the beginning of the post.

For the purposes of this post I’m going to use the data from SEMRush and supplement with GA data as needed, the reason being is GA data can be manipulated with filters to paint the picture of whatever you might want it to look like – relying solely on core organic views from a trusted 3rd party (like SEMRush) keeps this clean.

The Ecommerce Website

Work began on the Ecommerce website in Spring of 2015.

It was a new-ish site (only a few months old) and as you can see from the screenshot, results were slow at first – and in my experience this is common for Ecommerce SEO *IF* your main focus is to build rankings and traffic for commercial keywords.

If you *just* want to “build traffic” all it takes is some creative blog posts and big niche specific guides. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking these, it’s different strokes for different folks is all I’m saying.

So from March 2015 (when we got started) until February 2017 (as I’m writing this post) we took organic traffic from approximately 35,000 organic visits per month to ~225,000 organic visits per month, for a total net increase of 542%.

The B2B Software Website

avid-rankings

This was a different project all together.

This wasn’t a pure-play SEO project, this was a BIG design and development undertaking. More specifically, this project included the design and build of a new site for a core brand, but then also needed to support meticulously folding in 3 other brand websites (that had been acquired) into one seamless master site, and then re-launch.

These are my favorite projects in all honesty – they tend to be very complex in terms of content management, and brand alignment in terms of information architecture for products and solutions is one of my all time favorite tasks.

The project kicked off in September 2016, with a target launch date for the new site in December.

None of the acquired brands really had any organic rankings to speak of and were more so bought up to acquire the technologies and fold-in the customers under the core brand umbrella (very smart growth strategy!)

So the important pieces here were to scrape all current rankings (if any) for each site, review all the content, and create a master content map for what needs to live where on the new site – to then inform the redirect map.

The site re-launched in December (as planned) and you’ll notice the immediate increase of organic traffic, initially in December but then really in January of 2017; going from approximately 800 organic visits per month to around 3,600 organic visits per month.

It’s worth noting the slight dip in February as Google reshuffles all the new rankings and tests the waters to make sure these URL’s have the rankings they should – taking into consideration qualitative metrics such as CTR, time to long click, and dwell time.

Overall the gain from SEO traffic was approximately 350%.

The Hospitality Website

This website is special. For starters, it’s a giant international brand and the cherry on top is the website is beautifully designed.

What was surprising is how much of a rats nest the front-end code was from purely an SEO perspective – the good news is for any SEO worth their salt, all you see in this case is opportunity.

For this site, we went to work in August of 2016 and the initial focus was 100% in cleaning up the client-side layer of the site – we specifically audited things like the crawl budget and efficiency, index rate, and internal links.

It’s a pretty big site, so it took a couple months to get all our ducks in a row and then wait to have everything implemented by their development team.

Most of the work went live in November and then you can see the first movement of organic traffic in December 2016. When we started the site was getting approximately 210,000 organic visits per month which grew as of February 2017 to 306,000 organic visits per month, an increase of 46%.

Averaging Out a Growth Number

So for the purposes of coming up with a number for the post title (because having 3 numbers was really confusing, I asked :)) I took 542% + 350% + 46% = 938/3 = 313%.

So that’s where that comes from – ok onto the MEAT!

How To Run SEO Campaigns For Success

Coming back to the list of strategies and tactics that were asked about on how these results were achieved, I’m going to do a deep dive into each of the bullets I listed above, one at a time.

How to Grow Traffic Without Scaling Content

This is a great question and everyone wants to know how to make SEO easier, i.e. how to do less and get more.

While content is important, it’s still not the King, and there are ways to get more SEO juice out of your current site.

google-lovePer my post linked above, promotion is one of the easiest ways to crank more traffic out of existing content, and for specific details on promotion strategies I recommend checking out this smart post by Robbie Richards.

What I’m going to get into instead, is action you can take on your site to get more love from Google.

With that said, one of the fastest ways to increase your organic traffic without creating any new pages is to optimize your crawl budget.

More times than not this is considered technical SEO, and while doing this to the full extent does get technical – there are elements of it that any intermediate SEO can implement and see results from.

The best place to start is to run a full crawl of your website and analyze your results.

What you’re looking for is the following:

Thin Pages

Thin pages are URL’s on your site that have a low text to html ratio, and the best way to identify these is to use a proper site crawler.

Here’s the thin pages report shown in DeepCrawl.

Generally speaking you don’t want pages with less than 500 words of original content being crawled, as with everything in life (and especially SEO, there are always exceptions to this, but this is a sound standard practice).

For thin pages you do not wish to “thicken up” with more content, consider blocking them via robots.txt.

Query Parameters

Query parameters are those nasty looking URL’s you often see on Ecommerce sites, they usually start with ?= and can stack to the moon and back.

They tend to be generated from core shopping cart code on many platforms but also from site search driven (like Endeca) and database driven websites.

The big issue with these, is each one of these URL’s, by default, is crawled and considered a unique page. Fact of the matter is, more times than not, these pages do not have enough unique content / user value for them to be included in your crawl budget.

These can be attacked through a combination of blocking Googlebot from specific parameters within the url parameters report in search console coupled with hard disallow directives in your robots.txt file

Index Rate

Your index rate is simply the ratio of pages submitted into Google for indexing vs the pages actually included in Google’s index.

Here’s a screenshot of a healthy index rate, where 564 of the submitted 568 pages are indexed.

Another key component to consider when looking at your overall index efficiency is edge case variations of URL’s that shouldn’t be accessible, for example if your homepage at your root domain lives at yoursite.com, but then there are duplicate variations of the page that live at yoursite.com/main/ and yoursite.com/index.html these should be redirected using a 301.

Taking the above steps is often the very first thing we do as part of our process, think of these as cleaning up your site’s foundation before you embark on building new content on top of it.

How To Increase Keyword Spread

I found it a bit funny this was a question, since I’ve written on this before, but I do think I can expand on this more specifically in the context of this case study.

With the advent of the Mobile-First index, and Google now able to render full CSS and Javascript, means that hiding content to improve user experience is no longer a discount factorfrom an On-Page SEO perspective.

The practical application of this is the ability to increase the LSI keywords and contextual relevancy of your pages for additional keywords, without having to screw up conversion rates by stuffing walls of text into your layout that no one reads.

To show you a real world example, here’s how we implemented this on TrafficSafetyStore.com:

Slide-Down-Content-Example

And if you do a search in Google.com for the target category keyword here “roll up construction signs” you will be greeted with this beautiful SERP:

Now I’m not saying the results we’re seeing are because of putting this content behind a jQuery window shade, but I will share with you that this also improved our conversion rate by a considerable percentage, likely due to improved UX from a shopping perspective.

The other consideration based on these recent changes from Google is that content that is hidden on Desktop due to it being Mobile content, may still be crawled and scored, and in fact influence Desktop rankings.

What Are The Critical Issues That Need to be Addressed and How To Identify Them

This circles back to the point of cleaning up your foundation before starting to build on top of it.

The critical issues that were analyzed, identified and immediately addressed with each of the 3 sites in this study were:

Ecommerce

  • Reign in crawl budget by auditing the sites crawl efficiency and index rate.
  • Select a champion version of a product to be set as master and canonical all slave variants to the master.
  • Filter down thin pages and non-representative category and sub-category results pages and remove them from the XML sitemap you will submit to Google.
  • Build out unique and compelling content on key landing page to be established as hub pages based on topics.

B2B Lead Generation

  • Crawl the site and look for pages targeting the same keywords. Consolidate these pages to reduce keyword cannibalization, deprecate the weaker pages by first moving their content to the master page (take this chance to clean-it up and refresh it) and then redirecting them.
  • Once you’ve completed your keyword research, and have developed your matrix and prioritized your target terms, create keyword buckets. These buckets are then used to inform your on-page content requirements and page design.
  • Internal links are important in every vertical, but especially in B2B lead-gen as so many of the pages and themes are so closely related to one another, make sure you architecture is built in a way that supports logical horizontal linking.

Hospitality

  • First and foremost, check for rogue canonical tags. If you have pages that contain a canonical tag pointing to another URL on your site, those pages are effectively set to NoIndex.
  • Make sure all the images on your site are being called from/linked to in the HTML of the body content on the page and NOT using CSS or JS.
  • This may be argued by some, but I still find tiering of pages, i.e. building master topic hubs and then building inter-linked children underneath them, to work very well in the hotel vertical where geo-targeting is so critical.
  • Local SEO, make absolutely sure every location has a fully built out (and CLEAN) local citation profile.

To identify these issues you need to become familiar with running a crawl report and analysis and then being able to sketch out and understand a sites information architecture.

How Many Backlinks Are Needed

Short answer here; more.

But in all honesty, this is such a hard question to answer – which is why I’m sure it has not yet been answered to the level that satisfies most SEO readers.

So with that said, I will take you through roughly how many links we’ve built to each of these sites, and then in the next section I’ll go into details on how.

Ecommerce

Velocity is key for retail sites – what this meant was building up a steady base of new inbound linking root domains coming in day after day and week after week.

This particular retailer is in an extremely competitive space, so we built up a steady base of acquiring 30-40 new linking root domains each month, and continue with this campaign running in the background as we build out new pages and add new products.

Ecommerce-Link-Building

B2B Lead Generation

In the B2B space, velocity is not as important as securing higher authority placements with much higher trust metrics. When building links for businesses selling to other businesses credibility is key and works like a flywheel; the more high trust links you drive the more linked mentions you tend to pick up organically.

Hospitality

To put this bluntly, link building in the travel and hospitality space is weird. Working with name brands is great in some ways but very difficult in other capacities, and what I’ve learned is that the link turnover rate in the Hospitality niche is incredibly high.

What this means is links get placed and then re-placed frequently – I think a lot of this has to do with how incentivized many of the big linking sources are. To paint a better picture of the churn I’m speaking about look at this graph:

The mix of links that are being lost are from a mix of spam sites (woohoo!), affiliates, and images that are being replaced or updated by the site managers.

I have some specific ideas on how to build more specific assets to combat this in the future, but at this time we’re just getting to the content part of this campaign, so the links we’ve gained so far have only been from very specific strategies that I will go into in more detail in the next section.

How to approach building links in each of these niches

I’m going to combine this section with another since it’s *so* closely related. The other question was “what are the sources of links for each niche and how were they identified?

I would never call myself a link building person, so the strategies we use to source links for these sites are not going to be new information to many of you, but with that said – they still work.

I’m going to include how prospective link targets are identified within each section, and then show real world examples in the wild of companies putting them to work to acquire shiny white hat links.

The way most of these campaigns are run is good old fashioned outreach.

The trick (if you want to call it that) is to take a page out of Ryan Stewart’s book and develop a tight, repeatable process that you can scale by adding bodies.

Below are the primary link building strategies we used for each of our 3 case study niches, one key consideration is that these aren’t directory links, social profile links, and other manufactured link acquisition techniques:

Ecommerce Link Building

Link building in Ecommerce takes attention to deal and almost always requires incentivizing your link targets – they understand you’re a commercial entity and they expect to be rewarded for the value they’re providing to you with their link.

Reviews

This is a very scalable strategy for getting links to an Ecommerce site if you have the budget and margin on your products to make this worthwhile. For our client in the fashion space, our process for identifying sites to approach for reviews is as following:

  1. Use advanced search operators to find sites that already contain posts with specific leading keywords in them such as review, how to wear, what to wear, what I’m wearing, my outfit, or the specific product keywords that represent your link targets product catalog.
  2. Scrape all of these sites into a Google sheet (I like to use LinkClump)
  3. Qualify them based on your link quality criteria (ours minimum is DA25/TF15)
  4. Load all the domains into your outreach tool of choice (we use BuzzStream) and kick off your campaign
  5. Follow-up 4-5 times with your link targets, even if they say no I suggest pursuing until you get a response.

Donations

Same as with reviews, you’ll need a budgetbut it doesn’t have to be cash. Many times, depending on your products you can find groups that need what you sell and are willing to show off your logo (with a link of course) in exchange for some free products.

A personal example I’ll share with you is how at TrafficSafetyStore.com we donate 12″ traffic cones to driving clubs around the country, in exchange they will put their logo on their club sites with a link.

Sponsorships

The only difference between donations vs. sponsorships is this tactic does usually come in the form of cash.

Think beyond just sponsoring articles though, and instead look for opportunities to support either causes that are important to you or that exist ion your local area.

A good example of these could be youth sports leagues, local chapters of the ACLU, or pretty much any local non-profit or independent organization that has a website.

Contests

Contests work incredibly well when done right. The hardest part about pulling off a contest is giving away something compelling enough that people REALLY want to win. This usually means it’s a pretty big expense for you or your client, but I’m serious when I say when the idea is solid and the execution is done right – these things can crush link acquisition, like to the tune of 100+ new LRD’s.

Here are a few examples of some of my favorite contests from Ecommerce sites, all of which landed them over 100 new root domain links:

^Notice the size / amount of product each site is giving away to drive entries, engagement, and interest.

B2B Lead Generation Link Building

Scalability is a challenge in any vertical, but it seems to get exponentially more difficult in the B2B space. The tactics I’m going to review in this section have varying degrees of scalability, and are more so focused on outcomes: high quality links that can be stacked to move the needle on organic rankings.

Broken Link Building

Far from new information, this is a near timeless link building strategy that can still get results and be scaled quickly.

The biggest challenge when running a BLB campaign is finding a piece of content that is a critical reference point in terms of making the argument or legitimizing the pages that are linking to it.

From there the caveats are:

  1. It needs to be at least tangentially relevant in context to the clients site, so it makes sense for it to live on the client’s domain (even if it’s a separated resource section).
  2. It needs to include as much of the content from the old (now broken) version as possible, and then take the level of usefulness one step further.

The last consideration I’ll leave you with for BLB is who the pitch is coming from; it better be 1) and email address on the client’s domain or 2) an “independent 3rd party” that is advocating for the content being pitched as it aligns with their core mission or values.

Evergreen Resource Development

Buying guides still work really well for this, but it’s becoming incredibly competitive with many affiliate players starting to invest serious resources (and dollars) into their content, and new affiliates popping up every day.

The trick here is to bridge the gap and provide something of true value, beyond a buying guide, but to do so in a way where your content offers something new and unique that does not yet exist within your vertical.

Here’s a great example from Buffer on how to manage daily social media updates for millions of followers:

That has earned them 310 links from 44 domains:

b2b-evergreen-links

Problem Solving & Process Content

If we weren’t talking about link acquisition I would probably address the creation of problem solving content by speaking to the traffic potential of larger platforms with installed, high intent audiences such as LinkedIn or Quora, but – since this is about links building, let’s look at some native examples.

KISSmetrics is known for their content marketing prowess, but what’s not often reflected upon is their level of SEO in the B2B software space.

These guys crush lead generation from SEO, and a bit reason behind their rankings success is their ability to nail process and problem solving content to attract gobs of links.

Take for example this post on how to boost conversions, which earned them over 400 links from over 60 linking root domains.

Interviews & Influencer Marketing

Ego-baiting is still alive and well, especially in all of the verticals where it hasn’t been played to death (like in SEO for example).

As such, landing an interview with an authority in your space or leveraging the audience and trust of influencers in your space is a great way to build visibility for your content that can ultimately leads to a nice inflow of links.

The Harvard Business Review uses interviews, like this one with the Founder of Starbucks, to rake in links to the tune of ~180 from ~80 domains on just this single post.

Case Studies

One of the smartest ways this can be done is actually through using properly messaged case studies with a high level of production value.

Take for example Bitly did a case study on Omnichannel Ecommerce, that resulted in over 30 links from 19 LRD’s, and I’d be willing to bet these are all organic links earned without outreach.

This becomes even more believable when you look at their case study landing page which has racked up over 700 links from well over 200 linking domains:

bitly-links

Hospitality

Unlike the other 2 SEO niches, hospitality tends to be a bit easier in terms of scaling link building since you usually have more assets at your fingertips to leverage for results. All of the below tactics, which while useful in other verticals, have driven the most effective link acquisition results specifically for our Hotel clients.

Link Reclamation

Link reclamation can be incredibly scalable and effective if you get the pitch right, and put the energy into efficiency (i.e. scale).

The 2 most commons approaches we use to reclaim links to support Hotel SEO are:

  • Image-based (either exclusive or unlicensed) – using reverse image search engines like Google Images of TinEye to find 1) unlicensed (and unlinked / unattributed) images, contact the website owners and politely, but sternly alerting them to either provide attribution to your client or take the image down, or 2) offering publishers and authority bloggers exclusive images for use on their site in exchange for the link back to your client.
  • Unlinked Brand Mentions – John-Henry already wrote a great process piece on scaling unlinked brand mentions, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. But to re-cap, this is running searches for brand queries, scraping the sites, getting contact details, and then sending emails asking for the existing mention of your Client’s brand to be linked to their site. In my experience the average results of these campaigns are high, usually with link acquisition rates between 20 and 30%.

Discounts & Affiliate

This one is pretty straight-forward, the nuance here is approaching this from a second tier – what that means is offering your link targets something to offer to their audience.

This is also commonly use in Ecommerce to help build relationships, but this makes the offer more attractive to more established blogger and niche publishers since not only do they get something for themselves, but they are also now able to offer something of value to their audience, reflecting additional value on them as a trusted advisor.

Where this becomes less straight-forward is when you’re out proactively building an affiliate network with travel bloggers. The way to leverage this from an SEO perspective, opposed to just using it to increase brand awareness and stand on the shoulders of other networks to drive more bookings, is by setting up your affiliate links in an SEO friendly way.

There are several ways to do this but the 2 that are the most common are:

  1. The easiest way – Deliver affiliate URL’s using URL shorteners that use 301 redirects, like Bitly, Snip, Tiny, etc., or
  2. The better way – Setup an affiliate platform that uses hashtags to pass the affiliate ID so all links point to a single URL (without any messy query strings or tracking parameters that dilute the value of the link)

The Time From Receiving Backlinks Until The Effects Are Seen

This is one of those questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

And the answer is only going to upset you – but here it is: it depends.

Let me explain that this is based EXCLUSIVELY on my experience and may vary wildly from what others may experience, but here goes:

  • It depends on the trust, crawl rate, and citation flow of the site that’s linking to you.
  • It depends on your established link velocity.
  • It depends on how Google is currently treating new links from the site(s) that linked to you OR to your site.
  • It depends on if Google is currently delaying link value passed within your target vertical or for that keyword.

On top of all of this I’ve heard stories about link velocity being built up over a few month period, no movements at all in terms of rankings, and then all of a sudden a big pop (not related to an algorithm update), which makes it really hard to attribute to individual links.

Here’s an example of what this looks like:

The best advice/insight I can provide on this question as a whole is this:

Don’t try to attribute individual activities in SEO to any one strategy or tactic

SEO works best when it’s executed and managed holistically as a system, not a vacuum.

How to Map Keywords to Content

I took a stab at sort of answering this question in detail when I created my guide on how to implement a keyword strategy, but I’m going to try to dive back in for the purposes of this post.

This is a really difficult activity for a lot of SEO’s, and the reason (IMHO) is because I think most SEO’s a very analytical – which in most areas of SEO serves you very well.

However, this particular element of implementing and SEO strategy is as much an art as it is a science.

For parts of this process it is very straight-forward; the keyword list includes 12 keywords that are all variations around a single, identifiable topic. Create a new URL, select the root term for the URL, write the page title to focus on the root term + value prop + include 2-3 modifiers, create the content on the page to lend context to the additional term variations.

Boom, easy (relatively speaking).

Where this gets difficult is when the keyword lists get big, and the variations begin to blur, and more times than not, SEO’s overcomplicate their targeting.

More times than not, when we’re brought into a new project, mass cannibalization is afoot.

The previous SEO or marketing manager though that the best way to build relevancy for their target keywords was to place their head term in the page title and URL of 3-4 blog posts per month and then crank out thin, non-value creating posts as fast as they could.

What a waste.

It’s true that topic relevance can be built in concert, and also that often it takes time… but amassing a troth of posts using the keyword “best yeezy boost 350” never worked for anyone. I promise.

Instead, categorize your keywords into themes based on topic overlap.

Find connections between terms that don’t share any of the same words, but speak to the purpose of the page, support a process where multiple terms are included, or can be woven into sections on the same URL to lend context to the focus topic.

Here’s how we do this for the 3 niches in this post:

Ecommerce

Mapping keywords to content for Ecommerce is all about intent, and supporting intent at each level of the conversion funnel and site architecture.

  • Categories – Head and shoulder keywords;2-3 words
  • Sub-Categories – Shoulder and body terms; 3-4 words
  • Product Pages – Product specific keywords and long-tail terms focused on solutions
  • Pages – Use case terms, i.e. “Buying drill bits for drywall”
  • Blog Posts – Audience interests to support top of the funnel discovery, brand awareness, and gain links.

B2B Lead Generation

Intent is of course important here to, but for Lead-Gen it’s not as straight forward since you don’t have cut and dry “category” and “sub-category” pages, instead I prefer to approach B2B sites in the following content groups:

  • Brand Pages – Brand keywords, including the name of the company but also any words or names used to represent exclusive products or services.
  • Hub Pages – Non-brand keywords, these are going to be the most difficult terms to go after and will likely be anywhere from 2-4 words. This is where all the search volume is going to be, so it’s important to embrace the Bigfoot strategy on these pages.
  • Persona Pages – Very similar to use cases, these are pages that focus on the specific benefits for the various roles that should be using your product or service. For SaaS companies these are generally built based on professional title within the organization or can be based on the specific responsibilities a user may have at their company.
  • TOFU – Unqualified searches at the top of the funnel that are representative of visitors who are just starting their research and at the very beginning of their buyer journey. These pages are best linked to off the homepage.
  • MOFU – Commercial investigation queries where the user is more informed and in the process of finalizing their requirements for a solution and making sure your product checks all their boxes. This content should be benefits focused and is often linked to from the Footer.
  • BOFU – Whitepapers, case studies, lead magnets, and content upgrades. Be sure to build enough content on these pages so they’re not thin (i.e. min 400-500 words) and make sure the value you offer on the landing page is enticing enough to drive the form fill conversion.
  • Blog Posts – Use blog posts to leverage marketing tactics not suitable for the rest of the pages on your site, i.e. influencer marketing, ego-baiting, statistics and other time sensitive information/data that is likely to change. Build blog posts to widen your traffic net to rank for more abstract and edge case keywords and then link into the above listed pages.

Hospitality

If you’ve learned nothing so far in this post, I hope it’s at least become apparent how different SEO strategy is across different verticals – and that SEO for Hotels and Resorts is a different beast all together.

Hospitality sites tend to have an extreme focus on 2 core functions for content:

  1. Geo-focused
  2. Activity-focused

Because of this it makes grouping keywords in topical buckets to map them to pages relatively easy.

Geo-focused keywords with modifiers such as [country], [city], [state], [zipcode], and [near] shoudl all be attacked in sections where the architecture is centralized under the geo-targeting.

What does that mean?

It means Google uses geography targeting as a leading indicator for search results ranking, and hence it should be the parent of all the rest of your content in your document tree.

The practical application of this means if you’re targeting terms for hotels near Six Flags in New Jersey, New Jersey needs to be the parent directory with child pages for the activities and attractions, so /new-jersey/six-flags-great-adventure/ vs. /six-flags-great-adventure/new-jersey/.

Make sense?

For content that lives outside of geography (which in reality is nothing for location-based businesses) but if we’re going for big SEO wins here, i.e. the likes of “best places to [activity name]” then blog posts are a solid content vehicle for achieving this.

Here’s a great example:

activity-content

Funny enough this post ranks for Geo terms (keywords including the “Caribbean” geo-modifer) in addition to a slew of “best diving spot” keywords, good for them.

But this is exactly the kind of content I would be focusing blog posts on for Hotels.

Step by Step What Actions Were Taken

The beautiful part about refining an SEO process that works, is that the process itself is the same across all verticals – so for this section I only need to write it out once 🙂

Most SEO Companies start their process with an exhaustive audit, more times than not I see this as a bastardized derivation of Annie Cushing’s Audit Template (which is stellar if you’re looking for one).

We do this a bit differently.

We DO an audit, but we’re only looking for critical elements or super fast wins, we DON’T blow tens of hours doing a comprehensive audit that include 80% of changes that will result in a minimal increase for a maximum amount of effort.

The 80/20 rule is alive and well in SEO.

1. Crawl The Site

We run a full site crawl (with permission from the site owner) on DeepCrawl and on a ScreamingFrog instance we run on an AWS instance.

We then review:

  • Redirects – Looking for non-301 and chains
  • Link Tags – Canonical, NoIndex, NoFollow, and Alternate. You’d be amazed at how many times a tag is set by accident and something as simple as removing it opens up floodgates of traffic. This was actually the case for our Hospitality client on one of their highest revenue generating pages 🙂
  • Header Tags – This is mainly to check for the presence of pages with no H1 or multiple H1’s (which again, happens constantly).

2. Analyze Core SEO Data

I mentioned most of this in the earlier section. We start on-site (before moving onto traffic sources, rankings, etc.) first by gathering our findings from the crawl, but then also include a manual review of:

  • XML Sitemap – For starters, does it exist? You’d be surprised how many big sites don’t have one. If there is one, review it manually for syntax / formatting and then log into Google Search Console and check the last time it was submitted.
  • Index Rate – If the XML Sitemap has been submitted through Search Console, check the index rate, i.e. how many pages were submitted versus how many Google is indexing.
  • Redirects Rules – To do this we review the htaccess file, NGINX config file, IIS redirect configs, etc. depending on the server configuration.
  • Robots.txt File – Based on crawl data, the XML sitemap, and the crawl rate, tune up the robots.txt file to better manage the efficiency of the crawl budget and crawl rate.
  • URL Parameters – Audit the current URL Parameter settings in Search Console to make sure they are set to accurately reflect the actions they drive on the site, and are set to block all URL’s where necessary.

3. Make Recommendations For Immediate Implementation

Herein lies our core differentiator; besides me being an owner/operator of an 8 figure Ecommerce website (which lends hands-on experience to growing revenue for transactional websites), FTF employs more developers than we do analysts.

This is because I never wanted to be in a position where we made specific, technical recommendations but the Client was unable to implement them due to lack of technical resources.

4. Build a Keyword Matrix

This is our proprietary take on keyword research. What makes it proprietary is simple our process, the extreme amount of data we pull in, and the takeaways this enables us to deliver in terms of keyword prioritization.

sentinel-searchintent

5. Conduct a Content Gap Analysis

This has been written about in-depth before here, here, and here. What we do a bit differently is not the process (which is sound and again, pretty standard) but ours is based on the data we find and bake into our keyword matrix.

6. Create a Content Map

This is a breakdown of all the content that we recommend building, moving, enhancing, deprecating, or redirecting based on:

1) new keyword opportunities identified in the keyword matrix and

2) content gaps identified in organic search.

This includes all individual configuration details at the URL level which means meta attributes (title, description, slug, and header structure), content requirements (keyword use, content length, topics to cover), information architecture (where the page should live in the document tree, how it should be linked in navigational elements, and internal links to and from the page), and lastly which design patterns should be used to support the user experience (mobile first of course).

7. Development New Content as Required

If new content is needed to support specific campaigns elements, whether it’s increasing the overall contextual relevancy of pages, the creation of linkable assets, or content required for partner sites, this is run contemporaneously with the next task set.

8. Content Promotion

Content that doesn’t get seen earns no links and shares and is exponentially harder to rank. While the depth and breadth of your content does matter, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as your efforts to promote that content.

9. Link Building

Please refer back to the previous section for how we built links for each of the 3 cast study sites.

What Are The KPI’s During The Campaign and Why

Before I jump into the specific KPI’s we used for these campaigns, I thought it would be worthwhile to share some insights from a friend and fellow SEO, HubSpot’s Global Director of Growth, Matt Barby:

“Each SEO campaign is different and requires an element of customization when it comes to reporting on its success. That said, there are a few KPIs that come up time and time again that I rely on to get specific insight(s).

The first is the obvious one – overall organic traffic.

Depending on the scale of the project I’ll look at this daily/weekly/monthly. Moving further down the funnel I’d be looking for conversions from organic search.

This could be in the form of direct sales, leads generated or even data capture (all depends on the project).

To support these two, I’d keep an eye on branded search volume growth (tracking general awareness) and monthly backlink acquisition – these KPIs are way more skewed towards the top of the funnel but are really important to track in order to identify trends in your overall data.”

Matt Barby
Global Head of Growth, HubSpot
For more SEO insights from Matt, check out MatthewBarby.com

The following set  of data points are the key performance indicators we track during the life of an SEO engagement:

Number of Pages Indexed + Index Ratio – There are some other metrics that we look at while we’re looking at this like average crawl rate, but overall the indexed page count over time and the index ratio are like the pulse of a website. This let’s use know how valuable Google is finding the content / pages of the site and if we are chopping out loads of thin or duplicate pages (general culprit is parameterized URL’s) we want to watch and make sure Google is picking up that these URL’s have been deprecated.

Query Impression Volume – If you’re running an SEO campaign the literal goal is to increase the visibility of your website in organic search, the volume of impressions where your website URL’s are being shown to people in organic search results is the literal measure of this.

Number of Page 1 Rankings – This is a report we have set up to run automatically daily and weekly. For weekly reporting we use AWR Cloud and for daily tracking, especially of SERP beta (or the rate of flux among rankings for a particular keyword), we use SERPwoo. This report is grouped in number of rankings on page one (overall), top 5, top 3, and those sweet #1’s.

Organic Traffic (Brand and Non-Brand) – Another literal measure of pure SEO success, the total number of visitors from organic search. This is best looked at month over month, but there are certain campaign elements that when they’re launched will cause us to keep an eye on the realtime traffic report in GA. The important part about this KPI is the split between brand versus non-brand traffic. This is extremely difficult to dial in with a high level of accuracy, thanks to “not provided,” but there’s still value in trying to split this out the best you can. This shows the impact of brand awareness campaigns vs. the correlation against % of total traffic from new visitors which is driven mostly from non-brand keywords.

Number of Keywords Ranked – This is your measurement metric for your site’s overall keyword footprint. Step one here is to grow your overall footprint by building rankings for more keywords initially, which will will start out looking like this:

where most of your rankings are not on page 1 (i.e. positions 1 through 10), and then using the strategies I’ve outlined in this post to move from the above scenario, to one that ideally looks more like this:

Revenue from Organic Search – All the traffic in the world doesn’t matter if you’re not able to monetize it, so this is a critical KPI that we track and report on to make the ROI for SEO is always positive.

What’s The Time To Rank and See Results

For starters it’s easiest to answer this question in reverse, when the rankings come – so do the results.

The time to rankings has everything to do with the size of the opportunity relative to how established your site is and how big of an impact fixes might have.

This question has a ton of overlap with the previous one on “time to see results from links” – and the answer is honestly the same – it depends.

It’s going to be different in every vertical and to a large extent, every keyword.

The best way to approach answering this is on a keyword by keyword basis, looking at individual difficulty scores.

Here’s my extremely generalized rundown using one of my favorite keyword difficulty scores still to this day, TermExplorer’s.

Based on TermExplorer’s Keyword Analyzer results and provided keyword difficulty scores:

Difficulty score: 1-3
What’s needed to rank: dedicated page targeting keyword at meta attribute level, minimum content equal to average word count of top 10 ranking pages. Trust signals from minimal external sources, i.e. links, social signals, click-through from SERP for target keyword.
Time to rank: if your site’s DA/TF is above the average of all sites currently on SERP1, likely 3-4x your sites average total crawl rate, but give it 2-3 weeks to be safe. If your site’s DA/TF is below the average of all sites currently on SERP1, double the time.

Difficulty score: 4-5
What’s needed to rank: dedicated page, not more than 1 directory off of root directory, targeting keyword at meta attribute level, minimum content equal to average word count of top 10 ranking pages. Minimum linking root domains equivalent to average of URL’s ranking in top 5 positions.
Time to rank: if your site’s DA/TF is above the average of all sites currently on SERP1, likely 4-6x your sites average total crawl rate, but give it 4-6 weeks to be safe. If your site’s DA/TF is below the average of all sites currently on SERP1, double the time.

Difficulty score: 6-7
What’s needed to rank: dedicated page in root directory, targeting keyword at meta attribute level, content equal to 150% average word count of top 10 ranking pages. Minimum 150% linking root domains equivalent to average of URL’s ranking in top 3 positions.
Time to rank: if your site’s DA/TF is above the average of all sites currently on SERP1, likely 4-6x your sites average total crawl rate, but give it 6-8 weeks to be safe. If your site’s DA/TF is below the average of all sites currently on SERP1, triple the time and signals needed.

Difficulty score: 8+
What’s needed to rank: DA65+ or likely 8+ months of established link velocity, earning 25+ new linking root domains each with DA25/TF15+ per month.
Time to rank: Extremely variable based on competitors, net link acquisition of top 10 ranked sites, and overall audience engineering capabilities of sites currently in top 10.

How To Marry UX and CRO (Especially for Mobile SEO)

I love this question.

It’s become so extremely relevant and I’m thrilled that Google made the move to no longer discount content hidden for the benefit of the user experience.

What we’re seeing as a result of this (as of January 2017) is content that is hidden for mobile users based on media queries is being used to score the relevancy of the pages for those keywords.

This is YUGE, and means you can have a big, beefy desktop experience where you select design patterns so as not to overwhelm users with too much text, e.g. accordions, tabs, jQuery window shades, etc. – but that Google will still crawl and score all of that juicy content towards your SEO efforts.

In terms of focusing on CRO for Mobile, the biggest mistake I see sites making on their responsive page versions is not being “finger friendly” enough.

I’m not saying make your buttons enormous, but you do really need to think in terms of how to best utilize this real estate.

One interesting trend is how meticulous we as mobile power users have become at inspecting what’s on the screen, even when it seems very small.

What I’ve been doing to keep tabs on this, and leverage CRO to the best of our ability to help drive conversions from the increasing amount of mobile traffic we’re seeing across all websites, it to stay abreast of shifts in design patterns.

I do this by following pattern libraries that track mobile design trends, like this one.

For Ecommerce SEO is it Better To Rank Category or Product Pages

Simple answer here: follow the search volume.

In some mercantile verticals all the search volume is for the products (Amazon tends to kill it in these verticals) where as in others, there’s virtually no search volume for product specific keywords and instead all the volume is for 2-4 word terms.

In these verticals, it’s best to run with a silo’d category or sub-category architecture and build large stores of relevant child pages to bubble up their relevancy to a parent directory.

We’re in a time where this can be done using item-prop tags and blown out structured data mark-up, and it can even be done in many instances using internal links, but there are edge cases to everything in SEO.

For keyword niches where there is heavy competition for both the category terms as well as the product terms, i.e. if you’re a distributor for very established brands; think Nike, North Face, BBS, Thule, Burton, etc., you likely need to be approaching your SEO via a flat architecture.

In the above instances, I would be building large content hub pages targeting the brand terms, extending those hub pages incrementally by adding keywords on the sub-cat URL’s but not as child directories, and then also placing the product pages in the root.

So for example, if I was selling winter sportswear, and carried Burton snowboard bags, my architecture may look like this:

  • /burton
  • /burton-mens
  • /burton-mens-snowboard-bags
  • /mens-burton-space-sack-snowboard-bag

How Does Mobile Impact SEO for B2B Lead Generation

The impact here simply forces innovation and creativity, which is awesome!

It means you need to keep a tighter experience to drive conversions and pander to the intent of users who may be searching, reading, and experiencing your B2B content on their phone.

In my experience, the intent of someone reading B2B content on their phone is they are either at the very beginning of the customer journey – having just been told about your business from a friend or saw an ad, or – they are at the very bottom of the buyer journey and have just been told to FIND A SOLUTION NOW!

In either case it’s critical if you’re going to have a chance at the sale that you accommodate this lead by providing useful solution content to answer their most common questions, provide options to quickly email pages to colleagues, offer downloadable resources, and if possible, use a design pattern such as a sticky footer or gesture-based element to show the phone number.

sticky-footer-example

These are more CRO-focused tips than SEO-focused, but I figured at this point in the post I’ve sort of maxed out all the SEO questions in this context 🙂

Wrapping This All Up

I hope you found something of value from this now over 7,000 word post that I’ve spent weeks writing.

If not, that’s cool too.

What I would ask in return, if you either found it useful, are going to send it along to someone you know, or if you’re seething in disappointment – please take a moment and drop me some feedback below in the comments.

What it Takes to be an SEO

When I was a kid my parents told me I could be anything.

For the longest time I thought that was an astronaught – but over the years my vision came into focus – I wanted to be an artist.

Nothing has ever given me the same fulfillment as seeing ideas enter existence through manifestation into their physical form.

I was incredibly lucky, and my parents always supported my art projects, no matter how strange or ugly they turned out to be. In fact they would often frame my drawings and paintings and hang them around the house – which I’m sure resulted in some strange conversations with visitors.

This support system built me into the confident creative I am today.

I value creativity above all else – the ability to think abstractly and see things differently, lends well to solving problems – especially with digital marketing.

SEO is an art form, in the same way code is poetry.

It’s Not For Everyone

Not everyone is cut out to be an SEO the same way not everybody should be a doctor, lawyer, teacher or engineer.

People are inherently different, and I believe people should play to their strengths.

Probably because if you’re good at something, there’s a strong chance you’ll enjoy doing it.

As with everything, this is not always the case – for example, I have a friend who is extremely talented at building complex computer networks and distributed cloud hosting solutions – but he hated it.

So he left to join the National Park Service to become a State Park Ranger.

This is relative because his passion for being outdoors and helping others (and animals) lent so well to what he’s doing that not only does he enjoy it, but he’s great at it – and received several promotions his first year.

With that said,

Personality Is A Key Factor

In my opinion there are a few key components that make up people destined to be great at search:

You probably shouldn’t try SEO if:

  1. You’re easily frustrated when something doesn’t work as expected
  2. You don’t like measuring things
  3. You’re not detail oriented and meticulous
  4. You need a defined process to get things done
  5. You’re not autodidactic or willing to learn

SEO might be your cup of tea if:

  1. You’re creative
  2. You enjoy being challenged by big and complex problems
  3. You relish facts and discovering what works, even if it shatters your own beliefs
  4. You’re patient enough not to panic when things seem to be going wrong (at first)
  5. You enjoy collaboration and sharing information
  6. You’re a self-starter able to find answers even if it means you need to compile all the information yourself to make an informed decision
  7. You devour information and are able to quickly iterate your path based on new facts coming to light
  8. You might have ADD (I sure do), but you’ve identified some strategies for time managment and focus that allow you to be productive
  9. You’re willing to put in the work to gain the experience, without any sense of entitlement

Flexing Creative Muscles

I still believe it’s really important for anyone in any role that benefits from critical thinking or problem solving, to pursue activities that fulfill your right brain.

For me this is painting; my favorite medium is acrylic, though latex on canvas can still be enjoyable.

I’ve also grown to really enjoy the appreciation of art – and have started collecting  more seriously over the past 7 years.

I’ve found that I get a similar sense of fulfillment from looking at a painting I enjoy as I do from the physical act of splathering paint over canvas.

I don’t know if it’s the evolution of my right brain or just me getting older – but in the days that follow after I engage in focused creative time – come revelations.

And while they’re often not life changing, they do provide new outlooks on elements of business, and often components of websites – whether it be architectually, design, or messaging.

Friends in similar spaces; developers, civil engineers, UX designers, and even the best sales and account folks I know – all seek to spend time feeding their creativity.

And it doesn’t have to be through a physical form – it can be reading a story (or listening to it, which I prefer), writing (even if only to record your ideas), or something as simple as re-arranging a room.

I See It As An Indicator

Creative exercise , in my very humble opinion, is a leading indicator for someone who has the commitment and mental fortitude to make a great SEO.

It’s a rollercoaster ride with the very real potential of going off the rails.

You need to be able to accept that, deal with the potential consequences, and still put the time and effort in to get where you want to go.

You very much are going to have to create your own future in this industry…

But, the good news is you can.

It’s a very, very real possibility (especially if you fit the bill I outlined above) – and what’s more, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to leverage these skills to build additional, relatively passive revenue streams for yourself.

Does This Sound Like You?

If it does, drop me a line – I’d like to learn more about you.