Using Keyword Research for Competitive Advantage

Your SEO strategy is a crucial part of your site’s competitive strategy, and is a key driver of your site’s traffic. With the vast majority of product purchases starting with search, SEO is a critical marketing tactic. Arguably, the foundation of a successful SEO strategy is keyword management. Alexa customers tell us that monitoring and optimizing SEO keywords is a key area of strategic focus for growth and competitiveness. This comes as no surprise. Keywords are the building blocks of search and are the window to discovering customer intent and need. The right keyword strategy can drive more qualified traffic, convert more customers and secure more leads.

Keyword Research in 2015

Marketers who perform keyword research to optimize their site content put themselves in the best position to attract the right audience and remain top of mind. Finding and leveraging the right keywords for your site is an ever-important task, because Google and other search engine’s algorithms have become increasingly sophisticated and better at detecting deceptive keyword stuffing and “black hat” SEO tricks. Websites who simply target certain keywords and repeat them endlessly throughout their site will not be rewarded with a high search ranking. Your site could even be penalized since Google no longer performs a simple one to one match between a search term and the keywords on your site, trying instead to interpret the meaning and context of your site content. Search intent and semantic search are increasingly becoming the standard for search engine algorithms, but it all starts with finding the right keywords to start the conversation. Keeping in mind how search engines index their results will help marketers approach their content and keyword research efforts holistically.

Generate Ideas: Start With the Customer

As you start to research keywords, it is critical to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask yourself “What would they search for if they were looking for my content?” For example, if you are a women’s retailer and the weather’s getting warmer, your customers may be looking for “spring dresses”. Bringing it back to the customer, you can start to build your list by thinking through what is really important to them when they are looking for “spring dresses”. Do they care about:

  • Color: black spring dresses
  • Pattern: plaid spring dresses
  • Size/ Fit: plus size spring dresses, girls spring dresses
  • Price: spring dress sale
  • Trend: 2015 spring dress trends

From here, a variety of available tools can help you expand your initial keyword list. One of the easiest tools to use is Google autocomplete. For example, here’s what pops up when I search for “spring dresses”. The search terms that auto-populate below show what real people are searching for to fulfill a need. As you can see, the top results relate to trends and size/fit. 

google autocomplete list for spring dresses

What’s great is that Google’s autocomplete also provides insight into what questions your customers are trying to find answers to, not just what specific products or services they’re searching for. For instance, check out this larger list of autocomplete results for “spring dresses”.

google autocomplete list for spring dresses and wedding attire

Your customers are also searching for “spring dresses for wedding guest”. Here you have the opportunity to fill the information gap with a great piece of content for your blog on trending attire for weddings in the spring. Maybe you even develop a full guide titled “Wedding Attire for Every Season”. Now you not only position yourself as the retailer of choice, but as a resource for all your customers’ styling needs – major brand loyalty points.

Google’s Related Search, which appears at the very bottom of the page, can also give you keyword ideas. This is a great way to form your long tail keyword strategy, where you can often gain a presence with less competition.

google related search results for spring dresses

Once you’ve generated a strong list of relevant keywords, the next step is to understand how popular they are. In other words, which sites are you really competing against for mindshare and traffic? Will you be able to rank for the keywords on your list or is the market too saturated and competitive?

Find the Whitespace: Check Out the Competition

Alexa’s keyword difficulty tool can help answer this question. For example, over 50% of the searches for “spring dresses” sent organic traffic to Forever21, Nordstrom and Macy’s. This list may match your known competitors or it may bring to light new sites that you didn’t realize you were competing against. For instance, you may find that “spring dresses” also sends traffic to Glamour Magazine and Zappos, two sites that may not have been on your radar. This analysis can help you understand the relative difficulty of ranking on the first few pages for any given keyword. In this example, the sites receiving organic traffic from “spring dresses” are large and well-established brands, which means if you are new to the web you may have a harder time ranking for this term and your SEO effort could be better spent targeting less competitive keywords. 

alexa keyword tool displaying organic keyword traffic

Ideally, you want to make sure you balance out highly competitive search terms with search terms out on the long-tail. Alexa’s Keyword Research tool can help you maintain this balance by suggesting new keywords that may not have been on your radar. Within the tool, you can look up either your site or a competitor’s site and under the tab “Opportunities,” Alexa will give you a list of new keyword ideas. These keywords are ranked based on relative competitiveness and popularity. A keyword with a low competition but high popularity could be worth exploring and possibly adding to your target keyword list. But as always, assess keywords based on how well it fits within your overall content objectives and relevance to your target customer.

To further investigate the competitive keyword landscape, you can also view paid keyword stats and PPC information to discern what sites are most actively pushing ads. This is another indicator of how difficult it will be to rank for your keywords, and also informs how much you may expect to spend on popular keywords of interest.

alexa keyword tool showing paid keyword competition

Putting it into Action

After you’ve honed in on a targeted list of keywords, it is time to put all of your hard work into action. Focus on a few of your top keywords and start to create site content that highlights those terms in way that is relevant to your customers and answers their questions. Keyword research and creating content that gets discovered takes time and effort, but if done right and with the customer in mind, it will pay off.

What are your strategies for keyword research? Let us know in the comments below!

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