What are the core practices for choosing keywords for your SEO campaigns? What are the resources we should focus on? Author expert Matt Bailey shares SEO best practices for keyword research in this OMCP podcast.
The OMCP Online Marketing Best Practices Podcast is where top authors and industry leaders share authoritative best practices in online marketing which are covered by the OMCP standard, competencies, and exams. This is an OMCP pilot program that may continue based on member interest and support. Stay subscribed to the OMCP newsletter to get new episodes.
Episode #5 covers SEO Keyword Research with Matt Bailey in 26 minutes. Recorded December 2, 2016.
Transcript of Episode #5
Michael: All right, welcome back to the OMCP studio, and with us today is Matt Bailey, author, educator, and CEO of SiteLogic. Matt is at the forefront of the digital marketing best practices training for some of the largest brands in the world. I’m your host Michael Stebbins, and today we’ll be discussing best practices in SEO keyword research. Matt, welcome to the OMCP Best Practices Podcast. Thank you for being here.
Matt: Hey Mike, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here again. I love doing a repeat show.
Michael: Happy to be doing that, and we’ve just done some podcasts for your brand, which is…
Matt: Yes, Endless Coffee Cup.
Michael: Endless Coffee Cup, so it’ll be fun to go listen to those, and I suggest that you go check those out. So Matt, you’ve been practicing and teaching SEO and keyword research for years. You’ve written books covering the topic. I know, I was editor of one of those.
Matt: Yes, you were.
Michael: Which was a privilege, thank you. And there are definitely some generally accepted best practices out there that are part of the SEO competency standards of OMCP, many of which came from your book and your courses. So let’s list the steps and walk through them one by one together.
Matt: All right, that sounds good. Just to list the steps..
- Collect Keyword Seed List
- Analyze Keywords
- SEO Keyword Selection
- Use PPC Campaigns for Keyword Research
- Apply Keyword Plans to Website/App Dev
- Apply to Social, Display, Retargeting, and Programmatic
…number one is just acquiring keywords, and there are many ways to do that. And then, it’s breaking down the keywords into manageable chunks that fit your strategy. And there’s numerous ways to analyze and break down keywords. And then it’s the application. What are you gonna do with those keywords based on your strategy, based on what channels you are utilizing to bring people to your site, and even beyond that, to further communicate to your customers?
Michael: I know that sometimes we go into paid search campaigns to find keywords.
Michael: All right, and then we can talk a little bit about website development, and some of the app development, how that works into social, display, re-targeting and programmatic, all part of the standard.
Matt: This is why I love keywords, Mike. Keywords to me are the soil that your digital marketing grows from, because keywords are the foundation. If I understand what people need, and how they search for it, the words are going to naturally flow in all of my digital communications.
Michael: It’s what compels people to interact with your product.
Matt: Absolutely, so if I understand the words, I’m going to use it in every part of my digital marketing, not just at the beginning of the funnel, mid-funnel, beyond the funnel, because those are the words that people are searching based on a need. And when I understand that need, I can use that in my marketing.
Michael: So let’s start with the first step of the best practices, which is collecting your keyword seed list.
Collect Keyword Seed List
Matt: Okay that is really, you’re just gathering as much data as possible. So you can use a keyword research tool. There are any numbers of them available. Google has a keyword research tool, but then there’s a lot of third party tools available. And I will usually use two, maybe three, and type in the basic word that I’m looking for, and see all the variations. And you should see hundreds of variations of people searching for that word or phrase, and you just want to copy and download as many sources, and gather it all together. That’s one way of getting keyword data.
Matt: Another way of getting keyword data is your website itself. I’m amazed how many people don’t track internal search keywords. If you’ve got a search box on your website, you need to track what people are searching for. That’ll let you know what they can’t find, probably from the home page, and what they’ve got to do from there. And also that should go in your analytics. You should be able to get that from log files or wherever you’re used to doing, but it’s a great source of keywords. Another one is salespeople. If you’ve got salespeople, anyone who’s customer facing, if you do any customer interviews, surveys, ask them and talk to them, and listen to the words they say when they talk about needs or what problem you have solved. That is a great source of keywords as well.
Michael: Those are great sources. So once we’ve got our list, Matt, how do we analyze the keywords and know what to do with them?
Matt: The first thing I recommend to do is to put them into the greatest tool mankind has ever known, Mike.
Michael: That’s a big statement.
Matt: Do you know what it is?
Michael: Tell me.
Matt: It’s Excel.
Michael: That’s right.
Matt: An Excel spreadsheet. Because you’ve got to manage these somehow, and having the ability to append more information to those keywords, because I found the people that understand keywords the best and apply them the best, they slice, they dice, they look at them in many different ways. And so the first thing I do in analyzing keywords is I separate brand from non-brand. So anyone who is looking for me as a brand, those keywords go into one column, non-branded go in another.
Michael: Okay. What’s a quick example?
Matt: A quick example is if anyone’s looking for a SiteLogic, or Matt Bailey, that goes into my brand column. If they’re looking for online marketing speaker, or online marketing training, then that goes into a non-branding.
Michael: So once we separate the brand from non-brand, what’s next?
Matt: Next I want to look at the different numbers, I want to look at some of the volume amounts. And here’s a key with a keyword “research tools, all of em.” These numbers are nowhere near accurate. They’re just guesstimates. Many times they’re derivative of multiple sources and you’re getting a formula. So just because something says it gets 3,000 searches a month, doesn’t mean it’s 3,000 searches a month, it’s a number. What I’m looking at is comparatives, what words get searched on more than others, that’s what gives me my idea. So I’m looking to see what’s more popular, what might be less popular. I’m also copying things, I’m looking to see what my competitors are doing, what words are they using on their websites, are they bidding on. I also want to look at, and one of the biggest things, is the trend. When do people search for it, because even though I get maybe 3,000 a month, it doesn’t mean that that’s happening every month. I want to find out when the trend hits, what month does it double? And so that’s gonna look at different elements of strategy. That’s gonna affect my paid campaigns, that’s gonna affect my content marketing, it’s gonna affect my social, because I want to know when are people interested in this? And so I really want to look at those things. So I’m gonna look at the volume, how often that keyword is searched, when is it searched, can I tie it to any specifically industry events, holidays, anything like that, that I can get the correlation to.
Michael: When does it spike and why?
Matt: Exactly. If I can answer that question, then I can utilize that and leverage it for additional marketing. And I also want to look at some unique factors. So here’s where I start looking at different columns, any keywords where I can identify a sales cycle. So for example, if someone is looking for comparison, compare product A vs. product B, that goes into oh, they’re mid-stage decision funnel.
Michael: And it shows a lot of intent.
Matt: Exactly, I can identify intent, I can identify sales. So anything that I identify as a sales cycle, that gets into something. Anything that, where there’s a region, where they say for this area, this state, this country, anything like that, that goes into a different column, because now I’ve identified where they are, or where this is important. Again, motivation beyond the sales cycle, when they express a true need. This gets into things like, are they searching for something that’s blue as opposed to red? That gets more into market intelligence.
Michael: They’re ready, yeah.
Matt: I’m learning about what they want and that helps me better position my products.
Michael: Right. So if you saw 99 to 1 ratio of blue to red, that gives you some hints as to what to do with your product.
Matt: Absolutely, and then I’m also looking at different factors, like cost factors. A big example of this is when I, I’ve done a lot of work in the tourism industry, there’s a big difference between someone who’s looking for luxury vacation and cheap vacation. If you’re trying to sell to both, you might have a problem. You kind of need to decide which end of the market you’re going to focus on, and use those keywords appropriately. What is your business focused on, and are you meeting that? So anyone who’s looking for free or last-minute, what are those cost factors that might apply to your business model, and which ones do you want to avoid, and utilize them. So for example, if I’m selling luxury vacations, in my paid campaign, I’m gonna set up a negative keyword list of free or cheap or last-minute, because I don’t want my ad showing up for people that have a different motivation than what my business will serve.
Michael: Yes, and a lot of these fall into the intent and determining what the intent is, but there’s so many rich takeaways that we can have from that type of research and analysis. So once we’ve done the analysis, I know that we move on to, I would say applying these, applying the keywords. So what are some of the steps we can take to apply the keywords properly?
SEO Keyword Selection
Matt: Well the first thing is, looking at how keywords apply to SEO. And this is one thing I love about keywords, it applies to everything. So let’s start with SEO. The first thing I want to do is look at my branded terms and where they rank, because I want to protect my brand. I want to make sure my brand terms are highly ranking and do I need to, do any of them need attention in order to keep that protection.
Michael: Or refinement, like what can we attach to it, instead of just speaker, it’s SEO speaker or digital marketing speaker.
Matt: Absolutely. Then I’m looking for the easy wins. Also I want to protect any non-branded terms that I’m ranking for. But then I want to identify any terms that are ranking I would say in the top five pages, because then it may just take a little bit of an optimization boost to move them up in the rankings. So that’s my easy win category.
Michael: Low-hanging fruit.
Matt: Yes, absolutely. Then I want to look at more of my long-term strategy. And when I’m looking at long-term, here’s where I start to again, break up the keywords into what we call the long-tail and the short-tail. Short-tail are what I would describe as one or two-word phrases that are very popular, but every other competitor is optimizing for those words too. So they’re high volume, low conversion type words. They’re beginning of the sales cycle. And that might be your strategy, to get people there. Long-tail is what I would call the end of the sales funnel, where people are looking for red, luxury, you know, they’re adding more adjectives.
Michael: Yeah, 30 inches.
Matt: So it’s like a five or six word phrase, and that’s a long-tail because you’re only gonna get four, maybe five searches a month on that word. But if you own it, the chances of you getting that as a customer are very high. So I want to identify, what are the long-tail, short-tail. Now the beautiful thing is, as I’m optimizing for long-tail, I’m still optimizing for the short-tail. I’ve just got more adjectives and I’m building that credibility, that I’ve got the content. It’s just this is more refined and it helps with the overall level of the content that I’ve put on the site.
Michael: Good insights, and folks that will be on the exam, and that is part of the standard, so keep close attention to that. Matt, once we’ve looked at some of the applications, I know that one very rich resource is our paid search, because we can get immediate insights and results from that. So tell me how that factors in.
Use PPC Campaigns for Keyword Research and Application
Matt: Absolutely. You see what I love about paid search is I can get the keyword data, and see what people are searching when they click on my ad. I can’t get that rich keyword data in my organic SEO analytics unfortunately. Now from the paid side though, I can see which words are producing clicks. I can see which words are producing sales. And then I can even start seeing the differences between different word performance. For example, I can see where maybe a word in plural will provide less clicks but more sales. And a word in singular, a great example of this would be I think pool table versus pool tables. Someone searching for pool tables is at the beginning of the buying cycle. Someone who you know is searching for a brand name pool table, they’re looking for one, and they’re ready to buy.
Michael: Right, they’re further in the funnel.
Matt: And so I can utilize that intelligence of seeing the clicks versus sales, conversions, and then into my customer data. I can give that full spectrum of how the keyword plays into later behavior.
Michael: And how does cost factor in?
Matt: Well, probably your other competitors are going to know which keywords cost more, but then again you can’t look at just that. You’ve got to look at the performance of that keyword, and then I’m also going to budget accordingly. If I know that I’ve got some keywords that I’m getting attention, they’re driving sales, hey for every dollar I spend, I’m making \$5 in revenue, then it’s no longer a question of budget. I’m going to continue. If I run out of money, I’m going to find the money somewhere, because what I’m doing is losing revenue by not bidding on that term. So I want to find those golden terms, where I can develop that revenue model, that for every dollar I spend, I’m making \$2 in revenue, \$3 in revenue. And so you only get there though by knowing the keywords and knowing maybe when to split a campaign. Like I’m using too many keywords where I can split it out, and I can refine them to focus on different aspects of the product, or different aspects of the business, rather than trying to combine. And if I can split them, then I can change the budget accordingly, and test the performance of splitting out a campaign to focus on a small group of keywords with a singular subject matter.
Michael: And then I think it can go the other way too, is that you can discover like concepts.
Matt: Yes, yes absolutely. I’m looking for those likes, those similarities, and the danger is sometimes you may go too granular, and find out I’ve just gotten a little too detailed, I need to put that back in and see where that goes.
Michael: You widen the campaign for reasonable grouping.
Matt: Yes. So it’s not always about dividing and granularity, you’ve got to watch for that.
Michael: So interesting segue into the next best practice which is, once we start seeing like concepts, these kinds of keyword groupings and identifiers can actually affect our website, UI, the app layouts, the user experience that we set up, so walk us through that.
Apply Keyword Plans to Website/App Dev
Matt: One of the things that is so powerful with keyword research is that it enables us to get a great insight, really an unfiltered insight into the way the customer thinks. And so if I look at how the customers are grouping keywords and concepts that they’re looking for, I’ll tell you one of the things we did that was really successful, is getting the yellow post-it notes, writing keywords, and then asking people to organize them based on concepts, similarities. And that gave us our taxonomy for the website. We would drill it down to, give us five categories of content, and that would help us organize the content on the website, it would help us then organize the user interface, and the page layout of headline, subheadings, and you know labels, and any of those SEO elements on the page. We can come up with a template based on the keywords, based on the taxonomy, based on the navigation, because we were able to use those keywords to see how people grouped information.
Michael: There’s also a segment of the OMCP competencies that cover site architecture, something that in the early days, Matt, I know that you were teaching at Market Motive.
Matt: Yes, yes.
Michael: And giving a number of good examples. So we’ve got our keyword list. I know that our social experience, our social interchange with our prospects and customers is affected by that. How so?
Apply to Social, Display, Retargeting, and Programmatic
Matt: Again, coming back to the words that people use. These are real concepts. Like I said, this is a direct link into the searcher’s mind. Now on social media, they may not be actively searching. They’re more passively viewing content, news feeds, but if I can grab their attention with a word that they use, if I can reinforce a concept, if I can use that to educate an existing customer, again I’m using the words they know. I’m using the words that they’ve used, and so I’m mirroring that content. And again if you’re a company and you don’t know how people search for you or your product, then what kind of language are you speaking? You’re speaking a different language than your customer. So by knowing the keywords, it doesn’t matter if it’s social, it doesn’t matter if it’s SEO, it doesn’t matter if it’s paid, I’m using the same language as my customers. And so just using those same words in my social campaigns, understanding the trends of when it’s increasing and when it’s decreasing. That will then affect my social content calendar of when I post certain content, when I pull back on certain content, what I can talk about, when I can talk about it. And also by using some of those ideas and concepts that I may have learned from the keyword research, I can apply and develop conversations in social media around those words.
Michael: Now we know that the practitioners out there are starting to bring the keyword research into display and programmatic ad buying. How do you see it affecting that and what are the best steps?
Matt: Oh it’s powerful because now in display and programmatic and re-targeting, we can add so many targeting factors. And one of the most powerful targeting factors is keyword. And so if I can associate a keyword that someone used on any search engine, if I can associate that with behavior, so for example, if someone has searched for laptop reviews, and they’ve also visited, you know, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, and anything like that as a brand, I can set up a programmatic campaign, that once someone hits a threshold of visiting these sites in this content area, and they did a search on laptop reviews, there’s someone I want my ad to be in front of. And so keyword becomes a behavioral threshold mechanism that I can add as a part of the targeting of a campaign, which then refines and lets me know I’m getting in front of the right person. And so I can then add keyword as part of that bidding process, targeting process, in display, through programmatic and re-targeting, and it makes sure that I’m getting the right ad in front of the right person at the right time.
Michael: So Matt, that is the list of the OMCP competencies for SEO keyword research, but one thing I’d like to do now is just go back through the list and presenter’s choice, do you want to expand on some of these? I do have one question just to start. In this time, I mean most of these podcasts will be relevant for many years, at least we’d like to hope so, but tools. I know folks will want to know. Back on the keyword research, we were looking for analyzing some of the keywords and gathering some of the volume. When we’re looking for volume information, what tools can you think of right now that would be worth looking into?
Matt: Oh my. There is the [AdWords] Google keyword planner. There is Moz has a keyword tool, Raven has a keyword tool, Wordtracker, Jaaxy, I believe it is. Those are the ones that come to mind. There might be a couple others, I think…
Michael: Does Majestic cover that, or are they slightly different?
Matt: I believe so, I believe so. But Wordtracker, Moz, Raven, those are the ones I’ll typically gravitate to. [edit OMCP adds: Bing Keyword Tools]
Michael: Okay and then, put you on the spot again, for volume and competition, some of the guesses that we see out there.
Matt: Yeah, yeah.
Michael: Is Compete still valid for that?
Matt: The Compete score, you know some of them call it KEI. That is an equation that measures the amount of searches by the amount of competition for that word. It’s usually a pretty good indicator of, if you’re a brand new site. I tell people it’s the difference between 12 months and 36 months of getting visibility. That if there’s a low KEI score, I love it, a couple of keyword tours will give you a green light. And this will tell you there’s not a lot of competition, go for it. Others will give you a red light, and that’s when I tell people, that’s your three year mark, that’s where your heavy, heavy competition for that word. And so you might want to look at your strategy and what you’re planning, what are you basing your marketing on in that visibility, because that’s gonna be tough. I usually find those to be, it’s not hard and fast, but it’s a good indicator.
Michael: That makes sense. All right, so looking over our list, and we’ll go over it again, collecting your keyword seed list, analyzing the keywords. We’re also looking at how to apply those keywords, we’re looking at PPC campaigns for a lot of research and testing, and then how these keywords affect your website user experience and application development. And then these also apply to social display, re-targeting and programmatic. That covers it, but which of these are you passionate about, and do you have a story to tell, or some advice to give on any of these?
Matt: Boy, I’ll tell you what, the best thing you can do in keywords is analyze. Segment those keywords. And when I had my agency, the number one thing I made people do was spend time segmenting, grouping, learning. Because if you find motivation, that makes your job so much easier because now you’ve got a scenario, now you’ve got a user in mind. What are they trying to solve? And when you can answer that, damn now you can do anything. Now I can set up landing pages, now I can develop campaigns, point them there. I can add triggers, I can add thresholds, I can go after that. But the time that you spend in the analysis to better understand your words, the more connections you’re gonna find, the more motivations you’re gonna find, the more ideas you will find to market your company beyond just SEO, beyond just paid search. You’re gonna come up with stories, you’re going to come up with scenarios. That’s really where I find, I see the difference between people who use keyword research as a means to an end, and people who use keyword research as a means to better understanding their customer. That’s a big difference of usage, and that’s where I see the difference in SEOs, paid search marketers, people that are in this business, the time they spend analyzing the keywords pays off big.
Michael: MC: OK that’s all the time we have today, a BIG thank you to Matt Bailey —Check out sitelogic.com and be sure to pick up Matt’s books, “Digital Marketing an Hour a Day” and “Wired to be Wowed” on Amazon.com, register for early access to Matt’s latest book “Teach New Dogs Old Tricks on sitelogic.com and of course reach out to Matt to have him visit your team for training and best practices in Digital marketing ad the same site Sitelogic.com