Do you want to hear something about SEO that totally blew my mind when I heard it?
You’ll always rank for something.
Alright, so that may not have quite blown your mind too, but let me elaborate a little. You could throw together a website in twenty minutes, hit publish, and it’ll get organic traffic. Sure, it’s more likely to be a trickle than a deluge, but let’s reframe that this way:
Given enough time and effort, you can rank for almost anything.
Now that isn’t to say that if you owned a Chicago running shoe store that you would outrank a business like Amazon or Zappos for a term like “running shoes”, but you could certainly outrank them for “Chicago running shoes”. But how do you choose the keywords that are worth this time and effort? Ultimately, there are going to be three factors that come into this equation for you:
While some of the metrics we’ve outlined above are going to be relatively subjective, the easiest metric for you to find objective data is going to be on search volume, which measures the average monthly searches for a given keyword. For example, let’s take one of the keywords in our very own keyword universe, ‘digital marketing Chicago’, and plug it into Google’s Keyword Planner. Here’s a look at the search volume of this term (plus some related terms):
So ‘digital marketing Chicago’ is a term that’s searched, on average, 140 times per month, while ‘digital marketing agency Chicago’ is searched 110 times per per month, and so on. For more detail on how to use the Keyword Planner for SEO keyword research, check out Brian Dean’s great guide at Backlinko.
While there are plenty of different tools you can use for measuring keyword competitiveness (my personal favorite being the very simple Keyword Difficulty tool from Moz), you can actually get a pretty good picture of how competitive a keyword is from the ‘suggested bid’ column in the keyword planner results. What that column is showing you is an average of the cost-per-click that advertisers are paying for AdWords clicks on ads targeting that search query. What this provides you with is a pretty decent approximation of the ‘commercial intent’ of a given keyword. So if we compare the top two rows:
It appears that advertisers are willing to pay around $3.10 more per click for ‘digital marketing agency Chicago’, so we can assume that this keyword variation has higher commercial intent- which typically means that it’s also more competitive.
This last question goes from the joyful land of finite, objective numbers into the terrifying ambiguity of subjective judgement. In order to find a sweet spot between high volume queries, and queries that are simultaneously easier rank for, you might have to start considering how these keywords fall into any of the following categories.
So while you may be able to objectively rank various keywords for volume and competitiveness, assigning their value can be somewhat more tricky. If you’re currently running a PPC campaign, your AdWords data should provide you with great insight on the average CPA and conversion rate of visitors coming in via a given keyword. Alternatively, you could take a look at the keyword data in your Webmaster tools account.
So how do you find a middle ground between volume, competitiveness and value? This is where keyword mapping comes in, targeting specific pages of your site to certain groups of keywords. Typically, you’ll map your highest authority pages to the keywords with the highest commercial intent. To find these top pages, you can use Open Site Explorer, plug in your website’s URL, and use the ‘Top Pages Report’. You can use keyword research to start identifying opportunities where lower competition meets higher volume and higher value.