Voices of Search
A Searchmetrics Podcast
Episode 17, Keyword Strategy

Episode Overview

Listen now as we take a deep dive into keyword strategy and what you and your team should be focused on as we ramp up for the new year!

Jordan Koene is the CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc.

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Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome to the Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and in this podcast, we’re going to discuss the hottest topics in the ever-changing world of search engine optimizations.

Ben:                 But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are a team of SEO’s, content marketers, and data scientists that help enterprise-scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions using a mix of software and our expertise. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic consultation. A member of our Digital Strategies Group will advise you on how you can evaluate your historical performance, identify problem areas that are slowing your growth, and implement a foundation for sustainable success with your SEO and content marketing efforts. Just go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic to get started.

Ben:                 Joining us again today is Jordan Koene, who is both a world renowned SEO strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. Today we’re going to talk about keyword depth and breadth. So Jordan, welcome back to the Voices of Search Podcast.

Jordan:             Thanks, Ben.

Ben:                 So, I’ve got some great news.

Jordan:             Oh, please.

Ben:                 Well, it’s personal news. I work on another podcast. It’s called the Martech podcast. You’ve been one of my guests. I launched it. You were actually my first guest and since our conversations, it’s been about four months, and from an SEO perspective, we’ve gone to Off the Page and On Launch product to the number one ranking for Martech podcast.

Jordan:             You’re welcome. I think I want to send my invoice over now. Is that what I’m supposed to say?

Ben:                 The truth is, we’ve published about 40 pieces of content, so while I appreciate you being one of my guests, I’m not paying that.

Jordan:             Oh, dang.

Ben:                 But, but my goal for that podcast was for, in terms of SEO, was to rank number one for the keyword Martech podcast and so, all of my site structure, all of my keywords were focused on Martech and podcast and putting that together, and we’ve reached the mountain top. So I guess the question for me is now that I’ve reached the milestone that I’ve set out to achieve, which direction do I go? Do I try to go up market and try to rank for more general words related to Martech? Or do I try to pick off other long tail keywords? Help me think about depth and breadth, and how do other companies work on this problem?

Jordan:             It’s a fascinating topic from the perspective that, there isn’t a silver bullet in terms of how to go about this process. In fact, I think that if I were to do a search online for the number of keyword research articles, it would be a ridiculous proportion of articles. All of which have half-truths and half lies in them.

Ben:                 So I should not try to rank for keyword research?

Jordan:             No, I mean … you could certainly try, but I think the Martech podcast has bigger aspirations than that.

Jordan:             Let’s dive in a little bit, I mean keyword depth and breadth; I personally believe that this is the lens by which great keyword research starts, which is first understanding where you have success, and that’s what you’ve done, right? You just highlighted that, the Martech podcast has reached a top ranking for the primary keyword that you’re focused on, and so what’s next? How do I continue to expand this?

Jordan:             So one of the things that we love doing at Searchmetrics is helping our clients understand what data points to reference when you’re trying to go through the discovery process of depth or breadth. For example, one of the first things you look at is your competitive set and looking at different competitive factors. So if you’re going to go up market, and you’re basically going to go into a depth scenario where you’re either going to go up or down market in terms of the keywords that you’re targeting. Basically, this means you’re staying within the same topic cluster, the same family of keywords, you’re staying within Martech keywords. You really want to understand the competitive landscape. That’s really the core of it, and one of the simplistic things you can do is just checking to see if Wikipedia shows up for one of those keywords, because when Wikipedia shows up, it becomes dramatically more difficult to rank that particular keyword. That’s a very simplistic, binary process to looking at competition. However, you can get much more involved in the process by looking at various competitive factors.

Ben:                 Basically, what you’re saying, the hard and fast rule is, if you’re looking to go up market, you can use Wikipedia as an indicator if they are ranking highly for a keyword that you’re trying to rank for, it’s going to be tough sledding; is that what you’re saying?

Jordan:             Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying and it’s all about understanding the authority of the competitive set that you’re going after. Wikipedia is an incredibly authoritative site, they often control knowledge graph and other elements within the SERF and it’s really hard to displace them from a top ranking. When you’re assessing your ability to be competitive either upstream or downstream, you should use these factors as part of your analysis. Obviously tools like our Searchmetrics, we have competitor scoring; you can take lists of keywords and you can look at how competitive they are, variety of other tools do the same thing. The idea there is that when you’re looking at depth, understanding your competitor is one of the most important components to start with.

Ben:                 So understanding your competitive landscape and you’re saying that Wikipedia is a good benchmark for most keywords. What other ways that you can look at your competitive landscape?

Jordan:             Other ways you can look at the competitive landscape is understanding the SERF layout; what other SERF features are showing up in Google? Another way you can look at the competitive landscape is to determine whether or not you want to monitor or track certain competitors. When I used to work at Ebay, we would do this. We would monitor and track Amazon, and whenever Amazon showed up for a particular keyword then we would add that to our bucket that we would track. Then we make a determination later on if we want to compete for that keyword.

Ben:                 Interesting. So basically, understanding what else is on the page, understanding who else is in your competitive landscape helps you understand how difficult it’s going to be to go up market. Talk to me about breadth. What are some of the strategies for understanding how difficult it’s going to be to go wide, not vertical?

Jordan:             This is where, if you read a lot of these articles, this is typically where they start the conversation about keyword research because what most people want to start diving right into is this whole concept of long tail. Because historically, most of the keywords studies that have been done in our industry allude to the fact that the lion share of traffic that goes to either individual websites, or as a whole across all of search, come from long tail queries. If you start to introduce new factors into this, like voice search, it even becomes more clear that the long tail is where the game is played. That’s really the whole concept behind breadth, because breadth allows you to look at “Well, I’m looking at Martech, but boy, maybe I should be looking at questions related to Martech, or maybe I should be looking at sister topics related to Martech.” In that breadth, broadens your scope, broadens you into long tail queries, and multitude of options.

Ben:                 Talk to me about the tool set for figuring out the breadth of a keyword list and what can you do to basically figure out what’s a good target formula.

Jordan:             The first key indicator is understanding the value of the keyword and what I love is when companies create a value checklist. It’s kind of like building your own formula, where you say if a keyword has a certain amount of search volume, it may even have a certain multiplier because of its importance to your business. You can even take other data points like competition like we discussed before, or you can also take algorithmic type factors like traffic index, which is a factor that we use in Searchmetrics to understand low hanging opportunities. What if you already rank in position 30 for this particular keyword, how do I get this keyword ranked higher?

Jordan:             You take all these different data points and you start to create a formula to then prioritize the breadth, because the challenge with breadth as opposed to the vertical approach, is that in a vertical approach, it becomes super simple and very clear because you are targeting extremely specific keywords that are very much related to either your business or the core topic you’re looking at. In the breadth situation, the permutations become infinite, and they become very exhaustive and requires data in order for you to prioritize, and ultimately, determine value.

Ben:                 I want to simplify what you’re saying, because I feel like your suggestion is to create a scoring mechanism, and that can be infinitely complex, but to me, what I’m hearing is the first way to put a scoring mechanism together is find some metric for volume of searches times the competition ranking divided by where you’re already ranking, right? It gets a million views, the competitive score is 10, and we already rank 30. Are there any other variables that are mandatory for you to assess the value of a keyword?

Jordan:             The primary ones I think are absolutely critical to assess are search volume, and then often times, a cost per click (or CPC), because that helps you determine a true dollar in cents perspective on a particular keyword. The other component that’s very important for all of us to consider is what you call your search volume spread, or seasonality; when is a particular keyword very popular? That becomes a factor, especially if you’re trying to build campaigns and you’re trying to prioritize, in your breadth scenario, particular seasonal campaigns or events that might take place in your business.

Jordan:             These would be the three most critical factors to consider in your formula, and then you could add factors to the formula. You can do this very easily in a spreadsheet. You can take a spreadsheet of all these keywords, you can take something like search volume with a multiplier based on the business importance of this keyword, and that multiplier can be either up or down, so it can either be .5 or it could be 2. Then if it’s 2, guess what? A keyword that may only have a hundred searches a month suddenly gets a great multiplier versus a keyword that has 500 searches a month, and now those two keywords are basically equal, right? Because one has a higher business value or intent behind it.

Jordan:             One of the biggest missing components from most SEO’s in calculating value is missing out on the opportunity to define a keyword based on its importance to the company. They often just rip down these spreadsheets from these tools and then they just send it over to whoever asked. There’s not a lot of value just providing search volume; you have to extrapolate how that’s going to help your business.

Ben:                 Let’s put this into a tangible use case; let’s talk about the Martech podcast for a second as an example for everyone listening. I can go and find the search volume for all the keywords related to Martech topics, multiply that by the CPC to understand what their value is, then I can add some other multipliers based on how valuable I think a given keyword is and how much I can create content for it, and then you have to divide by where you’re already ranking to understand how far you are away from actually having that make a business impact. Is that an easy way to put together an algorithm?

Jordan:             Yeah, it’s an easy way to build a formula for your keyword research, and I think that’s the important factor to consider here, is that this is actually hard work; this isn’t just downloading a spreadsheet.

Ben:                 Damn.

Ben:                 Jordan, talk to me about topics. I’m ranking for the Martech podcast, should I branch out to try to rank for marketing podcast or should I throw this on something that’s a little closer to home? Do I go for Martech blog?

Jordan:             This is an area where analysts and SEO’s get super greedy. They see that they’ve been successful with Martech podcast, like you have, and they quickly jump to that next topic, and often they reach too far and go into a really competitive set, and don’t realize the same success that they had with the original topic; it’s really critical that you build off of the core that you’ve started. Jumping into something like Martech blog, or Martech content, or Martech posts, those are going to be much easier, or even better yet, Martech questions; so questions related to Martech, answering those in your content and in your podcast, that will be much more successful for you than trying to jump into a topic that is further away from the core.

Jordan:             At Searchmetrics, we actually have built a semantic-association, we call it our Topic Cluster, in it are content experience products. We do this for customers, we visualize this reality which is how close to home are you on this topic, and are you writing about something that’s too far away and going to be way too difficult for you to be successful.

Ben:                 I’ve seen what you’re talking about in the content experience, and that’s essentially the word cloud, or the word cluster where you have your central topic in the middle and you can actually visually see how far away a keyword is. So basically what you’re saying is, I have center Martech podcast in the middle of my cloud, but marketing podcast is probably two miles away still, but something like Martech blog might be a little bit closer to home.

Jordan:             Yeah, exactly. It’s funny because you can look at this data from spreadsheet point of view, or visualization, but helping our listeners to understand that if you build these relationships with the core of where you’re already successful, your ability to generate better breadth of keyword rankings will happen; but it requires you to be focused on building that expansion into very closely related topics; first is trying to jump and ping-pong onto the next one.

Jordan:             This is a very hard lesson for many analysts to learn, and there’s been really great tools that have also been built out there to help people. One of my favorites, because I brought this up earlier, is around questions. I don’t know if anyone has ever seen this product, but it’s called “Answer the Public,” and Answer the Public basically is a database that aggregates various questions and topics based on the route that you put in. You could put in something like “used cars” and it’ll give you all the questions that people ask on the internet about used cars, and they’ll build relationships around them. They’ll give you all the how questions versus the can question versus the what questions and the when questions. This is a very powerful tool to help you stay within your cluster, stay within the relationship that you can build from.

Jordan:             I hope that if you take anything away from this podcast, you take that away because if you spend your time and energy there, you’ll find way more success than trying this crazy keyword research and finding the next great goldmine that exists in the data.

Ben:                 Answer the Public, hysterical site. There’s a video playing in the background of a bald guy who looks like he knows all the answers to every question, and when I type in Martech podcast, of course, there are no questions that are listed. I guess the reason why I’m ranked in first is that there’s probably not a ton of people that are actually looking for the Martech podcast, but I’m still going to feel good about it in my heart.

Jordan:             Maybe we can change the search demand on this topic after this podcast.

Ben:                 So your advice is to start answering questions that people are interested in and that’s where Answer the Public comes in. Is that really something that’s going to help me rank for a tangential topic to where I’m only ranking or is that helping me figure out what is the next few topics to cover?

Jordan:             When looking at something like your core topic versus questions, it’s important to understand the intent behind this. What am I trying to do for my consumer or for my visitor? The reality is that they’re not necessarily the same thing. Answering a question for a Martech related topic could be wildly different from the content that’s necessary to rank for Martech podcast. Understanding intent and building relationships within your content related to intent is a critical next step once you’ve done your keyword research. So if you know you want to answer certain questions, you better make sure that you’re doing that from an informational perspective versus trying to rank for a branded keyword where it’s clearly addressing a navigational desire; someone who’s trying to navigate to your website.

Jordan:             Let me give you a great example, we do this a lot with some of our clients, they have help centers. They have these big, massive help centers where tons of questions have been submitted by customers and these experts, either from their community or their customer support team, have answered all those questions. In some cases, the intent behind what they’re trying to get into Google is there to actually answer questions and answer questions in Google, whereas how they cluster or categorize all these questions that have been answered into certain categories have a very different intent and have a very different intent in terms of what the user’s trying to do when they land on the help center. More often than not, what we end up finding out is that sometimes the way you cluster some of this help center content is bringing in either individuals that are trying to assess whether they want to purchase or use that product, or they’re trying to do some due diligence in discovery of the product; versus someone who’s trying to come and figure out what the problem is and get it solved.

Jordan:             That’s the amazing power of taking keyword research, looking at the various data points and then applying them to an intent in the right content, that recipe right there allows you to expand on your keyword depth and breadth, and building those connections allows you to be successful in search. I hope that’s a useful perspective in terms, of how you use questions.

Ben:                 I understand what you’re saying in the sense of you know, you can answer individual questions related to a topic, but there’s also a categorization exercise to be done to group all of the keywords that you’re reaching to come up with other topics. And that actually brings me back to the original question of how do you decide whether you should go wide or go deep? How do you evaluate depth versus breadth?

Jordan:             There’s no right answer, every business is a little different. Ultimately, what I recommend is, start your discovery process on the data points that we discussed in the depths scenario, start looking at competition, competition factors. On the breadth scenario, let’s start understanding search volume and build a formula to prioritize certain keywords. For many businesses that are operating at scale, like big enterprises, you should be doing both of these things.

Jordan:             For smaller websites, bloggers, or individuals that have a small site, it’s important for you to understand where it is that you can win and invest the right energy in the right place. That I think is a critical component in understanding great keyword research, is that for the small folks that are out there operating a site, don’t go out there spending all your time in one of these areas, become very focused on a particular set of keywords, drive in on those, grow the business off of that, versus trying to tackle all of these scenarios.

Ben:                 That was a very diplomatic answer and I’m going to push back. I think what you’re saying is everyone should do their homework and they should figure out what the right business strategy for their brand is. But I do think that there’s a difference between depth and breadth and what you need to understand is, what the volume of the keywords you are likely to rank for when you go deep is, and how much effort you’re going to have to put in to go wide. There is a business decision here, if there isn’t a lot of competition, there’s a lot of volume you could rank relatively easy for a higher performing keyword, great, go deep. If that’s not realistic, if you’re in e-commerce, and you’re going to try to rank for iPhone, that’s going to be really difficult, you should probably be chasing after long tail keywords.

Ben:                 At the end of the day what I’m hearing is, do your homework, download your spreadsheets, build your algorithm, feel out how difficult it’s going to be to rank for the head terms, and if it’s going to be too long or too difficult, or too risky for you to go that direction, then you got to do more hand-to-hand combat and build lots of content for lots of long term keywords and build up to the larger terms.

Jordan:             Well said, well said, Ben.

Ben:                 Any last words before we check out for the day?

Jordan:             Happy keyword hunting.

Ben:                 Happy keyword hunting. Okay.

Ben:                 Happy keyword hunting from Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:                 Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find links to his bio in our show notes or you can shoot him an SEO related tweet to JTKoene, that’s “JTKOENE”, on Twitter. If you have any general marketing questions or if you want to talk about podcasting, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can send me a tweet at BenJShap, that’s “BENJSHAP”. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com for a free tour of our platform. If you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this show and you’re feeling generous, we would be honored for you to leave a review in the Apple iTunes store, it’s a great way for us to share our learnings about SEO and content marketing.

Ben:                 That’s it for today, but until next time, remember; the answers you’re looking for are always in the data.