First, a word of warning. This isn’t a keyword research primer for hardcore internet marketers. This is for the rest of us. Most of this will be familiar to anyone seriously involved in internet marketing, but even the most basic keyword research concepts are unfamiliar to 95% of the population.
There are two main ways of making offers for your company’s products or services. You can use your experience to intuit what your customers want, or you can do actual market research. The usual tools for conducting market research are polls and focus groups. Unfortunately, these can be loaded methodologies, since polling makes it hard to avoid positing leading questions and answers, and focus groups tend to generate self-conscious feedback that’s not representative to real-world customers. Both approaches elicit reactive information.
So how can we find out what’s on customers’ minds without asking them? Welcome to the wonderful world of keyword research.
I’m going to create an example in real time without editing it later to prove a point. Suppose I’m a software developer interested in selling a product in the computer security niche. Most vendors like to create a product first, then figure out how to market it. It’s much more efficient to take the opposite approach. We want to find the best marketing angle, then create a product to fill it. That way we don’t have to spend weeks or months creating a product which, we discover in hindsight, nobody wants.
For simplicity’s sake, I’m limiting this example to two types of computer security products: firewall software and antivirus software. Instead of asking myself, “What’s the best way to market these?”, I ask myself a smarter question, “Which one is an easier sell?” The latter question breaks down into two further nuances: “Which one are more people looking for?” and “Which one is more commercial?”
Using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool
To answer these questions, we’re going to use the free Google AdWords Keyword Tool, sometimes called the “Google Keyword Tool” or, less accurately, just “AdWords”. This is the tool advertisers use to determine what search keywords to bid on to trigger their ads. I’ll explain that later, but for now, let’s finish my hypothetical software marketing example.
Go to the Keyword Tool by hitting the link above, or just do a search for “keyword tool”, which usually brings it up as the first search result. If you found it by doing a search, click the “Get keyword ideas” link in the middle of the home page. Now, in the center field captioned, “Enter one keyword or phrase per line”, put in the first keyword, “firewall software”, hit Enter, and on the next line put in the second keyword, “antivirus software”. Now enter the CAPTCHA (a word rendered as a graphic to avoid automated queries) in the box below, and click the “Get keyword ideas” button.
We first need to configure the tool to show the information that’s relevant to what we’re doing, and hide the information that isn’t. In the Match Type dropdown menu, set the type to Exact. In the menu captioned, “Choose columns to display”, select “Show Estimated Avg. CPC”, then select “Hide Advertiser Competition” and “Hide Local Search Volume”. Click the header for Global Search Volume to sort the the data in descending order by this column. Now scroll down to the end of the first keyword list (there are two lists — we’re ignoring the second one in this context), and click “.csv (for excel)” to export the list to Excel.
In the top row of letters, double-click in the separator between the A and B columns to expand the cells of the keyword list. Now click in D2 and enter the following formula: “=b2*c2*.43″, hit Enter, click on D2 again, and double-click the lower right corner of the cell to auto-fill the rest of the column with the same calculation. With the values still highlighted, right-click on the column, select Sort from the context menu, then select Sort Largest to Smallest. This will bring up a Sort Warning that you’ll leave in the default option selected, “Expand the selection”, and click Sort. Then click D1 and type “KW Value” to create a header for keyword value.
The results will vary, since AdWords bids fluctuate like stock prices, but in my spreadsheet, a broad insight stands out: the market for the keyword “antivirus software” is 10 times bigger than the market for “firewall software”: $426K vs. $42K. We’re multiplying the number of searches per month by the cost per click — the amount of money advertisers are willing to pay to capture a reader who clicks on their ad with the respective keyword. The top search result on page 1 of Google statistically gets 43 percent of all of the search traffic, and since advertisers can buy a Sponsored Link directly above this spot, they’re getting roughly the same percentage.
An internet marketer would make further adjustments for clickthrough rates — if you got 43 percent of all search visits, only a tiny percentage of those would actually click on the ad — but that’s beyond the scope of what we’re doing here. We’re only trying to compare the relative size of the markets we’re considering. Between two keywords, the one with the bigger market is either more popular (higher search volume), more commercial (higher cost per click) or both.
What about Competition?
Internet marketers will quickly point out that I’ve left out a key part of the equation: the amount of competition surrounding each keyword. An ideal keyword is one with a search search volume, a high CPC, and a low competition. In this context, “competition” is the number of pages indexed by Google for that keyword relative to the number of searches for it.
Competition is a worthwhile subject to cover in a later post, but I’m skipping it here because we’re not necessarily applying insights from keyword research to internet marketing.
Here’s an example. Suppose you had a law firm in Los Angeles that you wanted to promote with print advertising. Which wording in the Yellow Pages or in the Los Angeles Times’ classifieds would yield better results? Would a headline with “Los Angeles Lawyer” or “Los Angeles Attorney” perform better? Well, “Los Angeles Attorney” has a 20% higher keyword value. As a bonus of extracting our keyword list, we can also discern which niches of legal service are most in demand. “Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney” and “Personal Injury Attorney” ace out “Los Angeles DUI Attorney” and “Los Angeles Criminal Attorney” in keyword value by 25%.
Unlike online advertising, where paying for more valuable keywords costs more, there’s no cost difference whatsoever in print, and competition factors are less relevant. Keyword research has an enormous amount of leverage beyond applications to internet marketing. Spend some time experimenting with the Keyword Tool, and see if you can find new ways to create or position your products, your services, or yourself.