One of the huge hurdles of starting any SEO campaign is knowing what keywords you are going to target. Keyword tools are a dime a dozen and we’ve all used them. But the biggest problem that they all have is that they can’t show conversion data (obviously). I am a big fan of using PPC to get accurate and converting keyword data and optimizing to help rank for those keywords that you KNOW convert (or at least have a very good chance of converting again). This can also be done in reverse.
In a lot of cases, pay per click campaigns can give you some really valuable insights into the words that people use to find your site and ultimately become customers. In many cases, these words are quite long and were never phrases you were specifically targeting. Adwords for example can give you data on hundreds of CONVERTING long tail search terms. Once you know know what they are, you can simply craft a page specifically for those terms, focus on the on page elements, then sometimes all it takes is a new blog post linking to that page either internally or externally to get it into the number 1 position on the search engines. I wrote a post on the correlation between PPC and SEO a while back and I feel it’s still true today.
I do realize that optimizing for a search term that converts once every month may seem like a waste of resources in the short term but those rankings are easier to get and can add up quickly. To compete in a saturated market from the grass-roots level it’s essential. I also believe this method of growth and promotion is in line perfectly with what Matt Cutts (The head of search quality and webspam at Google) mentioned in the below webmaster help video in June. The video is only 87 seconds long but his point is clear.
Get the Flash Player to see this Google AdWords tutorial about building your keyword list.
Matt also reinforces this point again at his wordcamp presentation, (skip to ~29:30). He mentions specifically:
“Build up, build up, don’t over reach… you have to get there gradually”
“Start with a smaller niche then embiggen that niche”
“You’re writing about more and more important things and bigger niches and eventually, over time, people get to know you … they’re sending you links and LIFE IS GOOD.”
This method of building up very specific content should attract links naturally and over time build up the reputation and authority that your site needs these days to even have a chance in more competitive markets.
So we know that rankings matter. They matter a lot. There will never be a way to know 100% for sure where you rank for a given phrase but I think it’s pretty important to have as good an idea as possible so you can monitor the “success of your embiggening” (you can’t measure what you can’t track). I know a lot of people/SEOs are not fans of rank checkers but I think that if you monitor your rankings over local search engines over a long enough period of time, you get a good idea of how your doing and weather or not you need to focus more on the long tail or specific regions.
I wont go into too much detail about the variety of rank checkers available, Ann Smarty does a great job of that here but I will mention the one that we use here at Redfly. We use Advanced Web Ranking.
Advanced Web Ranking is website ranking software that allows you to track as many keywords as you see fit across every search engine imaginable, including every regional version of the major ones. The search engine database is updated almost daily and they even have the latest versions of Google caffeine and all it’s regional indexes included.
What’s even better is the fact that it uses the search engines API keys (You all still have your Google SOAP API keys right?) so you’re not violating any of the search engines rules about automated queries. The reporting is fantastic and you can easily see at a glance you’re overall organic visibility. The one problem I have with this application is that it only allows a single API key, I’d love to be able to enter multiple APIs, especially for each site. It’s expensive and not for everyone but for those serious about tracking rankings over multiple sites, I highly recommend it.
*** Edit: As noted in the comments below, the AWR search engine ranking software does indeed take the Google AJAX API keys.
Imagine if you had data on 1000 longtail keywords that only converted once or twice each year from your PPC campaigns. Each conversion is valued at say, €100. If you rank on page one for these results in the organic SERPs, chances are you’ll eventually get clicks and conversions. If you only get ONE conversion for each of these keywords again, that’s still €100,000. I’d be willing to bet you could generate relatively decent content for each of those terms for less than €100, especially if you are bootstrapping and especially if that content you are creating helps build your authority (see above). It’s a win-win-win situation. You’re creating content that you KNOW converts, that you KNOW will help build your authority (because you KNOW your customers convert on these topics) and that you KNOW is a worthwhile investment of time. It’s essential to monitor how you’re doing for these terms.
I know a lot of people will not agree with me in the value of tracking individual keyword rankings, they are indeed in a state of “everflux” (although longer tail term rankings tend to be a LOT more stable). But surely having a reasonable idea of how you’re performing holds value? Especially if you are entering a competitive market “through the back door” using the long tail method outlined above and in the videos by Matt.
What rank checkers do you use? Do you find they are a waste of time?