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7 Critical Questions For Analyzing SEO Keywords

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How often do you revisit your keyword strategy?

I’m not just talking about opening up Google Analytics and your Excel spreadsheets to stare at a bunch of words and think about them really hard.


 revisit your keyword strategy

The whole point of keyword analysis is to uncover missed or hidden opportunities, refine your strategy and optimize your tactics.

And since it’s more cost- and time-effective to optimize what you already have than to pursue new, shiny search terms, it’s important to make the most out of the keywords that you’re already working with.

It’s as simple as accurately figuring out what long-tails and other search phrases you should target in your content, based on where you are now and where you want to be.

To find these insights, you’ve got to ask yourself the right questions – seven critical questions, to be exact.

These are the questions that are going to squeeze the most out of your keywords so you can walk away with a fresh set of ideas and angles to implement right away.

1. Have I used all sources of keyword research?

Almost by default, everyone uses the Google Keyword Tool (although now it’s been replaced by the Keyword Planner, to much grumbling and little fanfare) for keyword research.

use all sources of keyword research

However, when you’re analyzing your keywords with the goal of digging up more of them, consider some additional ways to get more insight and ideas.

Your website: Check Google Analytics for searches that your website shows up for, or use a tool like HitTail to dig deeper into this and uncover long tail keywords that might otherwise pass you by.

Your market and audience: Mine social media with a tool like Raven’s Social Monitor or Social Mention and check forums, comment sections, and Q&A website like Quora for questions and phrases that your audience are using.

Your favorite keyword research tool: I’m sure you have some bookmarked, but some quick suggestions would be Wordstream, Keyword Discovery, WordPot and SEMRush. To expand your keyword reach, consider looking up synonyms to words, as well (you can use Synonym).

2. Are my keywords relevant — now and in the future?

While it’s tempting to go after every keyword you come across, ask yourself whether all of them are relevant and if the effort to rank for them is worth it.

Even if they’re low-hanging fruit and potentially a quick rankings win, not all keywords and long-tails will end up being profitable for what matters (as in, more conversions, sales, engagement or whatever you might be looking for).

Keep in mind, long-tails are not a new concept anymore and haven’t been for a long time. Just about everyone is going after the same set of long-tails you think you just uncovered.

If you’re regularly publishing content, you probably have a content calendar (you do, right?). This is an efficient way of systematically making use of your primary and secondary sets of keyword phrases.

For example, if you’re already ranking well for a search term (let’s say “coconut water nutrients”) then you should focus on other phrases that aren’t dominating the SERPs just yet.

As you’re analyzing your keywords in relation to traffic and conversions, your keyword priorities will become very clear and you can rank for more with less effort.

It’s worthwhile to take a look at the search trend of your keyword — is it on an upswing or downswing in search volume?

looking at the search trend of the keyword

3. Can I test conversions of a keyword first?

If you find yourself struggling to rank for certain keywords – or you haven’t even started working those SERPs – but still want to know if those keywords will convert, try paid search to find out.

Some search terms and phrases carry a relatively clear intent (such as “car insurance discount” or “where to find new shoes”) but others are tougher.

Instead of spending weeks and months attempting to score that first-page ranking spot only to find that you get decent traffic but no conversions, test it out first with PPC.

A common objection to this is that if your landing page is poor, then no amount of traffic will convert any way.

To that I’d simply ask: if you can’t convert them now, what makes you think you’ll convert them later, regardless of if they come through organic or paid search results?

Testing the conversion potential of keywords now through paid traffic can save you months of SEO labor and resources.

Also, if you already have a set of keywords that are converting now, can you rank for related or similar phrases? Capitalize on what you have before you seek out new phrases and terms.

You will only start seeing these things as you’re analyzing your current keyword situation and strategy in light of conversion goals. No one should pick keywords to rank for just for the fun of it.

4. What kind of traffic is my site receiving from the keyword?

I’m assuming you’re using Google Analytics on your website, so take a quick look under Traffic Sources > Search Engine Optimization > Queries to see a list of search phrases, impressions, clicks, average position, and CTR.

Search Queries in Google Analytics

Don’t stare yourself blind on just search volume and amount of visitors. We care more about what visitors do once they arrive.

One keyword phrase could yield 1,000 visitors, but only convert 0.03% of them (that would be 30).

Another search term that brings 300 visitors could convert even better at 5% (60 conversions).

While search volume certainly increases chances of conversions, it’s better to get targeted traffic.

Also, have you enabled tracking of site search? If you have that as an option for visitors, you should track it. You’ll find this under Content > Site Search.

It can uncover new variations of searches that your intended audience and market uses. If you find terms and phrases that you haven’t seen before, or aren’t optimizing for, now would be an excellent time.

5. What is my keyword density and does it matter?

The concept of “keyword density” has long lost its relevance as an isolated factor.

This is closer to reality than most other graphs can illustrate:

keyword density in favor of the WDF*P*IDF formula

Image Credit: Moz

It’s time to ditch the idea of “keyword density” in favor of the WDF*P*IDF formula.

There are two factors at play in this formula:

  • WDF: Within Document Frequency
  • IDF: Inverse Document Frequency

The relevance and importance of a page on your website that you’re trying to rank for a specific keyword is weighted not just against your on-site content (WDF) but also compared against other websites with similar content (IDF).

Your page is not just trying to appease Google’s own set of ranking signals, but it’s also being compared to other related websites and their content.

That is, your ranking is relative to your competitors.

Before, keyword density was a measure of quality. Basically, whoever got the density “just right” would soar in rankings.

Now, your density could essentially be non-existent but if your content makes use of additional subject-related terms and synonyms, as compared to your competitors — and if your visitors finds this valuable, you win.

Having said all that, it’s important to point out that this is not a major ranking factor on its own. There are plenty of other elements that need to be in place before this will have a noticeable affect on your rankings in the SERPs.

6. How am I using keywords in anchor text?

You probably don’t need me to tell you that over-optimizing your anchor text with keywords is a bad idea.

Optimizing anchor texts with keywords

This doesn’t mean you should stop altogether, but you need to find a balance. Your ratios need to create a natural seeming link profile.

If you over-optimize with keyword-rich anchor text (probably more than 30% of your anchor texts), you can expect your rankings to be negatively affected.

While there is no secret magical ratio for this, a decent rule of thumb is a 7:30 ratio of non-targeted:targeted anchor texts.

It also depends on your niche and what your competitor’s link profile looks like.

Some SEOs swear by a combination of 50% branded anchor text (like your URL), 25% exact match anchor text (keywords) and 25% of random to diversified long-tail anchor text.

7. How can I make use of co-citation?

Lately the concept of co-citation (and its sibling, co-occurrence) has been making the rounds amongst SEOs as relatively new-ish rank factor to consider.

Here’s a technical visual of what these kind of co-citation relationships look like:

concept of co-citation

Image Credit: Sociableblog

The backbone of how this relates to SEO lies with transitive property and semantic similarity.

Basically, let’s say there’s a high-quality, authoritative website that either links to you or mentions you in a piece of content that’s topically relevant to what your site is about.

That same website also links to other websites that are equally, or more, well-regarded and well-trafficked.

The fact that you are mentioned along with those other websites will benefit you in how Google thinks of your site.

Not to mention, if relevant keywords and search phrases can be found in the vicinity of, say, your brand name, that also may affect how Google treats your website.

This isn’t an isolated, potent rank factor on its own. You can’t just work on this and expect results. All rank signals work in tandem, and there are plenty of other factors you should have squared away first.

But there is certainly enough to this concept of co-citation to warrant attention.

In terms of keyword analysis, this is where you want to make sure you know related, relevant, synonymous search phrases and terms that you want your brand name associated with.

You can’t control how others link to you, but you can influence how you’re perceived and what others associate you with (including keywords).

Your keyword analysis is only as good as your answers

The bottom line is: The questions you ask out of your SEO activities matter.

Ask what kind of keywords are useful now and which will be relevant in the future.

Ask how you can expand your content to take into account concepts like co-citation and related, relevant information and additional long-tail keywords.

Maybe it’s time to scrap the 500 word article with 1.5% keyword density. Perhaps you should do something about those anchor texts you spent so much time optimizing.

If you were to analyze your keywords right now, what would your goals be and what kind of questions would you ask yourself?

8 Responses to “7 Critical Questions For Analyzing SEO Keywords”

  1. Awesome post Rob Walling , can’t agree more with you 😀 .

    I learn many things from this post and i discover some new keyword research tool . I always belive that good keyword is one of most important things in SEO .

  2. Martin Oxby

    It’s posts like this that remind me that SEO is not a quick-fix or an easy solution but that a lot of thought and planning and consideration is required to do it properly.

    I’ve circulated this article to the team and thanks for being a great supplier to us 🙂