Why It’s Important to Evaluate Keywords

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Last week, in a guest post at Search Engine People, I talked about keyword profiling — research you conduct to get inside the minds of your users. Once you’ve selected your keywords, does the work end there?

Many people forget about the importance of evaluating keyword performance. They get caught up in what they think should work instead of what is working. That is where keyword evaluation comes into play.

Keyword evaluation is the process of reviewing the performance of the keywords you’re targeting in your SEO campaign to determine whether or not you should invest more or less time into ranking well for that term. I typically start the evaluation process about six months into my SEO campaign, but you can definitely review keywords earlier depending on how quickly you’ve gotten a website to rank.

My keyword evaluation process has three components:

Effort Evaluation

Within each SEO campaign there are keywords that you’re focusing on more heavily than others. This typically means you’ve been building inbound links using the keyword as anchor text to the page you are trying to rank for. If you’re a Raven Tools user, whenever you add anchor text to a link you setup in the Link Manager, we’ll check to see if you’re managing that keyword in the Keyword Manager and will automatically keep track of the number of requested and active links you have using that keyword as the anchor text.

Keyword Anchor Text

What you’re looking to do here is to get a rough idea of how much of your link building/SEO time is spent toward ranking for each keyword. It’s very important you have a good idea of this metric so you can justify the need to increase or decrease the amount of time you’ll spend optimizing for that keyword moving forward.

Traffic Evaluation

We all have a keyword or two that our boss/client is adamant about ranking for. If you’re able to justify why you shouldn’t be spending your time ranking for that keyword during the keyword profiling process, here’s your chance to show them that you’re not getting any traffic for that keyword, either. The goal with this process is to look at where you’re ranking for each keyword and to see how much traffic you’re actually getting by ranking in a position for it.

Analytics Traffic

Remember back inn 2005 when AOL leaked information that displayed what the clickthrough rates were for each ranking result in their search engine? This was amazing data for SEO’s because we could see what the traffic difference was between ranking number 1 and number 2 (and so on). So in your keyword evaluation you can do the same thing, but it takes a little extra work. As you move up in the rankings you want to take note as to how much traffic you received while in that position. You’ll then be able to get a rough estimate as to what the clickthrough rates are for rankings in your own industry (they will most likely be different in each industry).

Conversion Evaluation

This is arguably the most important metric in the keyword evaluation process: you need to also dive into which keywords are converting and which aren’t. There are thousands of keywords we’d all love to rank for, but if no one takes action — who cares?

The conversion evaluation process is simple. Open up your analytics and do a broad search for the keywords you’re targeting. I say “broad” because you’re going to want to take into account long tail searches that you rank for as a result of ranking for the keyword.

Using the traffic evaluation numbers you found earlier, calculate how many conversions you can expect should you be able to move into the top ranking position for a keyword. Figure out which keywords are going to make you the most money and start focusing on them.

Putting it all Together

Once you’ve investigated all three of these areas, it’s time to put together your new strategy. It’s important to include this data when justifying to your coworkers/bosses/clients why you think you should take your strategy in another direction.

I try to evaluate my keyword performance once a quarter once my initial rankings have been established. Figure out what works best for you.

And don’t forget that you can always test how well keywords will perform using PPC!

7 Responses to “Why It’s Important to Evaluate Keywords”

  1. I really appreciate the keyword tools Raven provides.

    It’s important to keep tabs on them throughout the SEO process.

    I worked in PPC before and we looked at these kinds of numbers all the time. Now that I’m in SEO I find it just as vital to the process as it was in PPC – only not as “instant”.

  2. @TrafficColeman – amen, exactly the point I was trying to make!

    @Kristen – Glad you’re finding Raven useful for keyword research. I think both of those features are under-hyped and was hoping to get others to see the value they provide.

    I think having a PPC background really strengthens your analysis skills as, like you said, you’re used to evaluating keyword performance.

  3. Taylor, I also use a process of evaluating Effort/Opportunity, Traffic and Conversion. You explained this so well. Raven sure simplifies the evaluation process.

    I wanted to add on to the strategy part – Once those keyword phrases are determined, companies must do more than pass those terms off to India to have a bunch of pages or articles written. They need to develop high quality content that people want to link to and share! Then the Link Manager will be full! 🙂

  4. That’s an awesome point, Dana! I’m always amazed how difficult it seems for companies to grasp the concept that you want quality content, not just a large quantity of it. What you put on your site is a reflection of your company. It’s amazing how often people forget about that.

  5. Oliver / WebMatros

    Nice article. Could you elaborate on the last sentence, regarding PPC?

    I’m not very fond of Google AdWords because it’s such an opaque product, but very interested in knowing how I can use it to choose keywords for SEO.

  6. Happy to elaborate! One of my favorite things to do with regards to keyword research and evaluation is to test their performance via PPC. By testing your keywords in PPC before targeting them via SEO, you’ll get quick results as to how well your pages are on target for the keywords you’re bidding on.

    In other words, it’s a great way to gain insight as to whether or not people will actually take action on your site for the keywords you plan on targeting in your SEO campaign. Traditionally, SEO takes a lot longer to get these kinds of results that PPC can get for you pretty quickly.

    So instead of committing your resources on a keyword you think will perform well, you should first see if it’s the case with PPC. Make sense?