Just like your GPS can’t create a route for you if it doesn’t know the destination, it will struggle just as mightily with creating a route if it is unable to understand what your starting point is.
So, as your keyword research GPS system, that is where we recommend you start. You need to know exactly where you are starting from before you can build the strategy that will take you from point A to point B.
Keywords Driving Traffic to Your Website
It is time to review how your website is currently performing for organic search. There are a few things that you can look at to start generating ideas. At IMPACT, we use a tool called SEMRush to take stock of how a website is performing on specific organic keywords.
Using the Domain Analytics tool, you can take a look specifically at your organic traffic performance. The tool breaks down which keywords are driving the most traffic to your website, the pages users are landing on, and provides keyword analytic information like search volume and competition level.
It is important to look through the data to highlight keywords:
- Where you may have a strong opportunity to improve ranking for a term with high search volume -- where you are in the top 20 already and may be able to put in a small amount of effort to push closer to the No. 1 spot;
- That drive highly-qualified traffic to your website; and
- That drive low-quality traffic to your website.
You are really going through this exercise more to understand where you are currently sitting and to catch any quick low-hanging fruit, from a keyword perspective.
You may leave this stage without very many "Ah-ha!" moments except that you need to be driving more traffic so you have more to look at next time, or you may uncover some seriously hidden gems. Either way, it is impossible to improve without knowing where you're starting from.
Using the Current Domain Section of the Keyword Strategy Template
We recommend pulling this data into your Keyword Strategy Template, so it is easily accessible as you continue to work through your keyword research and strategy building process.
Once the results come in, look at the top "Organic Keywords" and select "View Full Report."
Export at least the first 100 results to a CSV file.
Keep the following columns from the CSV -- keyword, position, search volume, CPC, URL, traffic (%), and competition. Then copy the data in the "Current Domain" tab in the Keyword Strategy Template.
Clear out the low performers -- e.g. those that bring in a low traffic percentage. You want to be looking at the keywords that generate about 80% of your current traffic.
You can simply delete any rows below this threshold. You can find this point by highlighting the data in the traffic (%) column from the top down and looking at the sum in the bottom right-hand corner. Keep going until you’ve found approximately 80%.
With higher traffic websites, you may want to limit yourself even further as there will be far too much data to review if you go all the way to 80%. In this case, we often stop looking once the traffic percentage drops below 0.05% from an individual keyword.
Review how you are performing on branded keywords and see if there are opportunities to improve position of nonbranded keywords for quick wins.
This exercise is mostly to understand how your domain is currently performing as you move to the next step. You may recognize things like a keyword with high search volume for which you rank in the top 20, which could be quickly improved, and keywords you didn’t know were driving traffic to your website that could be useful.
You can highlight in green any keywords that you want to make sure you continue to rank for, or improve rank for. You can highlight in red any keywords that you want to get rid of -- keywords that bring in unqualified traffic. This is really just to help you quickly look back and reference.
The best way to see how well you're doing, besides your customers’ satisfaction, is to perform competitive analysis. Much like when determining market fit, you first look to see who is offering what and how that compares to your product and/or service. Keyword research isn’t any different.
Understanding where your competitors are ranking for important terms and phrases gives you a stronger view of your landscape, rather than simply looking at volume and the competitive density ranking provided by many SEO platforms.
Here are two ways that you can complete a strong competitive analysis:
Moz’s SEO Gap Analysis
We can’t take credit for this easy-to-use spreadsheet, but we wholeheartedly recommend it.
A simple Google Spreadsheet with cloning access already provided, Moz’ Gap Analysis sheet provides a way for you to see which keywords (and bonus: backlinks) you are ranking for vs. your competitor.
We used this template to help Ambs Call Center increase their organic traffic by 100%, simply by understanding their competitive landscape.
First, open a separate tab and clone this template and then follow Moz’s detailed instructions found in this article. Then, come back right here.
OK, do you have your Keyword and Backlinks all complete? Great! You should now be staring at a sheet that looks something like this:
Now, don’t worry about all the red you may see -- every single one of them is an opportunity.
Begin reviewing this new information with the eye for finding search terms that you have little or no ranking for that are also very relevant to your audience.
Keep in mind, relevancy to your audience is key. Simply wanting to rank for a keyword or search term that your competitor does just to take it from them won’t help your long-term SEO. Stay focused, find those gems.
As you begin to gather the right terms, hide the ones that are not relevant. You’re now curating a very solid list of terms that should be considered in your larger SEO strategy.
SEMRush’s Keyword Gap Tool
If you have a SEMRush account, they’ve automated the entire above process, making this even easier to do. Navigate to the "Competitive Research" sidebar and select "Keyword Gap."
Input your domain and up to four of your competitors.
The resulting data will tell the same story as the Moz example, but it won’t be color coded. We suggest using the visualization tool to organize the keywords visually highlighting where there is (or isn't) overlap.
The goal of reviewing competitive performance on search terms is multi-purpose, you’ll end up with:
A stronger sense of your digital competition;
A real-time assessment of your site’s performance against others fighting for your audience’s attention; and
An opportunity to uncover search terms that you would have never found through traditional keyword research.
Now, just because you found key terms in your research, doesn’t mean that they should sit at the top of your strategy. The terms found during this exercise should be adding to your additional terms and prioritized with the rest!