We have hired a few new people at Distilled—we're always growing—but as I was explaining the Keyword Planner to our new hires I realized that we are all thinking the wrong way for the future of online marketing.
One of my colleagues, Tom Anthony, has a very scientific way of explaining it: The new query according to Google. He comes to the same conclusion I did: "We need to stop looking at keywords and starting looking at queries." In short, we need to be focusing on what the user is looking for rather than specifically all of the ways they can phrase it.
I am not going to try to convince you of this. We are here. This is the world we live in, so rather than adapting the old way of thinking to the new search order (NSO?), it's time to change our thinking.
What does this really mean to us as practitioners on a day-to-day basis?
We have to stop using the term "keyword" as much as we can. It will never go away, don't get me wrong, but our focus has to change. This means speaking differently, reporting differently, and changing the conversation with our clients about their goals.
You are going to get asked for a keyword research report or a keyword ranking report soon. We as search professionals have provided them in the past, so it's normal for your boss or clients to expect a certain type of data or report. However, with the changes over the last few years, it's time to modify what we report to align better with the data we can get and the data that is best for our goals.
Start by defining your goals
We've said this time and time again: You have to define what you want as a business before you can really get to doing your job in the best way. Your company goals could be:
- to be a thought leader in your space
- to grow the business
- to launch a new product
- to increase your company's share of voice in the market
These goals should be set by the company collectively, not just you. Your goals are based off of this. Your goals should be something measurable and impact the company's goals. Let's say that the company wants to grow their business's revenue by 50% next year, website performance can help that with conversions, new visitors, and overall more traffic. Therefore your goals might look like:
- Increase overall website traffic by 25%
- Increase new visitor percentage from 25% to 40%
- Increase conversion rate from the website from 45% to 70%
Notice that keyword ranking and traffic based on keywords are not in here. It's doubtful they ever have been part of your defined goals, but knowing your goals and the company's goals helps change the conversation.
Now, what do you want to accomplish?
Time to start the hard conversations. You should be reporting on your goals from above and what actions you are taking to affect those numbers. At some point your boss or client will ask for a keyword or ranking report. When they do, ask what they want to accomplish with that information. It'll give you more insight into what they are looking for and how best to report that to them.
Most likely it's so they know what your efforts are focused on, and that's understandable.
Start by explaining your goals and how they impact the bigger company goals.
Then, explain the changes to the information that is sent to analytics, and that reporting on the keyword level is next to impossible.
Finally, talk about how you want to stay dedicated to things that can be measured, and provide results to the company's bottom line.
But... we have to RANK!
If they then say that the keyword is the most important thing for you to report on, ask why again. The answer is usually because that's how you tell if your site is ranking for a term, or if your "SEO is working."
Rankings happen for many reasons; the keyword or query is just the initiator of the process. You optimize a page to be the strongest it can be after you've made it the best page for a specific need or topic. There are multiple variations of keywords for any one topic, and therefore your focus should be on the page and the topic, not just one or two of potentially hundreds of keywords.
The two major factors in ranking that you can have an effect on are related to the target page. Having relevant content and strengthening the page are what you should be focused on as a search marketer. Look at the highest correlated factors to ranking from the 2013 Ranking Factors Survey. All of the top factors are page-related.
Your next question should be: If I stop thinking about keywords, how do I know what content to develop to rank?
That depends on the user. We as a profession have really lost sight of talking to the users of our websites. Think about any number of keyword research presentations in the past few years (I've done and seen a number of them) and you'll see that many of them spoke to the Google Keyword Tool's numbers being wrong and getting inspiration in other places, mainly where your target market hangs out.
If you want to know what content to write to "rank" for terms, ask the people who are searching for that topic what they are looking for and write that. This changes how we do research but I think for the better.
I am going to leave you with how I have started reporting on page level changes and how "SEO is doing." You should again be reporting on the metrics you defined in your goals, but you'll need to replace keyword-specific reports. I'm referring to reports like the number of keywords sending traffic (RIP; that was a favorite of mine), branded vs. non-branded keyword traffic, and ranking reports.
Step 1: Define all search landing pages
This should be all pages on your site technically except those noindexed, but we almost all have an idea of what pages get traffic from search engines. If you are a larger e-commerce site with thousands or millions of pages, you can group these into categories or by page type. Whatever works for you.
Step 2: Prioritize the top landing pages
Remember the terms you always had to report ranking on? What were the pages that needed to rank? Identify those and make a prioritized list just like you would have with keywords.
Step 3: Pull monthly traffic over the last year for those pages
You can automate this of course, but if you have a small number of pages it can be done by hand as well. Traffic is what you want to know about, and you want it to be going up. If traffic goes down to that page, that is your sign that something changed, either the SERPs or demand for that content. Just like if rankings went down, you'd investigate why after seeing that drop.
Step 4: Pull related data per page based on your goals
For the goals we defined above, I'd also report on the percentage of new visitors and conversions. You could report on bounce rate or time on page as well. Below is something that I recently sent to a client (modified to be able to share with a wider audience, of course).
I then investigated the pages that lost traffic and they are on my list to watch next month. This is just how I decided to do it for this client and I am interested to hear how you are having to change your reporting to deal with the changes in our world.
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