Giving Your Business Strategy a Reality Check With Keyword Tools
Posted by Barry Welford | Jul,25 2008
Some might find the title somewhat oxymoronic, given that the words Business Strategy are coupled with the notion of a Keyword Tool. However the linkage will become clear later.
Recently Trevor Claiborne of the Inside AdWords crew at Google informed us all that the Keyword Tool is now Updated With Search Volume Data. He illustrated this with the image shown below:
If you are not familiar with the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, it would be worth your while to check out. This latest change provides for free what many expensive keyword tracking services had been providing. It’s no surprise that AdWords professionals, such as Xurxo Vidal, Bloom Search Services, are enamored by this new Search Volume Data service.
As Tamar Weinberg of Search Engine Roundtable pointed out, some other experts are questioning its usefulness. Michael VanDeMar believes that the tool is useless for SEO, even though it shows exact numbers. Certainly the source of the numbers needs to be considered carefully. It may not provide an exact indication of the clicks your own particular AdWords campaign might produce. However for comparative purposes the figures would seem to be useful and clearly Google itself is the best source for Google click data.
The other advantage of the data is that you can download the figures into an Excel spreadsheet. Previously for all results, an indication of the search volume was presented as small histogram bars and only a rough visual comparison was possible. These quantitative results allow more intensive analysis, which is why it can provide a reality check for your business strategy. To explain this requires a short background review of Internet marketing.
Challenging Business Realities
An increasing number of businesses are realizing that the Internet is the primary way many prospects and clients will be communicating with them. Of course the Internet has a major weakness. That is because the Internet is a really, really crowded scene. It’s hardly surprising to hear that Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the Internet, is working on tags to help find online information.
At the same time the Internet has a major strength. That is because the Internet is a really, really crowded scene. That means that for any product or service, however specialized, there will be a very large number of prospects who are active on the Internet. Since the Internet is a superb way of communicating, which is independent of geography, this gives great opportunities in Internet marketing.
Given that the Internet has changed the way the business world functions, clearly a business strategy must make sense in this modern reality. As Michael Porter has said,”Of course strategy is hard – it’s about making tough choices.” In other words you must decide what you will do and what you will not do.
The best reality check for your business strategy would really be provided by the views of those prospects you are aiming to persuade to become customers. One indicator of the prospects needs is how they go looking for solutions. What keywords might they use in searching for solutions? The Adwords Keyword Tool provides such data. Of course it is mixed in with keyword data for non-prospects who happened to be looking for somewhat related products or information. Nevertheless the Tool can help in confirming or rejecting a particular strategy.
Doing The Reality Check
The following is very much a Big Picture approach and cannot be pushed to the nth degree. It only confirms that a particular strategy has the necessary characteristics to allow success. It does not go beyond that to check that it has sufficient characteristics to actually be successful. However by applying the check, it may give insights into how a strategy can be tuned to improve the chances of success.
Step 1 – Determine the characteristics of your most typical preferred prospect and their needs.
Step 2 – Determine the most likely keyword phrase that would be included in a Google search for a solution.
Step 3 – Use the Keyword Tool on that phrase in the following way. Insert the words of the phrase on a single line without quotes and allow synonyms to be included. What the Tool does is to explore the concept that is behind that keyword phrase and show you what closely related keyword searches are being done.
Step 4 – Download CSV files of the two lists of keywords developed by the Tool into Excel spreadsheets. The data should be combined into one spreadsheet of adjacent rows. Sort the rows based on the values in the 4th column in descending order. The fourth column contains the annual monthly average searches for the particular keyword or keyword phrase. Sometimes you will find a large number of closely similar keyword phrases that have high search rates measured in the tens of thousands. This may either mean trouble or opportunity. In other cases, very many fewer keyword phrases are listed. Provided the search rates are measured in the thousands, then you likely are looking at a potentially interesting strategic niche.
Step 5 – After comparing a number of different businesses and the key words that might be appropriate, one can develop a sense of what this analysis suggests for the corresponding strategy.
Step 6 – (optional in some cases) Repeat the analysis with the keyword phrase in quotes to produce a tighter comparison of what may be competition.
Possible Outcomes From The Reality Check
This approach is very much a work in progress. Accordingly it is not yet possible to produce a taxonomy of all the different patterns and what they may imply for a given strategy. The following represent examples of what we have seen in practice. Repeating the cycle and refining the ideas is often beneficial. Readers who try out this approach are encouraged to add their own experiences in the comments.
Case A – A Strategy Lost In The General Noise
Findings – The words with high search numbers clearly represented much more than just searches by the prospect niche. Clearly there would be many other online properties that such searches were accessing. A website focused on the keyword phrase would probably never stand out in this very crowded space.
Case B – Too Much Competition
Findings - There is only minimal information on the advertising competition for certain phrases (a scale from 0 to 100%). Nevertheless, if many of the keyword phrases have 100% competition, then clearly this is a market with a large number of competitors who are willing to spend money on PPC advertising. This undoubtedly translates into equal competition in organic search as well. Using that keyword phrase to define your target prospect may well be very weak strategy.
Case C – Prospects Don’t Use That Keyword Phrase
Findings – One analysis showed that surprisingly there were no searches at all for the assumed best keyword phrase. Prospects were likely using some synonyms that did have high search results. The strategy was refined using one of these alternate phrases.
Case D – Several Keyword Phrases All Somewhat Strong
Findings – In this case, a number of alternate keyword phrases had somewhat comparable search rates. The advertising competition for some of these was strong whereas for others there was little competition. One of the alternates with little competition was selected to define the ideal prospect and therefore the best approach.
A Robust Strategy – Focus, Focus, Focus
The common thread that often runs through these strategy check cases is that focusing on a tightly defined niche is often the best policy. The overall measure that counts is the size of the niche multiplied by the small percentage who will convert into purchasers. The advantage here is that by targeting a tighter niche, it is more likely that the prospect will be aware of the company and more likely that they will find that what the company offers is attractive. Given the crowded Internet, even what might be thought of as a micro-niche can be preferred. This will be more fully explored in an upcoming SMM Newsletter.
About the Author: Barry Welford, President of SMM Strategic Marketing Montreal works with business owners and senior management on Internet Marketing strategy and action plans to grow their companies. He is a moderator at the Cre8asite Forums and writes on current issues on the Internet and on the Mobile Web in three blogs, BPWrap, StayGoLinks and The Other Bloke's Blog.