A colleague once told me that they “just wanted an easy way to get more SEO / organic traffic” for a client.
“So, do you really want more organic traffic or do you want more sales?” I asked.
“Right now, I just want more organic traffic. We need a good month for SEO.” he replied.
I said, “Well if you really want more raw organic traffic, there are three topic areas we can cover right now that will bring in thousands and thousands of new visits within the month.”
I continued saying that – “First, you need several content pieces about Xbox games – preferably with cheat codes. Second, you should write about TV show characters. Third, if you are truly desperate for raw traffic, just write quality articles about sex problems, pornography and/or religious issues.”
Of course, the point of this conversation wasn’t to actually come up specific articles covering those topics.
The point is that raw traffic is useless if you can’t turn it into sales.*
*Aside – I’m assuming that your primary goal is profit, not spreading of ideas. I’m also assuming that you’re not running some spammy ad arbitrage scheme.
Now there are plenty of ways to turn organic traffic into sales – even if your visitors don’t buy on the first click.
But what if you need to find & target keywords that will actually lead directly to sales?
That route is tough because when someone does a search, they don’t necessarily intend to buy at that moment.
There are plenty of excellent posts from SEOs on categorizing keywords according to the traditional marketing funnel (ie, research → consideration → purchase).
For example, “running shoes” might be a research keyword while “New Balance Vazee review” might be a consideration and “buy New Balance Vazee Size 11” might be a purchase keyword.
That framework is useful, but also quite rigid. It can create false positives and misses. And ever since Google took away keyword level data from Google Analytics, there’s also no way to make a direct, proven connection.
Instead, I like to use flexible rules to sift & sort potential keywords. If a keyword passes all 3 rules, then I can expand it to a theme of keywords to target with an existing or new page.
Here are the 3 rules that I use with clients when we’re selecting the highest-impact keyword themes that have the shortest route to a sale.
1. Understand The Intent
Once you’ve found a potential keyword, you’ll need to figure out whether a significant number of searchers intend to buy from a result of that search.
You can use your intuition (e.g. “buy New Balance Vazee” seems obvious). But I prefer two other sources.
First, manually look at the search results page (SERP). Look at every result on page 1, 2 & 3 (or if you want to be a real SEO – change your settings to show 100 results).
With any keyword, Google tries to serve the most relevant result.
What type of pages is Google serving? What is showing up in autosuggest?
Are the pages where you can buy the product? Or are they research-like pages?
If you don’t see mostly buy pages – then Google does not see those as the most relevant page type. Most searchers are looking for something other than a buy page.
Therefore, the keyword does not lead directly to a sale.
Second, figure out the “question behind the keyword.” Every keyword represents a question that the searcher has – even if they don’t format it as a question.
Take the keyword and turn it into a series of questions. Decide if many of them make sense. Take those and think through the intention.
For example, take the keyword “potato masher for ground beef”. That keyword might get miscategorized in a typical keyword / funnel approach.
But think about the question behind the keyword. It could be –
- “Can you use a potato masher with ground beef”
- “Is there a tool like a potato masher but for ground beef”
- “Where can I buy a potato masher for ground beef”
- “How do you use a potato masher with ground beef”
In fact, if you do a little Google Autosuggest manipulation or look in the Related Searches section, you’ll get confirmation.
2. Look for Price & Placement
This rule is simple and straightforward.
First, look at the SERPs again. Are there ads? Is someone paying money to appear in those SERPs?
Look in AdWords’ Keyword Planner to see how much it costs to get #1 position for the keyword.
If websites are paying to get visitors from that keyword, then they are likely making money.
The more advertisers there are the better. The higher the bids & competition there are the better.
Second, look at the advertiser’s’ landing pages & placements.
How do they relate to the “question behind the keyword”? In this example, you might guess that people are looking for a kitchen hack, but upon closer inspection, I think that most people are looking for the right term for a multi-use tool (and are looking to buy, not hack).
If you have access to a premium tool like Ahrefs or SEM Rush, you can also pull data on which terms that have advertisers.
With this rule & the first rule – you’ll know that the keyword leads to sales.
But that’s not the entire picture. For that, we’ll need to look at Rule #3.
3. Evaluate Difficulty & Opportunity Cost
If you can’t get visitors from a targeted keyword / keyword theme, then by definition, you will not get sales.
Before you invest in content or promotion that targets a keyword / theme, you’ll need to decide –
- if the keyword is achievable
- if it is worth the effort
- how you are going to prioritize
If your target keyword is too difficult, then you can repeat the process with a more specific keyword or a different approach.
Second, you’ll need to get a good idea of potential traffic, potential cost, and potential return. Despite the claims of some SEOs in the industry, I’ve found that there is no way to specifically project any of the three.
However, you can get data that is good enough to make a yes / no decision. Not to lean on sports analogies, but treat this exercise like guessing the likelihood of hitting a baseball pitch or hitting a golf ball from the fairway to the green.
Look at ad costs, look at the value of a visit to your site, look at potential search volume, and look at your profit margins.
Third, evaluate the opportunity cost against all the potential keywords that you could target. The Internet is a big place. And in all likelihood, there are many, many ways for you to increase sales via organic traffic. There is no sense in throwing all your efforts at an extremely competitive target when there is plenty of space at another target.
This post is long, but remember that in practice, this process should be efficient & effective. After practice, a good SEO / researcher will be able to use this process every few seconds to efficiently evaluate thousands of keywords.
Think of keyword research like fishing. If you are going to use a fishing rod, make sure you’re in a good spot. If you don’t know of a good spot, use as big of a net as possible.