Beyond Keyword Research: Heuristic Evaluations

So far in our trip Beyond Keyword Research, we have looked at all of the data available to us on the web, both competitive and from our site.

We have utilized on-site analytics, Google Trends, Seodigger.com, and hitwise tools to collect a wealth of data about terms on our market and traffic approximations related to those keywords.

The next step is to look at heuristic evaluations of the site. This step will allow us to get a look at which of the 25% of daily search terms that are completely original queries we can capture to our competitive advantage.

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The Wiki:A Method to Your Madness

One of the hardest things to do in Internet Marketing is collecting and storing data.

Keyword research, site architecture, content ideas, link partners, and analytics analysis all need to be kept somewhere. Not having a system set up can lead to client or employer issues that could have otherwise been sidestepped.

My organizational method of choice is the wiki. This format allows you to save all of your work on a backed-up server, and also allows for multiple editors and remote use.

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The SEO Apocolypse, More Theory than Substance

I could have also titled this entry, “More miscommunication than finality.”

Digging through my feed reader today I was blown away by the number of posts Shoemoney, Jeremy Schoemaker, had incited from his, “SEO has no future” post.

Yesterday he updated his thoughts in a new post:

The death of SEO is not going to happen overnight but it is close. I personally believe that Google will achieve their original goals and not allow humans to influence its algorithms. I know it sounds like SEO… well actually the definitions are the same thing. The difference between SEO and spam is what Google allows. There is no future in SEO and we will very soon all go back to being spammers. There is no black or white there is only SEO.

Shoemoney’s concept is based on the idea that data has replaced much of Google’s original reliance on providing webmasters with beneficial information on how to get their sites ranked better. This data comes from places like Google Analytics and its toolbar.

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Beyond Keyword Research: Competitive Analysis

Last weeks edition of Beyond Keyword Research looked at utilizing analytics to find more keywords than our original research may have bestowed upon us. We utilized site based analytics programs, as well as other data found around the web to unearth new longtail and conversion driven keywords.

This week we will be taking a bit of a step back to Competitive Research.

The reason I say a step back, is because I am hoping you took a long, hard look at your market before jumping in head first with a site and a dream. If not it is never too late, I just hope when you look beneath the surface you’re not staring straight into the face of a Great White.

We will be looking at our competitors and competitive analysis as a guide.

We already have some rough keyword research from keyword tools such as Wordtracker. We also have a more extensive list of longtail terms and and conversion driven phrases from our analytics, now we need to see how our competitors, which have often been in our market longer than us, have achieved their success.

What words are your competitors using?

What words are converting for them?

Oldies but Goodies

Let’s explore some of the more classic tactics for revealing our competitors’ keywords.

The first, and most basic concept is to simply take a look at what your competition is doing with their titles and meta information.

Titles still carry a great deal of weight in search rankings, but Meta information, especially Meta Keywords, have long been devalued. However, the reality persists that many webmasters still put faith into the dated SEO tactic of utilizing, and even stuffing Meta keywords.

Their mistake can be your reward.

You can often reveal your competitors entire keyword strategy simply by looking in the <head> tags of their web pages. To do this in Firefox, look at the source code by navigating to the page, and pressing Ctrl+U.

If you are not strong at reading html, then you can utilize the SEO Chat tool below.

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If you have a more advanced competitor on your hands you may have less to work with than the webmaster whose competitor stuffs their Meta Keyword tags.

One idea is to look at the competitor’s site the way the search engine bots do.

By spidering the competition’s site you can look at ONLY the individual words in the text of the page. This will allow you to look for heavily used terms, without the distraction of formating and design.

There are several free scripts on the web you can use to spider your competitors pages, below find one from SEO Chat.

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As you make your way through the on-page data found on your competitor’s site you will want to collect the information in a spreadsheet or some type of tabular form. This will allow you to utilize the information later. We are not simply looking at what others have done to their sites to get insight into the market, we are also looking for clues to the effective optimization of our site.

You will want to take this data and find the amount of estimated searches for each term according to your favorite keyword research tool. This will keep you from falling prey to a sly competitor using misinformation, and will also give you the data you will need to apply the keywords to your content and site.

Internet Monitoring

As we step off-site with our analysis, the best place to begin is with one of the many competitive analysis tools available on the Web. There is of course a difference between many of these tools, in both price and efficiency, and you will need to weigh these factors in coorelation with your own online needs.

As you move through these tools you will want to continue to add discovered terms to your tabular data.

Quantcast

Let’s start with the free option, as this is probably the first place you will want to begin regardless to get your feet wet in terms of competitive analysis. Quantcast has as many flaws as it does uses, but like any data, if used with a filter it can be useful.

Quantcast defines itself as:

Quantcast is a new media measurement service that enables advertisers to view audience reports for millions of sites and services to build their brands with confidence. The free service empowers publishers to demonstrate the unique value of their audiences by tagging their websites, videos, widgets and games for direct measurement.

Quantcast Corporation was founded in 2005 by a team of engineers and mathematicians committed to advancing the digital media industry. The Quantcast team has conducted extensive research and development to provide publishers with a free and easy way to report on the audience metrics that advertisers demand, including traffic, demographics and lifestyle assessments.

If you do some research on sites that you know, or that you own, you will find that many of Quantcast’s traffic projections are way off. There is however quality data on the site in terms of brand and site affinities, sites with a similar audience, and audience keywords.

Quantcast should really only be used as a primer for competitive analysis, as it is not setup to be an all in one tool. It can lead you to some new concepts in terms of keywords, possible competition, and the brands that your audience is tied to.

Remember that we are really focusing in on keywords and user search intent so the traffic analysis flaws are not really a concern at this stage.

Hitwise Competitor Report

Hitwise offers a very different level of competitive analysis than Quantcast. This service is state of the industry, and its research store offers individual reporting options for businesses that cannot justify the extremely high end subscription option.

Hitwise defines its process of data collection as:

The network-centric methodology employed by Hitwise enables the most efficient way of monitoring of how more people visit more websites than any other way of measuring Internet usage.

Hitwise has developed proprietary software that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use to analyze website usage logs created on their network. The anonymous data sent to Hitwise from the ISPs include a range of industry standard metrics relating to the viewing of websites including page requests, visits and average visit length.

Hitwise is also able to combine this rich ISP data with region specific demographic and lifestyle information across thousands of website that are reported on every day.

You can choose from a variety of research report options starting at $695. This cost is pretty pale in comparison with the Internet marketing budget you will likely be using to get your site fully optimized and conversion ready.

As you can see from the example of a competitive research document provided by Hitwise on Coca-Cola the research is very detailed and can be utilized beyond even our keyword analysis.

With this report you will receive the top keywords from search over the previous 4 weeks of data collection. You will also receive click stream data that will tell you where your competitors visitors are coming from, and where they are going to. This data can be used to refine your site’s conversion and usability.

Hitwise Search Intelligence

The Cadillac of competitive keyword tools comes in the form of Hitwise Search Intelligence.

Hitwise describes this product:

Hitwise Search Intelligence™ provides extensive insights on how people successfully search for products and services in over 160 industries, across all major (80+) search engines. This unique data gives Hitwise clients a competitive advantage when planning, monitoring and measuring search marketing campaigns.

Hitwise Search Intelligence allows you to Identify which search terms have driven traffic to competitive websites, analyze the search patterns and behavior of your consumers, customize reports based on your needs, and export and manage terms for campaign execution.

Think of Hitwise Search Intelligence as your everyday keyword tools on HGH.

The program allows you to effectively find search terms to a website or industry, finding keywords that have been successful in driving traffic to competitive sites, rather than a general estimate of traffic for terms. The tool also gives you search term suggestions and analysis.

It’s obviously a great tool, and you will pay for its greatness, somewhere to the tune of $50,000 a year.

Back to the Digger

Last week I told you how to use www.SEODigger.com to find important terms that you rank for, that may have slipped past you in your initial keyword research. This week we will want to use this same program to view the terms our competitors are ranking in the top 20 of Google for.

By examining the keyword rankings of our competitors, we not only will find out the terms they are actively optimizing for, but we may also get a glimpse at their overall optimization strategy, including how they are funneling their conversions.

Pay special attention to their long tail terms. Just as these are your most conversion driven words, they are also your competitors.

Checking Anchor Tags of Inbound Links

Another way to take a peak into how others view your competition is to see how others are linking to them. By analyzing the anchor tags of links pointing to your competition’s site you can get a good idea of the terms that Internet users utilize when talking about, and searching for your competition.

Anchor tags are also a factor in search rankings, so this analysis will likely lead you to a clearer idea of your competitions optimization strategy.

SEOmoz.org offers a great tool that finds the most used anchor tags that correlate to a site. You must get the Pro membership at the site to utilize the tool, but the money is well worth all of the great tools and information you gain from Rand Fishkin and team.

After we have completed our competitive analysis you should have a good idea of the terms that are currently converting in your market, both in terms of sales and traffic. You will know how your site is effected by keywords, and how your competition is effected.

The next step will be to look at terms that are currently not on our radar. Language is a state of constant flux, and this fact means that your keywords are volatile. Somewhere around 25% of all searches are totally unique, and have never been attempted before.

This means that even if you are dead on with your keyword research you may still only reach 75% of your intended audience.

There are steps you can take to limit the amount of search traffic you miss out on.

One is Heuristic Evaluations.