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.

The adjective heuristic is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as:

involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods <heuristic techniques> <a heuristic assumption>; also : of or relating to exploratory problem-solving techniques that utilize self-educating techniques (as the evaluation of feedback) to improve performance

Heuristic Evaluations are basically any non-data driven experimentation done to learn, discover, or solve problems. These types of experimentations are a key component of Avinash Kaushik’s “Trinity” concept, a web analytics approach that goes beyond basic clickstream data. This type of learning and problem solving allows you to enter the mind of the user, the reason behind your website, and can unlock terms that simple data based research my have left hidden.

Talk to the Experts

Your group of experts are going to vary dependent on your websites concept. The one thing that is likely to be true across markets is that these individuals often rest in the trenches.

They are the group of people that have the best understanding of your end user, and thus will allow you to get inside the head of that group and better your websites user experience.

If you are an e-commerce site your experts will be your sales people. If you are a service related website your experts will be your customer service professionals. Whomever you pay to interact with your customer will have the best knowledge of that person.

The question arises, what if you are a small outfit does not have these resources? Well you should then use the contacts you have within the market, i.e. bloggers and market thought leaders as your expert gorup.

Once you have decided who your experts are going to be you should call a meeting with that group of individuals. Prior to this meeting choose several different search actions that you would like to see your end user make. This number will change depending on your site. For an e-commerce site, you may prepare twenty different product searches you would like your team to assist you with. If you are a lead generation site, you may only ask that they role play situations that would lead them to utilize your lead service. Whatever your end user would be doing on a search engine to find you, is what you should prepare to ask your experts.

Have chart paper or some type of idea sharing medium available, along with a computer and projector.

Begin to work through each of your search actions with your team. Present each as if they were the customer, and chart what they would do to complete each task. Allow the group to make as many searches as they need to complete the action. The primary information from a keyword standpoint is going to be the queries they use to find the information they want. Allow the group to navigate to solve the search action, even if it is away from your site. Find out what your competitors are doing right, and utilize that information to better your websites’ experience.

What you should be able to do is walk away from this meeting with a view of how the end user searches for what your site offers. We often lose site of what we are actually trying to accomplish online, and these types of activities can refocus our efforts. This is especially true when it comes to keywords. We become so consumed with ranking for our industries perceived top keywords, that we lose site that the keyword is not as important as the user that comes via that term.

You should also be able to walk away from your team of experts with a chart of commonly used terms people use to find your site. Often times this list will contain vernacular and colloquialisms that you did not think of, or that may have just arisen in terms of your industry. This is why your sales team or other individuals in the trenches are preferable to your marketing team. You need to see the site through the eyes of your user.

Charting semantic groups

While you have your group of experts together it would be a smart idea to build a semantic web for the keywords for your site.

I would prepare for this by taking the twenty terms you perceive to be the best from your competitive and on-site analysis, and putting each one in the center of a sheet of chart paper.

With your experts, begin to brainstorm keywords that closely relate to the main keyword on the sheet.

For any of you who do not know the definition of the adjective semantic, according to Merriam-Webster it is:

of or relating to meaning in language

The semantic web, and how words interact with each other, has become a hot topic for search engines and search marketers in the last two years. Basically, there is a ton of “tagging”, or labeling, done by social media users on a daily basis on the Internet, and understanding and putting this data to use could create better search results. If I search for “pants” shouldn’t my top ten results have a great resource on “jeans?” Understanding how your keywords relate may not only give you better insight into terms that you had yet to consider optimizing for, but it may also allow you to understand how to approach the social media optimization of your site.

Jordan Kasteler, aka Utah SEO Pro, SEO and Social Media Specialist

A lot of SEOs stop after conducting keyword research and analyzing the keyword effectiveness index (KEI). What most don’t realize is that they can enhance the weight of their optimized keyphrases by using semantically related language in conjunction with them. There have been many search engine patents regarding information retrieval that determine relevancy of content not by repetitiveness of a keyphrase but by co-occurence of other related phrasing in the content. While it’s unknown how much search engines rely on phrase based indexing and latent semantic indexing one thing is for sure that there is a dependency upon it for relevancy. There are several useful tools to give you a good idea of some of the synonymous semantic language you can be using:

1) Quintura.com

2) Google.com – query: “~keyword – keyword”

3) Nichebot

Chart Possible Misspellings and UGC Solutions

One of the biggest difficulties in creating a professional, and yet well optimized web site, is creating content around the misspellings that happen due to the casual nature of search. Some times your group of experts will also lead you to legitimate spelling alternatives to terms that have search value.

Chart spelling variations.

Once you have a pretty sound group of spelling issues that might arise, utilize your group to find ways to combat these content issues. User reviews, forums, and blog comments are great strategies for creating UGC (user generated content) that can capture the spelling errors of end users.

Heuristic Evaluation will likely not only give you a wealth of quality keywords, but will also give you some great insight into the usability of your site. Make sure to take notes on every useful comment or idea that your experts have, not just keyword focused concepts. In the end of the performance of the website in conversion is the single most important factor in the success of your online marketing plan, so don’t lose site of this fact as you move through evaluating your key terms.

Now that we have collected information from a group that interacts and understands our end user, it is time to take our research to the source. The next step in our quest Beyond Keyword Research will be into the realm of lab testing, and observing how the end user searches for our website, and how to utilize the information gained in that testing.

8 thoughts on “Beyond Keyword Research: Heuristic Evaluations

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