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How to Judge the Value of a Keyword

How much is a keyword worth to your website? If you own an online shoe store, do you make more sales from visitors searching for “brown shoes” or “black boots”? The keywords visitors type into search engines are often available to webmasters, and keyword research tools allow us to find this information. However, those tools cannot show us directly how valuable it is to receive traffic from those searches. To understand the value of a keyword, we need to understand our own websites, make some hypotheses, test, and repeat—the classic web marketing formula.

Understanding the Long Tail of Keyword Demand

Going back to our online shoe store example, it would be great to rank #1 for the keyword “shoes” … or would it?

It’s wonderful to deal with keywords that have 5,000 searches a day, or even 500 searches a day, but in reality, these popular search terms actually make up less than 30% of the searches performed on the web. The remaining 70% lie in what’s called the “long tail” of search. The long tail contains hundreds of millions of unique searches that might be conducted a few times in any given day, but, when taken together, comprise the majority of the world’s search volume.

Another lesson search marketers have learned is that long tail keywords often convert better, because they catch people later in the buying/conversion cycle. A person searching for “shoes” is probably browsing, and not ready to buy. On the other hand, someone searching for “best price on Air Jordan size 12” practically has their wallet out!

Understanding the search demand curve is critical. To the right we’ve included a sample keyword demand curve, illustrating the small number of queries sending larger amounts of traffic alongside the volume of less-searched terms and phrases that bring the bulk of our search referrals.

Picking SEO Keywords: Focus on Good Phrases

When it comes to search engine marketing, there may be no larger misnomer, no more archaic term than the ubiquitous keyword. In my view, there should be an official migration to the more accurate term keyphrase, but for now I will be forced to use what I consider to be an inaccurate term. My frustration with this term is that it quite simply implies a single word, which is rarely the strategy that we employ when doing keyword research and selection in the service of PPC and SEO campaigns.

All too often, people dramatically overthink the most basic keyword research concepts; keyword generation should start simply with answering the question of “What products or services do you sell?” If you sell dog food online,  the root words dog and food alone would be very poor keywords because on their own, neither dog nor food do a remotely good job at describing what you sell. Though this example makes it obvious, many times we have to fight through our urge to include those bigger, broader root keywords.

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