Search engines transformed the way we find information and make decisions. Here’s what every business needs to know to define — and dominate — their keyword market.
Every time your clients or customers conduct a search on Google, they are creating a data point. SEO is the art of collecting those data points and turning them into actionable business intelligence.
Whatever business you’re in, it’s a sure bet that there is a market of questions that people in your industry take to Google. By harnessing that search data, you can transform your business’ ability to sell online.
The bad news: search data is messy and complex.
The good news: keyword data follows the same structure in every single market. If you understand that structure, you’ll understand how to master the opportunities in any market.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- The natural law that describes how keyword data is structured
- The difference between “short-tail” and “long-tail” keywords — and which ones your business should target
- How you can use keyword data to outmaneuver bigger industry players
- How to dominate a keyword market niche
What Does a “Keyword Market” Look Like?
Keyword markets follow an exponential distribution.
In plain American English, that means that in any keyword market, there are a handful of “general terms” that have a lot of traffic, and a ton of specific keywords that have a little traffic.
L&T keyword data from one of our clients, a private medical practice
By “traffic,” we mean the number of people who search for a given term.
For instance, according to data from SEMrush, an average of 450,000 people each month search Google for the word jobs. That’s a “generic” keyword — it’s short and general.
Then there are countless, more specific variations on that generic term: 2,900 people each month search for jobs in london, and 1,000 search for jobs in london for americans (let’s hope they’re searching before they move across the Atlantic…).
These specific searches are called “keywords,” too, even though they contain more than one word. More specifically, they are called “long-tail keywords,” because they’re part of that long trailing tail-end of the distribution.
Every keyword is like a road.
Generic or “short-tail” keywords are like highways: they get tons of traffic, but don’t always take you to the exact place you’re trying to go. They’re a great place for a business to have a billboard, but they aren’t usually how people get to your store.
By contrast, long-tail keywords may have a lot less traffic, but someone looking for jobs in london for americans is a lot more likely to call a headhunter or career coach than someone just looking for jobs.
The “Attention vs Intention” Trade-Off
The long-tail distribution leads to an important derivative principle: the “attention vs. intention” trade-off.
If your website ranks for a major generic keyword like jobs, you will capture a lot of attention. But if your website ranks for specific terms — and especially, the right specific terms — you will capture intention: customers who have specific needs and will pay whoever can solve them.
From the perspective of a digital strategist, your goal should be to drive as much traffic as possible — but it must be traffic that’s beneficial to your business.
And herein lies the central misconception of SEO: it’s not so much a matter of tricking search engines into prominently featuring your website as it is a means of teaching search engines how your business benefits users at key decision-making junctures.
The question shouldn’t be, “How do I drive traffic to my business?” Rather, ask, “How do I attract users to my site whose needs my products can satisfy?”
Know (and Write For!) Your Niche
In each market, there’s a category term that businesses strive to rank for.
For Amazon, one might be books, a term which they usually dominate in search results.
If you’re an online bookseller, however, that doesn’t mean that Amazon has sucked all the air out the room. Smart niche players can still boost meaningful traffic by optimizing for highly relevant terms within their corner of the market.
While Amazon might command the field for books, a small, independent bookstore can carve out a unique space for, say, historical nonfiction by dominating for terms such as books on ulysses s grant or books on eleanor roosevelt.
If you understand how your products fit into specific demands within your market, you can carve out a niche around the strengths that differentiate your business.
Double Down on What You Do Well
Every time your site appears in a user’s search results, Google logs it as valid and reliable for users who craft similar searches — and who may be in the market for similar purchases.
To improve your rankings, you can optimize for terms that consistently drive traffic to your site and help Google understand which of its users stand to benefit from your business.
For example, any outdoor gear retailer will be competing for traffic against REI. If a small- or medium-sized retailer finds that it consistently draws traffic because of its selection of rock climbing equipment, that business can develop more content related to rock climbing equipment to secure its position.
Articles introducing the basics of rock climbing, the best places to go rock climbing, and essential gear for rock climbers can help maintain the retailer’s popularity and capture more “high-intent” traffic. As Google consistently ranks the site well for rock climbing-related content, the retailer will rank better over time for more competitive generic search terms, too.
Use Analytics to Find Growth Opportunities
It’s not enough just to write about generally relevant content, however. Your publishing strategy needs to incorporate data-driven keywords to ensure that you’re consolidating your share of traffic.
With Google Search Console, you can understand which keyword searches your site currently appears in. This information reveals how your current online presence ranks and how successful you’ve been in driving traffic.
With this data, it’s possible to optimize your website for keywords that you already rank well for. This will secure current users while exploring related keywords whose traffic you might be missing out on.
When orienting your publishing strategy, make sure you’re not losing sight of the user. Consider what your target audience is looking for, and how they might phrase their queries.
Once you have a grasp of how users might find their way to your content, use resources such as Google AdWords or SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool to find relevant terms. These tools can even break down keywords related to particular concepts your business has a stake in, and allow you to expand your reach.
Strike a Balance Between Being a Longneck and a Thunderfoot
It’s important to always strike a balance between being a Longneck (that’s the brontosaur) — taking the top-level view of where your business stands in its market, analyzing how customers express their needs through keyword searches — and being a Thunderfoot (that’s the stegosaur). Sometimes you need to just pick a direction and start charging at your problem head-first.
If you’re grappling with the challenges of business in the digital age, you’re not alone. My team has helped clients increase their traffic by 300% in eight months, and increase conversions by 43% in just three months.
Here are some of the companies we’ve helped face down (and defeat) their digital extinction.
And if you want to learn how you can put these principles into practice for your business, drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.