One of the biggest problems I see clients and newbie SEOs make is choosing either the wrong keywords to track or not enough. Here are a few scenarios I see frequently that annoy me to no end:
- Branded terms that the site’s either already ranking #1 for
- Too short of a list that only includes keywords client is obsessing over
- Terms that have no (or very little) search volume
I won’t go into all the reasons these are subpar scenarios, save to say you want to track terms that:
- Get good search volume
- You have a chance at ranking on page 1 for, even if you don’t now
- Have gotten results for you
There are a number of tools I use to get these terms from. Two are free and the others are paid but well worth the money.
Your Analytics Software
Whether you’re using Google Analytics or a paid service, you can get the keywords you’re getting organic traffic for. These are terms you should consider tracking.
What I normally do is pull organic terms from the past six months, filter out branded terms, and run those through the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to check search volume.
To get your top organic keywords from Google Analytics, you can navigate to Standard Reporting > Traffic Sources > Search > Organic or open a custom report I created for you. The report I created pulls in your visits, bounce rate, total goal completions, and revenue (essential if you have revenue tracking set up). That’s everything I look at when determining the potential of a keyword.
Once you open the report, you’ll want to filter out your branded keywords though. Just choose the most common variations of your keyword, and follow these instructions to apply a line item filter to your report:
The vertical line you see in step 5 is called a pipe character. It means OR in regex and can be found on the key just above the Enter/Return key on your keyboard. If you want to learn how to rock regular expressions (what the cool kids call regex), I wrote a blog post on how to use regex and some of the most common uses for them in Google Analytics.
Google and Bing Webmaster Tools
Both Google and Bing offer webmaster tools that are chock full of great data, not the least of which is their Queries report. This report gives you the top search terms that you’ve shown up in searches for (AKA impressions). It also tells you clickthrough rate (CTR), as well as a few other nuggets, like average position. (Yum!)
I’ll walk you through how to get your top query terms (geek speak for keywords) from GWT for simplicity’s sake and then tell you how to find the same report in Bing.
- Navigate to Your site on the web > Search queries.
- Click the Filter button at the top of the report to check out your options.
- In the example below, the client is mostly focusing on web searches and has a business that primarily is US-based, so I applied those filters. Filtering out queries with fewer than 10 clicks just helps keeps your data clean and relevant.
- Click the Apply button to activate the filter.
- Just below the chart, keep the Basic button selected and click Download this table.
To get the same report from BWT, simply click the Traffic tab at the top, which lands you on the Traffic Summary report. Then you can click the Export button sitting on the top-right corner of the Rank and Traffic Stats table.
One thing I love to do with this data is look for keywords a site is right on the cusp on page one for (or even page two if it has good search volume) and begin to target those terms. But if you only relied on keywords you’re actually getting traffic for, you’ll miss some of these opportunities.
Tangent: One time I was working with a client who was absolutely obsessed over and for good reason — it had a local exact match search volume of 40k searches/mo. BUT I discovered from their GWT report that they were in position 12 for a term that garnered 1.4 million searches/month. Unfortunately, they were so busy arguing over if they were getting filtered or penalized, they missed the opportunity to land that keyword. When I checked again a month later, they had missed the boat. So sad. I’m sorry if you were expecting a happy ending.
One of my most absolute favorite tools in the world is SEMRush. I use it for all kinds of competitive data dives. What it does is scrape both Google and Bing for a site and generates a list of the keywords it ranks on the first two pages for. The beauty of it is, not only does it tell you the rank for that keyword but also the landing page. OMG, the actionable insights you could cull from that beautiful data…
[Stay focused, Annie. Remember the steps...]
It’s outside the scope of this post, which is already getting mad long, to go into all the great ways you can use SEMRush data (sucks, right?), but I definitely pull the terms from this list to make sure we’re tracking the powerhouses the site is currently ranking for. And, again, search for keywords a site is right on the cusp of greatness for.
To run a report, follow these simple steps:
- Enter site you’re searching for.
- Choose search engine.
- Click on Full Report (You have to have a subscription. See prices.)
- Click one of the export options sitting on the upper-right corner of the report.
There are so many different ways you can reorder your data in Excel, to choose which keywords to prioritize.
Open Site Explorer or Majestic
You may be saying to yourself, Annie, what kind of fast one are you trying to pull here? Everyone knows those tools are for backlink research, not keyword research!
Well, if you think about it (and few apparently do), if you’ve been doing link building, you want to make sure you’re tracking the optimized terms you’ve been building for — or what other sites link to your site with. And both of these tools provide a list of the anchors pointing back to your site. (An “anchor” is simply the text in a link that points back to your site, like “prices” in the link a few paragraphs due north.)
Open Site Explorer
To get to this report from Open Site Explorer, you have to have an SEOmoz membership. You can see prices here. Provided you have that, follow these steps to get your Anchor Text report:
- Stroll on over to Open Site Explorer, enter your site into the search box, and click the Search button.
- Click the Anchor Text tab.
- Choose all pages on this root domain from the filter dropdown and click the Filter button.
- Click the Download CSV link.
- Order your anchors by your priorities in Excel and cherry pick the anchors you want to add.
One advantage to using Majestic is the report is free if you own the site. I’ll show you were to get yours in the steps below:
- Search for a site and click the Create Report button.
- From the Create Report page, you will have the option to grab the report for free if you control the site. If you’re doing research for a site you don’t own, you’ll need to pony up for the service.
- Most of the time you’ll want to choose a Domain Level report. This will give you a list of anchors to your whole site, if you own multiple subdomains.
- Click the Create Report button.
- Navigate to the Reports page by following the link provided to you.
- Find your report and click on it (once it’s finished being analyzed).
- From the Summary Reports dropdown at the top of the page, choose Anchor.
- Click the Export report CSV link in the bottom-left corner of the report.
- Just like OSE, order your anchors by your priorities in Excel and cherry pick the anchors you want to add.
Pulling It All Together
Before I end this ridiculously long post, I’m just going to hit one point about the Google Keyword Tool. I’ve seen people who were supposed to be advanced SEOs screw these settings up, which can render your keyword research pretty useless.
That said, here are the settings I recommend customizing before you hit the Search button. Some of them have to be unhidden, but they’re well worth the extra effort.
So do yourself a favor and update the keywords you’re tracking. You could be really underselling your services or missing out on great traffic opportunities!