Every business does some marketing research. SEOs have, for many years, done competitive keyword research.
Today, I want to question how this is done beyond just using keyword research tools. Because SEO is so often all about the tools, any discussion on competitive keyword research would be incomplete without a listing of some of the tools.
The tools produce huge volumes of data that the keyword researcher must filter through and determine the usability and applicability to the target site. This is the point, the last mile so to speak, that I would like to focus on today.
Competitive Keyword Research Tools Abound
Ask a group of SEOs what their favorite competitive keyword research tool is, and you will get almost as many answers as there are members in the group. With an abundance of free and paid tools, it is hard to choose a favorite. Here is a very short list of just a few of the tools, listed in alphabetical order:
In my practice, I use a limited number of tools. This is a personal preference born out of both time challenges and a skepticism of the validity of all tools. I have long stood by the conviction that it takes considerable time to develop proficiency in using a tool and adapting the data to work processes. For this reason, I strongly recommend trying several tools and then embracing just a few for regular use. (In my own practice, I have used Spyfu for many years.) This has allowed me to develop consistent processes and longitudinal data. It is my belief that longitudinal data leads to longer-term thinking and more strategic results. Because most of the tools depend on second-hand keyword data, they all — at best — give a picture, a representation of the information, not a photograph.
My warning is always to use the data from competitive keyword research tools for direction. Don’t marry the results.
The Last Mile With Competitive Keyword Research — Don’t Get Lost
Using the tools is not the last mile, particularly for competitive keyword research. I have too many times heard business owners tell me that they have no competitors; however, they all want more customers. Every business has a competitor, even highly innovative businesses. They are often seeking to replace or extend on an existing business or business model. Before using the tools, it is essential to identify the competitive landscape.
With each of the tools, the researcher can retrieve a huge volume of raw or semi-filtered data, which then must be resifted and analyzed. Your proficiency in handling the tools and how this fits your processes is key to doing this analysis. The process is — at best — tedious, and many try to shorten the filtering and sifting process. Because the tools are meant to broaden the researcher’s perspective, these shortcuts can short-circuit the process. Try to plan adequate time to explore the possibilities. This exploration process is particularly important for e-commerce long-tail keyword research.
Because most of my work is with e-commerce clients, the last mile is making sure that my competitive keyword research fits the merchandise mix of the commerce site. This last mile will often require exploring both the identified competitive sites and the target site. This shopping the competition is particularly important for long-tail, product-driven keyword research.
Plan to spend time delving deeply into each competitor’s merchandise offering. Go shopping, so to speak. Assess how their focus compares to your target site. Compare their offerings to your target. If you find gaps, then you may need to find specific competitors who fill just that gap, or you may need to refocus more your list of competitors. Then, when you recommend keywords, they will match the merchandise offered and the merchant’s unique value proposition.
This is the last mile.