Google’s recent decision to hide keyword data from view has stirred up a bit of a furor in the digital marketing industry. By restricting keyword level insights on specific pages outside of the AdWords system, Google has made it more difficult for digital marketers and businesses alike to correlate page performance to traditional keyword-focused SEO strategy without utilizing its paid search product. Being that there has already been much written on the subject, including this well written article by Anvil’s Will Hattman, this post will be focused on the ways in which AdWords, which has now essentially become the default platform for formulating SEO strategy, can assist in your site’s overall SEO performance.
Arguably, one of Google’s main goals here is to not only drive additional ad revenue in the short term, but to familiarize the masses with the AdWords platform overall. By offering free insights on keyword data within AdWords only, Google has become the Wal Mart of the web – encouraging businesses and marketers to use AdWords more frequently by creating a convenient “one stop shop” for all online marketing efforts. (“Need some keyword research? No problem! Mind if we bundle that into a nice convenient ad group for you?”
While forcing businesses to use AdWords in order to obtain insights on how users search their own sites is a questionable proposition at best (rather than go on a tirade here about the legitimacy of Google’s decision, I would rather point you to Rand Fishkin’s whiteboard Friday video, where he sums up Google’s decision much more eloquently than I ever could hope to), I have always believed that paid search is a valuable cornerstone of any online marketing effort. Conspiracy theories aside, there are valuable insights to be gained inside the walls of AdWords. All of the tools described here have been available and in use for a long time, with the exception of the Organic and Paid report, only now they take on a slightly higher level of importance as one of the primary sources for information about keyword data overall, rather than simply keyword data for the purpose of advertising performance alone.
So if you are already an AdWords advertiser, or are open to the possibility of running testing campaigns to facilitate your SEO efforts, read on.
Before we get into specific tools, let’s talk a bit about how to structure your testing campaigns. Remember, the point here is to be able to correlate the data you receive with on site’s performance, so keyword grouping, ad copy, and destination URLs must be well thought out.
Start a branded campaign: the ability to see branded search terms and compare directly to non-branded searches is of utmost importance. It was always important to segment branded and non-branded campaigns, now it is increasingly important to do so. Make sure you are broad matching branded terms in branded campaigns and negative matching your branded terms on non-branded campaigns to ensure there is no overlap.
Fluctuations in impression data in a branded campaign can be correlated to SEO efforts overall, so that if there is an increase in overall traffic to the site but branded campaign impressions are not increasing, then the traffic increase can theoretically be attributed to SEO efforts on non-branded terms.
For getting volume estimates, there are few tools better than Google’s Keyword Planner, even with its new “enhanced” features. While it does sometimes feel like a funnel for Google to squeeze more ad revenue from you, it can be extremely valuable in determining traffic estimates, particularly for segmented searches. Utilizing this tool to run test campaigns has the additional advantage of reminding you to do ongoing keyword research, and not just relying on the list you compiled when your site was first built. Once you have a solid sense of search volume for your keywords, testing campaigns are live and you’re receiving feedback, you can move on to testing and analyzing the results.
Organic and Paid Reporting
The screenshot below demonstrates the various levels of insights that can be gleaned from the Organic and Paid report in AdWords. Notice that there is no need to run an AdWords campaign to get these keyword insights, You just need Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) linked to your AdWords account. Of course, this data is also available in GWT alone, but if you are running ad campaigns it’s nice to get a holistic view of your advertising efforts for side by side comparisons.
The report sheds light on specific rankings and traffic for all keywords that returned a visit to your site. While this report is still valuable for its original intention – to show assisted conversions – it also provides some additional value by providing CTR% for organic keywords. If you have your pages organized well, and have a sense of the intent of the searcher you can take a look at these pages and see why they may or not be ranking well or getting organic click-throughs. If you are not sure which of these pages correlates to the given keyword you would like to rank higher for, you can run an ad campaign targeting that keyword set and test different destination URLs to get a sense of the relevancy of a given page to this particular query. In this example, “ac to dc power supply” is ranking well for organic traffic, but “24 volt power supply” is not. If this is a keyword that is worth ranking for it may be added to the set of keywords on the most relevant page.
Destination URL Report
Testing and analyzing the Destination URL report is closely intertwined with parsing organic traffic. Since the (not provided) change mostly impacts the correlation between keywords and specific pages, there is an increased need to draw correlations between the two, and the destination URL report is a good place to start.
In your testing campaign, you should be grouping keywords into ad groups according to their relevancy to the specific landing page. Once you have let it run long enough to gain some data, you can begin to see which landing pages performed best not only for keywords but for ad text. Knowing this information can help you identify any disconnects in messaging, and can then be optimized accordingly beyond simply adding keywords but by tweaking the messaging of a given page to more closely accommodate the user’s needs.
Search Terms Query Report
Possibly one of the most valuable tools for expanding and refining keyword sets now has a function in SEO as well. This report often shows long tail searches that may not be feasible as keywords (too long, not enough volume) but can inform SEO strategy by again shedding light on how visitors are reaching your site, and what they might be thinking about when they search.
The Placement tool in AdWords is meant for display advertising, but can also be a fairly decent tool for discovering potential link building opportunities. After targeting a certain group of keyword themes or slightly broader interest categories, the placement tool will reveal a list of sites that share some of the same traffic and may be complimentary to your site. If they are also a decent prospect for ad placement, a request for direct placement along with a link request can serve as a more effective way to engage with the site owners.
As the SEO industry adjusts to the new world order of (not provided), getting a leg up in the realm of PPC will become essential to the success of our clients. PPC and SEO will need work in a cross-disciplinary fashion to communicate, strategize and execute together. Good thing my SEO partner sits right next to me! Now if I can just get him to take his headphones off….