Many of the more generic keywords which drive traffic to websites may be easy to identify, but long tail search terms may be more valuable, as they are associated with more qualified traffic. 

So how do you identify these keywords and phrases in order to target them? 

I’ve been asking the SEO experts about the best tools and techniques for SEO gap analysis… 

What is the best way to identify target keywords and phrases which may drive extra traffic / conversions?

Andrew Girdwood, Media Innovations Director at LBi:

The single best keyword technique is to get to the keywords before anyone else does. This is possible if you know about a new product or service and can talk about it before anyone else – speed matters.

You can do this by watching which viral candidate videos are starting to do well, watching for breaking news, checking what TV program production companies are working on, looking at advert schedules and a host of other techniques.

The next best technique is far less glamorous but far more applicable to a wider range of businesses; pay close attention to your own analytics.

In particular, look for what people are searching for on your own site and filter your referring keywords to look for questions or exclude product, service and brand names.  This technique gives you keywords with a conversion capability and within reach for the traffic boost a stronger SEO performance will bring.

James McCann, Head of SEO at Search Laboratory:

Best way is to think about it carefully – no one tool will give you ‘the answer’. Dedicate lots of time and effort to it and constantly re-assess. I’ve seen this stage often done hastily with little logic or thought, which can impact on the entire success of the campaign.

Mark Edmondson, Senior Analytics/SEO Consultant at Netbooster:

The first place to look should be in your own analytics, as this should be the most reliable and accurate information. For SEO keywords in particular, paid search is an obvious first place to look.  PPC’s more tactical nature can help identify those keywords which will make the most difference long term in SEO.  

Consider running an experimental PPC campaign to give you more info on search volumes and click through rates, since outside tools such as Google Keyword Tool are notoriously unreliable for accurate traffic figures. 

Look for keywords that convert well, but have a high CPA (cost per action), for whatever metric of success you have on your website (e-commerce, engagement etc).  You can then project how much you could lower your own acquisition costs with PPC by ranking well organically.  

To help with your figures, on average the split between SEO/PPC is around 60%/40%, whilst a number one ranking keyword in SEO will get around 40% of all SEO traffic on that query, meaning a number one position in SEO will be capturing around 25% of all search traffic for that query.  This does vary depending on query type though – see what is occurring for your own niche.   

Also consider the different types of behaviour behind the keywords.  Brand queries, local queries, ready to buy queries and research queries will all have different user intent.  Multi-touch analysis on your keywords will help determine how they affect your bottom line.  

It may be worthwhile ranking for more question style content as your website will get early brand exposure, that converts via a brand keyword later on down the funnel. 

Nichola Stott, Founder of the media flow:

One of the most common oversights is to rely purely on quantitative data, such as your own existing analytics or webmaster tools.

Conducting user-focus groups and facilitating free discussion around the product or service you offer can throw up all kinds of deeper understanding around purchase motivation and end product application that you may have never considered; which in turn may reveal a way of thinking that needs to be reflected in target terms.

Paul Martin, SEO Manager, Epiphany:

There is no one definitive answer, but a great place to start is with the site’s own analytics package.

Look at what terms currently convert really well or convert with high ticket items – when compared to current ranking positions and found to have low visibility, these are great “quick win” targets for increasing revenue. 

Another way is to really get underneath the skin of the business and thoroughly understand what products mean the most to them, or if they are service lead, what it is that generates the best business leads.

Once you are armed with key areas known to be key targets and/or revenue drivers, flesh out these areas with the Google Keyword Tool. Another advantage of doing this is that the business may use industry specific terminology that, without asking, you may never otherwise have known about to consider as part of the keyword mix.  

However, the best way to identify keywords is a mix of all of the above. No one method used in isolation will work. 

What are the most useful tools for identifying keywords?

Andrew Girdwood: 

  • Site analytics tools. Google Analytics remains superb but it is also worth looking at Clicky and their Spy feature. This is a clean and realtime list of keywords and searches people are using to find the site. 
  • It’s also worth looking at tools like Ubersuggest which are based in (off site) analytics but do some of the heavy lifting for you.
  • An oldie but a goodie is Yahoo Pipes and the Term Extractor module. This module will let you automate your text scanning, for example; an RSS feed of competitor press releases or new products and automate the process of picking out the most significant words. Combine this with IFTTT and Google Docs and you can build a custom keyword suggestion list. 

James McCann:

Mark Edmondson

If your own analytics is not suitable, then third party tools are the next step to help supplement or support your keyword decisions.  A sample are below:

  • An obvious one is the Google Keyword Explorer, but take figures with large portion of salt.  Useful for seeing relative volume perhaps.
  • Wikipedia article traffic statistics can help if you’re looking for user trends
  • The new Google Trends helps you decide if the trend of the keyword is worth going for.
  • Google Correlate can show you similar phrases that have the same pattern.
  • If you can afford it Hitwise is a useful data source independent of search engines. 
  • Social Media tagging. See what other people tag related to your current keywords on services such as StumbleUpon, Delicious or

Nichola Stott

Your customers are the most useful tools for identifying keywords. Additionally, aside from the obvious keyword volume and suggestion tools we find it useful to look at Google Insight/Trends data.

Product names, applications and conventional language changes and evolves all the time. Using Trends data you can get a reality check on where an emergent term might be going and use this to inform your inclusion of a term within your taxonomy.

Paul Martin:

  • Analytics package.
  • PPC data.
  • Search Metrics.
  • Google Keyword Tool (search volume to be taken with a pinch of salt. Always cross reference with analytics data).