Keyword research is one of the foundational pieces of search engine optimization because it illuminates the exact words real-life customers use to search for the products we sell. But why stop there? The insights that keyword research provides can inform other many other areas of the business as well.
Keyword data is free and readily available via Google’s keyword research tool. This article is less about how to collect and analyze keyword data, however, and more about the various uses of that data. For a detailed account of how to conduct keyword research, see "Optimizing a Page for Search Engines, Part 1: Keyword Research," my previous article on that topic. Once you have the data, it can be leveraged in all kinds of ways to improve your ecommerce site, your understanding of the customers, and inform business decisions. All it takes is an open mind and a little determination to make sense of the data.
1. Content Planning
One of the most direct applications of keyword research is content planning. Determining what content to offer in addition to product information on an ecommerce site can be a challenge. Let searchers tell you what they want to learn more about. Analyze product-based keywords and phrases that searchers use to discover new solutions to the needs that your products fill. Try “how to” phrases to learn which products customers are unsure how to care for or operate. They may also specify media types like pictures or videos in their searches. The data may even uncover memes or other light-hearted topics associated with your products that you could leverage on your site.
2. Information Architecture
Take a closer look at the modifiers searchers use in conjunction with product and category keywords. They may add gender, size, color, price, shape, dimension, and other descriptors into their searches. Those same modifiers can be analyzed to inform structural and navigational changes to the site to improve customer experience on the site as well as give the SEO folks additional pages to optimize to drive conversions.
In addition, the data showing the volume of searches for certain keywords may warrant discussion about splitting apart a category that has several similar but very popular segments to better drive search traffic and conversions. Conversely, the data could show that searchers often combine two words into a single search phrase, suggesting that two smaller categories may be stronger joined into a single larger one. Naturally other data and expertise would be needed in these discussions, but keyword data can be another valuable window into what searchers want.
3. Market Research
While not a substitute for more objective forms of market research, keyword research can help flesh out drier numerical datasets like demographics and geographical data. Dig into the keywords associated with your industry, your brand and your competitors’ brands. Analyze the keywords for any insight into phrasing that could be linked to age, gender, education level, region or other demographic data. Summarize the volume of searches for keywords that meet different market segmentation criteria. Bucketing the keywords into different groupings will be subjective -- determining which keywords belong in which group -- but the volume of searches associated with each grouping will be more objective.
4. Product Development
The specific details that searchers seek can also feed into product planning and development. Some search queries are extremely focused, specifying this attribute but not that. When the volume of searches reaches what your business considers critical mass, and other business data shows similar trends, it may be time to consider creating or offering that product. Perhaps the data will identify a large opportunity in a niche similar to one your ecommerce site already serves. That information could spark a discussion on the merits of expanding into the new niche as well.
Each of these uses of keyword data assumes that the keyword research is somehow understandable at a higher level. When the data is first mined from the keyword tool, it’s just a long list of keywords and monthly search counts. Depending on the size of your product offering and the diversity of search phrases you encounter, that initial list of keywords and search counts could be thousands deep. Achieving a higher level of understanding requires bucketing the individual keywords into logical groupings.
Choosing the groupings is highly subjective, and that’s OK. You’ll likely end up with groupings similar to your current site’s categorization at first because that’s the lens you view the data through. If you keep an open mind, however, you’ll notice that searchers think of things differently than marketers do. They use different words for the same things — different modifiers and different pairings. Capture those differences as well in your groupings and measure the volume of searches in each. The size of the opportunity may be large enough to warrant discussion and changes within the site or organization.