Practical Ecommerce

SEO: Using Keyword Research to Better Your Business

Which products and attributes do your shoppers want most? How could your navigation help consumers find what they want faster? What content areas should you focus on? Where should you start optimizing for organic search? Keyword research helps the answer all of these questions.

That’s right: The value of keyword research stretches far beyond writing metadata.

One set of thorough keyword research can help answer many digital and business questions, as well as traditional search engine optimization questions.

Consumer Research

People type words and phrases into a search engine because they want something. They want to buy something; they want to research something; or they just want to get to a particular website. Regardless, the act of searching indicates a desire. And desire is something that we as ecommerce marketers desperately want to understand.

People type words and phrases into a search engine because they want something.

Think of keyword research as a window into consumers’ desires. People tell Google what they want, via the search bar. And Google will tell anyone who uses its keyword tool what the mass of people who search its engine are looking for. The data includes keywords searched for and the number of times they’re searched for in a month.

The best part about keyword research is that it’s quick and free — you can get it this very second. The only cost is the hours you spend extracting relevant data from the tool and analyzing it.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you should make all of your decisions based on keyword research. That would be as foolish as making decisions based on any one source of data. But keyword research, in conjunction with other data sources, represents another dimension of the consumers you need to understand.

Navigation and Taxonomy Research

What can you do with that keyword data that identifies consumer desires? Use it to optimize your taxonomy — the navigational links and words that make up the path your customers will browse through as they navigate your site.

I frequently hear arguments that shoppers on a site are more likely to use internal search to get what they want, versus browsing through a series of navigational links. That may be true — check your analytics to confirm, or refute. But regardless, you need an easy browse path for both user experience and SEO.

The links in your navigation are more than just links for your customers. What you link to in the navigation and where those links sit in the hierarchy of the site determine which pages have the most visibility and the best chance to rank in organic search. Link authority, one of the most important aspects of the engines’ ranking algorithms, flows along links in a site. When more pages on your site link to a page, more of your site’s link authority will pool in that page, making it more likely to rank against its competition than a page on your site without those links and authority.

The links in your navigation are more than just links for your customers.

In addition, the product attributes exposed in the navigation determine whether pages are created for that attribute. Tens of thousands of people search for black dresses every month. If you sell dresses but don’t offer color attributes as a filtering option in your navigation, you won’t have a page just for black dresses and you won’t have the ability to rank for all of those tens of thousands of searches by real people who want black dresses. Your competitors will sell those searchers black dresses instead of you.

Lastly, the exact words you use in the navigation can have an impact on your SEO performance. Using consumer language instead of industry language is critical to winning searching customers. If you sell “footwear” based on your navigational wording but your customers are searching for “shoes,” you are less likely to attract searchers. Your competitors will sell them shoes instead of you.

All of these elements should be influenced by keyword research. Navigation and taxonomy are necessarily a reflection of what your ecommerce business has to sell. The backend systems that serve those products tend to have an influence on structure and wording. But keyword research, and the consumer desires that it represents, should also influence your taxonomy and how it’s expressed in your navigation.

For more on this topic, read my article, “SEO: Impact of Ecommerce Catalog Structure.”

Content Research

Content optimization — using keywords in the text on a page to improve the chances that that page will rank better and drive more organic search traffic and sales — is probably the first thing that people think about when they think of SEO. Keyword research is the data that tells you which keywords to optimize those pages for to reach the most searchers.

Keyword research can also help you decide which content to optimize first. Keyword data tells you how many people search, as well as what they search for, giving you an objective way to measure the importance of optimizing for each. For more on how to prioritize your endless content optimization opportunities, see “SEO: Which Pages to Optimize First?

But perhaps more importantly, keyword research can identify what content to offer in the first place.

Content marketing is one of the latest big ideas for digital marketers. SEO professionals have been saying for years that content is king. Content on your site attracts shoppers. Your content on other sites increases awareness of or preference for your brand and potentially drives shoppers to your site. Your content on social media can reach an amplified audience, again increasing awareness of or preference for your brand and potentially driving traffic to your site.

Keyword data tells you how many people search, as well as what they search for, giving you an objective way to measure the importance of optimizing for each.

How do you know what consumers seek, so you can fulfill those desires? Keyword research. It offers that window into the questions that people have around your product offering, the trends they’re interested in, and other insights that you may otherwise have gone undiscovered in other forms of research or group brainstorming.

Keyword research can help you decide what to write about — both because it contains exact phrases representing desires real consumers have, and also because the volume of searches for individual phrases and topics give you an objective data point on which to base the value of writing about that topic.

The best thing is that one set of very thorough keyword research influences all of these areas. I’m not talking about multiple sets of research requiring much data gathering and analysis. Done to the right level of detail, one set of deep keyword research is all you need, with the odd trip back to check one area or another as it’s discovered.

To learn more about deep keyword research, read these installments from my “SEO 101” series.

Jill Kocher

Jill Kocher

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Comment ( 1 )

  1. Chase February 6, 2016 Reply

    I’m sorry but I’m not sure if I misunderstood this or not. When you mentioned that you will not be able to rank urls that aren’t in the menu items, that it not true at all. I have many pages that aren’t included in the menu that rank fine. Although like I said perhaps I misunderstood what you said. Thanks for the article.