Practical Ecommerce

SEO: What to Base Content Decisions On

Content is the first thing that comes to mind with search engine optimization. There is a process, however, to creating and optimizing strong content.

The process involves four separate tasks: data analysis, programmatic optimization, content creation, and manual optimization. These tasks are often performed by three teams: SEO, marketing, and IT.

This article covers the first of those four tasks, the critical data analysis. Data may not be sexy to most people. But strong data is the basis of every good SEO plan. Do not skip this first step in the content optimization process for any reason, no matter how quickly you need to move. Poor data inevitably leads to poor execution.

Keyword Research

Keyword data shows the potential demand that each keyword concept holds based on how many searches are conducted for that concept in an average month. Demand is an important consideration. It is separate from performance. Demand identifies how strongly you could be driving traffic and revenue to your site for specific keyword concepts. Performance identifies how well you have already done so.

Keyword data shows the potential demand that each keyword concept holds based on how many searches are conducted for that concept in an average month.

The difference between the two is your missed opportunity, which organic search competitors are capitalizing on. (For additional details, see my how-to articles on keyword research planning and execution.)

Search Engine Rankings Data

This data is a little trickier to get without an enterprise SEO platform like Searchmetrics or BrightEdge, or a dedicated search rankings tool. If you cannot afford ranking tools and must do it manually, at least sign out of your search engine accounts and open an incognito window. This is not a foolproof technique, but it’s better than nothing.

When collecting rankings data in the U.S., it makes the most sense to use Google as the engine to target based on the large percentage of traffic it drives. In Google, collect not just the position that individual keywords are ranking at, but also the URL that ranks for that keyword.

Google Search Console Search Query Report

Sadly, the Search Console “queries” report (Search Console > Search Traffic > Search Analytics > Queries) will only yield 2,000 search queries, but it’s the only reliable source of keyword data for Google searches. Everything else is either estimated or inaccurate based on the keyword “not provided” challenge that SEO professionals have faced since the search engines began stripping search query information from referral strings by default in October 2011.

An important aside: Do not use your web analytics’ natural search keywords report as a substitute for this data. It is not accurate, and hasn’t been for years.

Google Search Console also provides average rankings for each keyword. It’s a good idea to keep all the data that any report contains, but you’ll especially want the rankings data because it is the only accurate indicator of Google’s true average ranking for your site.

While the online keyword report showing all 2,000 search queries allows you to click deeper to see all of the URLs that drove natural search impressions and traffic for that keyword, unfortunately there’s no way to download that information. That pairing of a keyword that ranks and the URL that ranks for it can still only be found in bulk with a third-party rankings tool.

SEO Keyword Data Mash up

Using VLOOKUP formulas in Excel, create a worksheet that contains a row for every keyword with columns showing the values from keyword research, rankings, and Google Search Console search query reports. This mash up will inform the next three steps. Save it, update it regularly, and consult it religiously for every important keyword or content-based decision you make.

Web Analytics Sessions and Revenue

While not keyword based, the reports showing sessions or visits, and orders and revenue, by natural search page or URL are another important source of content optimization information.

Whether your analytics platform is Google Analytics, Adobe Analytic, Coremetrics, or something else, your natural search landing page report is one of the most critical tools for determining everything from how well your content is performing today to how well it should perform tomorrow and how you should get there.

If you have the support of an analytics team, it may be tempting to rely on it to do the pulling and analysis of the data for you. Resist that temptation.

If you have the support of an analytics team, it may be tempting to rely on it to do the pulling and analysis of the data for you. Resist that temptation.

To be sure, consult with your analytics experts to get a recommendation on which reports to use in which profiles to get to the correct data that you need: visits or sessions, and orders and revenue. But data analysis inevitably leads to additional questions that can only be answered with additional data.

Rather than requesting and waiting for additional reports to be pulled for different timeframes and with different levels of granularity, it’s much more productive to become familiar enough with the analytics tool to extract the accurate data yourself. You’ll also get a better feel for the data when you’re actually using the tool.

Initiatives, such as supporting new product launches and the need to boost sales in certain areas, will also feed into decisions about which content to create and optimize. But they shouldn’t be the only information you reply on to drive your SEO content plan. If one-time initiatives supersede potential and performance data, your SEO plan will be primarily reactive as opposed to driving broad, strong performance.

See the second installment of Jill Kocher’s content optimization series, at “Creating a Content Optimization Plan for Organic Search.” 

Jill Kocher

Jill Kocher

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  1. Filip Zafirovski September 7, 2017 Reply

    Informative article Jill, thanks for the share.

    When you’re deciding what to base your content one, what do you check first, keywords or google search console search query report

  2. Jill Kocher September 8, 2017 Reply

    Hi, Filip. I don’t really worry about which to do first, because I know I’ll be doing them all. If I had to choose, though, Google Keyword Planner is the king of these data sets because it is the only tool in this toolset that identifies the potential of what you could get when you optimize content. Everything else focuses on what you’re already getting in terms of natural search performance. If you optimize solely based on what you’ve already got, you’ll just continue to perform similarly to how you’re performing already. You’ll miss the big leaps ahead that could be possible if you look at the data for what you could be targeting but aren’t already.