This is part 5 of a 12 part series on keyword research. This series will guide you through four distinct phase of the keyword research process, providing you step by step guidelines to help you gather, sort and organize your keywords into an effective marketing campaign.

Four factors of core term prioritization

Four factors of prioritization

By now you should have several dozen or more core terms documented on your spreadsheet. The question is, what to do with all of these keywords. Before moving on to Phase II you'll first need to prioritize your core terms a bit. In the next phase you'll start digging deeper into each core term to find the relevant search phrases it produces. Instead of taking the shotgun approach, you can go at deliberately, starting the the core terms that provide you with the best opportunities and will have a more immediate impact on your optimization campaign.

There are four different factors that you need to analyze in determining the relative importance of each core term:

Search volume: Search volume is the number of times that each core term is searched on a daily, monthly or yearly basis. Both Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery provide estimated search volume numbers, but keep in mind that these numbers are only estimates. Any keyword tool providing search volume, other than the search engines themselves, is suspect at best. But that doesn't make the numbers useless.

When looking at search volume there are some things to keep in mind. Different keyword tools will produce different volume numbers for the same phrases. Don't get caught up in the actual numbers, but rather use them as a comparison metric. Sometimes the numbers are skewed due to season, tracking delays, or low volume which makes them hard to measure. And even numbers provided by the search engines themselves may not be perfect as they can include searches performed from different search properties, including various geographical region searches.

All things being equal, however, the core terms with the highest search volume should probably be given proper weighting. High volume doesn't automatically make it the best keyword, as we'll see below, but it does give us an indication of how often the term is searched in relation to the other keywords. The more often searched the greater opportunity there is to drive traffic to your site.

On the other hand, don't automatically discount low-volume terms either. While these terms will drive significantly less traffic, they can often provide a better return on investment.

Target audience: High volume search terms are often far less targeted then some of the lower or mid-volume (by comparison) terms. If you're simply concerned about driving traffic then use search volume as the sole metric. However if you're concerned about driving relevant, quality traffic, then you need to determine which core terms are likely to produce the most targeted traffic.

This isn't always as easy as it seems. We tend to look through the lens of our own knowledge. We see a term and automatically place it into our own educated context. But searchers may not have that same context as we do. A term that appears to be highly targeted to you may not be at all once filtered through the mind of the average searcher.

Profit margin: This is something that you won't be able to find in any keyword research tool, yet it's just as important as any other factor. Take a look at your offerings and determine where your greatest profit margin comes from. It may not come from high volume phrases that drive a lot of traffic and it may not even come from your best converting phrases. You can often significantly improve your return on investment by going after the phrases that focus on your areas of best profit.

By sorting out the core terms that correlate to your higher profit offerings, once optimization takes hold, you'll increase your demand for those higher profit products and services. These core terms may not provide you as much traffic as the others, but it's likely to match or exceed the return on investment from several other areas combined.

Meet demand: Finally, you must also be concerned about your ability to meet the demand of any particular core term. This means several things. First, you need to make sure your web server can handle the load. Don't go after phrases that will produce such high volumes of traffic that it crashes your web server. Typically this won't be much of a problem as terms that will produce such traffic volumes are inheritantly difficult to achieve and take significant time.

Second is your business' ability to meet the incoming demand for the products or services you are targeting with any particular keyword. If certain products are difficult to get or are routinely out of stock, then there is almost no point in targeting those keywords if they'll simply lead to customer frustration. Similarly, if you are targeting a service that easily gets overbooked, then don't go after such keywords until a time you are able to consistently meet the demand.

Any core terms that you determine will produce traffic for products or services you are unable to keep up with demane should be put aside. Hold onto those for a day when you are better equipped.

Looking beyond "right now"

Weighing core term exposure

One of the mistakes people often make in keyword research, especially when researching and prioritizing core terms is that they don't look beyond what's happening today. Things change and while we always look through the prism of the present, we have to be able to analyze potential beyond that.

One of the areas that I see too often is business owners ignoring keyword research and avoiding optimizing for terms because they "don't sell a lot" of certain products right now. While this can certainly be an issue, it must also be determined if that product isn't selling simply because those terms have yet to be optimized. Typically you won't sell a laptop bag to someone who searched for a duffelbag. So unless you optimize for the term "laptop bag" you won't drive visitors to your site who are looking for it. Logically, then, you won't sell as many as you do for terms that have been optimized.

On the other hand, if you are driving plenty of traffic for such terms but your conversion rate is significantly lower, then it makes sense to go with other terms entirely. But if that's not the case, looking beyond what's happening today can help you target areas where you're simply weak, but not entirely out of play. Also keep in mind that today's high-volume phrases can be tomorrows low-volume terms. And today's low-volume terms can be tomorrow's high-volume phrases.

Researching core terms isn't just abut gathering data, but making good decisions based on knowledge and well-thought out judgment. Once you have a good idea of which core terms are most viable and will produce the best return for your efforts, we can move into the next phase of the research process. In Phase II we'll uncover many more specific phrases that are being searched and that we'll be able to optimize, bringing in quality, targeted traffic.

Missed one of the steps in this series? Click here to go back to the introduction and follow the links at the bottom.

October 15, 2008

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


One more great guide on the topic. Very useful. Waiting other half to read..


I think that keyword phrase with low search volume but very targeted it's much more useful then a more general term that generates high volume searches. Of course that we have to have a certain limit to that low searches volume otherwise you will have very low traffic. But it the search volume is correct then you have almost buyers who know what they're searching : it's only a matter of who offers the best price and the best services for that price (support, delivery, guaranty, quality assurance, had other buyers that already bought and share their experiences in reviews of the products and services).

About the terms that generate high search volume and then fades away : I think that here we have all the gadgets and IT components that will rapidly become vintage and last year news.

Having those four big factors to determine what you want to do I think it's very important for people to learn how to decide what they want : more traffic or more relevant traffic.

Thank you

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Comprehensive Guide to Keyword Research, Selection & Organization, Part V