Build a better keyword plan in 10 easy steps

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Keywords are the foundation upon which successful pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) initiatives are built. For PPC, keywords are critical because clicks on search queries are essentially what advertisers are paying for. Likewise, for effective SEO, it's imperative that web content is specifically authored and organized around the actual search queries that your customers are conducting. 

In either case, keyword complacency -- ignoring the importance of ongoing keyword research and management -- ensures that an organization's SEO and PPC efforts will have limited impact. Thus, an organization's ability to be successful in search is often rooted in a company's ability to strategically manage its keyword research, expansion and organization -- effectively transforming keywords action in an ongoing fashion.

One of the biggest challenges facing search marketers seeking to build and expand PPC and SEO campaigns is the existence of millions of possibly relevant keyword opportunities upon which to act. As search marketers expand their online web presences through search marketing, the challenges of managing the keywords required to support increasingly large web sites and PPC campaigns grows exponentially.

For example, in PPC, knowing what keywords should be associated with what landing pages; and for SEO efforts, knowing what anchor text should link to specific pages; are relatively easy issues when dealing with say, tens of web pages; but this becomes very difficult when you're talking hundreds or even thousands of pages. This increased complexity often results in frustration and unwieldy Excel spreadsheets -- an unmistakable sign of the early onset of keyword complacency!

Keyword complacency affects even the most well-intentioned search marketers among us -- often with tragic results. Overwhelmed by seemingly endless spreadsheet work, it's easy to lose sight of strategic search priorities, instead wasting time on repetitive, time-consuming and never-ending campaign tweaking and maintenance, such as monitoring web page rankings or copying data from one web analytics report format into some other Excel spreadsheet format.  Successful SEO and PPC campaigns require a more a strategic approach to keyword management. Fortunately, there is a cure!

Overcoming keyword complacency: A 10-step program
1. Master the basics. Understanding the search queries that people actually use to find the products and services that are relevant to your business, and the way that you categorize, organize, and prioritize the keyword data represents a crucial piece of competitive intelligence. Building proprietary, comprehensive, up-to-date and well-researched keyword taxonomy is the foundation of any successful SEO and/or PPC effort.

2. Listen and learn. With every search and goal conversion on your site, your customers (and potential customers) are telling you something -- are you listening? Traditional keyword suggestion tools provide a list of keywords that might be relevant to your business. Strategic keyword research is based on real searches and actual outcomes -- your own customers are the best source of relevant and personalized keyword data, whose valuable search history can be gleamed by parsing web server log files or running keyword reports using your web analytics account. Listen to what your customers are telling you and apply this knowledge to your campaign -- a simple step but one that is often ignored.

3. Get organized. Keyword grouping and organization in PPC means constructing well-organized, targeted campaigns and ad groups and landing pages. In SEO, it means effectively targeting keywords with on-site content while creating search-friendly navigation. Results reward relevancy, so keyword organization is critical.

4. Don't set it and forget it. Much of the power of search as a marketing vehicle is that there is so much that you can measure and react to. If you're finding a keyword niche isn't profitable, optimize! Either find profitable sub-niches within a keyword niche, or explore completely different keyword niches, or focus on SEO. If you aren't committed to PPC & SEO as iterative activities, you're probably not realizing the channel's superior ROI potential.

5. If it ain't Working… Dumping keywords you shouldn't be bidding on can have a drastic impact on your overall paid search costs, both by reducing irrelevant clicks and by improving your click-through rates and quality scores, which further impact your overall cost per click and first page bids. And if you're shedding irrelevant terms from your PPC keyword research, why not lose those same terms from your SEO keyword research as well?

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