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How To Build a Keyword Matrix [and Why You Need One]

If built and used properly a keyword matrix can increase your rankings and your keyword spread exponentially.

Keyword matrices have traditionally been used for paid search, but also have far reaching implications for organic search; essentially using other factors of influence to help qualify and quantify your opportunities.

So, What is a Keyword Matrix?

Unlike the virtual world built by the Wachowski brothers, the idea is relatively simple, a matrix is a 2-dimensional table that enables you to cross reference two aspects, and analyze opportunities – with the potential to slice and layer additional information on top for deeper analysis.

When applied to keywords, it gives you 2 axises from which to gauge different qualitative heuristics.

Michael Martinez discusses passive versus active keyword matrices, putting the emphasis on purpose; a passive matrix records keyword data that other websites are using, where as an active matrix is used as a design template for your website and content.

I am going to be taking a different approach to defining and building keyword matrices for organic search.

I want to look at search intent versus search volume and search volume versus SERP competitiveness. These 2 scenarios are very interesting because the first is an inverse relationship, and the latter is linear.

Here’s a look at the relationship between search volume vs. user intent: search volume vs intent

Query complexity tends to also have an inverse relationship with search volume; as complexity decreases (from long-tail to head), search volume tends to increase.

In the graph above you can see how search volume steadily decreases as intent increases (thus the inverse relationship), and again, it is usually the case that the query length (and complexity) increase in relation to intent.

Now look at the relationship between search volume and SERP competitiveness:

Not surprisingly the higher the search volume, the more competitive the SERP. Now let’s overlay intent segments over the search volume versus search intent correlation graph:

Looking at this further – this starts to lay out what your matrix will look like.

With the implications between hummingbird and moving entirely to secure search, a focus on intent at the content level is critical.

We are definitely seeing a move away from the big volumes offered traditionally by “head terms,” into an era where the long-tail is even more important, as Google serves up more personalized results. This means that a simple result for ‘insurance’ will no longer be shown, and instead the results will be more relevant to something such as ‘cheap car insurance quotes for a 33 year old male’.


- Simon Penson, Founder of Zazzle Media

Many SEO’s are already gleaning intent from their keyword research:

Keyword research is excellent for understanding user intent, which is one of the main pillars of my content strategies. I focus on crafting content that will meet customer expectations in hopes of creating a better overall experience.


- Gisele Navarro, Head of Outreach at NeoMam

One major issue is that getting your head wrapped around intent can be difficult at first

I think initially, understanding keyword intent can be difficult for some people. Once you get past that, I think the challenging part becomes getting the right level of granularity for the topic of a page, and how diverse your set of keywords are to include on a page can be tricky for people.


- Geoff Kenyon, SEO Consultant at Distilled

And this is precisely how using keyword matrices can be beneficial; they help categorize your target terms by providing a visual cue to brainstorm and prioritize.

The hardest thing I deal with is how to balance both keyword strategy & UX when you’re trying to cut up your products & categorize them in different ways. i.e. some issues that will come up that are purely judgement calls:


  • Trying to label subcategories as highly searched keywords, but those subs aren’t necessarily the best way to cut them up from a user perspective (they wouldn’t mine down to the products they want that way; i.e. too specific or non-inclusive of what they’re looking for)
  • Trying to create a category for Product Characteristic A, and one for Product Characteristic B (because they’re both big keywords), but a product could possibly have both characteristics, which could confuse the user at the point of entry (even if you have some products in both categories, which would be one possible solution)
  • This is more research oriented, but not knowing enough about your product’s terminology that could give insight into what keywords people are searching to find your products, as well as variations off of that (keyword planner doesn’t give the best related keyword suggestions IMO).

So really what keyword strategy (and research) comes down to for ecommerce sites is A) knowing some general SEO rules of thumb (i.e. an optimal URL structure, what to do when you come across situation X, etc.) B) knowing your products inside & out (this is essential and spells doom for anyone who tries to find shortcuts!).


- Jon Cooper, Owner of Point Blank SEO

Why You Need To Be Using Keyword Matrices

To Jon’s point above, you need to take into consideration how keywords are going to shape your content, and how your content needs to be formed to support your user’s intent, both in getting searchers to your site and to help them navigate while they’re there.

Think of this scenario:

Your manage an eCommerce website that sells high-end camera’s and camera equipment.

Two visitors come into your site using the search term “SLR camera accessories,” they both searched Google using the same body term with commercial intent.

They are both looking for the exact same product, a Noktor 50mm lens, but here’s where it gets interesting, and where alignment between keywords and your content becomes critical to conversion – one visitors click’s into the category “SLR Accessories,” while the other clicks into “SLR Lens.”

Do they both find the Noktor 50mm lens they’re looking for?

It depends on if you have listed the product in all of the intent-based locations where it’s relevant.

The separation is between product versus function, one user is looking for a product specific attribute, a lens, where the other is looking for a functional attribute, an accessory.

Keyword research is one of the first places to find consumer pain points – by nature, they are looking for answers to their questions. So, it’s a great place to do research. But finding the keyword is not enough – you must also do a competitive analysis to determine whether or not your solution can be the best, or the cost-benefit may not be worth it.


For example, we built a marketing checklist and did comparative research: are there any other checklists out there? Do they compare to our proposed solution? What competitive advantages do they have? After determining we could create by far the best solution (not a requirement), we moved forward in building it.


- Ross Hudgens, Founder of Siege Media

In the scenario above it’s not as much about the pain points as it is how different brains approach solving the same problem, and how content needs to be structured as a path toward a solution, regardless of which path is taken.

How SEO’s Currently Approach Keywords

The idea of using a keyword matrix is far from new at this point, but it really isn’t talked about much on the interwebs.

I wanted to get a sense of how important keywords were to some SEO’s when it came to producing content – as a litmus test for how much impact a strategic tool like a keyword matrix might have on their efforts.

Ross puts it beautifully:

Simply because a keyword exists and it could send you relevant traffic, does not mean you should build that page. Your competitors may simply be better positioned to rank for those keywords, both today and in the future.   The second part is semantic touch / IA / UX combination.


It’s hard to mix the usability / information architecture / SEO needs in a neat and non-obtrusive way, and that’s something that takes a lot of experience to get right / blend delicately.

How important is aligning keyword research with your content production efforts?

Understanding the possible intent of the searcher for each keyword we’re targeting allows us to have a better approach and purpose for the overall content.


- Jason Acidre, Owner of Kaiser The Sage

In a recent article by Peep Laja, he said:

SEO is going to get increasingly harder. If you’re still doing SEO by optimizing for keywords, you should know: it’s not 2008 anymore. Things have changed! Google understands context, natural language, intent.

And he is completely right.

Expanding on head terms and focusing on traffic is not how you are going to win the SERP’s as we move into the world of 100% not provided and complete geo-personalized results.

But getting intent right is hard, and making sure you are developing the right content to support the right intent, at the right phase in the conversion funnel is even harder. But using research, analysis, and a dash of creativity gets the ball rolling…

Coming from an SEO background I’ve always felt that keyword research is one of the best sources for content development. Before Google stole our keyword data, leveraging your existing analytics could show popular topics that were performing well, but were under serviced.


For example, a marketing company may find articles around “Facebook Advertising” were generating 25% of their leads, but only made up 3% of their content. It’s a good indicator of topics you could possibly flesh out and create more content around.   Of course the other great use of keyword data is using tools like UberSuggest, Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, Google Suggest, etc to build out a content plan around topics that are relevant to the personas you are targeting.


I’ve ran several workshops for teams of editors in big media companies and showing them how simple it is to get content ideas using tools like this really changed the way they approached their editorial meetings.   I’ve always been a big fan of owning a topic. If we are talking about keyword lists, then in my mind that’s a owning something like “best red widgets” as the core keyword, but it will have a bunch of secondary keywords hanging off it “best red widgets 2013″.


In these cases you are trying to create a relevant content campaign that has multiple pieces in different formats all focused around that central topic. If you split your campaign like this, interlink those pieces and have a solid plan to distribute links across the different pieces, it gives Google a better reason to rank your content. You can obviously just go for one stand out piece if targeting a big keyword.


- Kieran Flanagan, Marketing Director at Hubspot

How to Build a Keyword Matrix

Initial keyword research is the first step toward building an informative keyword matrix.

So fire up keyword snatcher (or whatever keyword mining tool you fancy), drop in your head term (just one), and send it off to the races. The Excel file is designed to handle *any* keyword data, as it uses a natural language macro to look for signaling words (that you can manage in the key) to tag searcher intent.

Export to CSV > Filter out illegal characters > cut into lists of 10,000 keywords > Save CSV.

Upload into Google Keyword Planner > Get Ideas > Export to CSV.

Use keyword combiner to join all of your individual research files.

Open in Excel > Sort descending by search volume > Add a column for intent > Add a column for “Best” > Save.

Here’s where you should be at:


Tagging For Intent

Tagging for search intent is critical, this is where effective prioritization starts to really come into focus. Here is how I approach tagging for the 4 top-level buckets of user intent:

  • Informational – a specific question where the results are the information the searcher is looking for, may contain phrases such as:  info, more information, details, features, benefits, etc.
  • Navigational – contains the name of the brand, product, service, or a person at the organization.
  • Commercial Investigation – easiest to identify and least ambiguous, these queries contain specific parameters for researching a purchase, such as sizes, colors, versus, best, price, pricing, etc.
  • Transactional -indicative of shopping behavior further down the conversion funnel, at this point the searcher knows what they want – so look for terms like buy, purchase, sale, coupon, discount, or locations.

To make this easier on you, I’ve built an Excel macro that, with a bit of keyword specific tweaking, automates much of this process for you. You can watch a quick video of it in action here ›

And in case you want to use the macro, here is the VB code you will need:

Don’t Feel Like Learning Visual Basic?

Well, you probably should if you’re doing much enterprise SEO, buuut, I’ll help you out.

If you don’t feel like going through the time and pain of getting that snippet working, instead of wrestling with someone at Fiverr, you can grab a copy of the actual file I used (complete with all my sample data) for just $5.

Grab a Copy of Search Intent Template for $5

Tagging For Best

Here’s the human component that is still needed to really analyze keyword opportunities for maximum impact and potential.

I call it my “best” column, and it is my process for manually reviewing and tagging the keywords that I believe are the priority targets for the campaign – and it is exactly as easy as it sounds.

Once I have gotten my Excel file laid out to my liking, I sort by type of intent and filter for keywords with a minimum monthly search volume of 1,000 or more.

Now based on the specific goals of the campaign, I tag my top priorities – the best keywords. This helps focus on a top tier of say 20 to 50 (at most) keywords.


I then run each keyword through SEMRush to look at the competitive landscape of that SERP.

And here’s what I’m paying attention to:

The Related Keywords Report


This report gives me an immediate sense of the commercial interest and general competitive landscape of this SERP (as well as offers some fantastic contextual suggestions for queries closely related to mine).

Which Websites Are in Top Organic Results

This is a quick and dirty tactic to get a sense of the SEO competitiveness of the term without having to actually inspect the SERP (and also without having to worry about personalization, localization, and all the other signaling algo’s that may affect what you see).

To get this data just use the default ‘Overview’ view on SEMrush, and scroll down:


Laying Out Your Matrix

Though I have seen people do this in Excel, I prefer the ability to quickly wipe away, move, change my mind, and finalize my concepts much like a figure artist with a sketchpad. For that reason I recommend a sketchpad or ideally a whiteboard.

I’m going to stick with my earlier example of building out keyword intelligence visuals for SLR  accessories since there are a lot of terms and a lot of potential variations for each stage in the intent funnel.

Once you’ve finished tagging all your keywords for best and intent, there’s one additional caveat that I like to add, occasionally, which I call content type. And this is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a human element that provides some context around what might be the best path for creating content around that keyword – and while there’s a lot of options, I tend to focus on blog posts, aggregate pages, and evergreen pages.

Here’s a quick look at what this might look like (click to enlarge):

SEO Nick Keyword Matrix

In the above view I have sorted the intent column by Average search volume > Search intent for commercial investigation > Best.

Next we move onto the keyword column to separate which keywords should be targets for organic versus PPC, because all keyword opportunities are not created equal. These are based on a few heuristics but really come down to average bid price versus AdWords competition on the PPC side, and search volume versus organic competition on the SEO side.

Here’s a peak at this list tagged for targets:


Making Cents of The Data

Now you have a enough data to start making informed decisions regarding your keyword targeting and timing. Using a keyword matrix gives you the ability to quickly refer back to a set of data (as long as you keep it up to date!) to drive your editorial calendar, your on-page content, when and which pieces warrant video, and any other opportunities for keyword optimization.

Happy hunting.

Introducing The SEO Nick Guide on How to Do Keyword Research For SEO

After a couple months of pulling together examples of research and data, and with help from the great team at, I’m thrilled to publish my guide on how to do keyword research for SEO.

You can go check it out right here, otherwise – let me tell you a little about it.

Over the past couple of years I’ve written heavily about keyword research, sharing my experiences working both in eCommerce and on large-scale content projects.

I even recently put out a little keyword research tool.

But There Was Something Missing…

I still didn’t have one place that I could point people at and say “there you go, that’s everything you need to get started.”

I would pool together all the links I could, put them into an email, and then try to explain the process. This usually resulted in long email chains of back and forth questions and examples.. and more times than not, people getting overwhelmed and simply giving up.

The problem was all of the methods out there didn’t out the research into context, starting from the very beginning.

This guide solves that problem.

It starts off explaining the intrinsic value of a keyword, how to approach thinking about the process, and breaks down their composition in terms of intent.

It gives examples of intent and how to look for it. It steps you through how to tie your keywords back to costs and revenue, and project an accurate return on investment.

And Best Of All

Thanks to, it serves as an interactive community. You can comment on any of the sections and every member of the guide can join in the conversation. As a hosted version, versus just a PDF, the content will continue to evolve going forward.

Just last week I went back in an updated all of the old keyword tool references and processes to now show the keyword planner – and I’ve already added 3 new sections based on questions and feedback from testers.

So it really is just getting started.

If this sounds like just what you’ve been looking for – you can go grab your copy right here.

What Readers Are Saying:

100% Money Back Guarantee

One of my favorite benefits of publishing with is the opportunity to leverage their no hassle, 7-day 100% money back guarantee, no questions asked. If you aren’t completely satisfied with the guide, you get your money back immediately, no if, ands, or buts.

Table of Contents

The following is a list of what is included in the guide:

  • Section 1 — Getting Started

    • 2 Schools Of Thought
    • The Value Of A Keyword
  • Section 2 — Researching For Searcher Intent

    • Inferring Searcher Intent
    • Segmenting Keywords Into Funnels
    • Avoid Low-Intent Keywords
    • Understanding Keywords In Search Context
  • Section 3 — Time To Do The Research

    • Using The Keyword Planner
    • Don’t Forget To Check Plurals
    • Expand Your List
    • Great Tools
    • The Keyword Combiner
  • Section 4 — Validate The Big Opportunities

    • Evaluate With Google Trends
    • Evaluate Topic Popularity
  • Section 5 — SEO Competitive Analysis

    • Understanding Your Competitive Landscape
    • Getting Started With The Analysis
    • Anatomy Of A Keyword
    • Looking At Authority
    • Data Mining – Release The Scrapers
    • Usurp The SERP – Planning The Takeover
  • Section 6 — Create A Keyword Evaluation Model

    • The Simple Keyword Opportunity Model
    • Adjusting For Competitiveness
    • Build A Test Case
    • Estimating Your Development Costs
    • Estimate Your Revenue
    • The Advanced Keyword Opportunity Model
  • Section 7 — Keyword Research For Page Titles

  • Section 8 — Conducting A Keyword Performance Audit

    • Dive Into Google Analytics
    • Open Excel
    • Open Up Your Freshly Downloaded Data
    • Time For Analysis
  • Section 9 — Closing The Loop


A Dead Simple Process for Starting Keyword Research [and a Free Tool]

I’m a self-proclaimed keyword research junkie.

I spend hours every week auditing historical keyword data and running new queries to expand my targets and improve my focus on user intent.

I use a variety of tools including SerpIQ for SERP-level keyword competition, an internal tool that hits several external API’s to pull in related terms, and what used to be the Google keyword tool – and has since become keyword planner.

Whether it’s for some quick and dirty research or just to get the ball rolling, I still use G’s keyword tools a lot… (even keyword planner)

A Handy Little SEO Tip

This may be the simplest SEO tip you ever get, but I see so few people doing it and it has far reaching implications…

Input 1 (yes, only one) keyword at a time – and set to [exact] match only.

In keyword planner this means selecting “Search for keywords and ad group ideas”

typing in one (yes, just one) seed keyword – and clicking the blue button to “Get ideas.”

This will hit Google’s AdWords keyword data API, and render you initial results page (click to enlarge):

This is where it gets tricky – because there has been a few changes.

First, the default view is ‘Ad group ideas,” which is fine – you can export directly from here and it will simply give you an extra column in your CSV file, column A will be Ad Group instead of Keyword (which will now be in column B), but I prefer to toggle the tabs to “Keyword ideas.”

Make sure you click the new pencil icon – and set your match type to exact. Especially with the new interface, this is very easy to overlook! (click to enlarge)

This will maximize the total output and suggested variations, which tops out at just over 800 keywords per run.

One More Quick Tip

After you’ve finished your first run, export to CSV, and then sort in descending order by local monthly searches. You’re specifically looking for the most relevant keywords with the highest search volume.

Choose up to 10, and run each of them individually back through the keyword tool. Export the full results to CSV every time. Feel free not to stop at 10, if there is more keyword gold in there, for every good, relevant term – run it through the keyword tool.

Every time you are running a new keyword that is closely related to your core keyword you are expanding your list and picking up more and more related terms. There will be a lot of duplicates, but you will continue to get new keywords each time.

At this point you should have 11 files, and somewhere in the ball park of 8 to 9 thousand keywords, but that’s not convenient.

Cleaning Up Your Keywords with the Keyword Combiner

Now you’re faced with the task of either individually sorting and cleaning up all of these files or copying and pasting all of this data into one sheet, again, that’s not convenient.

So I built a small windows desktop app to do precisely this, I call it the keyword combiner, and you can download it for free by clicking the link below.

When you get there simply enter your email address, and set the price to ’0′ and voila, all yours.

Go Download Keyword Combiner

Using the Keyword Combiner

I’ve tried to make this as simple as possible. Once installed click the ‘Run’ button on the pop-up window prompt and the keyword combiner should pop up on your screen:

SEO Nick Keyword Research Combiner SEO Tool

It is worth noting that I have been having some issue with the window re-sizing across different versions of Windows; if it renders short of full-width, just re-size it.

Now you want to make sure all of your .CSV files are in the same directory (folder), and that there is nothing else in there.

Click the top ‘Select’ button and choose your directory.

Next click the bottom ‘Select’ button and choose where you want to save the file and give it a name.

As is the case with the default exports from Google keyword tool, your first rows will all be headers, so make sure you select the checkbox for “First Lin is Header.”

Optionally: If you have data sets that are tab delineated versus CSV (which stands for comma separated values) you can also use this tool, just select the “Custom Delineator” checkbox and enter “\t” into the text field on the right.

Now you’re ready to Run. Click the button and watch the green progress bar shoot across the bottom of the window – I’ve run upwards of 100 files and it has never taken more than 5 seconds.

Output From the Keyword Combiner

Again, this is a super-simple tool – but very useful if you do a lot of keyword research with Google’s keyword tool or across multiple sheets and files, helping you quickly combine your mess of files into one clean file.

Combine Excel Files Into One File

This makes it far more manageable to go through the motions of sorting, filtering, and de-duping all of your keywords so you can begin to gather the rest of your data; DA, PA, # of links, LRD’s, etc.

If you like the tool, or found any of this helpful, please consider sharing this post :)

Thanks for reading.

Advanced SEO For Ecommerce: Maximizing Keyword Spread

Maximizing the search engine visibility of your eCommerce website, for qualified queries, is perhaps the most important role SEO has to play in selling products online.

The idea of keyword spread is similar to an approach taken by stock options traders called a condor option; you are essentially increasing your keyword opportunities while lowering your overall risk.
Condor stock optionBy spreading your search engine rankings for as many qualified keywords as possible you are exponentially increasing the probability that your site will be seen and hopefully visited.

And to be fair (and clear) this strategy is not just for eCommerce, but for the purposes of this post I am going to focus on selling online, looking at websites that are effectively ranking for eCommerce intent keywords from head to long tail.

The nuts and bolts of this concept is about making sure you position the right content, for the right time, for the right person. If you’re taking a strategic approach to keyword spread, then your visitors are getting the right page at the right point in the conversion funnel, based on their search behavior and intent.

Don't Pitch Me Bro!

Think of this as more of a keyword funnel where the top of the funnel is informational and navigational-based content; content that helps to inform the visitor, present them with facts, data, and options but does NOT pitch them.

You are then ranking content at the commercial investigation phase, helping users to quickly gain insights into how your product stacks up against your competitors, the pro’s and con’s (yes! The con’s too, I’ll come back to this later in the post), pricing information and availability.

The end game here is to take the Google approach to information experience; provide as much as possible as quick as possible so users don’t have to look anywhere else.

I realize this is counter-intuitive from an eCommerce perspective, why would you ever want to provide competitive information to a prospective customer?

Simple, if you provide them with all the information they need, not only are you building trust through transparency, but they have no reason to go looking elsewhere for it.

All the gimmicks in the world won’t force someone to buy who is not ready to make the purchase. I’m not going to pretend that the checkout countdown used by major online retailers like Ticketmaster™ (shown below) and doesn’t positively impact checkout conversions, however, I will say that for someone who is not ready to make the purchase – it is not going to force the purchase and stands a better chance of feeling pushy.


Sustainable brands are built on trust and customer loyalty. Think about it. Why settle for a 1-time purchase when you have the opportunity to sell to the same customer every time they want a product you sell?

These types of relationships are built through transparency:

  • If you are not the cheapest, say so, then explain why.
  • If you don’t have fancy stripes, buttons, or a slick new design, talk about it.

Contrary to what many people seem to still believe; consumers aren’t stupid. If the information is important to them, they are going to find it.

Keyword Spread Opportunity

Taking a lesson from my days in Finance, you can lower your risk for negative returns from search by making sure to spread your rankings across more purchase-intent SERP’s. Similar to a condor option, the wider your spread on target traffic, and the higher your average position, the less risk you have on not making your target return.

You need to be building awareness and mind-share throughout the buying cycle.

Searcher behavior starts with initial interest and information gathering. As shoppers begin to browse more specific queries they move through the conversion funnel.


Time For Some Ecommerce Examples


RevZilla is a Philly-based eCommerce company that sells a crap load of motorcycle gear.

They have done a fantastic job with their keyword spread, ranking for many of their target categories all the way from head to tail. They leverage this head term keyword authority to power rankings all the way down to the product level.

Best of all, they supplement their AdWords bids and campaigns to get your attention when their organic rankings are not as high. I imagine this is based on conversion rate; keywords that don’t have a high historical conversion rate are not a focus for organic, which is human capital intensive, and instead are just bid on in paid search.

Head Keyword: motorcycle jackets (click to enlarge)


Body Keyword: mens motorcycle jackets (click to enlarge)


Body Keyword: leather motorcycle jackets (click to enlarge)


Body Keyword: mens leather motorcycle jackets (click to enlarge)


Body Keyword: brown leather motorcycle jackets (click to enlarge)


Wanna See What’s Really Cool?

The head term keyword authority that RevZilla has been able to build has allowed them to position themselves very highly for contextually related brand terms.

Brand Keyword: Alpinestars (click to enlarge)


Yes. You’re seeing that right.

Alpinestars is a major brand retailer, with a pretty large social following including;

Over 1.7 Million Facebook Fans


Over 66,000 Twitter Followers


Yet their social profiles are being out-ranked in their brand SERP by a reseller, so for those who think SEO is dead, you need to wake up and smell the coffee.

Furthermore, this keyword authority transcends to more specific product category and product-specific search results:

Brand Body Keyword: alpinestars leather motorcycle jackets (click to enlarge)


Brand Long-Tail Keyword: Alpinestars GP-R Leather Jacket (click to enlarge)


Thank you to Peter Attia and John-Henry Scherck for sending along this great example.


ASOS is a UK-based online retailer of men and women’s clothes, they are also an SEO powerhouse.

ASOS is dominating organic, and has what I like to call a complimentary AdWords presence. What’s most impressive about there keyword spread is that they successfully hold top results for ton of brand keywords:

Brand Head Keyword: ray ban sunglasses (click to enlarge)


Brand Head Keyword: nike trainers (click to enlarge)


Brand Body Keyword: esprit chino shorts (click to enlarge)


And it’s not just the individual head terms, look here are their keyword spread for American Apparel queries:

Brand Head Keyword: american apparel tshirts


Brand head Keyword: mens american apparel


Brand Body Keyword: mens american apparel tshirts


Brand Long-Tail Keyword: mens american apparel vneck shirt


Wait, Notice Anything Strange?

Look closely at the Google shopping results for mens american apparel…

Yeah, no men. I can’t help but wonder if this is on purpose. And I know what you’re thinking – why on earth would they intentionally be displaying results for women for a mens query?

It may have something to do with this…

Google Display Planner mens american apparel

According to Google’s wonderful new Display Planner, it seems nearly just as many women may be searching for mens american apparel as men. Why not seize the opportunity to get some impressions for womens american apparel in case they decide they would rather be shopping for themselves instead :)

Thank you to Patrick Hathaway for the great example.


Last but certainly not least in my examples is Argos, another UK-based online retailer with a focus on home furnishings and toys (among many other verticals).

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of the URL architecture, as it’s pretty long and messy, however, their keyword spread is pretty amazing; take for example:

Head Keyword: pan set (click to enlarge)

pan set_Google_UK

Body Keyword: non stick pan set (click to enlarge)


Brand Body Keyword: Tefal non stick pan set (click to enlarge)


Do you SEE that last SERP? Argos is outranking the brand for it’s own product, which is pretty impressive to say the least.

Thank you to Wayne Barker for the great example.

How To Maximize Your Keyword Spread

This goes without saying, but in order to approach increasing the spread of your organic keywords, you first need to have completed your in-depth keyword research and a deep dive SEO competitive analysis.

This data is needed to help you figure out which pages will be the best candidates for which keywords, as well as which keywords are your highest priorities.

Once you know who your competitors are, what types of content is ranking for your high value keywords, and level of signaling that you’re competing with; i.e. on page factors, back link profile, social signals, etc. – you are ready to take this further:

1. Expand Your Semantic and Contextual Reach

Google has begun to look not only for keywords on the page, but also for groups of contextually relevant words. To such an extent that there is a patent recently reviewed by Bill Slawski that looks at the potential for parameterless search.

What does that mean? Imagine if you will being out and simply holding down a button on your phone and simply speaking “search now,” and based on your personal preferences and geo-location, Google returns a set of results.

Going back to Google’s keyword planner, we are going to look at what other words Google believes to be closely related at the category and product adjective level.

To get started, choose your category from the drop down menu and add just your head keyword, for example here’s a look at the keyword ‘ecommerce‘ within the ‘business and industrial‘ category (click to enlarge):


You can see pretty quickly from the image above that Google associates the keyword ‘ecommerce‘ primarily with software; every top-level term listed is related to software, solutions, a code base (such as PHP), etc.

If we add the word ‘optimization,’ this focus shifts to design and developers and completely away from software, with terms related to SEO and marketing starting to show up.

Let’s take a look at a query landscape that we have already become familiar with; motorcycle jackets – this time removing the category (click to enlarge).


Not surprising, Google associates these with motorcycles, leather, and jackets. What is surprising is that Google also see’s this as closely contextually related to varsity jackets, bomber jackets (hey that’s a good term), and the keyword ‘biker jacket’ – which receives over 12,000 exact searches per month.

Let’s take this a step further and take a look at what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite keyword research tools, the Display Planner, and for the purposes of this exercise make sure you set it to ‘Ad group ideas’ and then select ‘Keywords,’ it should look like this (click to enlarge):


Ready for the cool part? Hover your mouse over the right side of the ‘Ad group’ and a blue arrow will appear:


Now click on the yellow-highlighted keyword on the right-side under ‘Ad groups’:


And you will be be shown this list of contextually related keywords:


Scroll through for a list of body and long-tail suggestions, right from Google, based on it’s search network inventory (driven by actual searches).

2. Conduct a Keyword Performance Audit

Go into Google Analytics and look at the historical data for organic traffic keywords for the past 6 months.

Look for pages with high engagement and low organic search traffic by sorting in descending order for both pages per visit and average time on site.

For a detailed look at this process please check out conducting a keyword performance audit >

3. Use Hierarchy to Pass Relevance From Parent to Child Directories

I know I talk about this a lot, but it continues to become more important. This essentially means that if your information architecture is properly supported by your URL’s directory structure, than you may be able to create relevance for certain topic keywords, allowing for authority to be established faster for new sub-directories in the future.

What’s important to consider here is that the higher-level pages stand to receive more PageRank and flow less PageRank to the lower-level directories. The good news is utilizing this approach gives you an opportunity to potentially establish more authority for the parent directories, thus increasing their potential to rank for more competitive terms.

AirBnB does this fantastically, where they actually use just microdata mark-up to show which root-level directories are both up-stream and downstream, leading to optimized search engine listings such as:


which is literally being propagated just from the microdata formatting in the HTML, and NOT from an internal link structure.


4. Optimize Pages for Specific Product-Attribute Keywords

Nothing frustrates me more than seeing websites where multiple pages are carrying the same page-level keywords in the page title.

Similar to the problem with duplicate content, if your title tags contain the same focus keywords, Google is going to have a harder time determining which of those pages should be ranking for the keyword, and you may be cannibalizing your own rankings.

I’m not saying to throw out keywords that should be used across several titles, such as your brand or the brand of the products – I’m simply talking about not optimizing titles for the same category and product-level keywords.

One of the best ways to spread your titles across your target keywords is to leverage the ability of many modern eCommerce platforms to create new views, for example RevZilla carries a number of brown motorcycle jackets, which you can get to by going to motorcycle jackets and then using the left-side navigation to filter by color, giving you this anchor URL:

What I would recommend to them instead, would be to use these color filters and create top-level directories for each of these colors.

Stop and think for a second about the naming conventions you have seen around other popular eCommerce websites, there tend to be a lot of opportunities to expand the reach of the products simply by creating new pages focused on 1 or 2 specific product attributes.

Lastly, remember when I said you should include as much content on your pages as is relevant to the searcher’s potential purpose, including competitor data? I bet you thought I was crazy.

But think about this for a second: If you include what your product does well, what your competitor’s product does well, and draw a line between the differences, you are not only getting more contextually relevant content onto your pages, you are preventing the user from having to go out and mine for that information.

You become the resource, and you build trust, so chances are even if they go to your competitor’s website to verify your information (which better be accurate) you have established a piece of mindshare that is likely to reflect positively on your brand.

5. Use Related Content in Place of Products

This is a very common problem in niche eCommerce. You are selling products that people want, but there is absolutely no aggregated search volume (or very low aggregate search volume) and you can’t justify building pages and links for a query that receives let’s less than 100 searches per month.

What do you do?

You build content for queries that surround the product but aren’t the product.

What does that mean?

Perhaps my favorite example is ReadyForZero’s page on budgeting tips. This is a fantastic example of an in-depth piece of content that is positioned to capture searchers at the top of the conversion funnel, focusing on informational intent queries, and educating visitors who obviously have a need for ReadyForZero’s money management products.

Wrapping It Up

The end game here is rank as highly as possible for as many qualified keywords as possible.

Look for opportunities to build new pages, better optimize titles and meta attributes to target language around the specific attributes of your products, and leverage your available technology to create new category and sub-category pages where appropriate.

Pay close attention the language Google uses not only in tools talked about in this post, but also look at the language that is on the pages that are currently in the top 10 results. What other words are helping these URL’s signal to Google that they are a good result for the query.

To take this a step further, you need to make sure that you are optimizing the right pages for the right queries. If the query is informational (like the ReadyForZero example, budgeting tips) make sure you are ranking a page that provides informational content. And likewise, if the query is transactional – you need to make sure that you are optimizing product detail pages.

Lastly, what are some of your favorite eCommerce websites that are killing it in terms of search rankings for head through long-tail keywords?

Talking SEO with Industry Experts Interview with Todd Malicoat

Welcome to the long overdue second segment of my podcast series Talking with Industry Experts.

In this podcast I speak with Captain Todd Malicoat, Author of the Stuntdubl SEO Blog, Faculty SEO Chair at MarketMotive, and Fishing Charter Captain at Miami Fishing Charters.

Listen to Todd and I discuss his thoughts on Panda’s integration into Google’s normal algorithm, negative SEO, link building, and find out the one tip that Todd has for all SEO’s.


Nick: Hey, guys! I’m here with Todd Malicoat one of the first SEO’s that I ever started reading back in God, it had to be 2004-2005. He has been nice enough to give us a little bit of his time today and answer a couple of my questions that I sourced from a bunch of my readers.

This is the second edition of my SEO podcast, talking with experts and I hope you guys like it. So without further ado, we’ll get started.

How are you doing, Todd?

Todd: Fantastic.

Nick: Good to hear it, man.

The first question I’ve got coming at you has to do with Panda being integrated into Google’s normal algorithm. A couple of people, including myself are just really curious as to what the effects professionals and experts, people like yourself think that it’s going to have on just the overall search engine landscape?

Todd: Yeah, I think we’ve seen this with a lot of different types of algorithm updates in the past, really. Google’s just always given different names and have targeted different problems associated with relevance.

One of the big problems they were having with relevance was there was such a heavy emphasis and heavy importance placed on off-site equity and link equity that they needed something to balance that, and that kinda is what Panda was in my mind, is they had to take care of this big relevance issue.

And they did, through a series of iterations that’s now becoming part of the overall algorithm. Those iterations are so subtle that you don’t really notice them anymore. I think that’s happened in the past with lots of different changes.

This one, however, was obviously a huge one. That they did it so many times and that it was noticeable, so many times is a big thing. And really what came out of that as what I noticed most was having that audition period for almost any landing page and that overall score for any type of website.

So we saw between Panda and Penguin, two different issues that we’re solving that emphasis on too much offsite. But with Panda, it was just ranking garbage content on a quality domain, and so that’s always been an issue.

That’s starting to get solved and I think we’ve seen that the solution is working. If a site has 80% bounce rate, it’s no longer ranking for its term, number one, for a very long or more than a short time.

So with Panda overall, we see that you can’t rank a crappy landing page anymore. That’s what it solved. That’s what it’ll continue to solve. You have to be watching bounce rates and kind of those exit rates in your analytics, in order to solve that and be prepared for that. If you’re not doing that, you have to know that you’re not going to rank well.

Nick: I think that’s a fantastic point. Coming back to the piece you opened up with, more about the focus on off-page link equity. That leads me really well actually right into our next question, which is,

Have you ever seen or experienced negative SEO firsthand?

Todd: I’ve seen some examples, more so I think of hacking. Negative SEO is kind of an all-encompassing term, for anything negative that happens to your site that you really don’t have control over it.

Nick: Very good point.

Todd: The most malicious of this was once called Google bowling, pointing a bunch of blog spam links at a site to tank it. I have seen it happen in competitive verticals.

I’ve seen some examples. I’ve never really played in verticals competitive enough where it was an issue. Personally to me, I have had sites hacked where there was malware installed, and that impacted the rankings which is similar in ways, but not quite what I deemed the Google bowling, I suppose.

So it does exist to a certain point. You know I think Google finally admitted there’s an issue with that, by releasing the disavow tool.

But overall, unless you’re really in that competitive vertical, it’s not a huge issue, and if you are in those verticals, you’re kind of a little bit more prepared for it, and understand that SEO in those spaces is a little bit different.

Nick: I think those are all really good points. I think the most interesting thing in my experience is probably on the flip side of negative SEO, which is people who aren’t trying to do it to have a negative impact on their competitors’ sites from people who are using lots of just crappy spam and drip links, Xrumer, and all that good stuff to get their stuff to rank.

And probably, I think what’s amazing to me is the amount of proliferation I’ve seen, with those types of very spam-heavy link-building packets in, like the payday loan SERPs specifically, which I think and correct me if I’m wrong, it’s probably one of the more volatile SERPs within search.

Todd: Yeah, those payday loan guys have been aggressive with it for quite some time and it’s an interesting space to watch. I think even things like Viagra are a little less competitive now, because they’re a little bit more regulated. Payday loans really have been sort of the Wild West kind of industries.

It’s interesting to watch those search results sometimes. You have to probably have a high-level of security on your computer, and not allow any malware or Adware of any sort to be installed.

But they’re interesting to watch, because there’s a little bit different space and it fluctuates a lot, by watching those results change you can kind of get a feel for what’s going on sometimes, some of the things that Google’s trying to prevent in competitive industries or other industries by watching those most important ones.

Nick: That’s a very cool idea. This is actually a perfect segue into my third question which is:

In your opinion, what would you consider to be one fail- safe link-building strategy that still works in 2013?

Todd: I think the one that people can agree on is guest posting to a certain extent. Guest posting absolutely works. It’s kind of the foundation for content marketing in a lot of ways, which is kind of, I don’t know if it’s making a resurgence or what.

In my mind it will always be link development and content building, and they’re kind of married together.

But the idea of content marketing without link development, I suppose is kind of being brought back. That’s creating something and sharing it, having a linkable asset, that asset can be content. That asset can be a widget. That asset can be a tool. That asset can be software, a PDF, whatever it is.

But you have to have something to be offering. You can’t just go out and kind of rob people for links anymore, hold your email gun up and say, “Give me a link,” or can I have a link. It just doesn’t work. Even in the past, people were sending thousands of emails and getting 1.0% response rate.

Even at that level, those have gone down. That was really never my approach, but I think people did that in the past and webmasters fell for it, and now those same webmasters are upset about it, and they’re never going to fall for it again.

So you have to have something to offer, you have to have something that’s safer, and there’s that validation later now with social to say this is a real person, send me a real request, not a pseudonym made-up person sending a request, for a payday loan site that won’t exist three days from now.

Nick: Yep, I absolutely agree. Beyond links what are some of the strategies that you’re using to help your websites, and your clients gain just more visibility overall in the SERPs?

Todd: I was needed there for a second. Can you ask that one again?

Nick: Sure.

Beyond links what are some of the strategies that you’re using to help gain more visibility for your websites within the SERPs?

Todd: I think it’s a combination of social as an outreach platform, and content as the asset, so it really has to be all kinds of cylinders on the engines firing at once.

Being you have a good content creation process, you have a good outreach process, and then you’re following up with social media, and you’re doing it consistently. So that’s overall the best strategy. I think we’re seeing more of that importance going towards authorship and towards personal authority, so I think that’s important.

For my sites personally, I’m just actually getting ready to launch a big project. I’m doing a For that one, it’ll be me writing articles about fishing.

I kind of went back to basics, with what would work for SEO and it’s not kind of the mass outreach anymore. It’s just not going to be effective, so the stuff that works for rankings is being genuine, is creating something, is doing something that people want to read and participate in.

So that’s community, that’s linkable assets. That’s the things that the web was founded on, and Google is doing a good job of making sure that’s the things that you find, instead of the things you don’t want to find when you click the back button. That’s what Panda is and that’s what Penguin is and that’s what they’re continuing to do.

SEO’s have a problem with some of the decisions Google makes sometimes, but I think relevance as a whole by the general user is always well-received.

Nick: I think you’re absolutely right there, so sort of a fun question to close out the podcast with.

If there were some magical loudspeaker that was tuned to every SEO on planet Earth, and you could tell every SEO just one thing, what would it be?

Todd: Probably stay humble. What works today isn’t going to work tomorrow. The idea of optimization as a whole is kind of staying on the forefront of what works. And it’s disappointing for me to see five years later people selling directory submission packages.

After there are only four or five directories that work; or selling reciprocal link packages, or selling page ranks, three links, thousands of them for two dollars; all that sort of thing.

Most of it never worked for long and to see people still sell it is disappointing to me as a whole. I think some of those things get passed down as information, and then it becomes old information and then year’s later it’s rancid, stagnant information. And even the people that are on the forefront, even the people that are really actively creating sites, and doing things innovating, even those folks get caught up in a rut sometimes, I think.

So to truly be optimal, you’ve got to always be learning, always be reading, and certainly stay humble, because you never know when the next Zune animal is going come along.

Nick: I think that’s a fantastic piece of advice. Okay, man thank you so much for taking some time to answer some of my questions, and really, really happy and excited to have you on here.

Todd: My pleasure. Thanks, man.

Nick: All right, man. Take care, Todd.

Evergreen Content Resources To Increase Your Website Traffic

Curating links for my weekly newsletter has built up a rather large collection of useful content.

Reading back over some of the posts that have been shared, I realized many of the links are not as main stream as I believe they should be. So I poured through what has become a library of links and selected the most useful, evergreen pieces.

I sincerely recommend reading everything on this list, and it’s a long one, so take it a section at a time – and bookmark it for later.

I promise you will come out a better marketer if you make it all the way through.

My Evergreen Content Criteria

Most evergreen content isn’t really evergreen, at least not in our technology-related vertical.

In dynamic verticals that change on an almost daily basis (search, social, design, ad tech, etc.) it’s difficult for content to stay perpetually useful, unless it is maintained and cared for.  Sometimes big changes can make an entire marketing channel obsolete overnight.

So for this list I will be using my own, slightly modified, definition of evergreen content.

Here is the criteria for the content I have included on this list:

  • Provides relevant information or a perspective that will remain useful for a minimum of 2 years.
  • Comprehensively covers a topic or process that is unlikely to change.
  • Aggregates disparate information to be more accessible to a larger audience.

Evergreen Content Categories

Click on any of the buttons below to jump ahead to a specific section, you can then use the Back to Top link at the bottom of each section to get back to these buttons easily.

In The True Spirit of Evergreen Content

This post is going to remain a living document, so please share your favorite evergreen content link in the comments below so I can add them. Thanks!

SEO Giveaway: Win A FREE Keyword Strategy

I really enjoy doing keyword research for SEO.

It is the one search-related process that I bring up in conversation with almost every website owner I meet, and I’m constantly impressed with the different tactics and techniques that business owners are using to expand their online visibility.

I like keyword-level strategy so much that I am going to give one away, for free!

One lucky winner will receive a keyword strategy complete with:


By entering the giveaway you agree to the following terms:

  • You are willing to share your average costs when it comes to developing content
  • You are willing to share some of your employees average hourly rates, whether contractors or Full-Time Employee’s
  • You are OK with your keyword opportunity model being public on

All existing traffic analysis and keyword research will be kept CONFIDENTIAL, however, I will be recording my screen as I build out the winning keyword opportunity model and plan to host the video within a post on this website.

How To Enter

  • Sign in with your Facebook or Email address below
  • You will be given the opportunity to earn more entries, this is optional and you can skip these using the ‘skip’ link in the bottom right hand corner
  • When the giveaway is over 1 winner will be chosen and all entrants will be notified
  • Good luck!
The Business of SEO

When it comes to business – SEO is a unique monster, because unlike most vertical markets, you don’t need products, vendor relationships, distribution channels, or even start up capital.

SEO without business strategy is like catching lightning in a bottle

But without the right strategy, leveraging search for business can feel a lot like trying to capture lightning in a bottle.

In this post I am going to step through creating a keyword opportunity model to project estimated revenue from SEO.

I am going to do this 2-fold:

  1. With an simplified model to help develop the initial concept, and then
  2. With a detailed, assumption-based model as an example

This approach is meant to help you weigh different keyword opportunities and uncover where your SEO priorities should be focused. Make sure you use this in conjunction with SEO competitive analysis and are leveraging on-page optimization for your target URL’s.

The Simple Keyword Opportunity Model

The simple model is meant to get you thinking about the implications of cost versus revenue in terms of return on SEO.

For revenue I will be using the following formula, where monthly search volume is representative of [exact] searches from Google’s keyword tool.

Conversion value will vary depending on the goal of your SEO campaign, for example; E-commerce sites could use average order value where lead generation sites might use their average lead value, in any case make sure you use an actual dollar amount.

The value of a keyword is pretty subjective based on your conversions, and therefore you need to utilize goal-specific conversion rates to customize this formula to fit your business.

For average SERP click-through I prefer to use an aggregate measure to project returns from larger scenarios, for example if I designed a model to target page 1 of Google I would use a 6.1% click-through rate, but if the model was specifically focused on top 5 rankings I would use 12.1%. These are just my starting point figures.

If you want to use more approximate measures of average click-through for exact rankings, a very helpful case study from Slingshot SEO on SERP CTR produced this lovely graph (click to enlarge).

Slingshot dives into the details of their study here on SEOmoz, and very recently Geoff Kenyon posted his thoughts on SERP click through rates, so you have some starter data.

18% lines up much closer to my historical SERP performance data than the previously reported data from Optify, which posited a potential of a 36.5% CTR for position #1.

Update: The Keyword Opportunity Model is no longer publicly available, but you can still get access by downloading my complete guide to keyword research.

Download Guide to Keyword Research For SEO

Within the spreadsheet you will see there are 2 sheets; Simple and Advanced, and all values that drive the model are highlighted in yellow.

Use the simple model to get a basic sense of how things work; how different values for different metrics will impact your total monthly revenue, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments and get creative.

Try inputting the lifetime value of a customer to forecast far into the future or bake in a measure for time on site and how certain thresholds may lead to higher variable conversion rates. If your goal is to drive newsletter signups, measure it; think outside the box! Then share what you did.

For cost assumptions I’m going to use average costs associated with developing one URL targeting one primary keyword. In this scenario I’m assuming the website already has a baseline of steady traffic, but not much, say 5,000 visits per month or so. This is important to note because it reduces the need for additional link building or paid advertising promotion for posts to gain enough rank signals to make it to page one.

For this model, the costs associated with content  development are:

This represents the average cost to do post-level keyword research and compile a matrix for the URL.

This represents the actual ideation and writing of all of the content for the URL.

This is representative of the editing and actual production of the content; final proofreading, formatting images, and loading into the content management system for publication.

Adjusting For Competitiveness

A critical part of any good business model is adjusting for relative competition.

I use a relative measure of keyword difficulty to do this, either average domain authority or competitiveness index, but you could just as easily use keyword difficulty score.

In the simple model I call it ‘Average SERP CI,’ but it doesn’t have to be, feel free to throw average SERP DA in there and everything will still work, just make sure you keep your metrics consistent between column G and the competitive weightings in H2 and H3 (click to enlarge).

About Those Competitive Weightings

Cell H2: Cost Multiplier – The cost multiplier is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; it multiplies your cost based on the competitiveness threshold you set.

This represents how much more expensive it is for you to create content that can compete for a first page ranking based on your website’s relative authority. If your website has a DA of 60, it is going to be easier for you to compete in SERP’s where the average is only 50 versus 70.

Cell H3: CI Threshold – This is the authority or competitiveness threshold where it becomes more expensive for you to compete.

This threshold should be relatively close to your website’s authority score, so if you have a DA of 40, you might want to set this at 50.

PLEASE NOTE: As is the case with this model in general, both of these measures that drive the cost side of this evaluation are extremely subjective. You will need to dial them in over time, so start conservatively and try to glean data from your website so these are as accurate as possible.

Let’s Build A Test Case

For this example I am going to use an SEO vertical market and focus on a set of closely related keywords both in terms of semantic relevance and related user intent.

Just for fun I’m including tools, services, and consultant queries (click to enlarge).

SEO Industry Keywords

You will see that I have loaded all of the above keyword data into the model and plugged in some test conversion data.

I created a column titled (Optional) where you can enter in a specific SERP rank between 1 and 5 and it will adjust the potential visitors based on the CTR values entered in F2 through F6, currently it’s configured with the CTR data from the Slingshot SEO case study.

To make this applicable to your website:

  1. Replace the SEO keywords with your keywords and their estimated [exact] monthly search volume
  2. Enter your average costs (or total cost into D6) for creating a new URL

In case you’re not sure what your costs are, here’s an approach to estimate them:

Estimating Your Development Costs

Everyone’s costs are different and some are not straightforward.

Do your best to average out what it costs to produce a piece of content from start to finish, and try not to leave out any piece of the development life-cycle.

For example, a company’s content development process might look like this:

Try to boil down all of your costs to an hourly rate and then average them across each functional department, so you end up with a representative cost for each piece of your process.

However your process works, try to capture all of the costs. If all of your resources are salary, figure out what their hourly rate is and estimate their average production time for all of their tasks on one piece of content.

Once you have a handle on the costs, input them into the model in D3 through D5, or place your total cost into D6.

Estimating Your Revenue

Revenue is going to be a bit easier to estimate, especially if you already have analytics or tracking in place and you know exactly how much you make per visitor or per conversion.

The model is setup to take care of estimating how many visitors you can acquire each month and your revenue per conversion, all you need to provide is your:

  • Average conversion rate, and
  • Average conversion value

Input these into cells B4 and B5, respectively.

The Advanced Keyword Opportunity Model

Advanced Keyword Opportunities Are in the DetailsHopefully by now you’ve taken some time to test out the simple model within the spreadsheet. Now it’s time to drill down into more specific costs, adjusting for a wider range of variables based on more specific heuristics.

In the simple model we used a base cost and a multiplier, for the advanced model we will still assume a base cost, adding in an average cost per link and discount rates based on some additional competitive factors.

The competitive factors we will use to augment costs in the advanced model are:

  • Domain Authority (DA), and
  • Page Authority (PA)

To take into account both the logarithmic nature of DA and PA I will be using discount rates for each of these metrics, to compute an estimated net present value to be used as our multiplier.

Baseline Assumptions

First it is important to understand a little bit about the discount rates.

The purpose is to allow for the model to be adjusted for volatility and the specific nuances of your website(s).

Logarithmic CurveThe best way to get started is to set a conservative cost multiplier (higher versus lower) for both DA and PA and then dial in discount rates to help represent variable ranking factors such as temporal ranking factorsquery deserves freshness, or even brand bias.

Newer, less established websites can outrank their older, higher authority competitors – the SERP’s are different on an almost case by case basis.

As your website authority grows, your link profile gains velocity, and builds trust – you should be able to adjust the discount rates downward to reflect less cost to reach page 1.

I have ranked pages with a DA/PA of 50% less than the SERP average, sometimes with only a few links and within a few short days or weeks. This type of volatility is not predictable, but that’s the not the end-goal here.

The reason you are making assumptions and dialing in ranking variables is to develop a measure within an ‘order of magnitude‘ so you can begin to project cost and performance return from SEO.

Adjusting Metrics to Capture Cost

Now that you have your average cost per URL, you need to figure out the adjustments for the model based on  additional external factors and work these into your discount rates.

Average cost per link is a tough one, so my recommendation for the purposes of this model is to use a minimum DA threshold of 30, i.e. link cost is representative of a link from a website with DA 30+.

Discount rates are going to take you the most time to develop, where as your threshold and multiplier you should be able to figure out in a few weeks.

If you would like help getting started, I will be sending out some example discount rates to my subscribers – so if you haven’t already, take a moment and sign up for updates »

Measuring Potential Return – Evaluating Based on MER

MER stands for mean efficiency ratio, and is the metric I use to evaluate keyword opportunities.

It is a simple computation done by dividing total revenue by total cost, which provides you an at a glance metric for gauging profitability. An MER of 1.0 means that you broke even and made 100% of your initial investment back – so anything greater than 1.0 is gravy profit.

If you’re tracking all of your costs and revenue at the keyword level, this is a great simple metric for measuring ROI. I have set up some simple conditional formatting within the spreadsheet so positive MER cells render green.

Adjusting Based on Actual Performance

Your SEO business model is only as good as the data it is built on, so if you want it to be usable, it needs to be accurate. Set aside time to update and refine your model to be as accurate and representative of your business as possible.

Treat it honestly and with respect; if your costs go up, change them. If you find that your carry costs for getting to page 1 are higher, increase your discount rates.

In Conclusion

This is by no means a perfect system or evaluation platform. It is, however, a lesser discussed element of SEO and keyword evaluation that I would like to discuss.

What are your thoughts?

Interview with The Link Building Book Author Paddy Moogan

Link Building Book by Paddy MooganIn case you haven’t heard yet, Paddy Moogan published a book on link building.

It’s really good.

Paddy was nice enough to send me an advanced copy to check out, and I was so impressed with how thorough, well laid out, and well explained the content in the book was, I decided to write this post.

Click to continue…