Finding Overlooked Keywords

You know that if you want to get to the top of Google for competitive keywords, you’ll need to do a lot of work. Is there some way to find less competitive keywords that still attract a lot of traffic and conversions?

Welcome to the surprising world of keyword forensics. You (probably) won’t find anyone with a fetish for sunglasses or dramatic one-line acting. What you will find is a way to research keywords that many other methods miss. This could let you get the jump on your rivals.

Jonathan Allen discussed a workshop on keyword forensics given by John Alexander at SES Toronto. Alexander is the director of training for Search Engine Workshops and the Director of Search Engine Academy. According to him, the point of keyword research should be understanding, not so much the key phrases used by searchers, but the searchers’ behavior.

From Allen’s description, it sounds very much like the point is to understand what a searcher is trying to accomplish. What are they trying to do online? What exactly is their intention? “Keyword forensics is about thinking beyond search rankings and, instead, positioning yourself to serve specific needs of your users,” Allen explains.

Google has been trying to figure this out for a long time; they’ve been getting better at it over the years. So one obvious advantage of thinking along these lines is that you put your thought processes more in line with Google’s – which will hopefully mean you show up better in the search engine, and attract more traffic. Keep in mind, though, that this isn’t an approach designed to help you do better with keywords for which lots of competition exists. Rather, once you understand user behavior and intention, “SEOs can then optimize their sites to serve consumer needs in fields that are related, but much less competitive than most keywords that first come to mind for a given industry,” Allen explained.

If you’ve been doing SEO for a while, you’ll recognize this as another way to take advantage of the long tail. Rather than optimizing for long and specific phrases, however, users of keyword forensics start by analyzing specific kinds of words in WordTracker – words that indicate action from the user. Paraphrasing Alexander, Allen notes that those new to keyword forensics should “start with words like comparison, review, learn, study, statistics, rare, find, discount, wholesale, pattern, maps, supply, supplies, old, new, pricing, recipes – all words that imply a user’s action, but in an unspecified way.”

Why those words in particular? They indicate an intent to buy some kind of product or service. At this point, SEOs should use WordTracker to get a nice big list of related search phrases, their volumes, their Keyword Effectiveness Indexes, and their IAAT (the sites with that keyword In Anchor And Title).

Once you’ve collected that information, you know what people who are trying to buy or accomplish something on the Internet are actually searching for. You know their behavior and intentions. “Sort the list by descending KEI and they’ll have a list of non-competitive or minimally competitive search phrases,” Allen notes.
The behavior or intention won’t necessarily be obvious. Don’t expect it to leap out at you from the screen; be prepared to do a little thinking. For example, Allen noted that there were a lot of searches connected to the word “expensive” on the specific key phrase “how expensive a house can I afford.” That’s actually one of the easier ones. Home seekers want to know what kind of residence they can buy, given their salary.

If you’re a real estate agent and you want to take advantage of this particular keyword forensics discovery, you can write up an article on the subject with some rules of thumb. You can even do a whole series that explains the kinds of things banks and mortgage brokers look at when deciding whether to approve a loan. Or if you know someone with programming skills, you can collaborate on an online calculator that answers that question after the user clicks on a few drop-downs (for salary, debt, and whatever else might be relevant).
Keyword forensics can offer a website a surprising boost in traffic. I was particularly impressed by the story of a car insurance site, a client of Alexander’s whose average traffic went from 4,000 to 40,000 visitors per month. Using keyword forensics, Alexander discovered that many searchers were using the phrase “Where do I find the VIN number on my car?” So he developed and optimized 18 pages that answered that question for various makes of cars, and included an ad for his client prominently on each page.

The resulting growth in traffic, in my opinion, proves that people remember you positively when you help them solve a problem. It helps to remember, in fact, that behind every search is someone trying to solve a problem. Keyword forensics recognizes that searchers are trying to take some kind of action; when you as an SEO figure out what that action is, you can help them get what they need, to your mutual benefit. As Allen explained, “By analyzing search phrases, SEOs identify a narrative about potential customers and are able to position themselves as authorities on the web within the narratives of their customers…supplying content that answers questions and satisfies the needs of a large and relevant audience has huge potential from an SEO standpoint.” Best of all, by taking this approach to keyword research, you’ll be looking in fruitful areas your rivals haven’t even considered yet. Good luck! 

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