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Your Keywords: The PPC and SEO Gold Mine in Your Own Backyard

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Your own keyword analytics data is the most valuable marketing asset of your company.

No, I'm not just making a ridiculous claim to get your attention. The data contained in the keyword report from your Web-analytics application—which tells you how people are finding your site through paid and organic search—is much more valuable than traditional marketing data, such as customer surveys and demographics.

Surveys and customer personas still have a place in online marketing, but keywords are a far more effective targeting vehicle, for several reasons:

  • They're more accurate: Keywords are the precise way that customers use to look for the products and services in your industry; as such, they reveal specific desires and pain points.
  • They provide more insight: With accurate data, you can calculate the return on investment for different keyword niches, which, in turn, provides insight into many other areas, such as determining which customer segmentations to pursue and in what order.
  • They're usable: Your keyword taxonomy is a gold mine of data that you can directly rely on to build and optimize your pay-per-click (PPC) and search-engine-optimization (SEO) efforts.

The truth is that you've probably heard a lot of this before. You already know that search marketing is important. What's frustrating is that most businesses, even those that embrace search as a marketing channel, fail to place the proper value on their keywords.

Ignoring the value of your own (real, private) keyword data—and failing to act on it—is like keeping a pile of old, unwanted gold jewelry and trophies locked away in a safe, when you could turn that gold into cash! (Let's offer a moment of silence for Ed McMahon.)

In search marketing, that "cash" is traffic, leads, and conversions (and, of course, actual cash), which you generate by...

  • Winning a fairly complicated auction to display a sponsored ad (PPC)
  • Appearing high in the organic search results for a specific search query (SEO)

In both SEO and PPC, it's crucial to know what people are really searching for, which keywords are relevant to your business, which keywords are difficult to rank for, and which ones bleed budgets or simply don't convert. The crazy thing is that you already have this information—you're sitting on a proverbial gold mine. But it's not where you think it is.

Traditional Keyword Tools Find Fool's Gold

The Google Keyword Tool and other basic third-party keyword tools can help you build a starter keyword list, but overreliance on them puts you at a marked disadvantage in the competitive worlds of paid and organic search.

Those tools provide the same generic, public data to everyone who uses them, including your competitors. They tell you nothing about which keywords are or could be profitable for your specific business, and their volume estimates are usually off by an order of magnitude. Strategy-wise, they're close to worthless.

Turning Keyword Reports Into Profits

You can use traditional tools to seed your keyword list, but the biggest mistake search marketers make is in failing to migrate away from this initial list by refactoring new keyword opportunities, as well as actual click and performance data derived from your keyword report.

Tools such as Google Analytics or WordStream (my company's tool) reveal exactly which keywords are driving traffic and conversions—decidedly more-valuable data. The global popularity, "relative volume," or "effectiveness index" of a keyword won't tell you how much actual traffic that keyword can drive for your business or the relevancy, from a conversion standpoint (leads and sales), of the keyword for your business.

To start turning that data into real value, put a system in place for continually discovering new keyword opportunities and monitoring the performance of your keywords, so you're always aware of the words and phrases customers are using to describe and discover your offering, and which ones you should care about the most.

But don't stop there—continually leverage your newfound understanding of keywords by acting on it:

  • Publish content optimized for the keywords that are currently converting and variations of those keywords.
  • Bid more aggressively on keywords that convert, and hunt for long-tail variations of those terms to expand your paid-search efforts.
  • Recognize synergies between PPC and SEO, and leverage that data to improve both channels.

* * *

The more you grow your proprietary keyword list, and apply what you learn from the data, the more benefits you'll reap from search marketing. It's like investing all that cash you earned and collecting compound interest!

When you recognize the importance of keywords and can react to the way potential customers respond to your site, your keyword data is that much more powerful, giving you a competitive edge and the opportunity to continually improve on your search-marketing results.

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Larry Kim is the founder/CTO of WordStream Inc., provider of the AdWords Grader and 20 Minute PPC Work Week.

Google+: Larry Kim

Twitter: @larrykim

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  • by Kevin Tue Aug 25, 2009 via web

    Larry - this is probably a good article as far as SEM goes i would suppose, but I didn't get very far into it. Your two opening paragraphs are the most laughable I've read in the Marketing arena in a very long time. You might try a Google search on these "key words" sometime: customer database.

  • by Laura Tue Aug 25, 2009 via web

    Excellent post. Thanks so much!

  • by Harry Hallman Wed Aug 26, 2009 via web

    Good points, but there is a flaw in only looking at your own online data. That flaw is that you may not be attracting the people you want , to your site, with the copy and key words and phrases you are using.

    Yes there is value in that data, but doing a detailed study on what key phrases your target audience uses (Google Keyword Tool or another) gets you on the right road. You could also conduct a survey or better yet a focus group to determine the commonly used search phrases.

    As Kevin, not so nicely, said there value in your current customer data as well.

    Note to Kevin: Sometimes, you have to read more than 2 paragraphs to learn something.

  • by Kevin Wed Aug 26, 2009 via web

    Note to Harry: It's tough to learn something from someone who destroys his own credibility in the opening paragraph. No need to be "nice" in such a case, Forgive me.

  • by Chris Carter Fri Aug 28, 2009 via web

    I have to agree with Harry on this one.

    I recently spoke with a company that was offering a unique service for homeowners. The website was well crafted and did a great job explaining the services they offered, but there was one flaw. Their service sounded too similar to a service offered in a completely different industry.

    Therefore they were receiving traffic to their site based on key words and phrases that had nothing to do with their business. If the company focused internally on key words that drove traffic to them they would be missing their target market completely and potentially spending an arm and leg on PPC advertising that was irrelevant.

    By focusing on external data, as Harry suggested, the company will be able to rewrite their site so it attracts the types of customers they are looking for.

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