How and Why to Scale Your Keywords in Natural Search

Note: To learn more, please download the Scaling Keywords whitepaper.

In working with our clients to make the most from our SEO technology platform, Searchlight, we often encourage them to expand the set of keywords they optimize for.  Why? Because there are two ways to increase natural search traffic:

  1. Move up the search rankings for an existing set of keywords
  2. Expand the zone of coverage to include keywords not previously optimized for

While we work with clients to help them develop an action plan for implementing Searchlight’s on-page recommendations to move up the search rankings for existing keywords we also want to see them grow their keyword set to drive traffic from previously non-ranking keywords.

Why Scale Your Keywords?

Yet, sometimes we hear (from both clients, and in conversations with prospective clients) a variation of: “My CMO wants to focus on ranking well for a core set of 50 keywords.  Besides does adding keywords really have an impact on traffic?”

To answer that question with a data-centric approach, we turn to a study we released earlier this year where we analyzed the strategies from several successful online retailers during the holiday season. First, we compared the number of keywords driving traffic from natural search and found they grew by 20% YOY:

As keywords increased, traffic increased with it, growing by 26% YOY:

The correlation between scaling keywords and a corresponding increase in traffic is most easily seen when overlaying a count of keywords driving traffic on top of traffic.  As is evident below, traffic moves essentially in lockstep with keyword count:

The conclusion? While searcher behavior can vary from one vertical to another, our analysis of more than 18 million visits suggests as keyword coverage increases, natural search visits increase too.

Now that We Know the Why, How Do I Scale My Keywords?

When looking at the home page or category pages through the SEO microscope, you will notice a higher distribution of keywords they are ranking for.  This is normal behavior for just about any site. Tracking a larger number of keywords that these pages are ranking for allows for smarter segmentation of landing page optimization.  The process is fairly straightforward – first, you need to identify which terms bring traffic to that landing page from your analytics platform.  An optional step two (if the result set is low) is to find complimentary key phrases through your favorite keyword research tool.  Once you have this subset of terms, start tracking their effectiveness within natural search.  Look for groupings within the result set for similar terms with condensed or grouped rankings.  This allows you to identify new content opportunities or areas where you can shift the focus from one page to another in order to be more efficient and less dilute.

Use Categories in Searchlight to Identify Search Engine Relevancy

Categorical keywords have always been an interesting beast.  These keyword rankings tend to shift around a bit more with some link equity and relevance being split between the home page, category page and child page.  Often times these are the rankings that you will see Google and Bing swap the ranking landing pages around from time to time as well.  Just like having a hierarchy of pages within your site, tracking parent and child keywords within categories enables the SEO to have a better understanding of how search engines distribute relevancy within their own site. Identifying these grouped keywords allows the SEO to pepper in some correlated tail terms on deeper pages to help increase the relevancy and help create a more stable environment. Great places to find these correlated keywords are through tools like Google Suggest or  Using a higher density of these correlated terms and tracking the efficiency will enable you to create an infrastructure of definitive relevancy for trending terms that users are looking for.

Leverage Paid Search Data to Find Converting Long Tail Terms

If you think like a Paid Search marketer, they bid on and chase after such a wide variety of terms and track the effectiveness of these as well.  Using Paid Search data to find the long tail converting terms is something most seasoned SEOs pay attention to.  Pay attention to the quality scores and see if there are any landing page/keyword combinations that convert well and have a low quality score.  These are additional terms you want to track.  Your efforts in on-page optimization will not only help your natural rankings but assist the bidding efforts for your paid search counterparts.  Often times these terms have a lower competitive barrier with lower impressions.  This also means that it takes less effort to capture the top positions.

Keeping on top of the long tail can help increase the visibility of your marketing channel as you continue to build out your roadmap.

Grab Low Hanging Fruit in Long Tail While Working Towards High Volume Head Terms

I know as SEOs we are tasked with finding the low hanging fruit.  These are usually our high profile non-branded terms that executives care most about.  Typically, these terms tend to be more competitive and take a little more time and effort to rank for.  Keeping on top of the long tail can help increase the visibility of your marketing channel as you continue to build out your roadmap.  Metrics you want to make sure you are passing up the chain are the delta in number of keywords driving traffic from the top search engines and also the delta in the number of landing pages driving traffic from the top search engines.  Long live the long tail!