Ecommerce Keyword Research

Keyword research is the first vital step for anyone looking to start a successful SEO or SEM campaign to boost traffic, sales and customers. One of the greatest insights you can gain from keyword research that should impact every part of your sales and marketing message is discovering customer lingo. Similar to the professional jargon common in every industry customer lingo is the way your prospective customers are talking to each other on their own terms. The best way to join this conversation is to mimic your customers’ vernacular giving you a back door entrance into their community.

Keyword Research Mindset

Before you begin your keyword research to help you dominate your competitors by being more relevant to customers you need to understand that different keywords indicate people are in different stages of the buying lifecycle; in fact this can even be extended to the customer lifecycle. There are three main groups of keywords: discovery keywords, refining keywords and buyer keywords. Some keyword phrases may fall into multiple groups depending on where a customer is in the lifecycle process; branding keywords target all three customer/keyword groups in most situations.

Discovery keywords are very general, most competitive and result in the least qualified traffic. Good examples of discovery keywords for a Pet store site are “pet supplies”, “dog toys” or “dog supplies”. Prospective customers are most impressionable at this point since a decision has not been made on the best product, company or service at a time when the customer is searching for “the best”. Depending on your budget you may want to be very selective of discovery keywords in the beginning since they are more expensive for SEM and take longer to rank for in the organic search results.

Refining keywords are more specific then discovery keywords, a little less competitive and have a better chance to result in a purchase most of the time. Most online consumers including you start with an initial search then refine the search depending on the experience in the first search. For example, if you don’t find what you are looking for you search again or you may have come across a few mentions of products, brands or companies and want to dig a little deeper. Refining keywords are phrases used when people are starting to form an opinion on what they want to buy but want some reinforcement such as additional research, price checking or validating the decision with reviews/testimonials from past customers. Examples of refining keywords are SKUs, ISBN, model numbers, product names, etc…

Buyer keywords are very specific, receive the least amount of traffic individually and have the best chance of resulting in a sale. Buyer keywords focus on targeting prospects that are ready to buy, know what they want and are looking for the easiest method to purchase. Although this set of keywords receives the least amount of traffic on an individual basis it could lead to the majority of your revenue from search. This is especially true in the beginning of SEO because it is easier to raise your search ranking for the keywords with less competition. You will likely see more revenue from these keywords since they are highly targeted to buyers although it may only be one or two purchases a month per keyword. Keyword phrases associated with return customers is a good example of buyer keywords along with phrases such as “buy brand x”, “reorder product x”, “overnight delivery product x”, etc…

Keyword Research Factors

Now that you have the right mindset for maximizing your keyword research efforts it is time to gather the data you need to determine the best keywords. Remember that research is only going to give you a guide, a place to start (and later return) to begin testing. You should always try testing different keyword phrases to see if your offer appeals to a particular audience. First you need to generate a list of keywords to research through brainstorming, checking competitors and utilizing keyword tools. Start by thinking of terms you would use to find your product or service, next check what terms your competitors use on their website and in their meta keywords. Then you can generate a large number of keywords by entering the keywords from brainstorming & competitor analysis into a keyword tool. Once you have a list of keywords focus on obtaining three pieces of data to evaluate: number of searches, number of results and relevance.

The number of searches gives you a basic idea of the volume of potential traffic available. Real insight comes from how customers are talking based on the number of searches. Almost always you find customers lean towards certain words when searching for your product or service and you want to target phrases containing the keywords customers search on. Here are a few tools to generate keywords and get an estimate on search volume:

Google Keyword Tool

SEO Book Keyword Tool

Google Traffic Estimator

Expect every tool to give you a different estimate; just find one keyword tool you like and use it for all keywords so the comparisons are apples to apples.

The number of results indicates how competitive it is to naturally rank for a keyword phrase and SEM bidding prices generally go up as the competition increases. You can get the number of results by doing a search on Google, Yahoo or any other search engine you are targeting for the keyword phrase in question. The number of results is on the right side above all search results in Google & Yahoo. If you need to get the number of results for a large set of keywords then consider investing in a paid tool.

Relevance is the final but probably the most important aspect of your keyword research. Once you have a list of keywords you want to immediately eliminate any phrases that are not related to your product or service offering. Even if a search phrase shows significant traffic volume it does you no good to target unless your site provides value to the person searching. For example, keyword research on pet supplies might bring up dog trainer as a potential keyword but unless you offer dog training services this is not a relevant keyword phrase. Remember that your keyword research is about discovering how customers are searching so you can respond with an answer in their terms.

Once you have done some basic research you can use Microsoft’s commercial intent tool to determine if a keyword phrase is likely aimed at a purchase. You can also get some basic demographics information for your keywords.

What keyword research strategies have you employed that have been successful for your ecommerce store? Are there other tools you find invaluable? Post your strategies and resources below to help your fellow ecommerce store owners.