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Successful SEO starts with keyword research. Moz’s Cyrus Shepard reminds us that you need to rank for what people are actually searching for, not what you think they’re searching for. That means truly understanding exactly what a keyword is, and prioritizing keywords by potential. Uncover more ideas by determining what keywords your competitors are ranking for. Yes, you can actually do that. Why recreate the wheel when they’ve already done some of the heavy lifting for you?
Rich: My guest today is an SEO and online marketer who specializes in understanding Google’s ranking algorithms. He currently works with Moz, a software company that helps businesses increase visibility in search. He’s a frequent conference speaker in blogs about his findings on the Moz blog. Also when his name appeared in our company shared calendar for being a guest on The Agents of Change podcast, John Paglio, the digital marketing specialist here at flyte and the guy who does our SEO and keyword research, flipped out. He couldn’t believe that I got him. Which I choose to take his reflection on his respect for our guest and not on John’s feeling towards me and my podcast. In any case, let’s get ready to jump into keyword research with Cyrus Shepard. Cyrus, welcome to the podcast.
Cyrus: Hey, thank you for having me. That was a wonderful, humbling and flattering introduction. Thank you.
Rich: It’s always nice when you can go a little bit extra on the bio.
Cyrus: Yeah. Thanks for having me. I need to explain, I am outside today. This is my home office, so this is where we’re at. If you hear a plane flying overhead, my apologies, but SEO works outside too.
Rich: And I am in a house where to cut down on the sounds, I have closed every window and shut off every fan. So if you’re watching the video and I start sweating profusely, it’s probably fine. So this is the work from home situation and here we are.
Cyrus, just to start off, very few people these days – or any days – study SEO in college. So what was your path to SEO and to Moz?
Cyrus: Yeah, well, most people I know who are in SEO, it’s always a nontraditional path. They don’t really teach SEO in college. I started off in film school. I was a writer pounding my head against the wall, trying to break into Hollywood for years taking really low end acting jobs, bartending, things like that.
And then my wife and I moved to Seattle, home of Moz. We didn’t know that at the time. And I was working in a restaurant just trying to make ends meet, and I hated myself. And this was 2009, huge recession. And I told my wife, I know I need this job, I’m going to quit and I’m going to try to make money on the internet.
And I started building websites and learning how to market them and started learning about Moz and this wonderful world of SEO. And I liked it and I thought I was kind of good at it and it just snowballed from there. So it’s been a wonderful 11 years now.
Rich: Nice. And so on the acting forefront, where you in anything that we might find on IMDb?
Cyrus: Probably not. My biggest role was in the movie Cheaper by the Dozen with Steve Martin. I played Steve Martin’s photo double. So any flashback scene where he was younger, that’s the back of my head.
Rich: I’m going to have to go in there to watch that right now.
Cyrus: If you just watch the first three minutes, you’ll see it all.
Rich: So it’s funny that you say that. So I also – I don’t know if I’m on IMDb – but I do have one acting credit to my name, a zombie movie called Night of the Living Deb, which was filmed in Portland, Maine. And through a series of events, I got featured as one of their featured zombies in the movie. I got to do a Hollywood thing all day long, zombie makeup, all that sort of stuff. I’m also killed off in the first few minutes. So you only have to watch the first five minutes of the movie, but I’m the zombie who gets offed with a bicycle chain.
Cyrus: All the best horror movies happened in Maine.
Rich: Absolutely, home of Stephen King. All right. So for those of you who did not read probably the liner notes for this week’s episode, we’re going to do a little different thing here today, where there is a video component and I’m going to do the play by play. So if you’re driving in your car, you don’t have to watch the video, I will talk us through it. But we’re recording the video, so you can go to The Agents of Change website and watch it.
But what we’re going to do today, is Cyrus is going to show us how to do keyword research. So I’ll do the play by play. So you at home in the car, in the gym, can follow along. But again, if you want to watch the video, please go to the website and you can check it out there.
So Cyrus, let’s just have some fun with this. I have thrown some ideas for you for the type of businesses we might want to do. And do you want me to list those three or did you choose one or another that we should focus on?
Cyrus: Go ahead. We can do all three.
Rich: So three different types of businesses that I came up with, one would be an independent financial advisor. And this would be a B2C that would probably serve a local audience.
Another one would be a mail order seed company that might have lots of different types of seeds with a very small cost per package. But then there’s also the potential for all the gardening tips and stuff like that.
And then B2B sweetener and additive company. So this is somebody who sells products that we might all be interested in, but they’re only interested in selling to research and development and food scientists in bulk. So they’re not necessarily looking for somebody who just wants to know, can I swap out molasses for blank?
Cyrus: Yeah. I like these. These were actually kind of hard.
Rich: That’s why I gave them to you.
Cyrus: And actually doing keyword research on these, I might spend a few days diving into these keywords. So we won’t do the whole package, but they were actually interested in space on my Zoom video space. So I can go two or three days with you as much as I’d like that. Yeah. So before I share my screen, I want to talk a little bit about the process of what we’re trying to accomplish with the keyword research. Because everybody comes in when you’re working in SEO, clients, website owners, everybody has an idea of what they think they want to rank for. And it’s usually one or two phrases; “I want to rank for mail order seeds”.
And so we dive in and there’s a gap between what we think we want to rank for and what people are actually searching for. And so we want to close that gap, and billions of searches performed each day, there’s a lot of data out there. We want to dive into that data, find out what our competitors are ranking for, what’s driving revenue to them, what we already rank for and could improve. So that those are some of the things that we want to dive into. So I’m going to go ahead and share my screen if that’s okay.
Rich: I think I gave you permission. Go ahead and try that.
Cyrus: Here we go. Share, and hopefully we see a nice green screen right now. Move that, I need to hide this, hide video panel. Nope. I’m not very good at this.
Rich: I think actually your fine, because we see each other, right?
Cyrus: Yeah. Alright, so we’re good. So here’s what I did. We go to Google and this is the first key word. I really liked this one, ‘mail order seeds’, because this is a perfect example of what I’m looking for. Do a search, and these are, I just want to get a sense of what’s coming up; seed catalogs, burpee seed company. And I can also sort of get a sense of what are people looking for, what’s the best place to buy seeds online. That sounds kind of what I’m interested in. Hudson Valley Seed, okay, we’re just going to file this information away. And there’s a lot of other information here, searches related to mail order seeds, burpee seeds, seed savers exchange. So I’m just filing this information away. I’m probably going to record this on a spreadsheet at some point.
But the very first thing I want to do is take the keyword I think I want to rank for, and I’m going to go to this tool there. We have it in Moz called ‘Keyword Explorer’, you can use this for free with a 30 day trial. There’s two other tools you could use, Ahrefs or SEM Rush. I prefer this. It’s got 500 million keywords suggestions in it and it’s a good tool. So I’m just going to go and I’m going to search using a keyword search and United States is my target market. And I’m just going to go in and see what comes up.
Rich: Cyrus, you chose ‘mail order seeds’ just gut check, because you assume that that would be one of the first terms that people would search for or what you think you’d want to rank well for, if you were a mail order seed company?
Cyrus: I chose it because this was what you sent me on the spreadsheet. I’m just assuming you’re my client. And this is what you think, you know, the business, this is what you think you want to rank for. So it’s my starting point, and then I get some basic metrics.
So a very low monthly volume, which is kind of surprising, which this tells me, people are searching for this word a lot. 56 difficulty, it’s actually kind of difficult, which means there’s a lot of competition and a low priority. This just means it’s probably not a very valuable keyword. But what I really want to see is the keyword suggestion.
Rich: And just to pause for a second. So this tool from Moz is showing us what Moz’s expectation is based on all the algorithms and the science behind it, in terms of this may be a low priority for you. There are probably some better keywords that you should target first if you’re prioritizing your list.
Cyrus: Yes. And that’s what we want to find out. So the keyword suggestions, keywords related to this, I can see ‘mail order seeds’, not a lot of volume. ‘Seed companies’, now we’re getting into some volume.
Rich: We’re seeing close to 3,000 searches a month for the phrase ‘seed company’.
Cyrus: Yep. ‘Buy seeds online’, this may be the word that I actually wanted to do some research for and what I’m probably going to do at this point. I’m going to export it into a spreadsheet type format. I’ve actually already done this in this tab here. So I can sort and start to get an idea.
Now it’s interesting that the keyword was ‘buy seeds online’ because there’s a term that we use called “seed keywords” which means something totally different. Seed keywords are the words that you use to grow your keyword list. So what I’m really doing in this process is I’m looking for new seed keywords to research and dive in. And so I’m going to go through this list and maybe I want to look for just keywords over a certain volume that are relevant to my business. And that’s a hugely important point. You want to stick to keywords that you can actually deliver on. If you have a page on your website with this keyword, can you satisfy the user with that page?
Rich: Right. Because we’ve all had that experience where there’s a real high performing keyword, but it’s really irrelevant for our particular business. We don’t buy it, we don’t offer it, that sort of stuff, but it comes up in the searches regardless because somehow it’s related.
Cyrus: Yep, exactly. So I’m looking for new seed keywords at this point, and this is what I’m going to spend the next couple of days on. So this is my first one that I really liked, ‘buy seeds online’. I’m just going to create a new column in my spreadsheet ‘buy seeds online’. I’m going to go back to my keyword research tool and I’m just going to do a new search with that seed. And I’m going to get the keyword suggestions, and give the tool a minute to work.
Rich: Again, if you’re playing at home, don’t confuse the seed words for the actual words about seeds.
Cyrus: Yeah, exactly. Alright. So now I’m dialing into what people are actually searching for; ‘buy seeds online’, ‘buy seeds online cheap’, ‘best place to buy seeds online’, ‘burpee seeds’. ‘Burpee seeds’ seems like it’s coming up a lot. That must be a big competitor of mine. So I want to see what’s going on with that. So I’m going to open a new tab for ‘burpee seeds’. All right. I’m going to actually go ahead and click in. All right, this seems like a heavyweight in the industry so I’m going to switch over at this point and do something which is competitive research. Instead of me trying to figure out all the keywords that I think I want to rank for, I’m going to use my competitor’s because they’ve already done the hard work for me. Now I’m going to see what’s working for them.
And so I’m going to do a function called “explorer by site”. I’m going to enter ‘burpee seeds’ and I’m going to make sure I’m looking at the root domain. And again, you can do this with a couple of other SEO tools, but I particularly like using laws for this and I’m going to see all the keywords that burpee is ranking for. And I want to see all ranking keywords. All right. So Burpee, this gives me 46,000 ranking keywords.
Rich: And is that a high number, relatively speaking?
Cyrus: It is. And they’re ranking for some huge terms. They rank number one for ‘squash’, just the word ‘squash’. ‘How to grow garlic 15,000 keywords’, ‘beef steak tomato’ ‘morning glory seeds’. This is hugely valuable competitive intelligence that I can use to see where we can go forward. Now the big question I want to ask at this point, Rich, is can I actually rank for these.
Rich: And this is always a question that I think small to medium sized businesses have. It’s like if I’m going up against the equivalent of Amazon in my industry, do I have a chance for ranking for broad search terms? Or should I really just go after the most narrow search terms and try and kind of pick up the crumbs rather than going after the full course? And I don’t know if there’s one right answer.
Cyrus: Yeah. So here’s how you want to answer that question. And the key is looking at keyword difficulty. What I want to do is look at burpee seeds only keywords that they rank in the top three, four, and I want to sort by monthly volume. So these are their very top keywords that they get the most traffic from and what keywords that they rank in the top one, two, three. So I can look at the keyword difficulty and see there’s a 55, 58 56. I know that Burpee Seeds can win these keywords, if the keyword difficulty is this number or lower. So if I want to compete against burpee seeds, I want to do the same process for myself and see what the difficulty is that I’m ranking for. Does that sort of make sense?
Rich: I think I need a little bit of help here. So I’m looking at the screen and I see that when you were showing the Burpee screen that there was a keyword difficulty, which is Moz’s ranking for how difficult it would be to rank number one for this search term.
Rich: All right. So I assume it’s a scale of 1-100, 100 being the most difficult.
Rich: Alright. So 58 is probably fairly challenging, not the hardest, but definitely not easy. And so Burpee is obviously – it’s surprising that anybody could beat Burpee Seeds for ‘burpee seeds’ – so the piece that I’m missing is how am I going to leverage that number to decide what I’m going to go after.
Cyrus: Right. Excellent, excellent question. So let’s say we just want to see if we can rank for ‘squash’. So it’s got a 45 difficulty. I’m going to pretend I’m a competitor at Park Seed, and I’m going to take that URL Park Seed. And 45 is the magic number, I’m going to enter my page into this using root domain metrics. And I’m going to look at my top keywords and I see that I’m ranking for keyword difficulty of 54 or 56, 45 was our magic number. This tells me I can achieve that if I go after it.
Rich: Is this because you have shown that your domain is robust enough that it can rank for very challenging keywords?
Rich: That’s perfect. Now Park Seed, obviously this is going to be a branded keyword, so I would throw that one out. But the next one down the list is ‘seed company’ 56. That is a broad term. That would be wonderful for any seed company to rank for
Cyrus: And thanks for calling me out on the branded keyword. Yeah. Part when you’re doing this sort of research, you generally want to throw away those branded terms and ignore them.
Rich: Okay. Makes sense.
Cyrus: So the other thing I can do at this point for the competitive intelligence still working with Park Seeds, this is a competitor. One of the challenges that we run into is we don’t actually know who our competitors are. We think we know who our competitors are, but with 2,000 keywords, you don’t know who’s ranking for all those keywords. So there’s another tool I like to use, “domain analysis”. This is a tool I helped build at Moz. It’s free, you can do searches on it, just enter your domain and we want to find out who our true competitors are – we’re pretending we’re Park Seed at this point – and it’s going to go through an analysis and it’s going to give you some basic metrics. Domain authority, that’s some of the strength that we are talking about, this the 56 is a really good domain authority. That means that you have a lot of people linking to you, and you have a little easier time ranking in Google search results. That’s on a scale of 1-100, 7,000 linking domains, 14,000 ranking keywords, really good. But there’s a lot of metrics on this page. I’m going to ignore these for now. I want to see who my actual competitors are and what this tool does. It looks at all your ranking, keywords, thousands of them. And it sees who else is ranking in search results for those same keywords that you’re trying to rank for.
So we did some competitive analysis with Burpee Seeds. I can go through and I can see what all these companies are ranking for, again, ignoring the Amazon because they rank for everything, and ignoring Facebook. And that’s how I’m going to do my competitive analysis. Does that make sense?
Rich: Yeah. It makes sense in terms of you’ve discovered who your search competitors are. And it’s interesting because at first I would have said, “Well, isn’t it just the people you see who are above you on the search results?”, but you’re saying no. You’re taking a look at the bulk of keywords here. And Moz’s tool is showing us that these are the people we’re most likely to see across the board on keywords we would be interested in.
Cyrus: Exactly. And that process is just iterative. So I’m going to go through and I’m going to do a competitive analysis for all these. I’m going to go into my spreadsheet. Every time I find a new keyword I will create a new tab and I can start to prioritize the keywords. I actually want to go after and create a content strategy where each keyword might become a new page on my site. And that’s why I’m going to do that. And that could take hours, it could take days, but that’s going to inform my strategy for the next year or two going forward.
Rich: Now just as a side note, if you aren’t working with an SEO agency, if you were kind of doing this on your own, how do you recommend prioritizing this process? Because I’ve worked with a lot of companies and they’ve got like a five page website and they wonder why they’re not ranking well. And I explained, you’ve got to build out a page for all of your different services or offerings, just as one, the things you need to do. Do you recommend that you build out a bunch of pages all at once, or is it just something where every week or every month or whenever you can fit it in you basically target a new keyword with a new page that fits into either your site map or your blog?
Cyrus: Yeah. So that’s an excellent question. So one thing that we liked, there are different metrics that you use to prioritize. One is basically volume, and the other is the difficulty that we talked about. One thing that I think is underrepresented a little bit is looking at keywords that you already ranked for, but not very well. So that’s a consideration, but I think I’m losing the thread here a little bit. But yeah, I would have a success factor in SEO is consistency and people who are producing content on a regular basis with a content calendar using these keywords as a guide or the ones who are going to win. So yes, the answer is yes.
Rich: So it sounds like the bottom line is you’ve got to commit to this. And I know a lot of people who maybe are running a small business and that are wearing 17 hats, or like, I’m just not going to be able to create a new blog post or a new page or a new section once a week. And it may be one of these things it’s like, well, then you’re not going to be able to compete with these companies that are assigning that amount of resources to the problem.
I often think of the first page of Google as like a mosh pit. And it’s like, if you’re at a concert and it’s general admission and you’re in the back row and you want to kind of push up to where the middle of the field is, you can get there. But then when you want to get further up, it gets more and more crowded, more and more difficult. And I think for these businesses that are looking to get to the top of page one, you’ve kind of got that mosh pit mentality where it’s going to take a little bit of constant extra work to get up there and stay there.
Cyrus: Yeah, exactly. Why we’re on this, can I go off on a tangent of how to create those pages? So let’s say I want squash seeds. So I decided to squash seeds, Burpee. Okay. Burpee comes up. Of course, they’re the king of squash seeds. I want to compete against Burpee. I think I got a good chance. Again, I want to do some competitive analysis because I’m not targeting just squash seeds on this page, Burpee isn’t. So I’m going to go to my Explorer by Site, I’m going to do that exact page and I want to make sure I’m dialed in to the exact page. And I want to analyze this and I want to see all the keywords that this specific page ranks for.
Rich: So just using the tool, we’ve said this is the exact page we’re looking at rather than the entire domain, and now you’re pulling out these results.
Cyrus: Yep, exactly. So maybe in my keyword research I found that butternut squash seeds for sale, I don’t need to create a separate page for that because the same page ranks for two different keywords. I can combine those onto the same page. And pretty much all of these keywords give me some ideas that I can also optimize the page for; squash seeds, planting squash, seeds to plant, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And depending on the volume metrics, squash, vegetables whatever, this gives me an idea how to structure my page. So I know I know how to create it. So I’m using the keyword research to inform how the page is created.
Rich: Perfect. This is great.
Cyrus: The other thing I can do, if I want to see where’s my squash page, I can do a kind of competitive gap analysis. Johnny Seeds will use this exact page and I can compare two pages. And these are the pages that they, this is a gap in ranking. So Burpee ranks number one, Johnny Seed ranks number 14, but these are keywords that both pages rank for it. So if I want to compete, I can see that these are the most relevant keywords that I probably want to conclude because multiple pages rank for them. I hope that makes sense.
Rich: Yes, absolutely. And up at the top, there was a Venn diagram that kind of showed these two pages and gave us an understanding of what percentage of words they both ranked four versus maybe one only ranked for certain terms and the other.
Cyrus: Yep, exactly, exactly. So when I’m creating my page, I want to make sure I’m targeting those same keywords. I really want to let my competitors do the work for me and at Google as well. I hope that gives us an idea of how we start the process for the seed research.
Rich: Right. So basically what we’re doing is we’re trying to get a better understanding what words people are searching for, but also how competitive those words are and what our competitors are doing to rank well, for those words so that we basically have a map for how we can start to move up the search rankings. Is that a good summary? Am I missing anything?
Cyrus: Nope. You’re explaining it better than I am. So thank you.
Rich: My superpower is to take other people’s ideas and make them sound better. But anyway, so, all right. So we do this research. I know that we’re going to take a look at a couple of other suggestions I gave you, but if you’re going to hand this off now to somebody if you’re not doing your own writing, what do you usually do at this point? Or is there more research we need? There’s obviously more, you said you were going to be working for days on this. But when we have the keywords we want to target, what do you usually do when you’re handing this off to the content creator?
Cyrus: All right. So I’m going to I’m going to cheat here a little bit, I wrote a keyword research guide recently. And what I’m going to do is I’m going to create a content brief for my writer. And a content brief is going to be a couple of pages explaining what my target keyword is, the questions I want to answer, and I’m going to actually tell them what paragraphs to write. And I’m going to give them a brief that looks something like this. If you can see it, I’ll blow it up a little bit. What the URL is, how I want them to write the title, a meta-description. And I’m going to use my keyword research and I’m going to plug it into the site section. So each heading incorporates some of the key words, the subhead, secondary question keywords, and I’m going to give them a brief for each page that I want them to create.
Rich: This is great. This is very helpful I’m sure to any content creator. And this is in your keyword research guide, and we’ll of course link to this and all the other tools that you’ve mentioned in today’s episode.
Cyrus: Yeah. so make it as easy as possible for the writer to know, and I won’t go into the specific paragraphs, but I will go as far as writing out the paragraph headers or the site sections for each page. So being as specific as possible, you can start to scale this if you’re a very large site and it makes the process so much easier.
Cyrus: Yeah. So I I’m tempted to move into the next keyword that you gave me because it’s so hard. It’s so hard. So you gave me a business, B2B, sweetener and additive company. This is an incredibly difficult starting point because it has very low volume. It’s probably not what people are looking for so it comes into the question of intent. When someone is buying, we assume our customer is looking for sweeteners, they’re B2B.
Rich: So I’m just going to pause you for a second. Because I think I did a bad example of this. I was more thinking about this is the company and their challenges, more than that was the exact phrase they might want to rank well for. So anyways, you’re going to lead us down the path of salvation regardless.
Rich: Yeah. Yeah.
Cyrus: So I might change this query a little bit, wholesale sweeteners and additives, putting myself in the customer’s shoes. And this is the process where I just want to start digging in and try to figure out what the users are actually searching for. So I’m going to go through a lot of the processes that I actually went through before, Cargill bulk sweeteners. Does it seem in line with what you’re thinking?
Rich: Yeah. Although I think, you know, and again, if you’re an R & D food scientist you may be looking for something broad, like a type of company that I could buy this from. Or I wonder if you’d be looking for maybe some specific products like sugar. And sugar is going to be such an impossible phrase to rank well for, but are there others. So would I target other sweeteners that I might use or, you know, this is part of the challenge of any time when you’re a B2B. But B2C people might be interested in it, but you can’t help them.
Cyrus: Yup. And there’s such a difference between B2C and direct to consumer. But this is the process. So I’m going to take this page because I’m just guessing at this point. Initially when you’re doing keyword research, you’re just guessing. So this looks like a page that is kind of in market. It talks about some different – I’m not sure what these are – but these look like industrial sweeteners for sale
Rich: I’m seeing corn sweeteners, polyol sweeteners, and a whole bunch of other scientific type terms.
Cyrus: So since we’re just guessing, I’m going to try to find out what this exact page is ranking for. See all the ranking keywords; high fructose corn syrup suppliers. Okay. That sounds actually interesting.
Rich: That’s not bad.
Cyrus: And even though it has a low monthly volume, if my customers are buying in bulk, if this is wholesale, 24 could be awesome. Each one of those could be a high value search.
Bulk sweetener supplier. Okay. So now I’m starting to get some ideas of the keywords that I want to dive into. And again, because this is wholesale, I’m not so concerned about the monthly volume. But if anybody is looking for these terms these could be high value terms.
And I want to dive into a story about this particular topic. One of my first jobs was for a wholesale wine accessory company, things like wine glasses and gift bags and things like that. We grew the business millions of dollars a year online by just changing one thing in their keyword research strategy. We just added ‘wholesale’ to all their keywords. We started bidding on wholesale words and for some reason it was a small market that the competition wasn’t doing it. And that business just exploded because we found the exact right keyword to focus on. And sometimes you find those in this process and it works like magic. So just adding wholesale to the keywords was enough to make a difference.
So I got sidetracked there a little bit.
Rich: This is great. And as you’re scrolling through, I’m seeing a bunch of, obviously we see some branded keywords, we’re going to ignore those. But we see a bunch of other words, I’m seeing ‘bulk’ and ‘wholesale’ and ‘suppliers’ coming back over and over again. And those things are starting to bubble up in my own head as we’re looking through these.
Cyrus: Yup. And so I might dive into some of these, like ‘bulk sweetener distributor’. This may not be exactly the keyword we want, but we can start to dive in. This may be’ bulk sugar suppliers’ ‘bulk raw sugar’, this may not be the direction we want to go if it’s appropriate for our business, but this is the process of how we dive in. And we can do this for any of these if they are relevant to the business.
Rich: Right. Right. This is great. Fantastic.
Cyrus: Should we go further or?
Rich: I think it’s a good idea of how this particular one works. I would love to see the independent financial advisor. Like I said, these people usually serve a geographic area. We usually don’t want to be near our financial advisors. And so, because we haven’t really talked about any geotargeting of any of these things, both the previous two companies would probably ship anywhere, they’d be a national company, but this is a little more targeted.
Cyrus: Yeah. And this, again, you gave me some really hard ones. Independent financial advisors, independent financial advisor is so challenging and local. Doing anything with a local intent is really challenging because the keyword volume starts to decrease drastically, and so we don’t have as good of data for these terms.
Rich: So that brings up a really good question. So let’s say that I’m a financial advisor in Seattle and I noticed when you did your independent financial advisor, I can see on your Google results page that the first ad was ‘Seattle Financial Advisors’. So this is somebody who obviously knows where you are targeting you sort of thing. But if I am doing – and this happens a lot when you’re from Maine – is that there’s like zero search volume for any of your search terms, they use the word “Maine” in it. So do you recommend in those cases to go for a national audience and then just extrapolate the information to your location?
Cyrus: In most cases actually not, because the intent is going to be so much different when you go to a national. And that’s a great question because, like for this result, the top Google result is becoming an independent financial advisor. That’s not what we meant. And it doesn’t have that local intent.
So I’m actually going to narrow this down a little bit and choose a large geographical area or just near me is fine. And now we see, we got the map pack. This tells me Google interpreted this as a local intent query. But again, the challenge you described that there’s no search volume, that’s a huge challenge for us in this situation. So I want to dig into these but I’m going to be dealing with much less search volumes. And we’re going to see what we find.
Rich: It seemed like the first few results were guides, like it was Yelp, and it was like financial advisors near you kind of a thing. So it wasn’t necessarily any individual financial advisor websites and the top few results that I saw on your Google stuff.
Cyrus: Right. And we see this a lot where local company will rank in the map pack, but the actual results are directories such as Yelp expertise, things like that. And if you’re a local company, probably your goal is not to get here, your goal is to look on the map. And this is especially important with local because so many of your results are going to be on mobile and people are never going to see these web results. So you want to rank here and not on the web, because this is where people are spending all their time.
So something you might want to do is instead of looking there, zoom out, try to find who the biggest companies are in your…
Rich: So just for the people playing from home, we’re looking at the map now, we’ve clicked through to the map on Google and we’re basically zooming out with the idea that Google is going to pull from a better or a wider data set here to find the biggest financial advisors within the map area. Correct?
Cyrus: Yeah, absolutely. And then it’s kind of a hunting game.
Rich: And we’ve chosen one, David Woosley.
Cyrus: Yup. David was like, now I can try to do some competitive research for this, but I kind of doubt I’m not going to get much if I look at David Woosley exactly.
Rich: And it’s Ameripriseadvisers.com/david. And so you got to wonder what kind of information.
Cyrus: Yup. And so we can see the problem you described earlier, I’m getting zero ranking keywords because he ranks on the map pack for very specific queries. There’s just not enough data out there. So I might look at the root domain metrics because this site seems to rank for a lot of financial advisors. So I’ll do something like that. I want to go root domain and analyze, this seems to be kind of weird, but this is the process. It’s a messy process and I’m glad that we’re not getting great results.
Rich: I‘m still seeing that it’s for the exact page.
Cyrus: Oh, okay. This is not, there we go. And it’s still not, it’s still horrible results, but this is what happened.
Rich: Names. People’s names, nothing.
Cyrus: So I am going down dead end after dead end, after dead end here.
Rich: And this is part of keyword research.
Cyrus: Yep. And so I’m going to throw my hands in the air and I’m going to go to Google’s keyword tool, because this is where a lot of people go. This is the tool that Google uses to sell paid ads, PPC. But it can be a good starting point for a lot of, a lot of keyword research if you use it carefully. And we’re going to give it a moment to load and where is my keyword tools? Keyword planner. Here we go. I should have had this loaded up. Sorry. And I want to discover new keywords. All right. So what was our keyword, ‘independent financial advisor’?
Rich: Sure, which is more of a job description than anything else, but it’s a perfectly good place to start.
Cyrus: Very little few near me. All right, so now we’re starting to dig in with a little bit better data, ‘independent financial advisor Seattle’. One thing you got to be careful about when you use Google’s tools is keep in mind that they are using this for paid results. So competition, that’s not competition how hard it is to rank, that’s how that’s your bidding competition, how many people are bidding on these keywords. And if you’re, if you’re not running an ad campaign, Google also limits the data, so you get these ridiculously wide ranging volume searches, 1,000 to 10,000 searches. But if you keep those limitations in mind this can be a good starting place to get some good seed keywords.
And we can see the results are actually much more robust than we were finding doing the competitor analysis. So this would probably be where I would start to do that process and to find those seed keywords.
Rich: So Google ads keyword planner is kind of like Wikipedia, perfectly fine to start your research, but probably not the last place you want to look?
Cyrus: Yep. Absolutely. The other thing that I want to do, and we talked about this at the very beginning, independent financial advisor near me. When we have nowhere else to go, I might want to go to these people also ask, “how do I find a fee only financial advisor”? I noticed this is a term that comes up a lot, ‘fee only’. I didn’t understand what ‘fee only’ was, but indeed it comes up very frequently with ‘independent financial advisor’. So that’s something as an SEO I’m learning about the industry and I want to incorporate that.
Also again, searches related to ‘independent financial advisor fee only’, ‘financial planner Seattle’. I didn’t even know that’s what I wanted to go for, but apparently people searching for independent financial advisor are actually searching for a fee only financial advisor. So that’s another seed keyword that I want to research and start diving into.
Rich: So thinking about this, and obviously this search is especially challenging. If I’m that independent financial advisor, would one other thing that I want to do is also take a look at maybe who I’m competing with – even if they’re not necessarily, but maybe I can find them in the search – but these are literally my local competitors. Does it make sense to be throwing them into the Moz or whatever tools you prefer like the Moz tools, and figuring out what keywords they’re ranking for so that I might be able to come up higher? Is that one approach?
Cyrus: Yeah, that is, that’s one approach depending upon your market. Some of these websites are so small they don’t have a lot of links pointing to them and they don’t really rank for much, so the data’s not going to be there. So depending on how big these websites are in terms of strength, competitive research may not do you much good.
Rich: I see. Because our competitors may not be much bigger than us.
Cyrus: Yeah, exactly. The smaller you get, the harder the research becomes.
Rich: And so would it ever make sense for somebody in a small community, like I am in Portland, Maine, to kind of do research into a bigger, metro area like New York City, just to kind of get a sense? Because maybe it’s more competitive in New York City or LA or Chicago, and those sites might be forced to be a little bit more robust and I can kind of learn from them, even though it’s going to be about Chicago or New York instead of Portland, Maine?
Cyrus: Yeah, exactly. And the other thing you find with local – and this is kind of true of every small local site – the number of keywords that you make money on is drastically reduced. And your local website may only have three key money terms that you’re going after. And since you have less domain authority, you can only go after a fewer amount of keywords. So it’s a harder problem and an easier problem because you’re simply working with fewer keywords.
My father-in-law ran a garage in a small town and we did his website, we did his SEO. We only wanted him to rank for two or three keywords, which was auto mechanic, car repair, things like that. And it was a small town and his website drew in enough business that that’s all we needed. So you’re generally going for a much smaller keyword footprint, but you want to do those really well.
Rich: And I would guess that for businesses like your dad’s or that financial advisor, part of the battle that you can’t rely entirely on organic search at that point. Paid search is going to be your friend and local search is going to be your friend. And then things that you do outside of the internet, which actually exists, would also be key things to do to grow your business.
Cyrus: Yep. And with local, depending upon the amount of foot traffic that you have, so many of your customers are never going to visit your actual website. They’re just going to visit the local pack and Google when they’re going to get directions. You still want to be able to rank for those things. But what you do on your website becomes slightly less important.
Rich: This has been awesome. Cyrus, is there anything that we didn’t touch on today that you think is important that people should think about as they’re embarking on their own keyword research?
Cyrus: That’s a good question. One thing that we didn’t really touch on, we talked about competitive research, but doing competitive research on yourself is another part of the process. You should be entering your own domain, seeing what you already rank for, but maybe not one, two or three, and seeing if you can improve on those. Because there’s a lot of opportunities there, because if you rank number seven for something you’ve already done half the work. You just may want to just do a little bit more work to get that up to three or two and start bringing in a lot more traffic.
Rich: That’s awesome. This has been fantastic, Cyrus. I know I’ve learned a lot. Anybody listening or watching has learned a lot. Where can we find more about you and Moz online?
Cyrus: So you can Google the keyword research guide that we just released a couple months ago. There’s also a slightly better guide, I think, competitive research analysis that you can also Google; Moz competitive research analysis, Moz. You can usually find me on Twitter, and I respond to most people there, don’t email me – you can email me, but no one else.
Rich: Awesome. We’ll have all those links for Cyrus in the show notes as always. And Cyrus, just thank you so much for making time.
Cyrus: I do a few of these webinars. This is the most in the weeds, difficult webinar with actual work that I think I’ve ever done. So thank you for challenging me.
Rich: You’re welcome, and feel free to use these examples going forward, because I purposely did try and choose three things that would each have its own challenge.
Cyrus: Oh, three very, very hard and almost impossible to do so. Thank you.
Rich: And yet you succeeded, so kudos to you, sir. Awesome. Thanks, Cyrus.
Cyrus: All right. Thank you very much.
As a lead SEO guru for Moz, Cyrus Shepard loves to share what he’s learned about the basics of a winning keyword research process that is sure to get you results at the search engines. Follow him on Twitter, or the Moz website for his insightful posts.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.
Competitive Research Analysis Guide
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