Creating an Effective Keyword Portfolio Means Understanding the Search Landscape

Creating a keyword list is step one in any search execution effort. We won’t delve into traditional keyword research tactics here; this post is designed to give marketers the tools to understand if their website can rank for a specific keyword.

It’s also important to remember that keywords vary tremendously in terms of their competitiveness. Think of building domain power the way a weightlifter might. Just because a website isn’t strong enough now doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.

That’s why I deliver keyword lists to clients that are categorized by:

  • The words a site can rank for now.
  • Slight reach keywords.
  • Keywords that will take a significant level of time/effort.

Here’s a quick guide to give webmasters the power and ability to understand the likelihood of ranking for a keyword.

Competitive Analysis Question 1: Does Your Site Have the Authority to Rank?

Because search engines rank domains based on relevance and authority, it’s important to first understand your domain’s authority and likelihood of ranking for a keyword. This means a competitive analysis must be performed.

First, enter your keyword of choice into Google and pull the top five results. Next, triangulate the data from these three tools to get a clearer picture of what’s required:

This question is relatively simple to answer, and the critical data required understanding the answer lies within three easily obtainable pieces of data:

  • Total Number of Incoming Links: Using Yahoo Site Explorer, look at the total number of incoming links for every site that appears in the top five of a SERP. Generally, the pages with the highest number of incoming links appear at the top. While the quality of incoming links may vary greatly, the total quality usually normalizes over a larger sample. This piece of information is exceptionally helpful in terms of understanding the realistic attainability of rank. If the top ranking page has 300,000 incoming links and you only have 300, it might be time to pick a different keyword.
  • Google PageRank: For years, webmasters have overvalued PageRank. It is more often misused as a measure of self-worth than actual site performance. In this case, it’s a solid indicator of ranking likelihood. If your site has a PR5 and competitors have PR8, it’s likely a non-starter for immediate ranking.
  • Incoming Link Quality: It’s a belabored point, so I won’t bother elaborating, but any SEO worth his salt understands that not all links are the same. So, how do you quickly determine if your links are as good (or better) than your competitors? Yahoo Site Explorer typically ranks (albeit imperfectly) the strongest domains first. Simply go to Yahoo Site Explorer and perform a quick examination of the links to discover when the drop off to lower quality domains begins for each site. In Site Explorer, you’ll notice quality drop off points when there are dozens of listed links from the same domain, you start seeing Blogspot links, and the links appear to be spammy scraped dupe links from other pages.

Competitive Analysis Question 2: Does Your Site Have the Right Type of Authority?

Based on the themes, goals, and motivations of your site, it might be completely unrealistic to rank for a keyword. That’s because Google tries to understand user intent based on the type of keyword entered into a search engine.

Let’s take a look at a few keywords and logically match them to user intent:

  • Keyword 1: “Michael Jackson” — commonly referred to as a head term, this keyword is typically one that would be entered by an information seeker looking to learn more about Michael Jackson. Correspondingly, Google will deliver informational-based pages that carry high domain authority, cover a broad variety of subject matter (that isn’t just Michael Jackson themed), and deliver higher levels of content than other websites. Hopefully, this example should assist in explaining why Wikipedia ranks in the top five for every broad keyword under the sun. Additionally, Google tends to strongly favor flagship “brand domains” in the first position (in this case, it’s
  • Keyword 2: “Michael Jackson Memorabilia” — in this example, the user’s intention is radically different from “Michael Jackson.” Generally speaking, the focus shifts from informational to product-based, meaning domain authority weighting will be dampened, with the word “memorabilia” providing a key specificity modifier.

Key Takeaways

Remember to ask the following questions when including a keyword in your portfolio:

  • Do I have the authority to rank for this keyword?
  • Is my site thematically relevant?
  • Will search engines reward my website (information, sales, service, blog) with the corresponding query?

This finalized keyword list should help you create a formalized search strategy that should dictate the type of content needed to meet these ranking objectives.

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