SEOKeywords Forensics: Research Search Terms That Others Miss

Keywords Forensics: Research Search Terms That Others Miss

There is a crucial difference between keyword research and the keyword forensics taught by John Alexander at SES Toronto. Keyword forensics surveys keyphrases as they have been input by users in an attempt to identify a user behavior.

The notion of keyword research is a pillar of the SEO world. SEOs everywhere rack their brains and use sophisticated tools in an attempt to discover what keywords they should optimize for. However, to hear John Alexander, the director of training for Search Engine Workshops and the Director of Search Engine Academy discuss keyword forensics at SES Toronto, one might wonder if most of us have already missed the point researching keywords.

According to him, there is a crucial difference between the keyword research that most do and the keyword forensics that he practices and teaches. While keyword research considers keywords and phrases and then gathers data to draw conclusions about which are the best to focus on, keyword forensics surveys keyphrases as they have been input by users in an attempt to identify a user behavior. SEOs can then optimize their sites to serve consumer needs in fields that are related, but much less competitive than the most keywords that first come to mind for a given industry. Keyword forensics is about thinking beyond search rankings and, instead, positioning yourself to serve specific needs of your users.


In Alexander’s words, keyword forensics reveal “the low-hanging fruit,” so that SEOs do not expend our resources fighting what may be a losing battle, and what will certainly be a substantial drain on resources. Mr. Alexander’s forensic tool of choice is WordTracker, where the hunt begins not with a flurry of the most obvious search phrases, but with a word. What kind of word? He says it should be something that implies action on the part of the user, but he prides himself on mining even the most boring and the most seemingly insignificant ones. For initiates, he says, start with words like comparison, review, learn, study, statistics, rare, find, discount, wholesale, pattern, maps, supply, supplies, old, new, pricing, recipes – all words that imply a user’s action, but in an unspecified way.

These words identify the user as a potential Internet consumer. It tells businesses that they are coming to the Internet looking for a service. Then, Word Tracker gathers a large list of related search phrases, their volumes, their KEI (Keyword Effectiveness Index), and their IAAT (sites with that keyword In Anchor And Title). Now, SEOs have a substantial amount of data at our fingertips about, say, what kind of supplies people are actually searching for on the Internet. Sort the list by descending KEI and they’ll have a list of non-competitive or minimally competitive search phrases.

Many of the results on the list will not clearly align with any user behavior, and thus are not useful from a keyword forensics standpoint. The aim, Mr. Alexander says, is to take one useful bit of knowledge about searches from each results screen.

For example when, via the word “expensive,” we discover there is substantial traffic for the search term “how expensive a house can I afford,” real estate agencies would do well to take note. Here, the behavior should be clear. People come to the Internet to discover what kind of home their salary affords them.

This is keyword forensics. By analyzing search phrases, SEOs identify a narrative about potential customers and are able to position themselves as authorities on the web within the narratives of their customers. Oftentimes, users are coming to the Internet to do research. Developing and supplying content that answers questions and satisfies the needs of a large and relevant audience has huge potential from an SEO standpoint.

I’ll leave you with a final anecdote from Alexander’s presentation that demonstrates the power of keyword forensics:

He told the story of a car insurance site whose average traffic was about 4,000 visitors per month. Instead of pursuing the keywords that jump to mind like “car insurance quote,” “low cost car insurance,” “car insurance agency,” and so on, keyword forensics led Alexander to the search phrase “Where do I find the VIN number on my car?” According to him, after developing and optimizing eighteen pages that answered the question for a variety of makes of cars and including an ad for his client’s car insurance company prominently on each page, traffic to his insurance site increased 10 times.

This SES Toronto session coverage article was written by Cooper Pickett, SEO Consultant from IntegraStrategic.


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