Business Strategy Reality Check With Google Adwords Keyword Tool

Some might find the title somewhat oxymoronic, given that the words Business Strategy are coupled with the notion of a Keyword Tool. However the linkage will become clear later.

Recently Trevor Claiborne of the Inside AdWords crew at Google informed us all that the Keyword Tool is now Updated With Search Volume Data. He illustrated this with the image shown below:

Adwords Keyword Tool

If you are not familiar with the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, it would be worth your while to check out. This latest change provides for free what many expensive keyword tracking services had been providing. It’s no surprise that AdWords professionals, such as Xurxo Vidal, Bloom Search Services, are enamored by this new Search Volume Data service.

As Tamar Weinberg of Search Engine Roundtable pointed out, some other experts are questioning its usefulness. Michael VanDeMar believes that the tool is useless for SEO, even though it shows exact numbers. Certainly the source of the numbers needs to be considered carefully. It may not provide an exact indication of the clicks your own particular AdWords campaign might produce. However for comparative purposes the figures would seem to be useful and clearly Google itself is the best source for Google click data.

The other advantage of the data is that you can download the figures into an Excel spreadsheet. Previously for all results, an indication of the search volume was presented as small histogram bars and only a rough visual comparison was possible. These quantitative results allow more intensive analysis, which is why it can provide a reality check for your business strategy. To explain this requires a short background review of Internet marketing.

Challenging Business Realities

An increasing number of businesses are realizing that the Internet is the primary way many prospects and clients will be communicating with them. Of course the Internet has a major weakness. That is because the Internet is a really, really crowded scene. It’s hardly surprising to hear that Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the Internet, is working on tags to help find online information.

At the same time the Internet has a major strength. That is because the Internet is a really, really crowded scene. That means that for any product or service, however specialized, there will be a very large number of prospects who are active on the Internet. Since the Internet is a superb way of communicating, which is independent of geography, this gives great opportunities in Internet marketing.

Given that the Internet has changed the way the business world functions, clearly a business strategy must make sense in this modern reality. As Michael Porter has said,”Of course strategy is hard – it’s about making tough choices.” In other words you must decide what you will do and what you will not do.

The best reality check for your business strategy would really be provided by the views of those prospects you are aiming to persuade to become customers. One indicator of the prospects needs is how they go looking for solutions. What keywords might they use in searching for solutions? The Adwords Keyword Tool provides such data. Of course it is mixed in with keyword data for non-prospects who happened to be looking for somewhat related products or information. Nevertheless the Tool can help in confirming or rejecting a particular strategy.

Doing The Reality Check

The following is very much a Big Picture approach and cannot be pushed to the nth degree. It only confirms that a particular strategy has the necessary characteristics to allow success. It does not go beyond that to check that it has sufficient characteristics to actually be successful. However by applying the check, it may give insights into how a strategy can be tuned to improve the chances of success.

Step 1 – Determine the characteristics of your most typical preferred prospect and their needs.

Step 2 – Determine the most likely keyword phrase that would be included in a Google search for a solution

Step 3 – Use the Keyword Tool on that phrase in the following way. Insert the words of the phrase on a single line without quotes and allow synonyms to be included. What the Tool does is to explore the concept that is behind that keyword phrase and show you what closely related keyword searches are being done.

Step 4 – Download CSV files of the two lists of keywords developed by the Tool into Excel spreadsheets. The data should be combined into one spreadsheet of adjacent rows. Sort the rows based on the values in the 4th column in descending order. The fourth column contains the annual monthly average searches for the particular keyword or keyword phrase. Sometimes you will find a large number of closely similar keyword phrases that have high search rates measured in the tens of thousands. This may either mean trouble or opportunity. In other cases, very many fewer keyword phrases are listed. Provided the search rates are measured in the thousands, then you likely are looking at a potentially interesting strategic niche.

Step 5 – After comparing a number of different businesses and the key words that might be appropriate, one can develop a sense of what this analysis suggests for the corresponding strategy.

Step 6(optional in some cases) Repeat the analysis with the keyword phrase in quotes to produce a tighter comparison of what may be competition.

Possible Outcomes From The Reality Check

This approach is very much a work in progress. Accordingly it is not yet possible to produce a taxonomy of all the different patterns and what they may imply for a given strategy. The following represent examples of what we have seen in practice. Repeating the cycle and refining the ideas is often beneficial. Readers who try out this approach are encouraged to add their own experiences in the comments.

Case A – A Strategy Lost In The General Noise
– The words with high search numbers clearly represented much more than just searches by the prospect niche. Clearly there would be many other online properties that such searches were accessing. A website focused on the keyword phrase would probably never stand out in this very crowded space.

Case B – Too Much Competition
– There is only minimal information on the advertising competition for certain phrases (a scale from 0 to 100%). Nevertheless, if many of the keyword phrases have 100% competition, then clearly this is a market with a large number of competitors who are willing to spend money on PPC advertising. This undoubtedly translates into equal competition in organic search as well. Using that keyword phrase to define your target prospect may well be very weak strategy.

Case C – Prospects Don’t Use That Keyword Phrase
– One analysis showed that surprisingly there were no searches at all for the assumed best keyword phrase. Prospects were likely using some synonyms that did have high search results. The strategy was refined using one of these alternate phrases.

Case D – Several Keyword Phrases All Somewhat Strong
– In this case, a number of alternate keyword phrases had somewhat comparable search rates. The advertising competition for some of these was strong whereas for others there was little competition. One of the alternates with little competition was selected to define the ideal prospect and therefore the best approach.

A Robust Strategy – Focus, Focus, Focus

The common thread that often runs through these strategy check cases is that to focus on a tightly defined niche is often the best policy. The overall measure that counts is the size of the niche multiplied by the small percentage who will convert into purchasers. The advantage here is that by targeting a tighter niche, it is more likely that the prospect will be aware of the company and more likely that they will find that what the company offers is attractive. Given the crowded Internet, even what might be thought of as a micro-niche can be preferred. This will be more fully explored in an upcoming SMM Newsletter.

14 thoughts on “Business Strategy Reality Check With Google Adwords Keyword Tool”

  1. Barry,

    With the added value that Google has provided in their keyword tool the benefits become obvious once you experiment with it. The points you raised clearly illustrate that.

    I’m a little surprised however that some actually claim to find the tool useless for SEO because the numbers are not very accurate. While this might be true in some cases, how accurate are similar tools such as Wordtracker or Keyword Discovery for which you have to pay?

    Of those that complain, I wonder how many take the time to contact Google and other service providers to submit feature requests and provide feedback. I often do and am amazed at how open and responsive Google is at collecting and implementing the feedback they receive.

    They have plenty of faults to work on, but there’s a more effective and productive way to criticize and complain. Thanks for sharing both sides of the coin – makes for an interesting discussion!

  2. Google has been introducing some really cool services to webmasters lately. I like this new feature offered by their keyword tool and Google Analytics keeps improving. Unfortunately, I’m not as thrilled by some of their other services such as Knol, Orkut, etc.

  3. When I discuss keyword strategy with clients, the keywords they think are good fall into the “Case B” or “Case C” categories. Their expectations of getting ranked for something like “Wisconsin Real Estate” or getting lots of traffic from “Eau Claire coffee shop” are inflated.

    Your suggestions here are dead-on. I’ve used the Google Keyword Tool in a way similar to your method here and have found it to be of moderate value in keyword selection. Thanks for the post!

  4. I really like the way Google has improved the results of their free keyword research tool but I really don’t appreciate their de-indexing of sites they consider “thin affiliate” type sites. After all, aren’t Amazon and eBay “thin affiliate” sites?

  5. I like that you mentioned the possible outcomes. What I have learned is that relevance is key, and traffic for traffic sake is not. I would rather have great keyword research and get 2 buyers than 10000 hits and tire kickers.

  6. When I first used google adwords I was a bit skeptical, but with the time google has been adding more features to make it easy for every one.
    Right now you don’t have to be an expert to use it and get the best out of it.
    If we add the instructions you just posted then we can take it to the next level.
    Most of the time we just have to use our common sense to succeed

  7. I agree with what Sandy said; relevance is key and that is the only way to actually make commissions. I personally use Googles keyword tool every single day and build my domain names around each niche that I work on. Probably one of the best features that Google offers for free.

  8. The Google keyword tool is probably the best, especially considering that it’s free. I also have it implemented via the Adwords API in various of my applications, just they do not yet offer the search volumes yet via the API. Most likely they are afraid to get hammered by automatic extraction tools.

  9. I have been using this a lot recently and personally I don’t always trust the numbers it throws out at me. Try searching for [friends dating] and see the huge number it gives you, way bigger even then the generic term [dating] – this is set on UK and I haven’t checked US.

    This is not the only example of a clearly wrong result.

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