Quite a few people have been asking me this question lately.
Experience I’ve had over the last few years of running a centrally-managed pan-European SEO programme for Chevrolet Europe has taught me a lot.
We need to focus our energies
With so many markets on the programme (19 in 16 languages) and such a small team, we can’t afford to waste time or effort. We need to focus on what will bring us results. I can confess that I’ve learnt this the hard way…
SEO keyword lists are not the same as paid search lists
Natural search keyword lists should only ever represent an indicative target. One look at Omniture, or whichever analytics tool you’re using, will show you that there is a multitude of keywords people use to find you. So we now no longer include every possible permutation of every brand term in our lists.
This kind of coverage is actually important – to start with at least – for paid search. But natural search requires a different attitude when it comes to keyword lists.
So, what do I mean by keywords that will bring us results?
Our SEO agency Performics use various tools to identify keywords that – should we rank for them – would give us a traffic increase. This applies to both brand and unbranded keyword selection. It’s a strong and pragmatic approach.
Impact on content
If we’re not ranking for a term that the agency have identified as a potential traffic booster, we look at developing appropriate, relevant and useful content around that term, so we can rank for it. And, if necessary we build links too.
A good example of this the work we’ve done at Chevrolet with our unbranded category car pages. Here’s an example: http://www.chevrolet.es/nuestros-modelos/coches-de-7-plazas//. We’re also looking at other content development at the moment.
So, what of the results? Pretty damn good so far
I’m going to focus on the example I gave in the previous paragraph. By ranking no.1 for “7-seat car” (and related terms), we attracted an incremental 34,000 visits to the 7-seat car page on the Chevrolet Spain website in Q4 2011. I’ll say that again: incremental traffic. For a brand like Chevrolet Europe, with very low media budgets, this is an important step in generating awareness and getting our cars in front of people who would otherwise not have considered us.
I will admit to cherry-picking the best result we have. Not all our markets have performed like Spain, but in every market we’ve adopted this policy, we have seen a steady increase in traffic that goes back to a small, targeted set of keywords.
Paid and natural search alignment
And it’s part of our paid/natural search alignment project. All the unbranded keywords we’re targeting are expensive (but effective) in paid search. If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that we’re testing an active bid management system which will allow us to determine the optimum relationship between paid and natural search. Spain is one of our test markets and the results are looking extremely positive.
So far, it’s showing that we can radically improve traffic and conversions to the site by being present in both paid and natural search. Performics will be writing a white paper on this test later in the year.
Why is bad to target a large amount of keywords for natural search?
OK, back to the beginning. This is the question that people often ask me too, in relation to the main question “what’s the optimal number”?
Well, for starters, it’s very wasteful. But much worse than that, is that it can be very content-destructive. If you’re under pressure to rank for a huge number of keywords, the temptation is to produce content that’s not consumer-focused (i.e. it’s not useful for the consumer, isn’t easily readable and so on).
So, my advice is…
…keep the lists to under 150, including unbranded terms, be highly selective and write content that satisfies consumers’ needs first. If you get it right for consumers, you’ll generally also get it right for search engines.
There is also a social element. Where you think your content is sharable, or likeable, do give people this opportunity. But use it judiciously. Nothing worse than seeing “Likes 0″ on a page.
Let me know what you think about this article!