It has been a while since Google switched to https. This left many without the option of collecting necessary data unless they either paid for AdWords campaigns or resort to seeing only part of the data in their Search Console (former Google Webmaster Tools).
More is better, but if you only have access to Google Search Console and don’t have an AdWords campaign running, that’s okay! In this post, I will demonstrate how to access and download your search data and use it to your advantage. The process (using excel spreadsheets) is exactly the same for both AdWords and Google Search Console. Therefore, you can run it for each one individually.
First, let’s understand the problem. Data is everything, and we could use more of it – right? For years, I have focused my operation around a set of keywords found through a keyword research process and checked ranking by scraping the SERP. I used services such as RankTracker and Authority Labs – which are great tools by the way! With time, I understood that adjusting my operation to using incoming search terms is a much more effective SEO strategy. The difference was like day and night. I no longer feel like I’m taking shots in the dark anymore. I’m definitely getting more exposure and traffic to my sites, as well as a lot more user engagement.
It was definitely a transition. I discovered the value of incoming search terms data and continued working using both strategies for a while (hard to give up on old habits). I then graduated to using users’ searches to do my SEO (yes, I stopped scraping the SERP for keyword ranking). After years of scraping and reporting positioning, it had become second nature to check positioning every morning – even though I didn’t know exactly why I was bothering doing it. Here is why:
Over the years, the search engine result pages (SERPs) have changed drastically. Google and other search engines have made, and are still making numerous efforts to serve users relevant results. The regular SERP died as we knew it, and a new dynamic one emerged. I started to see a very strong correlation between high-ranking terms and low traffic. Why? Well, the traditional method of scraping regular organic terms didn’t indicate how these organic terms are seen by different people from various locations. It’s just not possible to cover so many search scenarios. Therefore, the only option left was to do neutral keyword scraping where the actual scraped results are not affected by location, browser cookies, or a user’s search history. I found myself explaining this to my clients too often when they called complaining that what they saw in their browsers didn’t match the reports I was sending. So, what is scraping keyword positioning good for?
At some point, I understood that scraping the SERP for keywords’ positioning is not going to work for me. I researched the topic further and found that many upgraded their SEO strategy to aim for user engagement and to listen to what users are looking or actually searching for.
It’s time to upgraded your SEO strategy to aim for user engagement and to listen to what users are looking or actually searching forClick to tweet
When I say ‘upgraded’, I mean that SEO and web marketing in general is dynamic. If you don’t evolve around the changes, you are going to be left behind.
Does that mean you should stop checking for ranking? In the old way we used to do it, I would have to say yes! However, checking for positioning of popular incoming search terms in order to determine trend overtime and NOT as the main and only success metric, this is still something you should do. The best part is that Google provides this information for free through their Search Console. You can even get more data if you’re willing to run a paid campaign on AdWords.
The How To
Let’s dive in and see the benefits of this strategy. Download all incoming search data from Google Search Console and your AdWords account.
Google Search Console > Search Traffic > Search Analytics > Download the table
AdWords > All campaigns > Dimensions > View: Search terms > Download the table
Note: on Google Adwords, choose all search campaigns and set the date range for at least 90 days back.
You’ll end up with two excel files and some common columns between the two. We will add the information from the AdWords file to the Search Console file and create a master database of incoming searches (save the original Search Console file; we will need it later). Add the data from:
- Search term column to Queries column
- Clicks column to Clicks column
- Impressions column to Impressions column
- CTR column to CTR column
- Position column to Position column
Now, let’s dissect the data and harvest all the goodies that will help us with our SEO.
Highlight all the incoming search terms that contain question words, such as what, why, where, when, how, can, could, etc. You will end up with a long list of terms used by non others than your potential prospects seeking answers that you probably already have. Some of them are usually high in the buyer funnel, still learning and shopping and not necessarily ready to buy. Yet, they represent a very relevant and valuable traffic segment.
How does it help with SEO?
Look for the repeated questions visitors ask. Group these and you will now have a list of titles/topics to blog about – the answers visitors are expecting to find on your website. It could be that some of the topics you already cover. However, having such list will help you focus your pages’ writing operation. Your efforts will be rewarded with supper relevant content, good engagement levels, and of course traffic increase.
You will end up with something like this:
Note how easy it is for me to pick the more important topics and even prioritize what to start with and push stronger. In the case shown above, I will open a blog post for each question and include a matching call to action. For example: for the question “How to keep a car smelling new,” I will offer some air fresheners and a new car smell product in order to maximize the potential of my new content piece.
Other uses for this data include creating a comprehensive FAQ page and/or enriching the content on service pages by addressing previous visitors’ questions.
This is probably one of the most important tactics. Terms with commercial value help the most with your bottom line. These are the terms with a higher chance of converting because there is real commercial search intent. Terms that contain words like service, office, location, near me, buy, purchase, store, in [geo location], etc. should be part of your copy. Review your incoming search terms database and identify the commercial terms that are unique to your business. Afterwards, do a word count to reveal the popularity of each one.
How does it help with SEO?
You will have a prioritized list of commercial terms that you can use in your copy. It will help you adjust your content to what your prospects are searching for today. Don’t keyword stuff, rather understand how people search for what you offer.
You can even use the top 1 or 2 terms in your titles – where relevant and makes sense! The use of commercial terms will make your content more relevant to what visitors ready to buy are searching for.
Here is an example:
It all becomes clear when you have it segmented and sorted out. Note the red commercial modifiers I found that my visitors are using. I can actually make a super relevant sentence from this by following the frequency in column B: “Buy + Car Accessories + and equipment + online.” Is this awesome or what?
This could be a great title or a sentence in a page copy that will help increase the relevancy of your commercial terms.
In order to further increase page content relevancy, we need to tweak our content even more. I like the negative terms review strategy because it brings a lot of new content insights, like:
- Old terms that are not relevant anymore and simply dilute the main topics’ relevancy (e.g. the term “custom auto covers” while you are only selling regular ones).
- Irrelevant geographic locations you are showing up for.
- Discovering completely unrelated terms to the business (e.g. “pay day loans” on a plumber’s website) might suggest that the website has been hacked.
- Irrelevant words that are associated with a website (e.g. having on an accident attorney’s website words like insurance, hospital, paralegal, etc.)
Here is how to harvest Google Search Console keyword data using negative terms review strategyClick to tweet
How does it help with SEO?
Make a list of all the words that are irrelevant. Review your content to understand the reason the website is coming up for these searches, and take action to either eliminate or reduce the amount of appearances.
In some cases you won’t find a mention of the keyword you are looking for. This is because it only represents a smaller part of the user query, and therefore there is not much you can do about it. We want to focus on the ones that do show up in our content and take action on each.
This is a good eye opener. Did you know there are many names for your business?
- Search with a misspelling
- Search for the web address instead of the business name (sometimes different)
- Search with hyphens where you never would think are needed
- Search with modifiers such as firm, store, or the actual service category
- Search with your phone number
- Search with the owner’s name
The user just wants to find your brand’s website, and in most cases it’s already there on the first page. However, in some other cases (and specifically on scenario #4 above), the ranking could be below the first page. This is where we have an opportunity and want to take action.
Note: since we are relying on the average position metric here, we’ll be looking at Google’s Search Console data only. This is because AdWords incoming searches will mostly show high ranking either way.
How does it help with SEO?
Increasing the density of low ranking brand terms will improve performance relatively quick. Locate these terms and use them in your copy. As a result, your traffic from branded terms as a whole will grow.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
LSI terms are keywords related to the main keyword that you search for on search engines such as Google. Google has confirmed that by using more LSI keywords, your page will typically rank better.
When optimizing a page’s content, we usually aim for one main keyword. While this should generally be the case, it is important to remember that the search algorithm is by design programmed to find the topic of a given page, not necessarily attempt to discover the term you are after. Use one keyword term per page as a guide to focus around your main topic, but make sure you have good coverage using all kinds of LSI terms.
It can be hard to grasp the idea of LSI, so here is a quick fun exercise. Think about your main business topic (let’s say coffee shop), and now write on a piece of paper everything that pops to your head. Here is what I came up with:
Cup, hot, iced, tea, cream, milk, espresso, latte, dark, sugar, sweetener, small, large, cake, ground, flavor, fresh, water, chocolate creamier, mocha, chai, turkish, french press, blend, muffin, cupcakes, bagel, decaf, delicious, treat, shot, snacks, java…
This is a list of LSI terms 🙂
How does it help with SEO?
Instead of using a yellow pad and a pencil, I have a better solution for you. Using your incoming search terms database excel file, simply CTRL F and replace all brand, negative, core, commercial, and informational words with no character (this will remove those strings).
Voila, you now have a pretty good list of possible LSI terms. Go through the list and decide which terms to keep and which ones to delete. Use those terms in your copy and Google will reward you.
Here is a tool that will help you further research LSI terms: http://lsigraph.com/
High Rank – Low CTR
On your incoming search terms database excel file, locate high ranking terms that have low CTR (click through rate). This is one of the low hanging fruits you can leverage in order to improve traffic volume.
How does it help with SEO?
In most cases, High rank – low CTR means poor page description or bad ad copy (in the case with AdWords). If you improve this section of the listing to be more inviting and enticing to click, you’ll most likely see improvement in CTR and therefore will result in traffic increase.
Google Search Console and Google AdWords are both great data sources that you can use to your advantage. However, the process of optimizing content, including content upgrades is tedious. Hey, if it was that easy everybody would be doing it, Right?
Most of the analyses we’ve looked at throughout this post will require a keyword injection process. That means that you will have a set of terms to add to your copy. I personally use a simple excel file that includes the following fields: page URL, current content section, new content section, and approved.
I take snippets of text from the areas I would like to update and suggest replacements. The approved column keeps track of the client/internal approval process on those changes (if needed in your case).
There are many content optimization methods. The methods discussed above are the main ones I use and that I have seen great results by far. I do combine these efforts with other techniques, like internal link structure improvement, image optimization, keyword density adjustment, and others. However, these topics will be covered on a whole different blog post.
Happy optimizing 🙂