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Square Zero: 5 Survival Tips for Better Keyword Research

Posted on Jun 21st, 2012
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    It’s a situation you have never before found yourself in.  It is fraught with anticipation – and potentially –danger.  And oftentimes – it can be the difference between success or failure.

    It is the square zero experience – and if you find yourself developing a keyword glossary that will drive your online marketing campaigns for an indefinite amount of time – you might be in one.

    For a good primer on keyword research, check out chapter 7 of Optimize, of which I am a contributor.  But showing you the implementation steps for keyword research alone isn’t enough to prepare you for the reality of creating the topical framework that will define your entire online marketing strategy – and could help shape the life of your online business.

    For those who are about to embark on a new or refreshed keyword process – here are five square zero keyword research “survival” tips you should take to heart – before you start to actually research keywords.

    #1 – Develop Your Structure

    You are separated from civilization by a long and cavernous cave system.  One path leads to safety – and several more lead deeper into the abyss.  You stand at the opening and prepare to take your first step.  But do you have a structure in place to map your journey?

    Developing a structure for documenting the keywords that will be generated by your initial brainstorm is essential.  With a structure developed in advance, the output of your session will be a map that will lead to a strategically built and targeted list that will shape everything from your social SEO initiatives to your content marketing campaigns.  Without structure, you risk being left with scraps of insight connected by passion – but not by logic (in other words – a ‘brainstorm abyss.’) 

    #2 – Know the Obstacles

    Your plane has just made a bumpy emergency landing atop a mountain.  Your radio is out.  You are fortunate to have both a map and a compass.  Do you immediately start travelling down the mountain – on a random path – or do you take the time to study your map and compass, ensuring you have an educated guess as to the obstacles you will face?

    In the same sense, if you are at keyword research square zero, does it make more sense to start with an endless brainstorm of phrases – or might it be beneficial to analyze the keywords being leveraged successfully by your competitors?  A Fortune 5 company ranking highly for one of your targeted keywords may represent an insurmountable challenge.  But a synonymous phrase, which may be just as popular with buying customers – and which the mountainous competitor has not yet considered – may represent the most ideal path for your campaign.

    #3 – Understand How You Will Be Found

    You are stranded deep in the jungle.  Your best hope to be found is to locate the river that will carry you back to civilization.  Wait – you are in a stalled car in blizzard-drenched Fargo, North Dakota.  Your best hope to be found is to keep yourself warm and wait for help.

    The focus of your keyword glossary should be just as tight as your plan to be found in a square zero situation.  And while there may be different types of survival scenarios – what they all have in common is singularity.

    For instance, you cannot be at the mouth of a river and also deep in the jungle.  You cannot be in your car driving and also 2 miles down the road buried in the snow.  Your keyword glossary should not be built with the idea that you will be found everywhere by everyone.  Before beginning your brainstorm, understand that your final glossary will be a representation of your brand’s singular messaging and identity across the products and services mix.  And any phrases that don’t tie back up to this messaging will come to represent little more than dangerous lost effort.

    #4 – Know the Angles

    You are on a boat stranded in the middle of an ocean.  Your path to safety will need to be adjusted based on the wind and the waves – but fundamentally – your path should lead in one direction.

    When at square zero of keyword research, understand that several different keywords – and several different keyword variations – will bring value to your campaign.  But fundamentally, all keywords should point in one direction.  If you exclusively sell scooters, for instance, should you also be striving to be found by those looking for motorcycles?  If you are sailing north, should you periodically aim east? Understand your objectives and focus on how keyword alignment will help influence those outcomes. 

    #5 – Understand The Value & Purpose of A Mirror

    You need to create a fire to stay warm and survive the night.  Your tools include a mirror and quickly dwindling sunlight.  Do you spend time staring into the mirror – assuring yourself that everything will be OK – or do you try to capture the power of the sun to start a fire?

    At square zero of keyword research, it’s important that you spend far more time looking externally – rather than internally.  Is your customer looking for ‘surge suppression technology’ – or do they just need a ‘surge protector?’ (As a note, they could be looking for either / or.) The key is  – as much as possible – get yourself into the mindset where you are less concerned with ‘what you want to rank for’ and more concerned with ‘what are my customers looking for?’  A favorite question I like to use to set the mood is, ‘how do your customers look for you – before they know you exist?’

    Be confident in your keyword research structure and strategy – before you dive into actual keyword research – and like any other square zero scenario, you’ll ensure the best chance of success and survival.