The Days of Guessing at Keyword Research Are Over

In my last few columns, I've covered the considerations for search in a site redesign, so today I want to drill down even further into how market research and, by extension, keyword research helps to inform the design and marketing process.  As the title of this post suggests, and as I've stated many times here in the last few years, the days of guessing at keywords used by target audiences are done for serious enterprise marketers.  We need to rethink our approach to audience research, including what language and digital triggers are used, and we need a more focused view to understand how a target user interacts online.

I talk about "market research" in contrast to "keyword research," because the reality for most enterprise search and digital marketers is that they are going on a fishing expedition for keywords, often with a "set-it-and-forget-it" approach to performance optimization for all aspects of SEM and Web design.  The result is often a clueless marketing exercise where large knowledge gaps of the target audience are a mystery; with dollars also being spent blindly.  

Predicting and understanding human search intent is much more complicated than choosing keyword terms based on search frequency, and the estimated likelihood to click through. Human search intent is as complex as human beings themselves, and market research should be a primary driver in creating exceptional search engine marketing campaigns, and exceptional Web experiences and journeys.



In a site redesign, using search to correctly inform personas is paramount.  A persona is a fictional characterization of the target audience that a campaign or site is trying to reach, and one or many personas may be identified depending upon the various goals for the business.  Leaving out search as a method of informing personas is often a major omission of the process.  Over and over again, in case studies and in practice, this little detail in mapping target language and intent to an overall journey is the difference between a ho-hum transition for non-search-informed Web sites, compared to lifts in various metrics of +100-1000 percent across various goals. 

But taking a market research approach in a search-informed redesign is not the only way to leverage search data.  Here are a few other considerations for deeper and better keyword and market research:


-        Inform your personas through interviews, and ask subjects to talk about how they search; or, better yet, observe how they search online.  Interview your target audience, but also interview internal stakeholders.

-        Map keyword learnings into more complex scenarios for the process of finding. This comes from understanding who your audiences are; what their needs and desires are; and what linguistic cues play into various stages of their connected search and digital journey.

-        Leverage learnings from paid search early on. If the right analytics are in place, then this is proven data that can help validate or inform other data on the front end of research processes.

-        Keep in mind that sometimes the real gold mine in all of market research is finding that one word  -- the one linguistic cue that could be a seed concept to a much greater universe of language and intent.

-        Get out of the habit of making assumptions based on what you think your target audience will search for.  Go ask them directly, and free your initiatives of your own biases.

-        Also look to social networks for linguistic cues - search and social both provide open windows into how audiences speak, and what they seek.   And many enterprise businesses have gotten even smarter and are leveraging them both for major initiatives. 

-        Use internal searches to help inform campaigns and future designs, and follow up on this data in early customer research.  If consumers are getting all the way to your site and typing particular terms, this could be a strong indicator of a particular intention, or may identify something that is currently lacking in the existing design, content, or architecture. 

-        Consider the various types of digital assets, and how your target audience searches for them.  This insight works on a redesign, or for ongoing content strategies.  This ultimately helps you engage more with your target audience, and also extends reach into universal search and social networks. 

And of course, in addition to avoiding making too many broad assumptions, analyze the data very thoroughly.  While using tools is very important to the process, interpretation and insight are what will ultimately help you transcend mere guessing with various keyword tools, to actually listening and using the data to help inform a meaningful experience for the target audience you most want to reach. Again, this is not just about informing a redesign or connecting in a paid search campaign, it is about engaging with your target audience in a meaningful way.

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