Posted by Melanie Phung on Friday, November 21, 2008 at 4:34 pm
Every time Google releases a new tool (Barry Schwartz broke the story of Google’s new search-based keyword research tool with a good write up at SEL), it makes it easier for people to think for themselves a little less and rely on Google to do their work for them even more.
If you’re not a professional search engine marketer, and just dabble in search it won’t make much of a difference, but if your job is to provide top-notch keyword research, these tools can easily turn into a crutch. And don’t fool yourself into believing that Google doesn’t have its own interests at heart when it loans you those free crutches.
We’re Turning Into Complacent Search Marketers
It used to be that keyword research required brainstorming, digging around competitors’ sites, reading up on topics, trying to think like a user, and running your seed lists through multiple tools to get the best estimate of where you could expect high traffic and low competition. You went through the process multiple times to build new lists of keywords and optimized around these little nuggets of opportunity. And even then you knew the tools were imperfect so you had to use your brain and test, test, test.
Now it seems like it’s a matter of typing a URL or a common word into a box that will take all the hard work out of keyword “research” (but, seriously, is it really “research” if getting a big list of perfectly targeted keywords just involves punching in your website and letting Google return a list for you?) And because that tool belongs to Google, and you know Google owns all the user data of the very audience you’re targeting, and it returns all the obvious suggestions, why bother to go any further?
Why go further? Do you always blindly do everything and only what Google tells you to do? It’s a public company with financial interest in the keywords you bid on. Stop being a sheep!
[Ed: Here I took out a long diatribe on how Google is basically pulling a Walmartization of keyword research, providing free tools to get us addicted to their free crack and driving out the competition in the process. But I decided to save the tin-foil hat rant for another time.]
Okay, Fine, Go Use Google’s New “Search-Based Keyword Tool”
Of course I’m not suggesting that you don’t use the tool. That’s like saying that built-in spellcheckers have made us all lazy and therefore we should turn them off (and publish typo-ridden websites and emails). However, to take the analogy further, don’t assume that just because your spelling is flawless that you’re a good writer. Just because you’re now bidding on keywords that Google tells you you’re already optimized for to some degree, doesn’t mean you’ve just become a better search marketer.
First, go fill out your AdWords group with the recommended terms. (Don’t want to leave easy keywords on the table now do you? Well, Google doesn’t either.)
Second, compare your keyword lists to your competitors’ keywords.
Third, find sites in similar niches as you who aren’t direct competitors.
Four, run these keywords against each other and see what terms Google is recommending for your competitors to bid on that you’re not targeting.
Five, think about why Google isn’t recommending these words for you. There’s a reason, and it will likely be the same reason those words won’t convert for you if you start bidding on them.
Six, instead of dumping all your competitors’ words into your AdWords account, start optimizing for organic search.
That’s right, use the tool to target FREE qualified search traffic instead of just handing Google your wallet.
The more that free tools make it easier for lazy researchers to pick that mid-hanging fruit, the more the playing field gets leveled. And a level playing field only means more competition. If you don’t want your competition eating your lunch, you need to figure out how to step it up a notch.
Now go optimize your website.