A Radically New Concept in Keyword Research

by Hamlet Batista | March 12, 2008 | 16 Comments

SEO expert and blogger Donna Fontenot recently honored me with a positive review of my recently launched software, RankSense. I must admit that I was not born a salesman and I detest hype and hyperbole, so it feels great when my peers see the value in what I am trying to bring to the market. Thanks Donna and thanks Tad for your reviews. Although I have worked closely with top copywriter, Paul Robb (winner of the SEOmoz landing page competition), and my clever technical writer and editor, Benjamin Zadik, to create persuasive copy for our product site, I have to admit that there is still a lot of work to do explaining the true benefits of the software (and in some measure, the benefits of SEO).
If you have read some of my posts, you know that I don’t like to do what everybody else is doing and I think that reflects strongly in the way I designed the software. For instance, if you have used any of the keyword research tools on the market, you know that there is little that differentiates one from the other. Most do the same thing: find the keywords people are actively searching for, measure their competitiveness, assess their value, and so on. RankSense is different.
In this post I would like to go deeper into what I believe is one of the most powerful and useful features of RankSense—a radically different keyword research module.
What Everyone Else Is Doing
I am sure most of you are familiar with rank checking tools. If you search for “rank checking” you will end up with thousands of tools (free and paid) to help you identify and monitor your rankings for the top search engines. A lot of people are extremely obsessed with checking their site rankings and would like to see their sites move up in the hopes of grabbing more traffic and business.
But let me explain a few fundamental problems with the current rank checking approach.

1. You need a prodigious mind. Current rank checking software assumes that you know what keywords people are typing to find your website. In reality, you might be able to know a handful of keywords, but realistically you are not going to come up with all of them.

2. Modern search engines present different results to different geographic locations. As part of search engines’ efforts to improve the relevancy of their results, they use geolocation technology to present results relevant to searchers in different cultures/countries. This is a problem for rank checking tools that, depending upon where they are being run, produce completely different results than expected. For example, I have a customer that used to outsource his SEO to India; when they ran the rank checker software in Asia, the site would not appear in the top ten for important keywords, but when the search was performed in the US, voilà, the site was there.

3. Personalized results. Personalized search is one of the biggest challenges that current rank checking tools face. Millions of users will have completely different profiles and your site might come up in the top ten for some users and not for others. How do these checker find your rankings in such a scenario? The simple answer is they don’t. Now, imagine that Google makes personalized results the default.

4. Sending automated queries to search engines. Search engines have specific terms of service and sending automated queries for rank checking violates them. Problems arise, including your IP address being banned or constantly being asked to provide a captcha.

5. Focus on rankings instead of on useful search traffic. This is a fundamental problem that I see come up when people focus too much on rank checking. Anybody can rank in the top ten for keywords that nobody is searching for. As a business owner, a top-ten ranking doesn’t mean much to me unless the keywords that I am trying to rank for are practical and useful for my business. So just any top-ten ranking is of no value—the real goal is a top-ten ranking for keywords that people are actively searching for and that can potentially help my business achieve its aims.

RankSense and the Keyword Goldmine
In contrast to other popular SEO suites and tools in the market, RankSense is primarily a log analysis tool. Why? I find that traffic logs are a goldmine of information about the activity and performance of the website. RankSense focuses on mining information that is particularly useful for organic search optimization.

The first process you can try once you have set up your site properly in RankSense is the “Discover Rankings” feature. It is like a modern rank checker without any of the problems that I detailed above. It works instead by studying your traffic log files and detecting all the keywords that people are using to find your site. But more important than detecting keywords and search engines, it also detects the SERP (Search Engine Result Page) where the user found your site. This is one feature you won’t find anywhere else and one that I am particularly proud of.
The benefits of this approach are many:

1. The software can produce a list of all the keywords that drive traffic to your site along with their corresponding traffic and ranking. We have tested the software with sites that get search traffic from tens of thousands of keywords (although that appears to be a limit that we are working to optimize in terms of memory usage).

2. The physical location of the user doesn’t matter. If the user saw the search result and clicked on it, our software will include the keyword in the list.

3. Personalized results are no problem either because, as long as a user found the site through a personalized result and clicked on it, the keyword and ranking will be there.

4. Because RankSense uses log files, it doesn’t need to send automated queries to the search engines to identify where your site ranks.

Going Beyond Keywords
A description of RankSense’s keyword research tools would be incomplete if I didn’t mention another important differentiation and powerful feature that you don’t see in other SEO tools/suites. All the tools in RankSense collaborate—that is to say that they share the data and information gathered automatically. This particular feature saves time and simplifies a lot of things.

For example, the keyword research tool transparently extracts the current rankings from the rank checker tool. When you enter Keyword Selection (assuming you ran the Discover Rankings task in Smart Mode) your keyword basket is already populated with a bunch of keywords in blue. These keywords are there because you are already ranking for them, but not coming up in the first page of results. There is no easier way to improve your existing rankings for a whole list of long tail keywords than working on these. All current keyword research tools on the market require that you type in some seed keywords (you can do that in RankSense too, of course) but ours can automatically recommend the keywords that you should be ranking for. It is a feature that you won’t see anywhere else. For good measure, RankSense can also extract keywords by doing an on-page analysis of your site, or even your competitor’s site.
The Real Value of Opportunity
One of the most useful elements of any keyword research tool is the ability to estimate the value and level of competition for any keyword. This allows you to prioritize your content development efforts. Focus on keywords that are actively searched for, that can potentially bring money or positive branding traffic to the table, and you can get good rankings in a reasonable amount of time. If you instead focus on keywords that are too competitive to start with or that don’t bring enough money or branding benefits, you will lose both time and money.

In order to gauge the value of the keywords, RankSense incorporates a metric we call Opportunity. Essentially, it combines the frequency a keyword is searched for or clicked, how much PPC advertisers are bidding on the keyword at the moment, and how many results come up in the organic search results (you can adjust all of these settings in the interface). The idea is this: if PPC advertisers bid high on the keyword consistently, then the keyword must be a valuable enough to at least break even for the revenue it gains you. So, our Opportunity index is directly proportional to the number of searches or clicks the term receives and the PPC bid value of the keyword, and indirectly proportional to the number of sites competing on the search results.
Organization is Key for Keywords
Most keyword research experts will tell you that organization is a very important element of keyword research. You need to organize your keywords into meaningful groups so that you can create relevant content (i.e. landing pages) that include the right keywords in the text and start getting organic traffic. With RankSense, you can group keywords based on the intention of the user: navigational searches, informational or transactional. We chose this default set of groups because it highlights the importance of driving searchers to the pages where they are most likely to find what they are looking for. Although it is tempting to send everybody to your product purchase page, that is not what everybody is looking for. You want to send people searching for information to your marketing articles, for example. Of course the software allows you to create additional groups and organize your research in any way you think is more efficient or appropriate for you or your client.

The way the software is designed means that we focus on highlighting opportunities where you can drastically improve the quality and quantity of your search traffic as opposed to focusing on just getting top rankings. This can be seen very well in the Reports section of the software, which is another interesting feature. As you make progress through your project and you complete each of the tasks, actionable reports are generated from the data you provide and that the tools produce. For instance, I am sure you want to know which keywords are driving the most traffic and also see where you are ranking for such keywords. As I explained in a previous post, by simply creating more attractive search snippets you can improve the click-through rate and get far more conversions.

The Last Word
All right, I’m going to pause here. I can write forever about my software and what it can do, but I think it is better to leave you to test it out and tell me what you think. As usual, I encourage constructive criticism. Leave me a comment about what you think of the software and places where you see a need for improvement.

Hamlet Batista

Chief Executive Officer

“We kept putting more energy into getting SEO audits done to understand why we started to lose positions to smaller, newer companies, but we kept losing ground. We kept trying to SEO audit recommendations, but our programmers couldn’t go fast enough.



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