Thursday, April 3, 2014

SEO: Getting More from Google’s Keyword Planner

via Practical Ecommerce

Keyword research is the foundation of search engine optimization. Keyword data allows us to peek into consumers’ desires and analyze what they really want.
Google AdWords Keyword Planner opens that window for us. It is free, open to everyone with a Google account, and it’s tied to the largest direct source of search data — Google. There are certainly other keyword research tools: Wordtracker, WordStream, Searchmetrics, and many vendors that provide all-in-one SEO management and reporting solutions. I prefer Keyword Planner because Google drives the most organic search traffic to all of the sites I work with, hands down.

Why Keywords Matter to SEO

Before we can optimize, though, we have to know keywords and phrases what we’re optimizing for. What do we need to rank for to drive organic search traffic and sales? It may not be what you think it is.
If your industry uses a lot of jargon or your company is mired in internal marketing-speak, the carefully crafted messages applied to your site may not match the words real searchers use to find what they want at all. Keyword research can help you shake off the shackles of internal language and give you ammunition to show management why some of the language on your site needs to change.
When you see how few people search for fancy jargon and how many search for simple everyday language, you’ll have a much better idea how to optimize your site to drive more customers.
It’s all about relevance. Using the words real searchers use to find products like yours increases the relevance on the pages of your site, which in turn increases the likelihood that those pages will rank and drive customers.

Listing Keyword Stems

The quality of the information you input into Keyword Planner determines the quality and depth of the keyword research you can extract from it. If you just type in three words and hit go, your results will not be of any use to your SEO efforts.
The first step to effective keyword research is brainstorming. Stop and think about the products you sell. What brands do you offer? How do you arrange your products into categories and subcategories? What filters do you apply to help customers pick their way through your product catalog? Each of these is a keyword stem, a piece of a larger keyword phrase.
For example, if you sell shoes, your site might be organized like this.
  • Three categories: women, men, kids.
  • Three subcategories within the casual category: athletic, casual, dress.
  • Three filters you can apply: black, white, red.
Each of these nine words represented on your site is a keyword stem, or a prompt to suggest a set of keyword stems. They’re not keywords by themselves because, if you sell shoes, there’s no way your site will be relevant for the subcategory keyword “dress.” It is relevant, however, for “dress shoes.”
Your goal at this stage is to collect as many keyword stems as you can. Dig through your site. Dig through your competitors’ sites. Search Google and see which words the sites that rank are using. Think about the problems your products solve. Can you translate those into keywords as well?

Concatenating Keyword Phrases

Stems are half the battle. We need to turn those stems into keyword phrases that we can input into Keyword Planner to extract quality keyword research.
Paste all those keyword stems into a single column in an Excel spreadsheet. Use the Remove Duplicates tool in Excel (Data Menu > Remove Duplicates) to make sure you have each stem listed only once or you’ll waste time researching keywords more than once.
You’ll probably end up with a list of hundreds of keyword stems, unless your product offering is very small. Looking through them, most of the stems are likely modifiers to your main offering. For example, the category word “dress” is really just a modifier for “shoes.” You need to add “shoes” to make it a relevant keyword phrase. That’s where concatenation comes in to play.
Concatenation refers to joining two or more things together. In Excel, the concatenation formula allows you to string together as many cells or words as you like. Because this is a formula, it can be copied instantly down a column of hundreds of cells to create a list of keyword phrases from your stems.
For example, concatenating our nine stems with the product offering of “shoes” using this formula =CONCATENATE($A2,” “,B$2) creates the result below, in the “Concatenation Result” column.
Concatenation result in Excel.
Concatenation result in Excel.
Go crazy with concatenation. It’s as easy as creating a formula and pasting it down the column next to your stems. With our nine-stem example, we’d definitely want to concatenate additional phrases that included both subcategory and filter to create keyword phrases like “men’s black shoes” and “red women’s shoes.”
Plural versus singular versions of words can trigger different results in the keyword tool, as can putting the same words in a phrase in a different order. Add as many of these variations as you can to get the maximum number of keywords from the keyword tool at the end.
Some of the phrases you concatenate won’t make any sense, such as “athletic kids’ red shoes.” It’s faster to concatenate some useless phrases and paste them all into the Keyword Planner than it is to try to sift through the many phrases to weed out the ones that don’t make sense.

Inputting Keywords into the Tool

Now we have a spreadsheet full of keyword phrases, likely hundreds or even thousands of them. But don’t worry. You can paste up to 200 phrases into the Keyword Planner at once. As daunting as this seems at the beginning, when you get into a rhythm with the tool you can probably export around 10,000 keywords an hour.
Log in to Keyword Planner and click on “Search for new keywords and ad group ideas” (labeled as 1 below). In the “Your product or service” field (labeled as 2 below), paste in up to 200 of the keyword phrases you concatenated. Then click the blue “Get ideas” button (labeled as 3 below) to generate a list of keywords.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner
After clicking “Get ideas,” select the “Keyword Ideas” tab (labeled as 4 below). This tab displays the keyword phrases from actual users when they search for the words you entered into the tool. The “Search terms” column (labeled as 5 below) shows the search phrases you entered into the tool. The “Avg. Monthly Searches” column (labeled as 6 below) shows how many times on average per month that that keyword was searched for in Google, averaged over a period of 12 months. The “Competition,” “Suggested Bid,” and “Ad impression share” columns are relevant to paid search. It’s helpful to know how much the competition is willing to pay for ad placement, though, so you know how stiff the competition is likely to be for organic rankings as well.
"Get ideas" page in Google Keyword Planner.
“Get ideas” page in Google Keyword Planner.
The “Keyword” column (labeled as 7 above) lists the keywords that Keyword Planner determines are at least vaguely relevant to the list of keywords you entered into the tool. In this example, the tool provided 800 keyword suggestions in addition to the nine already entered at the beginning.
Keyword Planner will return a maximum of 800 keyword suggestions, which is why it’s so important to make sure the keyword phrases you concatenate are hitting all of the niches that are important to you. With each variation in phrasing, you’ll get another set of keywords that are unique. If you just input a couple of phrases, you’ll miss the unique variances in the way that your customers search, possibly missing out on an important trend you could capitalize on.
Glance through the keywords and determine for yourself if you feel that they’re relevant. You should be able to tell within the first page whether they’re on target for your site or not.
If they’re relevant enough, click “Download” (labeled as 8 above) to export the keywords in CSV format, which can be opened in Excel.
If the keywords suggested feel too broad — such as “nike outlet” and “payless shoes” — Keyword Planner offers a couple of different ways to filter the list and narrow the scope. In the “Keyword options” filter (labeled as 9 below), turn the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” option on. This option is similar to phrase match in paid search — all of the keywords listed will include the words you pasted into the tool at the beginning of this process.
The image below shows the difference in results with the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” option selected. See how the words may be in a different order or the phrases may include additional words? That’s the beauty of keyword research: discovering keywords that you hadn’t considered.
Keyword Planner results with the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” option selected.
Keyword Planner results with the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” option selected.
If only a few keywords were irrelevant to your product offering in the broad results, use the Include/Exclude feature (labeled as 10 above) to list words that must be included or excluded from the keyword list. For example, if you don’t sell Nike shoes, you might add the word Nike to the exclude list. If you want the keywords to at least contain the word “shoe,” you’d add “shoe” to the include list.
Don’t bother reading through every keyword the tool lists. As you continue the process and paste more and more keywords into Keyword Planner, you’ll start to see repeats where the tool returns some of the same keyword suggestions for many of the phrases you enter. If you try to screen out all the duds at this point, you’ll waste time repeating work that can be done more quickly at the end in Excel. Just download everything once you’ve got the relevance filtered to where you want it and repeat the process of inputting keyword into the tool.

Managing Keyword Data

Depending on the size of your concatenated keyword phrase list, you could have many CSV files sitting in your computer’s download folder. Merge these into a single file, either by manually copying and pasting or using this handy Windows command line method for merging CSV files.
Your CSV file undoubtedly contains many duplicate keyword phrases. Use the Remove Duplicates tool in Excel again, and begin the process of reviewing the keywords for relevance. After cleaning up the formatting and removing some unnecessary data columns, the keyword research looks like the image below, only much longer.
Sort keywords by relevance in Excel.
Sort keywords by relevance in Excel.
When you’re staring at a list of 50,000 keywords it seems impossible to manage. Try these tips for making the process easier.
  • Use the “Filter” tool in Excel (Data Menu > Filter) to turn the top row of your table of keyword data into a series of filters. As you filter or sort the data, the cells in each row will stay in sync so you don’t have to worry about the data in each column getting mismatched.
  • Sort the data by average monthly searches, from largest to smallest. The larger the number of searches, the broader the search phrase is likely to be. This is a good way to remove keywords that are too broad for you to target quickly.
  • Sort the data by keyword from A to Z. Keyword phrases that start with the same irrelevant word will be grouped together for fast removal.
  • Use a text filter in the “Keyword” column for cells containing a word that’s irrelevant. For example, filter for “flip flops” if your online shoe store doesn’t carry that kind of shoe. All of the phrases containing flip flops will appear and can be deleted at once.

Ongoing Process

Keyword research is an ongoing process. You’ll need to do it regularly, perhaps quarterly, to identify new trends and determine if some groups of keywords are increasing in demand and some are decreasing.
As you return to keyword research, consider how consumers think, to help you answer questions and to organize the content on your site. As you do, you’ll likely think of new pockets of keywords that you hadn’t explored before. Keep adding new data to your research over time and it will become a valuable tool not just for SEO, but also for areas like content planning, market research, and production development. I’ve addressed those additional uses previously, at “Using Keyword Research beyond SEO.”

How Does Social Content Spread?

via Influxinsights

March 31, 2014
Why is some social content shared more than others?
A team led by Justin Cheng at Stanford with others from Facebook and Cornell took on the question from a new angle. They studied 150k photos on Facebook and instead of examining how the photos spread from the onset, which other studies have done, they started by looking at an already re-shared photo and create an algorithm that tried to predict the likelihood that it would double its shares.
Their task was to predict whether the sharing cascade for a photo will double in size and to do this they looked at a number of factors; the type of image, the number of followers the original poster had, the velocity of the cascade and its shape.
Here’s what they found:
  1. Something that starts off by spreading fast is likely to continue to spread
  2. Captions matter- being newsworthy, or attached to a current meme helps
  3. The more reshares- the easier it is to predict the outcome
  4. Timing and alignment matters- the right content needs to be placed in the right network at the right time
Although the study focused only on photographs, the findings of Chen and his team seem to echo the way new sites especially Upworthy and Buzzfeed are operating. Both are focused on optimizing their headlines in order to maximize their appeal and Buzzfeed examines every article for an hour to see how fast it’s spreading and use that data to predict the likely future success of a piece.
Some lessons here for agencies and social content.
  1. If it’s not spreading fast from the get go -it’s not going to become a hit
  2. The right headline is critical- it might not turn a bad piece of content into a good piece, but it will make sure something good is more likely to be seen
  3. Connected to 2- you need some sense of “zeitgeist” you need to know/feel the overall conversation, either through data or instinct, or the combination of the two
We are still at the very early days of understanding the science of social sharing and the more these massive datasets are analyzed, the smarter we will become.

The Rise of Product Discovery in Social Channels

via Ecommerce Consulting

computer shopping product discoveryThis article is inspired by my experiences over the last seven years with social media and marketing. It was further underscored by my colleagueDawn Kole who wrote recently about what marketer’s should do with social sites.
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
OK, maybe not that long ago. And it was this galaxy; this planet, in fact, where shopping became an activity that was no longer a necessity. It used to be that people went to a store to buy goods that were required for daily living. Not much shopping was involved, rather it was a quick selection of items from a very limited assortment. Shopkeepers would know what individual patrons wanted and would stock those items just waiting for the patrons to come in at their customary times, pick up the items and be on their way.
Within the 20th century, the shift of people into higher populated areas and jobs moving from rural to urban areas created the ability for businesses to aggregate and grow access to goods and services around centralized locations. The local store served many more people with varying styles and tastes. Close proximity of these styles led to people wanting to know know more about what was available and how to get different things for themselves.
If you go back 15 years ago, product discovery was something that typically took place offline. Shopping, by its very nature was a social activity usually convened by females and done in malls. Catalogs and other printed items might be viewed as supplementary means. Even television could provide a view into items that customers would want to locate and buy. To that end, it became incumbent on merchants to follow the trends, stock items and create a way to support product discovery – sort of playing off the old style of the local merchant who provide necessities to local patrons.
Now it is 2014 and the rise of big data, the evolution of the internet as a commerce channel, and the ability to link any and everything through social sites has completely changed the process of product discovery. Beyond just the typical sites that allow social networks to form and share information, a new breed of sites are gaining popularity based on how they use technology to parse the conversations and ferret out actual trend information based on key indicators. Example sites include Wanelo, Pinterest, and
By the end of the 1900’s (I say that for dramatic effect since we are well into the 21st century now) data, and the ability to transmit data electronically, led to the evolution of the internet as a commerce channel. People could now find anything they wanted with a few keystrokes and the click of a mouse. Access to this kind of information redefined shopping as we know it today.
Digging into one of these sites, Ravesy, it is clear to see that the dissemination of these mass amounts of information can be highly useful for shoppers.
Ravesy_Wanelo_Pinterest product discovery
They even use the tagline “We discover the trendy stuff for you”. That is important in this day and age of short attention spans and reliance on data. Ravesy, and other sites within its space,  monitor what everyone is talking about and boils it down to a small subset of information. They use algorithms and behaviors to really understand what is important. Ultimately this takes the burden of product discovery off of the merchants and makes it a democratic process. As these sites continue to emerge, create cleaner data and crystallize the purchase intent, they will become the de facto point for product discovery, to which merchants and customers alike will turn for trendy products all in one place. In the process, the information gathered will be useful to merchants to give them better insight as to how their products fare on the social web and in the conversations in a way that can be measured and tracked.
Some, or all, of this may seem far-fetched. Many thought the same thing when eCommerce first emerged. However, as data continues to proliferate and be more accessible, smart marketers and merchandisers will seek ways to use that data in order to spur sales and grow businesses. The convergence of the need for growth with the consumers growing demand for ideal products is the underpinning for continuous improvement in the shopping process.

“Omni Channel” Doesn’t Matter. The Customer Experience Does.

via Ecommerce Consulting

I will not use the “O” word.The O Word Customer Experience
I will not use the “O” word.
I will not use the “O” word.
After spending last week at eTail West 2014 at the wonderful JW Marriott in the Texas Hill Country just outside of San Antonio I came away really disliking the “O” word. That word is Omnichannel. Darn, I used it.
So many sessions at eTail, as well as other industry events, and vendors use that word, but really it is still just multi-channel. The focus on individual channels such as store, catalog, and internet all require specific training and different approaches. Trying to blend all of those channels into one ubiquitous channel and experience is not only short-sided, but it is also dangerous.
“Omni Channel” Doesn’t Matter. The Customer Experience Does.
Customer experience is the heart of the overall shopping process. Channel does not matter, so there is no need to give it some fancy name. What matters is that a customer gets the best possible service in each channel using the means available to the retailer to provide that service. I will use a specific case I endured recently to show how being too focused on blending the channels can actually create a horrible customer experience.
The Company
The company from which I bought my items is well-established and has conducted business across the three major channels – stores, catalog and online for many, many years. They have a strong brand in the United States and can be considered leaders in each respective channel. I am choosing not to name it due to the close-knit nature of this industry, but I am sharing the experience in order to highlight opportunities for a broader set of professionals that want to identify better practices.
The Process
I shopped this multi-channel retailer via a laptop/web experience that ultimately transcended to the store for fulfillment (I will share more on that later) and a return process that included a store.
The Transaction, Fulfillment and Delivery
Shopping on the website was relatively easy and straightforward. I was drawn to the site to purchase a gift for a family member that led to finding gifts for three family members thanks to promotions and up-sell/cross-sell options. There was a great selection in a wide variety of patterns and sizes. As I added items to my cart I was reminded that adding $XX.XX could yield the option for free shipping so I felt incentivized to add more. Along the way I noted that I had the option to “pick-up in store” so I knew the company had an integrated inventory system and multi-channel strategy. In the end I added a total of 11 items to my cart, received free shipping, had the taxes correctly calculated and my payment was processed with no issue.
Multiple Packages Means Poor Customer Experience
Next up came the fulfillment aspect. This is where I knew that the customer experience was being overlooked for the sake of trying to “seamlessly” integrate multiple channels. As expected, I received an order summary and receipt for my items. No problem there. Next, I began receiving additional order confirmations (eight in all) with varying delivery expectations being set. Keep in mind that I was ordering gifts for a holiday. I placed my order a week before the holiday and well within what the site said should be expected.
A few days passed and I was getting anxious for delivery for the upcoming holiday. On day three I looked out on the porch and a delivery had been made – or should I say deliveries. Six boxes/envelopes were on my porch. Each was from a different store around the country. Obviously this company was utilizing stores as fulfillment centers. Their _____channel approach was certainly being utilized but at the expense of customer experience. And, at the company expense. Six of my eleven items arrived in those six boxes/envelopes (with each box big enough to hold all eleven items). My free shipping was a major cost to this enterprise.
Four more days passed, along with the holiday, and the remaining five items arrived from the internet distribution center – and one of those items was the wrong size (their error). To say I was put out is an understatement.
I ended up returning the wrong sized item to the store. There were no issues and the customer experience was actually quite good. The associate was responsive, respectful and responsible. But for that, I might not consider this retailer as a shopping destination in the future.
What Does All This Say?
Multi Channel and Customer Experience
I am all for smooth processes that make my life easier. But, when those processes are more geared to fulfilling some corporate directive to integrate channels without regard to the end user experience, the ultimate price will far outweigh the savings. I will admit that customer expectations can be unreasonable at times. When basic expectations are not met (e.g. Too many deliveries for a single order, missing delivery dates, incorrect items) the company needs to re-examine the strategy and the corresponding tactics. Those companies that get this will stay in contention for the customer share of wallet over the long-term.

The Web at 25: Looking at retailers’ websites then and now

via Blog

If you’re celebrating the birthday of the World Wide Web today – the anniversary of the day in 1989 that Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a paper proposing the system that transformed the Internet – then you’re paying homage to 25 years of online inspiration. Thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, is reminiscing about the way retail websites looked in years past, compared with their more modern designs today. (1999) – Like many, this titan started with simple homepage navigation. They had a focus on personalized features like wish lists, email recommendations and purchase circles. The company also touted its ever-expanding product selection by introducing “zShops” merchant partnerships. (today) – The breadth of product assortment is still on display. Wish lists and personalization continue to be key, and of course there’s Amazon Prime that’s changed the way we think about online shopping and Kindle that’s changed the way we think about reading and publishing. The recent release of theAmazon Seller app could change the way individuals and businesses sell items online and communicate with customers. Other notable additions include six countries to the international site list and more than 30 other sites and stores acquired or developed by Amazon like Zappos, and, just to name a few. screenshots in 1999 (left) and 2014 (right) (2000) – Walmart took a little more time to launch its online experience and in 2000, but has done quite a bit to catch up since then. In 2000, the retailer was already the No. 1 store in the United States, with more than 1 million associates and nearly 4,000 stores and clubs worldwide. Since then, the site design has shifted from text-based links to imagery and the store locator feature has moved up in prominence from its original bottom-right placement. But site search – of enduring importance to user experience – remains front and center. (today) – In-store and online deals take center stage – complete with engaging videos and buttons. The company’s mobile efforts are also turning heads – a Walmart executive said consumers who download the retailer’s app not only spend more, but also shop in-store twice as much as the average shopper. screenshots in 2000 (left) and 2014 (right) (1998 and today) – Product evolution has driven site design on Site navigation has changed over time to put the Apple Store and a range of devices at the top of the page, supported by much larger, emotive images. Need we say more about this digital revolutionary? screenshots in 1998 (left) and 2014 (right) (1996) – One of the first known Web purchases took place in 1994: a pepperoni pizza with mushrooms and extra cheese from Pizza Hut, a somewhat appropriate purchase for the early days of the Internet. As much a trailblazer in 1996 as they are today, the company sets the path for digitizing the delicious experience with the brand one experience at a time. (today) – It makes you hungry, doesn’t it? The 2014 online and mobile experiences for Pizza Hut are some of the best out there in the food/restaurant vertical. The company recently reported that they have sold more than $1 million worth of pizzas through Xbox 360 game consoles in the first four months that their delivery app was live. Pizza Hut is even exploring the interactive table concept, making it easier, more digital, and more personalized than ever for those who frequent one of the company’s 4,000 dine-in restaurants in the United States. What’s next for the brand? I can only imagine the possibilities of calorie-free options delivered by drone or beamed in for the ultimate Jetsons experience. screenshots in 1996 (left) and 2014 (right) (2000) – Long-time member was the country’s first online shoe retailer, bringing their family business online in 1996. The original homepage isn’t archived, but this 2000 version shows the breadth of shopping options by brand and category, and offers a glimpse of promotions like free shipping and online giveaways. (today) – Nearly 20 years after launching online, continues to optimize their digital experience. With a massive assortment of shoes and some of my favorite product detail pages in the industry, the brand has incorporated customer reviews, product videos, alternate payments, a blog and an online catalog into their shopping experience. I think long-time CEO Dan Gerler has made his father proud. screenshots in 2000 (left) and 2014 (right)
Our own site was archived by the Wayback Machine in 1996. (Fancy!) Whether you’ve been selling online for decades or you’re a digital retail newbie: Thanks for connecting with us online. We can’t wait to see what the next 25 years will bring.