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5.4 Choosing Keywords

How to measure keywords in Google Analytics

None of what you’ve read so far should be taken as implying that keywords are a bad or superfluous thing; SEO remains a key component of a broader SEM strategy, and you’ll still want to find and incorporate appropriate keywords that will drive traffic to your site and lead to conversions.

With this in mind, let’s now look at some alternatives to keyword data analysis to help you choose keywords in a “not provided” world. (There are plenty of third-party utilities and services designed to help you find and evaluate keywords, but our focus here is Google Analytics and its related offerings.)

Put yourself in your visitor’s shoes

To develop an initial list of keywords, simply work from the perspective of someone coming to your site from the outside. The key is to find accurate, relevant answers to such questions as the following:

  • What products or services do you offer? Try to focus on specific, long-tail keywords over broad keywords: if your company sells shoes, you should create a list of keywords that includes all the different types of shoes you sell. And don’t forget location-based keywords.
  • What problems do your leads have that your company can help solve? If you sell waterproof iPhone cases, then visitors might be searching using phrases like “How do I waterproof my iPhone?” Use a mix of non-brand terms as well as your brand.
  • How would you describe your business to someone who has never heard of your company? New users won’t now all the industry terms for your products or services, but will be searching using everyday terms they’re familiar with.
  • What common questions do your leads ask? Blogs and social media can be a great way to find out.

Google Webmaster Tools

Linking Analytics with Webmaster Tools will reveal which search queries your website shows up for, with click-through rates (CTR). In a “not provided” world, the CTR is your best source of SEO performance data at the keyword level. If you also link Webmaster Tools with AdWords, you even get combined paid and organic click data for the same keyword within AdWords.

A few caveats, though: first, the figures in Webmaster Tools are calculated differently from those in Analytics, so you can’t compare them directly with historic data from Analytics, if you have any; and second, even if you sort by Clicks, the order in which terms appear is not necessarily a true indication of their importance. Treat the numbers you see as “soft and directional” rather than precise metrics.

Bear in mind that Webmaster Tools stores your data for only 90 days; if you want data over a longer period, you can download it as a CSV file and then run your own analysis in a spreadsheet.


Even if organic search terms are “not provided”, you still have access to keyword level analysis for paid search. Link AdWords to Analytics, then navigate in Analytics to Acquisition > AdWords > AdWords Keywords. The resulting table will show you your top-performing keywords, and how they relate to your conversion goals. You can make tweaks to optimize for cost per click, per lead, per conversion and other metrics, but in general ad types like Shopping Ads are very attractive to searchers who are ready to buy. Long-tailed keywords with high commercial intent are ideal for paid search, because you want your ad to be at the top of the search results and any click-throughs you receive are very likely to result in conversions.

Matched Search Query

There’s another very useful dimension in the AdWords paid search reports that you can use for SEO purposes. When you submit your keywords and bids, the search engine will match them against user search queries. In Google Analytics, you have Keywords in your AdWords report, as above, but if you create a custom report you can drill down from Keyword to Matched Search Query. The latter reveals what people actually typed – with all the long-tail variations, which is very useful for SEO.

Google Keyword Planner

The free Keyword Planner tool within AdWords (available once you’ve logged into your AdWords account) is designed to help you identify keywords appropriate for your site. The simplest way to start is to look for recommendations for a specific keyword. Click “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas” and, in the landing page part, type in the URL you’re interested in. Click the “Get Ideas” button and you’ll receive recommendations for Ad Group or Keyword. You can take these just as a list to compare with the keywords you’ve already devised by other means, or evaluate how productive they might be by looking at the Average Monthly Searches figure provided. Of course, you don’t have to restrict your analysis to landing pages only: you can use the Product Category to get ideas and data relevant to a whole area of your business.

An important caveat, though: this will focus on high-volume, fat head keywords. So, if you rely on Google Keyword Planner for your keyword research, you risk overlooking the vast range of long-tail keywords which could bring in a far greater quantity of traffic in sum, and better-converting traffic at that. Remember, too, that fat head keywords are extremely competitive and difficult to rank for.[1]

To offset this, you could check one more factor. As above, click “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas”, enter a keyword (or list of keywords) into the field and click “Get Ideas”. Now click the “Keyword ideas” tab, and take a close look at the AdWords Suggested Bid. This is a good real-world measure of commercial intent – that is, an indication of how likely the term is to convert, in the market’s judgement. If advertisers are willing to pay a high amount per click, then you can infer that that keyword must be really valuable.

To complement this, look at the AdWords Competition column. This simply shows how many advertisers bid on that specific keyword in AdWords. The scale isn’t very detailed (Low, Medium or High), but it’s a reasonable assumption that the more people who bid on a keyword, the more lucrative that keyword is perceived to be.

Google Search Suggestions

Google Search itself can suggest potential long-tail keywords for you. Simply browse to Google Search and start to type in a keyword or phrase – a key head term, perhaps, or the beginning of a long-tail term you’re confident your visitors have used. Google’s built-in Autocomplete algorithm will offer a range of ways to complete the phrase. These appear in a pop-up; there’s also a list of Related Searches at the foot of the search results page when you’ve done a search.


The key thing to note is that these are derived from Google’s tracking of the search activity of users and the content of web pages. This means they represent the most popular long-tail terms that people have searched for recently. Some of them may be a bit off-the-wall or irrelevant to your business, and rarely-searched-for or “newly popular” terms might not generate any suggestions, but at best you’re likely to see a snapshot of what’s most searched for in your industry and you might even gain a few useful long-tail terms you previously hadn’t considered.


In theory, typing an asterisk (the Google Search wildcard character) should ensure that the algorithm looks for variations, not just the exact phrase you’ve entered (so that searching for an * a day returns results for “an apple a day”, “an avocado a day” and “an aspirin a day”), but in practice it won’t always make any difference, at least as far as Autocomplete suggestions are concerned. Note also that unusual spellings are likely to get normalized, so you’ll see suggestions (and search results) relevant to the most common spelling of the word Google thinks you’re after. Finally, be aware that it used to be possible to type a tilde (~) character before a term to search for similar terms and synonyms as well as the exact word (as in ~footwear) but Google appears to have discontinued support for this.

If you’d like more than the handful of suggestions Google’s Autocomplete algorithm offers, try visiting, which trawls a range of online suggest services to generate a long list of potentially related terms. You could even search for words like your starting term.

 Google Trends

Google has another trick up its sleeve: Google Trends can help you discover what search terms are most popular and fastest-rising. By default, it shows you the most-searched terms now, in a specific country or in a specific year. Top Charts present lists of people, places and things ranked in order of search volume, while Hot Searches highlights queries that have jumped significantly in traffic based on real-time monitoring. More usefully for keyword research, you can find Top Searches related to the category, country or territory you’ve chosen, and even enter a term to find Top Searches similar to it.

You can specify an exact phrase by entering it in inverted commas, and even include variations or misspellings of a term, if you wish, using a plus sign – so for example tennis shoes will find searches including both tennis and shoes in any order, “tennis shoes” will find searches for the exact phrase, and tennis + tenis + tenniss will give you data on searches including any of these spellings. You can restrict your search to specific countries, periods and categories using the drop-down menus under the search box.

To help you evaluate potential keywords, the Top Searches will show you how many searches there have been for similar terms. Rising Searches is potentially more useful; it shows related terms that have grown significantly in popularity over a given period when compared to a preceding period. For each rising search term, you see its percentage growth over the period (or just “Breakout” if the growth is greater than 5,000%). Note, though, that only the 10 most popular top or related searches are displayed – to see more, you’ll need to click the Google gear icon and download a more complete data set as a CSV file, then open it in a spreadsheet.


Where Google Webmaster Tools focuses you on clicks and Keyword Planner helps you with keywords to target by landing pages, Google Trends is valuable because it helps expand your keyword portfolio (top searches) and shows you the keywords in your sector under which you should be considering lighting a fire (rising searches).

It’s even possible to subscribe to Google Trends notifications, so that it automatically sends you an email if there’s a significant increase in search volume for any search topic, Hot Searches for any country, or any US monthly Top Chart. You can subscribe to notifications about trending topics by location, so for example you can keep on top of hot search keywords in the UK even if you live in New Zealand, or vice-versa – you simply choose the topic, the country and how often you want to receive notifications. Alternatively, you can receive a regular digest of all the top searches within a specified country.

Site Search

It may be that a lot of visitors arrive at your site by looking for your brand or another broad search term and then narrow down by searching within your site. If so, could you be attracting more users more directly, or making life easier for your present users, by ranking higher for the ultimate destination search terms? If you offer a site search function (and you should!), then you can mine it for details of the long-tail search terms your visitors are using to find what they’re ultimately after. As Google puts it, “each time users search your site, they tell you in their own words what they’re looking for”[2].

You first need to follow Google’s guide to setting up site search tracking – it can be quite technical, depending on how search is implemented on your site. Once it’s in place, you can find your Site Search reports in the Behavior section of the Reporting tab (see section 3.3 of the ‘Google Analytics: Key Account Features’ playbook). The Site Search Overview report includes a list of the top search terms used, or you can drill down in the Search Terms report to see the keywords entered into your website’s search box, with metrics for the total number of searches, % search exits and additional details about visits related to a search term, including the number of times users viewed a search results page after searching (Results Pageviews/Search) – a count higher than 1 or 2 can indicate that visitors are having to work hard to find relevant results (it also indicates their determination to find that item!). So, look closely not just at the actual search terms for potential keywords, but evaluate how well your site delivers on each of them.

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