This is a guest post from Jason Capshaw. It is part of The “Bad Ass” SEO Guest Blogging Contest.

It is tempting to make SEO-related decisions simply based on search data, such as traffic volumes and competition. Yet, there is a far more important factor involved–profitability.

I have seen webmasters rank for ridiculously competitive keywords with tons of traffic, and have it bring very little value to their business. On the other hand, I know webmasters who rank for low-competitive keywords that convert better than their head keywords, and as a result, bring in much more profit.

There are a couple of factors that can cause this phenomenon:

  1. The site’s product offerings do not match the searchers’ intent
  2. The site offers good information, but does not brand itself well, so the viewers do not come back when they are ready to purchase

I have found that a large number of searchers type generalized keywords when they are conducting research in the early stages of the buying process. If you can provide that information and facilitate all the buying stages, you will do well with generalized keyword searches.

However, searches that are done in the later stages of the buying process are usually more specific, and these searches will include specific keywords that indicate their intentions, such as “buy,” “discount,” or “price.”

Identifying these keywords in your research and targeting them on your landing pages will help you cherry pick the best traffic from the search engines–traffic that converts well.

The Use of Brands in Searches

I have a close friend that runs a start-up ecommerce store that is a little over a year old that sells equipment to builders and construction workers. Let’s just call this equipment the standard “blue widget.”

He has good top ten rankings for both the head keyword “blue widget” as well as other mid-level keywords: specifically, “brand-blue widget”, where a specific brand or model number is used in the search. Originally, all he cared about and obsessed over was his head keywords. However, he didn’t see quick results for his new site, so he relegated himself to mid- level keywords.

It only took a couple of months to get the second spot in the SERPS directly after the manufacturer, and be the first ranking result to sell directly to the public. Of course, he found these rankings yielded great results and his sales shot through the roof.

About 6–8 months later, he finally achieved his head keyword rankings. Sales went up, but not to the levels that the specific brands were producing. He asked me to sit down with him to see what we could find in his analytics and how the search rankings were impacting his business.

This is what we concluded based on his traffic and conversions:

  • Searchers in the later stages of their buying processes tend to search for the exact product that they want; therefore, conversion rates are much higher for brand and model-number searches.
  • Searches around “blue widgets” resulted in high-page views and longer viewing times on the site, but not in direct sales for the first visit.
  • The conversion rate was much higher for the “brand-blue widget” searches on the first visit. Three times as much as for the “blue widget” search. Most of the generalized keywords resulted in conversions on the second+ visit.
  • The “blue widget” keyword search resulted in higher numbers of products in each purchase. The “brand-blue widget” searchers did not deviate from their intentions to purchase that exact product, even with up-sell or cross-sell offers.

My friend stated that based on his experience and the data which we went over, if he had to choose between the two keyword strategies that he would choose the “brand-blue widget” strategy without hesitation.

However, this strategy may not work for you effectively. If you sell a complicated service or product, you want to start engaging you customers early in their buying stages, to establish trust.

So, if you already have traffic data, you can easily set up custom reports within Analytics to ascertain the keywords that work the best for you and your company, based on the most important metric–profit.

If you don’t have good keyword data to rely on, you need to get it before making your final keyword target decisions. I have found running an aggressive Adwords campaign for about a month will often reveal which keywords to target, and which ones to leave alone.