Want to hear an SEO secret?
Most SEO strategies fail because they are little more than long generic lists of keywords with no nuance or care for the customer at all.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with a founder or team of marketers who worked with an SEO expert who did little more than pull a long list of keywords from an SEO tool, and plop that down in front of them in a Google Sheet as if it’s a strategy.
If that is all that was required to build an SEO strategy, then everyone would be ranking on Google right now.
But there’s a lot more to building an effective SEO and keyword strategy. In this article I am going to walk you through a little-known tactic for organizing keywords that will give you visibility into what is working for your SEO strategy, where your best opportunities are, and how to unlock sustainable and continuous growth for your business.
Keyword indexing (or grouping) is the practice of organizing the keywords you are targeting for your SEO strategy.
I like to think of a keyword index like an investment fund. Rather than pick individual stocks, you can select broad sectors of the market (tech, bio tech, large companies, small companies, etc) to improve your odds and get a better sense of where the market as a whole is going.
Keyword indexes work the same way. Sure you might rank for one particular keyword, but how do you do for the 10 variations of it? Are you tracking related keywords for the entire topic cluster, or across the funnel?
On the flip side, an SEO strategy may encompass hundreds of keywords. Sophisticated websites may even track thousands. It’d be like trying to buy one share of every stock imaginable - it is just not possible or logical to do! Tracking all of these keywords as a whole is not very useful, especially at scale.
This is where keyword indexing comes into play. Keyword indexing is helpful here as it allows you to break the keywords you are tracking into distinct groups, which allows you to drill into your strengths and weaknesses in the different aspects of your SEO strategy.
Why organize a list of keywords in the first place?
Well, here’s one good reason. No matter how nice the UI of your SEO tool, a big list of keywords tells you very little about your SEO strategy. Here’s a shot of the Centori platform to show the keywords we’re currently targeting:
While we took care to design our software to be easy to use, a massive list of hundreds (or thousands) of keywords does not do you any good. There are three main benefits that come with organizing keywords (a process I call keyword indexing):
Let’s explore each of these in depth.
A good SEO strategy requires good organization.
Remember, strategy is about making choices. If you aren’t making choices then you are not being strategic.
I like to organize keywords into groups (or lists) to organize my thinking. Perhaps I want to group keywords together that fall under the same topic (also called topic cluster by SEO folk), or group keywords around a modifier or funnel stage.
Here’s a screenshot from our keyword lists at Centori. At the moment, we primarily group keywords around different topics, though there is some nuance within these by funnel stage as well:
A screen grab from Google Search Console or Google Analytics is rarely helpful.
For instance, this screenshot tells me very little:
Sure I can see that our top level metrics (search impressions, clicks, and position) went up - but why? Google Search Console sends me data for over 16,000 keywords which makes an aggregate chart like this completely useless.
What I’m more interested in is a subset of keywords, for example our “keyword research” list where we’ve grouped together a few dozen keywords under the topic cluster for “keyword research”. This is an area we want to build more authority in, and it makes much more sense to drill in there than look at a 30,000 foot view that search console gives you:
What this tells me is that impressions overall in the last 90 days are up, but they have flatlined. Clicks are getting a bit more frequent though, which means our content must be performing decently well - so this is an area we should prioritize going forward on our blog.
Your customer base can probably be broken into a few distinct personas. If you have multiple product lines or product tiers, you may even have more than a few.
These distinct personas are not asking the same questions. What’s more, depending on the stage they are at in your funnel, their questions may change!
So why track all of your keywords as one aggregate? Breaking keywords into indexes allows you to add some nuance to your SEO strategy and take different topics, modifiers, and funnel stages into account. This will naturally lend itself to an SEO strategy that more closely mirrors how your customer uses search engines to solve their problems and by products, which will make your SEO strategy much more effective.
This can all sound very theoretical, so let’s make things practical. Here are three examples of keyword indexing in action:
One of the simplest and most straightforward ways to organize keywords is by topic.
We're used to organizing ideas by topic. Most websites have tags for their blog posts to group topically similar posts together after all. By organizing keywords by topic, you are forced to consider which keywords go together even if they aren't variations of each other.
For example, "keyword research" and "search intent" are topically related.
Organizing keywords in this way helps you gauge how comprehensively you are covering a topic, and where your strengths within a topic are.
In addition to topic, you can also organize keywords by "modifier".
Modifiers are descriptors that get added to a keyword. There are many different kinds of modifiers and ways that you can utilize these in an SEO strategy. For example "alternative" is a great modifier for SaaS companies to monitor in relation to their competitors. Another might be "best" or "best for". Other modifiers might be the same question but phrased for different categories.
Modifiers are extremely useful for drilling down into a particular type of question your audience is asking, and comparing those keywords alongisde each other and othe modifiers. For instance, we might want to track "best SEO software", "best keyword research tool" and "best google search console analytics platform" in the same list.
We might also want to compare those modifiers to another list for our coaching product line, "best SEO coach", "best SEO coach for SaaS companies", etc.
One other handy way to organize keywords is by funnel stage.
Often your customers will ask different questions as they move through the funnel. It can be useful to see how your content at the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel performs. To do this, review your keywords and ask yourself "at what stage of the funnel would my customer search this keyword"?
This can be invaluable in understanding how your content performs throughout the funnel, and which funnel stages are strongest/weakest. For most companies, their goals sit at the bottom of the funnel (more customers, more leads), so knowing how you perform for queries across the bottom of the funnel can either be a great confirmation that you're doing great, or a dire message that lots of work is needed. Either way, reporting across the funnel is critical.
All you need is a set of keywords you want to target, and the willingness (and time) to be creative.
A "non product" solution could be as simple as Google Sheets or Excel. It's free, and while manual it will do the job. If you're looking for a product that can help you though, allow us to recommend the Centori software platform. Not only can you track your rank for unlimited keywords (yep, unlimited), but you can also manage keywords across extremely flexible keyword lists with built in reporting features. This makes organizing and reporting on your keyword indexes a breeze.
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