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Search optimization and the keyword matrix

Avid Szetela wrote a post on Search Engine Watch that discusses a PPC keyword matrix technique he calls “personas and buckets”.

Ken McGaffin wrote about basic keyword matrix technique for WordTracker in 2006.

Keyword matrix techniques have been around for a long time. When you deal with a lot of query data, organizing your terms into a matrix makes a lot of sense. Nonetheless, not everyone uses them outside of PPC marketing and there isn’t a lot of discussion about them even for PPC specialists.

Here are a few aspects of keyword matrix theory.

A matrix is an ordered list. Although a matrix can be comprised of a single vector (1,2,3,…) we usually think of them as 2-dimensional tables of data ((1,1),(1,2),(2,1),(2,2),…). A matrix is an array of n-dimensions. Most people limit their analytical work to 2 dimensions because that’s the easiest way to do analysis in a spreadsheet.

There are two types of matrices: passive matrices and active matrices.

A passive keyword matrix records data about keywords that other people use. For example, if you’re doing a competitive analysis you can build a matrix that maps which keywords your competitors are emphasizing on their pages. If you’re doing query research you can build a matrix that maps the keywords people use by month, search engine, or some other qualifying criteria.

An active keyword matrix is a design template. You use it to decide where you will optimize for specific keywords. You can organize the keywords by season, year, search engine, Web site, page, or even query space. You might define a working query space to consist of 200 related expressions. You could also call that a targeted query space or a query space segment — whatever you feel comfortable with.

PPC specialists use both passive keyword matrix and active keyword matrix analysis. Quite frankly, I’ve seen some keyword matrix work that makes my head spin. I don’t see how you can effectively manage a large PPC campaign without using keyword matrix techniques. But a lot of people get by on organic SEO without ever organizing their keyword data as efficiently as the PPC specialists.

If you’re planning a 10-page business brochure site (it sells nothing, provides no consumer engagement, and basically just creates an online imprint for a business’ brand), you can still benefit from working with a keyword matrix (actually, the more the merrier).

Let’s say your business site client is in a core production industry like oil well maintenance. Not too many people search for oil well maintenance services, but there are a lot of industries that have something to do with oil well maintenance: manufacturers, drillers, insurers, equipment transporters, mechanical engineers, etc. All of these industries may turn to the Web to find information for their own benefit.

Your 10-page oil well maintenance site can target relevant queries for all of those industries. You begin by creating a source matrix using all the keywords (jargon, product names, device names, part names, procedures, etc.) that are relevant to oil well maintenance. For each keyword you create a row of industry names where you know the word (or expression) is used in literature and normal discussion.

Example (for illustrative purposes only - these words may not really make sense):

mechanical grip — insurance - oil well maintenance - oil well design - oil well construction
top cranking — oil well operation - oil well installation - oil processing

You build the matrix to be as complex as your comfort level allows. It doesn’t do you any good to force yourself to strike for a level of detail that seems overwhelming. You can always start out simple and expand your research later after you figure out where you want to go with it.

Having created your core keyword list you now need to build two more lists: a query matrix and a content matrix. The query matrix shows you which of your core keywords people are searching for. The content matrix shows you which of your core keywords are being optimized. There is almost always, in every industry, a “sweet zone” where people are searching for stuff that hasn’t yet been optimized.

How do you determine if a keyword has been optimized? Use simple tests because most optimizers will cover the basics. Look for sites with keywords in titles and URLs. You can try inanchor searches but they produce inspecific results.

Although you certainly want to capture sweet zone traffic, there is no reason not to prioritize the optimized keywords because in SEO you definitely want to follow the money until you hit a glass wall. Just understand that some optimization is no longer necessary (the query space has evolved or the material is outdated), and that some optimization is put there as a smokescreen (a stealth SEO technique).

If you find a highly optimized set of sites that appear in one particular query for which there are few or no paid advertisements in the SERPs, ask yourself, “Is this normal? Should I expect so few ads for this query?” Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is no. You have to understand the market in order to know the right answer.

Anomalous search results pages aside, your keyword matrix work should now turn from documenting what people are searching for and optimizing for to what you’re going to build content for. Since your site is a 10-page business brochure site, your search optimization objective is to create visibility for your client in as many relevant queries as possible. Although the site doesn’t sell anything, putting the company’s name in front of insurance agents, oil well designers, drillers, and other people who may need to call upon a maintenance specialist should be the site’s primary Internet marketing goal.

Assuming your customer doesn’t have an esoteric objective in mind, you next need to allocate the target keywords across your content AND in your inbound link anchor text (if you’re going to complement the site design with a linking campaign, which many SEOs do). Depending on where you get your links you may need a high correlation between on-page use of keywords and use of keywords in link anchor text.

Although there is a fair amount of research and data entry, up until this point about 90% of your work should be mechanical and a bit mundane. You need to be creative when building your core keyword set but after that point the research guides you and you’re just entering data into a spreadsheet.

However, once you’re armed with your active keyword matrix that lays out where you will place the keywords you have to start working on the copy, the page design elements, and figuring out how to optimize a natural page for multiple keywords. Although a 10-page site may have the luxury of targeting no more than 2 expressions per page, I would regard that to be an inefficient and unambitious use of resources. There is no reason why you cannot optimize a page for 100 queries, although I would rarely see a need for that much complexity of body copy.

Just don’t lock yourself down into a “1-3 keyword per page” mindset. We tell people who are just starting out in SEO to follow that rule because it simplifies their task considerably. And to be honest if I were dealing with an eCommerce site I’d want to reduce the keyword complexity as much as possible. But if you need to squeeze 10 expressions onto a page, it’s doable. Just understand that you cannot always use titles and URLs for optimization so you need to know how to do it without relying upon titles and page URLs.

If you’re optimizing a page for 10 expressions, you’re going to focus on only 1 or 2 expressions in the page title and page URL. If you didn’t take my 20 hard core SEO tips seriously last year, now is the time to slap yourself on the head and say, “Doh!” Yeah, there are real-world applications for NOT optimizing through titles and page URLs.

Once you start working with keyword matrix data you’ll see whole new worlds of optimization opportunity open up for you. The mechanical process may seem a bit daunting. Your doubts may rise up and tell you that you’ll only create stilted, artificial, mechanistic copy. Maybe, but that’s a problem that’s easily cured by practice. Practice makes perfect. The more you write copy to keyword specifications, the better you become at placing keywords into pre-determined copy without losing the natural tone you need for good copy.

You’ll want to work with a good thesaurus and you’ll want to check your spreadsheet data from time to time while building the site. You may even want to invent your own scoring system to help you prioritize your selected keywords into “must achieve high results”, “probably can achieve high results”, “good to have high results”, and “would be nice but I won’t die if I don’t get high results”.

When you’re mapping your site you can use a keyword matrix to list all your titles, meta descriptions, keywords meta tags, page URLs, and Hx headers for every page. Some SEOs do this religiously. You certainly may find yourself doing it a lot if you work with large Web site clients who need clear and explicit direction on hundreds or thousands of pages (BTW — CHARGE ACCORDINGLY for that kind of detailed work — don’t give it away for free).

Chances are pretty good that you have been working with keyword matrices all along, but they’ve just been trapped in your head. When you start building the spreadsheets you’ll empower yourself to explore optimization in new directions you didn’t even know existed.

And if you’ve been using keyword matrix techniques all along, this is actually a topic where I think more online discussion would benefit the community. It’s a skill that should fall under open standards for SEO, in my opinion. So let’s talk about it some more down the road.

See you in the SERPs.
Source: Michael Martinez
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Responses to "SEO Articles"

Sep 08th, 2009 at 14:18
Thanks for share. excellent and very informational seo articles.
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