What a Diana Ross Barbie Can Teach About Keyword Research
As a human you and I tend to have tunnel vision. Sometimes this is good, but when you are trying to promote your business and sell products online it can be problematic.
Keyword research is an important part of a successful online marketing system. But when you let your limited vocabulary limit your reach you are choosing to miss sales from customers not using your targeted keywords.
The trick is not limiting your keyword or search phrase scope to just terms you might use to find your product or services. And you can't just focus on a single keyword, you need to cover everything your customers may use to find your products of services.
After working with thousands of businesses in my career I have lots of stories, many can serve as a lesson in what works and doesn't work.
Far too often clients want to take shortcuts in hopes they will bring success with minimal work.
I mean who doesn't want more revenue with little effort?
- The Backstory and Business Goals
- What Are Keywords?
- Starting Pay Per Click Search Advertising
- Where To Find Keywords
- The Customer Reality
- Keyword Research
- The Fallacy of Broad Match Keywords
- Product Targeting
- Relating This Back to SEO
- Wrapping It Up
This was the case with one of my first clients and taught both of us about search engine marketing. And a Bob Mackie Diana Ross Barbie doll taught us the lesson!
This case study demonstrates a common problem I and many of my customers struggle through, thinking like a customer and not taking a bad shortcut.
That's right, two lessons to help you improve your ability to make more online sales.
Over the holidays I enjoyed a Netflix show called 'Nailed It'. It is a baking or crafts show. It has three contestants who have no skills in either one.
Each contestant is supplied with a recipe from a master baker or craftsman, the best ingredients, proper equipment and a real, professional reference. The goal is for these average people to create a replica of the professional cookie, cake or craft.
As you can imagine, no one comes close to making anything close to the reference item. Everyone laughs and has a good time.
Unfortunately, this happens in business too. But in the end no one laughs, well except ad platform services, because money is spent with little to no return.
This is a case study where a simple recipe was shared, but not followed. Then the professional jumps in and the money followed.
This does not mean the professional was not at fault, that professional being me, I owned some of the blame.
I assumed my client listened and understood the concepts and directions and would follow them.
Human nature and tunnel vision took over and lots of money was wasted.
In short, she did not nail it 😃.
The Backstory and Business Goals
Way back in the late 90s one of my first clients sold collectible Barbies, and by sell, I mean she sold lots of high priced dolls.
This was so long-ago Google was not yet a thing. It existed, but barely. Yahoo was the king of 'online search' and pay per click (PPC) advertising was just getting legs.
And that is where the lesson starts.
My client wanted more traffic, I mean who doesn't?
And she wanted that traffic to buy collectible dolls.
Again, who doesn't want paying customers?
So where to start? Remember organic search was not a thing yet either. It was just a Yahoo directory listing and a lot of hope and advertising.
The best option at the time was GoTo.com paid per click advertising.
The way it worked is you created ads to display when a keyword or search phrase was entered by a searcher.
The trick was identifying the right keywords to drive the right traffic to your landing pages.
What Are Keywords?
Keywords are the terms a consumer enters in a search engine like Google or Bing seeking to find a web page to provide an answer to a question. The searcher may not enter a question, it could just be a few words related to the target.
For online marketers there are two types of keywords, short tail and long tail.
Short tail keywords are typically 1-3 word search phrases. They tend to be top of the funnel type searches, phrases where the searchers is just seeking general information.
For this story 'barbie' 'barbie doll' is a short trail keyword.
The attention of short tail keywords is they tend to be very high volume, which means they appear to be great sources of traffic.
More page views equal more sales, right?
Eventually the traffic can lead to more sales, it still takes work.
Long tail keywords are typically 4 or more words. When a searcher enters these phrases they tend to be closer to a decision about purchasing a product. These are the phrases a business really wants to rank well because they can drive sales at a high rate.
The problem is there are many more long-tail phrases than short tail phrases and their search volume is much lower. Typically, these phrases are 100 or fewer searches per month.
The good news is long tail phrases tend to be easier to rank for because the competition is lower.
For our story 'bob mackie diana ross barbie doll' is a long tail keyword with high purchase intent.
According to AHrefs, there are 0 monthly searches for this phrase, but there are 10 for 'bob mackie diana ross'. Not a lot of traffic, but most likely high purchase intent. When you combine with related long tail phrases you can expect 50-100 searches.
Those 50 searches might lead to 10 sales, a high conversion rate. And while you would get more purchases for ranking well for 'barbie', it is very tough to earn a top 3 position, which means you will spend money and time earning a top 3 ranking. Right now, Mattel owns each of those spots, which makes sense.
Back to the story, like I said SEO was not a thing at the time, so we invested in paid search advertising.
Starting Pay Per Click Search Advertising
Like I said pay per click marketing was just starting. I saw it as a fast, cheap way to drive traffic.
You would create an account on the PPC platform, pick keywords, create ads to trigger on those keywords and boom, profit!
I showed her how to create PPC ads, I think the two platforms at the time were Yahoo and GoTo.com (I told you this was a long time ago). And to be honest I think GoTo supplied the ads to Yahoo, so there was really only one platform.
I helped her create some initial ads to drive traffic and honestly lost track of what she was doing for several months.
I took some time to explain some core concepts, like what a keyword was and what the components of the ad included, etc.
I also thought I explained she would need to create multiple ads and correlate them to specific search phrases to maximize traffic profit potential.
For example, I told her explicitly not to bid on the phrase 'barbie' because it would not be targeted enough.
The phrase was tempting after all, it has lots of search volume.
Today, there are roughly 3 million global searches for the keyword 'barbie'. So lots of traffic potential.
But is that the traffic you want?
Remember she sold high-end collectible fashion dolls, not the sort of dolls you play with as a child. Two very different markets.
- Find Keywords
- Make Ads
There is not much more to the process than that, right?
Well I thought it was pretty straight forward. Find relevant keywords to your product and create ads for those specific keywords. The traffic converts to buyers, which creates profit.
My vision was a cadre of ads, siloed to different keyword groups. The more targeted the ad, the better conversions should be was my thought.
For example, she had a collection of Wizard of Oz dolls. There should be a group of ads for each doll, the set and they would be triggered for specific keywords.
The ads would link directly to the specific product page, so buying is just a click away.
Because user intent it more aligned with the specific product, so there are fewer steps to nurture them through the decision process.
I assumed she saw that too. Especially since I tutored her on this strategy.
But this is never how things seem to go. And this may be one of my Achilles heels, assuming clients and students absorb what I teach them and apply it.
The reality is few do follow through, at least inline with the recipe.
Where to Find Keywords
There are multiple ways to find keywords to target with your content and advertising. The trick is and this is the main lesson of this article, you must find the right keywords to target.
So where can you find keywords?
How can you search for search phrases without spending money?
The good news is there are lots of sources. some free and some are paid services.
My go to source is AHrefs, a paid service that provides access to data including keywords, links and more.
These can be good sources to get started, but they are somewhat limited in the data they provide.
The good news is Google and Bing can be your best, free keyword research tool. Each one typically offer related search suggestions and questions. This means you can start with a head term and identify other search phrases to target.
But for commercial or purchase intent the best free tool may be the AdWords keyword planner.
You must have an active Google AdWords account to access the tool, but it does not cost anything to create an account.
You can search for search phrases to target with advertising, it is the AdWords tool after all.
This does not mean you can't target these keywords for organic tragic. You absolutely can!
The difference between the AdWords Keyword Planner and broad keyword research is the Keyword Planner generates keywords others are bidding or running paid ads.
In other words these are keywords others have identified as terms where the potential return on investment is high, or they are more likely to convert to paying customers.
A generic term like 'diana ross' has little commercial intent because it is too broad.
Not only will you get a list of keyword suggestions you will get potential impression volume and how much others are bidding to target the phrase.
The volume numbers tend to be lower than actual search volume because Google is trying to show you how many potential ad impressions you can expect for the suggested bid.
Even if you do not plan on running paid ads you can find keywords to include in your content. This means you can use these suggestions to build an article outline and even related phrases to sprinkle in the content.
And it is free!
The Customer Reality
A few months later I decided to ask if she was still running the paid search ads.
In fact, she said she was spending about $750 per month and was not realizing many sales.
This piqued my interest because I knew she probably should not be spending $750 a month, there just wasn't enough inventory at the current market prices.
And if she was getting traffic it should be reasonably motivated to purchase what she had.
I recall her saying she felt like she was lucky to get $100/month in sales from the effort.
I knew something was wrong.
I began my effort to reduce her costs and improve her profit.
What did I learn and how did I make magic happen, almost overnight?
How does this relate to modern search engine optimization?
Stick around, the happy ending is just around the corner!
The first problem she had was being lazy. Instead of doing the leg work to identify longer tail keywords, she targeted the keyword 'barbie'.
When I introduced her to the platform, I demonstrated how to use their tools to find search phrases consumers were using to find products and content related to her doll inventory.
But there were thousands of keywords, which means you have to take time to identify these target keywords. And then there is the ad creation process.
Let’s face it, this is time most business owners need to run their business. So like many business owners she decided the shortcut was to just bid on a one word phrase included in all the search phrases and hope for the best.
I call this spray and pay.
The Fallacy of Broad Match Keywords
There is an illusion I have seen many business stakeholders fall for, PPC broad match keyword bidding.
This is where you enter a search phrase and the ad engine will display your ad anytime that phrase is included in a search.
Its appealing because you can enter a short, broad term, like 'barbie' and BOOM, your ad will trigger when any search query is entered that includes 'barbie'.
Problem solved and you spent 15 minutes, #winning!
Until you get the bill.
Today, you can control campaign spending limited and more. But back then it generally was set it and forget it until your credit card maxed out.
I had another client that did this and averaged $15,000 a month and refused to apply the tactics I am sharing in this article. They went out of business within months, so pay attention.
The problem with broad match keyword targeting is you are paying for unfocused traffic.
Paid ads are a tool to drive traffic to a call to action, like purchasing a product, signing up for a newsletter, etc.
These are middle to bottom of the funnel traffic sources, not top of the funnel.
You may think the broad match is the easy way out, but you wind up spending a lot of money on wasted traffic.
Today, click through rates are used to determine how much you pay for traffic. You may bid $0.25 per click, but wind up paying $0.07. That's because you have good click through rate.
There are other factors that play into the cost of a paid search click. Ironically many of the same factors that affect your PPC rates affect your ability to rank organically, so pay attention to get FREE traffic!
When you focus on broad match keywords you have no focus.
Back to my collectible doll client.
By bidding on just the keyword 'barbie' her ad was triggered for hundreds of thousands of unrelated searches. She was getting a majority of paid traffic for young girls searching for Barbies to play with instead of adults seeking to add to their private collection.
Plus she was taking them to her home page, not a specific product page. Now the searcher had more work to do if they wanted to know more about a doll or make a purchase.
This shortcut created a marketing disaster.
Now it was time for me to unravel this mess and sell some dolls.
At this point I took ownership of the online advertising efforts.
The first step was killing her ad, it was not working after all.
It has been a while since this story happened, so I can recall exact prices, well except for the $750/month bill, so I will improvise with ball park numbers.
Because I ran her site, I had access to her product inventory, I mean the database powering the website. I ran a query to sort her products to show me which dolls could produce the highest revenue.
The query sorted her products by quantity and price total. I found she had 48 Diana Ross dolls sitting on her shelves priced at $48 each. This meant selling all the Diana Ross Barbies could produce $2304 in revenue.
It was the 'best' product to try my experiment.
I used the PPC tools to find keywords for Diana Ross. There were thousands of course, so I looked for keywords I felt were probably aligned with interest toward a Diana Ross collectible doll.
Back then all bids were $0.05, no auction like we have today. This also meant I know roughly what my monthly expense could be, I think I calculated $15-20.
This meant up to 400 targeted visitors to the site.
I wish I had built in tracking back then because this changed her profit margins almost overnight.
The reality is we sold the dolls over the next 2 months and spent about $15, a great return on the investment.
Relating This Back to SEO
While I like to target broader terms with my organic content strategy, I look for long term phrases to grab traffic. The trick is it has to be long tail traffic that can drive sales.
The same principles that apply to PPC marketing apply to organic search marketing.
While it is tough to rank specific product pages you can rank related content pages for these long-term phrases and nudge the visitors to the purchase or product pages.
You can also craft a very targeted remarketing ad campaign to this traffic. If they have visited one of your narrowly focused content pages that indicate high purchase intent, then they are good targets for paid advertising to your product page.
I know I am getting a little outside the scope here, but I want to demonstrate how targeting long tail phrases with explicit intent can convert well.
The problem many of have is focusing on high volume keywords to drive traffic. But this can be a source of vanity traffic if it does not convert to sales.
Long tail phrases can lead to more targeted traffic with high purchase intent, and that is the traffic you ultimately want.
Wrapping It Up
Not only were we able to sell the Diana Ross Barbie's we were abel to move many other dolls cluttering her shelves. We were able to reduce her advertising cost and increase revenue. But it took intentional effort.
Today you can apply the same principles to organic search engine optimization as well as paid search.
So don't leave long tail search phrases out of your SEO strategy, in fact you should make them a primary focus if you want to drive revenues.