Keyword targeting can make all the difference revenue wise when working on SEO for an affiliate site that relies on SEO as its primary marketing method. You have vanity terms, traffic terms and then you have your “money” terms.

Seeing results from SEO takes a lot of work and a lot of time. So how do you go about ensuring that you focus your efforts on the keywords that will bring you the most ROI from the gate? Especially in the age of not provided?

The best methods

When I’m doing SEO consulting, I’m typically doing so directly for a merchant or service provider. As such, we have access to a lot of data – even in the not provided era – to help us make educated decisions in regards to keyword targeting.

You can look at historical keyword conversion data for a merchant assuming they were tracking that information prior to not provided.

You can use the data in regards to organic keyword conversions from Bing. This is definitely valuable information, but it might not always be an accurate correlation depending on your industry as the engines have different demographics.

You can use the data from Google search PPC campaigns since they’re still passing keyword data to advertisers (while there is discrepancy in user behavior between organic and paid this is still your most accurate bet IMHO).

But what if you’re not doing SEO for a client? What if you’re doing it as an affiliate where you don’t have access to the above for affiliate products and services you’re promoting?

How can you best position yourself to target the money keywords in the organic search results without a ton of trial and error?

Enter Educated Guessing

Affiliates have been flying blind in this regard for a long time. It’s rare that an affiliate took the time and budget to build a system to assign SID codes based on organic search referral keywords to track affiliate sales down to specific organic referral keywords.

Affiliates that market solely or primarily with SEO have long had to rely on alternate methods of identifying “money keywords” and while those alternates aren’t always perfect nor 100% accurate, they do have value – especially in cases where the “best methods” listed above aren’t a viable option.

Reverse Engineering PPC Campaigns to Find the Money Keywords

Looking at the PPC efforts of competitors (and merchants where affiliates are concerned) can tell you a lot about which terms you should be targeting.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of SEMRush. Let’s say I’m an affiliate for a merchant like TracFone. I’ll take their domain and run it through SEMRush and head into the “Ad Keywords” section.

SEMRush ad keywords

Once there, you’ll see there is a column labeled CPC. The CPC is what SEMRush estimates the merchant is paying per click to receive traffic from each of these keywords.

Ad keywords sorted by CPC

Assuming you’re dealing with a merchant that is running a successful PPC program (which isn’t always the case) than you can somewhat assume that the keywords they’re paying the highest CPC for are the ones that convert the best for them.

I’ll export the list of ad keywords into Excel, remove any duplicates (beware, this does occur) and sort them by CPC from highest to lowest. In this case, the export contains 2500+ keywords. I’ll pare that down to the top 200. Then I’ll sort the list again by the Search Volume column from highest to lowest and cut another 100 keywords.

After that, I’ll sort the list alphabetically by keyword. I’ll go through each keyword – removing those not applicable to me for whatever reason and stripping the columns I don’t need (like their “visible URL”) until I have a nice and clean list of 100 keywords that have a cross between both a high estimated CPC and a high search volume. In this case, I’d remove keywords like “how to track a phone call” etc. After doing so for this example, I’m down to 77 keywords.

Pared down keyword list

In cases where I don’t have access to more reliable data (like historical keyword conversion data or current PPC conversion data) this makes for a much more “educated guess” in regards to a starting point than one based on estimated keyword volume alone, IMHO.

But what if your competitors are bigger sites? Meaning unlike in the TracFone example above, they target multiple keywords and niches that would make using the above method like finding a needle in a haystack (think Amazon or JC Penny for example)?

Let’s say you’re a futon retailer and JC Penny is one of your big competitors. You do a search in Google for “futons” and copy the display URL (not the “actual” URL – the one they show in their ad) that JC Penny is using in their ads (in this case it’s for that term.

You can enter that specific URL into the SEMRush search box and you’ll get back an “Ads Report” for that specific display URL (in this case, SEMRush reports there are 300+ keywords being bid on using that display URL).

I’m know there are other tools that can fulfill the above functions (like SpyFu – you can read my full review on SpyFu here) – SEMRush merely happens to be my tool of choice in that regard.

You can also use the same method in regards to keywords driving your competitors organic traffic (SEMRush lists the estimated CPC of paid campaigns for those terms), but my preference is to look at the keywords they’re actually bidding on vs. the ones that they may not intentionally rank for as a starting point.

Back to Identifying Money Keywords for Clients

This method isn’t just insight for affiliates either. What if your client wasn’t tracking conversions? What if they’re entering a new market? What if they don’t rank well in Bing? What if they’re not running PPC campaigns (and don’t want to)? The above can give you another slice of insight in regards to helping you form your SEO strategy.

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