In which I recommend (a very limited) focus on ranking reports . . .

I’ve long railed against the stupidity of keyword ranking reports and the insufferable myopic thrashing that occurs when consultants or business units get wound around the axle trying to diagnose a two spot slip for a favorite pet term. (Or worse, a litany of pet terms.)

More link juice! More sculpting! More pages! More linkbait! More PageRank! More SEO!

If you’d like to learn more about why letting ranking reports dictate your SEO strategy is shortsighted, feel free to read Excuse Me While I Have a Ranking Report Rant.

I’d like to offer the one exception to my hatred for ranking reports:  The Ubercompetitive Term.

This is a phrase that is winnable and can deliver a significant volume of converting traffic – however you may define that conversion.

The elusive Ubercompetitive Term, is a phrase that you invest in heavily; coordinating efforts across multiple departments, from marketing to product to PR.

The best thing about The Ubercompetitive Term is that every site can have one, regardless of link heft, because it is selected based on your ability to win

Let’s take Hipmunk, the widely popular (among the geeky crowd at least) startup travel search site as an example. They are in a pretty crowded space – virgin David vs. an army of veteran Goliaths flying Cobra attack gunships.

According to Blekko, Hipmunk has a paltry 6,500 inbound links (compared to Expedia’s 22 million, Orbitz’s 500 thousand and almost 3 millon from the SEO studs at TripAdvisor).

At first blush, their SEO strategy should be to fold up and go home… however cool it may be, is Hipmunk ever going to get meaningful traffic from “airline tickets”? How about “New York to Seattle tickets”? “Hotel Reservations”? Or their homepage title tag – “Flight and Hotel Search”?

Hipmunk needs to find that one term that will deliver a significant amount of converting traffic that none of the Goliaths are squatting on. Then inculcate that phrase into all components of product and marketing.

  • Consider optimizing the homepage for the term – if not the homepage, no more than one click away.
  • Incorporate it into anchor text for Widgets/Badges etc.
  • Incorporate it into on-site anchor text.
  • If not on the homepage, incorporate it into primary site navigation.
  • Put the PR team to work pitching stories the term.

Selecting The Ubercompetitive Term

The criteria for selecting your term are fairly simple; although it may take some significant research to narrow down on what you are looking for based on:

  • Volume. There must obviously be a reasonable volume of traffic for your Ubercompetitive Term. Use broad search from one of the many keyword research tools to shortlist a series of candidates.
  • Converting. From this shortlist, consider their likelihood of converting. You can use conversion stats from your existing traffic as a starting point here, or fall back on your own common sense. Shuffle your shortlist based on conversion * volume.
  • Winnable. Now for the hard part – run queries for your shortlist and see who shows up, and which pages show up for the top 3 spots. Evaluate those results against a set of factors:
    • Overall domain strength
    • Overall page strength
    • Extent to which the page is optimized for the term
    • Anchor text for the term to the domain and the page

Now, you know what you are up against. If you run through the list without any chance of breaking in to the top 3 in a reasonable time frame, go back to start, do not collect $200 and go right back to keyword research, being more creative with your search terms or maybe adding a word to an otherwise promising candidate.

In Hipmunk’s case, trying to win for standard travel terms like Flights or Travel is foolhardy. While there is plenty of converting volume, it’s simply not winnable.

The brand stands for an easy visual comparison of flight options (think a cooler version of  Farecast – now Bing Travel, or Kayak).

They need to find something along those lines, such as “Compare Flights” to consider as a reasonable volume of broad match traffic that intuitively has a high conversion rate.

 

A query shows competition is moderate for “Compare Flights” – we have Fare Compare and Kayak, but none of the true travel Goliaths.

 

Now if we expand “Compare Flights” to “Compare Airline Flights” we learn some more:

 

While search volume drops and Kayak still wins, we find the first page entirely optimized for that specific term “Compare Airline Flights”, the Homepage of www.compareairlineflight.com – which according to blekko, has a grand total of 5 links (now 6). Very promising.

While at Avvo, originally a legal directory, we zeroed in on the term “free legal advice” to support the launch of our legal Q&A product. Winning spots 2 and 3 for “free legal advice” helped propel Avvo to the most popular legally focused Q&A forum on the Web. (Update:  As of yesterday, Avvo completed rebranded from a legal directory to Q&A site.)

Now, at Urbanspoon, I’m researching an Ubercompetitive Term strategy to drive restaurant owner traffic to the site.

This Ubercompetitive approach can be amazingly effective for smaller sites doing battle. Larger sites can consolidate their strength among multiple Ubercompetitive Terms, perhaps at the product level.

Some things to consider:

  • If you are a local business – can you incorporate your City or neighborhood into an Ubercompetitive Term?
  • If you are a small business – reconsider the focus of your homepage. This page is your most likely candidate for Ubercompetitive Term success, yet many (most) small businesses are entirely optimized for  their business name. Winning for your name is usually a SEO slam dunk. Instead, consider those terms you aren’t winning that could bring you a lot of new business. Instead of  ”Dantonio Especiale Pizzeria” try “Seattle pizza” or “best Seattle pizza”.
  • Success with one Ubercompetitive term doesn’t necessarily mean you should add another; doing so dilutes the power of your first winner.
  • Going from concept to spot 1-3 for a term worth winning is going to take time. Remember: this is a multi-year endeavor.
  • Don’t forget about variants of your term in your reporting on success. Your rank for your Ubercompetitive term is not important as the multiple variants of that term that drive traffic to the page. Ultimately, your business should focus on converting traffic, not your ranking report.
Many large sites can’t seem to help themselves from gratuitous keyword stuffing of their homepage title tag. The Ubercompetitive Term offers smaller sites the focus to eat (some) of the big boys’ SEO lunch.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | In House Search Marketing

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About The Author: is the founder of Atticus Marketing - a search agency dedicated exclusively to the legal profession. Prior to Atticus, Conrad ran marketing for Urbanspoon and the legal directory Avvo, which rose from concept to market leader under his watch.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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