Applying the 80/20 Rule to Search Keywords

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Whether we are talking about paid search or organic SEO efforts, not all keywords should be treated equally.

If we apply the 80/20 Rule, which states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, to your search keywords, we assume that 80% of all traffic to your website will come from just 20% of your keywords.

In truth, if your company is like the majority of others, the ratio is a bit more dramatic – closer to 90/10.

Prove It

At this point, some of you will not believe me. Others will have already heard this before.

Regardless of how you feel about the numbers provided above, it is important that you find out the truth for your business. And there are a number of tools available to help you do just that.

First, you can go to the person responsible for your SEO and PPC. Those may be two different people. They may be people outside of your company. Regardless, the tools that they use to track and optimize their efforts will have all the information necessary to judge what percentage of all the keywords they’re targeting bring in the majority of search traffic.

For those of you who are doing this for yourself, you can use Google Ads or Google Analytics reports to find the true ratio for your company. Look at the last 30 or 90 days and export a full list of the keywords that brought in traffic. Sort it from highest to lowest and then simply do the math.

How many keywords, out of all the ones searched, does it take to get to 80% of all traffic?

Why Does it Matter?

Now that you have proved to yourself, and your boss, that the majority of search traffic is coming in to your website on a limited number of total keywords, it’s time to let that inform your decision making.

A lot of efforts are focused on keyword expansion. And while this strategy is not misguided unto itself, the numbers above should suggest to us that this is not always the wisest initial option. The much bigger impact can be made by focusing your efforts on the keywords with the highest traffic.

You can capture even more traffic from those keywords – or acquire the traffic more efficiently – in a number of different ways.

  1. Why pay for the traffic if you can get it for free? If you know which keywords you’re spending the most money on in paid search, you should start targeting those keywords in your SEO efforts. If you can turn paid traffic into organic traffic, you save money that you can put toward other uses.
     
  2. Find out who is outbidding you. It’s likely your competitors are driving traffic from those very same keywords. But if you know who they are and what they are doing, you can compete and win a higher percentage of total search traffic.
     
  3. Rise up the first page. You may already be getting organic clicks to your site from high volume keywords if you are on page one. But that doesn’t mean your work is done. With each position you rise toward the coveted top spot, the percentage of total search traffic goes up almost exponentially. So don’t settle for page one, aim for position one.

What if Traffic isn’t the Point?

Traffic isn’t always the point. In fact, unless you are a publisher that derives their income from ad impressions, traffic is rarely ever the point.

Your aim is something else. Conversions.

Whether conversions mean leads, sales, donations, contacts, or anything else, you want traffic that takes action. And so instead of measuring which keywords lead to the most traffic, simply measure which keywords lead to the most conversions, using the same tools discussed earlier.

By gaining a deeper understanding of where your best traffic is coming from, you can refine your search efforts and spend your time on those activities that truly move the needle.