How to Evaluate Keywords for Chinese SEO

Mon, 10/29/2012 - 04:39

Last week I posted about how to generate a list of Chinese keywords for SEO purposes. Following up on that, I'd like to give some tips on how to evaluate that list of keywords. Which keywords should be used and which shouldn't?

Keyword evaluation is a strategic market research activity. It involves a cost-benefit analysis of keywords and broader topics in order to choose the keywords to be used. By extension, keywords will define the content of the website, which will determine what the business is and what it sells.

Yes! It's that core. You should be choosing your keywords BEFORE you even get in to business. Or, if you're already in business, you should do fresh keyword research periodically or before you undertake new business activities, such as expanding to China. Your business in China may be different than your business in your home country, so get ready to think it through from the ground up.

So, back to the cost-benefit analysis. Let's see it through with one fake keyword...let's go with a Halloween theme and use the keyword "zombie pants". "Widgets" are so boring, right? Even if they do come in multiple colours.

Need new clothes... and brainssssssss.Anyways, here's the scenario for our imaginary business: zombies always get their pants all ripped up, and a zombie infestation in China would be likely to spread rapidly due to the dense population. So, your US-based manufacturer of durable zombie clothing and accessories has targeted China for expansion. Using the previously mentioned method for coming up with keywords, you created a list of 80 keywords relevant to your business. One of the keywords is "Zombie pants" (僵尸裤子).

Evaluating Keyword Benefit

To evaluate opportunity, we need to guess the potential value of the keywords. Plus, we need to do it in a way that will be understandable to others involved in the company. This may mean the VP of marketing, the VP of finance or a small business owner. A bunch of SEO metrics aren't very useful for this conversation. Instead, we want to speak the universal language of money. We need to place a monetary value on keywords, keyword groupings, and the planned SEO or inbound marketing campaign as a whole.

The value of a keyword can be calculated as follows:
Visitors X value/per visitor

Broken down further, the formula will look like this:
(Search volume X clickthrough rate) X (conversion value X conversion rate)

Let's go over that in more detail.

Step 1 ) Estimate Search Volumes

To estimate search volumes, you can use the Google AdWords keyword tool and Baidu's tool, which is available within their advertising platform. Baidu's tool is much less accurate, and practically useless for keywords that are searched under 5 times per day. Google's tool is the industry standard. However, it too is not terribly accurate.

With the AdWords tool, I like to check the broad match and exact match search volumes and then compare them. This gives me an idea of the variety of keywords being used to find a topic, which will be useful in picking the keywords to be used. For example, if there are 8,000 searches/month for broad match, but 800 for exact match, we know that a lot of long-tail terms are being used.

Step 2) Estimate Clickthrough Rates

The clickthrough rate is the percentage of people that will click on the search result for your website. So, if when 100 people search "zombie pants" on Baidu, and you expect 10 of them to click the search result for your website, the clickthrough rate is 10%.

Estimating clickthrough rate accurately will require some skill in estimating how highly your site will be ranking and how attractive your search result will look to searchers. I normally do this by comparing the site to another similar site I've worked on. "Similar" meaning a site that is facing a similar situation with regards to industry, competition, expected rankings and SEO budget.

If you have nothing to compare to, as a rule of thumb, I'd start by using a clickthrough rate of 7% for Google and 4% for Baidu if you're expecting first-page rankings but not really #1 rankings yet. Clickthrough rates for organic search results are lower on Baidu due to more ads being displayed above organic results and some ads that look like organic search results.

Note that I'm talking about clickthrough rates per keyword right now. A website will also receive plenty of traffic for other keywords, which may be related or may not be.

Step 3) Calculate Estimated Visitors

Multiply the search volumes by the conversion rates. For example, if the search volume on Baidu is 800 and the search volume on Google is 400, and we use the conversion rates above, the estimated number of visitors would be 800 X 4% + 400 X 7% = 60. So, for this keyword, we can guestimate we'll receive 60 visitors/month. That is, once the SEO campaign becomes effective of course.

Step 4) Estimate Conversion Rate

The conversion rate is the percentage of visitors to your website that will convert. A conversion is usually a purchase, a lead or an email subscription.

Again, what I would do is guess a conversion rate based on similar projects I've worked on in the past and/or the conversion rate for the English-language version of a website that is being 'Chinafied'. There can be a huge variety in conversion rates, but if users need to give you money, I would not expect a conversion rate greater than 2% for most projects. For big-ticket items, conversion rates of a fraction of a percent are normal.

So, let's say your conversion rate in your home country is 3.2%. Since so you're so green to the China market, and Chinese consumers tend to spend longer comparison shopping, and you don't want your boss to yell at you if you miss targets, you might guess a conservative conversion rate of 0.7%.

Step 5) Estimate Value Per Conversion

How much money do you make per conversion? Write it down. For e-commerce, this can probably be guessed quite accurately. For services or products that have a wide range of prices, like real estate or consulting services, there may be quite a range, especially if you're still in a testing phase. But regardless, a guess is better than no guess, so go ahead and guess.

For our zombie pants example, let's pretend zombies place a very high value on durable pants since their flesh is so easily damaged and they don't heal. Plus, they have a high disposable income since they don't live indoors and get their food for free. So, let's say they're willing to pay a whopping 300 USD per pair of extra-durable zombie pants.

Of course, depending on your financial model, you may want to use profit/visitor as opposed to revenue to visitor. How value per conversion is determined varies, but just make sure to be consistent.

Step 6) Calculate the Value Per Visitor

The value per visitor can simply be calculated as the value per conversion multiplied by the conversion rate. So, for this example, one visitor is worth 300 USD X 0.7% = 21 USD.

Step 7) Calculate Value Per Keyword Per Month

Just multiply the expected number of visitors by the value per visitor. In this case, it would be 60 visitors/month X 21 USD/visitor = 1,260 USD/month. The keyword "zombie pants" should be worth about 1,260 USD/month to your company once your website is ranking in the expected position for this keyword and other relevant broad-match keywords.

Another important note: expect to see visitors to your website for keywords that you aren't specifically targeting. Some of these searches will be valuable, and others not. So, to calculate the total value of keywords you target, don't just sum the value of the individual keywords. Instead, I would sum the value then multiply, perhaps by 2 or perhaps by more.

As an example of useless traffic, the #3 keyword for this blog over the past month was actually "troll toy", because that was my example business product for another post. This is most likely completely useless search traffic for me, as will be searches for zombie pants - I don't do business with zombies. As an example of useful traffic, somebody who found this blog searched for "western brands on Chinese social media" and ended up viewing a few pages. Maybe they'll come back, maybe not. This blog receives traffic for thousands of searches, many very long-tail related to marketing in China or Baidu. The people making these searches are our potential clients, partners, employees,

Evaluating Keyword Cost

I almost can't believe it, but so many SEO "experts" I've met will simply create a keyword strategy based on keyword benefit alone. That's a shame, especially for Chinese SEOs...haven't they read The Art of War?

Now, the cost of an SEO campaign can't really be broken down keyword-by-keyword, so what I recommend is evaluating the competition of each keyword in relation to the potential budget for the project.

At Nanjing Marketing Group, we usually like to evaluate competition for each keyword manually. If there are a massive number of keywords, we'll take a sampling of keywords in different groupings.

We then come up with a simple rating of the competitiveness of a keyword: none, low, medium, high or intense. For one thing, this is understandable to others who may read the keyword research report.

For another, we just can't evaluate competitiveness to a percentage point. Even if we do have the tools available to evaluate various SEO metrics, we still can't predict the future activities of a given website or changes to the search engines themselves.

Through experience trawling through pages and pages of search results and running campaigns over prolonged periods of time, a person can begin to estimate competitiveness fairly well.

When it comes to judging competitiveness of keywords, here are my top 5 tips for beginners:

  1. Check the titles of the websites in the search results. Do they contain the keyword? If not, people are not actively targeting this keyword, competition may be quite low.
  2. Check the website content. Is it updated frequently? That will help a lot, especially on Baidu. Is it excellent content? That will help a lot too, especially on Google.
  3. Check for red flags. Sites with obvious red flags may run the risk of being punished in the future. If you're running a long-term inbound marketing campaign the way we do, you can expect to thwomp competitors that are relying on spam tactics and other SEO trickery, even if those competitors are ranking well at the moment. Red flags include things like multiple websites for the same company with very similar content, loads of low-quality thin content and keyword stuffing.
  4. Check their link profile. Do they have lots of links from other websites? Do they have great links from authoritative websites?
  5. Check their social media activity. Are they active on Weibo or other Chinese social media platforms?

Each of these points is worth a blog post of it's own. I'll try to find the time to write them!

Comparing Cost and Benefit

In the end, you should have a list of keyword values and competiton levels. It might look something like this:

  1. Zombie pants - 1,260 USD/month value - competition: mid
  2. Zombie jeans - 340 USD/month value - competition - low
  3. Zombie shirts - 850 USD/month value - competition: mid
  4. Zombies - 12,000 USD/month value - competition: intense
  5. Zombie skirts - 120 USD/month value - competition: none

This should be in an Excel file with all your keywords. It should be arranged into logical, topical groupings. For example, you might have pants in one grouping and it may include a variety of different types of brands of pants.

You can then go through the list and mark which keywords you will use and which you won't. If the competition is too much, forget it. If the keyword is relevant enough, forget it. If there is 0 value for the keyword, forget it.

But, be careful in evaluating whether there really is 0 value or not. Keywords with no reported search volumes may still be valuable, especially if you have the means of gaining traffic for massive volumes of these long-tail keywords. For marketers coming from a Western background, I should mention that Chinese search engine users still use fewer long-tail keywords than their English-typing counterparts. With so many millions of Internet users coming online each year in China, there are plenty of newbies who don't use complex phrases to search.

Next Steps

Now, I've discussed generating a keyword list and evaluating keywords. The next step would be to take the keyword research and build on it to create a content plan.

Do you have anything to add? Anything to ask?



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