The Evolution of SEO Keyword Research Broken Down by 5 Metrics

By: Michelle Law  | 09/06/2017

If your SEO keyword research is still based on volume only, you are doing it wrong. Keyword research has evolved alongside SEO tactics and search engine updates. Long gone are the days of keyword stuffing, keyword cloaking, and keyword research based on one metric. Take a look at the “evolution of SEO keyword research” below!


The "Stone Age" 

At the beginning of what we now know as search engine optimization, keyword selection used on one metric: volume. This is before keyword stuffing and other black hat tactics were devalued with penalties. While this still remains an important metric, it cannot be the sole metric considered.


The "Middle Ages"

After a while, search engines became smarter and realized they couldn’t just rank website based on the number of times “marketing” was on a page. Along with this transformation, keyword selection evolved to consider not only volume, but also inbound links. The inclusion of links enabled search engines to differentiate between websites and web pages of low and high value. At this point, difficulty became an essential metric to consider during keyword research to determine if a ranking is achievable based on competitors’ link profiles.


The "Roaring Twenties"

Eventually, as search engines became smarter, they considered more factors. Keyword research moved beyond just volume and competition. The relevance metric came around with search engines’ ability to recognize search intent beyond just exact match keywords. This is clear in searches such as “pigment dispersion” and “pigment dispersions” which differ only by one letter, yet return dramatically different results. While relevance was always important, it is even more vital now to consider the relevance of current results for existing queries.


"Post Modern"

As search engines became even smarter, they were also evolving and providing new result page elements such as answer boxes, local results, featured snippets, carousels, and more. These elements have changed the way searchers interact and engage with results. Now, keyword research must also observe the result page elements to analyze if the elements will consume traffic over standard SERP links.


The "Big Data Age" (AKA "modern day")

All this time search engines were becoming smarter, so were marketers (and their tools)! This last metric has been around since the beginning of time, but is the most difficult to measure: keyword ROI.

With improved measurement tools and analytics, marketers can better observe which keywords are driving top conversion points. For example, some keywords have a high search volume, like “how to make a gif”, but very few of those searchers are ready buy into design services. Check out this guide for advice on determining keyword value.

However, it’s a complex and delicate balance – you shouldn’t ignore keywords just because they don’t have commercial value. Low ROI keywords can build brand awareness, backlinks, and an attentive audience ultimately leading to long term ROI.



Using all of these metrics makes SEO keyword research quite complex. Excel simplifies the analysis. The easiest approach is to assign each metric a numerical value and filter through scores with conditional formatting. A more intricate approach involves building a unique formula weighing each of the metrics based on your organization’s situation and goals. For example, weighing difficulty more for a site with a low authority or weighing keyword ROI more for less time availability. This will mathematically highlight the keywords with the most overall potential.

Whatever the approach, just remember that keyword research is one of the most important activities in search marketing and selecting the right keywords can make or break your website. This is why it is essential to evolve your processes alongside industry changes.



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