If we’re targeting keywords, getting good traffic as a result, but not converting as much traffic as we’d like, then it might be due to a market validation problem.
Basic keyword research typically involves looking at the nature of the web site, creating a list of terms that describe the offers being made, expanding the keyword list out using keyword research tools, and then targeting those keyword terms.
However, if that’s all a search marketer does, and fails to get conversions and engagement as a result, then they might be asking the wrong questions.
Asking The Right Questions
Coca Cola undertook extensive market testing and research before they introduced “New Coke”, yet New Coke failed miserably. Their competitors, Pepsi, used a blind taste test, asking people if they preferred Coke or Pepsi. Coca Cola ran their own testing, and the results were not good. The majority preferred Pepsi.
However, the problem in asking people to take just one sip and compare was to ask the wrong question. People may have preferred the first sip of Pepsi, but they preferred the less sweet Coke when they consumed an entire glass. In “Inside Coca-Cola: A CEO's Life Story of Building the World's Most Popular Brand”, Neville Isdell also postulates that new coke failed because original coke was about the iconic. It was linked to history. It wasn’t just about the taste of the first sip, it was also about the place of Coke in culture. There was a lot more to it than the first, sugary hit.
Coca Cola asked the wrong questions. Getting the context right was important if they were to understand the answers.
If you’ve designed relevant landing pages but not getting the conversion rate you desire, no matter how much split/run testing you do, or if you’ve managed to rank #1 for your chosen term, and you’ve written some great copy, but the traffic just keeps bouncing away, then it might be a problem with positioning in the market.
These market validation ideas apply mostly to search marketers who build their own sites, but it’s also applicable to marketers working on client sites if those client sites have poor targeting. Bolting on search marketing won’t do much good if a site is making substandard, or redundant offers.
“Market Validation” was a concept defined by Rob Adams in his book “If You Build It They Will Come”. It’s the process of figuring out if a market exists before you go to the expense and time of filling that market. Market validation is typically used by entrepreneurs in order to determine if they should enter a market, however the more general aspects can also be applied to search marketing.
Two aspects that are particularly useful for search marketers, especially those marketers who care what happens after the click, is a market analysis - to determine what stage in the market the business is at - and a competitive analysis. Armed with this information, they’ll know how to best pitch the offer, which, when combined with effective copywriting and calls to action should increase engagement and conversion.
Entrepreneurs are concerned with the growth rate of a market sector.
Typically, entrepreneurs want to get into fast rising, new markets, as opposed to mature or sunset markets. It’s difficult for new entrants to compete with incumbents, as doing so involves high costs. It is estimated that the cost of taking a customer off a competitor is typically three to ten times the cost of acquiring a new customer.
Try to figure out the stage of growth of the market. If the site operates in a mature market, with multiple competitors, then aspects such as price and features are important. In a mature market, the site you’re working with should be competitive on these aspects, else a top ranking position and compelling copy won’t help much, as the buyer will likely be comparing offers.
Similarly, if the client is competitive in these areas, then it pays to push these aspects hard in your copy and calls to action. For example, if a mobile phone site focused, first and foremost, on buyer education, it probably won’t do as well as a site that focuses on price and features. Generally speaking, buyers in this mature market sector don’t need to be educated on the merits of a mobile phone. They’re probably mainly interested in looks, availability, price and features.
If your client is in a fast growing new market, then there’s typically a lot more buyer education involved. People need to be convinced of new offers, so consider making your copy more education focused in these niches.
For example, when the iPhone came out, it didn’t have any direct competition. Apple didn’t need to push hard on price or features - there were cheaper phones, and there were phones that could do some things better, but there was nothing directly comparable in the smartphone market. Only recently, now that the market has matured, are Apple focusing on price with the introduction of lower priced entry level phones. This is a characteristic of more mature markets with high levels of competition and price pressure.
Since mobile phone penetration has reached almost saturation levels in Europe and the United Kingdom, mobile service providers are focusing attention on the 55–65 and 65-plus segment to improve usage and penetration. Their high disposable incomes and their ability to devote time to new habits are seen as a lucrative market opportunity. 5 At the other end of the demographic scale, Red Bull has built a following among youth worldwide.
Identify what stage the business is at, and adjust your approach based on the strengths or weaknesses of that market.
The more specific the keyword, the more the keyword is likely to identify subcategories within broader markets. For example, a travel agent could target a general term like “hotels in Spain”, or the more specific “luxury hotels in Marbella”.
Look for competitive strengths a business may have in a submarket and consider focusing search marketing efforts in these areas first. An easy-win builds confidence. Is this submarket fast-growing? Even better. Build both confidence and revenue. It may lead to more of the business being refocused around these submarkets.
Are there some submarkets that have decent keyword volume, but they’re mature? Ensure that you have some competitive advantage in terms of pricing and features before devoting too much time targeting them.
Even if the traffic isn't particularly high in some submarkets, at very least you’ll have earned the engagement metrics Google likes to see, and likely built some brand reputation in these submarkets that can then be leveraged into other submarkets.
Determine the audience in term of product lifecycle.
Are you targeting keyword areas relating to new products? If so, you’re most likely talking to early adopters. Therefore, the pitch is likely to involve aspects such as education, being first, desirability, being forward-thinking, and standing out from the crowd. The pitch is less likely to focus on negating buyer risk.
If you’re dealing with a business later in the lifecycle, then you’ll likely be talking more about price and comparing and differentiating features.
Competitive analysis is perhaps the most important, yet often overlooked, aspect of SEO/PPC.
Top rankings can be a waste of time if direct competitors are more competitive on features, price, service and brand recognition. Buyers will compare these aspects clicking from link to link, or will use third-party comparison sites, a sure signal of a mature market.
Find out what competitors are doing. And what they’re not doing. Try creating a competitive matrix:
A competitive matrix is an analysis tool that helps you establish your company's competitive advantage. It provides an easy-to-read portrait of your competitive landscape and your position in the marketplace. The matrix can be just a simple chart. In the left column, you list the main features and benefits of your product or service. On the top row, you list your company and the names of your competitors. Then fill in the chart with the appropriate information for each company. For example, if you own a dry cleaning service, you might list the different services you offer or the quick turnaround you provide on items (24 hours), and then note how your competitors fail at these features.
If there are competitors, then obviously a market exists. Compare your competitors against as many keyword terms as possible, and see how well they’re doing in each keyword area. Not just in terms of ranking, but in terms of their offer and the maturity of the market. If there are numerous competitors gunning for the same keyword terms, then determine if your offer is strong enough that should you beat their rankings, you can still stand up to a side-by-side feature, service and price comparison. Is there a submarket in which they are weak? Would you be better off devoting your time and energy to this submarket?
Examine their pitch. In any competitive niche, the pitch made by those occupying the top three spots in Adwords over time is likely to be the most relevant to the audience. If their pitch wasn’t relevant, it’s unlikely they could remain in those positions, due to quality score metrics, and the financial strength to keep outbidding competitors. There are exceptions i.e. competitors running losses for some reason, but generally, it’s safe to assume they’re doing something right.
Are they talking price? Features? Are they using video? Are they using long copy? Are they using people in their photographs? How big is their text? What’s the path to ordering? Do they highlight a phone number, or do they bury it? Pull their offer, and presentation of that offer, apart.
Make a note of everything the top three or four sites Adwords sites are doing and then emulate the commonalities. This gives you a strong baseline for further experimentation, testing and positioning on the SEO side. Keep in mind it’s not good enough to beat these competitors by a small margin. Incumbents often have brand awareness and customer bases (high trust levels), so to counter that, your should be considerably better. A “better offer” can mean superior price or features, but it can also be better service levels, a more specific solution, or a fresh new angle on an existing solution.
Also consider substitutions.
If a buyer can substitute a product or service, then this offers a potential opportunity. For example, lets say a buyer has a transportation problem. They could buy a car to solve that problem. Or, they could lease a car on a pay-per-drive model. The pay-per-drive model is a substitution threat for car sellers. If you take a step back and determine what problem the visitor trying to solve, as opposed to leaping to conclusions about the obvious keyword that describes that solution, then you might find rich, unmined substitution keywords. Perhaps your offer can be repackaged slightly differently in order to mine a substitution keyword stream.
Of course, people don’t always buy on price and features, even if the market is mature, but they still need a compelling value proposition. One example is organic produce. It’s typically more expensive, and the “features” are the same, but the context is different. The produce is sold on environmental values.
So look for value propositions that customers might respond to, but competitors aren’t taking advantage of. Or you can extend the ones they use. Now that Google is coming from behind with their own Motorola phones they are extending Apple's designed in California with made in America.
There are many links on the page a searcher can click. The more mature the market, the more relevant search results they’re likely to encounter, and those results, both PPC and natural search are likely to match their intent. At that point, getting the offer right is important. If you can’t compete in terms of offer, try looking for submarkets and position there, instead.
I hope this article has given you some new angles to explore. A good reference book on the topic of market validation, and the inspiration for this article, is “If You Build It They Will Come”, by Rob Adams.
And unlike fifty years ago, there are fewer barriers to entry to many traditional markets. In the past, in order to compete-nation wide, or internationally, a huge, multinational machine, of people and capital, was needed. Now, with a credit card, we just tap into a vast network in an instant.
Fifty years ago, publishing a book was difficult and expensive. A large publishing company could get shelf space at a major retail outlet, but you couldn't. Probably still can't. You needed to print many copies, a risk and cost out of reach of most people. A publisher could reach out to reviewers, and work the publicity machines.
Now we can compete.
We can get more far more reach, in in much less time, for a fraction of the cost.
Teething problems? New policy? Bit of both? Regardless, it's fair to say there has been a backlash against the changes made to the keyword tool.
For example, Marty Weintraub points out:
“Facebook” Must Not Be “Commercial” Do Google users really only articulate 12 semantic permutations of “Facebook” at phrase, broad and exact match? Eeesh… Obviously that’s a laughable proposition. These 12 keywords are what Google wants to sell as they productize Facebook related queries into AdWords inventory"
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Google is only showing webmasters what it wants webmasters to see. Google will show data that works to Google's advantage.
There's no advantage to Google in revealing all their keyword data - a valuable asset - especially the data that Google thinks can't be monetized as profitably via Adwords. Adwords research is, after all, what the Keyword Tool is for, at least as far as Google is concerned. As much as SEOs like keyword data, Google isn't there to make SEOs lives easier.
Adwords advertisers might argue that we know which terms provide value, but that's a slightly different issue. Google may prefer to force more bid competition on keyword terms Google deems work best - in terms of searcher relevance, clickability, and for Google's bottom line. There's some merit in this, given their number crunching ability, although they don't have end revenue data for sites using Adwords. Well, not unless you give it to them.
There may well be bugs Google are working out, or we're seeing a a change in the PPC game - i.e. encourage advertisers towards the most profitable terms. At SES San Jose last year Google's Nicholas Fox highlighted that Google had about 30 million words in their ad auction. For advertising purposes, Google figures they do not need to give you a deep set of data, just the core relevant keywords and the ability to taste them via a broad match or phrase match AdWords campaign and refine with negative keywords.
However, there is still a big keyword tail, and the Google keyword tool is but one keyword resource. ;)
Other Ways To Research Keywords
There are many ways to discover keywords. But first, let's back up and focus on the user.
In a user-driven environment, like search, everything centers on typical user behavior, or, more specifically, what's in their head. Those who don't understand this seemingly innocuous piece of information often go wrong in SEO.
For a user to conduct search, they must already be aware of a concept. In this respect, search is reactive. It is difficult - although not impossible - to break a new idea or brand using the search channel, as the searcher isn't already aware of the new concept, therefore is unlikely to search on it. These type of "awareness generation" campaigns are generally better suited to interruption media, such as banners, videos and such.
Is your product/service/concept already known? Is it a brand? If so, it's a good candidate for search marketing. Listen to the way your customers talk. What phrases do they use? What questions do they ask? What problems do they have? Read the sites/magazines/publications they read and look for common terminology and reference points. Keep an eye on social networks and see what news they discuss. Feed all this information - the phrases, questions and terminology - back into your keyword list. Chances are, many of these terms will not appear on keyword research tools.
This means that there are many more keywords permutations than a keyword tool will ever give you.
If you focus on multiple low traffic terms, this can result in more traffic than can be gained from a single high traffic term. You can often achieve this simply by knowing the topics your audience are interested in, and writing about them. Is this SEO? Of course. Your language matches that of your intended audience.
So publish often. Each page you publish is a keyword net.
Look deep into your web analytics / log file. Use keyword terms found in your logs as topic/titles/starter ideas for new pages. Repeat indefinitely. You'll eventually build your unique own body of keyword data that people using keyword research tools are unlikely to find.
Always listen and adapt to your audience. Always listen and adapt to your site's analytics, as it is the purest (and most relevant) data you will ever get to use in your search marketing campaigns.
When we launch SEO projects, we've often got one eye on the future.
We start with a site that ranks nowhere, then we build links and optimize with the expectation that a few months from now, we'll start getting rankings, and traffic. Are the keyword terms we rank for going to be worthwhile over time? Will search volumes in our niche increase? Will they decrease? Are there more lucrative niches we could target instead? What will our market be interested in this time next year? Where is our market moving?
Given that search engine ranking has a long lead time, it pays to think about keyword trends well ahead of time.
The problem with the future is that it is difficult to predict. However, spotting trends is somewhat easier, and gives us an insight into how our niche is likely to develop. Trends typically follow a gradual, predictable pattern.
Let's take a look at a few tools you can use to help spot long term keyword trends.
Trend Spotting Tools
Google Trends is a useful tool for predicting rising interest in keyword areas. Search on your keyword terms, and see if interest in your niche is rising or falling. Ideally, you want to find keyword areas that show an increasing level of interest, or areas where there is significant, steady interest over time.
Likewise, Google Insights For Search allows you to drill down into the data in a variety of ways, including by date, by region, by category and by source. The related terms section is particularly useful for getting new keyword ideas, and analyzing trends. Click the RSS icon at the bottom, and you can keep up to date with this information in your RSS Reader. I use Google's Reader.
Twitter Search is a good tool for trend spotting. Possibly the most useful aspect of Twitter, as far as the SEO is concerned, is the ease of which you can spot keyword trends in terms of everyday usage. Search for your keyword term and make a note of the words people use in conjunction with your keyword terms. In what context does your keyword appear? Integrate these words into your copy.
Also check out Twist which shows keyword trends in Twitter over time, although it is limited to the last 30 days.
Both Microsoft Ad Intelligence and Google Adwords provide seasonal trends, which is especially useful for looking at interest patterns linked to the time of year, an obvious example being gift buying at Christmas.
Paid research tools, such as Keyword Discovery, provide historical data. Also check out Compete.com and WikiRank. WikiRank shows you what people are reading on Wikipedia. It’s based on the actual usage data from the Wikipedia servers, and provides trending data.
Microsoft Bing (I can't type that name without thinking of "Friends") provides XRank, a service that gathers related trend information and presents it on the same page, although the keyword terms it shows any results for seem to be rather limited.
So the takeaway point is to look at both keyword usage volumes and keyword trends over time.
Determine your bread-and-butter terms i.e. the terms that show constant levels of traffic and construct your link building strategy around these terms. Also look at the the emerging terms in your niche i.e. the terms with a rapidly climbing trend graph. Use this trend information as a suggestion list for new article topics. Watch your stats and look for rising areas of interest. Also try looking at keyword research from the opposite direction. Spot a rising trend, then make a list of keywords suggested by that trend.
When launching a brand new website in a competitive marketplace you have a lot of network effects working against you. Your competition has years of conversion data, an older trusted site, tons of content, and thousands of organic inbound links. Try to beat them right from the start for the most potent high-value keywords and you will likely fail.
Any new website has opportunity cost. One of my first goals with a new site is to get it to self-sustaining while it is still growing rapidly. In doing that, I can afford to lock up that capital with no returns because I know I am buying market-share in a fairly organic manner, and few competitors will operate at that strategic level or see me coming. Whenever the site has enough exposure then advertising (and other promotional spending) can be cut as needed.
If I target the most competitive keywords first (without a strong competitive advantage - like a network of sites to build off, an old trusted website, a huge brand, or a strong domain name) then I might never get to self-sustaining. There is no award, little traffic, and virtually no value for ranking on page 2 or page 3, even if it is for an exceptionally competitive and high traffic keyword like credit cards.
Longtail keywords are easier to rank for. If you can pick off mid-tier phrases and rank at the top of the search results then you can build a revenue stream from them, which can be reinvested to further buy marketshare and distribution.
There is more value in...
using your core pages (and link anchor text) to target lower competition variations of your core keywords (like best credit cards or compare credit cards) rather than targeting just the core competitive keyword credit cards
ensuring that each particular deep page is well optimized and can pull in relevant traffic
than there is *almost* ranking for credit cards.
Core keywords require domain age, good anchor text, trusted links from a variety of sources, and perhaps links from within your topical community. It takes time to build all those external signals of quality. You can rank for longtail keywords much faster, because you control your on page optimization.
Longtail keywords have less competition, and are thus far easier to rank for, as illustrated below.
And the good news is that if you target best credit cards or compare credit cards that will help you rank for credit cards as your site gains link authority and trust in Google.
Eventually you want to rank your site for many of the most valuable phrases, but you need to build a revenue stream to support those efforts. By focusing on the second tier and third tier keywords first, you enable yourself an opportunity to earn (and buy) the exposure needed to rank for the core keywords.
This site does not rank well for SEO just because I decided to target that keyword, but because we helped create many paths into this site...which helped to build the authority of the site...which helps it rank better for the core keywords.
Since hosting is a high value field we can build a list of keywords that are selling for $1 or more by using the advanced filters. For lower value fields there is no need to use a price filter.
Enter each keyword here and export the top 800 keywords from each list. If Google shows less than 800 keywords you only need to export 1 list.
If they allow you to export exactly 800 keywords you can use the keyword competition level as another filter to allow you to break the list down into two smaller lists that can be exported. Using negative keywords (ie: hosting - web) can also help you dig deeper.
If some services (like fax servers and email hosting) do not fit your business model then you can add them as negative words to help the tool return fewer irrelevant keywords and more relevant keywords.
Step 3: In Excel Combine & Sort Data
Delete the unneeded columns (everything but keyword, click price, and search volume - optionally you may want to keep keyword competition level as well).
Copy and paste all the lists into 1 Excel spreadsheet.
Once you have that list add a column that uses the equation click price * estimated monthly search volume.
Sort your list by keyword value
Use the de-duplication tool to remove duplicate data.
Filter irrelevant keywords by hand, and/or remove rows containing x (ie: where x is the word free, or email, or some type of hosting/server you have no interest in providing).
Cut off the bottom of the combined list. Decide to set a lower threshold based on how large of a site you want to build, how rapidly the keyword values fall off.
As an example, here is a list of ~ 4,000 hosting related keywords, but please note I did not filter out the various irrelevant stuff like free, because for some hosting business models maybe they rely on pitching free hosting and then selling upgrades.
Step 4: Map Out Keywords Against Your Site Structure
Essentially you want to cluster relevant keyword groups together and try to map them out against your site structure, planning out page titles, URLs, on page H1 headings, meta description tags, and internal anchor text.
There are other tools similar to the Google Search-based keyword tool (like Microsoft Ad Intelligence). You may want to watch these videos if you need help visualizing the process.
Disclaimer: The above strategy relies on pulling keywords from an ad network. It will thus have a commercial focus and a bias toward high search volume keywords. If you want non-commercial keywords then using a variety of keyword tools and/or focus the above method on grabbing some keywords with low bid prices as well.
Here are 7 quick ways to expand your keyword strategy
If you have an established website with significant web traffic you can look at your analytics data for additional keywords and keyword modifier ideas.
Track industry news, blogs, and forums to see what people are talking about. Conversation creates search demand.
Use keyword suggestion tools built into browsers and search toolbars, and visual keyword cloud tools like Quintura to come up with additional keyword ideas.
If you are creating an affiliate or review site make sure to hunt down leading brands to review. Much of this word can be done through choosing good competing sites to draw keywords from in competitive research tools.
If you are advertising on AdWords you can login to your Google account then use the Google Search-based Keyword Tool and they will show you a list of up to thousands of additional keywords they think you should advertise for (one list a friend showed me had over 6,000 keywords in it).
I'm a complete idiot, and if I can do it, anyone can!
If you've ever researched making money online, no doubt you've heard the above pitch. We all know the pitch is nonsense, of course. If these guys really were hitting the numbers they claim, then you've got to wonder why they are selling their "secrets" for $97?
Perhaps it is true.
Perhaps they really are idiots :)
However, the reality is that making money online is the same as making money offline. You need to find a market opportunity and fill it.
And that takes work.
I'd like to share a few ideas on research potential markets, and how you can use search engines to help you.
Definition Of Market Research
Market research is the study of groups of people in order to determine if there is a market for your product or service.
One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs often make is to attempt to solve a non-problem. The TechCrunch dead-pool is littered with examples of solutions to non-problems. An idea might sound good. Your family and friends might agree it is good. But is it really? How can you really know?
By spending a little time finding out if your idea solves a real problem, as opposed to an imaginary one, you can save yourself a lot of time, effort, pain and money later on.
But how do you undertake market research on a limted budget?
Use Search As A Market Research Tool
Search marketers have an ace up their sleeves that most people just don't see. One of the valuable most valuable market research tools available costs very little: Google Adwords.
Google Adwords provides you with a wealth of data. You can measure actual visitor interest - real search numbers, not just estimates - and you can quickly and easily test your ideas in the live marketplace. You can test your product or service offer, even before you're ready to provide it!.
Once you've gathered this valuable data, and found that your idea works, you can then design your time-consuming SEO strategy.
Sounds easy, right?
Well, it is. But there is a little work involved.
What we need to do is take a few important measurements.
2. Construct a small site consisting of landing pages.
You can test the effectiveness of each landing page using a/b testing, but this would probably over-complicate matters at this stage. What you want to know are three key pieces of information: actual search volume, response to offer, and competition levels.
Search volume is the number of people who search on a certain term. The actual search volume, as opposed to estimates.
Response to offer is the number of people who take a desired action, not those who click back.
Competition level is the level of advertisers competition.
If the search volume is sufficient to achieve your goals, then you're part way there. If not, you might to to rework your idea, but at least you haven't undertaken a time consuming SEO campaign only to find this out there is no real traffic.
Once a visitor lands on your page, you want to measure their level of interest in your offer. How many buyers are you likely to get vs tire kickers? Prompt the visitor to take an action that would indicate that they would buy your service or product. For example, you could send them to an affiliate program offering a similar service or product, and measure your success rates, or collect the visitors email address as an expression of interest. Those who click back are telling you your offer is quite right.
3. Evaluate Competition Levels
You can gain an understanding of the competition levels by looking at the bid price. Obviously, the higher the bid prices, the higher the level of competition. If you're failing to get on the front page with reasonable relevancy and bids, you're in a fairly competitive area, and the SERPs will be likewise.
Let's say you've got all three ducks lined up. Great. You now have some fantastic market research data that you can build into your site and into your SEO campaign. Most offline market researchers would kill to be able to get this lucrative data so easily and cheaply.
Google Traffic Estimator helps you see how often your ads would appear for keywords, and gives you approximate prices. It works for various match types, including broad match, phrase match and exact match. Here's some information on why understanding match types is important.
Various metrics tools, including a cool Excel Plug in. To see a demonstration of how to use this, check out Aaron's video: Top Paying AdSense Keyword Lists Video. Ad Intelligence gives you actual search data, not rough estimates.
Google Insights will show you where search activity is taking place at different periods of time. This is especially useful for honing local and regional offers. It is also useful for time-based research, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving and other vacation periods.
One old-skool marketing technique that will always hold true is the value of the catchy headline.
The headline, given its power to convey meaning quickly, is more important than ever. Attention spans are limited. Media messages flood the channels. We're busy. The function of the headline is to grab our attention and pull us deeper into the message.
Many books have been written on how to craft great headlines. I'm going to quote from the advertisers bible on the topic, Tested Adverting Methods by John Caples. Caples identifies three main classes of successful headlines.
The Three Main Classes Of Successful Headlines
Self-Interest: The best headlines are those that appeal to self interest. They offer the reader benefits that they want, and they can get from you. For example, RETIRE AT 30
News - Humans are pre-disposed to seek out what is new and different in their environment. For example, NEW, CHEAPER IPHONE CALL PLANS RELEASED
Curiosity Appeal to our curious nature. LOST: $1 BILLION DOLLARS
Of the three, by far the most effective headline in advertising is the self interest headline. Our self interest usually trumps our curiosity, and news, especially when time is short.
Compare these two headlines:
PUT UP OR SHUT UP
FIVE TOTALLY NEW WAYS TO GET TOP RANKING IN GOOGLE
The first says nothing that appeals to our self interest. We don't even know what it is about. But you'd be hard pressed not to click on the second headline. The self-interest is just too strong. This is why the second form is used so often in link-baiting and social media. It screams for attention, and then makes a strong appeal to self-interest.
There is a downside to such headlines, however. Modern audiences have become jaded and cynical, especially where marketing messages are concerned. Overplay the benefit, and you'll come off as a shark. Link-baiting, a useful SEO tactic, has developed a bad reputation through overuse of this approach.
Eventually, people tune out.
Get Your Tone Right
We can twist the overused appeal-to-self interest headline strategy slightly to make it work for us. The key to getting the appeal to self-interest right is to get the tone right. Understand both the audiences' desires and the tone of "voice" they respond to.
For example, look at Digg. A cynic might argue that a surefire way to get top page on Digg is to write a headline that includes the following subject matter, and do so using an irreverent tone:
Criticism of Bush
Anything about Digg itself
Some crazy-weird activity from a country no-one has ever heard of :)
By the way, if anyone can come up with a headline that includes one of those elements, feel free to add it to the comments :)
The headline needs to be crafted in such a way as to appeal to Diggs demographic, which is mostly young, tech-savvy males. This demographic tends to respond to a tone that is cynical, flippant and irreverent. Get that tone wrong - i.e. play it too straight, or too advertorial - and it doesn't matter how strong the self-interest angle, it's unlikely to work.
How To Use Headline Strategy In SEO.
SEO has an additional challenge.
For SEO to work well, the headline, which is often also used as the title tag, should include a keyword term. Many studies have shown that a SERP or Adword that includes the keyword term results in more clicks. In order to get the headline strategy to work for SEO, try amalgamating the keyword term with one of the three formats.
For example, where the keyword term is "high speed routers", try:
High Speed Routers- How To Get Routers At Half Price (appeal to self interest)
High Speed Routers- Latest Features To Insist On (news, with a hint of self interest)
High Speed Routers- How We Blew Our Budget (Curiosity)
Even if you're not #1 in the serps for that term, you're more likely to attract a click than the guy who simply uses "High Speed Routers", by itself.
Your headline (i.e. the title tag) competes with at least ten other SERPs on the page, along with a various Adwords listings along the top and down the side. The top three SERP poitions are gold, but if you can add a touch of appeal-to-self-interest, or news, or curiosity, you'll up your chances of getting the click.
If you want to go one step further with this tactic, use it as a way to segment visitors. The first example I gave is likely to attract those people who are ready to buy, and who are buying on price.
You then need to include your title as a heading on the page, which confirms to they visitor their click has got them where they wanted to be. They're now far more likely to read beyond the headline.
I recently worked with the fine folks at Wordtracker to create an ebook titled 50 Kick-Ass Keyword Strategies. Coming up with 50 unique and creative keyword research ideas was a bit more work than I thought it would be, but it was great fun to work with the Wordtracker crew - the feedback they gave to improve the content and the formatting they did were phenomenal.
So far the guide has been getting pretty good feedback
They quietly announced the launch to some of their newsletter subscribers, and I have been getting bombarded with emails asking about the ebook. If you are interested in buying it, the $12 off discount is here, but you have to get it by August 31st, because after that date the price goes from $27 to $39.