One of the most helpful functions of modern-day SEO software is the idea of a “keyword universe,” a database of tens of millions of keywords that you can tap into and discover what your site is ranking for. Rankings data like this can be powerful, and having that kind of power at your fingertips can be intimidating. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains the concept of the “keyword universe” and shares his most useful tips to take advantage of this data in the most popular SEO tools.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about the Keywords by Site feature that exists now in Moz’s toolset — we just launched it this week — and SEMrush and Ahrefs, who have had it for a little while, and there are some other tools out there that also do it, so places like KeyCompete and SpyFu and others.
In SEO software, there are two types of rankings data:
A) Keywords you’ve specifically chosen to track over time
Basically, the way you can think of this is, in SEO software, there are two kinds of keyword rankings data. There are keywords that you have specifically selected or your marketing manager or your SEO has specifically selected to track over time. So I’ve said I want to track X, Y and Z. I want to see how they rank in Google’s results, maybe in a particular location or a particular country. I want to see the position, and I want to see the change over time. Great, that’s your set that you’ve constructed and built and chosen.
B) A keyword “universe” that gives wide coverage of tens of millions of keywords
But then there’s what’s called a keyword universe, an entire universe of keywords that’s maintained by a tool provider. So SEMrush has their particular database, their universe of keywords for a bunch of different languages, and Ahrefs has their keyword universe of keywords that each of those two companies have selected. Moz now has its keyword universe, a universe of, I think in our case, about 40 million keywords in English in the US that we track every two weeks, so we’ll basically get rankings updates. SEMrush tracks their keywords monthly. I think Ahrefs also does monthly.
Depending on the degree of change, you might care or not care about the various updates. Usually, for keywords you’ve specifically chosen, it’s every week. But in these cases, because it’s tens of millions or hundreds of millions of keywords, they’re usually tracking them weekly or monthly.
So in this universe of keywords, you might only rank for some of them. It’s not ones you’ve specifically selected. It’s ones the tool provider has said, “Hey, this is a broad representation of all the keywords that we could find that have some real search volume that people might be interested in who’s ranking in Google, and we’re going track this giant database.” So you might see some of these your site ranks for. In this case, seven of these keywords your site ranks for, four of them your competitors rank for, and two of them both you and your competitors rank for.
Remarkable data can be extracted from a “keyword universe”
There’s a bunch of cool data, very, very cool data that can be extracted from a keyword universe. Most of these tools that I mentioned do this.
Number of ranking keywords over time
So they’ll show you how many keywords a given site ranks for over time. So you can see, oh, Moz.com is growing its presence in the keyword universe, or it’s shrinking. Maybe it’s ranking for fewer keywords this month than it was last month, which might be a telltale sign of something going wrong or poorly.
Degree of rankings overlap
You can see the degree of overlap between several websites’ keyword rankings. So, for example, I can see here that Moz and Search Engine Land overlap here with all these keywords. In fact, in the Keywords by Site tool inside Moz and in SEMrush, you can see what those numbers look like. I think Moz actually visualizes it with a Venn diagram. Here’s Distilled.net. They’re a smaller website. They have less content. So it’s no surprise that they overlap with both. There’s some overlap with all three. I could see keywords that all three of them rank for, and I could see ones that only Distilled.net ranks for.
Estimated traffic from organic search
You can also grab estimated traffic. So you would be able to extract out — Moz does not offer this, but SEMrush does — you could see, given a keyword list and ranking positions and an estimated volume and estimated click-through rate, you could say we’re going to guess, we’re going to estimate that this site gets this much traffic from search. You can see lots of folks doing this and showing, “Hey, it looks this site is growing its visits from search and this site is not.” SISTRIX does this in Europe really nicely, and they have some great blog posts about it.
Most prominent sites for a given set of keywords
You can also extract out the most prominent sites given a set of keywords. So if you say, “Hey, here are a thousand keywords. Tell me who shows up most in this thousand-keyword set around the world of vegetarian recipes.” The tool could extract out, “Okay, here’s the small segment. Here’s the galaxy of vegetarian recipe keywords in our giant keyword universe, and this is the set of sites that are most prominent in that particular vertical, in that little galaxy.”
Recommended applications for SEOs and marketers
So some recommended applications, things that I think every SEO should probably be doing with this data. There are many, many more. I’m sure we can talk about them in the comments.
1. Identify important keywords by seeing what you rank for in the keyword universe
First and foremost, identify keywords that you probably should be tracking, that should be part of your reporting. It will make you look good, and it will also help you keep tabs on important keywords where if you lost rankings for them, you might cost yourself a lot of traffic.
Monthly granularity might not be good enough. You might want to say, “Hey, no, I want to track these keywords every week. I want to get reporting on them. I want to see which page is ranking. I want to see how I rank by geo. So I’m going to include them in my specific rank tracking features.” You can do that in the Moz Keywords by Site, you’d go to Keyword Explorer, you’d select the root domain instead of the keyword, and you’d plug in your website, which maybe is Indie Hackers, a site that I’ve been reading a lot of lately and I like a lot.
You could see, “Oh, cool. I’m not tracking stock trading bot or ark servers, but those actually get some nice traffic. In this case, I’m ranking number 12. That’s real close to page one. If I put in a little more effort on my ark servers page, maybe I could be on page one and I could be getting some of that sweet traffic, 4,000 to 6,000 searches a month. That’s really significant.” So great way to find additional keywords you should be adding to your tracking.
2. Discover potential keywords targets that your competitors rank for (but you don’t)
Second, you can discover some new potential keyword targets when you’re doing keyword research based on the queries your competition ranks for that you don’t. So, in this case, I might plug in “First Round.” First Round Capital has a great content play that they’ve been doing for many years. Indie Hackers might say, “Gosh, there’s a lot of stuff that startups and tech founders are interested in that First Round writes about. Let me see what keywords they’re ranking for that I’m not ranking for.”
So you plug in those two to Moz’s tool or other tools. You could see, “Aha, I’m right. Look at that. They’re ranking for about 4,500 more keywords than I am.” Then I could go get that full list, and I could sort it by volume and by difficulty. Then I could choose, okay, these keywords all look good, check, check, check. Add them to my list in Keyword Explorer or Excel or Google Docs if you’re using those and go to work.
3. Explore keywords sets from large, content-focused media sites with similar audiences
Then the third one is you can explore keyword sets. I’m going to urge you to. I don’t think this is something that many people do, but I think that it really should be, which is to look outside of your little galaxy of yourself and your competitors, direct competitors, to large content players that serve your audience.
So in this case, I might say, “Gosh, I’m Indie Hackers. I’m really competing maybe more directly with First Round. But you know what? HBR, Harvard Business Review, writes about a lot of stuff that my audience reads. I see people on Twitter that are in my audience share it a lot. I see people in our forums discussing it and linking out to their articles. Let me go see what they are doing in the content world.”
In fact, when you look at the Venn diagram, which I just did in the Keywords by Site tool, I can see, “Oh my god, look there’s almost no overlap, and there’s this huge opportunity.” So I might take HBR and I might click to see all their keywords and then start looking through and sort, again, probably by volume and maybe with a difficulty filter and say, “Which ones do I think I could create content around? Which ones do they have really old content that they haven’t updated since 2010 or 2011?” Those types of content opportunities can be a golden chance for you to find an audience that is likely to be the right types of customers for your business. That’s a pretty exciting thing.
So, in addition to these, there’s a ton of other uses. I’m sure over the next few months we’ll be talking more about them here on Whiteboard Friday and here on the Moz blog. But for now, I would love to hear your uses for tools like SEMrush and the Ahrefs keyword universe feature and Moz’s keyword universe feature, which is called Keywords by Site. Hopefully, we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.