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How to Find Product Market Fit with Mayur Gupta of Spotify

Using Behavioral Science to Acquire, Retain, and Get More Value Out of Your Customers Please feel free to watch the above video and follow along with the story below. Finding Product-Market Fit is no joke… Most founders believe that they’ve reached product-market fit (PMF) when they actually haven’t. They typically aren’t even close. This is […]

Using Behavioral Science to Acquire, Retain, and Get More Value Out of Your Customers

Please feel free to watch the above video and follow along with the story below. Finding Product-Market Fit is no joke… Most founders believe that they’ve reached product-market fit (PMF) when they actually haven’t. They typically aren’t even close. This is the #1 biggest fallacy facing founders. In this article (and video) you will go through the mindset of Mayur Gupta, VP of Growth at Spotify, and how he thinks about PMF. And you will hear from Dmitry Dragilev, founder of JustReachOut.io, and the struggles and mistakes he made in getting his PR tech software to a solid state of PMF.

Pitfalls of Founders and Product-Market Fit

The two pitfalls and concerns every startup founder should realize are:
  1. The realization that their vision hasn’t reached product-market fit.
Have you truly, and quantitatively, found (and kept) product-market fit? In order to answer that, Mayur, recommends coming up with your own quantitative measures for PMF:
  1. Top level growth – new users, new customers, something like that to define top line growth.
  2. Retention rate – Are you keeping new users or new customers for as long as you expected, or need to, in order to grow a sustainable business. Most skyrocketing startups should seek to retain customers for life.
  3. Engagement – either product engagement or offline engagement depending on what type of business you have. MAU/DAU ratio is strong indicator of engagement at Spotify.
  4. NPS or “brand love” – How much organic realty are you earning? How many of your existing customers are helping to get new customers? (i.e. Referral)
Side note: I’d also recommend taking a minute to identify the early-stage lifecycle phases of identifying a problem-solution fit prior to product-market fit.

Mayur Gupta, VP of Growth Marketing at Spotify

  1. Decisions you make on the things you don’t do
Have you been able to narrow your audience to specific personas and demographics? Oftentimes when speaking with a millennial founder, Mayur will hear them attempting to address too broad a market too early in their startups lifecycle. So, how do you say “No,” to people that could be a customer? Because if you don’t say no, you will get into this dilemma where you start to orchestrate your product based on everybody’s needs. And broad strokes often lead to detriment for an early-stage startup. You’re better off focusing on one primary channel, to get to PMF, then unleash other touch-points and channels from there.  

Dmitry’s Story of Just Reach Out and Finding Product-Market Fit

Dmitry Dragilev has decided to make PR software to help companies pitch journalists (maybe you’ve heard of JustReachOut.io). He’s looking for validation that people will actually use, and pay for, his product… So he starts finding customers and charging them before he’s actually built the software. He’s not charging much, maybe $10 – $20, and he hasn’t yet figured out his pricing model, but people are buying. Is this enough validation? It’s certainly more than 0%, but absolutely not 100%. So how does this early validation impact growth? Impact product design? Impact your pricing model? After having built a little bit more of the product, Dmitry feels comfortable charging more for it. And he continues this process of building more tech and charging more money to start to feel out early PMF.  

Your First 100 Customers

Week one of starting any business, where you have a business model, you need to draw a line somewhere and say: If I get 100 customers, and X customers come back within a two-month time frame (replace “two-month” depending on your business model), to repurchase, and Y of those customers will tell other customers, and Z of those customers will leave feedback and help provide us with a baseline for NPS… How_to_Measure_Product-Market_Fit If that happens, then I can say I’ve got an early sign of PMF. It’s not just about getting the first one, or one hundred sales. That’s not PMF. It’s not about getting simple feedback from people on the streets. That’s not PMF. It’s not a single dimension that proves strong PMF. You need strong indicators from all of those 4 pillars in order to best define your fit. Remember, a startup is not a marathon, in the sense that you cannot actually see where you are going. You can’t see the end of the race. You have to be running at 100 miles an hour, but you have to be able to pause and pivot. That’s the challenge as a founder, because you get so attached to your idea, that it gets very tough to realize that “this isn’t the right path.” Not only have you invested your mind, heart, and soul into your idea, but you’ve likely also invested significant resources. The ones scrutinizing their ideas are the ones more likely to succeed. There is no predefined straight line. You have to keep zigzagging until you prove PMF at scale.  

Dmitry’s Big Pivot

After getting initial traction and selling his PR software at a higher and higher price point, through the release of new features and ever increasing PMF, Dmitry Dragilev was hitting a major snag: PR has a lot of moving parts… You have the journalists that are going to publish. You have the pitch that needs to go out from the startup. And just having software didn’t do enough justice to provide the value needed to the customer. So Dmitry started a services side to his business. He started helping customers with the pitch, writing the email, tracking it, and teaching his customers/clients what to do when people don’t respond. But… There is a problem: Dmitry doesn’t want to be a services business. This doesn’t align with the long-term plan for the business… Or does it? Over the course of four years, and many pivots, Dmitry realized that services improve his product retention, and he’s now built that into his business model.  

Reaching Product-Market Fit

Reaching PMF does not mean you are guaranteed to stay in PMF. The world around us is changing so quickly that once you reach PMF, you have to work even harder to stay there. Think about the mobile experience movement of the last 18 months. Less than 12 months ago, many people jumped on creating the best mobile experience. It was the next best thing, important to PMF and growth of many businesses. Today, the mobile experience is expected. It’s normal; it’s status quo.  

Retention and Customer Delight

How do we define the “aha” moment for a customer? Is retention simply about email campaigns, reminders, nudges? Or is there something more that can be done inside the product to retain customers? You can buy a date, but you can’t buy love… Retention is the hardest part of the growth funnel to solve for. Even knowing what the aha moment is, is very tough to define for most startups. Retention happens at the intersection of:
  • A great product experience
  • Great messaging
  • Personalized and relevant storytelling
  • Great content
You must reach out to that user when they are off platform, at the right moments, giving them enough reason to come back to the platform. When they aren’t thinking about you, you need to nudge them back into the platform, to help build mental – intrinsic – triggers within that user, so that they will remind themselves to keep coming back to the product. You have to help them build a habit, as frequent Growth Marketing Conference speaker Nir Eyal would say.
Nir Eyal Hooked Methodology

Credit: Nir Eyal

And they will only build those triggers if they continue to get value from the product. This is the “Must have experience” that the product has to deliver every time the user uses it. What kind of message? What kind of content? This is why you have to test. Here’s a whole article on why science and the art of testing and failing is so important. Remember, your CRM and the act of sending emails, sending messages… This isn’t retention on its own. There is a lot that needs to go underneath this, foundationally, to ensure you are doing it right. You need to understand the needs of the individual user and segments of users. Your messaging is based on the need.

Retention is a Symptom of Acquisition

Retention, especially, is a mix of art and science. It is a symptom of who you acquire. You can’t blindly acquire bad users. The worst thing that can happen is that you acquire users that should not be part of your platform, you bleed money acquiring them, and you bleed money trying to retain them. Everything begins from understanding your audience. And that is a larger battle than most people give credit to.  

Dmitry Destroys his Retention

For Dmitry, it was clear the aha moment was when his customer would get published, or featured, in the press. A couple years back, he was able to get a big promotional offer out to a large audience, using a tool called AppSumo. This was great; it brought in a flood of new customers… But they were not the right customers. All of these customers were looking for a great deal. They didn’t really experience the core features or find the aha moment in his product. And ultimately, they left. What’s the lesson? Not all customers are equal. It matters the channel you’re using. In this case, Dmitry made some revenue, but the promotion left him more distracted than enriched, veering him off-course from the goal of acquiring quality, lifelong, loyal customers.  

Career Example from Mayur

A while back, Mayur was working with a Fortune 100 company on selling an incontinence product to the 55+ crowd. After launching the product, they realized the growth they needed wasn’t there. They kept improving the product. They tried multiple marketing campaigns and nothing was working. That is when they decided to invest into behavioral science. Through research, they found out that it wasn’t about a lack of awareness, lack of trust, lack of trial. It was completely associated with the stigma of using the product itself. The consumer doesn’t want to be seen buying the product. It’s embarrassing. Those needs won’t come out of a survey response. They won’t come from measuring app usage. Investing in behavioral science should inform your product and growth roadmap and development. You must apply the causal understanding of the user to the product, messaging, content.  

Knowing The Right Customers: CAM not TAM

Do you know how your users are actually using your product, especially in context of everything else they are doing in their day to day? What tabs do they have open in their browser? What products do they use in conjunction with your product? Over time, you are likely to forget “who is this for?” and why you’re even building what you’re building. When thinking about TAM – total addressable market, and a required data point for every startup founder to present to an investor – it’s a very misleading metric, because it only addresses how many people have the right to be your customer. But how many users you have the right to win right now, has many factors to it. How do we transform a TAM into a CAM – current addressable market. Who do you have the right to win? This helps us uncover the why behind the user. Why are they using our product? Why are they going away? Oftentimes, hunger is getting in the way of understanding your customer better. Stop that!  

Investing Short-Term VS Long-Term and the Ability to Say No

The most successful founders are the ones that can say “no” the best. When should you invest in building the brand vs invest in pure growth – pure performance – to acquire more users, and retain them. This is a problem in every organization. In the technology age, marketing is now being held accountable for outcomes, not output. How does a startup get the first 500 or first 1,000 customers? And then, when running low on money, how are you supposed to scale that? Often times the way to get the first 500 doesn’t leave you with long-term growth opportunities. You must acknowledge what you are spending your money on: growth or brand, and invest in both. Simultaneously, the two impact each other. Investing in growth will help strengthen the brand, and investing in brand will strengthen growth, even if they are done in different ways.  

Why It Isn’t Easy

Finding product-market fit, scaling a company, investing in getting more customers, and getting them to stick around… It’s not easy. You will naturally see all of the startup successes online, in your newsfeed, on TV, or on a billboard. Whereas all of the failures get swept under the rug. Are you really “data-driven” or are you just saying it? 9/10 startups aren’t looking at the behavioral science behind their users. Understanding your first 100 customers will help you get your next 1,000. Laser-focus your efforts based on understanding your customer, segmenting for their individual needs and problems, and cognizantly investing across targeted performance and brand. Good luck! For more on Dmitry Dragilev check out his YouTube channel, his LinkedIn, and if you’re interested in upping your PR game, check out Just Reach Out. For more on Mayur Gupta, check out his LinkedIn and his blog: The Growth Machine.

GrowthHackers “Projects” Just Made Growth Testing Easier Than Ever Before

A Review of GrowthHackers.com New Tool for Growth Marketers Called “Projects.” “Growth Hacking is a system, not a trick…” If you’re a diehard GrowthHackers.com fan… Then you’ve heard Sean Ellis and many others talk about the process of growth hacking. As GrowthHackers.com struggled to grow back in January of 2015, they used their own knowledge […]

A Review of GrowthHackers.com New Tool for Growth Marketers Called “Projects.”

“Growth Hacking is a system, not a trick…” If you’re a diehard GrowthHackers.com fan… Then you’ve heard Sean Ellis and many others talk about the process of growth hacking. As GrowthHackers.com struggled to grow back in January of 2015, they used their own knowledge of this system to start high-tempo testing, which led to a massive increase in traffic to their website. This is all presented the results in a well documented case study. In the process of organizing and implementing so many ideas, they developed their own internal tool for the tracking and reporting of all these growth tests. This tool, now called “Growth Hacker Projects,” has officially been released. And I have been lucky enough to get a demo from the legendary growth hacker himself, and take Projects for a test spin.

Who Should be Drooling Over This New Tool?

Growth Hackers Projects

Projects

The broadest answer is: anyone that considers themselves a growth marketer. A real growth marketer… You know, a data-driven marketer that runs tests and reports on results on a weekly basis. More specifically, this tool is perfect for growth teams of 3 or more people, who are running 5 tests a week or more. If you are doing less than that, you may be fine just using a spreadsheet and some Google Docs. But any larger and this tool quickly solves a bunch of organizational issues, and will save your head of growth a few hours a week.

Do You Have a Clearly Defined Growth Model?

When I demoed the product with Sean, it became clear that many early stage companies are not ready to start testing. Before beginning, you need to fully understand your growth model: All slides were lifted from this GrowthHackers Slideshare: Using Your Growth Model to Drive Smarter High Tempo Testing How to Build Your Growth Model And you need to have your team agree upon your North Star Metric (also known as The One Metric That Matter): Your North Star Metric Once you’ve got that part taken care of it’s time to bring in as many team members as possible…

Preparing Your Team For The Brain Dump

Now, I’m assuming you haven’t already done a brain dump… If you’ve already got all of your ideas organized in your spreadsheet, then I have great news, you can import it to projects with just the click of a button, and you can skip this brief section. If this is your first brain dump, clear the schedule for the entire team (maybe even company) for about 2 hours some day about a week from now. Have people prepare ahead of time by having them answer these question and bringing their answers into the meeting (bonus points if you can get them to input the ideas into Projects all on their own): What can we improve in our product or business? What problems are our customers currently facing and how can we solve them? What opportunities might we have to expand or improve any stages of our funnel (acquisition, activation, referral, retention, revenue)? The entire purpose of this meeting is to unleash every obvious, non-obvious, and hidden idea inside every team member, employee, or heck, even customer. Try to avoid saying “no” to any idea, no matter how bad. We want creativity, and “no” will slow that down. But it does have to meet these two criterion to make it on the board:
  1. It has to be measurable – We need to make sure we can conclusively learn something from it.
  2. It has to have a set end date – We need to finalize and report findings at some point. If it works, it will be moves out of testing and becomes a feature, or an ongoing campaign, or the like.

How to Brain Dump All of Your Ideas Inside Projects

Now, you’re going to use the ideas dashboard to collect and organize the brain dump:
Growth Hackers Projects Tool Idea Dashboard

My current idea dashboard

This dashboard allows you to quickly input your idea and add it to the board. Then you can come back later and:
  1. Add more about the specific strategy
  2. Choose the stage of the funnel it effects
  3. Do your ICE (Impact, Confidence, Ease) rating
Creating an Idea Inside Growth Hackers Projects You can also add tags, favorite the one’s you like, nominate them (handy for large teams, useless for small teams), share it with others, and activate the test when ready.

Running Your Tests

Once you’ve got your tests into the dashboard, and set each ICE, you can have everyone vote on the biggest opportunities facing the company, and take your lowest hanging fruit and move them into the testing phase. Before moving an idea into the testing phase, you are required to write a hypothesis (I love this step). This is essentially the assumed goal or outcome, like “2 signups/week” or “5% increase in user retention.”
Test an idea with a hypothesis

Add your hypothesis

Without a hypothesis we don’t really know what we are hoping to find. And even if it seems obvious, we need to set specific values to measure our own estimation abilities (and hopefully refine those as well). And don’t worry, if you only achieve 4% retention, and not 5%, you can still label it a success (I won’t tell anyone). Growth_Hackers_Projects_Tests_Dashboard We’ve now got approved tests, active tests, and concluded tests – which are ready for analysis and reporting. The best thing to do when running a growth test is to assign a lead, or project manager. This is most often the person who created the idea. They will be responsible for organizing a team around the test, executing on the test, and reporting the findings back to the team. (Oh yeah, and did I mention this can integrate with Trello, Slack, Optimizely, and a few other sources? And I’m sure they will be adding more integrations soon.)

Concluding Your Tests and Adding Them to The Knowledge Base

Once you’ve ran a test, you move it into the ready to analyze board and click add test results:
Add Test Results

Add Test Results

And start ranting on the results of the test, including whether it worked, didn’t work, or was inconclusive:
Bottom Line of Our Test

What’s the Bottom Line?

Growth Hackers Projects Knowledge Base Dashbaord Within a few months of high-tempo testing, you should have made significant progress in your knowledge base. The findings will help shape future tests, prevent massive mistakes, and improve the employee onboarding process. Next time anyone has an idea, they can search the entire project to see if anyone’s put it up on the idea board or already ran it.

Gamifying Your High-Tempo Testing Process With Leaderboards

Over time your team members will start to conclude tests and you can track their successes and failures (both can and should be embraced equally) on the leaderboards: Growth Hackers Projects Leaderboard Dashboard - I win As you can see, I am crushing it. 😀 This feature is kinda cool, but I’m not sure how beneficial it will actually be to the long term value of Projects. The leaderboard tends to favor the head of growth and data analyst, as those are the two people on the pulse of the tests and will naturally come up with the most ideas. (That is the job, after all).

What’s the Power of Projects

As I’m going through the demo with Sean, I stopped him at some point and said, “What makes this better than Google Sheets?” The answer was simple: this saves growth teams time by organizing tests better than Sheets, it encourages a growth mindset (which has been proven over and over again to be a major indicator of success) by setting up a simple leaderboard system, and it saves the company in wasted cost by organizing all of the findings in an easy to access knowledge base. The value proposition of this tool increases as you:
  1. Increase the size of your team
  2. Increase the frequency of the tests you run
There’s also one secret ninja benefit I discovered… All projects are public, so anyone can see what you’re up to, unless you pay to make your project private. With public projects you will eventually be able to create a test that other people can copy over to their board and run, and vice versa. You getting what I’m saying? Sean Ellis just smashed together growth testing and “the sharing economy” to give growth marketers a massive database of proven strategies to grow their business from. Essentially commoditizing ideas, which we can all agree are generally worthless… But sometimes a well structured idea might be worth $10 to save setting up yourself. Pretty genius move if you ask me. Can’t wait to see how that plays out.

How Much Does Projects Cost?

Their prices have changed. You’ll have to ask them at success@growthhackers.com

Final Thoughts

I’m personally a huge fan of transparency in business. But, with my history as a high stakes poker player for 10 years and one of the first online poker coaches, I can tell you that sometimes giving away all your secrets away now does actually cost you money in the long run. There’s a fine line to walk somewhere in here. This tool is likely to make growth marketers better, which actually means that marketing will become tougher, and competition will be fiercer than ever before. Ready to sign up? Here’s the link. So, what do you think? Are you going to start using Projects? Or do you still need help setting up your growth model and team? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Keyword Research: How I Generated 15,000 Keywords and Found the 20 Best

What do you do when you’re not very skilled at keyword research?   Without quality keywords, you can’t create relevant content that people will search for. You can’t set up Adwords campaigns that convert. You can’t optimize landing pages or set up a site’s architecture to lead people to the information they want.   I […]

What do you do when you’re not very skilled at keyword research?

  Without quality keywords, you can’t create relevant content that people will search for. You can’t set up Adwords campaigns that convert. You can’t optimize landing pages or set up a site’s architecture to lead people to the information they want.   I wasn’t very good, but I wanted to be. So to get some tips, I chatted with Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz and a speaker at the Growth Marketing Conference.  

After talking to Rand and reading a bunch of blog posts on the subject, I was able to generate about 15,000 keywords, narrow them down to a useful group of about 300, and then assign a priority score to help me narrow down the top 20 keywords to target first.

  Here’s how I did it.

Generating Keywords

Start by talking to the people who fit your customer personas. In this case, I talked to people who love beer. beer  

Step 1 (Do This if You Don’t Know Much About Your Customers)

 

Set up interviews with the type of people who you think will buy your product:

  How much do you know about the people who are going to use your product?   The startup I did keyword research for (let’s call them Startup X) is a craft beer delivery startup with three customer personas:
  • Gift Givers – Urban/suburban. Scours the internet for the best, most special, unique, unusual, and luxurious gifts.
  • Foodies – Urban. Instagrams their food. Pairs beer and food. Looks for high quality food and drink.
  • Beer Aficionados – Loves trying all types of beers. Goes to beer tasting parties and beer tours. Passionate about deepening their beer knowledge.
 
But while Startup X had a good idea about their customers, I personally didn’t. So I called people I knew who fit these personas and asked them some questions.
  As a seasoned product designer once told me, people are terrible at imagining what they would do in a hypothetical scenario, but they’re great at telling you what they’ve already done.   So I asked questions such as:  
  • Can you tell me about a positive beer drinking experience you had recently?
  • Can you tell me about the last time you drank homebrewed beer?
  • What was the last gift you bought? How did you find it?
  Then I asked plenty of follow ups:  
  • When/where was this?
  • What type of beer was it?
  • What did the beer taste like?
  • Who were you with?
  For general tips on customer development and creating interview guides, check out the incredible (FREE!) book Talking to Humans.   In terms of generating a large quantity of keywords, this wasn’t the most effective technique, but it was crucial to understand these personas for some of the more powerful keyword generation methods described later.  

Read Other Content/Digital Media About Your Vertical

  As I Googled beer-related keywords, I noticed a general trend in which the larger the publication, the less the writing resembled everyday speech. Serious Eats is one of the top food media sites around and takes on a pretty casual tone, but you’ll notice that their Beer Bucket List sounds writer-y, with words and phrases like “inextricably,” “unified balance,” and “dangerously drinkable.”   But some other sites generated new keywords. This niche beer site called More Beer didn’t sound very conversational either, but it opened up all types of ways people can discuss beer. This led to new keywords related to taste, history, ingredients, and brewing process.  

Read Forums

As seasoned SEO’s know, forums are loaded with great keywords, and unlike digital media publications, they much more closely resemble how people talk – and thus, how they search.   BeerAdvocate is a forum that was frequently mentioned in my research and was reported on SEMrush to have over 1.3 million clicks coming from organic search, so I dove in.   Here I looked for themes in the forum users’ conversations with each other. I noticed lots of talks about trades, specific yeast strains, and home brewing methods. I found smaller details like the fact that they frequently discussed growlers, a type of large bottle frequently used by microbreweries.  There were 100 new keywords from these forums. BeerAdvocate also has a list of the top 250 beers as reviewed by members, so I used Import.io to scrape the list in about 10 seconds, adding the names of beers, breweries, and beer styles to the list of potential keywords.  

Look It Up on Wikipedia

Wikipedia is filled with the kinds of keywords and topics that you won’t find in Keyword Planner. One of the best resources in my keyword research journey was Backlinko’s Definitive Guide to Keyword Research In it, Brian Dean advocates using Wikipedia for keyword research. Keyword Planner is great at spitting out keywords that include your search terms. So when I inputted “beer” in Keyword Planner, it suggested keywords like “beer clubs,” “beer halls,” and “rare beers.” What it couldn’t do is suggest related keywords like “Belgian yeast,” “clarifying agent,” or “commercial hops,” none of which include the word “beer.”  

That’s where Wikipedia comes in, especially the Table of Contents which lists each section.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 6.04.52 PM   I found the Wikipedia entries for subjects like “beer,” “microbrewery,” and “beer in the United States,” and then I used Kimono to scrape the Table of Contents for each of those entries.  

Go Through Table of Contents for Books on Amazon

Also courtesy of Backlinko is this trick. Similar to Wikipedia, by finding books related to your topic on Amazon, you can often find their Table of Contents through the Look Inside/Preview feature, showing you images of the book pages. By adapting chapter titles to keywords, I found all kinds of words that didn’t include the word beer but were highly relevant to Startup X. In looking at the book How to Brew, for example, I found keywords like “malt extract,” “malt sugar,” “dry-hopping,” and “how to measure hops.”  

Step 2 (Do This if You Want to Learn More About Your Competitors):

 

Do Competitive Analysis on SEMrush:

As startup marketers know, SEMrush is a critically valuable tool for SEO, Paid Search, and Content because it tells you which keywords are driving the most traffic to your site and your competitors’ sites. In addition, you can see what keywords your competitors are bidding on, what their Adwords ads look like, and where they’re getting all their backlinks. I looked through the SEMrush pages for related beer sites like BeerAdvcoate, beer of the month sites, and also subscription box sites (even ones not related to beer) to see what keywords were bringing people to their sites.   My client hypothesized that wine subscription companies’ sites would be especially relevant because they often have the budgets to hire experienced marketers to properly optimize sites and run profitable Adwords campaigns.   Looking at ads was very helpful as well to help differentiate between top, middle, and bottom of the funnel keywords.   In competitive analysis there’s always a level of inference and hypothesis, but the guess was that keywords that were heavily bid on were more likely to be valuable to them and more likely to be valuable to Startup X.    

Step 3 (Do This Once You’ve Established Customer Personas):

 

Generate Keywords On Your Own

There’s nothing like rolling up your sleeves and brainstorming potential keywords. If you’re worried about being influenced by your research, you can do this in the very beginning.   I found I was better at thinking of broader topics (“homebrew recipes”, “beer pairings”) than long tail keywords, and after about 50 keywords, I was ready to move on.    

Analyze the Keywords on Your Own Site

I wanted to find which keywords Startup X currently had across its domain. This became especially valuable as I compared these keywords’ volume to the keywords I was generating with my other methods.   In doing so, I discovered that Startup X was (perhaps unknowingly) optimizing its title for two keywords that were relatively low volume in comparison to some similar keywords that were higher volume and no more difficult.

Get into your customers’ heads and brainstorm niche topics related to your product.

   

Create Keyword Niches for Each of Your Personas

This was maybe the most valuable of the techniques I used (and another learned from Backlinko). Here I tried to get into the heads of each of my personas to think of topics that surrounded the product being sold, in this case craft beer.   For foodies, for example, that meant topics like beer pairings, local beers, seasonal beer, beer education, and beer tours.   For gifters, I thought of all the ways they could land on Startup X as a perfect gift, such as gifts for dads, gifts for beer lovers, gifts for urbanites, and limited edition gifts.   I then put these niche topics into Keyword Planner to get suggested related keywords.  

Use Ubersuggest or KeywordTool.io

You know how as you’re typing a google search term, Google starts to make suggestions for what you might want to search for?   Ubersuggest and KeywordTool.io give you the ability the input any number of words and get all the possibilities that Google would suggest for you.   So when I input “beer” into Ubersuggest, it returned suggestions like “beer can chicken,” “beer cheese soup,” “beer cheese dip,” and “beer can chicken oven.”   I did the same with all my niche topics, and for terms like “craft beer” and “beer club.” It’s pretty easy to end up with some obscure long tail keywords if you search for very narrow-focused terms, but when I kept them broad enough, these search results provided some of my most valuable keywords.  

Step 4 (Do This if You’ve Been Around a Little While)

   

Check Out Your Traffic on Google Search Console

Google Search Console (previously called Google Webmaster Tools) allows you to see all the search terms that led people to your site. If you start to notice people arriving to your ski cap site with the keyword “ski cap made in USA,” you know there’s potential there for you to include the keyword “made in the USA” on your pages, in your content, and in your sales copy.   For an early stage startup like Startup X, Google doesn’t currently show it on many search engine results pages (SERPs) so almost everyone who comes through Google did so by searching for some variation of the keyword “Startup X.”  

The more established you are, the more data you will have to play with, and the more keywords you’ll find.

 

Step 5 (Everyone Should Do This)

 

Use Keyword Planner

Not surprisingly, Google’s own tool is the most powerful.   There are lots of options for generating keywords, from analyzing your landing page (which I did for startupx.com), exploring a product category (wine and beer collecting and brewing), to finding related keywords for any keyword you input (I used the niche topics I brainstormed).   Monthly search volume doesn’t properly account for seasonal variation, so if you have a seasonal product, try using Google Trends to get that data.  

Evaluating Keywords

  Don’t get overwhelmed! Now that you have a giant list, a few simple tactics will eliminate thousands of keywords.

How to Start When You Have a Giant List of Keywords

Now that I had my master list, I wanted to look at estimated monthly search volume and suggested bid. To do so, I had to run them through Keyword Planner.   As SEO’s are well aware, the monthly search volume as generated by Keyword Planner is often incorrect.   But Keyword Planner should provide rough ballparks, and it allows you to compare volume between keywords which I needed to rank my keywords. Comparing the search volume numbers generated by different platforms would be unreliable.  

Make Sure You Get All Your Keywords from Keyword Planner

First, I removed duplicates. Then I did a search for all special characters and removed them because Keyword Planner won’t show search volume for any keywords that include them.   No matter how many rows there are on the CSV you upload to Keyword Planner, it will only return a maximum of 800 keywords, so I broke them up into individual files and uploaded them one by one.   By downloading the results into individual CSV’s and consolidating the results, I was left with 8,549 keywords. And after sorting by search volume, I removed everything with less than a search volume of 100. That left me 1,880 keywords with plenty of long tail keywords.  

How to Evaluate Keywords

Evaluating keywords is the secret sauce to good keyword research, but no one says it’s easy.   “It’s very time-consuming and unfortunately today, it’s pretty manual,” Rand said. At the time of our conversation, he had just been whiteboarding a new product that could evaluate which keywords are most valuable.   As Rand explains, effectively evaluating keywords is especially difficult when your startup is early stage because you don’t know how long your customer journey will be and you don’t have data on how particular terms or phrases will perform.   “Do people convert after reading two or three posts on your blog? Do they convert after ten? Do they almost never convert but they amplify to the people who eventually do? It’s pretty challenging to know those things ahead of time,” Rand said.  

According to Rand, the most common mistake made by people new to keyword research is assuming that people will convert directly from a keyword to a transaction and then ignoring keywords that don’t immediately lead to conversions.

  “The path to conversion is a long and winding journey,” Rand said. “Ranking for a keyword and earning a visit is only a part of that long-winding journey. If you ignore that fact and ignore keywords that aren’t bringing you directly converting traffic, your competitors are probably going to take big advantage of that. And many times the long-term value of ranking for a keyword can be greater for keywords that don’t bring you directly converting traffic.”   To help you make informed guesses ahead of time, Rand has noticed that most sophisticated SEO’s judge keywords by four criteria:
  • Volume
  • Difficulty
  • Opportunity
  • Business Value
Based on these four, they then assign an aggregate priority score to ultimately rank the keywords and figure out which they should target first.   Here’s how I created my own version of his model:  

Volume

As rough and inaccurate it can be, Rand advocates using Keyword Planner to find keyword search volume.   “We’re in the process of evaluating other sources of data including SimilarWeb, which we think may have some really good data,” Rand said. “For now, Adwords is where I point people,”  

Difficulty

This estimates how difficult it would be for your page to rank for a given keyword.   “For that, you have to look at the top 10 results,” Rand said. “How powerful are the pages? How many links and how powerful are the links that point to these pages?”   While a more experienced SEO might actually dig through these pages to create a difficulty score themselves, I went straight to the Moz Keyword Difficulty Tool.   By accounting for the page and domain authority of the top twenty search results for any given keyword, Moz can give me a numeric value to tell me how likely it is that I could rank for that keyword.  

Opportunity

All SERPs are not created equal. For example, searching for “homebrew podcast” reveals a page with ten blue links and nothing else. As Rand explained, on pages such as these, the first result might get 45% of searchers clicking through to the page.   google 1   Compare that to the results for “growler,” which includes the Product Listing Ads at the top, a definition underneath, image results below the first result (a Wikipedia article), and Adwords ads at the bottom of the page (not shown in the picture below).   google 2 Even if your page ranks on the first page of a SERP like this one, your click-through rate (CTR) will be far lower than on a SERP like the one for “homebrew podcast.”   There’s no large scale tool to quantify this, but Rand did tip me off to a tool that Moz has created called Keyword Opportunity.   screenshot Described by Rand as an alpha product, there’s no CSV upload or download, so I ended up spending over an hour copy and pasting my keywords and transcribing the results in an Excel doc.   While in the future I’d likely outsource the task to Fiverr or Upwork, going through them manually taught me a lot about how Moz is calculating the opportunity score.   For the keyword “beer of the month,” the SERP includes nine Adwords ads, but the score remains a very high 81% (the higher the score, the larger the opportunity).   screenshot-1 Anyone who has advertised on Adwords knows how easily and often the ads are ignored. So if Startup X ranks as the first result, they’d still likely enjoy a high CTR on a SERP filled with Adwords ads like this. Sitelinks, on the other hand, immediately sinks the Keyword Opportunity score. Searching for “beer association” returns a first result with six sitelinks (“Insights & Analysis,” “State Craft Beer Stats,” etc.)   screenshot-2 Though you’re not bombarded with Adwords ads like with “beer of the month,” the keyword has a much lower opportunity score of 24% because those six sitelinks take up so much space and likely return an extremely high CTR for brewersassociation.org.   With the combination of those six site links and the Twitter section, this SERP only has room for six results.   Not much of a chance for Startup X to rank, and even if it did, its CTR would likely be very low.  

Business Value

“That’s the company’s internal estimate, from 1 to 10 or 1 to 100 for how important it is for that company to rank for that keyword,” Rand explained.  

Some factors to consider, according to Rand:

 
  • How directly someone will convert to becoming a customer by searching for that keyword
  • The value that keyword provides for a company
  • If it’s a branded keyword (like your company’s name), how important it is to your company to rank for that keyword
  I went through each keyword and assigned my estimate. Because I don’t have as much context as Startup X themselves to assign a score, I ended up scoring 1 through 3.   If it was a keyword that indicated that the searcher had a high level of interest in investigating or purchasing product like Startup X (such as “craft beer of the month club”), I assigned it a 3.   If the path to conversion looked less clear but it seemed to be a keyword that one of the three target personas would search for (such as “how to brew beer at home”), I assigned it a 2.   If the keyword had little to do with the target personas or was a more general beer term (such as “beer ingredients”), I assigned it a 1.   The next time around, I’ll likely do as Rand suggested and include a larger range like 1-10 because 1-3 didn’t quite give me enough variation.  

Priority Score

From these four scores, you create a fifth priority score.   From this Whiteboard Friday video in which Rand explores this topic further, it seems like experienced SEO’s consider each case individually and assign the score manually.   To create a provisional aggregate score, I threw the four criteria together in a quick and dirty equation:  

(Search Volume) x (Business Value) x (Opportunity Score) x (1 – (Keyword Difficulty))

  I subtracted the Keyword Difficulty from 1 because the lower the Keyword Difficulty, the better.   The idea here was that roughly each component would be weighted equally and the higher the score, the better.   This gave me a gigantic number, so I divided by 100 and rounded to whole numbers to make it a little easier to read.   Here’s a link to the spreadsheet format I used to evaluate my keywords.   (Note: Most keywords were removed on behalf of Startup X.)  

How did it work?

It certainly isn’t a perfect score, as I noticed that volume ended up having the biggest impact on the score.   So “IPA” has the highest priority score because it gets 90,500 searches when perhaps a more compelling keyword like “beer of the month club” ranks third despite also having a very high search volume of 22,200.   I ended up sorting by the various criteria and looking for the outliers to see what keywords looked like low hanging fruit. For example, I sorted by lowest keyword difficulty or lowest search volume and looked for keywords with an unusually high priority score. After sorting and resorting, I found about 20 keywords I thought were most relevant to Startup X.  

Conclusion:

  The process of selecting keywords is a lot like the keywords themselves. Much like there’s no one perfect keyword, there isn’t a cookie cutter method for everyone to follow. And the only way to know what works is to test out your educated guesses and see what works.   What I did learn was how to integrate keyword research into a broader goal of understanding customers by brainstorming niche topics related to a product and talking to customers directly.   I saw that following conversations about related topics on forums and digital media can yield new topics and keywords. Next time, I’ll likely look for these conversations on social media channels as well.   I found that the Table of Contents on Wikipedia and individual books can be valuable to better understand how others think about the product and related topics, and it seemed the most relevant for topic modeling and deciding site architecture.   I also learned to use the many ready-made tools that are available, such as SEMrush, Ubersuggest and Google Search Console.   And perhaps most importantly, I learned that the process of evaluating keywords is simultaneously art and science. Properly evaluating keywords is clearly something that an SEO gets more effective at with time, though the suite of Moz tools certainly helped me get started.   After going through this process, I found plenty of the type of keywords Startup X was looking for, those with just high enough search volume but low enough competition to be interesting. The next time you do keyword research, with these tips and tricks, hopefully you can too.