Understanding keyword harvesting
One of the most common mistakes enterprise teams make in foundational search optimization is not going deep during keyword-harvesting analysis, in order to significantly improve their page ranking to win search results.
Keyword-harvesting analysis, also known as keyword mapping (at a basic level) is a critical topic that isn’t discussed enough or is purposefully planned for. Lack of keyword planning creates a colossal mess down the road, often involving contextual auditing, business analysis and user experience review. The result? You might have to rebuild your site content and even URL logic.
So, I decided to introduce the topic and the steps required for complete on-page enrichment.
The end goal: to ensure the right keywords are being found on your pages (spoiler: it’s not as easy as it sounds).
The problem that prevents achieving the desired results: are tight internal timelines and competing marketing priorities. Rushed product marketing managers (PMM) can lead to copy that isn’t SEO mindful.
But what if I told you that you can both keep the PMMs happy and absolutely destroy it in the competitive share of voice end of things?
What is a keyword harvesting analysis and why does it matter for on-page optimization?
Imagine you’re shopping for a Richard Mille and decide to visit the Omega dealer to find out they carry IWC and Breitling timepieces? I’d be confused as well. Most growing SaaS company sites communicate this to bots when they crawl and “map” the context of their webpages.
If you want to stay relevant to your searching customers (and FYI: over 90% of B2B buyers start their search online), you need to attract the right person to the right page, or you risk higher bounce rates and lost market visibility, which leads to lost demo signups.
To attract the right buyer persona, you must ensure your keyword hygiene is impeccable, meaning keywords must be mapped to the right pages and understood by bots as correct.
So how do you determine if the right keywords are mapped to the correct pages? Read on:
Analyzing the keywords harvested on pages
Before doing intense keyword research, you should start with understanding and listing out the most important pages of your website (hint: products, solutions, use cases and integrations).
Then, you will analyze, by page, all the keywords being found on that URL. The goal is to understand:
- If the keywords are remotely on-topic (assuming that you understand the context of the business and product direction).
- If the keywords are ranking well (the relevant ones).
- If the keywords indicate correct intent (ex: how-to vs alternatives vs what-is).
- If the page is getting quality traffic.
Here’s how you do that:
In Google Search Console (GSC), filter by URL to check for queries
- Login or get access to your GSC.
- Click on the “Search Performance” tab.
- Add a condition on the top navigation menu to filter by page and insert your specific URL. (from your list of important URLs you’ve gathered).
- Look at the “Top Queries” tab.
- Don’t forget to ensure your time frame is at least 3+ months so that you get a stable understanding of the data trend.
For each specific URL, you’ll now see the harvested keywords (don’t forget the pagination on the bottom right as your URL might be gathering 50+ keys).
So what do you do with this data?
- Analyze the clicks and impressions to understand the visibility and engagement potency.
- Flag the keywords that DON’T make contextual sense to you (negative keywords).
- Flag the keywords that DO make sense (as you’ll have to research them later to find the relevant keys).
- On the top menu of search console, select CTR and Position to understand resonance and visibility — potential for conquering organic share of voice (OSOV).
Is Google Search Console the only tool to use? Absolutely not. You’ll need to complement your research by using a competitive intelligence toolset to help you discover more opportunities for the found keywords on the page and understand who from your competitors are positioning for prime pick phrases (how dare they!)
Now, let’s review how to use Semrush to understand existing keyword harvesting and supercharge your on-page contextual research:
Verify existing keywords with Semrush and search for opportunities
Using an open source intelligence (OSINT) toolset such as SemRush, Ahrefs or SpyFu (and many others) is a mandatory step in an intelligent, holistic page optimization approach as these tools provide additional data points such as volume, keyword difficulty, intent and competitive density. This helps you prioritize keyword selection. Let’s review how it’s done in SemRush:
1. Use the organic research tool and filter by exact URL
Running a search in SemRush by exact URL has a similar purpose as your GSC harvesting exercise. The main difference is that you’ll understand key data points that will help you with prioritization and building a saved keyword list. Basically, the first step is a sanity check to see what a tool outside of GSC sees on your page and then an analysis of those keys for prioritization.
- Volume: gives you the estimated search volume per month for the keyphrase. Although this metric should not be the primary driver of keyword selection, it does give you an understanding of which keywords may be more popular than others. Volume review should always be accompanied by trying to understand the intent of the keyword and who would be best served with this key. For example, consider these two keyword searches:
- What is OT asset management: The searcher may be someone new to the cybersecurity industry such as recent hire or doing initial research into the importance of the topic for their machinery-reliant organization.
- OT asset management solutions: The searcher already has a solution in place and is looking for a replacement or someone who is scaling their organization and looking for a reliable OT cybersecurity vendor (i.e. Armis Security).
- Difficulty (KD) and competitive density: This gives you a rough understanding of how hard it will be to position for a keyword should you compete for it. KD shouldn’t scare you if you find the right keyword. It just means you’ll just have to hire an SEO team who understands OSINT and is willing to put in the effort to position you.
- Related keywords: Just because you have killer keywords being associated with your page, it does not mean you should look for enrichment opportunities that spawn from analyzing each of the harvested keywords.
- Questions: You can verify each keyword that you are harvesting against the relevance of the intent of the searches. Analyzing the questions people are asking will also help you understand which editorial calendar topics or on-page FAQs to create.
Remember the bullets above as you’ll have to apply this same knowledge, by keyword, to the two research methods below:
2. Use the “keyword gap” analysis tool to compare against other like-pages
Now that you know how to conduct individual page analysis, it’s important to understand how to compare your target page’s harvested keywords to like-competitor pages, on one screen (see screenshots below). The value of this exercise is that you can visualize all keywords that are being positioned across multiple websites, for the same topic, this helps you validate:
- Which keywords your top competitors’ pages are harvesting versus your target page, in this case, you can see my site has 14 keywords while my main competitor has 53. This will give you a jumping-off point to try to understand, for example, if all 53 keywords, in this case, are relevant/if you should position them on your site as well.
- For the positions of valuable keywords, keep in mind someone may have many keywords harvested, but if they are ranking in positions 20+ (3rd search engine page +), it doesn’t really matter, the goal is to have the majority if not all of the cared for keywords on the top 15 positions.
- A visual overlap of shared words may indicate stronger competitive relevance.
- Validate or give new ideas to editorial direction, as some keyphrases cant always be positioned on a page, but they can be positioned in a blog, faq, case study, etc.
Note that I keep using the word “like-pages”, that’s because finding pages to compare against to isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem, especially in B2B SaaS. Many companies will use various branded terminology or have collaged pages with the information you’re looking to compare against.
So, the key here is to understand and find the page that is contextually closest in relevancy to what you are trying to achieve with your page, If a competitor doesn’t have a page like the one you are trying to build, it is okay to look over their resources to see if you can find a like blog/article/solution brief to compare against.
Keyword Gap screenshot 1 of 2
Keyword Gap screenshot 2 of 2
3. Use the position tracking tool for a competitive time trend analysis
Let’s say you’ve done your individual page and competitive harvesting research, you’re now confident in the key phrases you want to position, but how do you track your progress, against competitors over time? You’ll need to build a SemRush project or a Google Sheet to do that. This way, you can see which phrases are holding, declining, increasing in, or appearing as new on your site & page against your competitors.
- Create a SemRush project
- Insert your competitor’s domains
- Add your keywords and tag them
- Monitor your keys over time
Preparing for on-page keyword mapping
Know your topic clusters
But of course, all of the above sounds easy until we get to the keyword cluster conversation, welcome to contextual hell. To be able to analyze, gather and position a page coherently, my assumption throughout this article is that you know the deep context of the business. As in, you liaise with PMMs, Sales, Partner Managers and Content teams regularly, with a monthly touchpoint to understand product-to-market fit and the company’s detailed direction.
Here are some pointers to get you started (creating topic clusters is a beast on its own which, so read the linked article):
- Yes, even if you are new to the marketing team you can still position a B2B page relatively well in search, but it will never be as perfect as it should be if you’ve done your clustering research and planning ahead of time. Remember you can position a page, but then create endless conflict downstream for the content team if the strategy is not holistic, resulting in keyword cannibalization (covered below).
- For the best end-to-end keyword harvesting analysis and execution results, you’ll need to start with understanding which clusters of keywords you want to position, then segment them by page section types. For example, segment your keyword to be exclusive for:
- Core navigational pages
- Product page
- Solution pages
- Blogs (and various types of blogs)
- White papers
- Solution briefs
- Docs or FAQ centers
- Change logs
- Videos & webinars
Map keywords to your core navigational pages
Since this is supposed to be a sort-of quick start guide, let’s cover the most important pages of your website, the product, solution, integration and/or use-case pages. You’ll apply all of the above knowledge by page.
Focusing on enriching the pages in your navigation menu is critical as those pages typically have the shortest click path, have or will have the highest internal ranks and Google knows you deem them as important.
- Understand your keyword clusters/groups
- Designate the most important keys (typically navigational and commercial) to be on specific pages
- Run an existing harvesting analysis via GSC
- Run a competitive analysis using an OSINT search toolset
- Create an SEO toolset project (we covered SemRush in this case) or Google Doc
- Tag your keywords so that you can segment and analyze by detailed keyword cluster that relates to your pages
Map potential page conflicts
For every page you enrich, map all possible pages that might have similar content to prevent keyword collision. If you found multiple pages that are very similar, here are some prioritization questions you should run through:
- What are the current traffic and user engagement metrics for the existing pages?
- If the page is old or has thin content, is there merit in just redirecting it to the target page you want to enrich?
- Is there a clear opportunity to segment the keyphrases of the pages via on-page optimization? So for example if the page you are enriching has one purpose vs the existing long-form article, can you make a clear distinction between the two by adjusting the page structure of the exiting older post/page?
Be mindful of keyword cannibalization
I’ve mentioned keyword cannibalization a couple of times throughout the read and it’s worth its own brief section.
By focusing on the step above on page conflicts, you’ll be much less likely to create pages that compete for the same keywords, resulting in a no-win scenario.
Ensure you don’t skip on contextual imagery
Hands down the most common issue in B2B SEO is neglecting image alt text, an easy opportunity that is overlooked.
The underlying reason why image SEO is overlooked is a lack of prior planning and preparation – which is a sign of disjointed strategic thinking. By focusing on enriching your pages with context-relevant images, you will further be able to enhance your page for SERP snippets, as an example, or better direct the user journey down the page.
Correctly designating images is also very important to comply with accessibility standards as well as will enhance your brand resonance, a win-win scenario.
Is keyword harvesting analysis mandatory in enterprise SEO?
Yes, keyword harvesting and mapping is arguably even more crucial in enterprise SEO. Since this kind of SEO works on a large scale, making sure there is no keyword overlap or cannibalization becomes even more important. Keyword harvesting will help you pick highly targeted keywords for all your product pages, ensuring that incoming SEO traffic is more likely to convert
What are the top free tools to analyze on-page keywords?
- Google Search Console’s Page filter option to see top queries
- SpyFu’s on URL inspection tool
- SemRush organic research tool
- Productive Shop’s Keyword Mapper
Should I involve product marketing managers in page enrichment exercises?
Absolutely, product marketing managers often know a considerable amount about the product, and working closely with them will allow for a deep contextual understanding of the product to customer needs fit. This knowledge can be invaluable when deciding how keywords should be arranged on a page and for content calendar topic creation.
How often should I review on-page keyword mapping?
You should review keywords regularly depending on how fast trends move in your niche. Reviewing keyword mapping at least once a month is an excellent practice to ensure you are up to date with any new keywords your pages could be ranking for or any keyword cannibalization that may be occurring.
Should copywriters understand keyword harvesting analysis?
Copywriters should always be aware of important keyword research methods. Having this specialized knowledge allows them to avoid accidental keyword cannibalization and also enrich content on their own via keywords they may come across during article research. Writers can only be given the leeway to enrich their content with more keywords if they are aware of how good keyword research is done.
Imran is the founder and CEO of Productive Shop. He writes on B2B demand generation and SEO strategy topics to help startups understand how to win digital share of voice. Prior to Productive Shop, Imran led demand generation at an Oracle consultancy, ran an e-commerce site servicing LE teams and helped build PMO offices at technology startup companies. When he’s not at work, Imran can be spotted hiking in the Rockies, honing his clay shooting skills and tumbling off of black diamond ski tracks due to overconfidence in his skiing abilities.