Business is a sport.

Just like great athletes, companies that plan and execute rarely fail. It’s also the most competitive, paranoid and forward-thinking athletes and companies that succeed.

Successful organisations know this.

Billionaire founder Mark Cuban defines business as the ultimate sport that is played 24/7 and 365 days a year. Locker rooms and Board rooms are equally accustomed to hearing coaches and CEOs blast their teams with “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Most companies, like athletes, also know that a plan is useless without great execution. Herb Kelleher, founder of the world’s first low-cost airline, declared strategy a simple concept: strategy is simply getting stuff done.

In the next few blogs we explore some analogies that we use on our Understand Google Course to teach Search Engine Marketing.

All of our analogies are based on planning, execution and analysis – the three steps of a successful digital advertising strategy.

Analogies are a great way to learn as they explain new concepts by referencing the familiar. They are memorable too which means they are highly effective when putting learned theory into practice.

We love the thought of a Chief Executive querying her Head of Marketing’s keyword strategy by thinking about imperialism, fishing nets and casting rods. Or a Venture Capitalist valuing a potential investment by analysing online customer acquisition through the prism of football formations. [Note: Jose Mourinho is not a Search Marketer. But if he was, he’d be damn good at it.]

These analogies sound strange but they work.

We know they work as we’ve successfully coached hundreds of clients on SEO and AdWords whilst working at Google.

Today we’re starting the blog series with our analogy about empire.

Successful businesses use Search Engine Marketing like they’re empire-builders 

“Successful businesses see themselves as digital empire-builders.  And keywords on Search Engines as their lands to conquer.”

Empires were all about land. Those with more usually did best. Land provided resources which brought food, industry and trade which generated financial power and more land … ad infinitum.

It’s no different with the internet. Successful businesses are digital landgrabbers who see Search Engine Marketing as the virtual cornering of a market. The smartest marketers understand search queries as pieces of real estate. They carefully select which search queries they want to appear against using data tools (Keyword Planner, Google Trends, Search suggest and Related Searches to name but a few) and then ruthlessly focus on dominating these through SEO (informative and engaging on-page content and strong off-page links) and AdWords (Quality Score busting AdWords campaigns with high Click Through Rates) based on these search queries.

Drawing the Map

So how do you determine which search queries to conquer? Or in industry terms – how should you do keyword planning?

The answer is using data.

The primary tool you should use for drawing the map is Google’s Keyword Planner. This free tool gives you keyword ideas using historical data and also provides an indication of the bids and budgets needed for competitive AdWords campaigns.

There are three data points that we advise you analyse from Keyword Planner that will give you an indication of value. Or to continue the empire analogy: three numbers that will tell you which lands are worth grabbing.

Google Keyword Planning formula

We deployed this formula, alongside others, when advising clients at Google. It is also great to see that SEM Wizz Larry Kim, Wordstream’s CTO, also uses this formula.

The first is search volume. This indicates how many times a keyword is searched for and gives a business a straight-up metric for demand. Search volumes are so powerful that epidemiologists use them to predict flu trends across the world.

A business wants to be displaying ads against (AdWords) or building site architecture and content (SEO) around keywords that people are searching for. So the higher the search volume, the more valuable that keyword is. It’s the equivalent of valuing land for its minerals and resources – there’s way more value to be extracted from keywords with high search volumes.

The second is Suggested Bid. It may seem counterintuitive to select your keywords based on higher costs but Suggested Bid is a proxy for advertiser demand or auction intensity. Because AdWords is a performance based solution, advertisers are willing to bid more on valuable keywords and will stop bidding on keywords that are not generating conversions.

It’s the same logic as deciding to invest in property or go to a restaurant because of higher prices. A sustained high price reflects high demand.

The third metric is competition. This metric tells you the number of advertisers that showed on each keyword relative to all keywords across Google. After the data is downloaded into Excel (we run through the steps below), the competition number will be range from 0.00 to 1.00, with 1 indicating highest competition. As it’s the denominator in the Land Grabbing formula above, higher competition will reduce a keyword’s value in the analysis.

Even though the last two of these metrics use historical data from AdWords, you can safely assume that these insights also apply to Search Engine Optimisation. Usually when an advertiser is bidding on a keyword in AdWords, they are also investing in developing their organic presence on it too (SEO).

In short, the formula finds valuable keywords that your potential customers are searching for (Search Volume), which advertisers are prepared to bid more for (Suggested Bid) but which not too many advertisers are bidding on (Competition).

How do you use Google’s Keyword Planner to get the Land Grabbing Formula?

Go to Google’s Keyword Planner. You need an AdWords account to sign-in but this is very simple and free to set up.

Google Keyword Planner Homescreen

Step 1: Once you’ve signed in, click on ‘Search for new keyword and Ad Group ideas’.

Google Keyword Planner Step 1

Step 2: Then type in what you see as the main description of what you’re selling in the box beneath ‘Your product or service’. We’ve typed in ‘help desk software’. We recommend you type about 25 core words that are relevant to your business in here.

Google Keyword Planner Step 2

Step 3: Then click the ‘Keyword ideas’ tab and then ‘Add to Plan’.

Keyword planner step 3a

You then need to click ‘review estimates’ down the right hand side. Google Keyword Planner will now simulate an auction based on some hypothetical bids and budgets. Enter a large number for both bid and daily budget here to maximise the amount of keyword data it will generate. Notice as a consequence of your high numbers for keyword bids and budget, once you click ‘Get Detailed Estimates’, it’s giving you the data as if you’ve got number 1 Average Position for your keywords.

Remember this is your target: to grab all the precious lands that are relevant to your business.

Now we are ready to download these keyword suggestions into Microsoft Excel by clicking the download button above the toolbar. Choose Excel CSV from the popup.

Step 4: Then keep columns Keyword, Average Monthly Searches, Competition and Suggested Bid for First Place and delete the others.

Google Keyword Planner Excel Step 4

Step 5: Write the Landgrabbing formula by multiplying B2 (Keyword) with D2 (Suggested Bid) and then divide this by C2 (Competition). Copy the formula down all of the keywords.

Google Keyword Planner Formula

Step 6: Sort all the data by sorting the Landgrabbing formula from Largest to Smallest.

Keyword Planning Formula Sort

Step 7: Highlight and remove all the keywords that are irrelevant to your business. In this case, a generic ‘help desk’ search will not be relevant as this will be customers searching for a particular help desk number for a business. Information queries like ‘What is a database’ is also not worth grabbing.

Remove irrelevant keywords

Step 8: Pick the top twenty keywords from your formula. These are the virtual lands that your business need to set sail towards and conquer.

Top keywords from Google Keyword Planner

 Building your armies 

Now that you’ve got your targets, you need to build your armies to go grab them.

You need to deploy your best weapons on capturing these treasured lands. This means creating great AdWords campaigns that will maximise Quality Score (so you get a better AdRank for less cost) and a great site architecture, on-site content and inbound links for Search Engine Optimisation based on these keywords.

Washington Crossing Delaware

We will write in more depth about what we mean by ‘best weapons’ in the form of PPC and SEO in later blogs. You will also learn these if you enrol on our one-day Understand Google course.

Analyse and adapt

The last part is to constantly analyse and adapt if necessary.

Just like successful imperial generals had plans and then executed against these, the best digital marketing teams use data to find the virtual land that is worth grabbing and are then tenacious in grabbing it. But they also make sure to keep score using data and then double-down on what’s working and adapt course if it’s not.

It’s just about knowing the right signals when in battle.

Who needs to know about digital empire building?

If you’re a Chief Executive or Head of Marketing, you should ask your team tomorrow if they digital land-grabbing. If yes, get them to qualify that they are grabbing the right land and how they are keeping score. If they are not, they need to be be.

If you run an advertising agency, you need to make sure all your new hires are knowledgeable about Search Engine Marketing so they can help your clients become digital empire builders. Even if you don’t offer SEM, your teams need to understand how Search Engine Marketing works so that your solutions are complementary.

If you’re a Venture Capitalist, you need to do your digital due diligence that involves spotting digital empire-builders. Identifying companies that have performed well despite not knowing about digital empire-building also signal good investments.

Digital Ignorance is not bliss. Especially when those around you are busily building their digital empires.


Note: we are not imperialists. This post is in no way a reflection of our politics. For the record, we believe in democracy and the importance of state self-determination and sovereignty.

We’d love to know if you use analogies to help you understand and implement things in your businesses. Please share any examples, or any thoughts and comments below.