It’s not every day I get to work with a not-for-profit credit union that does incredible things for the community, but for this keyword analysis project, I was honored to work with one in my very own city: Phoenix. I was tasked with helping the lead generation team for Arizona’s largest credit union develop an SEO-based content editorial calendar.
Our goal? To boost conversion and membership, while providing content that was closely relevant to their target audience.
And the project worked better than expected, with the keyword analysis driving outcomes that were more than 10x what they’d projected. By understanding exactly what people were looking for online, and what they needed to know before changing banks, or applying for a loan—and using that data to create and promote high quality content that answered those questions—the credit union was able to lift organic traffic by more than 110%—increasing content readership to almost a half million visitors for the 2021 calendar year—and boost conversion by almost 300%.
Plus, when looking at content traffic one year after launch, the new content and improved SEO was working so well that one of the blog posts defined by the project actually brought in 23% of their blog traffic that year. From just one of the top priority keywords we discovered! An impressive 85% of those reading that piece of content lived in Arizona, too; the credit union’s service area. This underscored that we were on the right track, with content that was on target and relevant to the right audience in their service area.
For some pieces of new content defined by the project, Google Analytics showed jumps in traffic measured by the infinity symbol, and multiple with jumps exceeding 12,000%. It was very satisfying.
To hear what this client has to say, watch the video below.
Below it, you’ll find a bit of detail about the project, my process and how we achieved those results. Nothing confidential, of course, but enough to give you an idea of what keyword analysis looks like.
What Were We Hoping To Achieve?
Before providing Desert Financial Credit Union with an estimate for the project, it was important to first have a call to discuss the outcomes they were hoping for, and determine if keyword analysis was the best solution. Were we a good match? Was it the right solution to achieve what they wanted? Could I be successful in helping them hyper-focus their content?
It was an exciting call. Their content strategist was looking for someone to help them align content with more of a data-driven approach, so we talked through how keyword analysis could help them come up with the right topics, bring in the right target audience, and even more importantly—understand exactly what their key audiences were searching for, and develop a custom keyword plan around those topics. How keyword analysis would help them make decisions based on data, instead of assumptions or guesswork.
Boom. Everything fell into place and it was a match.
Kicking Off the Discovery Session
Once a new client signs on the dotted line, the very first thing that happens is a discovery session. It’s often my only opportunity to explore the company and its products and services, immerse myself in their customers’ and prospective customers’ mindsets, and take a close look at their content marketing and conversion funnels.
I had 90 minutes to absorb as much of their expertise as I could.
Who are their members? What makes them switch banks? Choose a credit union? Apply for a loan? What are their top products and the audience for each one, and what do they know about the decision process behind conversions? The more knowledge I could gain from discovery, the easier it would be to understand search intent and target the right keywords.
They had a large marketing team with a lot to share, including detailed personas and data from their agencies, and we ran out of time quickly. We ended up splitting the discovery session into two sessions, focusing the second one exclusively on their content marketing activities and strategies. Since this project’s focus was to develop an SEO-based content editorial calendar, it made sense.
Working with this credit union was particularly delightful, due to the sophistication of their marketing team and their understanding of their customers. It was deeper than most. For some clients, our discovery session is the first time they’ve explored this, and it can be revolutionary for their marketing team; but in this case, they had the answer to any question I threw their way. It was impressive and seriously fun.
By the end of the two discovery sessions, I had the knowledge I needed to move forward, and we’d whittled down our initial list of 60+ potential keyword clusters down to an approved list of 35.
Then, we were off to the races. Let the keyword research begin!
I’m not afraid to share specific details of how one of my project works, because it’s not rocket science. It’s keyword research under a microscope, expanded into dozens of niche clusters that allow me to dive into the data that really matters.
I generally rely on SEMrush as my primary tool, and validate their data using a second source, sometimes a third. For this project, Moz and Google Keyword Planner were my validators.
But here’s the difference that others can’t duplicate. It’s not the keyword research; that’s pretty straight forward, although it takes a certain level of expertise to identify the right keyword clusters based on how Google interprets them. The magic shows up in the analysis of that keyword research.
It’s my ability to take dozens of keyword clusters— with thousands of keywords for each cluster—and successfully narrow down that data to a handful of keyword priorities most likely to drive conversion. It’s having the expertise to whittling 30,000 keywords down to just 30 or 40, maybe 60.
We were looking for a years’ worth of content.
Without being able to attach intent to a keyword, know its potential to convert, and be able to map it to a desired outcome, how can you be sure it’s the right one? It’s not easy.
For me, it’s understanding the difference between the various types of intent, but also knowing when to ignore those labels. After all, a software tool can’t understand audience state-of-mind and apply that to search intent, no matter how good their AI might be.
Neither can someone without the right experience.
Most don’t have a background like mine, and most don’t specialize in keywords.
Here’s an example. One of the most important keyword clusters for this client revolved around “changing banks.” It signified a potential new member. Most of the keywords in this cluster crossed between educational intent and transactional intent—changing to a new bank was obviously their goal. Some were thinking about it, based on the questions they’d searched, and some were ready to make the change.
But a keyword phrase that showed someone ready to change banks did not mean they were the right type of customer. Choosing by intent was just one factor in the decision process. It also made sense to look for specific types of new customers who would create revenue long-term for the credit union; potential customers who were likely to remain at the credit union long-term and who were financially stable enough to be potential loan customers for auto and home loans. So while certain keyword phrases fit the “transactional intent” label, they signified the wrong type of customer. “How to switch banks” and “which banks are giving money to switch” were neutral enough, but search queries for keyword phrases like “how many times can you switch bank accounts,” “how soon can you switch banks” and “can I change banks with an overdraft” signaled people who might not be the right audience. Intent was there, but the phrases reveal a person who might bounce from bank to bank, and perhaps struggled financially.
While that might be attractive to some banks as a source of fees, this credit union wasn’t motivated by fees. They wanted members who would stay long-term. After all, the not-for-profit’s ability to put money back into the community depended on their own financial success, right?
Better choices for this cluster were keywords such as, “best time to switch banks” (someone who has already made the decision to change, but perhaps not where), “can I change my checking account number” (you cannot without changing accounts, so the right content on this topic could inspire the reader to change banks) and “is it bad to change bank accounts?” (someone who cares about their credit history and financials).
Here’s another example.
Search volume can signify how popular a keyword phrase might be, and the potential number of visitors it might bring to the content. For instance, we discovered “switch banks” has a much, much higher search volume than “change banks“… a nuance that matters when it comes to writing content. But volume isn’t always the deciding factor.
A keyword phrase with less volume but higher relevance and potential to convert often makes a better choice.
The phrase “best credit unions” might seem attractive with a search volume of 9,900, but the phrase “how to join a credit union” is much better, in terms of conversion. It has a fraction of the volume, but anyone searching that phrase who lives in the credit union’s service area is looking to make an immediate decision to change banks. They aren’t looking for a job, an audience the first search query might include; the intent is clearer and more targeted. Therefore, we identified this phrase as a keyword priority for the content editorial calendar.
Any lead coming in from that search had potential.
(By the end of the calendar year, it ended up being the blog post that drove 23% of their content’s website traffic.)
We also dismissed “what is a credit union“—another high volume keyword phrase with weak audience targeting. It could be a college student taking a finance class and writing a paper, someone looking for an entry level job in banking, someone looking for a bank who stumbled across credit unions in their search, or anything else. The term was too generic.
I won’t share any other data from this particular project, but I hope it’s enough to give you a sampling of my thinking behind the analysis, and how understanding state-of-mind of an audience matters. It trumps whatever intent a keyword tool might assign.
Because of how Google delivers search results and how the algorithm interprets certain keyword phrases, it took five separate keyword clusters to explore what seems like a single area of research: changing banks.
Someone without deep experience in keyword research wouldn’t know this, and it’s just one of the ways that keyword analysis differs from keyword research. It is much more time intensive, allowing deeper keyword research and time to think, and it applies that data to specific deliverables and measurable outcomes.
Out of the entire keyword analysis project, keyword research was actually the shortest phase.
Interpreting those results, then collaborating and refining them into a deliverable took far longer.
Interpreting the Results
The next phase of the project is always the most difficult—after presenting the findings, we collaborate to determine the final selection of keyword phrases.
There are always keyword opportunities that seem perfect for a client, but require discussion to deeply explore buyer intent and their sales processes. Talking through my recommendations and aligning them to the client’s needs and priorities is a critical step. Which keywords simply don’t fit with their corporate messaging? Which ones use language or jargon they prefer to avoid? Where are the biggest gaps between their content and keyword phrases their prospective members actually use in search queries? Which clusters are more important than others, because they are connected to certain products they’re focusing on with their marketing strategy, or revenue goals?
We collaborate until we’ve reduced my initial recommendations to a smaller pool of keywords that target exactly the right person at the right moment, and are high-conversion opportunities. We collectively decide on our final keyword priorities.
Then we map those selections to a content editorial calendar.
For this client, the initial findings included ten keywords (and keyword phrases) for each keyword cluster… ending up with around 400 keywords. Since the credit union produced around 120 pieces of content annually, that was three year’s worth of content production; we had to narrow down the list to just one year’s worth of content, before mapped the keywords to specific content headline suggestions.
Once this was done, the client added in content from their existing editorial calendar that they wanted to keep, and imported the final version into the CMS (Content Management System) used for production by their marketing team and agency partners.
My work was almost done.
Wrapping Things Up
When it comes to my keyword analysis work, I offer two different types of deliverable: (1) a content editorial calendar or (2) a keyword plan for their website. For this client, it was the editorial calendar.
They took the deliverable I provided, then assimilated it into their content management system (CMS), because they wanted to balance SEO-based content with an assortment of other topics that were important to them. It also had to allow room for content generated by their public relations team.
That step wasn’t the end of my work, though. As with most clients, providing support as they roll out the integration is important. So for this client, finalizing the calendar was followed by discussions on how best to integrate certain keywords, strategies and tactics for updating older content, and an hour or two of SEO training… just to ensure current best practices were being used by the copywriters and editors as content went into production.
I always like to set aside 3-4 hours for support after a project wraps up, for exactly these types of things. You never know what a client might ask for, and where a small amount of expertise can make a big difference.
Today, a year later, their blog is a valuable source of content for members and non-members, and its generating results. They’d hoped for a 10% lift in organic traffic, and it grew more than 110%—more than doubling visitors to their blog content initially, and jumping to almost a half a million content readers for the 2021 calendar year.
The highest performing blog post was one that came specifically out of this project, accounting for 23.24% of their traffic in 2021. And of those visitors, 85% live in Arizona. Nice, right?
Not only was there growth, but it was successfully focused geographically on Arizona visitors; the exact audience they needed to grow revenue.
Even better, conversion grew 271% for Arizona website traffic, too, and as high as 1,222%, 1,533% and 2,525% for some individual products (home mortgages, auto loans and auto refinancing, respectively). Making that shift from assuming they knew what people wanted to read to knowing exactly what their customers were searching for? Well, it boosted relevance, which bumped up conversion.
When the new content was marketed across all of their channels, including paid, social and earned media… conversion spiked across the board. It wasn’t just a result of this project, since it was the collaborative effort of the entire marketing team and their agencies of record; however, organic traffic improvements created by this project were a key part of that success.
“Keyword research is the foundation of our content strategy now,” says Wendy Brooks, Desert Financial Credit Union’s content strategist. “Being able to drill down into those different areas and see what different audiences are looking for at different times has been the bedrock of our strategy.”
“It’s helped us grow the expertise, authority and trust within our brand, which is really important to us.”
“The work she’s done helped us elevate our content, and we are seeing fantastic results in organic traffic growth directly related to her work,” adds AVP Channel Marketing Ken Schneider. “I would highly recommend her and hope to continue to work with Carrie for the foreseeable future.”
If you have questions or just want to chat about SEO or keyword analysis, LinkedIn is the best place to reach me. However, if you’d like to explore if keyword analysis might be a good fit for your business, click on the phone or email icon at the top of any page, or schedule time directly on my calendar using the “Book a Call” button on the bottom right corner of the home page.