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SEO marketing has never been more critical to the success of an online business. Analysts at comscore.com report that the e-commerce market hit $289 billion in 2012, and is growing at a 13% annual rate – and that business is driven enormously by traffic generated by search engine results. The beauty of capturing some of that traffic is that you can constantly adjust your keyword strategy, responding to changes in results and to shifting market conditions. And of course, the real pain of SEO-based marketing is that if you want to keep up with shifting market conditions, you’ve got to constantly adjust your keyword strategy…

But constant adjustment just isn’t practical. Even if the time and energy that keyword analysis takes were free, sometimes you have to leave things alone for a bit so that you can gather data for your analytics! Yet it’s also obvious that keyword strategy isn’t something you can set in stone and walk away from. How can you find a rational balance? The key is to recognize WHY you need to reorganize, refine and redeploy – that gives you a solid metric to apply, which will tell you whether to trigger an adjustment cycle.

The five most important and most widely applicable metrics to look at are Performance, Seasonality, Language Shift, Competitive Change and Market Trends.

Performance

One of the most important elements in assessing your strategy is obviously how well it performs in delivering your desired audience. Your target audience and your current market position are both relevant here; if your one-man-show is aiming for the same keywords as the titans of your industry, your performance is likely to be relatively poor. At the same time, you do not want to leave traffic on the table. If your audience demographics are shifting, or if your standing and authority in the industry are on the move, then it is probably time to revisit your keyword selections.

Seasonality

Nobody searches for ski gear in June and “4th of July bargains” is not a key phrase of interest on December 24. Take note not only of the major holidays and seasonal changes, but things specific to your industry and business such as annual conventions or periodic newsmaking events.

Language Shift

It happens more slowly, but just as surely, as the change in season – the words people use to refer to concepts change over the months and years. Pay attention to the words your customers tend to use in discussing your products and services, and as new words displace old ones, you’ll want to refine your keywords. Also remember that the relative strength of subterms will change over time, so your choice of terms to emphasize might need revision.

Competitive Change

As your industry’s competitive landscape changes, strategies can open up that were previously not viable. For example, if a major competitor goes out of business or changes its product line, then traffic for a specific keyword you had previously ceded to them might be a lot more practical to capture.

On the flip side, new competitor entry may make previously safe keywords vulnerable. Brand name changes, major ad campaigns (by you or by other companies) and other shifts in the industry are all events that can trigger a need for strategic rethink.

The other side of every industry is of course the consumers. If customers develop a sudden interest in a new type of product, or if shopping habits shift, your keyword choices may need to shift as well. It will be important to poll customers both online and offline, as well as to examine your SEO metrics, to capture this kind of information – remember that searches where the consumer doesn’t find you, because you aren’t showing up on the radar for their searches, are keywords that you ought to be capturing and aren’t.

Here’s the key takeaway from all this: business is never static. Markets change, tastes vary, competition rises and falls, markets and economies boom and bust – you can’t stand still because nobody else is. Not every change in the business environment will impact your SEO strategy, but many of them will and you have to stay on top of it.

Identify the key factors that are most important in your particular industry and be ready to make strategic moves when those key factors change. Every shift in the competitive landscape represents an opportunity, and either you will grab those opportunities – or your competitors will.

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