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Market segmentation in keyword marketing

Keyword marketing is one of the most important levers in search engine marketing. It largely entails research and selection of keywords that are appropriate for SEO and SEA. Since this step is usually conducted at an early stage in search engine marketing, the right choice of keywords holds an enormous potential.

New paths in the keyword jungle

Commonly searched keywords that are directly or indirectly connected to a purchase intention are one of the prerequisites for effective and successful online marketing. However, such keywords are also common among your other competitors and are therefore considered to be "too overused" in most cases. This increases the difficulties in the fight for the top ranking positions in search engine results.

At the same time, the number of Internet users is increasingly steadily. The emergence of new topics and new forms of search requests continuously leads to new keywords. So, how do you pave the way for new approaches in this new keyword jungle?

In order to help you answer this question, this article is going to present appropriate approaches for keyword segmentation. Here, it is assumed that all keywords used by customers constitute the entirety of the demand signals in the online channel. Every keyword used by customers depicts a specific expectation from the "Internet" and on Google. Segmentation of keywords as demand signals helps you exploit new demand and user segments.

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Keyword segmentation – classic

Keyword segmentation is not entirely new. The so-called commercial intent keywords are well-known and extremely relevant in this context. Here, the common "money keys" also play a key role. These include terms such as

  • buy

  • order

  • shop

  • online

  • shipping etc.

which are used by users in connection with a product that they want to purchase.

Google’s Micro-moments are also a form of segmentation. These summarize the intention, context, and content. Micro-moments include commercial intent keywords such as:

  • I want to go

  • I want to know

  • I want to do

  • I want to buy (= commercial Intent).

The idea behind the micro-moment concept is based on ensuring that shops and website operators use a stable pattern in the search intention so that they can be perceived as a problem solver. However, micro-moments are only helpful in the competition for high-reach and commercially interesting keywords if they lead to previously unknown segments. And this is only true to a limited extent. For example, "I want to go" keywords may be as effective as "I want to buy" keywords for a restaurant in Cologne, whereas "I want to know" and "I want to do" keywords are common in non-commercial user intentions. Besides, it is increasingly becoming difficult to entice users to purchase on your website, especially with the rather impatient, mobile users.

"Related search terms" or Google’s "latent semantic index" also provide key indications of the search behavior in the different keyword market segments. However, if the competition for the main keyword is high, the keywords associated with it will also be quite popular among competitors.

The keyword market is therefore highly competitive hence making it necessary to find alternative concepts.

“Blue Ocean” keywords

Many of you are certainly familiar with the Blue Ocean strategy by Kim and Mauborgne. This strategy establishes that companies can achieve lasting success by simply differentiating themselves e.g., through complete redefinition of a product. The most famous example is "Cirque de Soleil", which redefined "circus" by leaving out animal acts and instead opted to redesign performances based on a specific motto. This paved the path for what is now an urban and well-educated audience, which would have been impossible with the classic circus events.

The Blue Ocean concept therefore provides a search path that facilitates the product differentiation. This search path concept can also help open new segments in keyword marketing. The idea is to look for alternative formats and needs for which the product is suited.

Below are some search paths that can help in this regard:

  • For which products is our product an alternative?

  • Which factors characterize our competitors and how can we differentiate ourselves from these factors?

  • Are there other stakeholders who influence the purchase decision besides the customers?

  • Are there any complementary products and services that are less competitive in the online market?

  • Are there any emotional purchase motives that can be considered in the keywords?

  • Are there any lasting trends that change the perspectives of a problem?

Blue Ocean keywords seem promising, but a comprehensive systematic research is required for you to discover the right terms. The example below illustrates this using the highly competitive keyword, "Distance Learning".

Alternative products

One alternative product for Distance Learning is Further Education. A keyword research for "Further Education" shows that keywords associated with "Further Education" have an average competitive factor of 19,87% whereas those associated with "Distance Learning" have an average competitive factor of 76,05%. At the same time, the average search volume of keywords on "Further Education" is 2,841 whereas the keywords associated with "Distance Learning" are only searched about 167 times on average.

Screenshot-Keywords-Further-Education-Distance-Learning Keywords keyword marketing keyword

Figure 1: Keyword research for the keywords "Further Education" and "Distance Learning"

Rival keywords

A search for "Distance Learning" delivers both SEA and SEO rankings for "Distance Learning". The top 10 show the main terms in this field. These are "Distance Learning", "Distance Courses", and "Distance Schools". New terms, such as "Online Studies" and "Blended Learning" appear very rarely. These terms shed light on terms like "Online Learning", "Online Studies", and "Studying Online" and have lower competition than "Distance Learning".

Stakeholders in the purchase decision

Besides the students, employers, partners, or even parents might also play a role when it comes to making a decision on distance learning. What are these additional stakeholders likely to search for? For employers who are reluctant to share the workforce of their employees, terms such as "Further Education" could also be relevant. As for the partners, a hint on the amount of time required for the distance learning could be important. Both these aspects provide you access to new customers based on specific keywords.

Complementary products associated with the purchase decision

You can also access prospect distance learners through complementary products. People who are interested in distance learning could have the need to improve their English before undertaking to pursue a course in International Business Administration. Here, a keyword research for "English for studies" could also offer you key access to prospect customers.

Alternative emotional or functional purchase motives

Nobody pursues a distance learning course for their own sake. Taking account of the emotions associated with such a purchase motive additionally enables you to exploit new keyword segments. In the case of distance learning, terms such as "success", "career", or "more income" play a key role.

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Are there any lasting trends that are also depicted in the search?

Lasting trends are innovations that are already available but have not yet established themselves fully. In this example, since the higher education sector is increasingly being digitized, there are also several trends that can be integrated in the keyword research. Terms like "Online studies" and "tutorial" are also significant in this regard. In addition, considering new service providers in this field can also offer ideas on additional, relevant keywords. A good example is the keyword combination "Coursera german", which led to about 170 searches within a month with very little competition.

Although Blue Ocean keywords require intensive analysis of the search behavior and purchase decision of prospect customers, they provide very interesting insights and new approaches that are very promising to the keyword market.

The awareness ladder

Another concept for segmentation in keyword marketing is the "awareness ladder" by Ben Hunt. This is well described in his book, which rightly bears the title "Convert!". This concept places its focus on the motive of all customers who want to solve a certain problem by purchasing a product. This motive develops dynamically and thus results in corresponding development of the associated use of keywords.

Customers who decide to purchase a product must have thought about their problems and extensively assessed the best solutions. They consider the purchased product to be the ideal solution. A customer who finds the iPhone to be the best smartphone and wants to buy it online will search for "buy iPhone" and receive results from about 12 million websites (according to Google). In such a case, looking for alternative online marketing strategies would certainly be wiser than trying to emerge a winner.

But what if you could manage to get through to the customers at an earlier stage of their problem awareness and search for a solution? This is exactly what Ben Hunt recommends in what he terms as the 6 levels of awareness that a potential customer goes through.

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Figure 2: Awareness ladder by Ben Hunt

The fifth "golden" level should be your goal as an online marketer since at this point, you have won the competition for the customer with your product. The fourth level comes shortly before you achieve your main goal and is based on popularizing your brand using your solution. The third level of the awareness ladder is associated with general commercial intent keywords. The potential for new keywords is identified in the lower levels (2, 1, 0). In the level 2, there is a general idea on possible solutions whereas in level 1, the problem awareness is even more uncertain. Here, there lacks the notion of an existing solution to a perceived problem. Level 0 poses a great challenge since the user is not even aware of the problem for which a solution is offered.

Since you can assume that by level 3 the awareness ladder is already filled with competitor sites and shops, you should pay more attention to the lower levels. Starting from level 2, users already have a general idea of an existing solution to their problem even though they are still uncertain. You can hence assume that they will also try to formulate this using certain keywords. Below are such formulations using the example of a family holiday with child care:

Keyword formulations in level 2:

  • general term for the solution: “family hotel with child care”

  • solving the problem: “looking after children on holiday”

  • “Best [general solution for the solution]”: “best family hotel”

  • “Comparison [general term for solving the problem]”: “Comparison family hotels”

  • “Overview [general term for solving the problem]”: “Overview family hotels”

  • Geographical confinement of the solution: “Family hotel in Austria/Brittany/…”

Keyword formulations in level 1:

The next level is even more difficult. Here, it is only the problem that is known. The user is not aware of any solutions. Search requests by such user groups could be as follows:

  • vacation with a toddler

  • vacation with children

  • child care on vacation

  • children on holiday

  • winter holiday with children

Inclusion of children in the search request is a representation of the problem for which a solution is needed. The users only know that going on vacation with children has its own challenges and are open to general solutions.

Keyword formulations in level 0:

The lowest level is certainly the most difficult since the users are not even aware of the problem for which a solution is being offered. Here, such users could be very young parents who have never experienced the challenges of going on vacation with little children. These or similar user segments can be reached best using complementary search requests as previously explained in the Blue Ocean keywords concept. Appropriate elements in this case could be baby seats that affect the mobility of the family and that hence have an indirect influence on the holiday subject.

Workflow in keyword segmentation

Keyword segmentation is complex but pays offs when new user segments are reached. The core of the workflow is the research using the Keyword Planner on Google Adwords or similar keyword analysis tools. Both concepts presented in this article, "Blue Ocean keywords" and the "awareness ladder", offer you new search approaches that can help you exploit new keyword segments using the Keyword Planner.

First, these concepts should help you define a new set of keywords using the Keyword Planner. The next step should entail filtering out the keywords that have the highest potential and low competition. The best way to do this is with key metrics in keyword marketing. The Keyword Planner hereby provides you with various data that can help you choose attractive and promising keywords.

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Figure 3: Keyword selection using the Google Keyword Planner

Factors to consider include:

  • the search volume

  • the competition factor for the keyword in Google AdWords

  • the proposed bid for a keyword.

Most people often wonder how valid these factors are. According to my experience, they are valid enough to raise your rankings based on keyword segmentation. However, you should only consider the values as a ratio and not as absolute metrics.

There are two main indicators that play a vital role when it comes to ranking of new attractive keywords. These are the potential keyword market share and the SEO value.

The potential keyword market share assumes that the competition factor is an indicator of the ratio of the websites that are advertised on AdWords for a keyword. The reciprocal of the competition factor is therefore the market share that is not covered by AdWords. Multiplying this reciprocal with the search volume provides a value which indicates the attractiveness of a keyword:

PKMA = (1 – competition factor) x search volume

Analyzing the potential keyword market share therefore enables you summarize both factors, i.e. the search volume and competition factor in order to classify new keywords depending on their attractiveness. If you can additionally weight the competition flexibility, you will be able to integrate the square of the reciprocal in the potential keyword market share.

This market share is not only an indicator of search engine advertising but also SEO. Here, it is important to note that intensive SEO competition puts constraints on the SEO rankings. At the same time, it can also be assumed that SEA and SEO are complementary measures for the many companies.

If the values of the potential keyword market share are close together and if the additional weighting does not offer more clarity, you can multiply the potential reach with the recommended bid to get the search value. This monetary value represents the market value of the contacts that can be reached via a specific keyword. The perfect keywords are those with a high search volume, low competition, and a high search value.


Intensive competition in search engine marketing requires creative solutions in order to define alternative ways of reaching customer groups. Here, Google’s keyword database is still the ultimate benchmark since it provides a valid basic information of the search behavior of users. As shown in this article, this enables you to exploit new user segments through alternative keyword segmentation concepts. Last but not least, creativity in identification of user problems that have previously received little attention, together with the associated keywords, can also help you achieve your USPs in search engine marketing.

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Published on Sep 5, 2016 by Dominik Große Holtforth