Breaking down your GSC into brand vs generic keyword performance can give you a better insight into how an SEO campaign is going.
Most SEO activity won’t be affecting the brand too much, as it will be more to drive performance increased within the generic keywords.
Whilst you’ll get a flow-on effect, in that as generic performance improves, more traffic will then drive brand marketing essentially, increasing return visits via branded search.
That takes time though.
You’ll also want to monitor rankings separately, and rankings for brand-related keywords will bring down(up?) the average, and hide some of the generic keyword performance.
My first analysis like this many years ago took quite a while to figure out.
Now, they’re like 30 minutes.
Definitely a worthwhile analysis, considering how short they are.
What are brand keywords?
Brand keywords are any keywords that include your brand name.
This could include both brand + generic phrases, as long as there is a mention of your direct brand in the keyword it’s a branded keyword.
It also includes anything that should include the brand, and by that I mean misspellings. Whilst you might think there are 3 ways to spell your brand, I can assure you the internet will come up with 50 more.
What are generic keywords?
A generic keyword is any keyword that does not include a mention of the brand.
It’s basically the “everything else” bucket for this analysis.
There could be keywords mentioning other competitors, or other brand names from what you sell, but these will still be classed as generic (although, you could further categories these later to get additional insight).
Why analyse brand vs generic keyword performance?
There are two main reasons I like to do these analyses.
Brand vs Generic keyword split
Initially, they’re great to set the default pre-SEO brand vs generic split percent.
As your generic SEO activity increases, the assumption here is that the generic keywords will improve performance more than the brand. You would then see an increase in the overall % of the generic keywords.
You can then trend this monthly, and just add something else to the list to help show any performance increases.
Exclude branded keywords from GSC data
The other reason is to essentially just exclude brand performance from GSC data.
Sometimes brand performance, particularly spikes from campaigns, can mess with the GSC data.
Excluding these branded keywords can help you get a more accurate overview of ranking performance for the keywords you’re targeting.
How to do a Brand vs Generic keyword analysis
1. Use your favourite GSC data exporter to get a dataset of Query, Clicks, and Impressions. I personally use Search Analytics for Sheets, and would only select the latest 3 months of data, or even just the latest month if the sites big enough, to ensure that the analysis is with recent data. You could rerun with older data to compare.
3. Import your data into the rows highlighted below. If you have included CTR & Av rank then just ignore them, but most exporters by default will include that data so we may aswell save it for later.
4. Enter variations of you’re brand terms into the K column, and then mark them as ‘Branded’. These should be the shortest variations you can come up with, that still ensure generic keywords don’t get included. Leave the cells below it, as the formula will just fall back to ‘Generic’ when a brand seed word isn’t found. You should only really be adding 5-10 to start, and can come back and refine it to more later on.
5. (OPTIONAL) If you’d like to get deeper insight, add some categories & sub-categories into their columns. This will help you break the performance down by category, if that’s something you think would be useful for your brand.
6. Visit the ‘analysis’ tab to have a brand vs generic performance overview pivot table ready for you
One caveat to this is that due to exporting query performance data, you have a limited click count. Large portions of longer tail keywords are excluded from query exports, so whilst this % is a good indication, it should be used as only that and not a source of “truth”.
You will be able to see this shift over time though, as both branded and generic keywords will get excluded.
Categorising a large keyword list in bulk takes hours to do, unless you do it a special way. Learn how to categorise thousands of keywords in seconds through the use of a magical Excel formula.
You can categorise anything you want with this formula, it doesn’t only work on keywords. Another popular use of mine is to categorise landing pages, which can significantly help with showing how ranking performance has improved certain landing page’s traffic.
This is an older video, of doing categorisation in Excel. The overall principles are exactly the same, however this will not work in Google Sheets.
But, I have a solution for that. A different formula that works in Google Sheets.
Categorising & Classifying Keywords in Excel
To categorise and classify your keywords in Excel, just like in the video, you can download my Excel template below.
=IFERROR([*CELL FOR SEARCH VOLUME*]*(IFERROR(LOOKUP(9.99999999999999E+307,SEARCH(*CTR MODEL TABLE RANK COLUMN*,*CURRENT RANK*),*CTR MODEL TABLE CTR AT RANK COLUMN*),”N/A”)),0)
Removing the bulk of it, we essentially have the search volume, along with a lookup for the CTR at that rank. The lookup could be simplified with a vlookup if you want to, however, I choose to just use my categorisation formula for this.
This can be simplified to just a vlookup for the rank table, especially if you’re using whole rankings rather than GSC average rankings that have a decimal place.
Estimating SEO Traffic in Google Sheets
You can duplicate a Google sheet below which is 95% the same as the Excel above to get you started.
Discover the easiest ways to generate keywords in bulk using Excel. These formulas are the basis of so much work, and keyword generation really will just give you a top-level understanding of the formula’s use.
Concatenate – Join as many cells together as needed
=CONCATENATE(*First CELL to join*,*Second CELL to Join*)
Concatenation is a method that many people are using, and its just adding one cell to another. This can be useful to start things off, but there ampersand (&) does this too, a lot cleaner with a lot more flexibility.
So use this if you’re used to it, but I’d recommend switching to using the below ampersand (&) method.
& – The better way of joining items together
=*CELL to Join*&*CELL to Join*&”Some text to join on the end”
My preferred method, you literally just put an ‘&’ between each cell you want to work with.
So =A2&” “&B2 will output A2, a space, and B2. Nothing really complex about it, giving you full freedom.
Substitute – Swap text in a cell, for other text
=SUBSTITUTE(*CELL for text swap / the template*,*Old text for replacing*,*New text to replace with*)
Giving a little more customizability through template elements, the substitution formula lets you bulk substitute out specific dynamic elements into a keyword template.
So you could have a list of categories, products, locations, or really anything else, and just swap them out in a keyword template.
You can create keywords following a specific rule, and this tends to generate less keywords overall, with a higher percent of them having volume as you know the formats to follow.
Merging keywords with MergeWords
Mergewords offers a simple version of the formulas above, allowing you to just paste in the different parts of the keywords and output the merged keywords.
It’s a bit of a behemoth… but I wouldn’t have bothered doing it if it wasn’t going to turn out that way 😛
1. Paste in all your keywords & volumes
2. Scroll across to the right and paste in your product seed words, along with their associated product names & IDs
The ‘seed’ is a word/phrase within the keywords, that would align it to the specific product. So for me, ‘xps 15’ relates back to the Dell XPS 15.
3. Drag down the formulas, into any empty rows you have
The formulas will now run and match any products within your comparison keywords, to the seed list you provided.
This is a two-step process, where you’ll find that ‘model 1’ and ‘model 2’ will be broken up by either “vs”, “verse”, “or”, or “compared to” as the comparison text in the middle.
If the comparison keyword doesn’t contain one of them, the formula will break. You should be able to adjust the formula to suit your needs, and if not, just comment and I will try help you out 🙂
Once broken down, the formulas will categorise the two models, using the seed keyword list you provided. It will just look for the seed, inside the keyword, and then match it up with the given product.
If the keywords aren’t being matched to the products, you will need to build out your seed list to include the missing seed words. This means you’ll just need to add the alternate names for a product, until the formula can correct match them together.
Model 1 assumes that you know the exact model name before the ‘vs’ because that’s what you would have been researching.
However, model 2 tries to match two different ways.
There’s the same ‘exact’ match of the seed as Model 1, but then there is also a partial match.
If I delete the seeds for ‘xps 15’, and ‘xps 17’, you’ll see that the partial match still matches these to keywords to their correct model.
This is because the partial match formula is based on a wildcard match, and will match ‘xps 17’ inside the seed of ‘dell xps 17’.
The final column will then look for an exact matched product, and if one isn’t there it will look for a partial match.
Sometimes the partial match can go haywire though, so that’s why it’ll prioritise an exact match where possible. It’s also best if you manually check the partial matches, as you never know what it’ll match up to.
If you’re only working with a few comparisons, just stick to however you normally prioritise SEO stuff. Usually just by a mix of search volume & competition.
But, if you’re working in bulk you’d probably be better off running your keywords through this sheet.
Provided you’ve done the above instructions on setting up the sheet, you’ll just want to load up all your product names, with their combined search volume on the far right. Whether this is volume from one keyword, or many, it just needs to be one total volume per product.
The sheet will pull in this product volume data, and display it next to the match model names.
And this is where things get interesting.
The formula in the sheet, will look at the volumes for the two products being compared, and then optimise the ordering of the comparison to ensure the highest volume product is first in the order.
Might not be helpful to everyone, but it was something I wanted to use, so you get it too 🙂
In the above, even though the XPS 13 came first in the keyword, the dataset says that XPS 15 had a higher volume, thus putting it first in the calculated comparison.
You can just kill off the search volume for the products if you don’t want to use this feature.
Individual comparisons will then be prioritises by their search volume with the ‘comparison volume’ column aggregating the search volume of any comparison keywords with their associated matched comparisons.
All the duplicate comparisons will have their search volume aggregated from the unique comparison keywords that were matched to them.
Search volume for any time XPS 15 was compared to XPS 17 gets aggregated into the “Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 17” comparison.
You’ll then be able to sort all your comparisons by volume, to work out what to target first.
An extremely large table of all their keywords, isn’t going to give the insight some clients would want. Some would like more a bit more insight into the data they’ve paid thousands for.
Building a keyword research dashboard in Excel is a great way to allow a client to interact with their keyword data.
In this short video, I will show you how you can take a categorised keyword list and turn it into a client-friendly dashboard!
The video is a couple years old now, and I may eventually update it, however, for the most part, it still holds true today.
Now, this won’t be great for some clients. You could end up giving them way too much information, and have them asking way too many questions.
However, I personally don’t mind that. I love when clients have an interest in SEO as it gets them more involved in the project, and more excited when the results kick in.
How to build a keyword research dashboard in Excel
Categorise up your keyword research data
Create pivot tables for each category level
Attach slicers to the categories so you can filter the data
Design the tables & slicers to match your client’s branding
And there you have it, you will have an interactive Excel keyword research dashboard to send to your clients.
Creating an online keyword research dashboard
You can save this Excel dashboard to Onedrive and then share with your clients via a link instead of sending a file.
For dashboards under a certain size this means they will be able to view the dashboard online instead of having to download the file. You can then simply update the keyword research file, and they will be able to see the update when they refresh their browser.
This becomes a massive help when trying to send updated data to a client. No more v53 tacked onto the end of a file because you’ve updated it 53 times!
Download the Excel Keyword Research File
If you watched the video and can’t be bothered doing the work yourself, you can just have my file!
Or if you’re doing keyword research for car hire you can also just steal my keywords – chances of that have to be slim.
I’ve been doing SEO a little while now on and off over the years (but mostly on) and finally getting back into it full time now.
Over time, I have learned quite a few little handy tricks doing keyword research that has helped me save countless hours… and many weeks!
I figured it was about time to share my little keyword journey and hopefully, you can leverage my wasted time and speed up your research.
Now, I am not going to spend time explaining some stuff, so if you haven’t done keyword research before you should definitely read the Backlinko guide, and then check out the ahrefs tools guide. Some of the post contains basic information, but much of it will only slightly touch on the basics so it’s best you read those guides beforehand.
This is where I started back then, and it is where I start now.
The initial topic planning has barely changed for me over the years, as I am sure it hasn’t for many other people.
It does not matter how smart an automated tool is, it will never be as good as you just jotting down some ideas on a spreadsheet.
Back then, I used Excel. Now I use Google Sheets where possible. That’s pretty much the main difference for topic planning!
Google Sheets for niche & topic planning
The first part here is just jotting down all the ideas you can think of off the top of your head.
Each column should be separate subtopics, all sitting under a parent topic.
Using the video game niche as an example, this is what my planning would look like;
This would be duplicated out based on every topic and sub-topic I can think of at the time.
The idea here isn’t to cover all the topics within the niche, it’s just to come up with what you can think of so you can build it out later.
So get your research started cleanly.
Finding additional topics by analysing competitors
I then try and find new topics along with variations of the existing topics that you think are worth finding sub keywords for.
Just start Googling all your topics and see if anything stands out, then either add it to an existing topic or create a new one.
You should be able to get a few variations just by looking at the SERPs, but jump into the competitor websites and check them too.
Pick up any similar keywords/namings to the topics you have, along with any topics you completely missed.
It doesn’t matter how well you think you know a niche, unknown sub-niches are just a few searches away!
What you’re looking for
The aim is to find the gems that an automated tool might not be able to pick up for you. With a secondary goal of starting to build out some top keywords.
Continuing with the gaming niche research as an example, we can take “ps4” and immediately see it’s also known as “playstation 4”. Whilst Google, and many tools, will see this as the same it is still worth jotting it down as the acronym and full spelling might not always be picked up as being the same.
Breaking out the ‘PS4 Consoles’ topic, I quickly come up with;
Playstation 4 Consoles
Playstation 4 Slim
Playstation 4 Pro
Playstation 4 Bundle
Playstation 4 Deals
Preowned Playstation 4
It used to be a lot harder to get keywords like ‘playstation 4 pro’ out of ‘ps4 consoles’, but with the tools available these days it’s so much simpler.
The improvements Google has done on related searches, you can just search for ‘ps4 consoles’ and it’ll show ps4 pro right away;
But I will go into that in a bit.
Just make sure you get as many different variations of your topic as possible so that it is easier to leverage tools to expand on your seed keywords.
Expanding on topics and finding longer tail keywords
Once you have the initial topics mapped out, you need to start on expanding the keyword set for each of them. This will help you better understand the highest priority keywords so you know what to target on your website.
On top of this, you’ll be able to better understand the entire niche, rather than just a tiny keyword set, which will help with performance analysis and understand where you might be lacking.
Google Keyword Tool (now planner)
In simpler times, the Google keyword tool was a real goto for my research.
For one, it gave great search volume data.
But its strength was the little “Match Types” selection on the left-hand side. You could actually get Google to come back with suggestions based on Broad / Phrase match, or just get the data for keywords you entered into the list with the exact match.
I would go through topic by topic, and add related keywords to a list, which could then be bulk exported keeping each keyword assigned to the list.
None of this range data, but especially none of the volumes for similar keywords being merged as they do now.
The newer Keyword planner is certainly not at the top of my list as a go-to anymore.
Originally launched in 2004, Google autocomplete has been an invaluable resource for many SEOs for years.
Google literally gives you the longtail keywords that expand upon the keyword you’re searching for. Use them!
At first, just manually grab them. Do a few manual searches so you can see how it all works, then move into the automated tools to scrape it.
Google related searches
Just like Google autocomplete, the related searches offers so much value to SEOs.
I used SEMrush for years. It became a staple for me… until they started messing with their pricing and removing my API access.
I had a little Google Sheets setup that would hook in with the API and scrape me heaps of keywords & rankings. This let me do heaps of research fast and was within the credit counts that came with my basic subscription. They then removed the API access for this level and jacked up the prices.
Completely understand the business move, and I am sure it worked well for them, but just meant I needed an alternative.
Still worth checking out, as you may enjoy it more than alternatives. They’re still releasing new features you can jump on and you can still get some great value out of downloading the keywords for a domain / URL.
Once SEMrush didn’t prove valuable for me any more, I turned to KeywordTool.io.
It quickly became my go-to research tool for a couple years due to its speed, simplicity, and filtering rules.
I used the pro version from around 2016 to early 2018, and just loved the fact I could have separate users & share access with outsourcers/mates.
Jump in here and let me know what you think if you haven’t used it before.
It’s safe to say ahrefs is pretty epic. Epic in what you can get out of it, and epic in pricing too. Not recommended for early SEOs, but certainly should be on the list once you start getting work or making some money!
How do I get the value out of it for keyword research?
By stealing competitors keywords!
Just throw in a competitors domain, or the URL path directly related to your niche, and you get a massive list of keywords that you can start to filter through! Do it for the top 10-20 sites, and it’s pretty safe to say you’ll cover a significant chunk of the niche.
Worth a buy for just this, but only if you can actually afford it! Don’t raid your rent money for it. You can get by without it.
I think every SEO under the sun uses this free chrome extension now.
It isn’t a tool that I used very early on in it’s release, and have only just started using it properly, but whenever you Google something the tool will show you related searches on the right.
This significantly helps when expanding out your topics, and you can quickly export all the keywords and their volumes pretty easily.
It’s made by the guys that did Keywords Everywhere.
Getting the search volume
I have always used Google for my search volume.
The fact they’d allow an upload of 3,000 keywords via csv at a time and then offered a nice CSV export just had me sold from day one.
However, as many of you would know Google did this stupid thing of combining all the volumes for similar keywords.
So even though each of those 3 keywords would get searched a completely different amount of times, Google will now aggregate their volumes into a single one.
Which is an absolute pain if you use search volume for anything. You either need to use an alternate source or leverage one of the third party tools and their estimations if you want to separate out the volume for these keywords.
I personally prefer to try and remove all these similar keywords and just focus on the primary one, as that allows me to continue to use Google for the volumes.
Why? I use the search volume for a heap of different analysis & performance monitoring. You could still get away using this, but you will get inflated “estimated traffic” values, and some other metrics that might be more off than normal.
Unfortunately, Google killed off the 3,000 keyword limit upload via CSV in the latest planner, and also made it slightly easier uploading in that you can just paste a bulk keyword set in (used to be an 800 limit via pasting).
But there is always a catch!
The new keyword limit appears to currently be 2,500.
Still workable, just a pain.
Oh, and you need an active Adwords account to even get a somewhat accurate volume these days. So if you don’t have one of them, or can’t access one through a client, it’s probably best you look elsewhere for volumes.
Playing with large location-based keyword sets
Things really changed for me process wise when I jumped into agency life in 2013. Moving interstate and re-settling was nothing compared to changing from small business clients to some rather large businesses!
I went from helping a plumber to working with large international hotel chains.
I went from a home-based cupcake business to ranking a national car rental agency.
But most importantly, I went from a few hundred keywords, to keyword sets of 100,000+.
This forced me to rethink how I did SEO… and this is where the real time savers kick in!
Bulk generating keywords
When I was starting agency side, I could use Excel but I certainly didn’t have any sort of advanced skills.
I quickly saw how much time I could save with some of the processes, and began learning more about it.
The biggest thing I was using it for at first, was bulk generating keywords.
I had a handful of keywords, that I need to replicate across multiple locations.
How I started generating
So, before I played with Excel too much, I did a pretty manual thing to swap out locations in keywords.
I used to find/replace a location out of the keyword.
Hey, it worked and got the job done! Once I started playing with 10+ locations and larger keyword sets this got really annoying.
I needed a different way of doing this.
Along came concatenation (my version of it anyway)
Concatenation is basically just joining things together, but I started doing concatenation before I even knew what that meant.
Within Excel, you can use the ampersand (&) as a magical way to join things together.
You can also use a space between two quotations to insert a blank space into your formula.
By leveraging these two things, I was able to merge together different cells to generate my keywords.
The formula for my above example is;
It allows me to tack on the location to the end of the keyword template, and create me the keywords I need.
The $ symbol locks in a cell reference. So by locking in the first column (the keyword ‘template’) and the 2nd row (the location), I am able to drag the formula down and across.
Excel actually has a formula to do this;
=CONCATENATE(text1, [text2], …)
To this day, I don’t know why you would use this over the ampersand though. The ampersand version is just so much more flexible, and easier to maintain as you build out your formulas.
Would love to hear of a usecase if you have one though!
Substitute yourself to local keywords
You might notice in my concatenation example I had “car hire” and “car rental” templates.
This is because I would like both ‘car hire sydney’ and ‘sydney car hire’, but to do this with concatenation you would need to modify the formula.
This is where some substitution magic comes in!
=SUBSTITUTE(text, old_text, new_text)
This formula quickly became how I generated location keywords and is still used in one form or another today!
It looks inside a piece of text, for specific text, then replaces that specific text with whatever you tell it to.
Instead of adding a template and location together, I used;
Car hire LOCATION
LOCATION car hire
And just swapped out the location for the location I wanted to use.
The formula to swap the text LOCATION for the location is;
And to take it one step further, you can even replace ‘car hire’ with SERVICE, and then add that to the substitution formula.
This could also be modified to suit any sort of keyword, so you could easily tack on modifiers if you wanted to. No reason you can’t substitute out 3,4, or 5+ words.
I made a video about it a couple years ago, so this might be a bit more useful 🙂
The issue when you start to do that is that you end up with too many different variations, and are just copying and pasting your formula all over the place.
Which is where I started learning about macros and how to repetitively do something I hated doing.
My excel keyword builder (magic macro)
Created in 2014, this magical thing would cycle through keyword types, keywords, locations & even secondary locations, and bulk generated me a tonne of keyword variations.
The macro died off a little while ago, well something broke and I can’t be bothered fixing it, but saved me many hours.
Back when Google gave a good volume value, this worked best, as it let me easily identify the top search terms to target.
It sometimes took a little while to generate, and it was hard to get setup initially due to the macro.
So I needed a new plan.
IMforSMB Keyword Tool
I’d always wanted to learn a bit more about coding, and so in 2015, I decided to take my Excel tool and build out my own web tool.
Years of playing with WordPress gave me a decent enough understanding of HTML & PHP, so that was my obvious choice for this tool.
After about a week of hacking, I finally pulled something together.
This completely replaced the Excel generator for me.
Using the DIY Generator of the tool, I can now just paste in services & locations and click generate and the tool will spit out all my keywords.
I threw in some templates services for people to use the builder if they’d rather, but my main focus here was just the simple generator so that I could let my Excel sheet die off.
Ignoring the super big number at the start (something to do with that being the largest row count Excel can do), the formula is actually really easy to use.
How to bulk classify keywords for SEO
Create a table with two columns, ‘Find’, and ‘Category’, and name the table “Category1”
Enter your ‘search’ words that you want to look for in the left column
Enter your categories next to the search words, that will be given when a search word is found
Enter the categorisation formula in a cell next to your keyword and update cell reference to point at it
The formula should now categorise your keywords, based on what you entered
So essentially, it just looks for words (or parts of words) within your keyword, then categorises or classifies them appropriately off the back of that. If it doesn’t find something, it will just say ‘Generic’ instead, which you can update to something else in the formula. You can even use a cell reference, and customise it per category if you want.
No more match, lookup or vlookup formulas just looking for a single category at a time!
I don’t remember what it was originally used for, certainly wasn’t for SEO though! It was hidden away on some accounting forum, where SEOs will rarely go. Goes to show what you can find when you Google hard enough!
Another one I made a video for a couple years ago, which might explain the formula a little better.
It’s pretty useful for a few things, and I would love to hear what you do with it!
Among other things, I use it for dashboarding and keyword mapping to get them all assigned to the right URLs.
Leveraging categories for keyword to URL mapping
Once you’ve got your categories, you can throw them into a URL structure with a formula. There are quite a few variables here, and it sometimes comes down to personal choice as to how you’d like your URLs, but see below for a starting example.
Now, this isn’t how I would be grouping keywords & structure the URLs for this particular keyword set, but it still provides a good example.
=SUBSTITUTE(SUBSTITUTE(LOWER(“/”&[@[Category Type 1]]&”-“&[@[Category Type 2]]&”/”&[@[Category Type 3]]&”/”),” “,”-“),”generic/”,””)
The formula is taking the categories, and merging them all together, whilst following the standard practice of making everything lower case, and replacing spaces with dashes.
You’ll also see that I merged the first two category types together so they sat at the same level. Just for something different!
Then you just need to create separate pivot tables for each URL you’ve created, and you will have your URL > Keyword mapping.
You’ll then end up with a neatly mapped set of keywords, and some pretty tables that show the mapping.
You can event take it a step further and cross check this mapping against the actual rankings for the website, see what’s not ranking for the right page, then try to determine why.
But that’s for another time!
Building a keyword dashboard
By just leveraging pivot tables & slicers, you can create an interactive keyword dashboard. This could be for a client, or just to make it easier for you to see top keywords when you’re dealing with keyword lists of thousands.
For this one, probably best you just watch the video!
And that’s a wrap… for now.
I’d love to be able to break down the different bits here into mini-tutorials, so if there is anything, in particular, you want to find out more about, let me know in the comments below!