Rating Home Performance as an Industry Defining Term

In a previous posting, I’d expressed my support for a recent proposal by Peter Troast of Energy Circle that home energy professionals consider adopting the phrase home performance as their industry’s defining term. I’d also summarized its SEO implications, and promised to present my keyword analysis of home performance in detail. So here it is. (I’ll also introduce you to my comprehensive keyword analysis spread sheet, which might be of some benefit to those of you in the home performance industry who are heads-down in your own SEO efforts.)

Why SEO?

Of course, some readers might ask: Why even be concerned about the SEO characteristics of the term home performance? Well, given the critical roles that web-based marketing, local search, and social media now play in selling home performance services, every professional in this industry should be concerned about SEO. Understanding how to drive traffic to your site by embedding industry-standard terms as keywords on webpages or blog posts is important, even if some one else in your organization is ultimately responsible for site optimization or online marketing.

My Keyword Analysis of Home Performance

I maintain an extensive, master list of keyword phrases that are generally relevant to home performance, historic preservation, old houses, and a few other related topics that I frequently write about. Last May, I published an early version of this list, but since then, I’ve expanded it considerably, mainly as an outgrowth of my own blogging and website optimization efforts.

For each keyword phrase in my master list, I track two metrics for search popularity — that is, how often the online public searches for a particular phrase: The worldwide, and U.S., monthly number of searches reported by Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool.

I also track two metrics giving the degree of competition for use of each keyword phrase by online providers of services, products, or information. The first metric is an estimate of the number of paid-search customers bidding on a particular keyword phrase. This estimate is available from the AdWords Tool. The other is the count of extant webpages embedding that keyword phrase in the textual content of their HTML <title> elements. These are the pages that have been optimized specifically for organic (non-paid) search via that keyword phrase. This count is obtained via a Google allintitle search on the keyword phrase.

Here are a few examples of capturing this information. In the screenshot below, the Google AdWords Keyword Tool is used to analyze and compare the phrases energy audit, efficiency upgrade, and home performance. Paid-search competition estimates, and global and local monthly search counts, are returned for each submitted keyword phrase. This side-by-side comparison reveals that energy audit is currently the most popular of the three phrases, for both seekers and sellers:

Using Google AdWords Tool For Keyword Analysis

The next screenshot shows a partial listing of results from a Google allintitle search for “energy audit”:

Google Allintitle Search for Energy Audit

The first three results are paid-search ads. But appearing just below the ads are the three highest ranking, non-paid pages (for my particular locale) that carry the exact phrase “energy audit” in their page titles. According to the page count near the top of the listing, approximately 288,000 webpages are currently competing for the phrase “energy audit” in this manner.

The next screenshot shows a partial listing of results from a Google allintitle search for “home performance”:

Google Allintitle Search for Home Performance

The result count indicates that approximately 118, 000 webpages are attempting to rank well for this phrase. Note that no paid ads appear in the listing; rather, only organic search results (once again, these are the results for my particular locale). This should probably come as no great surprise, given that AdWords has already informed us that home performance has a relatively low level of paid-search.

Finally, these three keyword phrases and their associated metrics are represented in my master list as follows (note that I’ve omitted many intervening keywords for brevity):

Keywords Analysis Spreadsheet

The Exact Match column indicates how I did the Google allintitle search. In most cases, I searched for an exact phrase by enclosing the search term in double quotes. In other cases, I obtained results for approximate matches by omitting the quotes. For example, the second row for home performance gives the results for a non-exact match. It indicates that there are about 150, 000 webpages with occurrences of both “home” and “performance” in their page titles as independent key words, rather than components of a single phrase.

There are many situations where non-exact matches are very useful. For example, when an exact match for an important keyword phrase can’t be found, viewing the pages returned by a non-exact match might give you some insight into how people are actually combining the component keywords of your phrase together.

Performing my comparative analysis of home performance against other, similar, industry-describing keyword phrases, involved three specific steps:

1. Perusing my master list, I selected all of the phrases I could find that carried essentially the same meaning as home performance. This included phrases that emphasized energy. However, I deliberately excluded certain phrases, like energy efficiency. Although widely used by home performance professionals, phrases like energy efficiency are far too generic to unambiguously convey the intended meaning.

2. Next, I entered each selected phrase into another spreadsheet, along with the phrase’s local monthly search count, its Google allintitle result count (for exact matches), and its paid-search competitive estimate, which I expressed as an integer value of 1, 2, or 3, in place of the literals low, medium, or high, respectively.

3. Finally, I added formulas to average all three metrics.

The resulting spread sheet is shown below:

Keywords Analysis Spreadsheet

Home performance has a local, monthly search popularity of 18.1 (column B), which is very close to the average value of 14.7 for the entire collection. Closer, in fact, than for any other keyword phrase. Hence, my claim of home performance’s medium level of search popularity amongst terms of similar meaning.

On the other hand, the organic search competition for home performance is 118 (118,000 extant pages; column D), which is comparatively higher than the population average of  85.6. However, home performance ranks only 5th highest for organic search competition, within the entire collection of keyword phrases.

Finally, home performance’s paid-search competitive estimate of 1 (column C) is lower than the population average of 1.82, which in turn is close to 2, or the “medium” estimate from Google AdWords’ competitive rankings.

Conclusions

Many SEO experts will tell you that selecting a particular keyword from a list of candidates involves striking a balance between relevance, search popularity, and competition. In my opinion, the term home performance is highly relevant to its industry and conveys a strong, clear meaning. It would be nice if its level of search popularity among similar terms were higher, but I think being in the middle is probably more than acceptable, especially given the weight of its relevance and meaning.

On the other hand, were I a new adopter of home performance (actually, I am), I’d probably be a bit concerned about the amount of SEO effort required to get high page ranks for organic search on home performance, given the fairly high level of competition for the term. However, I don’t feel this would be an insurmountable challenge for a committed organic SEO campaign. But the time to get started on such a campaign is sooner, rather than later. As the industry continues to grow and expand, competition for all of the these keywords (both paid and organic) will probably increase commensurately.

And if the rallying cry for home performance is met by a sufficient number of practitioners, expect its search popularity, relevance, and paid/non-paid competition levels all to increase that much further.

Keyword Analysis Spreadsheets

You can download my keyword analysis spreadsheet, and the comparative analysis spreadsheet used in this article, from the following locations:

Keyword Analysis Spreadsheet: ODS

Keyword Analysis Spreadsheet: PDF

Comparative Analysis Spreadsheet: ODS

Please keep in mind that you proceed at your own risk in using any of this information for your own purposes. Also, remember that the search counts captured here can change often, even from day to day. However, the actual values are not that important; rather, the relative differences between search counts of related keywords are really what matters. And finally, if you should re-publish any of my spreadsheet content, please include the original copyleft, with attribution to the original source. Thanks, and enjoy!

About John Poole

My interests include historic homes, architectural preservation and restoration, improving the energy performance of old houses, and traditional timber frames.
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4 Responses to Rating Home Performance as an Industry Defining Term

  1. I don’t understand much of this, which means it must be very mathematically impressive. I love the details and how you share all the relevant info. I think you’ll go far (but enough about your social life).

    • John Poole says:

      Thanks for the comment, Alexandra. The math wasn’t all that hard…it was the gathering of the data behind it, and then spinning it all into a cohesive account that was the most challenging part! As for my social life, that’s likewise indeed of some optimization…

  2. Peter Troast says:

    John,

    Thank you for this. You’re doing a great service to the community by exposing this data and teaching others. Kudos for being one of the clearest communicators I’ve seen on the topic of search.

    One of the key aspects of search data–that you allude to–is to always remember that it represents one point in time. Thus, single data points are subject to seasonality, and don’t tell you much about trends over time. I’m fond of the Wayne Gretzky analogy (that his brilliance was knowing “where the puck was going to be”) when it comes to search. Performing well for terms that aren’t popular or competitive now, but can be expected to grow in the future, can pay significant dividends. Home Performance is certainly in that category IMO, and your strategy of owning “Historic Home Performance” is very smart.

    One of the big takeaways from your data is the significant branding/communications challenge the residential energy efficiency movement faces–which is: while there is growing traction around the term “energy audit” as the dominant descriptor for the analysis phase, there is no equivalent unanimity on terms to describe the work itself. Home Performance, Weatherization, Energy Retrofit, etc. The divide on these terms is one of the reasons for my campaign for the term Home Performance.

    The other important factor to consider is the extent to which Google identifies a term as having local intent. This means that the search engine knows the origin of the searcher (by IP address) and the algorithm has assumed that someone searching for an Energy Audit who happens to be in Hartford, CT is looking for someone locally to provide that service. In our monitoring, “Energy Audit” is increasingly “localized” across the country as the service expands nationally. (You know a term has been localized when you see Google Places pins intermixed in search results.) The good news about this is that when it occurs, the competition gets narrowed to your geography. In that sense, it becomes equally important to optimize for the key geographies in which you work.

    Finally, there are good general trends on most of the terms on your list. Energy Audit, just a few months ago, was at 49K. We are getting there.

    • John Poole says:

      Peter,

      Thanks very much for all the positive words, and great additional information, and insights. The fact that you found my communication of these topics clear, and of useful instructional value to the community at large, is all extremely encouraging.

      Your informational points are all well taken, and I totally agree with you: It might be a bit of a haul, but we’ll eventually get there. And in the mean time, it will be fascinating to watch how all of this unfolds in terms of SEO. Ground floor perspectives are truly a privilege to experience!

      Thanks again,
      - John

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