Keyword research has become fundamentally more difficult in the last two years. Considering that Google is constantly refining and introducing new methods of understanding language, the terminology we select for marketing purposes has to be refined through a process that accommodates niche verbiage and user intent. Gone are the days of hand picking your keywords from the Google Adwords External Keyword Tool and then contrasting those selections with SEMRush phrase reports. While tools such as WordStream, Wordtracker, and Keyword Discovery are still available and widely used, the core process of keyword research in 2012 requires extra due diligence.
While the exact process used to conduct keyword research may vary from industry to industry, there are four common mistakes that should be avoided. By eliminating these four keyword-research mistakes, you ultimately can achieve significant financial rewards.
1. Trusting in Keyword Volume Estimates
No matter where you look, there is no data that is 100% accurate in determining search volume for a specific phrase. Search volume can depend on geography, seasonality, and how the data is captured. It’s widely known (and often debated) that keyword volume offered in the GEKT and GTE are inaccurate—and the degree of their inaccuracy can vary dramatically.
Tools like SEMRush and SpyFu scrape volume data from GEKT and other sources, which makes them unreliable for understanding keyword-specific volume. While Wordtracker and WordStream claim that their data is accurate, its reliability is questionable. The best way to determine whether search volume is accurate for a keyword in a specific geography is to test with PPC. Impressions are an excellent way to gauge approximately how many searches an exact match query can generate over time. While you shouldn’t focus on short tail keyword variations as part of your core keyword targeting strategy—since the long tail really pays dividends—it’s still important to understand the proportional difference between variations of industry-specific terminology.
For example, the terms “miami fishing charter” and “miami fishing charters” are essentially the same, so you’d expect that volume for one phrase would be comparable to the other. However, this isn’t the case. Volume for the pluralized version of the term is actually stronger in the South Florida area according to PPC impressions and Google Insights for Search (run over 30 days with a maximum budget of $100 per day with budget not maxing out each day). There’s also a seasonality component to consider for the root term “fishing charters”. When you add a few longer tail variations of the term, such as “miami sport fishing charter” and “miami kite fishing charter,” you suddenly have a number of decisions to make.
If you’re researching product terminology, which is often preceded by terms like “buy” or followed by terms like “online,” your job becomes more difficult. The best way to avoid trusting in keyword volume estimates is to:
- Pull keyword volume data from multiple sources and consolidate.
- Experiment with PPC to gauge impressions in the area where you’ll be marketing.
- Leverage all available analytics. Server logs are a great way to see short and long tail keyword variations when Google returns “not provided.”
- Research what large competitors in your space are targeting and consider why they would invest heavily in optimizing for a term.
2. Limiting Yourself to the Short Tail
This is a back-to-basics tip: don’t accept a keyword research report that doesn’t compensate for the long tail. The long tail of search has been illustrated and preached for the better part of a decade and it’s not something that’s going away. The exception to this rule applies to geospecific markets where the language a visitor might use to find your domain is limited to only a handful of variations. This is a common challenge for dentists, for example, since there really aren’t any synonyms for “dentist.” No one calls them a “tooth doctor” and most people can’t even spell “hygienist.”
When you explore phrase match variations in the GEKT, you’re taking a critical first step in exploring how potential visitors search for your business. WordStream also does a good job of delivering phrases instead of simple keyword variations, which has the potential to compound your targeting efforts dramatically. While there are a variety of tools you can leverage to dig up keywords and phrases that fit well with your conversion goals, there’s still no excuse for not applying common sense in this process. Consider what kinds of questions your prospects would ask. Are there any adjacent sets of words that parallel your business? Is there a more technical or savvy way to articulate your products or services? Think broadly about what you want to be relevant for and then narrow it down. Don’t be fooled by the immense volume associated with short tail keyword variations—in most cases it’s the long tail that brings conversion and the ideal user.
3. Ignoring Intent
Intent is a profound element in keyword research because it significantly impacts the user query, which ultimately is utilized in a search engine. An excellent example of ignoring this principle was discovered while researching an existing ecommerce site. The keyword strategy was entirely focused on the products, which would seem to make sense. However, every product page—and most of the top-level categories and informational pages—had overly technical descriptions of each product. While the page relevancy would undoubtedly deliver a handful of targeted users (or maybe just people researching technical specifications for these products), it was so microtargeted that broader intent-driven phrases—which convert well for the domain in paid search—were completely excluded. A transition to “buy [product] online” or “[product] in [city name, state]” is now underway, but it was clear that the original development team ignored user intent, which in the long run cost the company sales.
While it may seem like common sense, a majority of marketers forget why people search. When someone takes the time to research a product or a service online, there’s a good chance they want to buy that product or service now—or they may buy it in the future. During the keyword research process, it’s important to consider why you want people to arrive at your site and what action you want them to take. More importantly, what type of mindset do you want your visitors to have when they arrive? Should they still be in the research phase or ready to buy something? Someone who is researching will use queries that are informational instead of action oriented—a point that must be weighed carefully depending on your website’s goals.
Typically, when people are researching a product or service, they use broad question-like or generic language. When they’re ready to buy, they get very specific. Think diligently about the language your prospects use when evaluating products and services, consider comparative tonality and questions they might ask. By factoring intent early in the keyword research process, you can effectively anticipate the language your prospects will use to find you. Remember, search engines are responsible for the laborious task of balancing relevancy and authority while systematically retrieving information from an unimaginably large database. The more specific you are in satisfying the response to a user query, the more likely you’ll be rewarded.
4. Not Factoring in How Difficult it is to Rank for a Term
While this is a fundamental element in preparing a keyword research report, it’s often the most overlooked aspect of defining a keyword targeting strategy. During the keyword research process, it’s easy to mistakenly set your sights on keywords that are completely impractical to target. You have to pick your battles in competitive search results. With the Web’s commerce-driven ecosystem, many keyword verticals are simply off-limits to new or emerging properties.
Determining how difficult it is to rank for a keyword used to be a complex process that required significant competitive-analysis skills, but now it can be pretty much determined with the push of a button. One of the best tools from SEOmoz is the Keyword Difficulty/SERP Analysis Tool which was built on Todd Malicoat’s KOB Analysis score and makes reverse engineering barrier to entry within a SERP much easier. The tool factors link data and relevancy information so you can, at a glance, understand what’s needed to break into a results page. While the Google ranking algorithm is constantly adapting, there are elements of SERP analysis that will likely remain static for some time. Before you even consider targeting a keyword as part of your IA, you absolutely must factor in who else may be targeting the term and what it will take to outrank them—if that’s even possible.
Determining a timeline for how long it will take to rank for a term is impossible, since there’s no way to accurately predict this. You’d be much better served to expand your long tail strategy in the long term and make gains for variations while slowly building authority over time for a super high-value phrase.
Other Notes on Keyword Research
You can make keyword research as intricately complex or incredibly simple as you want, but the goal of your efforts will be the same—to define a term-targeting strategy that will build traffic and make your domain profitable. The process of keyword research is a cornerstone of Internet marketing, but it’s born out of a profound understanding of your visitors and ideal customers. As basic as it may sound, considering the perspective of the consumer will provide fundamental direction for your keyword research. Focus exclusively on catering to the language they use to find your products, services, or information. Although building foundational relevancy for a core set of language is important—especially during IA development—don’t overlook what keyword research aims to do, which is to align the goals of your site with the needs of your users.
MDG Advertising, a full-service Florida advertising agency with offices in Boca Raton and New York, NY, specializes in developing targeted Internet marketing solutions, exceptional creative executions and solid branding and search marketing strategies that give clients a competitive advantage. Our core capabilities include branding, logo design, creative, digital marketing, print advertising, media planning and buying, TV and radio, Web design and development, email marketing, social media marketing, keyword research and SEO.
Written by Michael Del Gigante