Lesson in Keyword Stupidity Title Slide
SEO

7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

Note: This is Part 2 of the post These Aren’t the Keywords You’re Looking For, which is based on a presentation of that name. Check it out on SlideShare. 

I spent the entire last post in this two-part series going over how keywords work from the searcher perspective. It’s all about intent of the search and that intent can change depending on the words used or the thought processes behind those words. In this post we’ll look at the type of keywords you actually want to avoid. As I said in part 1, we sometimes get so focused on keyword stats that we forget that going after some keywords can be detrimental to our online marketing efforts.

Going After Single Word Phrases is Stoopid Stupid

Single Word Phrases 7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

When trying to get your site to rank for keywords most relevant to your industry, you really don’t have much of a chance for ranking for single-word phrases, except very, very niche words. But even if you could, a top ranking for most single word phrases will net you lots of traffic but few conversions. Why? Because, unless you sell absolutely everything related to that word, you’re simply bringing in untargeted traffic instead of targeted traffic.

Most searchers who use single-word searches scan the results and wind up back at the search bar refining their keywords. This doesn’t just happen with single word phrases, it happens frequently with two and three word phrases as well. That’s because searchers learn as they go. They search, scan and research in order to bring up results more specific to what they are looking for. The only people not re-searching are usually those that click on the first result without even looking at it, and end up bouncing right back to the search results anyway.

Some argue that even if the traffic you get has a low conversion rate, the conversions will still be significant. Perhaps that is true, but at what cost? The boost in sales may be great, but chances are they won’t even begin to pay for what it cost to get that top ranking to begin with. Keyword research really comes down to the ROI of the search query. If you’re just grabbing keywords because you want to rank for them, your expense will be high and ROI low. Look for the ROI terms instead.

Targeting Broad Phrases is Dum Dumb

Broad Phrases 7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

Even two and three word phrases can be vague. Before you go optimizing your site for keywords, try to get a handle on what that phrase means and what the searcher is really looking for. There are two good ways to understand the intent behind a keyword:

  1. Keyword research. Yep, that’s right, in the middle of your keyword research, do some keyword research. What qualifiers are often search with the phrase you’re looking at. Do those qualifiers lend to your industry or are they showing some other intent?
  2. What does Google say? Throw your keyword into a Google search and look through the results. Are the results showing returns specific to what you are looking for or are they for something else? If the results are what you hoped for, and it matches with your site, then it’s a good keyword. If not, then it’s probably not a good keyword.

Keep in mind, just because that specific phrase doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean you throw it out altogether. You just may need to add some qualifiers to it to make it more specific.

Going After Keywords with False Descriptors is Ideotick Idiotic

False Descriptors 7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

Make sure the descriptors (or qualifiers) of each phrase makes sense to your industry. In the example above, “clothing” is a very broad word. If you sell every kind of clothing known to man then you might find value with that term. But if you’re in a niche clothing market then you definitely need to narrow down your keyword selections to include only those qualifiers that work for you.

Again, you’re going for keyword ROI, not volume.

Going After Insanely Competitive Phrases is Fulish Foolish

Competitive Phrases 7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

There’s some kind of appeal to insanely competitive phrases that business owners are drawn to. My guess is it’s the super-high search volume numbers. Or it’s the super-high search volume numbers. And if not that, then the super-high search volume numbers.

Now, I’m all about the long play, and for me gunning for insanely competitive phrases isn’t all that foolish, unless you’re truly expecting to rank for that phrase any time soon. Unless you got the big budget to back it up, these phrases truly are the looooooooooong-play.

So what do you do? Do you forget about these keywords completely and move on to lower hanging fruit? Not necessarily. I say, optimize and then forget about those keywords and move on to lower hanging fruit. With the optimization in place it’s then a matter of time. How much time is entirely up to your other optimization efforts and what your competitors are doing to stay ahead of you. If you truly deserve to rank for those keywords, some day you will. But until then, worry about what’s gettable and take your competitors down one keyword at a time.

Going after Competitor Brand Names is More On Ick Moronic

Competitor Brand Names 7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

Optimizing your site for competitor phrases really isn’t that bright. It might work for PPC ads, where visitors can see an ad that makes it clear they are not landing on the brand name they searched, but that’s not so easy with SEO.

The only brands you really want to optimize for are the brands you carry. This comes naturally as you want to promote your products and those brand names should be all over your category and product pages. But a competitor’s brand that you don’t carry? It’s gonna be tough to build an authoritative page on that brand, unless you are providing a thorough brand review. Before you jump on that approach, just be sure you have your lawyer on speed dial.

Going After Inappropriate Geo-Targeted Phrases is Dohpee Dopey

Inappropriately Geo Targeted 7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

If your business is tied to a specific geographical region, then by all means, target those geographical phrases. But stick to phrases relevant for your area. Don’t optimize for non-geo-targeted phrases, or phrases that won’t bring in actual customers.

Do you install carpet in your city? Then forgo the state references unless you’re willing to drive throughout the state to install. Are you a family doctor? How far are people truly willing to drive to visit you? If not more than 30 minutes, then stick to geographical terms within that distance. The only time to optimize for terms outside your geographical area is when that’s where your customers are.

Going After Keywords That Don’t Represent Searcher Intent is Simpelmindid Simpleminded

Doesnt Represent Intent 7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

Sometimes we are tempted to go after keywords because we know the searcher would like what we are offering, even if we don’t meet that specific need. This is often true when people are looking for products you don’t carry, because you carry the better one. Or you have information on the topic being search, but it’s just not the specific type of information they are looking for.

Surely it would be okay to bring these visitors to your site to show them the better way, right? No. Every keyword you target should be for something specific that you provide on your website. Not closely related, not partially related, not in the same topical sphere, but very specifically related. In fact, in today’s algorithms, topical authority is a must and even if you try to rank for keywords that are only partially related to the query, the result will likely be failure.

These are the Keywords You’re Looking For

These are the keywords youre looking for 7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

Now that you know what keywords to avoid, here are the keywords you do want to target. I won’t spend a lot of time repeating what’s in the image above, but the four critical factors are search volume, target audience, profit margin, and your ability to meet demand.

Every keyword should meet each of those four criteria. It must be actively searched by your target audience, provide you with a strong profit margin, and when customers come to your site you must be able to meet the demand. If not, put your optimization time in somewhere else.

Keyword research isn’t about picking the wrong or right keywords, it’s about knowing what words resonate with your audience. In fact, if you did nothing more than look for the words that have value to your audience (as opposed to a search engine) you’ll never fall into keyword stupidity. In your keyword research efforts, adding value is key. Remember: if it’s not valuable, it’s just stupid to try to rank for it.

Image Credit: all images created by author

 7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading online marketing strategy company helping businesses improve their online presence since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences all over the US, and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and website marketing related articles. If you're looking to velocitize your web marketing, Stoney and Pole Position Marketing are the crew you need. Follow me at @StoneyD, and @PolePositionMkg.
 7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

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12 thoughts on “7 Lessons in Keyword Stupidity: How Not to Mess Up Keyword Research

  1. Really like this article.

    I think you could do a guide to ranking for REALISTIC keywords, and things like internal interlinking articles together.

    It’s not often I actually print an SEO article off these days!

    I’ve been guilty of trying to rank terms that were just too competitive for the client’s current position. Think this was a major clicking point for me.

    I’d also add look at the number of results being returned, and the domain authority of the sites returned. It’d be much better to go for easier terms just to show the client concrete product. As external links come in you can then funnel pagerank to go after harder terms.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article Paul. I think we all get caught in the trap of trying to go after keywords that we really should stay away from. They just look sooooo enticing!

  2. Thanks for the stupid good article Stoney.

    Where would you draw the line between kw search volume being too big and being just right?

    1. You’re welcome! I think the line is the ROI on your time and efforts. Nothing wrong with going after high search volume phrases if your site authority ensures they are attainable. But if not, then the ROI just won’t be there. Build small and work your way up.

  3. I clicked on this as I liked the picture of Dumb and Dumber. There’s a sequel on the way, you know! A two decade gap is quite a while, but it’s here all the same.

    With regards to this post, especially considering the latest Penguin is on the way, correct keywording is more vital than ever. Frankly, I don’t use keywords any more, as it’s liable to get you in trouble. I use company names, along with my online clout (as minor as it is!), to support what I write. Obviously not everyone will want to follow the same route.

    1. Alex, keyword research is simply knowing the language your customer/visitors use and write using their language. Keyword stuffing can get you in trouble. Speaking your customer’s language, not so much.

  4. I agree with you. This is an excellent article and right on target with reality. I must admit, though, that every once in a while, I try my hand with a exceptionally challenging SEO task. In a recent instance, I had a two-word, keyword string I needed to rank but there were 303 Million competing pages. It took me 2-1/2 weeks but I moved this new site to the fifth position on the first page of Google and it has remained there for 7 weeks. So what I am saying is that as much as I agree with you and the information, we have to break out every once in a while and see if we can really test our SEO skills. In this instance, it has paid off royally for the client. Keep up the good work!

    1. There are always exceptions to the rule, but that just comes with understanding your market, audience and competition. I’m always willing to optimize for difficult terms, but my expectations are also in line with what’s achievable.