Keyword research is important to online marketing efforts. But even more important than that is the keywords you select for your SEO and PPC efforts. Of course, you cannot select what you have not researched, but finding keywords generally isn’t the problem. There are tons of keyword tools available that will help you do that.
The question is, what do you do with your keyword lists once you’ve compiled them?
Just as there is no shortage of good keyword tools, there is also no shortage of metrics that you can use to determine the value of any given keyword. A few that tend to top our keyword selections lists are:
- Search volume: How many searches per day or month are being performed for each phrase. The higher the volume, the greater the opportunity to drive traffic to your site.
- Search competition: How many sites are displayed when performing a search using a keyword.
- Title competition: How many sites are displayed when performing a search for the keyword only in title tags.
- Direct Competition: Whether a specific competitor ranks for any particular keyword.
- KEI (Keyword Effectiveness Index): A score based on how often a keyword is searched balanced against keyword competition.
Each of these metrics provides valuable insight, but they ultimately should not be used in selecting keywords. Stats like these can tell us what is happening with the keywords, but it can’t tell us why. And unless you know why something is, it’s impossible to make a smart decision about it.
Here is what the stats don’t tell us:
- Search volume: How many of these searches are actually relevant? Will the searcher find what their search intended on your site?
- Search competition: Are the sites ranking for these keywords legitimate competition? Are they truly optimized sites?
- Title competition: Are these competitors that cannot be defeated? How many of them will be easy to topple?
- Direct Competition: Do you know if your competitors are getting any value from ranking for these keywords?
- KEI: Does a competitive score mean you shouldn’t try to rank for the keyword? Is there long-term value in trying?
Looking at keywords in terms of volume or difficulty is a good measure for setting expectations in terms of time and budget it will take to get your site ranked. Looking at whether your competitors rank for that phrase only tells you whether your competitors rank for a phrase. For all you know they have performed zero keyword research, or went after a phrase because someone else did. That’s not a good signal by itself.
The problem with looking at any of the signals and data above is it does not tell you anything about searcher intent or whether you can convert those keywords into sales. It’s good data to have, but not the data you need to make good keyword selection decisions.
To do that, you need to apply this simple three-rule test for keyword selection:
- Is the keyword relevant to your target audience? There are a lot of keywords that are seemingly relevant, but when you look closer at visitor intent, you find that the searcher is looking for something different entirely. Not even all “industry relevant” keywords will be relevant to your products or services in particular. Be sure to analyze visitor intent for each of your keywords. Unfortunately, the only tool that can do that is your brain.
- Will the keyword deliver traffic? This question cannot be answered until the question above is. Not all traffic is the same, so you need to make sure it’s targeted traffic. Don’t let high search volume bias you. Even low volume keywords can deliver a fantastic amount of targeted traffic when combined with other long-tail phrases.
- Will the traffic sent by the keyword convert? You can take your best guess here, but only time and analytics will tell. Every keyword you invest any significant amount of time in optimizing for SEO or PPC should be able to convert your visitors into customers. Spend more time investing in keywords with higher conversion rates.
The simplified version of this three-rule test is: Relevancy, Traffic and Conversions. Every good keyword should be able to satisfy each of these satisfactorily. If they are lacking anywhere, then the value of the keyword will also be lacking.
You can select relevant keywords that drive traffic, but if you can’t convert them, maybe it’s not as relevant as you thought. You can select relevant traffic that converts, but if the traffic isn’t there. Conversions will be sparse. If you select high-volume keywords that occasionally convert, but without the relevance, the conversion rates will be low and your effort will be high. Not a good mix for productivity!
There may be some wiggle-room between each keyword, but ultimately, you only want to select keywords that will deliver performance on all three levels. If not, then you may just be wasting your time! The best keywords are keywords that you have determined to be relevant and have tested to get results. Nothing else really matters.