You can’t talk about SEO without mentioning keyword research. It’s like eating a grilled cheese sandwich without the cheese.
Most SEO marketing campaigns start with keyword research. (Or at least they should 👀).
To be honest, keyword research is stuck in the early 2000s, right next to Britney and Justin’s matching denim outfits.
With 92.42% of keywords only getting 10 monthly searches or fewer, the competition is fierce. So the old tried and true strategies don’t work anymore.
If you haven’t upped your keyword research game, you could be holding your campaigns back and costing you (and your clients) cash.
Let’s look at 15 keyword research mistakes you might be making – and what to do instead.
1. Ignoring Search Intent
Too many people focus on search volume and forget about the why.
Why are people using a specific keyword?
What does that term tell you about what that person is looking for?
Most importantly, what is the point for ranking #1 for a term that doesn’t actually lead to any sales?
Rather than focusing on how many people use a search query, focus on search intent or the reason why someone is searching.
User intent breaks down into two things:
- Figuring out what users who come to your pages want to consume.
- Making your content the best option for those users.
So, let’s say you sell new Nike shoes.
There’s not much point in targeting [how to clean Nike shoes] because those people likely aren’t ready to buy; they are looking to take care of the shoes they already have.Rather, you’d want to focus on [buy Nike shoes near me] because that searcher is clearly ready to buy.
Granted, you could use [how to clean Nike shoes] to build trust and catch those buyers later, but that needs to be done intentionally.
2. Allowing Clients to Choose Keywords
One of the biggest keyword research mistakes of all is failing to do keyword research at all.
We’ve all had that client who wants to “help” by telling you what keywords they want to target. Unfortunately, those terms are often too broad, don’t match search intent, or are too competitive to even bother with.
That client list should be a starting point, not an endpoint.
A lot of business owners (and even SEO marketers) think they know what searchers are looking for, but keywords should be based on data, not vanity or gut instinct.
You don’t want to end up in a scenario like this:
OMG, Y'ALL –
Just had a client ask why there are no meta keywords on any of his pages if he's paying us for SEO…
— Greg Gifford (@GregGifford) March 13, 2017
3. Forgetting to Look at the SERPs
There are plenty of powerful keyword research tools that make keyword research so much easier.
You can dig deep into data, look at historical trends, even see what your competition is ranking for.
For example, here’s all the data WordStream’s keyword research tool delivers:
It’s solid, useful data.
However, there can be too much of a good thing.
Many marketers spend so much time diving deep into research tools that they forget to look at the one place that really matters – the SERPs.
Don’t let tools take over the entire keyword research process. Take the time to see what type of content is ranking for your top terms and use that to inspire your campaigns.
4. Aiming for One Keyword per Piece of Content
There’s an old SEO joke: “An SEO walks into a bar, Irish pub, club, beer, whiskey.”
And while that joke highlights the absurdity of cramming unrelated keywords into the same sentence, some SEO marketers swing the other way and only target one keyword per piece of content.
Which is also a mistake, error, blunder, miscalculation.
Google is getting better at understanding context, which means optimizing for just one keyword per post is a thing of the past.
Gregg Gifford dropped some more knowledge for us on this:
A1 (continued) – if you're still doing old-school SEO and targeting one keyword per page and not thinking about targeting concepts, then you need to change that for sure – and *maybe* that's why you're worried about BERT
but it's still just regular SEO, y'all#SEMrushChat
— Greg Gifford (@GregGifford) November 20, 2019
Rather than targeting a single keyword, look for related terms that support the main term.
For example, a post about keyword research should also target related terms like keyword research tools.
Just keep in mind this shouldn’t be forced – only use related terms that make sense for your content.
5. Targeting High-Volume Keywords Only
What metrics do you look at when considering what keywords to target?
If high-volume keywords are your go-to for finding the right keywords, you could be missing out on better options.
Because high-volume often ignores user intent, which we’ve already talked about.
Plus, high-volume terms are highly competitive. It’s hard to stand out when you go after the same key terms as everyone else.
Even Eric Enge agrees:
— Eric Enge (@stonetemple) August 17, 2020
Don’t forget to look for mid-volume keywords that match search intent – they are easier to rank for and cheaper to bid on.
6. Avoiding Long-Tail Keywords
Long-tail keywords often have a lower search volume, which turns some marketers away. That’s a mistake you can’t afford to make.
Sometimes low search volume is a good thing. Lower volume key terms are often further in the sales funnel, meaning the user is much closer to making a purchase.
Using various contextual keywords can also ensure you cover a topic more broadly and are more likely to provide visitors with the content they need to convert.
7. Not Talking to Your Customers
Sometimes the terms we use to talk about our product or service aren’t the same terms our customers use to talk about our product or the problems they face.
In addition to using keyword research tools, it’s critical to talk (and listen) to what your customers say.
Pay attention to how they describe their challenges, the solutions they find, or what types of products they want.
Look at reviews, social media posts, and listen to customer service calls to find the words and phrases customers use to talk about the challenges they face and the solutions they’ve tried.
For example, you might call your tool a “website visitor tracking tool,” but if your customers don’t know what that means, you won’t gain any traction.
8. Going Back to Insert Keywords
Some SEO marketers seem to think creating content for users means ignoring SEO until the end.
After all, can’t you just go back and add the keywords Google wants once the content is done?
When I hear clients say this, it feels like I’m burning my mouth with hot coffee.
John Doherty knows my pain:
Point was: hire an SEO consultant/agency to help you out with the full research, guidance around writing things that rank, and promotion. SEOs don't just insert keywords into articles that you've already written.
— John Doherty (@dohertyjf) November 8, 2017
You wouldn’t add taco seasoning to your taco after you’ve cooked it, would you?
Similarly, you can’t go back and “SEO” a post after the writing is complete.
Instead, keyword research should be done before a topic is even picked, and terms should be added naturally where it makes sense.
9. Not Knowing What Channels Your Customers Are Searching
When we talk about SEO, most of the time, we’re talking about Google – and that’s a problem.
Google isn’t the only search engine out there.
And no, I am not talking about Bing and Yandex – I am talking about other channels that people use as search engines like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and even TikTok.
Each platform has a different algorithm and different preferences that you need to be paying attention to.
Just because a word ranks well on Google doesn’t mean it will do well on YouTube or Twitter.
Pay attention to which channel your users are searching, not just what words they use.
10. Pushing Exact Match Keywords
How often have you gotten a list from clients that include awkward key terms like “best travel agency Orlando” or “computer services Portland.”
Stop trying to cram awkward phrases into your content and ads. (Also, stop accepting your client’s keyword lists as gold.)
Google is way less picky about using exact match keywords.
They understand your terms just fine with an “in” or even several words in between parts of a keyword.
With the addition of natural language processing, Google is getting better and better at understanding context.
Take a look at this search for [SEO agency chicago]. You can see Google returns results with related keywords, not just those that match exactly.
11. Not Paying Attention to Keyword Localization
Keyword localization, or the differences in terms based on location, can tank your SEO efforts.
Don’t assume that people in different countries (or even different parts of the same country) use the exact same terms when searching for a product
For example, soda, pop, and coke all refer to carbonated beverages but are used in different parts of the country.
This is another reason why paying attention to the actual SERPs is so important.
12. Skipping Topical Research
Earlier, I mentioned you shouldn’t focus on just one main key term.
Rather, you need to include a range of related key terms related to the core topic.
The reason this works is that it establishes topical authority, or authority over a broad idea, rather than a single term.
Topical research is the act of finding what related topics the main keyword targets.
For example, if you wanted to rank for SEO, you wouldn’t write a 4,000-word post about just SEO – you’d want to find out what other related topics people are searching such as SEO tools, SEO mistakes, and SEO strategies.
Taking the time to do topical research will help you find related keywords that will help you rank higher in the end.
13. Shunning Your SERP Competitors
Hopefully, you know who your market competitors are – but do you know who your SERP competitors are?
The brands ranking above you for content might not be the same competitors you vie with for actual customers.
For example, if you sell a specific air conditioner part, you might be competing with other manufacturers and stores for customers – but a handyman blog for core key terms.
Competitive research can also highlight other keywords you haven’t considered, so it’s important to make sure you check in regularly on all your competitors.
14. Passing Over Keyword Difficulty
Most keyword research tools provide info on keyword difficulty or how competitive a certain term is in the SERPs. I see a lot of marketers ignore this stat to focus on search volume.
After all, if 50,000 people are searching for a term, a few will end up on our site, right?
Not if you can’t snag one of the top three spots in SERPs because the keyword is too difficult to rank for.
Sometimes a lower volume and lower difficulty term will be easier to rank for – and more lucrative in the end.
But keyword difficulty doesn’t consider a lot of factors.
A highly competitive keyword might not be hard for you to rank for if you have high traffic and rank well for similar terms.
15. Neglecting Conversions
Let’s say you are optimizing an ecommerce shoe site. What term is going to drive the most traffic – tennis shoes or boots?
That’s a trick question because the answer might very well be neither.
Too many clients (and some marketers) aim for broad key terms that are important in their industry but fail to realize that they’d actually make more sales targeting key terms that are more likely to convert.
For example, an ecommerce store might get tons of traffic targeting a key term like [boots], but maybe half a percent will convert. On the other hand, [waterproof women’s snow boots] might not draw in a ton of traffic – but 3% to 5% might convert.
Are Keyword Research Mistakes Holding You Back?
When it comes to keyword research, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. To be fair, it comes from a place of good intention, but the tactics are often outdated or resemble the black hat days of the early 2000s.
Keywords, while they all share a common strategy, are very different because of the intent behind the term.
The truth is: It’s not easy to perform keyword research nowadays.
The key is to understand your audience and set up a strategy that works for your business.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal