4 Mistakes You’re Making With Keyword Research
We live in a content-driven online world, and writing for the web is a tricky business. That’s not to say you can’t have great success with the right mix of keyword optimizations and authoritative content resources.
Quality keyword research (and how you leverage your findings) can mean the difference between your brand being nobody to Google and being on the first page of search results. We’re talking about the difference between tens of visitors and tens of thousands of visitors each month. Let’s face it: Organic web traffic means money. And who doesn’t like money?
I decided to take a look at some of the most common mistakes people make when conducting keyword research. We’ll cover some specifics—what tools to use and when to use them—as well as some specific examples of what not to do as a business aiming to capture all the keyword volume you come across at the data-collection stage.
Mistake #1: You’re Answering Questions You Think People Are Asking
This is the blogging mistake to rule all web content mistakes: You’re arbitrarily writing what you think readers are interested in, rather than writing what you know web users are searching for.
The whole point of keyword research is data-driven decision-making, so don’t assume you have all the answers before doing your homework. Even if you do have all the answers figured out, you can’t possibly know every single question, or who might be asking it and what their background is. This is where keyword tools come into play.
A smattering of my favorite tools for targeted keyword inspiration and a pro tip for each:
- SEMrush – for identifying phrases your competitors are ranking for.
- Google Search Console – for gauging your site’s current positioning and impressions for a keyword.
- Google Keyword Planner – for finding new phrase niches to find new phrase niches to cut into.
Mistake #2: You’ve Got Keyword Tunnel Vision
There’s a phenomenon in psychology in which you assume what you know to be true to be the whole truth, and you interpret any new evidence as reinforcement for that truth. It’s called confirmation bias—and I think it’s extremely common in SEO keyword practices.
Picture this: You’re a 10-year-old “startup” in the health IT sector, and your business has experienced extreme growth in recent years. You’ve decided it’s time to upgrade from your managed shared hosting account and have opted for a dedicated server due to your unique security and compute requirements. You take to Google: “best dedicated hosting provider.”
Your intent is pretty clear: You want a server from a well-reputed dedicated hosting provider.
Now imagine you’re the host trying to attract said user. Here’s what not to do as a web marketer, using HostGator as a stand-in for the host:
- Attempt to drive sales to a product or service unrelated to the targeted query (e.g., shared hosting when the search is “dedicated hosting”)
- Say everything else about the topic but ignore the main qualifier (e.g., talking about HostGator’s history, team, and industry reputation with no mention of server specs)
- Lie. If the thing users are searching for doesn’t exist, don’t try to trick them (we all hate that)
Just because a product type or market niche is popular doesn’t mean it’s what everyone needs or wants. And just because you really want to sell your business to a potential customer doesn’t mean your product is the best one for that user. Your best bet is to focus on providing honest information and hope your product sells itself (with some other marketing efforts, of course).
Mistake #3: You’re Pulling Your Keyword Data From A Single Source
Remember the trusted keyword tools I suggested a couple sections ago? Use them—all of them! Or, at least, use more than one. Just as your high school English teacher taught you to cite multiple sources when writing an authoritative research paper, you shouldn’t put all your keyword eggs in one basket.
Mistake #4: You’re Not Answering the Question at All
Funnily enough, I’ve seen way too many cases in which web content producers do extensive keyword research only to throw it out the window. Seriously, imagine spending hours and money on resources to analyze a user question (the search queries) and then flushing that information and serving up an answer to a tangentially related question instead. People do it! All. The. Time.
I’ll use credit cards as an example. Say someone wants to find a good cash-back card to kickstart funding to design their new site and launch their online business. Unfortunately, this someone hit an unlucky strike with student loan debt in the past, so their credit score isn’t the greatest. They might turn to Google for the “best cash-back credit cards for fair credit.”
Off the top of my head, I can think of about a dozen types of credit cards. The top credit card comparison sites break cards down by issuer, by level of credit needed, and by features such as air miles or 0% APR, and, you guessed it, credit cards with the best cash-back perks. It would be wasted effort to promote premium cards on a page supposedly optimized to capture “fair credit” searches. It would be like Forbes trying to run a story on a political rally in Washington and sending a reporter to interview a group of middle schoolers in Utah. What?
Internet users are, for the most part, pretty specific about what they want out of a Google result. The more modifiers they’ve thrown onto a query—e.g., “best,” “free,” “green,” “for women,” “no ads,” etc.—the more fed up they are with existing search results. And if you don’t focus on actually answering the question, no matter how trivial, minor, or seemingly non-monetizable it is, they will bounce from your site, too. And that’s bad. Listen to your searchers!
One final tip
My last piece of advice is to remember to treat search engines as a platform for consumers to voice their questions about anything (some questions will be relevant to your business, but most will not). Each search term is a user question, and your #1 goal as a content writer for the web should be to answer those questions better than anyone else has previously.