Keyword research is an important part of any SEO strategy.By conducting keyword research, you find out what terms people are searching for and are able to identify the terms you’d like to rank for based on monthly search volumes. Nifty tools like Google Keyword Planner and Wordtracker make it easy to conduct keyword research and to zero in on terms that will be valuable for your site.
But there are three common mistakes people make when it comes to conducting research.
1. Assuming you know what terms visitors use when searching
2. Targeting short-tail terms that are difficult to rank for
3. Not researching your competition
Let’s talk about each of these in more detail.
Mistake #1: Assuming you know what terms people search for
This is something of a rookie mistake, but it’s a mistake nonetheless.
When you assume that you know what people are searching for, you choose not to conduct keyword research and instead rely on terms you’re already familiar with. This is a problem for three reasons.
1. You don’t know for sure that you’re using the terms that people are actually searching for
2. You don’t know whether a slightly different version of the term you’re using has more searches than a very similar term.
3. You’ll miss out on new keyword opportunities that you’ll find out through keyword research
Here’s an example. Suppose you give books away for free and would like to optimize your site for terms related to free books. Like a lot of website owners, you want your website to sound special, so you decide to use the term “free literature” on your site as a way to sound more important. You also end up using the term “free book” a lot in your page titles and in the page copy with lines like “get a free book” and “order a free book right now.” The result is that your site is primarily optimized for the terms “free literature” and “free book.” Then, you go to sleep at night waiting for SEO traffic to start flooding in.
Unfortunately, your site isn’t optimized for the best terms. You chose “free literature” and “free book” without knowing that there are more valuable terms to rank for. Let’s look at search volumes now to get a better idea.
As you can see with the results above from Google Keyword Planner, “free book” and “free literature” are searched the least frequently among all of the terms listed. “Free books online,” “free books,” and “free online books” are all searched much, much more frequently which means if you’re able to rank for those terms then you’ll be getting a lot more traffic to your site.
This is somewhat of a simplistic example, but it shows how important keyword research is for identifying valuable search terms. Even the slight difference in plurality between “free book” and “free books” makes a big difference with “free books” having almost 10 times the search volume. Again, this is somewhat of a beginner mistake, but it is a mistake people make when they overlook the importance of keyword research.
Mistake #2: Targeting short-tail terms that are difficult to rank for
The next mistake people make is attempting to rank for short-tail keyword terms that are difficult to rank for. Sticking with the example above, you may try to rank for “free books online” and “free online books” but the competition is very high for both of those terms. Since the search volume is high, websites that have been optimizing for awhile have been targeting those terms which makes it more competitive to rank as an organic search term.
So what should you do?
The best thing to do is to use keyword research to identify less competitive terms you can rank for. With the free book example, you could look at this list of terms suggested by the Google Keyword Planner to find longer tail terms that are less competitive. In this case, “how to get free books on Kindle” has a low competition and receives 880 searches per month. That’s not a ton of searches, but it’s better to get 20% out of 880 than it is to get 0% out of 49,500 searches. Wouldn’t you agree?
In this case, you could write a really in-depth article for your blog titled “How to Get Free Books on Kindle,” and then promote the post so that it gets more shares and backlinks. The good news is that you’re much more likely to rank for this type of long-tail term than you are to rank for a super competitive short-tail term.
Mistake #3: Not researching your competition
Another mistake people make is not checking up on their competition. And of the three, this mistake gets made the most.
When you research your competition, you get to find out what terms your competitors’ are targeting and what terms they rank for. This gives you an idea of which terms you may want to target, and also may cause a lightbulb to come on when you find out they’re targeting a keyword theme you haven’t even thought of yet.
Let’s take the Mormons as an example. The Mormons are known for doing an excellent job with digital marketing and SEO, so they’re a great “organization” to take a look at.
When you use a tool like iSpionage to check the Mormon’s SEO strategy, you find out that Mormon.org ranks for 5,572 terms. They also rank for terms like “find a mormon church,” “do the mormons believe in jesus,” and “church of mormons,” which makes sense since those terms are very closely related to Mormonism. But you’ll also notice that they rank for terms like “article of faith,” “the articles of faith,” “get a free holy bible,” and “freeholybible.”
Those other terms may come as a surprise to a “competing organization.” You may expect that Mormon.org ranks for Mormon related terms and haven’t realized that they rank well for other terms as well. This could help you to decide to target terms like “article of faith” and “get a free holy bible” since you’re looking to compete with Mormon.org.
The real value of researching your competition is twofold. First, you learn what terms your competition is ranking for which may provide new keyword theme ideas, and second, you’ll find new opportunities where you may want to rank higher in order to compete for specific terms that your competition currently ranks for. If your competition ranks well for a specific group of terms, you can target those terms so they don’t run away with all the customers.
Did you learn anything new and useful from this post. We hope that you did. These three mistakes are simple, but they’re all mistakes that companies make over and over again. If you pay attention to conducting thorough keyword research instead of trusting your gut, search out long-tail terms you’re more likely to rank for, and take some time to research your competition, you’ll be on your way to a more successful SEO strategy that continues to drive more and more organic traffic to your site year after year.
Joseph Wesley Putnam is the proud owner of 5 North Marketing. He helps startups with copywriting, content marketing, and conversion rate optimization. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+, schedule a call on Clarity, and read more of his posts on the 5 North Marketing Blog.