5 things you’re doing wrong during keyword research

Tyler Mandroin’s Years of Experience Give Him a Unique and Helpful Insight Into Keyword Research

1. Not thinking the way your customers think

I’d go as far as saying that the entire purpose behind keyword research is getting into the heads of people that are going to buy or convert on your website. It’s only natural to walk into keyword research with assumptions – If I’m selling bowling balls, it’s pretty likely that “bowling balls for sale” would be my #1 term, right? It would be amazing if things were this straightforward, because marketing correctly would be much easier than it actually is. While this is likely a term I’d want to compete for, this isn’t the only way people will search for something that they want to buy. There isn’t an industry standard for “how many searches before someone buys something”, but unless someone has already made up their mind about exactly what they want to purchase, you can bet it’s going to be more than one. Back to our bowling ball example, think about all the searches that the uninitiated may make to learn more about what they should buy. What material is best for a beginner – plastic or polyurethane? Do I need to visit a pro shop to get one customized? How heavy of a bowling ball do I need? Even on the most seemingly simple purchases, your customers are going to be doing substantial research before reaching a conclusion on who to buy from. Identifying these points of inquiry and optimizing for them can get you into the customer’s mind during the research phase of their buying cycle – if you’re helping answer their questions, you’re more likely to build trust with them. Most importantly, you’re taking the time to answer questions that your competitors might not be, which can separate your small website from the Amazons of the world. If your website is doing its job, you’ve got a great path leading someone from the research phase into your shopping cart.

Try developing your core terms first by questions like these:

  • What problem does your product or service actually solve?
  • What issues or fears does my service help control for my customers?
  • What are people calling what I do, whether I like it or not?
  • Is there a common industry / colloquial name for my product?

2. Relying Only on Google Webmaster Tools

Chances are that this isn’t the first article you’ve ever read about keyword research, nor will it be the last. Throughout your research, you’re likely to several of these articles from online marketing thought leaders (Moz, Search Engine Journal) about keyword research, and how Webmaster Tools can give you invaluable data. It certainly can – just make sure you’re using it with the knowledge of where it came from. For a website that hasn’t had previous SEO-related work done to it, Webmaster Tools is going to tell you exactly what you’re already getting traffic for, and how you’re ranking for many of those terms. What it won’t tell you is if you’re targeting terms that are producing ROI. It’s akin to planning a vacation based around a plane ticket you’ve already bought. Yes, you have a clear destination, and a good idea of where you’ll end up when you go on the flight – it’s easy to plan activities around where you know you are going to be. However, your flight doesn’t care what you actually want to do – if you want to be on the beach, but your ticket is taking you to Wichita, you may have a perfectly nice vacation, but you’re not going surfing. Start with the goals – what words should I be ranking for – then apply the data from Webmaster Tools – it’s a great guide to show you how far along you’ll need to go to get to the beach.

3. Spending too much time on data that won’t change your approach

This common mistake can be applied to online marketing in a nutshell, but we’ll keep it as it applies to keyword research. Reading keyword data from Google can quickly resemble drinking from a fire-hose. You’re going to look at 1000’s of variations before you pull the trigger on those magic few target keywords, so how do you cut this time down? Instead of focusing on the data and semantical differences between “polyurethane bowling ball” and “bowling ball store”, think about these terms as they relate to your goals. Use this to come up with a strategy for “bucketing” similar terms together, than create separate tracking sheets for terms you think might meet the goal of each individual budget. The goal here is to take the gigantic list of terms that could or couldn’t apply to your business, and start organizing them by intent and purpose, rather than cost or competitiveness. When your terms are grouped together properly, it’s easier to make sweeping decisions about entire groups of keywords, rather than fighting over each individual one. Creating buckets of grouped terms makes setting up a PPC or SEO campaign 1000x easier, but that’s a story for a different day.

4. Looking at the wrong competitors

Ask any business owner who their competitors are, and you’re going to get some pretty quick answers. More often than not, companies are going to recognize competitors by reputation, customer word-of-mouth, or just their own experience in the industry. These are certainly still your competitors – you can all serve the same customers right? These aren’t always going to be your online competitors – websites competing against you, whether intentionally or not, for the clicks on the terms that will get you positive ROI. In the e-commerce world, your competitors are a bit more straightforward – you’re competing against anyone selling a product of the same name, so you need to make sure you’re emphasizing your points of differentiation and value propositions in order to stand out from the pack. The cost per click, competition measurement, and search volume are going to play directly into your CTR and conversion rates to getting you ROI. Your organic competition may resemble something that your business has never seen before. Let’s say our bowling ball store published a beginner’s guide to bowling, only to find this page hidden in the results underneath a similar page from the PBA (professional bowling association), a page on ESPN with the results of an amateur competition, or the league schedule from the bowling alley down the street. These are your actual competitors – and they’re likely to have variable amounts of interest of actually ranking that specific page for that specific term. Using a tool like SEMrush will help you understand what these sites have done to rank on this term, and on similar terms. Combine the numerical data with the strategy that you can surmise each of these pages has taken to get where they are. Did the PBA or bowling alley intend to rank for this term? The bowling alley likely didn’t if a league schedule is coming up – it’s not really relevant to the search, nor is it really driving conversions to that business. It’s safe to say that they have accidentally done what you’re setting out to do. The PBA page might be a different story – you may find that they have a clear agenda or reason for getting that beginner’s guide to ranking high organically. It’s likely your store doesn’t have the capital to compete against a national sport’s website for one of their objectives, so your overall success on this term may be limited by factors out of your control. Is this page ranking as well for “a beginner’s guide to bowling left handed” or “a beginner’s guide to buying a ball”? You could find an opportunity here to make a few tweaks, and ultimately command more traffic. You might just get that new left-handed bowler to spend some time on your site and eventually make a purchase as well. This exercise can help show you what the strategy is behind the existing rankings, and give you a qualitative estimate of the level of competition – something you can’t get out of Google’s keyword research tool.

5. You’re not ready to advertise

One of the better tests behind whether your keyword research is worthwhile is if you can easily answer this question: What are these users going to do on my site when they get here? If you’re struggling with this response, you’ll probably get more out of isolating a conversion strategy for your site rather than how to start bringing in the right traffic. If you don’t think your target page has a compelling story to tell for the keyword your targeting, you’ve got a bit more work to do before bringing in the right traffic. I do want to caveat that by saying that keyword research can be a very good start to writing kind of pages or finding what kind of products you want to carry, so don’t be afraid to jump in if you don’t have a path to success – keyword research can be a great exploratory tool to see the competitive landscape of a business venture. If you’ve got a good idea of what your traffic will (or, in theory, should) do on your site, ask this question next: Can they do what I’m asking them to do? If you want this user to reach out to you, is your phone number on the site? Do they have a way to contact you easily? Can they send you an e-mail or fill out a form? Is it easy to find and fill out the form? (My favorite) Are you actually getting forms sent from your site? Just be sure that you’re ready to handle traffic once it gets to your site – not just from an ROI perspective – but you can’t decide which terms are better or worse for your business without measuring how they convert on your site. Optimization is won in the weeks and months after the initial research ever took place, and you’re doing yourself a mighty disservice if you’re not recording the right data points to make these decisions based on relevant, actionable data. If you’re not ready to convert, you’re not ready to advertise. All of the traffic in the world can’t save a bad website. Note from the author: Why bowling? I don’t know. Probably because someone sent me a picture showing that Val Kilmer looks now looks exactly like The Dude.