A former client of mine, a B2B software company, had a list of 20 or so "priority keywords" that they wanted to be on page 1 in Google for. Every month, no matter what other numbers I showed them (organic visitor growth, social traffic, long-tail keywords moving up in rank, etc), they only wanted to know how those top 20 priority keywords were performing. And while I understand that rank is an important business metric for many site owners it cannot be the only thing that you care about. Limiting their definition of SEO success to how those 20 priority keywords performed actually shortchanged the rest of their SEO program and they lose the forest for the trees.
With tens of thousands of searches a month up those competitive keywords can drive immense amounts of traffic to those sites that rank in to top few spots. I completely understand the business value in doing well for a few choice keywords. And while there is nothing wrong with having a list of competitive priority keywords you want to do well for in time (I know I'd love if my company were on page 1 for "SEO"), focusing solely on those priority keywords and neglecting to target and incorporate new keyword, both broad and long-tail, limits how successful your SEO really will be. Broader keywords are typically the most competitive, making it that much harder to crack the top 10 (or even the top 20) search results. Even with a full-fledged SEO campaign behind them, those priority keywords might only move a spot or two every 6 months which doesn't look like very much success on paper even though going from #8 to #3 is a huge jump!
An argument I'd often hear from this particular client was "Well why should we bother concentrating on a keyword with 1,000 searches when this keyword gets 10,000?" But which would you rather have as a site owner--ranking well for that less searched keyword and getting 450 highly targeted visitors each month, or ranking okay for that larger keyword and getting 1,200 visitors each month. Yes, I realize that 1,200 is more than 450 but percentage wise you're comparing 12% of potential traffic to 45% of potential traffic. Your site might be getting fewer visitors from that one smaller keyword but chances are the conversion rate is better since long-tail keywords tend to pull in a much more targeted visitor. And you also have to remember that you're targeting dozens, if not hundreds of other long-tail keywords and variations on the site. If only 10 long-tail keywords could each send you 1,000 visitors and you just got 200 a month from each of them that's still 2,000 extra unique visitors each month.
Site owners cannot afford to only focus on a short list of priority keywords because it limits the scope and depth of their SEO campaign. You and I could search for the exact same thing and use a completely different search query to find it. For instance, if I'm looking to hire a new accountant I could search for "bookkeeper," "small business accountant," "Boston business accountant," and more. When your SEO is so narrowly focused on your priority keywords you risk missing the opportunity to connect with a bigger audience. Just because I search for "small business bookkeeper" and you searched for "business tax accountant" that doesn't mean the same provider couldn't be the perfect fit for both of us.
You also have to remember that search behavior changes. For instance, 5 years ago no one had ever heard of the term "inbound marketing." Flash-forward a few years and Hubspot has turned "inbound marketing" into such recognized term that some marketing professional are branding themselves as "inbound marketers." If you're not willing to look past your own priority keyword list you could be targeting keywords that are actually on the way out and missing up and coming opportunities.
Yes, I know that search volume is blinding but at the end of the day what really matters is finding the right keywords that drive converting traffic to your site. Whether they are broad or long-tail doesn't really matter in the end---it's whatever works best for your site and your target audience!
Nick Stamoulis is the President and Founder of Brick Marketing, one of the premier full service SEO firms in the United States. With over 12 years of experience Nick Stamoulis has worked with hundreds of companies small, large and every size in between. Through his vast and diverse SEO, search engine marketing and internet marketing experience Nick Stamoulis has successfully increased the online visibility and sales of clients in all industries.
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