I think I stress too much about our clients' performance of their optimization campaigns. Or perhaps I just create too much work for myself. See, all these years I've been working 10-12 hour days to help my clients increase their exposure in the search engines for some pretty important phrases. But just recently I found out that I've been targeting all the wrong keywords!

Fallen TreeYou see, I've been using keyword research programs such as Wordtracker to find out what words people actually type into the search field when looking for the product or service our clients' offer. This has helped me to find various search phrases that are actively searched on a daily basis so, when ranked, they deliver traffic to our client's website.

I didn't know could make stuff up!

This is where I think I've created more work for myself. I didn't know we were allowed to just make keywords up instead!

I came to this realization a few weeks ago when I saw a blog post announcing some ranking results that a particular website had achieved after just a few short weeks.

The website in question provides personal development coaching services. I know this because it says so right in their tagline. So when the blog post bragged about how they've achieved some great top rankings I was expecting to see results for keywords such as "personal development plan," "personal growth development," or "personal values development." Each of those keywords receives anywhere from 25-50 searches a day, according to Wordtracker.

I didn't really expect them to come out of the box with great rankings for the more competitive phrase "personal development," which gets about 140 searches per day. But the blog post told a story of their ranking achievements for these keywords: "lack of personal development," "personal skills development" and "mental health development". According to Wordtracker, each of these gets approximately zero searches per day, some of which have virtually no other actual competition as a phrase.

Who needs traffic when you got rankings instead?

They also boasted about another phrase, "personal growth and development," which garners about 12 searches a day, and said they kept some other #1 rankings they've achieved from being made public. But I wonder why they were boasting about any of these keywords in the first place? The traffic generated from any of these keyword phrases isn't likely to be significant. At least not compared to some of the more highly competitive and frequently searched phrases applicable to their industry.

I understand that in some niche industries finding quality keywords can be tough. We've got some clients where their best keywords get only a handful of searches per day, according to Wordtracker. So we optimize and get those keywords ranked, knowing that the traffic that trickles in for them will make all the difference. But we still target the most competitive and highly trafficked, targeted terms for that particular industry.

Have I been going about this all wrong? Could I have just been going after any keywords I like so my clients feel like we were making progress... even if it resulted in no new traffic to their sites? I'll tell you, that would have made things a whole lot easier. Heck, we could charge a lot less too!

Or maybe some people just don't know any better. Maybe bragging about these keywords ranking well will help the higher ups feel good. Maybe it helps someone keep their job when they can point to rankings over real results. This isn't all that uncommon.

Do you want results? Or do you want RESULTS?

Every day business owners come to us looking for rankings, but we are not in the ranking business. Instead, we sell them performance, exposure and growth. We don't brag about some bottom-rung keywords, but help our clients grow their business with solid optimization strategies that increase their exposure for keyword phrases that actually drive them traffic.

Sorry if that sounds like a commercial, it's not intended as such. Consider it a game plan for a valuable optimization strategy. But perhaps Ive been going about this all wrong. Maybe I've chosen the more difficult path. But I believe I'm in the business of helping businesses achieve profitable results, not achieve insignificant search engine rankings. I mean really, if a keyword ranking falls on the first page of the search results, but there is nobody around to see it there, then it really doesn't mean anything.

July 9, 2008

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


My labrador ranks #1 (and 2) for "Blogging Labrador" and she is very happy about it. Just wait until other labs start blogging, she's gonna be on top! Early adopter and all that. :)

Seriously, getting excited about words or phrases nobody is searching for is plain silly.

"Mental Health Development" may not get any searches but it doesn't mean that many people can't benefit from it. Once Dr. Phil takes over the world, expect that to change :.)

Oh, and it's not just ranking, you can say the same thing for traffic too. So you get a ton of traffic for "Free Linday Lohan Pictures". but if you're an industrial ball bearing manufacturer what good does that do you? What's your conversion rate? ROI?

Good point Simon. Very true.

But, uh, who in their right mind is looking for Lindsay Lohan Pics? I saw those Marilyn Monroe poses she did and my eyes screamed out in pain. :)

Give me ROI over #1 rankings any day! But maybe in your example above it's both? What if the rate of return on those phrases is exponentially ginormous compared to others? Or maybe the offline time investment to convert to customers is minimal and the others, financially speaking, are just not worth targeting? I love keyword tools too, but sometimes they don't tell the whole story.

Great title by the way! :)

Good point Chris, a very valid argument. We've seen a number of times that Wordtracker and the other tools just can't get good numbers on certain keywords. They don't do well with low-volume. If the rankings produce quality traffic then someone is definitely there to hear it and it certainly does make a difference.

This is why focusing on rankings just isn't all it's cracked up to be. There are so many other factors that matter. These are the factors that should be discussed, unless of course you get some real bragging rights. that's always fun.

Ok, so you're top for some keyword phrases that aren't often searched on. You don't want to lose these, but you do want to start targeting better keywords. What to do?

My uneducated guess would be to look at the pages that get these top positions, work out what about them is getting you those top positions then move them to another page and free up your key pages to work on the better keywords.

Thoughts anyone?

@ Halestorm

If you don't change the content too drastically you can simply alter the text for the new keywords. See if that effects the performance of your other keywords. If it does then perhaps develop new content for the keywords that were previously ranked and link to that content from the pages that held the rankings prior.

Ok, here's a relevant example of something I'm seeing at the moment on a site we're testing for SEO.

We had an A-Z listing of hotels in London. Each hotel had it's address along side it. We loaded all hotels into the page and displayed only a letter at a time using JavaScript so it wasn't too unwealdy for the user. This meant that we had a bunch of hotels and addresses on one page.

What we found was that people were searching for hotel address information and that different parts of their query would match different hotel addresses and hence return our A-Z page.

So for "hotels in tw8 9es", the "TW8" would match one hotel address and the "9ES" would match another.

What we have just now done is to make separate pages for each letter and removed the address information from the listing page and move it to the hotel's page.

We're now waiting to see how the search engines respond to this and are wondering if we've given up those search placing.

The site is www.ldnhotels.com and we're using this as a test to see if we can make any inroads into this competitive market. Oh and I should warn you, the site is very much in it's early stages ;)

Hi--I love all the columns here at Search Engine Guide, and this one has me wondering about a topic that recently came up for me in real life: the accuracy of Google's Keyword Tool vs. Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery. I use the latter two (I'm a copywriter), but an SEO I recently worked with said she uses Google's free tool. The thing is, there's a huge disparity in the numbers. Now, I know it's not all about the numbers, and I can understand numbers differing a bit tool-to-tool. But, for example, I decided to plug in "personal skills development" in WT and Google's tool. You're correct in that this phrase gets zero searches per day in WT. But in Google's tool, it estimates 320 searches a month (if I'm understanding/reading it correctly, and who knows...I might not be). There's an interesting debate happening here about Google's tool (I'm not affiliated with this blog...but Jill Whalen from High Rankings pointed me to it): http://smackdown.blogsblogsblogs.com/2008/07/15/why-the-google-keyword-tool-is-useless-for-seo-even-with-exact-numbers/

I did a quick search on "Google's Keyword Tool" on Search Engine Guide to see if the tool's relevance has been discussed in any columns, but I don't *think* it has been...I'd love to hear what you think about the tool and why there's such disparity. Is it possible that the company bragging about its SEO successes used that tool??

Thanks again for the great columns!

@ Robyn,

I recently read that article too. During some research for a client I compared Google's keyword tool numbers with Wordtracker. On average Google's numbers were about 5000% higher than Wordtrackers. In some cases that fit with traffic patterns but not even close in others. So I'd say it's real hard to say. I think Wordtracker understates a lot of numbers, especially those on the low end, but Google's I think are way high.

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > If a Ranking Falls on the First Page, But There is Nobody Around to See it, Does it Still Make Any Difference?