I'm a big fan of keyword research but I know that the data provided from any keyword research tool has its limitations. For the most part, these tools can only provide you with information on what is being searched. What they can't do is tell you which searches were relevant, which results were quickly discarded in favor of a different or more refined search, or which searches actually provide the visitor with exactly what they are looking for.

I'm not a big searcher, but I find that when I do I start with the basic concept of what I'm looking for. I'll take a few seconds to scan through the results, and then I'll go back and perform a more specific search. This pattern could happen two, maybe three times, until I feel that I've gotten the information I need.

I rarely expect my first search to produce results that brings me to my final destination. Instead, I'll use the search results to give me clues about how I can search better the next time. With each search, I refine my request, based on what I found in the previous set of results. This pattern continues until I create a search query that gives me a good handful of sites that fit the content I'm looking for.

But it might take me three or four searches to get there.

Recent studies show that searchers are using more words in their search queries (pdf) more often. Still, the lion's share of searches are performed with one, two or three words.

For marketing purposes, the two or three searches I performed prior to performing my final query were of little value. They were valuable to me as a searcher, but only because they helped me refine my search. To the companies listed in the results, I was just another wasted search. But the keyword research tools we use don't know this. They see only queries being performed, not the intent or deliverables of those queries.

Does this mean that keyword research tools are worthless?

No, but you do need to take the data with a grain of salt. Or at least, use that information only until it can be confirmed to provide quality visitors to your site.

There is no perfect way to know if the keywords you uncover with the research tools are going to work for you until you try them.

First, you can run a limited PPC campaign for your words. You're not looking for traffic amounts so much as traffic conversions. You have to run good ads and get at least a few hundred clicks in order to get some accurate results. If your ads are poorly crafted then you might deliver poorly qualified clicks. If your ads are good then you improve your chances of getting conversions, which is what you're looking to do.

With each keyword run this limited campaign and compare the results. Find the keywords that produce the highest conversion rates and use those as your starting point for optimization. But you're not done there.

Trends change over time and keyword usage ebbs and flows. Once you optimize for your keywords, you need to keep monitoring your conversion rates. A high-converting keyword today could be a poor converting word in a month. One that didn't convert so well six months ago may start converting better tomorrow.

Don't assume your keyword research tools are providing you with the best data. They are limited in what they can do. By having your own conversion data, in addition to the keyword research, you are better able to target the keywords that matter most at any given time. Instead of targeting keywords just because they get more traffic, you're targeting keywords that earn you more money.

May 5, 2009

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.


I agree with you but also add that I am somewhat skeptical of the amount of searches quoted in a tool like Google's Keyword Tool. If the tool says that there are 1000 searches for a keyword in a month and my site is listed number 3 and see little if any traffic on those keywords I wonder if the numbers are skewed. I am tempted to run an adwords ad to see how many impressions I get on search for that keyword to check.
Thanks for the post I'm sure it will help!

I use keyword tags as a guide for suggestions. I then incorporate longtail, regional and such. I find keyword tracking numbers are far from correct. People like me who search keywords for ideas, competing sites, ranking reports etc can cause mid representation on how often a keyword is used in searches etc. You also have many so called keyword tools and those numbers are never the same.

So, to me, as an seo consultant look at them as a tool only and discovery on selected baseline phrases. I can go on, but why bore you with my soapbox speech :-)

I couldn't agree more, Stoney. As with so many other aspects of SEO and search marketing, keyword research is only one piece of a much larger puzzle.

Keyword research is incredibly important and serves as a foundation for an initial optimization strategy, but search volume is only part of that equation - generating traffic that leads to conversions is where the rubber really meets the road in terms of a keyword search.

I don't believe the search volumes are skewed as much as I support the idea that keyword research tools don't account for click through rates and merely report back the raw data on the number of searches for a given term.

Yes keyword research tools are not only answers to target right keywords. What Andrew has said is right. Therefore to get better results we must look for other sources like networking and bookmarking sites such as twitter and facebook to know more about keywords.

i have also experienced getting irrelevant articles when trying different keywords. the keywords are spot on but not necessarily the content.

Keyword tools are an okay place to start if you have a new website with no search history. Agree with the author though - you can't trust it. The search estimates will be way off, and the keyword suggestions will be mixed in terms of relevancy to your business, but you have to start somewhere. The key to successful keyword research (imho) is to transition away from that initial list of suggested keywords (derived from a public keyword tool - accessible to anyone, including your competitors - in which case it's impossible to gain any competitive advantage) and instead incrementally build your own proprietary keyword taxonomy that is based on actual searches and outcomes on your site, after all, the best source of keyword research are your own potential customers. You need to iterate - as you build your proprietary keyword taxonomy, the accuracy of your data improves, allowing you to better execute PPC and SEO. By continuously re-factoring new data into your existing keyword research, you can continuously improve SEO and PPC. I recently wrote a blog post about this here: http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2009/04/07/how-achieve-best-results-ppc-seo

I find that the traffic numbers are greatly skewed as well. If you use a trickle down theory, if you start with "dog food" and work your way to "dog food for a 1 year old puppy with worms" you could go through quite a few searches.

One statistic I would be interested to see from Google, or anyone that has it, is the number of re-searches done by individuals in the same session.


Yes, I've also experienced the keyword search tool is not enough. Though, keyword tool gives a list of keywords but I don't get the specific keyword that I'm looking for. I must say, we should try for another useful source for the better result.


I used to work as a ghost writer online. Sometimes, when I create articles, it is always a point to list down the title, article description and the keywords. And these keywords have to have at least 6% density within the article, meaning it has to be mentioned 6 - 9 times. I don't think that keyword usage is such a waste, however, I do agree that like what you just said, it has limitations, just like everything. True, when you are into SEO, keywords can help you a lot, but I suppose, there is something much more important than the eyword factor.

Yes keyword research tools are not only answers to target right keywords. What Andrew has said is right. Therefore to get better results we must look for other sources like networking and bookmarking sites such as twitter and facebook to know more about keywords.

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Generally I don't really use tools for my research. I find that it's much more accurate in most instances if I do all of my research manually.

Yes, i agree with you but my point is when we have website for specific product or service then definitely we have to target that keyword only not other unrelated keyword. and when we use keyword research tool then we got some idea about trend that search in what way? so that we can optimized our site with that specific keyword which maximize our site exposure.

Keyword tools are not reliable. If I had to choose one, then Google keyword tool is still the best. I've tried other tools such as wordtracker but the estimates given were much more different from reality compared with numbers given by google keyword. I guess all keyword tools require a good portion of skill in order to draw the right conclusions from the raw numbers.

I tend to use Google Keyword tool the most but I still find keywords manually which are specific to each company as the keyword tool isn't always accurate.

I'm not sure how you could be in the SEO business and write an article that in any way suggests keyword research isn't critical. Fair enough, the keyword research tools have their limitations but they're all we've got. That said, if you don't know how people search for the products, services and information you offer on your web site (or your client's web site), how can you possible expect to reach your target market? Suppose you offer medical information about bipolar disorder. Without doing the keyword research, do you know all of the other ways in which people express their search intent for this subject? Without the keyword research, do you know what kind of information they're most likely *really* seeking when all they've told you is that they're searching on 'bipolar disorder'? I don't need to have 100% confidence in the data that keyword research tools offer. They're still plenty good enough for me to guide my clients correctly.

Myron, I never suggested that Keyword Research isn't a critical component of SEO. I've written extensively on Keyword Research in the past. The point of this article is that one cannot blindly go with whatever the keyword research tools say when it comes to determining value of each phrase.

I use adword & good keywords(software) both provide me satisfactory result till now but i can say whether the searches were relevant or not

I think google adword is the best choice for my keyword research, u can let me know if there is any else good keyword research tool which provide relevant results..

I have been using google adwords and its giving me satisfactory results

Keyword suggestion tools are exaltly that. Thanks for reminding us!

In our opinion the best way to do keyword research is to use your commom sense.
It gives you a natural and full picture of your topic. We use keyword software just to check we did't forget anything.

Lena & Dima
Publishers, InternetBusinessBTS.com

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