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.
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.
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