Are Your Keywords Too Popular?

When starting keyword research and choosing keywords to target, many site owners look at one factor above all others: popularity. Keywords that garner the most searches, so the thinking goes, will also attract the most traffic, which will lead to the most possible conversions. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near that simple.

If you’ve done any keyword research at all, you know that a number of tools exist to help you determine the search volume for your keywords. Both Keyword Discovery and WordTracker offer free trials and paid versions of their professional keyword research tools. And whether or not you’re working on an AdWords campaign, there’s always Google’s free AdWords Keyword Tool. All of these help you find out how many searchers are looking for your chosen keywords at any given time. The problem is, that number doesn’t give you the full picture.

The truth is that search popularity is only one among a number of factors you need to consider before you decide that any particular keyword is worth targeting. Arguably, it’s not even the most important factor. If it’s the only one you examine, you’re putting in a lot of wasted effort.

Let me start talking about the other factors you need to consider with a somewhat ridiculous example. Using Google’s keyword tool (linked to above), I discovered that the phrase “golf swing” gets 550,000 global searches every month. Pretty good, right? Sure – if your site is about golf. If you run a bakery specializing in cupcakes, you’re better off with he search phrase “custom cupcakes,” even though it only receives 9,900 global searches every month. That’s true even if your bakery is located next to a golf course.

I know that’s a crazy example, but it gets the point across. Far more important than the search popularity of your keyword is its relevance to your website. Nobody who is interested in cupcakes is going to use the phrase “golf swing” in their search query, even if they’re looking for golf-themed cupcakes to celebrate the hole-in-one of a member of their regular foursome.

This brings us to the next point you should consider when choosing which keywords to target: user intent. Say your business sells kits for making beer and wine. You just might be tempted to use “free beer” as one of your keywords. After all, when you make your own beer, you’re not paying for it at a bar or liquor store, right? That might be true, strictly speaking, but it’s still not “free” by most definitions of that term. Worse, though, is that someone searching for “free beer” is probably looking for beer that doesn’t cost anything, in money or effort.

Another general point to keep in mind about searcher intent is that the closer a searcher is to making a conversion, the longer the key phrase they tend to use. Someone searching for “amigurumi” may just want information about those cute, popular little crocheted creations. A Wikipedia entry may do the job. Someone searching for “free amigurumi Yoda pattern” is looking for something much more specific. In fact, they’ll probably convert the instant they see something that matches their search criterion (assuming it also meets their quality standards).

A third factor that’s at least as important as the search popularity of your keyword is its competitiveness. How many sites are targeting the same keyword. I mentioned earlier that the key phrase “golf swing” gets 550,000 searches every month. Now consider that more than 14 million pages target that phrase. That’s a crazy level of competition, and if you’re a small company you probably don’t have the time or money to try to go toe to toe with the big guys who’ve already won the top spot for that phrase. At least, you probably can’t do that when you’re just starting out.

Being careful about the amount of competition for the keywords you’re targeting is especially important if you’re running a pay-per-click campaign through Google AdWords or similar search engine marketing. As Christine Churchill notes, if you choose a popular search phrase for which lots of people are competing, “PPC bid prices will be higher and winning a top organic spot will require more work because more competitors are targeting that phrase.”  You do not want to be in that position. It makes a lot more sense to aim for relevant but more focused phrases that are less popular. You’ll face less competition and you will probably get more conversions.

These aren’t the only things you need to consider when choosing a keyword to target. Points such as the seasonality of certain keywords, the part of the world you’re trying to reach (and their preference for using one word rather than another to describe the same item), and news stories that might affect how frequently people search for your chosen keyword, all come into play, among others. I invite you to check out SEO Chat’s entire category covering keywords for useful tips on keyword research; I think you’ll find my items on using Google for keyword research and its companion piece on determining keyword traffic particularly helpful. In any case, I hope you see now that there’s no reason to deck your website out with the most popular keywords you can find if you’re doing it just because of how popular they are. Good luck! 

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