Remove Your Keyword Research Blinders

Keywords stand at the heart of using search engines, SEO, and search engine marketing. Searchers use keywords to find what they’re looking for. Marketers use keywords in their ads and on their websites to turn up in the search results that search engines serve to (hopefully) potential customers. But a lot can go wrong in the process. This article will explain one major, all-too-common keyword research mistake and how to avoid it.

I’m focusing on keyword research, not because you can’t make mistakes in other areas of keyword usage, but because I figure you don’t really want to read yet another article on why you shouldn’t engage in keyword stuffing and other shady practices. Also, most site owners and SEOs treat keyword research as the first step in building content or a marketing campaign. You need to do keyword research to use Google’s AdWords advertising to its full potential. And yet, it’s easy to find yourself wearing blinders.

Christine Churchill covers this well for Search Engine Land; I’ll be pulling ideas from her article to discuss here. The first mistake she points to that many people make concerning keyword research looks like wearing blinders. It involves using keywords that no one is searching for. You could easily rank number one on Google for “psychedelic old school widgets,” but that won’t get you any customers when everyone is searching for “tie-dyed vintage thingamajigs” instead.

More seriously, though, you may be wondering how this happens, and you might even think that it never happens to you. I’m sorry to say that if you’re convinced you don’t have this problem, you need to think again. Churchill talks about “a form of myopia” where firms might use certain jargon in-house that is never used outside the company. The problem is, it never occurs to them that those outside the company might use different keywords for the same product or service.

A friend of mine who’s a retired IBM employee once told me that Big Blue was notorious for this kind of short-sightedness, but you don’t have to be a big company to fall victim to it. Just ask anyone outside of the SEO field what “KEI” means, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. So tell me, how much will “KEI” help you as a keyword if the customers you’re trying to reach aren’t SEOs?

Incidentally, this is also why you should be wary of any SEO company that offers a “guarantee” for a number one ranking on particular phrases. Top rankings aren’t hard to gain for obscure keywords that nobody is using. If nobody is using the keyword, it may be because nobody is searching for it.

So how do you make sure that the keywords you’re thinking of targeting actually get used by searchers? Believe it or not, certain Google tools – totally free ones, I might add – can help you get a handle on the potential traffic for your keywords. I’ve talked about Google AdWords Keyword Tool and even an unusual usage of Google Suggest. Both of these approaches can help you see how many searchers are using your keywords.

But if you’re trying to combat an unnatural attachment to jargon at your company, you might need to use Google Trends. This tool lets you compare the amount of traffic for two or more different keywords. It gives you some excellent charts that show the popularity of both terms compared to each other over time and geographical region. The chart that compares their relative popularity over time even includes news items relevant to the keywords. For instance, who would have thought that “laptop” is beating “notebook” as the keyword more searchers use when looking for that product? On the other hand, if you’re trying to reach a German-speaking audience, you might want to use “notebook,” because for them, it’s the more popular term.

The best way to avoid making this keyword research mistake is to get outside your own frame of reference and think like your potential customers. This isn’t easy, but it’s very important. Try to approach your research with as few preconceived notions as possible. Over the next few weeks, if there’s interest, I hope to cover more keyword research mistakes and how you can avoid making them when you do your own research. Good luck!

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