The amount of mystery still surrounding SEO equals that of only the Loch Ness monster and perhaps the lost city of Atlantis.
A majority of clients I speak to about the subject have some vague notion of spinning internet gears doing ambiguous things with their websites that may or may not irritate Google in a way that will ruin businesses and lives.
As for anyone who does have a clue, it usually revolves around keywords, though what those keywords are supposed to be or what’s to be done with them is anyone’s guess.
It’s that latter confusion that wreaks the most havoc. People who know “nothing” tend to hire professionals (though that can backfire too, sadly, as there are many unscrupulous people touting themselves as professionals… perhaps for another blog post?)
But people who know a little something tend to try things out for themselves. They pick a few keywords, stick them here and there and wait.
What the vast majority don’t realize is that even if the “stick them here and there” paradigm actually worked (I’m sensing a third blog post…), there’s still the question of whether the keywords are the right keywords. Or whether all of those “optimization” efforts were in vain.
Some SEO mistakes are costlier than others. Choosing the wrong keywords, though it may not end in a disaster like getting banned from Google, will have the same effect as choosing no keywords and doing no optimization at all. And that’s just a waste of your time and a loss for your business.
So before you waste a single moment optimizing and waiting for that massive influx of non-existent traffic, here are a few ways you could be derailing your efforts before you even begin. And how to rethink your efforts for a better result.
SEO Keyword Mistake #1: Choosing Keywords That Are Too Competitive
I like to start with the Google Keyword Tool. It’s simple, it’s free and it gives you a decent overview.
When you type a keyword or phrase into the search box, Google returns a list of related search terms and a relative competition score for each. Keywords are rated as high, medium or low competition. Not particularly granular, but simple and easy to parse.
If a keyword is rated as having “high” competition, it means that there are, relatively speaking, a lot of sites out there that are also trying to rank well on that keyword.
If you’re attempting to target a keyword that’s high on the competition scale, you’re going to need a lot more than a “stick ‘em here and there” approach. It can take a whole lot of effort and months or even years – depending on who your competition is – to rank well for terms like that.
I’m not telling you to give up on them, but I am telling you that there may be better options.
You’ve heard the phrase “low hanging fruit”.
Find a keyword that’s “medium” and better yet, “low” on the competition scale. You’ll have a lot easier time ranking for a term like that because fewer other sites will be trying to push you out.
You can also try typing your keyword into Google to see what other sites are coming up. If you’re competing with the Walmarts and Amazons of your industry then start with another term. You’ll see quicker results and can take a “long game” approach to the competitive terms.
SEO Keyword Mistake #2: Choosing Keywords That Nobody Is Searching For
This one goes hand in hand with mistake #1 because it’s not always a good idea to choose the least competitive terms. A term may be non-competitive for a reason: because nobody is using it!
The Google keyword tool will also tell you how many people are searching for your chosen term on a monthly basis. If you find a non-competitive keyword but only 23 people per month are searching for it… that’s probably not the best term to spend your precious time optimizing for.
I’ll give you a perfect example: a local client of mine wanted to be found on Google for “my services in X county”. So we sat down and did a little research and I showed him that on a monthly basis, zero people were searching for his services in X county. But plenty of people were searching for his services on a state level. With one small tweak we changed “county” to “state” and jumped up his SEO almost immediately.
Put on your researcher’s cap to ferret out related terms that balance nicely between competition and traffic in your industry. Using the keyword tool, you can try different terms, or drill down through terms to find even more related terms.
SEO Keyword Mistake #3: Choosing Keywords That Don’t Reflect What Your Customers Are Using
This is similar to the second mistake above, but there’s an important nuance. So far, we’ve been talking about doing keyword research based on numbers, statistics and your ideas about what keywords people are using to reach your site.
But what keywords are your customers really using? No research tool on the planet will help you figure this one out. It requires good old-fashioned asking.
Here’s another quick story. Another client of mine manufacturers a very niche electrical component. Internally, they call this component, let’s say “widget”. So they wanted to be found on Google for “widget”. Plenty of competition, and even a decent amount of searches…
But what we also found out was that a lot of their customers also called it “thingamabob”. Nobody internally realized that because they – and all the other “insiders” – called it “widget”.
In fact, “thingamabob” had a decent amount of searches and low competition – because everyone else was ignoring it! This was the perfect opportunity for my client to rank and be noticed.
So before you get too comfortable thinking that you know what your customers are searching for, try asking. You may find opportunities you didn’t even know existed.
SEO Keyword Mistake #4: Choosing Keywords That Are Too Generic
If you make this mistake then it negates everything else I’ve said! Competition doesn’t matter. Traffic doesn’t matter. If you’re targeting broad, generic keywords you’ll get broad, generic traffic and as you may know from Marketing 101, you need to define your target clearly and specifically.
Let’s use an example from a recent conversation I had. The term was “home landscaping design”. When you think about that term, what does it mean? Couldn’t it mean different things to different people?
Some may be looking for professional services. Others, for DIY information. Someone might want blueprints. Or photos for ideas. Someone might want a contractor but others might want a guy who will mow their lawn on a Saturday. Then you add in geography – most landscapers work locally, so chances are, one in Georgia is not going to care how many people are looking for landscaping services in Wisconsin.
General keywords may seem like an attractive catchall but they’ll only do you a disservice. You might even be fooled into a false sense of success if you see your traffic go up, because it may very well do that. But what good is that traffic if you’re a professional landscaper in New Jersey and your website visitors are looking for DIY instructions or a service provider in Texas?
This may sound counterintuitive at first, but you want to narrow your search results by adding more terms to your targeted search phrases.
For example, instead of “home landscaping design”, optimize instead for “professional home landscaping design services in Texas.” (That’s called a “long tail” keyword if you’re into jargon.) You’ll knock out the portion of searchers who are DIYers, knock out anyone outside of your service area and end up with less but much more targeted and relevant traffic.
And instead of measuring traffic, you’ll be measuring conversions – how many people called or contacted you as a result of finding your website. That, and not traffic numbers, is what matters.
SEO Keyword Mistake #5: Choosing Keywords
Ah, did I throw you off there?
Much like all of your marketing, there is no point at which you’re “done”. And I’m not even talking about the changing landscape of search or the next animal-themed Google update.
I’m talking about the good, old-fashioned four seasons of the year.
Remember how the Google keyword tool gives you a number of searches per month? That’s per month for a reason – because keywords change by season, by event, by holiday… nobody is searching for Mother’s Day flowers now but give it a few months and you’ll see those searches skyrocket.
If your business changes in any way based on the time of year, or if you can capitalize on seasonal changes, then you need to plan for that and include contextual keywords in your strategy.
Here’s a neat example. Let’s say you’re a retailer and you sell rugs. That’s a pretty static product line. You don’t necessarily sell winter rugs and summer rugs but you do notice that people like to buy rugs as Christmas gifts.
You do your due diligence on research and you find that a bunch of people are searching for “unique Christmas gifts”. Voila! Keyword opportunity.
A bit of content creation, a bit of optimization, and you’ve got yourself some seasonal traffic.
So if you’re “choosing keywords” and stopping there, you could be missing opportunities to do more. Keep thinking and keep optimizing! A business person’s job is never done.
Now it’s time to get your research on and use the right keywords to drive targeted, converting traffic to your site.
Do you have any SEO mistakes to share? Keyword snafus that helped you “live and learn”? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!