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SEO Mistakes: Are You Choosing The Wrong Keywords?

By January 21, 2013June 28th, 2015Search Marketing
SEO Mistakes: Are You Choosing The Wrong Keywords?

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!

Join the discussion 32 Comments

  • Loved the way you explained it all Carol!

    My first visit to your blog, which I think was long overdue. Nevertheless, I am glad I read your guest post at Adrienne’s and headed right over. 🙂

    Ah…keywords and how we all get caught up with choosing them. Yet, some people do so well without any keywords too, which makes me wonder as to how do they do it. I guess each one to their own. Speaking of which, I too use the Google Adword Tool and tend to get in a fix sometimes regarding the medium to low ranking keywords, and many a times I think it’s your judgement you need to follow. Sometimes the keywords rank very well and might come on the first page of Google too, while at other times, they just don’t rank well even though you follow the same way.

    I guess what really matter at the end of the day is that we keep working on moving ahead and writing what we want and feel like. Yes, take the best keyword option from the ones at hand and work with those. With the recent Google updates, it does get tough to figure out what actually works and what doesn’t – isn’t it?

    Thanks for sharing this with us. 🙂

    • Glad to see you here, Harleena, thanks for stopping by! There is definitely a lot to ranking that goes beyond choosing keywords and there are nuances and things that make their way into the mix. I would need to write a book to talk about it all!

      Some people do well because they have a lot of inbound links and social sharing, even without keywords. It takes a lot to build up that kind of clout.

      It’s true, keywords aren’t even always the best even though they may seem that way on paper. It takes some experimenting and trying to see what works. Hopefully though, this helps people who are working on their SEO so they don’t get lost doing something completely useless.

  • clarestweets says:

    Choosing the right keys words based on customers, competition and direct product-service relevance! What a concept. Great overview Carol and thanks for reminding us that once is NOT enough.

    • I know, can you believe it!? I actually just had a conversation with a client (who I mentioned here) who wanted to be found for certain keywords without realizing that (a) those keywords were not anywhere on his site and (b) they weren’t being searched anyway. There’s more to this whole SEO thing than meets the eye!

  • Stacy says:

    Hi Carol,
    I started out using entirely too generic keywords for my blog. The result was a random set of keywords bringing people to a few random posts that have very little to do with what I usually write about.
    Thank you for sharing your tips. I’m still learning about SEO and how to use them properly. I appreciate your tips. I like your example of the rugs. That’s a great way to think outside of the box!

    • SEO is a big topic to tackle. And it changes a lot, too, so the minute you think you know something, Google goes and changes something and you have to learn all over again. Let me know if you have any questions about anything that I might be able to help with!

  • Donna Merrill says:

    Hey Carol,
    Thank for these tips. I think I can click every mistake lol. Really! I am so bad at keywords. The worst part is, I know I’m supposed to use them. Yikes. Reading through this post and realizing my mistakes has made me realize I need to use Google AdWords more often.
    I usually get an idea, and my fingers fly across the keyboard without thinking of keywords much. I am aware, but not smartly aware.
    Thanks for giving me a push! I needed that!


    • Don’t feel bad Donna, I don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about keywords as I should be. I tend to write what I want and the heck with the rest. The good thing is that people will share and that will get more people to read. I would like to bump up my own SEO too, so it’s something we can all work on a little bit at a time!

  • Hey Carol,

    Yup! Good solid common sensical advice! Yet surprising how many folks get bamboozled by the ‘science’ (or art!) and don’t appreciate that at the end of the day you have to use keywords that a) make sense to your target market and b) yo can write about in a way that makes sense too!


    • Definitely, Robin – part of the challenge is writing using keywords without sounding like you’re writing using keywords! Google has said that all along and now they really, really mean it, so no more keyword stuffing. Write FOR your audience and you’ll be ok.

  • Hi Carol,

    Wow, it’s been a tough thing for me to leave a comment on both your masterpieces, today! So here we go…

    Those are excellent tips about keywords. Even though I’ve been online long enough to know about most of what you mention here, I bet there are few thousands of people who never read such thorough and well explanation about everything there is to tell about keywords.

    Yes, there are seasonal keywords, and even if you think that your “HD 3rd Generation Flip Camera” is not seasonal, I bet more people will look for this keyword around Christmas, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. So, that’s important to always keep this in mind.

    Keywords can be quite confusing for a lot of people. Thanks to clarify it all for there here!

    • I’m glad you finally got all your technology problems resolved, Sylviane. I know what a pain that can be. The worst is when you comment (and it’s usually long, of course) then the computer eats it and you have to start over. Argh!

      I took all the examples from real people I know so you can see there is definitely confusion about SEO and keywords. Hopefully this will make someone’s life a little easier!

  • Hi Carol Lynn. Thank you for this article. I’m probably one of those people who actually learned how to do keyword research right, at least initially. I know how to use Google Keyword for research,but you gave me some helpful ideas like localizing the area and using other words for the same product. Never thought of that, i.e., the thingamagigie! 🙂 So right and an excellent idea. I think I will switch and start some keyword research tonight. This was excellent. Thanks again.

    • I’m glad I could help, Barbara! This is all stuff that came right out of work I’ve done with clients, so I have seen it happen. SEO is a pain in the neck to do, there are a lot of nuances, but the worst thing to do would be wasting time on research or keywords that don’t work!

  • Barry Overstreet says:

    Hi Carol,

    Great post on keywords. I even used a couple of your terms like low-hanging fruit in a post I did that mentioned the use of keywords. There is that saying about great minds, you know… 🙂

    Keywords can definitely be a confusing topic, though. I have a decent working knowledge of it, but I’ve got a ton to learn, too.

    I try to do some decent research for my posts, and know to use the chosen long tail keyword in the title and headings, but then I wonder what the “proper” amount of times to use the phrase in the actual post. I know about making it sound natural, which I get, but it can be confusing.

    The funny thing I’ve found, though, is I get a lot more search traffic from images than I do regular searches. I have several posts that rank pretty high in Google Images searches, so I guess I’m not doing too bad.

    Anyways, thanks a ton for this great post. After seeing your post on Adrienne’s blog and then reading this, I’m clearly going to have to come back for some more. 🙂

    I hope you have an outstanding week!


    • Thanks Barry, glad to connect with you and definitely glad you found something useful here. Keywords are always a challenge because you can’t use too many, but you can’t use too few, and you have to put them in a bunch of places but not too many places… only Google knows the magic of SEO and that’s why they’re Google and we’re all here working our butts off!

      I’m glad you brought up images because that’s often overlooked in SEO. Lots of times images do come up in search. That makes choosing good images really important, and giving them good alt tags and descriptions. I learned this lesson the hard way. I was finding a lot of people coming to my site from some really obscure keyword completely unrelated to anything on my site, and I realized it was because of a certain photo I had used that was tagged with that keyword. So it was traffic that wasn’t doing me any good! Since then I’ve made a point of tagging keywords to photos that only relate to the content on my page and not the actual photo.

      As for the “proper amount” of keywords, forget it – you’ll never know. If there WAS a perfect amount everyone would do it and we’d all negate each other. There are too many variables.

      Thanks for your thoughts and I look forward to chatting again 🙂

  • Adrienne says:

    Hey Carol,

    Great post on keywords and this is information I could have used way back when I was first learning.

    I’ve had a few people ask me about this topic as well and their thought process is that even if you find some that don’t have a lot of competition then at least you’re more then likely to get quite a few results. As I tried explaining to them if there only shows 1,000 results a month for that keywords what makes you think they’re going to find you? I’m with you, don’t waste your time optimizing for that keyword.


    • If you want to rank on a really tough keyword you have to do a lot more than use keywords. At that point you really need to do a lot of link-building and content marketing. So if there are easier keywords, go for it! And in the end we know content has to be for people, not search engines, right 🙂

  • Hi Carol,
    I’m glad I found your blog through Adrienne! What a small online world it is, in retrospective!
    It’s amazing how we can all connect via the internet, where before, none of us may have ever connected.
    I really like your blog! Your post here describes a topic that most people overly obsess with.
    SEO baffles so many of us. Once you think you have it nailed down, they change the algorithms on ya, and you have to start again from square one.
    I don’t even bother with that mess. My thinking is…create valuable content…and the traffic will follow.
    Thank you for your insightful post! I will be back!
    All the best to you in 2013!

    • Hi George, it was really great to meet you too, and I’m looking forward to reading your blog.

      As for SEO, it does change, but one thing that doesn’t change is exactly what you said: content needs to be quality, meant for the people who are reading it. Google has made a real effort to push good content up. And sometimes I get some good ideas for topics to write about when I do a little keyword research, because it gives you an idea of what types of things people are looking for and where you can fill some gaps.

      Combine that with a good social presence, and good marketing and it’s all just one piece of the puzzle!

  • Hi Carol
    I am with Donna here, I am guilty of making all these mistakes, I must admit I do not take as much time with keywords as I know I should, there are times when I do not even think about them when writing a post….bad I know 🙁
    I really need to start using the Google Keyword Tool so thanks for reminding me!
    Hope you have a great week

    • I often don’t think about them either. Once in a while I do but mostly I’m aiming for something that just resonates. When I do pay attention I do get better search traffic, so it’s something to consider, but not obsess about otherwise we can end up just worrying about keywords and not people!

  • Sue Price says:

    Hi Carol
    I used to do my head in when I first was learning about keyword and spend way too much time on trying to figure out which to use. Then I almost went the other way and did not care.
    Now I do a bit of a mix up. If I am really targeting something I do my research sometimes I do not at all.

    Your post is a good reminder for me.

    • I know what you mean, Sue. It can get overwhelming especially when you just want to write something with a point for your readers instead of worrying about keywords. Mixing it up is exactly what I do!

  • Great information. Bookmarking this! Thanks!

  • Finding Right keyword is something like naming to your kid 🙂

  • Jessica van Zyl says:

    Finding the right keywords has always made me have to sit back and think, the Google keyword tool is fantastic! Thank you!

    Regards, Jessica.

  • Keywords are the backbone of SEO!!! If you are choosing the wrong keyword for your website or keywords that are not relevant to your business page then I must say the future of your business website is not safe in Google search engines!