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Keyword research is one of the most important parts of any SEO campaign, and part of the goal of keyword research is to determine which keywords will bring the highest number of ideal customers to your website.  Keywords that are searched more often will bring more visitors.  One of the best ways to find out how often specific keywords are searched is to use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool , which pulls historic search data from Google.

But don't let the data carry you away.  Search frequency isn't the only factor to consider when picking keywords, and among other considerations, it's one of the least important.  Broad, general keywords are searched more often than specific or targeted keyword phrases, and sadly, the thousands upon thousands of monthly searches these broad phrases offer can trick business owners into optimizing their websites for keywords that won't improve sales.

When I explain this, many business owners react with confusion, saying that even though these broader keywords don't relate very closely to the products they sell or the services they provide, the thousands of visitors who will visit the website may decide that they're interested in said products or services upon arrival.  I tell them this is almost always not the case.  Here's why.

SEO Isn't Interruption Marketing

There is definitely value in putting your product or service in front of people who might be interested in it even though it's not exactly what they're searching for at the moment.  This is called interruption marketing.  It's how billboards work.  It's how TV commercials work.  It's even how grocery store shelf space works, to an extent.  And it does work.  Kind of .

But SEO is not interruption marketing.  Trying to rank highly for broad keyword phrases will hurt you rather than help you for several reasons.

First, it's much more difficult to rank well for broad phrases, as these phrases are inherently more competitive.  If you do manage to rank higher for a broad phrase, it will take longer to get there, sometimes as long as several years, and once you're there, the increased competition will make it more difficult to hold your high position.

Also, keep in mind that Google's entire mission is to constantly make search results more relevant for users.  If your goal is to pollute the search results for a broad keyword with a website that is only tangentially related, you're paddling against the current.  And the current is Google, who will absolutely sweep you away.

Second, and more importantly, search marketing isn't mass media.  It doesn't serve the same purpose and doesn't work the same way.  Let's look at an example.  You have a website that sells trail mix, mixed nuts, dried fruit, and freeze-dried backpacking meals.  Basically on-the-go food for the outdoorsy adventurer.  You're trying to reach your ideal customer, and you see that the keyword “backpack” gets a lot of monthly searches, far more than “trail mix.”  You decide to optimize your website for the keyword “backpack.”  For the sake of this example, let's assume you're successful.  You're ranked in 3rd or 4th position on the first page of Google for “backpack.”  This, of course, would never probably never happen, for the reasons described in my first point above, but let's say it worked out this time.  You sit back and wait for the trail mix sales to start pouring in.

But they don't come.  And they won't.  If a college student looking for a new backpack  sees your site in the search results, she likely won't even click on it.  Whether or not she does will depend on how relevant and compelling your title tag is.  Even if she did, she would leave immediately.  The reason for this is because she already knows what she is looking for.  This is what makes search marketing completely different from TV advertising, billboards, and other forms of mass-media marketing.  The college student might be your ideal visitor, she may love the outdoors and eat trail mix regularly, but because she isn't looking for your product at that moment, she will most likely leave.

Search Engines Empower Users to Control the Medium

The college student is actively participating in the process of creating or sourcing the information she is obtaining.  She is not passively receiving a prerecorded message.  If your site doesn't meet her needs, she will move on to another one, because she has the power and the motivation to do so.

This is why, at the end of the day, being ranked highly for keywords that receive a high search volume isn't as important as being ranked highly for the keywords that the exact people who are looking for your business or product or service will type in.  And this is why the process of keyword analysis is not just about finding keywords that are searched often.  It's more about finding keywords that accurately and effectively describe your business to the people who will be searching for it.  And monthly search volume may carry no weight whatsoever in this determination.

SEO isn't mass media.  Don't treat search volume like magazine readership or TV viewer counts, because interruption marketing doesn't work on the internet.  With SEO, you are responding to the customer, not the other way around.