Keyword Research Mistakes to Avoid

Keyword Research Mistakes to Avoid

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Achieving success online requires a strong search engine optimization (SEO) strategy as the foundation for your website’s content. SEO helps your website and business rank high on search engine results pages (SERPs), making it easier for people looking for what you’re selling to find you. When it comes to SEO strategies, keyword research is at the top of the list. Keywords connect users to your content based on the term they search. These words and phrases entered into search engines bring organic traffic to your website. They affect what types of users will be part of that traffic, so it’s critical to focus on the right keywords.

However, if you’ve been performing your keyword research in-house, you may be making some serious mistakes that are costing you valuable search engine rankings – and by extension – business. Read on to learn what not to do, and what you should be doing instead!

The Worst Keyword Research Mistake of All

We’ll cut to the chase, courtesy of Yoast CEO Marieke van de Rakt, who writes, “Some people seem to think that they can skip keyword research, or that it’s no longer important. Doing proper keyword research can indeed be a tough, time-consuming process. And it’s true that ranking high isn’t just a matter of stuffing the right keyword in your text, and it hasn’t been for a long time. But skipping or winging your keyword research means you create content without a single idea of what your potential users are looking for. One of the biggest keyword mistakes you can make is thinking that you’ll just instinctively know what your audience wants.”

Yes, your audience may want the information, product or service your website’s content features, but without knowing the words and phrases they’re using to search, you don’t have a good chance of driving traffic to your site. Assuming that the words flowing from your (or your content writer’s) keyboard are those that naturally will rank high in the SERPs because the content is so well-written is a fatal fallacy.

Van de Rakt emphasizes the importance of diving into the language of your audience. “Which words do they use? What terms do they search for? Which terms are competitive and which less so? The result of your keyword research should be an extensive list of keywords you would like to rank for. Make sure to update your keyword research list or sheet regularly. Your audience may change, as could your business focus and business needs. That has implications for your keyword strategy as well.”

For example, the profound changes in shopping patterns and priorities that came about during COVID-19 resulted in numerous changes in search queries, as well. While some patterns may be returning to the “old normal,” others may be permanent – or at least, long-term. Keywords have never been a matter of set-it-and-forget-it, but keeping up-to-date is now more essential than ever.

Other Common Keyword Research Mistakes

So what’s worse than doing no keyword research at all? The following mistakes come close in their ability to thwart your efforts to achieve high search engine rankings.

Ignoring searcher intent – As Carolyn Lyden – lead SEO and owner of Search Hermit – asks in her article for Search Engine Journal, “What’s the point in ranking your site or content for a query that doesn’t match what the user is looking for? If you have a recipe site, chances are people want the recipes – not a 2,000 word essay on what this meal meant to you in your childhood. Match your content to what people are actually looking for to ensure that the right types of queries are driving traffic to your site.”

And as van de Rakt elaborates, “People could be looking for information (informational intent), a specific website (navigational intent), or they might want to buy something (commercial or transactional intent). And that’s not all there is to it, as search engines aim to give users the exact answer they’re looking for. In other words, if your content doesn’t match searcher’s intent, it probably won’t make it to the results pages, no matter how great and well-optimized it is.”

Instead, van de Rakt recommends looking at the search results to evaluate whether the content you plan to publish for a certain keyword is in line with what people are looking for. An easy way to do so is to use Google’s autosuggestions to see what other people are searching, as well as Google Related Searches at the bottom of the search engine result page.

Using irrelevant keywords – Maybe you have an idea that a certain word or long-tail keyword is worth ranking for – but you could be wrong! This is closely related to ignoring searcher intent, as it means you’re not looking for the words and phrases that members of your target audience are using to search for the goods or services you offer. Keep in mind that Google encourages queries in the form of a question or phrase rather than individual words, as in many years past.

Back to van de Rakt, who provides this example. “Imagine yourself selling dresses for gala events. In your marketing, you refer to these dresses as ‘gala dresses’. However, most people do not search for [gala dress]. They search for [gown] or [evening dress]. You won’t get much traffic for the search term [gala dress] compared to the search terms [gown] or [evening dress].”

Using keywords that have too much competition – If you’re just starting out, you may tend to aim for the so-called head keywords, which drive high search volume. As WordStream explains it, the search term “PPC” would be the head keyword (or head term). However, searchers for this term could be looking for just about anything relating to pay-per-click advertising. The two-to-three word keywords “PPC agency” and “PPC management company” narrow it down to those searching for these types of businesses. The long-tail keyword “PPC management companies that do display” provides a much more focused, narrowed-down search that’s more likely to result in driving traffic to the website of such a business – and much more likely to result in a conversion to a sale!

Ignoring long-tail keywords – As shown in the above example, long-tail keywords have a relatively low search volume, but can be easier to rank for – and those who find your business’s website as a result are more likely to be in the decision-making process or ready to buy than the lookie-loos perusing the head keyword results! However, take care that your long-tail keywords aren’t too niche or obscure.

Ignoring other search engines – Did you know that YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine? If you’re thinking only of Google, your keywords could be ignoring members of your target audience who may be searching on YouTube (which is owned by Google)! Depending upon the nature of your business, conducting research on YouTube, Reddit, Twitter and other non-Google platforms can yield relevant keywords to drive additional traffic your way!

“Expand your research beyond the traditional tools and mediums to places on the web where your target user actually goes to find answers,” Lyden writes.

Not being aware of competitors – You may know who your business competitors are, but they’re not necessarily the same as your SERP competitors! Back to Lyden, who observes, “It’s crucial to know who your SERP competition is for the search topics and terms you’re trying to rank for because you can understand what search engine modeling assesses to be the type of content that users want. Ensure that competitor research is also part of your keyword research process.”

Not reviewing and evaluating your results – There is no way to know how well your strategy is working unless you check up on it. Recurring evaluations should take place when your site experiences an increase in visitors. Search for your target keywords from time to time, but keep in mind that the results may be skewed based on your personal searches and location. A way around this is to use a private search engine – such as – to search for your keywords and see if you are ranking for them.

The Take-Home Message and Our Blatant Self-Promotion

As mentioned earlier, keywords are perhaps the most important component of SEO, but they’re not the only factors that go into determining your website’s ranking. Our blog post – “Top SEO Mistakes for Your Website to Avoid” covers common pitfalls in strategy and execution in such areas as poor website design, slow speed and not optimizing for mobile devices.

If you are conducting your SEO in-house, we respectfully ask you to reconsider. As you’ve seen, performing keyword research is labor-intensive and time-consuming on its own. Factor in all the other elements that comprise a successful SEO strategy, and increase the time and effort you need to dedicate.

Our experienced team at Virtual Stacks Systems provides comprehensive SEO services, website design, website redesign, content marketing and much more! Contact us today to learn what we can do for you, and get your competitive edge!

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