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Keyword research is pivotal to the success of any search engine optimization (SEO) campaign. A danger foreseen is half avoided, so it is helpful for website owners to know how to research keywords correctly. I want to share a few lessons learned and show how proper keyword research can help you analyze your SEO performance better.
Mistake #1 — Ignoring search trends
The first mistake is to kick off your SEO campaign without knowing what to expect. Of course, you start by looking for your best keywords. But you must not only determine your keywords and track their ranking progress but also set measurable goals and KPIs to understand if you are moving on the right track.
In keyword research, it can be a good idea to forecast your traffic by analyzing search trends. Seasonality, holidays, sales and Google updates — all these factors can impact your clicks and revenue.
And how do you know if your SEO strategy fails or wins? Compare your ups and downs in the organic with search trends in Google Trends year to year and over a longer time. This way, you can anticipate your growth or decline in organic traffic. Such a comparison might explain why your traffic has dropped: perhaps an internal issue on your website or an external factor, such as a Google update.
Mistake #2 — Ignoring search intent
Another thing that SEOs might need to include in their keyword research is the search intent for which they optimize their landing pages.
It is probably not something that you can distinguish right from the outset. Search intent is difficult to analyze because you can only check with a tool, like SEO difficulty or search volumes. Even grammatical forms may reveal a different intent for apparently similar keywords. Keyword tools will show the same search volumes for terms in singular or plural forms. However, the organic results on the SERPs for those keywords might differ.
For example, search for any service, such as a plumber or a tailor. A singular form will trigger a general knowledge panel, sometimes including results with disambiguation (a tailor as a profession and a tailor as fish). Meanwhile, the search term in plural will more likely trigger the local knowledge panel at the top, showing services nearby.
When we look up a word in a singular form, we mean a generic query denoting an entity. Searching for a term in plural may imply we would want to choose from a list. In this case, the search intent is exploratory.
Things get less vague when you analyze keywords, distinguishing short-tails and long-tails. Long-tail keywords are more precise, so the search intent behind them is obvious.
For example, the query for the best keyword tools in 2022 will most likely show recent listicles reviewing the searched thing. The intent behind the query is related to commercial investigation.
Queries ending with near me (which Google automatically suggests, by the way) will most likely trigger the local knowledge panel with a map (for which companies must optimize their Google Business Profiles and everything related to local SEO). Such queries imply purely transactional intent.
Each time you are unsure about the search intent behind a query, Google it and analyze what pages show up in the results.
Related: How to Pick Your First SEO Keywords
Mistake #3 — Forgetting about rich results
The sad truth about the organic competition is that ranking number one is not enough. Google is testing more and more rich results, and users do not even need to click through websites for the information they want. Today, Google is the number one website. The tricky thing about keyword research is that you must learn how to leverage the enriched results on the SERPs and make users click on your URL.
For example, we had some pages ranking in rich results, with featured snippets and questions that people often ask. For many of those features, you need well-written content and schema markup.
And those FAQ results snippets were doing a great job until we lost them all with a massive Google update last summer. The FAQ results returned a little later, but the traffic loss was rather frustrating.
Mistake #4 — Choosing generic keywords for brand names
Generic keywords in a brand name have their pros and cons.
On the upside, generic keywords may already have tons of search volumes. The exact-match domain name can play a role in this game. We know the tactic is dubious, and sites like best-movies-to-see-at-weekend are penalized. However, there are still cases when sites with an exact match domain name have the upper hand, as we noticed with rank tracker.
On the downside, you will compete with strong competitors for this generic keyword. First, building up and maintaining brand recognition for a name that needs to be more generic is hard. And second, competitors may cannibalize your crucial organic traffic with a better SEO campaign or by running PPC ads.
For example, Google distinguishes Rank Tracker as a search term and as keyword tracking software. But even with that distinction, ranking the product landing page is challenging.
And this leads us to the following typical mistake related to keyword research.
Mistake #5 — Ignoring competition that is too tough
Going after keywords with too tough competition is a costly mistake that SEO newbies may unknowingly make. Of course, you will always have competitive keywords to optimize for, but probably, not from the start.
In some cases, a neat site with well-written content can be pretty enough to rank, while in other cases, it will require perseverance and backlinks. Because if a keyword is too competitive, without strong EAT signals (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust), your pages may never end up on the desired SERP.
For instance, technical SEO is a topic getting 128 million search results. It proved hard for our page to rank for such a query and required more effort: well-written content, improved on-page SEO and backlinks on top.
So, if you are planning to walk into uncharted waters, do it only with solid competitive research: learn your competitors’ top keywords, the quality of their backlink profiles and so forth. Besides, keep an eye on your SEO competitors’ performance so that you know what’s changing in the competitive landscape — and be a step ahead.
The bottom line
Strictly speaking, effective keyword research comes down to the following: focusing on their search intent when researching keywords. Additionally, consider SEO metrics like search volumes, keyword difficulty, and competition. And learn from your competitors and SERPs on search engines — all clues are there for you; you should only notice and use them.