The right keywords play a big role in putting your website in a prominent position in a search engine results page. Thus, the first instinct of online marketing newbies is to go for popular keywords in the hopes of generating plenty of hits. In reality, this is a mistake, and a common one at that. In fact, there are several mistakes newbies commit when doing keyword research -- mistakes that result in wasted effort and missed opportunities in the long run. Here are just a few that you should avoid: Focusing on high-volume, generic keywords
Popular keywords generate a lot of search queries, so you can expect plenty of other online companies to go after them. If you're just starting out in the business, you'll find it hard to compete with everyone else, especially the bigger websites. Take "travel" as an example. It's a hot keyword that's often used as a search query, but how can you compete with BBC, Expedia, and Lonely Planet?
More often than not, popular keywords covering a general topic are already dominated by bigger websites. It's better to focus on a niche that calls for more specific keywords, or long tail keywords, which are defined as keyword phrases that are two to five words long. The competition is less stiff, so your website will a have better chances to get an ideal position in search results.
Focusing on Too Many Keywords in One Piece of Content
It's tempting to fit as many profitable keywords as possible in a 500-word piece. After all, a very high keyword density will surely get the attention of search engines, right? Yes, but for the wrong reasons. Using too many keywords or repeating a keyword too many times will do nothing but switch on spam filters. As a penalty, your site's rank will drop dramatically, rendering all your SEO work useless.
Also, articles full of keywords are usually badly written because grammar and sense have to be sacrificed to make way for the high keyword density. Remember to make your readers, and not the search engines, your top priority when writing content. To turn hits to conversions, your content should be readable and substantial.
Focusing on Hits and Not on Conversion Rates
Your online business won't get conversions without hits, but a high-hit rate doesn't necessarily translate to a high-conversion rate. Which do you like better -- thousands of hits but only one or two sales a day, or only hundreds of hits but with at least 10 sales daily? Your website can rank well in search results, but unless you're just a hobbyist blogger who wants to be Internet famous, your main concern is making profit.
Google Analytics is a great tool that shows you the conversion rates of the keywords from which your website gets traffic. From there, you can determine the keywords that generate the most conversions. Use that knowledge the next time you optimize your website for search engines.
Focusing On the Keyword Itself, and Not the Intent
A great keyword reflects the intentions of the people using it. As an online entrepreneur, you have to put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers to figure out the keywords that will lead them to your website. If you're selling affordable holiday group tours, think about how people will find your you. The keyword “travel” is too generic and broad, and someone looking for a group tour won't be using that keyword, anyway. However, they'll probably type in something like “family vacation package Europe” and their variations in the search bar.
Always consider the context of a keyword. Don't forget that people who plan to buy a product or service tend to be specific with their search queries.
Focusing on the Now and Neglecting the Later
The problem with keywords is that their relevance and effectiveness are both ever-changing. What's hot now maybe lukewarm or downright cold in a few months, so you should regularly review how your keywords are performing. Do the keywords that generate the most traffic and conversions in the first quarter of the year still perform at the same level in the second quarter?
Also take note of the emerging and declining trends in your niche. Let's go back to our travel website example to illustrate this point. According to a survey by marketing and research firms MMGY Global and Harrison Group, staycations (vacations taken at one's home city or town) are becoming less popular. Thus, you may find your site getting fewer results for local vacation packages, and more for exotic destinations. Being aware of this change can help you identify what keywords bring in the most sales.
Don't be afraid to take risks when it comes to keyword research, but do stay away from these common mistakes if you want your online business to thrive for years to come.
What mistakes in keyword research have you made before? Tell us in the comments!
This is a guest post from Alexandrea Roman, who is an EFL instruction materials writer for business English language learners across Europe. She is also a freelance writer for various websites. She co-writes for the blog The Background Story.