Keywords don’t hurt businesses. Using them incorrectly, however, well that’s a different matter.
Using the wrong keywords in AdWords means wasting ad spend. This isn’t ideal, but assuming you’re monitoring the results, you should be able nip it in the bud. And experimentation is a healthy part of the AdWords process, so it’s really not the end of the world.
Using the wrong keywords for SEO, on the other hand, means that even aside from the wasted investment in time, it may take months or longer for you to realise that you’ve been targeting the wrong terms. The missed opportunities can be awful.
Which is why choosing the right keywords is a vital aspect of SEO, even if your SEO strategy is passive. In other words just creating content with no real SEO consideration in mind.
So here to help you avoid shooting yourself in the foot are the six most common keyword mistakes that I’ve seen over the past 20 years of my doing SEO. Yes 20.
I guarantee that you’ve made at least four of them.
Keywords that are related but wrong
If your business sells laptops, and you rather cleverly carry out keyword research for the phrase laptop, you might see that although this keyword gets a fair number of searches, it’s quite a competitive term.
You might also notice that while cheap laptop batteries gets less searches, it’s an easier phrase to rank for, as it has a lot less competition.
So off you go, merrily creating new and SEOptimised content for cheap laptop batteries, which might not be such a good idea. Especially when you don’t sell laptop batteries as such.
Why? You might think it’s a good idea to write a blog post about cheap laptop batteries, with a goal of convincing your readers that it’s easier to just buy a new laptop. But the person searching for that phrase is almost certain to not be looking at buying a new laptop. They’re trying to extend the life of their existing machine.
But all too often the business owner sees a related keyword as a good keyword opportunity.
If the strategy relies on “we can reframe their problem cleverly” or “yes but they might also be interested in” then it’s probably not a good idea.
You have to see the intent behind the keyword.
Keywords that are relevant, but the searchers aren’t interested
This is one of the most common keyword mistakes. And here’s an example that lies close to home.
One of our services is Google AdWords Management. and we’re always exploring new and original opportunities to reach new ideal clients.
For many years, one of our more successful promotional activities was to hand out a printed Google AdWords Cheat Sheet at some of the events and conferences we attended. This consistently brought in high quality clients, as it gave us an opportunity to demonstrate our expertise.
So a few years ago we put a version of the cheat sheet online, where it almost immediately started pulling-in traffic.
We put it online because we had nothing to lose by doing so, but if this had been an SEO tactic, it would have been an impressive failure.
Because almost all of the people searching for an AdWords cheat sheet are handling AdWords for themselves. They’re looking at improving their own skills, but they’re certainly not looking for someone to handle the work for them. Once again the intent is more important than the keyword itself.
Keywords that you can’t possibly read out loud
Just because your keyword tool of choice says that a keyword is good doesn’t make it so.
Greatest mortgage calculator might look like a great keyword in theory, but using it in any meaningful way is next to impossible.
And when you have to stoop to writing sentences that you would never normally say out loud, you’re always headed in the wrong direction.
“You’re probably reading this because you’re wondering how to find the greatest mortgage calculator online.” Eugh.
Keywords that you don’t stand a chance with
If you’re a small, independent office supplies company, then your chance of ranking highly for the phrase office supplies is almost zero.
In trying to do so you’ll be competing heads-on with the big brands, the household names and the immense clout that they all carry.
The same goes for any keyword that you compete with news websites, ebay, Amazon, Wikipedia and the other giants who dominate search.
It’s not going to happen – no matter how clever you are. So why waste your time trying? Especially when there are far cleverer opportunities.
Longer-tailed versions, synonyms and even misspellings are going to be more effective and more attainable. Add the total of what they might bring combined, and you might even beat the original keyword fantasy.
Think smarter not harder.
Keywords that you’re already ranking for
If you’re already ranking highly for a particular keyword, think carefully before you re-optimise your high performing page.
There’s a chance that you might break what’s already working well for you.
Instead, find another page on your website that should or could be ranking highly for the same phrase but isn’t. Then re-optimise it accordingly.
But before you even touch a single word on that page, check how much traffic it’s already pulling in for other keywords.
If, for example, it’s ranking highly for a number of other relevant phrases, you might re-optimise it and effectively break it for the other terms. So one step forwards and seven steps back.
Ideally try to find a page or post that gets very little or no organic traffic, effectively with nothing to lose.
Keywords that you don’t bother looking into
This one is obvious, but I suspect it’s the most common.
This is where you spend hours writing a great blog post, but without even investing two or three minutes in researching the language to use beforehand. Or for that matter even spending two or three minutes after the content has been written.
Remember the golden rule: that even minor keyword tweaks can have an enormous impact on pulling in the right audience from Google. Your competition are almost certainly not doing this, and as a time-effective and productive strategy, this can be astonishingly powerful.
Failing to take advantage of this most simple of steps is playing right into the hands of your competition. Don’t do it.