3 mistakes that are killing your keyword research

Tyler Scionti

  | Published on  

September 29, 2023

You can’t have a conversation about SEO without touching on keyword research.

There’s just something about them - from picking keywords to target to checking your rank for them. Let’s face it, it’s just plain fun. I mean, who doesn’t get that dopamine hit when you see your site appearing on the first page of Google for a keyword? Heck, even the second or third page is enough to raise my heart rate.

Keyword research has evolved a great deal over the years, however even as SEO has gotten more sophisticated I still see three mistakes made over, and over again.

These three “keyword killers” are preventing many a marketer from identifying the right keywords that will bring them real, sustainable growth and traffic to their website. Based on the dozens of businesses I coached last year alone, I would be willing to bet that you are making at least one of them.

Don’t worry!

Even if you are these are all easy enough to remedy. Here are the top 3 mistakes I see marketers and founders make when it comes to keyword research:

  1. Chasing keywords that are too broad/difficult to rank for
  2. Ignoring the search intent/funnel stage a keyword corresponds to
  3. Ignoring keywords with low search volumes

Let’s examine these mistakes in detail (and show you how to avoid them).

Targeting keywords that are too broad or difficult

This is a common mistake, especially among SEO-newbies and small/newer websites.

I get it, we all want to rank for broad industry terms. Heck, we’d love to rank for “SEO”, but let’s be honest - it’s just not going to happen.

These broad terms might have extremely high search volumes, but they’re also nearly impossible to rank for unless you have an especially authoritative website. Like a siren, they call us marketers to them with high search volumes but they will only lead to disaster (well, hours/days of effort wasted - but that is a disaster!).

HubSpot does not even rank #1 for “CRM” and they’re on the bottom half of page 1 for “marketing software”. If a company like HubSpot has to fight and claw for those terms, what does that mean for the rest of us?

It means we need to pick our battles more strategically. Rather than work harder to rank for broad keywords, work smarter.

How to avoid this mistake

In the time you could spend over-indexing on one broad keyword and building tons of backlinks to boost your authority, you could have published several (perhaps even dozens) of pages targeting less broad and difficult keywords to build authority and traffic to your website.

I like to make strategic bets on the things my customers are interested in - this could be individual tools of my product, or it could be topics they are interested in. From there, explore the paths less-travels, the long tailed and niche questions that you can excel at answering and scoop up traffic away from your competitors.

The newer/less authoritative your website is the more niche you should go. At the end of the day traffic is what matters, so why waste time chasing a keyword you can’t rank for when you could easily capture dozens, or even hundreds, of visits from chasing more realistic keywords?

Not taking funnel stage into account

I’ve yet to encounter a marketing team that is not making this mistake.

If you can avoid this mistake, you are seriously doing keyword research better than 90% of websites on the web. Seriously.

Keyword research tools have trained us to think about each keyword in a two-dimensional way. We see a big list of terms with numbers attached to them (some of those numbers may even be color-coded), and we treat each keyword as the same.

Forgetting that there is a real person behind each search term, and they have a specific thing in mind (and likely a follow up question) will hamstring your ability to identify the best keywords to target, and your ability to align content to your target customer’s buyer’s journey.

I call this the “keyword funnel”. It’s a way to map keywords to distinct stages of the buyer’s journey:

We’ve seen content strategies vastly outperform once they start aligning to their target customers and the journey these customers take through search. Here’s how to do the same.

How to avoid this mistake

Take a nuanced approach to your keyword research. As you examine keywords, try to consider the intent/funnel stage that they correspond to.

For example, these keywords would be “awareness stage” queries:

  • How to build an SEO strategy
  • How to organize keywords

And these keywords would be “decision stage” queries:

  • SEO coaching
  • Keyword research tool

Making a habit of examining keywords through the funnel-lens will help you spot trends between the funnel stages and group your keywords in ways that will lead to a more nuanced content strategy.

Ignoring keywords with low search volumes

The last common mistake I see is another common one for the SEO-newbies.

Would you rather rank for a keyword with 10,000 searches per month or 10?

Who am I kidding? I’d pick 10,000 every time. Slight problem: as we saw above those keywords are difficult (near-impossible) to rank for.

Most people fall into the camp of chasing after keywords with high search volumes, which means those low/no search volume keywords are much less competitive to rank for.

“But… but… I won’t get traffic!”

That’s a fair point, except for the fact that:

  1. These search volumes are estimates at best (just compare search volume for a keyword to your search impressions for a month)
  2. These search volume metrics are for the exact match for that keyword. But there could be 5, 10, or more variations of that keyword which means that 10 searches per month can add up really quickly if you rank for all the different variations.

Here’s an example, many of our blog posts target keywords with fewer than 10 searches per month but add up to dozens-hundreds of visits per month due to ranking for multiple (very close) variations of those keywords.

How to avoid this mistake

This is an easy one to avoid - when you are sifting through keywords to target, don’t count the low volume ones out. In fact, sometimes I explicitly seek them out, just to see if there are any interesting ones to scoop up and target with new content.

Don’t count them out, the search volumes do add up.

But here’s the best way to ensure you make no mistakes in your keyword research

These are the top 3 mistakes I see companies make with keyword research, but there are sadly quite a few more mistakes people make - often in the name of “best practices”.

The cost? Chasing the wrong keywords, creating the wrong content, and continuing to not get any traffic from your hard work.

Keyword research is such a vital part of your SEO success, why leave it up to chance? The remedy to ensure you don’t make a single mistake in your keyword research is to not do it alone.

We offer one:one training whether that’s just with you, your entire team, or entire company - we’re here to help you find the best keyword opportunities and create the best content to target them.

Interested? Book a free strategy session to learn more about our process for keyword research and see how it can be applied to your website this year.

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