11 Keyword Targeting Mistakes



I’ve been putting off an article on SEO keywords for months now. I’m a keyword research junkie, and I was afraid I’d get myself sucked into a 20 page manifesto. When it comes to SEO, figuring out which words you should use and what pages they should go on is so important and so nuanced that 20 pages wouldn’t cover everything.

Today, we’ll just focus on some of the common big mistakes the LunaMetrics team sees when it comes to keyword targeting.

1. Overemphasizing Volume

“Big numbers — YAY!”
long-tailCalm yourself, man. Volume is only part of the equation. It doesn’t matter how many people search for a word if its so competitive you’ll never get anywhere near the first search engine results page. And I’ll take a low volume key phrase that brings in people that actually convert over a keyword that brings in a large amount of worthless traffic anyday.

Never forget the long tail. The overwhelming majority of search engine traffic are those rarely searched-for long-tail key phrases, and they are more likely to convert anyways. Get that low-hanging fruit.

2. Misunderstandering Volume Estimates

Adowrd Keyword Tool mistake

Surprisingly few people want read your article on raw cuisine in the “Apple Big”.

But, yeah.. volume still matters. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know what they’re looking at here. As helpful as Google AdWords Keyword Tool is (I’m a big user myself), you can’t take the numbers at face value. Those are estimates of ad impressions, not search query volume. If you’re going to use it, make sure to look at all 3 match types and use it mostly for apples-to-apples comparisons to see which terms have more volume — be careful making organic traffic projections, and never rely solely on broad match. Also, avoid estimating organic competition solely on AdWords PPC competition,  and only use Global volume if you’re targeting the entire globe.

For very important keyword research consider collecting multiple data points on search query volume. Other free tools to estimate volume include Wordtracker(limited trial), Google Trends, and Bing Webmaster Tools’ Keyword Tool.

3. Underestimating Difficulty

One of the reasons those head keywords are often the wrong choice is that ranking on the first page for them might just not be feasible. Since you might as well not exist if you’re not on the first page and click-thrus increase exponentially as you climb up the rankings, you need to pick your shots and shoot for #1.

But getting to #1 is way harder than most people realize. I’ve seen many new SEO practitioners slap half a dozen or more target keywords onto pages that barely have the ability to rank for one of the keywords. Chances are, you’re going to need to devote a single page to 1-3 semantically related keywords, and you’ll need to spend some real effort to make a compelling case that your page is the best one for searchers of said keywords to land on.

4. Targeting the Same Keyword Throughout the Site

Keyword Cannibal Lecture

Warning: Keyword Cannibal Lecture

So you’ve done your research, and you’ve got these sweet keywords picked out, and they have that new keyword smell and everything. “What do to with them?” you wonder. Bingo – you’ll just put those keyword into every single thing you write and you’ll be raking in traffic in no time. That’s the ticket right?

Well you’d be wrong, but not alone. First, rather than spreading your beloved keyword all over your site, you should concentrate your efforts into one page that has the page authority to rank and make it the page on the net that searchers of your keyword want to land on. Remember, in SEO , we need to pick our battles and concentrate our forces if we don’t want to get destroyed.

Secondly, this “tactic” commits the abominable SEO sin of keyword cannibalism, wherein if you do manage to rank for the keyword you’ll be competing against yourself and killing off your pages’ ability to draw new traffic for other keywords. Remember, each page is an opportunity to reel in more traffic for a different keywords.

5. Neglecting Localization in SERPs

The keyword “plumber” is searched for many times more frequently than “graphic design software”. Chances are, however, that Joe the plumber is more likely to be able to get some traffic for “plumber” than Sam the small software studio owner is for “graphic design software.” Why? Because Google is smart enough to know that when people search for plumber, they often want to find a local plumber, so Google might show Joe’s website when people in his hometown Google “plumber” in the local section of the SERPs. Given that there are a lot of local searches these days, and the ranking factors are different than standard search, it would make sense to carefully account for localization in your keyword research and targeting. Not doing so can  result in missed opportunities or  getting crushed by companies with a more advantageous physical address. (Trust me, I’ve learned this one the hard way.)


Tip: Switch up your location to see how localization impacts the SERPs of your keyword[/caption]

6. Failing to Look to Historical Data on Relevance/Quality

One of the best keyword research tools is right under your nose: Google Analytics. Look deep into your current organic search traffic data, and figure out why your users stick around for some keywords and bounce from others. Do keywords involving “how to” have a fraction of the conversion rate that keywords involving “price” do? I promise you there are patterns in the data of your current keywords that will help you predict which new keywords will get you good quality visits. Your web analytics is also especially useful at researching the very long tail.

7. Not Getting Assistance from Outside the SEO Dept.

It took a few years, but prudent Internet marketers realize that good SEO doesn’t exist in a vacuum. When it comes to keyword research, a solid understanding of the target audience is a going to help you target keywords that have a higher per-visit-value. Remember, you’re not targeting strings of characters — you’re trying to find the best match for user’s queries. Below are just a few examples of great places to look for assistance when doing high-level keyword research:

  • PPC : Speaking of great historical data, the conversion data from any existing AdWords campaigns will be invaluable as you project the value of potential keywords.
  • non-SEO marketing execs in the organization can give great insight into the target market and might be able to share previous market research. They’ll also help you utilize keywords that are consistent and perhaps synergistic with existing brand communication.
  • Customer service and sales reps might have the most insight in the organization into the everyday jargon and language of the target audience.
  • Competitors might be using certain words on their sites’ because they are bad at SEO or because they know something good. It could be worth a glance at their site for ideas in case the latter is the case.
  • Random people who fit the target demographics might help as well. If you don’t have the budget for primary market research, your mom or uncle might help too.

8. No Strategy

Great keyword targeters utilize keyword research as one component  of the larger SEO plan, which they know is itself a critical component of the larger integrated marketing communications plan. Such keyword targeters know how to use keywords to reach the audience at desired points in the conversion funnel.

Many sites inexplicably obviously target keywords on some ages of their site but fail to utilize basic keyword research for other key pages. Great keyword targeting means looking at the big picture of the entire site and to devise a plan for effective utilizing each piece of the real estate to target the right keywords.

Another myopic mistake is to simply have no long-term plan. What keywords do you want to rank #1 for over a year from now?  I’ve learned the hard way the importance of thinking a few steps ahead; once you manage to hit #1 for your current keyword targets, you’ll plateau if you haven’t already been targeting new keywords.

9. Not Prioritizing

Keyword research, and SEO in general, take way too much time to not have a plan to allocate time effectively. Don’t make the mistake of not answering 2 important questions (and communicating it to the rest of the web team):
1)Which keywords deserve the most/least effort?
2)Which pages warrant the most keyword research effort based on authority and inherent ranking potential?

10. Not Doing Keyword Research Before Designing the Site Structure

Keyword research is too often an afterthought. If there are 4 lucrative competitive head keyword groups for what your eCommerce operation sells, it might make more sense to have 4 main subdirectories in your store than 20. If the lucrative long-tail keyphrases all involve a common word, it might make sense to include that word in the URL structure.

I can tell you from plenty of experience that SEO is waaay easier when the architecture compliments rather than inhibits keyword optimization. In addition, keyword research can be a useful market research tool: keyword research literally tells you how many people are interested in certain things. Yet many (dare I say most) organizations still fail to design a more consumer-oriented site by utilizing keyword research in their market research in the initial phases of site design.

11. Forgetting about that ROI

Staying ROI focused is important for keyword targeting just like everything else. If there’s a magic pill for keyword targeting, it would simply be: maximize ROI for every keyword targeted.

ROI for a keyword = Value of ranking high/cost of ranking high

The Value of Keyword = per visit value x search volume, where per visit value = value of a brand impression + (conversion rate x conversion value)

The cost of a keyword is the keyword difficulty, or the time and money invested in ranking high. This depends largely on competition, as well as current ranking and difficulty of implementation.

Thinking about per visit value, volume, and difficulty for every potential keyword you review will dramatically improve your keyword targeting effectiveness.


So have you learned about any of these mistakes the hard way, too? Are there any monster mistakes I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

Reid Bandremer is a former LunaMetrician and contributor to our blog.

  • My problem with keyword research is time. No time for it. I just pick what’s new and relevant and know that it will go somewhere so long as it’s fresh. I know many are out to make a quick buck, but if I were in that position my keywords would be for PPC.

    • Reid Bandremer

      I’d say – if you’re serious about SEO and organic traffic, keyword research is a must. For a site like your top5 site, I think researching what’s hot now is a good thing to focus on. I’d definitely research the hot topics and keywords (Google trends is probably the top tool for that) if I was you.

  • Katie Spencer White

    Thanks for a great article. I am just starting out as a freelance copy writer and want to do the best for my clients. This is definitely a field where one must be both an artist and a scientist. Since I will be working for the most part with small business I am keen to focus on driving local traffic so I found that point particularly useful. Many thanks!

    • Reid Bandremer

      Thanks for commenting Katie. Good luck with your copywriting endeavors!

  • Reid,

    This is one of the best summaries I’ve ever seen on this. You nailed it.

    Professional kw research requires the right tools. Google’s kw tool is not the best. I use Market Samurai. There are many others out there.

    Here’s a tip for those with older sites that were not built around researched keyword terms. Your site probably ranks naturally for many of the best terms already. Just not ranking high enough to do you any good. Services like, SpyFu and Market Samurai can pull the terms you currently rank for and show you their value.

    Start there and find the terms that are most valuable for you. Most older sites have a lot of power waiting to be used. Rework your existing structure and content around the terms you already rank for that are valuable. Hit as many on-page SEO factors as you can. This can be faster than starting from scratch. If.. you know how to analyze the terms.

    Great article

    ~ J

    • Reid Bandremer

      Thanks John.
      My favorite tool for kw research is the brain. I happen to be a heavy AdWords kw tool user, but I can’t stress enough the need to analyze that data critical.

      I really agree with you about working with what you’ve got. One of my favorite tactics is to identify kweywords that are ranking at the bottom of the first SERP page and can bring in serious volume by simple optimization tweaks of existing landing pages. It can be great low-hanging fruit.

  • jake belfry

    Good read. Agree on all parts. You don’t always have to write keywords into content. If your giving your current audience something they want to read and doing this for marketing sake then you can gain links, likes, pluses and more. This will increase URL authority thus helping targeted keyword pages rank.

  • Jon

    Nice summary. I agree with what you say, it’s amazing how many people say they don’t have time. If you don’t have time to do SEO properly then either get help or don’t bother. A half way solution with SEO these days won’t get you very far and you would be better spending your time elsewhere.

    I like the point about doing the research before the site structure is designed. The problem with that for consultants is 9 times out of 10 the client comes to you once the site is built, unfortunately. But its definitely the better way to do them research first.

  • Gary

    Remember that where you stand in the search results for your keywords in mostly fluid. If Google updates their algorithm, you’re in the top 3 results on page 1 today and on page 12 next week. As others here have stated, SEO takes both time and consistency.

  • Designing a website for good organic keyword searches is paramount. I oftentimes turn down SEO projects because the client does not want to re-design their website structure needed for good search traffic and user experience.

  • One of the best summaries on this topic Ive seen 🙂 I would suggest adding No. 12 “Missing keyword variety” for those cases where people spam one keyword all over the page, forgetting searchers may use many different variations and synonyms of the word to search for the exact same thing.

    • Reid Bandremer

      Thanks Lukas. I think another big component of your #12 is when authors focus on repeating the same keyword over and over, they often do so at the expense of content quality. Using synonyms and slight variations on a specific term simply flows better a lot of the time, and readers notice.

  • HI,

    I really like the part of the no help outside seo dept. It very hard to explain exactly the power of seo. My question is, how do you (even when showing top ranking organically) can one help your boss totally addicted to Adwords and scared to leave it. This is even when showing the organic work doe 4 times the conversion for far less of a cost? Its that they feel they must have the adwords listing even when its costing them heavily?

    • Reid Bandremer

      Thanks Schoolofpe.

      First, I personally doubt I’d ever tell a client to completely abandon AdWords for SEO. There’s too much traffic to be had by using PPC (I’ve seen positive ROI on AdWords spend even on keywords a clients is ranking #1 for), and a level of control (like ad extensions) in AdWords that goes beyond the capabilities of SEO. In most great web marketing campaigns, SEO and AdWords exist in harmony. Now if the ROI on SEO is many times that of AdWords then clearly there an issue where some resources could be shifted from AdWords to SEO and/or the AdWords budget is not being managed effectively. I’d examine both.

      As far as communicating the power of SEO, there is little more one can do than accurately showing SEO’s ROI – http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2012/11/01/seo-lead-gen-kpi/#roi

      Good luck!

  • Excellent article. I have a real estate website which focusing on multiple cities and structure many city + keyword targeted pages but always worry about cannibalism. Basic question – is it best to have a specific city page rank for city + “real estate” AND city + “Homes/Homes for Sale” or utilize 2 separate pages. Seems like a cannibalism vs. keyword optimization tradeoff to some extent. Interested in your opinion when you have a chance.

    • Reid Bandremer

      Don’t take this answer without research and analyzing for yourself, but I lean towards not using a separate page for “Laguna Nigel Real Estate” and “Laguna Nigel Homes for Sale”. Reason being, I don’t know that you can add value by having both. But feel free to do research and brainstorm on how to prove that reaction wrong. Can you think of a way to display content that would the best place for a searcher of City X Real Estate and totally different content that would be the best place for searcher of City X Homes for Sale? If so, and it appears worth your effort, you may be able to just the extra pages. I just doubt it.

    • Reid Bandremer

      Actually, I just googled some of your keywords – really competitive. I would concentrate on a small number keywords at the moment (until you’re at top half of page 1), rather than adding more to the mix.

  • Tom

    Love number 6. Google Analytics gives some great ideas. Just think about the keywords people enter into onsite search box, for example.

    • Reid Bandremer

      Thanks Tom. Analytics is an amazing source of keyword data. Great point — site search is an awesome place to understand what people are looking for.

  • Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article.
    I will be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful info.

    Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely comeback.

  • Now Google stopped showing keyword data in Google analytics.

    So rather relying fully on GA you can make use of GWT, ubersuggest, Google Ad Planner, Google suggestion, suggester.promediacorp.com etc.

  • Phil

    Excellent & informative article, made some mental notes as a beginner at seo.

    Used to love the Google Keyword tool – found it extremely useful and usable has now been replaced by the planner (which I find the opposite) & Wordtracker now has free option (when signed up) what other tools aside from Bing do you now use like you said to compare the data?

    I’ve come to the conclusion – possibly incorrectly? that SEMRush appears to be the industry standard.

    • Reid Bandremer



      I’m personally not a huge fan of SEMRush. While I use it sometimes for competitive research, I don’t trust the volume estimates as much as Google/Bing Keyword Tools, and I find the inability to paste specific keywords to be impractical. So not my top pick for hardcore long-tail keyword research, but it could be ok for lighter use and head-keywords.

      I’m still using Google AdWords Keyword Planner a lot, along with data on current traffic from Google Analytics (including AdWords and Google Webmaster Tools data). I started using http://ubersuggest.org/ to come up with long-tail keyword ideas (which has become more difficult in the AdWords Tool/Planner) — I’ll generate a quick and dirty idea list and paste that in the Google/Bing Tools. I also use Moz to help gauge difficulty (always combined with manual reviews of the SERPs), and I use Google Trends when I need to forecast future volume.

      Also, since things have a changed a bit since I wrote this post, this is a good place to point out that keyword research has gotten tougher since the (not provided) increase, but I jotted down some ideas to work through it: http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2013/10/08/ideas-keyword-not-provided/.

      Another thing to note now is the ever-increasing importance (in light of (not provided), Hummingbird, and such) to shift towards understanding the query (what people are looking for and who those people are) rather strings of characters.

  • Hi Reid,

    This was really useful, I was wondering about using the same keywords across all pages (blog etc) and your comment about self cannabalizing really made a lot of sense. Thanks. Do you have any suggestions for picking keywords in a niche that people do not seem to be searching for?

    • Reid Bandremer

      Happy New Year Matt,

      So you’re asking for general tips picking target keywords in a small niche?

      If you’re stuck in a niche that seems as though there is little overall search volume, I suppose you have 3 options:
      1) Limit time/money spent on seo, if you can truly determine there is too little value to be gained (unlikely to be the case for a chiropractor website.)
      2) Branch out into tangentially-related keywords to make the “pie” bigger
      3) Get really detail-oriented to take advantage of every opportunity to maximize your slice of a small pie

      I think tips on #3 would be most relevant for you:

      • explore every long-tail option during keyword brainstorming. Ubersuggest may be helpful
      • long-tail keywords can have higher value per visit. Do your best to identify $ keywords, analyizing source of leads and lead quality as much as possible. Google Analytics is very helpful here.
      • Use Google Webmaster Tools to see clicks, rankings, click-thru rate data for various keywords, to see which keywords are “cash-cows”, which keywords have room to grow more traffic from, and which are “maxxed out”. GWT can also be a data point on maximum potential visits.
      • If you’re trying to estimate overall search volume for very low-volume queries that have region-qualifying terms in them, try to guess which queries people would use the most by analyzing patterns in bigger metro areas. For example, AdWords tool shows that “Rochester NY Light Touch Chiropractor” probably has less than 10 queries per month, but to know if there are any queries at all or to get insight on higher-volume/closely related queries, try analyzing volume on queries like “New York Light Touch Chiropractor”, “NYC Light Touch Chiropractor”, “New Jersey Light Touch Chiropractor”, “Chicago Light Touch Chiropractor” etc…

      Good luck.

  • Fantastic post, I was looking for a well written article that I could use to explain to a rather large new client that long tail keywords are the way to go. It’s hard to find posts that aren’t opinionated and that contain facts in an easy to digest writing style. This is going to work perfectly, thanks Reid! I’ll be sure to share this post on my social outlets!

  • Abigail Abi

    Interesting!!! Its very USEFUL

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