One of the reasons search marketing is so effective is that it delivers information on products and services to people who are actively seeking them out. People enter search terms into a search engine and the engine provides sites and ads that are relevant to the terms. This arrangement is beneficial for the user because they are provided what they want and it’s profitable for the company selling goods because their products are put in front of motivated buyers—so the potential for a sale is high.

The success of search marketing hinges on whether the keywords the searcher puts in the query box match the keywords the company has targeted in their online campaigns. If the company selling goods has properly identified the keywords a searcher might use to find products, then there is a good chance a conversion will occur.

The process of identifying keywords is wrought with pitfalls which can reduce the effectiveness of online campaigns. Here are eight common mistakes companies make in selecting keywords for their campaigns.

1. Targeting keywords that people never use

You don’t have to look very far on the web to find companies targeting phrases that visitors seldom enter into a search engine.

There are several ways this error can manifest itself. The most common is when a company selects keywords from insider jargon that they use within the company, but with which the outside world is not unfamiliar.

Even the most enlightened of us can fall into this trap. We use terms in our day to day vocabulary and the words are so ingrained in our mind that we overlook the fact that the rest of the world isn’t familiar with our internal corporate-speak. In many cases the company is suffering from a form of myopia: they are so close to the products that they don’t see that the rest of the world might call it by another name.

Another situation where obscure keywords are targeted is more nefarious. Although most online marketing companies are honest and want only the best for clients, there are a few bad apple SEO firms that have purposely selected off-the-wall keyword phrases so they can guarantee rankings on those phrases. Obscure keywords are usually not very competitive so the SEO firm can easily win the term.

They tell a client, “We’ll get you ranking on phrase X”—often the phrase sounds good on the surface. The trusting client approves the term, not realizing that the phrase will never receive any traffic or bring conversions. Alarm bells should be going off in your head if your SEO firm is claiming guarantees. Ask for popularity numbers of the phrases they are selecting, test the phrase in PPC to get real performance data, then decide if the phrase is worth pursuing in organic marketing.

2. Confusing keyword popularity with keyword appropriateness

Professional keyword tools like KeywordDiscovery and WordTracker are valuable tools for providing insight into the traffic potential of search phrases. This is useful information to have, but sometimes this one criterion gets blown out of proportion in importance. Other considerations like relevancy, user intent, and the competitiveness of a phrase are overlooked.

Something to keep in mind is that many popular phrases are also extremely competitive, making highly popular phrases an expensive choice. PPC bid prices will be higher and winning a top organic spot will require more work because more competitors are targeting that phrase. An alternate approach, especially for a small business, would be to pursue more focused, more relevant terms that are less popular but would be better choices because they convert better.

3. Not considering user intent in keyword selection

Selecting good keywords requires the ability to get inside the mind of the user to learn what they wanted when they entered the phrase.

The phrase a user enters reveals much about the state of mind of the user and where they are in the buying process. For example, a search for “car reviews” might indicate that the searcher is in the research phase and is comparison-shopping. In contrast, a searcher entering “fast auto financing” is actively looking to buy—he wants that hot car in time for the weekend.

4. Selecting single word keywords

Only on rare occasions is a single word a good choice, and this happens mostly for big powerful sites. If you are Maytag, the single keyword “washer” might be fine. For most sites, however, single terms are just overly competitive and expensive. They tend to be overly broad, too competitive, and not perform well.

5. Keyword misalignment

One needs to be careful when selecting keywords to make sure that you select phrases that do not unintentionally conflict with unrelated industries. For example, consider the phrase “mobile marketing.” A company selling advertising on mobile billboards might unintentionally be competing with a company selling advertising on mobile devices. Careful keyword selection can help prevent this misalignment.

6. Not considering the competition

Many companies blindly select keywords and don’t stop to consider the competitive landscape of that phrase on the web. Put the candidate term into a query box at a search engine and take a look at the sites ranking for the term. Do they have .gov and .edu extensions? Examine how optimized they are. Compare the backlinks of the sites ranking to your site. If you want to rank, you’ll need to outdo what the other sites are doing. Pick your battles carefully: can you realistically afford to pursue that phrase?

7. Failing to periodically review keywords

Language isn’t static. New words come into the vocabulary of people and other words drop from use. Scanning forums and blogs where people are discussing products like yours is a good way to watch for new terms. Wordspy.com is a favorite free tool for learning new expressions.

It is important to periodically review your keyword list to see if there are phrases you’ve overlooked or terms that are new or grown in popularity.

Another good reason to review keywords is that, upon closer inspection, you might find inappropriate keywords that are not performing well and are costing you money. Perhaps when you made your original keyword selection you only had limited data on which to base your decision. Revisiting your keywords when you’re armed with performance data can guide you to refine your choices.

8. Not allocating enough resources and time to perform good keyword research

Almost all online marketing has its foundation in keywords. The words you buy in pay per click, the terms you target for organic, the phrases you focus on in your images and videos, all depend on making good keyword choices up front. It takes time and resources to do keyword research properly.

If you were constructing a building, you would take measures to ensure your foundation was strong. It is the same with the keyword research process. Unfortunately, what happens in many companies is they rush the keyword process and do not allocate the necessary resources or time to do it right. This leads to poor keyword choices and costing the company more money in the long run.

A better strategy would be to take the time it takes to do the project right. A sound keyword process is one of the best investments a company can make. Take a few minutes today and review your keyword lists. Chances are you can save yourself and your company a lot of money and improve your return on your search campaigns by simply improving the keyword pool.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing: Search Term Research | Small Is Beautiful

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About The Author: is the President and CEO of KeyRelevance.com, a full service online marketing agency that has been helping businesses succeed online for over a decade. Christine and her team of experienced search marketers offer a variety of services including Pay Per Click Management, Search Engine Optimization, Conversion Enhancements and Analytics Support.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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