5 Keyword Research Mistakes You Must Avoid

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be a cruel process to follow: just one wrong step can render all of your efforts a complete waste of time.

That fact is never more true than with the keyword research stage. A simple misunderstanding at this initial stage of SEO can compromise everything you do from that point onwards. Worst of all, you often won’t discover your mistake until much later (i.e. after you’ve put a great deal of work in)

keyword researchWith the above in mind, in this post I want to cover the five keyword research mistakes that you must avoid.

I have learned what not to do through trial and error — by passing my experience onto you I hope that you can avoid some of the setbacks I have endured!

1. Confusing Broad/Phrase/Exact Match Search Figures

Most keyword research tools will offer you search figures based upon three “match types:”

  1. Broad
  2. Phrase
  3. Exact

A broad match will include search figures from any keyword that include your keyword(s) (in any order). For instance, if you were searching for broad match figures for the keyword “blue widgets,” you would receive combined search figures for “the best blue widgets,” “where can I buy blue widgets,” “I need a widget because I’m feeling blue,” and so on.

A phrase match keyword will include search figures from any keyword that include your keyword(s) in order. The first two example keywords mentioned above would qualify as phrase match keywords.

Finally, exact match keywords include search figures for your keyword only.

Therefore, when researching a keyword (and considering the cost/benefit of attempting to rank for it), considering broad and/or phrase match search figures will skew your expectations of how many visitors you would actually receive when ranking for the exact match keyword.

Personally, I recommend that you always base any estimates upon exact match figures.

2. Confusing National and Global Search Figures

This can be a major issue if your site targets a specific country and was a mistake that I got very close to making.

I was planning on creating a niche site and was in search of a viable keyword. I thought I had found an absolute beauty in “driving instructors” — the search volume was pretty high and the competition was low.

However, I was looking at global searches and viewing competition on the Google US site. I didn’t realise that “driving instructors” was a redundant term in the US (hence the lack of competition) and that the bulk of searches was coming from Google.co.uk. When I checked the competition on Google.co.uk I found that it was very high.

So, if you are targeting a keyword specific to a particular country, make sure that you are looking at figures and adjudging competition from that specific country.

3. Confusing the Number of Searches With Potential Visitors

100% of searchers will not visit your site, even if you are ranked number one in Google. Estimates vary but personal experience tells me that you can’t expect more than 40% of exact match search visitors to click through to your site when you’re on the top spot. Furthermore, that percentage drops off sharply as you go down the rankings.

I have a rule of thumb where if I think I can’t rank within the top three spots for a keyword, I won’t bother targeting it. Why? Consider this: a keyword with 25,000 searches per month will typically be very difficult to rank for. And despite those 25,000 searches, if you manage to get to fourth spot you will only receive ~2,000 visitors. In my humble opinion, it’s simply not worth the effort when compared to targeting long tail keywords.

Editor’s Note: This number really depends on what kind of site you are starting. For online stores, you can get by with far less searches because you can make a much higher profit per conversion. The number of searches you need depends on what your income goals are.

4. Not Taking Searcher Intent Into Account

Any seasoned keyword researcher has been through it — they’ve found a keyword that they think is absolutely golden. Maybe it is, in a sense that they will be able to rank for it. But ranking for a keyword is not the be all and end all — you have to consider the intent of the searcher.

What do I mean by intent? Well, exactly that — what the intent of their search is. Consider two extreme cases: one in which a searcher is searching for a product that they intend to buy, and another in which the searcher is only in search of information and has no intention of spending any money. Which visitor is likely to be of more value to you?

What a lot of keyword researchers don’t appreciate is that 1,000 targeted visitors can be more beneficial than tens as many of visitors with no commercial intent. That’s why news and gossip sites have to generate an enormous amount of traffic in order to earn any kind of money.

Targeting relatively low-volume keywords that indicate good search intent can be a far better strategy than blindly targeting any remotely relevant keyword.

5. Choosing Keywords That Rely Upon Context

Finally (and on a similar note), one can get drawn into a seemingly perfect keyword only to discover that many of the searches have nothing to do with whatever your website covers.

A great example of this can be found in Pat Flynn’s infamous Niche Site Duel that was run a couple of years ago. Pat thought he had found a great keyword in “cop training,” only to discover that many of the searches were a phrase match for “mirko cro cop training” — something else entirely.

Understanding the context of your search and any potential alternative meanings is extremely important when researching keywords and is another reason why you should resort to researching on the basis of exact match keywords only.

What Mistakes Can You Think Of?

Above are five common keyword research mistakes that can really set you back. However (and unfortunately), there are plenty more. Have you made any or can you think of any? Let us know in the comments section below!

photo credit: Leo Reynolds

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4 thoughts on “5 Keyword Research Mistakes You Must Avoid”

  1. Thanks for the keyword research tips Tom. Getting those match types down is half the battle, I’ve made a few mistakes myself when doing keyword research so I know how you feel. Sometimes knowing what NOT to do is more important than knowing what to do! Thanks for the informative content.

  2. sofia says:

    I’m setting up my own on line store at the moment and I read this blog religiously. The one thing I’ve got to say I’m always a bit confused with is the keyword research. Doing the math, if you have 1000 people searching for your keyword, and 40% click on your website, you’re left with 400 visitors a month, which with a sales conversion of 5% you’re left with 20 buyers a month, it’s not even a sale per day. That leads me to think keyword reserach isn’t a full proof way to find out if your business has a chance. Am I wrong? can you give me a light on this please ?

    Thank you,


  3. I think I’ve made every one of those mistakes at one point or another. Oh well, live and learn!

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