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SEO Keyword Strategy: Why There is More to Keyword Research than Search Volume
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Whether developing a keyword strategy for a sponsored campaign or for an SEO initiative, when researching your keyword options most people place a strong emphasis on search volume. It makes sense as you want to optimize your ads or your web pages for key phrases that are searched for more often, but should search volume be the defining reason as to why you select one keyword over another? The thing with search volume is that the numbers that have been communicated in the past are not necessarily accurate. The search engines do not release search volume numbers save MSN and who knows if these numbers are even accurate. Not to mention the fact that search volumes change. So why then do we depend so much on search volume? Should we be?

Ranking for a term that has no search volume just does not make sense. Or does it? You see buzz words frequently change, so just because a term that you rank well for today is not being searched for by the masses does not mean that it won't be a phrase that is searched for by many in the future. You mean to tell me that terms such as "social media marketing" or "video optimization" were being searched for 10 years ago? Highly unlikely and if they were, the volume was no where near where it is today. It just goes to show that there is more to a keyword analysis then just search volume.

In the past, using keyword research tools such as Wordtracker and formerly the Overture Search Term Suggestion tool, we were able to see estimated search volumes for phrases in a given time period. Naturally SEOs and website optimizers gravitated towards the phrases that had the highest search volumes. Think of these of the "head" phrases that were more general in nature and consisted of a single word. Phrases such as "insurance" come to mind. So of course you have all of these sites optimizing for insurance, which in turn waters down the search results. I don't know about you, but when I perform a search for something like "insurance", I expect to see sites like AIG, StateFarm, Geico, AllState, Met Life and the like show up. I don't necessarily see all of these sites showing up. The fact of the matter is that relevancy should count shouldn't it? Even with well optimized sites, shouldn't relevancy be the determining factor as to what site ranks for a given key phrase? I don't really want to see a Wikipedia listing for every query that I do. Getting back to our discussion on search volume, it is these head phrases (such as insurance) that tend to have the highest search volume. So we should include these "head" phrases in our keyword baskets? Well the answer is, it depends...

High Search Volume Does Not Equal High Quality Traffic

When we look at reasons why certain phrases have higher search volumes than others, there are two important factors that come to mind:
  1. General / "Head" Type Queries are more simple in Nature - people are lazy in their search habits. Well to a point. As they become more educated about a topic of interest, they will perform more intelligent search queries. Someone interested in insurance may simply perform a search for the single word "insurance". As they become more search savvy, they may perform additional, secondary searches for terms such as "motorcycle insurance". As they go through the process their searches continue to get refined until they are searching for more long tail phrases (motorcycle insurance in Seattle). The thing is that the general-type searches will generate more search volume simply because most people will begin their search with these types of phrases until they become better educated about the subject matter that they are searching on. These general-type queries, while generating more volume, will be less qualified until the searcher becomes more educated.

  2. Timing - buzzwords are hot and will have more volume associated with them during their time of popularity. You can bet that the search volume for "Britney Spears" in 1998 before she gained fame and fortune was considerably lower than in 2002 when she was at the pinnacle of her career. Fast forward to 2008 and the search volume may be even higher will all of the singer's controversy. Timing of buzz has a direct impact on search volume.
There's More to Keyword Research than Search Volume

It's true higher search volume will drive more traffic to your site. However in this day and age, unless you are an infant site just starting out, you would be better served to be concerned about quality traffic than overall traffic volume. So then how do you determine which keywords you should focus on? I'll speak to this from an organic (SEO) perspective. There are three main factors that you should focus on when doing your keyword research:
  1. Relevancy - First, ensure that your keyword basket is filled with keywords that are relevant to your business and to your website.

  2. Competitiveness / Ability to Rank For - How competitive are the key phrases that you are researching? Does your site have the ability to rank for these phrases? If the keywords are hyper-competitive, do you really think that you will be able to rank for them? You might want to develop a long-tail keyword strategy instead.

  3. What Keywords are your Online Competitors Positioning For? - Which phrases are your competitors ranking for? This ties in with the relevancy factor. Although a keyword may have little or no search volume, if your competitors are optimizing and ranking for a key phrase relevant to your industry, you might want to do the same. If that term becomes a buzzword in the future and you are not yet ranking for it, you may have missed an opportunity to intercept some of the traffic for that term. Pay attention to what keywords your online competitors are focusing on.
Now I don't want to suggest that search volume is not an important factor when you are doing keyword research. The fact of the matter is that it is important. It's just that search volume alone is not what your keyword research should be based on. An effective organic/SEO keyword strategy should be scalable and include terms that may not have the volume or flare today, but have the relevancy, ability to rank for and popularity for tomorrow. Generating decent rankings and quality traffic from the search engines is hard work. Why not make it easier by continuing to do on-going keyword research and by optimizing your site for relevant keywords? Your boss with thank you in the future as your web properties gain qualified traffic and as a result produce more qualified leads and orders.

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posted by Jody @ Tuesday, May 13, 2008  
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