Keywords are at the core of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). They are the words and phrases users type into search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo! when they are looking for something online.
And most online purchases begin with a search query.
Good SEO means connecting the people who need your product, when they need it, with your product. It means making the searching process as easy as possible for them.
If you know the correct keywords and how to use them, they will create these connections. Also, they'll help you understand the intent and behaviour of your buyers, as well as shifts in market conditions that you can use to your business’ advantage.
These are some common mistakes, myths and bad practices that you should avoid:
1. Targeting keywords that are too broad or too competitive
You should focus on those keywords that are valuable for your business, the ones that will target the right visitors, those who are likely to convert and make a purchase. To calculate the estimated value of a keyword, you should keep in mind several aspects:
- Search volume.
- Click-through rate.
- Importance / Search intent of the keyword.
Here is an article on how to determine keyword value. But feel free to experiment and find your own recipe!
If you are running a fashion e-commerce, targeting a keyword like “t-shirt” or “hat” is not a very good idea. The search volume might be big, but it's a broad term and there is no way to know the real intent of the person using it.
In other words: You should be targeting what are known as “long tail keywords”. These are descriptive and longer keywords that are used less often and therefore are less competitive.
People typing this type of queries into search engines are more likely to be buyers, they are looking for something very specific and they probably even have their credit card ready.
Long tail keywords have lower search volume, but they are easier to rank for and extremely relevant, and that little search volume can still bring you lots of traffic if you decide to rank for many long-tail keywords at the same time.
2. Overusing keywords
This practice is known as “keyword stuffing”, and search engines don’t like it, at all. Google certainly doesn’t. Yahoo!, MSN and others might be slightly more forgiving, but don’t rely on their mercy too much. Your website could be banned or penalized, who knows for how long.
Keyword stuffing happens both when you do it in your page's copy texts and in the meta content. Try to avoid repeating keywords or chaining them as a list of words with no real meaning.
3. Hiding keywords in the page
Photo credit: Charline Tetiyevsky via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND.
Sometimes, writing copy that works for both humans and search engines can be frustrating and difficult. In such cases, it can be tempting to use tricks, like hiding the keywords you need in the background of the page. But this trick won’t do. Like keyword stuffing, this is one of the techniques that Google and others have learned to identify and, yes, penalise.
As a general rule, just don’t try to fool search engines. They don’t like cheaters.
4. Writing content mostly for bots and ranking algorithms
No matter what, you should always write content primarily for humans. Just forget about search engines and ranking algorithms. You can optimise it later. And even then, don't sacrifice a natural and friendly text just for the sake of SEO.
Bots want useful and relevant content to specific topics. Keywords should fit in the text, but they shouldn't be the main priority.
Read more: "Does writing for people work for SEO?"
5. Using keywords without researching them
When you are just getting started with a keyword strategy from scratch, the first step is a brainstorm where you come out with some terms related to your business, products, and industry.
What services do you offer? How would a customer search for them online? You can make some sensible assumptions by trying to put yourself in their shoes. Conducting market research can be useful through this step.
The question that should follow is, what is the actual demand for those keywords? Are your guesses as relevant as you think? This is where keyword research begins.
The Google Keyword Planner is one of the best-known tools for keyword research. It has been developed for paid advertising purposes, not organic SEO, but it can give you some ideas and insightful information about the search volume for each exact query, restricting by geography and language, for example.
6. Using just one tool for keyword research
Of course, the more information, the better. Here is a list of tools we recommend you to try out. You don't need to use them all, just choose the ones you find most comfortable to use and compare the results to make better informed decision:
- Google Keyword Planner.
- Google Trends.
- Bing Ads.
- MOZ's Keyword Explorer.
- Word Stream.
- Über Suggest.
7. Focusing on just one keyword
According to Rand Fishkin, you should target “as many [terms / phrases on a page] as it makes sense for a visitor, a potential buyer, and those who will link.” As long as you can incorporate the term in a way that’s easy to read and understandable for humans, go ahead and do so. There is no limit on how many keywords you can use, so go ahead and drive as much traffic as you can by targeting several at once.
Just make sure that you are using them when they are relevant to the content of that particular page on your site, to avoid confusions or penalizations.
8. Not using keywords on URLs, meta content, and 'alt' text
Keywords are meant to be used in many places, not only in the visible text on your pages. There are many different areas where you should place them, in order to help search engines understand the purpose of your page and display it to the right users.
- Use relevant keywords in each page’s titles and meta descriptions.
- The 'alt' text serves to describe images to the browser, so it's another good chance to use keywords. It’s meant to work a little as an informative label.
- When we talk about using the right words on the page’s titles, that doesn’t refer just to the headers of the page, but also its URL.
9. Not measuring and tracking your efforts
In order to adjust your strategy and improve, you need to know which keywords are converting and which are not. If you are using Google Analytics, one simple way to track the results of your SEO is to enable keyword tracking by syncing your Google Search Console data to Google Analytics.
You will find keyword performance data under Reporting > Acquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Queries.
10. Repeating the exact same terms over and over again
This is the worst kind of keyword stuffing. Avoid it at all costs.
Remember that search engines have evolved far beyond simple word matching nowadays. Google isn’t a search company anymore, it is an AI company.
Search engines try to understand the real intent and context behind each search query and display results which may not contain the same words, but could still be relevant to the user. One way to achieve this is including synonyms and related terms.
Knowing this, you can use synonyms in order to write content that sounds more natural to your audience and drive even more traffic.
Research the new synonyms as well. Chances are that some of them will also have an interesting amount of search volume.
One simple trick to find relevant synonyms you can use is to enter your keyword on Google, preceded by the symbol ‘~’.