Keyword research is a funny thing. You can gain a lot of knowledge about what words people use when searching on the engines, but it tells very little about what a person wants when they search using a particular keyword or phrase. The intent behind the search is the missing component, and I don’t know of any keyword tools that get far enough inside the searcher’s heads to know what exactly the searcher’s intent is.
Many people, when performing keyword research, look primarily at the search volume of a phrase and whether the phrase appears relevant to what they do or sell. On that analysis alone keywords are chosen or rejected.
Search volume isn’t always the best way to choose keywords.
A targeted phrase isn’t always as it appears
A lot of phrases can change meaning significantly just by changing word order or the addition or removal of a qualifier. Lets say you sell a brand of underwear called Awesome Underwear. Well, if a keyword phrase is “awesome underwear suck,” clearly that is not a phrase you want to target or use on your website. Or perhaps you see searches for “awesome underwear wedgies”. In most cases this would be caused by people searching for information on how Awesome Underwear causes wedgies, a major complaint spreading like diarrhea throughout the internet.
On the other hand, what appears to be a negative phrase for one company can actually be a positive for another. Perhaps there is a company called Bad Ass Undies that’s known for creating underwear that actually prevent wedgies, even in the toughest of boy’s locker rooms. In this case, searches for “bad ass undies wedgies” is performed by people looking for more info on how the undies work and if, alas, they truly can stand the wedgie test. If you’re optimizing the website for Bad Ass Undies, “wedgies” a word you definitely want to target.
As I said earlier, sometimes changing the word order can have a profound effect on whether a keyword phrase is a viable one or not. A good example of this is is “wedding planning” vs. “planning wedding”. Some may be looking for a person to manage their wedding while others may be looking for tips on how to plan a wedding themselves.
Finally, there is always the case where a phrase changes meaning without changing word order but by changing the inflection used in the searchers mind.
This happened to me the other day as I was looking for a headset for my phone. I saw a box on the shelf that read “cordless telephone headset.” My first thought was, “Oh, look, a cordless headset!” But alas, it was merely a headset for a cordless phone. Two very different things but both use the same words in the same order.
Before deciding to optimize your site for “cordless telephone headset” you need to determine what it is people are looking for. Get this wrong and your visitors will quickly leave.
The best tool I’ve seen for determining visitor intent is Google. Do a search for your phrase and look at the results. If the majority of the results are cordless headsets then you have to assume this is what people mean when they type in that phrase. When people land on your site using that phrase, these are the products you need to display. If you show corded headsets for cordless phones instead, you’re going to have higher bounce rates.
Understanding your visitors intent with keywords doesn’t always boil down to the obvious. This is a good check for all of your keywords. Sometimes there are other industries you may not be aware of that are using the same terminology. A quick check in the search results can be quite telling as what your keywords actually mean.
This post was inspired from The Princess Bride themed presentation I gave in early 2010 at SEMpdx’s Searchfest titled Inconceivable Content: The Dread Pirate Robert’s Guide to Creating Swashbuckling Content, Pillaging the Search Engines, and Commandeering a Treasure Trove of Conversions. If you enjoyed this post you also might enjoy other posts inspired from the same. Search for “inconceivable content” on this blog to find them all.