SEO: The obsessive pursuit of Google rankings.
If you’ve been in the SEO industry for more than 5 minutes you’ve probably heard someone talk about how many keywords they (or their clients) rank for. You’ve probably asked a new client what their marketing goals are, and they might say something like “I want to rank number 1 on Google for every keyword!”
I don’t mean to disparage rankings. Rankings are important. Critical. The ranking process is a large part of what makes Google what it is. The entire internet would be a very different place without rankings, and the optimization of sites to improve their rankings. What I want to point out is that people get the targeting part of it wrong.
Here’s what I mean. Imagine you run a solar panel company. You want to rank for as many solar panel keywords as you possibly can, right? So you start with this list:
- solar panels
- solar power
- solar panel installation
- living off the grid
- green home
- energy efficiency
- home energy storage
These are all keywords you’d potentially want to rank for, so you start placing them in your site. But you can’t fit all of them into your home page title. It’s even a stretch to get them all naturally in your content. Of course you can (and should!) target different pages with different keywords, but very soon you’ve found 50 more phrases that you need to rank for. It quickly becomes a game of “okay, we’ve got ‘green home solar panel installers in sunny states’ on the first page, but ‘free power from the sun’s pure goodness’ dropped to page 4!”
There’s a better way to go about this. Instead of focusing on individual keywords, target your desired topics. Here’s the process I follow:
- Create an expansive keyword list. (Yep, you should still start here, but do it to better understand search behavior in your industry/niche.)
- Group that list into topics of related keywords. In the AdWords realm we call them ad groups.
- Figure out which group is your main topic. This will generally include the keyword you want more than anything.
- Separate the rest into directly related and secondary groups. A trick here is to think about the pages you have on your site. For example, if your solar company has a page devoted to solar panel installation, that’s probably a directly related group. On the other hand home energy efficiency is secondary; people who care about efficiency are probably largely the same group, but it isn’t what your business actually does.
- Write great content that naturally revolves around those topics. Make your installation page robust and useful. Commission a great “benefits of solar panels” infographic. Write a blog post or sub-page about energy efficiency. Don’t focus on how many keywords you can fit in, focus on being an authority on that topic.
One last thing to illustrate why this is a better way to approach your rankings. Go look at your Google Webmaster Tools account, under Search Traffic -> Search Analytics at the queries report. This shows the actual queries that people searched before coming to your site. (Aside, this tool was recently updated, and includes a lot more information and a much improved UI from before.) In most cases you’ll notice that there are a few keywords with a lot of clicks, but the majority of your traffic comes from long tail keywords, misspellings and secondary keywords. This is valuable traffic, but there’s no way you could (or should) ever target all of those keywords. Now jump down to Google Index -> Content Keywords. This gives you an idea of what Google understands your site to be about. With these two reports, you can get a good idea of how well you’re steering the ship. If you’re not seeing your main focus in these two reports, it might just be time to reevaluate your targeting strategy.