Keyword identification:  it’s the first and arguably most critical step in search engine optimization (SEO).  And aside from your team’s brainstorming (or the very rare use of focus groups), it’s gotta start with research.

Most clients are quite willing to stand out of the way while we do this for them.  Some try to do it themselves …after all, it’s not really rocket science.  In many of those cases, we’ll frequently be called in months – even years – later, to “do some of that SEO” to help improve the site’s lead-generating capability.

Because it’s so fundamental, we’ll invariably begin that work with a re-do of the client’s keyword analysis from the ground up.  In so doing, we’ll almost always find that a number of errors were made right at the start.  And it’s almost always one or more of the same fairly small set, which is why I titled this post “6 common mistakes…”.  In a recent post on Search Engine Journal, Daniel Scocco identified four of these, as follows…

Not doing keyword research.
Incredibly, the most common mistake around is, well, not doing keyword research at all! Or doing it once to some extent, but never updating it.  The result?  A missed opportunity to maximize the level  of organic traffic.

Using only “broad match”. Broad match, the default match type in Google AdWords, means that the search volume you’ll see is the sum of the exact searches for your keyphrase, the searches inverting the order of the words inside your keyphrase, and the searches for your keyphrase along with other words …which can be very misleading.  For example:  you might find that “data storage” yields 1.6 million searches under broad match;  but switching to exact match, it’s only 14,000.  The rest come from phrases like “fixed data storage”, “removable data storage”, “aircraft storage data”, and “data storage service” …not all of which may be relevant to your business.

Ignoring competition. While search volume is part of the equation, it’s by no means the only part;  equally important is the competition that’s also targeting that keyword.  Let’s suppose that two similar phrases have nearly identical traffic volumes, but one phrase competes against 17,000 pages in the index and the other competes against 180,000 pages.  It’s significantly easier to rank on Page One when you are only competing against 17K pages than it is against 180K pages.  As Daniel says, “Targeting keywords you can’t rank for is one of the easiest ways to waste time and money online.”

Targeting unprofitable keywords. Even keywords with a decent amount of traffic and relatively low competition might still not be profitable.  In order to target profitable keywords, you need to analyze both the niche and the intent behind the search query.

But wait… there’s more. In my 5+ years on the agency side of SEO, I’ve noticed a few more errors that clients commonly make in doing keyword research…

Not listening to your customers. These days it’s rare for a new engagement to come across my desk where the client doesn’t already have Google Analytics installed on their website.  Look at your keyword search terms (non-branded terms);  see what phrases have converted visitors, or show three or more page views per visit.  These are phrases that are being used by your most engaged visitors. Then find related terms that show more traffic and (if possible) the fewest number of competing pages.

Btw:  If you haven’t already, install Google Analytics right away (hey, it’s free!);  don’t worry about how to use it just yet.  When you do have the time to learn how to use it – or when you can afford to outsource – you’ll be very thankful you installed it a year earlier.  Why? …because now you have a full year’s worth of invaluable data that GA has been quietly sitting there collecting for you or your SEM consultant to use.

Not looking at the landscape before you decide. Meaning, just because you think it will be relevant doesn’t necessarily mean that Google agrees.  Look at the search engine results for the target phrases you’re considering.  If the results are not at all relevant to your product or service, there’s no point in targeting those phrases.  For example, if one of your services is “employee benefit plan management” (say you’re an investment management firm managing a huge pension fund), make sure your target phrases don’t compete against listings for “employee benefit plan administrators” …which is another animal entirely.

By avoiding these all-too-common mistakes – or by simply outsourcing the job to a competent search engine marketing consultancy – your site will be way ahead of the game, in terms of the many critical business outcomes that keywords leverage.