Keyword Research: When Search Volume Lies

Filed under: Search Engine Optimization — Tags: — Brian

One of the first stages in any search engine optimization project, whether it’s a one time site optimization or monthly SEO program, is keyword research. Using Google’s Keyword tool we are able to get a pretty decent estimate of how many monthly searches there are for any given keyword phrase, on average.

Searching for apple, or Apple?

But just using the data out of the keyword tool isn’t enough. We can’t make keyword decisions based on that tool alone for the simple reason that, sometimes, the search volumes lie.

It Isn’t All About Your Industry

The danger of relying only on the search volumes (and competition) to steer your keyword decisions is that sometimes a keyword phrase might look like it has great search volume, but most of those people are searching for something entirely different from your product or service.

For example: Trussbilt is a company that produces security products, including doors and wall panels for correctional facilities. If you’re just going by the Google keyword tool, “steel wall panels” or “metal doors” looks like stellar phrases with good search volume… but most of the people searching for those phrases are not looking for a door that can stop bullets, or walls that can resist a sustained assault.

In fact, a quick glance at the first page of Google’s search results shows us results for metal roofs and prefab metal buildings of the kind that are cheap and rust away in short order. Even if a user was looking for security walls or doors and typed in one of those phrases, after glancing at the first few results they’d immediately refine their search — because that phrase is about steel wall panels, not steel wall panels.

With that in mind and with further research it might become clear that detention steel wall panels is stronger than just steel wall panels, or detention metal doors is better than just metal doors, even though the search volume is vastly lower for those phrases.

Be the Browser

Before you settle on keywords, take a moment and be the browser. Put yourself into the shoes of a potential user looking for something that your website offers. Type the phrase that your keyword research just revealed into Google and take a look at the top handful of search results.

Are they relevant? Do the results point to sites that offer what you’re trying to find? If the top 3-5 results don’t show the product or service that you’re offering, then the vast majority of your users are not going to keep scrolling down or checking deeper pages in the search results — instead they’ll refine their search, narrow it down with a more specific keyword phrase.

Sure, a higher search volume phrase is attractive — but it’s only worth anything if it’s the phrase your potential customers are actually using.

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2 Comments | Leave a comment

  • Brian — thanks for this reminder. Many people get hung up on estimated search volume, but if the shoe doesn’t fit… Personally, I refine my search to be as targeted as possible so I don’t have to sift too many results. If I see the top few aren’t close, I’m starting over just like you suggest.

    Comment by Troy

  • Great point and article. I like to use the google tool for my initial research. I will follow up with other software tools that typically require a fee to further my research on search volume.

    Comment by MD SEO

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