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Breaking the Single Keyword Obsession in SEO Campaigns

Josh McCoy
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Concentrating solely on one or a few highly competitive keywords at the beginning of any SEO campaign can lead to a loss in profitability, as well as less than ideal expectations for a client or your management team.

Many client engagements begin with one goal expressed by the client: to rank at the top of the first page in search engines for their industry's top term, and fast. While this is often quickly countered with the realization that honest SEO takes time and should be a concentration across several terms, it still seems to fall on deaf ears in many cases. We live in a world of dreamers, and "fast" is too often becoming "not fast enough."

Any new SEO campaign should actually begin with a focus further down the tail of keyword terms. Effort and thought toward the broad keyword goal should be just that, a goal.

These terms should be identified in initial keyword research as the pinnacle of the information architecture. Don't get me wrong, you'll optimize the home page, top-level site pages, and internal link text back to these pages, etc. with these terms, but you must not obsess early in an SEO campaign about why you aren't ranking highly for these competitive terms.

Your obsession should lie in compartmentalizing site sections and the page themes that expand upon the broad keyword theme. This allows you to take advantage of the low hanging fruit (i.e., all of the less competitive terms that can begin to drive traffic soon while you work at building up the overall site theme that will help you to compete for the top terms you or your clients so desire). This "branches-in" approach requires you to enable sound SEO practices further into internal pages, such as your many product or service pages.

Many clients have become greedy and obsessed over single term performance in the past. While nerves are frazzled over one term, it's hard to see the actual progress that's taking place.

Instead of fretting over why you aren't getting the rankings or referrals for x, perform a broad match filtered search in analytics for x plus other words. I've experienced this many times where exact match referrals were non-desirable but there were a plethora of terms, including the broad term, in the keyword referral. In addition, these longer tail terms are often more qualified, leading to higher conversions.

Structuring a site to be SEO-friendly, as well as reinforcing a keyword theme in your content strategy that greatly expands the broad term desired, will likely result in great rankings for competitive terms. The funny thing is, often when you look at the big picture all the long tail keyword traffic you helped drive to the site will collectively drive much more traffic to the site and convert better than the competitive broad term that became an obsession.

Here are some things to look at instead of hourly ranking reports for those coveted terms:

  • Organic keyword referrals in analytical data, filtered to include and term including the desired broad term.

  • Google Webmaster Tools, within the Your Site on the Web section, analyze the Keywords section as this is the overall theme you're portraying.

  • Any other tool that assesses the topical relevance of your site. OptiSpider is a good example of a tool that will crawl your site and provide you with a topical explanation of what your entire site's content portrays.

From a cost-benefit standpoint, you can start getting rankings/traffic/conversions soon from the expanded term focus rather than battling solely towards one or a few terms which may take a year or more to see success.

Join us for SES Toronto June 9-11, 2010 at the Hyatt Regency Toronto. The event will be packed with sessions covering topics such as PPC management, keyword research, SEO, social media, local, mobile, link building, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization, usability and more while offering high-level strategy, big picture, keynotes, an exhibit floor with companies that can help you grow your business, networking events, parties and more.


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