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Why Obsessing Over One Keyword Could Sink Your Whole Site

lyons-ken
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White WhaleEver dealt with prospective clients who only want to target a single keyword? These folks have only one goal: reaching Page 1 of Google for a single, solitary "money term." They aren't interested any keyword variations, no stemming, no related modifiers, no synonyms, nothing else. All other keywords be damned.

They also feel that by targeting one keyword:

  • Services will be cheaper. Focusing on a single keyword is way less work than targeting dozens, right?
  • Page 1 of Google will be a breeze. Heck, it's only one keyword. How hard can that be?
  • Results will happen even faster, since we're laser-focused on just one term versus an array of keywords.

Now, I can appreciate someone who knows what exactly they want. But this type of myopic "all or nothing" approach to SEO can get you into real trouble.

The White Whale Keyword

We all know the story of Captain Ahab and how the obsessive pursuit of Moby Dick led to his demise. The same holds true for chasing a single "White Whale" keyword. It's a perilous endeavor that could lead to disaster.

Look at the current state of the SERPs, with Pandas and Penguins lurking around every corner, just waiting to pounce on domains that engage in manipulative practices. And make no mistake about it: focusing on just one keyword will look manipulative.

Point is, if you concentrate all your SEO efforts on a single term with a "Page 1 or Bust" mentality, you're undoubtedly putting your business and domain in jeopardy. Here's why.

Risky SEO Business

I'm a big fan of managing risk. I assume most people are. But focusing 100 percent of your time and money into one keyword is extremely risky. It's akin to putting everything on "red" at the roulette wheel in Vegas, crossing your fingers and letting it ride.

Think about this: what if you never make to Page 1 for that target keyword? It's a distinct possibility.

Understand that just because you pay an SEO firm X amount of dollars doesn't guarantee you Page 1 ranking for a specific keyword. In fact, 99.9 percent of websites will never sniff Page 1, even with the help of SEO.

Why? Because there are a host of factors working against you, such as:

  • Time and Money: Do you have unlimited time and money to spend on your pursuit of this single keyword? Probably not. And know that the ROI cycle of focusing on one keyword exclusively can be an extremely long and lonely path to the top. Understand that SEO is a zero sum game. If you aren't on Page 1, you're nowhere. And until you reach page one for that lone "money term," you won't see any meaningful traffic or conversions. Yet you'll be sinking a continuous stream of money into a project that's producing zero results. And how long can that go on for?
  • Competition: Who are you trying to outrank in this lone keyword vertical? Are they big brands or super-authoritative, aged domains that have been entrenched in this vertical for years? And if you have a new domain, your path to Page 1 just got even harder. Also, if you're targeting only one keyword, it's probably pretty popular with a lot of search demand. So, in addition to the sites already on Page 1 you need to unseat, there are a host of other sites fighting for visibility in the top spots. Trouble is, there are just a handful of listings on Page 1.
  • Future Updates: Google has and will continue to make aggressive updates to filter out rank spam. But the algorithms are imperfect and even good sites get caught in the crossfire. And even though you've hired an SEO, they don't control Google, the SERPs, the algorithms, or any future Google updates.
  • User Engagement: Do people trust your website? Do they find your content valuable, engaging, share-worthy? Or do they land on your site and bounce back right away? Is your dwell time really low? Do users go any deeper on your site than the page they landed on? If you're only targeting a single term on a single page, I'd bet you're not paying attention to these factors. But know that Google is. And as SEOs, we can get people to your site, but we don't control how they behave once they get there.

There are factors beyond SEO that may be working against you ever reaching Page 1. If you pin all your hopes on a single keyword, these factors are magnified. So, too, is your risk of failure.

This is why you diversify your keyword portfolio, and target a basket of terms. With every additional keyword your target, you spread and mitigate risk.

How to Look Really, Really Manipulative

If you only target one keyword, your link building efforts are likely focused on one URL. And building links to only one page on your site over an extended period of time will look highly manipulative. This goes double for a brand new domain with no link profile.

Natural linking patterns don't happen like that. Legitimate domains get links to a range of pages on their site, not just one. They also get the bulk of links to their home page with branded anchors. And even if they do get big spikes of links to a single page, generally those spikes don't last for months at a time.

As for anchor text, given how high the stakes are and that the only KPI is page one Google, you need to see results. So you're probably using a preponderance of commercial text links, and being way more aggressive with exact match than you normally, rather than targeting a range of terms.

So in theory, if you're only targeting one keyword then you're likely:

  • Building links to only one URL.
  • Doing it for a sustained period of time.
  • Using a preponderance of commercial anchors.

To me, it would only be a matter of time before you trip a filter or get smacked by Penguin with these types of unnatural linking patterns. Then your whole project is dead in the water.

So Many Missed Opportunities

No matter what services or products you offer, there's more than just a single money term you can target. In fact, I'm sure there are dozens of valuable keywords that are relevant, high intent and will drive qualified traffic and leads to your site.

But by chasing just one keyword, you restrict yourself to one SERP. As well, you forego a host of opportunities that would give your business visibility across an array of verticals, which effectively kills your traffic's ability to grow at scale.

Heck, you wouldn't rely on only one channel or one marketing tactic to drive leads. Why target only one keyword?

Mission Accomplished! Now What?

OK, so maybe I'm being too negative here. Many sites do enjoy top listings on Google, so let's explore the best-case scenario.

Say you do make it page one for your money keyword. In fact, let's say you make it all the way to the top of Page 1. When you get there, your site is overrun by traffic and leads as far as the eye can see. Congratulations! You did it!

Trouble is, the celebration will be short-lived when you realize you can't get any higher than number one. And over the course of the next few weeks and months, traffic will flatline, and you'll see little to no growth. So unless this is keyword is gaining popularity or trending higher, growth from this vertical is completely tapped.

And God forbid if this SERP vanishes, or demand for this keyword dries up or Google rolls out paid inclusion. Then, your ship is sunk.

The Right Approach to Keyword Targeting and Expansion

Now, please don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying you shouldn't shoot for Page 1 Google as a goal. I'm saying don't pin all your hopes on a single keyword.

Instead, take a more diversified, comprehensive approach to keyword targeting and expansion, one that spans a basket of terms and corresponding SEO landing pagesand will drive sales/leads across your entire site.

Also, stop obsessing over one keyword and how it's behaving in the SERPs. Move away from SERP watching as your daily pastime. Instead, focus on a steady and sustained month-over-month lift in overall organic traffic and conversions to your site.

And even if you do value one keyword above all others, you can still prioritize that term with your SEO and link-based content marketing efforts. Just be sure to layer in additional keyword targeting as well, and take a more diversified, risk-off approach, something that will pay dividends in the short term versus the distant future.

A future that, if you focus on only one keyword, may not come for six months, six years, or ever.


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