Barry pointed out a great response to thread at Search Engine Watch forums by Paid Search Guru Ian McAnerin. A member had asked Forum visitors which industries they "would not touch with a 10 foot SEO pole?"
Ian answers led to some additional excellent discussion at SEW and a couple of gems in the SER comments.
Keyword research is a topic that is considered to be very basic by many in the SEO and Paid Search fields. This is likely due to the fact that it has been one of the few constants since the early days of SEO, when tools began to appear that were geared towards finding the right keywords. Since, many writing about the subject have indicated the same core needs: relevancy and popularity, including Danny from way back when, Kevin Lee, Shari Thurow, and most recently Christine Churchill.
Ian's post at Search Engine Watch makes three main points: First that some industries may be too difficult to venture into without specialized experience; secondly, you may not want to venture into some industries due to business concerns (he cites Realtors as being especially “difficult” when it comes to payment or buying in to the value); and lastly that your personal belief set may be in conflict with the particular industry, such as Hate or Porn sites, for example.
Ian comment raised some good follow up questions, and he defends his opinion that one should “cut their teeth” by targeting more localized terms. The whole topic leads well to a discussion of the core competency of keyword research. When venturing into a new space, it is likely that many SEO's are at a slight disadvantage due to being unfamiliar with terms. When deciding on whether to accept a project, it actually takes a fair amount of diligence on the part of any SEO; otherwise they may be simply saying “sure we'll get you ranked.” This could be an alarm signal.
Using geo-modified keywords as the target can also prove to be difficult if not properly done. In some cases, there may be a majority of searchers using the city or town before the more general term (i.e.: Timbuktu hotel) while in others, people may use it more often after the term. The fact is that without excellent and trusted keyword research, only trial and error will lead to the required log files that report the actual activity. This trial and error period can be greatly eased by having an unlimited paid search budget to run all keywords on broad match across all engines for at least 2 or three months. Unfortunately not everyone has the budget to do that. However, running these types of campaigns on a local basis may be somewhat helpful.
One comment that was very insightful at the SER blog was that “generally the most competitive websites have the highest cost in PPC advertising. Find the biggest spenders and you have the stiffest competition.” Although this is a generalization, it holds fairly true. When making a decision as to whether to venture into an industry for SEO, a quick check of the results pages for Paid Search listings can save a good amount of time for small SEO/SEM shops.