9 times bad: Keyword research advice that sucks

Ian Lurie

There is some truly horrible keyword advice out there. If you run into any of these in a blog post or e-mail by an ‘expert’, move on. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t take any of their advice.

  1. “Buy a keyword-rich domain name.” Yep, that worked wonderfully in 2002. Keyword-rich domains have been faltering for years. Don’t spend 3 days researching, finding and then setting up a site for that perfect 100 character-long domain name. Instead, spend that time, I dunno, writing stuff? Getting links? Making friends on Twitter?
  2. “Use the keywords meta tag.” I. Weep. For. Us. All. There is so much evidence, including statements form the search engines themselves, that the keywords meta tag is worthless. So remove it. Don’t waste time on it.
  3. “Never go after keywords with less than 4,000 searches/month.” Um. Ever consider the long tail? How about business-to-business? If one conversion is worth $5000, and I can get 2000 visits per month from a single phrase, and convert 1% of those, that seems pretty damned good. Go after the keywords that work. Competition and alignment with customer desires should take precedence over search volumes.
  4. Related, but different: “Go after keywords that get the most searches.” Really? So, if I sell shoes, I should try to rank #1 for ‘shoes’, ‘cause yeah, *that’s going to happen*. I suggest targeting niche phrases first, checking opportunity gap, and making sure you have a prayer.
  5. “Automate it.” I understand the desire to automate keyword research. We automate as much of it as we can. But a few recent posts suggest you plug in automatic optimization tools that will go out, grab the ‘best’ phrases and then tweak your site for you. I’m opposed. You’re not selling to computers. So it pays to get a human involved before you embarrass yourself in front of customers.
  6. “Repeat the keyword on your page at least 3 times.” I won’t say a word. Just imagine what I’m thinking right now.
  7. “You have to optimize your keyword and make sure that it has a nice keyword density of 3-5% in your article with relevant LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing).” From spam sent to us by a concerned citizen. I love that he managed to fit in ‘keyword density’ and ‘LSI’ in a single sentence.
  8. “Track rankings for thousands of keywords. That way, when some move up, you can show some wins.” And when 900 of them move down, you can look like an idiot. Plus, tracking rankings is a fast route to insanity. I’m already insane, so I’m good with it. But you should focus more on traffic and conversions.
  9. Vague vagaries of vagueness. More of a category than a statement, but I had to add this one, because several posts made statements like “brainstorm” and “select the keywords your audience uses”. MY GOD WHAT A GENIUS. How about advice that actually means something?

If you want some decent keyword advice:

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. I left an SEO job that had been pretty good when, after a massive leadership change, 90% of the above was being spouted as a gospel. New leadership declared those of us who had been fighting this crap for several years as incompetents.

  2. True. the worst thing is that customers pick these points up, and than they ask you, WHY aren’t you doing this or saying this…in your mind you like “DUDE, give it a break”
    I think the most common one is about having a keyword-rich domain name. (point no1)
    thanks for the list

  3. Re:
    #2. So remove it. Don’t waste time on it.
    The one thing about this is that if you have a CMS or something with internal search, using keywords may still have use for improving site search.

  4. Usually those crappy tips are swiftly followed by a sales pitch.
    I have found a lot of value in the Google Suggest scrapers, then running those phrases through Google’s Traffic Estimator.
    As for #8, I think I did go briefly insane from tracking rankings…

  5. Number 3 is interesting. How you do convince a large brand to go after a word with < 4,000 searches per month, citing long tail traffic?
    Do you pull out every single logical variation of a keyword through stemming and give it 1-4 searches per month and total it?
    I'm more interested in the answer to the first question.

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