The basics of SEO (or search engine optimization – get an introduction to the subject here) seem so simple: you put together some great content, use the right keywords, build good quality links, and then your website appears at the top of page one on Google. So how come despite your best efforts, you’re not even close to achieving the goal of appearing on Google’s first page of search results?
Poor search engine rankings are bad news for any small business owner. Just like a shop hidden down a dark, unknown alley is unlikely to get any trade, it’s almost impossible for your website to generate revenue if people can’t find it.
Your website may be failing to rank for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common is a poor keyword strategy. The phrases you’re using are an important factor when it comes to SEO, and Google will look at them when deciding where to place your content on its pages. This does unfortunately mean that simply guessing which keywords you should be using isn’t enough to out-do your competition.
If you think your keyword strategy could be letting your website down, below we have listed some of the most common mistakes people tend to make and how to find the phrases that are really going to help your site get seen by your target audience.
Common keyword mistakes
Avoiding these mistakes can save you time, help you perfect your marketing strategy, and ensure that you’re driving the right customers to your site.
Using phrases that are too competitive
One of the most common reasons websites fail to rank is because they’ve targeted search terms that already have a huge amount of competition. The more competitive your keywords are, the harder it will be for your website to feature highly in search engine results pages.
If competition for a particular keyword is high, search engines will always favour stronger websites. A number of factors will be considered including:
- How much traffic your site receives
- Inbound links
- Outbound links
- On-site SEO (for example: content, links and meta data)
- Off-site SEO (for example: social media activity and the quality of your inbound links)
- Site speed
This means that if you’re a small boutique selling women’s clothes for example, you will never be able to compete with the likes of ASOS for the search term ‘women’s dresses.’
Before you even begin your keyword strategy, it’s absolutely crucial to make yourself aware of the competition for your target keywords. It’s unlikely that you have the SEO budget of a multi-million-pound company so if there’s simply too much competition, you’re better off finding alternative keywords.
There are a number of ways you can monitor the competition for a keyword before you start creating content and building links.
- You can create a free Moz account and use their keyword explorer to discover the best keywords to target.
- Ahrefs requires a subscription but it’s a great way to learn why your competition is ranking higher than you and what you can do to change this.
- The Google Adwords keyword planner is free and provides valuable insights into your target keywords. Say for example you’re a local estate agent. It’s likely that your top keyword is going to be ‘estate agents’ because you know this is exactly what people are going to be typing into Google when looking for you. While this is a great term because it gets over 90,000 searches every month in the UK alone, the competition is high which means that more well-known brands such as Chancellors, Hardings, Hamptons, and Rightmove will out-rank you every time. By using the keyword planner tool, you can identify that by simply making the term singular, you can reduce the competition, and being more specific with ‘letting agents’ also helps to reduce the competition. It is of course natural to want to go with the phrases that are getting the most searches but if people can’t find you, it is unfortunately a waste of time.
Using irrelevant keywords
Companies often pick keywords with high search volumes but don’t pay enough attention to how suitable they actually are. In order to drive the right traffic to your site and convert visitors into customers, you need to choose keywords that match the concerns of those landing on your website.
If for example, you’re a high-end accountancy firm that’s expensive, you shouldn’t be using phrases like ‘cheap accountants,’ ‘affordable accountants,’ ‘low cost accountants’ or ‘budget accountants.’ You should instead be looking at keywords like ‘top accounting firms’ or use phrases that don’t mention budget at all and instead focus on the aspects of your business you’re trying to promote such as ‘chartered accountant’ or ‘tax accountant.’
Remember, every searcher has a purpose and is looking for something specific. By understanding your customers and the language they use, you can ensure that your website is the one to provide them with the answers they need.
A great way to do this is to look at Google Analytics. Simply log in to your account, in the left tool bar click on acquisition, then campaigns and then organic keywords. This will really allow you to dig into your data because it will tell you the keywords people are typing into Google to find your site, how much traffic each keyword generates, how long people are spending on your site, the bounce rate of each keyword and the number of pages viewed. If people are bouncing off your site with particular keywords, this tells you that they’re not finding what they were expecting to. If there are certain phrases which consistently make conversions however, these are the ones you should be targeting.
If you look at the example below, you can determine that perhaps ‘cheap laptops’ isn’t the best phrase for this business. It yields the least time on the site and at nearly 66%, has quite a high bounce rate. This suggests that perhaps once people get to the site, they realise that the laptops on offer aren’t actually cheap.
Not putting keywords in the right place
Knowing where to put your keywords can be just as important as identifying the right ones to use. Google looks at a number of different areas of your website, not just your content, and if it can’t find keywords there, this could have a big impact on your rankings.
The places you should be putting keywords on your website include:
- Page title – your title is a starting point for Google to determine the relevance of your website when someone is searching for something. This is the clickable link that shows up when you type in a query. In the example below, this is ‘Women’s Workout & Gym Clothes.’ Because of the keywords being used in the page title, Google knows that this website has exactly what the searcher is looking for.
- Meta description. If you don’t use an SEO tool, Google will automatically use the first 160 characters of your content. It’s worth spending some time tailoring your meta description because this is the very thing that tells people what your website is about and it’s also a great place to add keywords. This will ultimately decide whether or not someone clicks the link so ignoring it can be costly. In the Nike example above, it clearly lists all the women’s sportswear they sell so a searcher can identify whether or not this is what they’re looking for before they’ve even visited the website.
While it’s important to add keywords into your content and meta data, avoid keyword stuffing. This is the practice of adding many different keywords as often as possible so that search engines pick up on them. This is considered a black hat SEO tactic and you will be penalised for it. Google favours quality over quantity when it comes to content, so make sure you’re writing for your audience, not a search engine. Moz.com provides a handy guide which will help you to identify how many times you should be repeating keywords on your pages.
Not using long-tail keywords
Long-tail keywords (four or more words) are more specific search phrases that usually get less traffic but have higher conversion rates. The online shopping site, Amazon generates 57% of its sales from long-tail searches because they’re more targeted and you’re therefore likely to reach an audience that’s more likely to make a purchase.
For example, if someone searches ‘healthy cook books’ chances are they’re just browsing and you’ll lose them because of the huge selection of products available in this category. If, however, they type in ‘Joe Wicks Lean in 15 book’ Amazon can take the searcher straight to the page they’re looking for and they’re more likely to make a purchase as a result.
Although ‘healthy cook books’ will no doubt get higher search volumes than ‘Joe Wicks Lean in 15 book,’ you can guarantee that the long-tail phrase enjoys higher conversion rates.
Now you’ve identified your target keywords and you know where to place them on your website, you should start to notice some positive movements in your search engine rankings. If you’re still struggling, it’s worth carrying out an SEO audit. This will help you to detect any potential issues with your site which may be affecting your rankings and traffic such as broken links, speed, and duplicate page titles.
You can also have a read of our blog ‘How to get your website ranking in Google’ for some more great tips.