Keyword Research Mistakes to Avoid

Conducting good keyword research is vitally important for your success online, simply because the web runs on keywords. Although many people create websites based on niches, ideas or specific types of information they’d like to share, it isn’t niches or thoughts that the search engine results pages return – it’s the results from the engine’s index that are determined to be most relevant based on keywords.

However, finding the right keywords to pursue for your next big web project isn’t a walk in the park. Making mistakes at this critical juncture in your website’s development could set you up for failure, so keep reading to learn more about what to avoid while doing your keyword research.

1 – Failing to See the Big Picture

There are plenty of websites out there telling readers that in order to succeed online; they need to identify keywords and keyword phrases that fall within a narrow window of monthly search inquiries and competing pages. For example, a site might proclaim that readers should only target keyword phrases with a monthly exact match search volume of at least 2,000, but not more than 10,000 and fewer than 50,000 exact match competing pages.

But while both of these numbers have their place in determining whether or not a keyword is worth pursuing, they alone don’t provide enough information to make well-informed decisions about the viability of the phrase.

Say that, following these recommendations, a reader named Sarah goes out and finds a keyword with exactly 5,000 monthly search inquiries and 25,000 competing pages. Sounds like a winner, right?! Well – maybe. If she doesn’t take the time to look deeper into the competition or keyword attributes, she might be digging herself into a hole by pursuing this keyword based on these numbers alone.

Suppose that, although it’s unlikely, the Top 10 search results in Google for the keyword she’s chosen are all PR5 pages with thousands of backlinks pointed back at them? Or, suppose Sarah plans to build a long form sales letter promoting an affiliate product in the niche, but 8 out of 10 of the Top 10 results are content-rich blogs? Without doing a little homework to understand exactly what it will take to get ranked and what types of sites the search engines clearly prefer, Sarah could be setting herself up for disaster.

Still not convinced? Consider the following quote from Spencer Haws of Niche Pursuits on what he thinks about keyword competition:

“For some reason, people still type their keyword into Google and look at the number of competing pages to judge how difficult a keyword is to rank for. If you are doing this, please stop now – as this will tell you nothing about how hard it is to get where you want to be – which is on the first page of Google. I don’t care if there are 300 trillion competing websites for my keyword, if the first page of Google is filled with weak websites, I will go after it!”

2 – Overestimating the Importance of Competition

Just as it’s important not to put too much emphasis on raw search volume and competition numbers, it’s also important not to let the results of your competition analysis deter you from starting a site in a niche that you know has promise. In fact, many web marketers choose to view a high level of competition as confirmation that a keyword has good potential – after all, people wouldn’t invest so heavily in a keyword phrase if it wasn’t paying off.

So instead of letting high competition numbers scare you off, use them to gauge what kind of investment you’ll need to make into your site in order to get it ranked. If you find a keyword that has relatively low competition in its Top 10 based on the quality and relevance of the pages that are currently ranking, know that it won’t take much time or effort to replace one of these results with your own site.

On the other hand, if you see a Top 10 that’s full of high quality pages, simply know that it will take you more time and effort in order to break into the natural SERPs. This investment might be worth it depending on your business goals and priorities, but if you let yourself be scared off by high competition numbers, you’ll never have the opportunity to make that judgment call in the first place.

3 – Relying on Keyword Research Tools

Although keyword tools have come a long ways in terms of the information they’re able to generate, they aren’t fool-proof – so stop relying on the results of some proprietary algorithm to tell you which keywords are worth pursuing or not!

Instead, learn how to evaluate the competitiveness of a given keyword’s Top 10 results on your own, taking the following factors into consideration:

  • Keyword relevance – When you analyze a Top 10 and see results that don’t contain your keyword in context, that’s a good sign that no one is currently trying to rank for your keyword and that it will be relatively easy to take the top spot yourself. (Of course, this could also mean that no one is interested in ranking for your chosen keyword, so be sure to determine how many people are searching for the exact phrase first.)
  • Number of backlinks – Look not just at the number of backlinks pointing to the root domain of the site but at the number of backlinks pointing at the specific page listed in your target SERP as well. Seeing a low number of backlinks pointing to a sub-page indicates that the site isn’t really optimized for the keyword you’ve chosen, leaving it open to better-optimized competitors.
  • Type of site – Certain types of sites are easier to knock out of the SERPs than others. Amazon product pages, Yahoo Answers results and other thin “results-oriented” sub-pages, for example, will be much easier to knock out of the SERPs than content-rich authority sites with ranked sub-pages.
  • PageRank – Although much has been said about the decreasing value of Google’s PageRank, it’s still a ranking factor, and the fact remains that it’s a lot easier to compete with a PR0 or PR1 site than with a PR4 or PR5 page.
  • Site age – As with PageRank, site age as a ranking factor has decreased in importance in the wake of the Google Panda updates and the rise of social media influencing the SERPs. However, it still matters when it comes to search engine results placement, so know that it will be easier to compete with a SERP comprised of younger sites versus older, established pages.


At a surface level, performing keyword research isn’t that difficult – simply enter a few phrases into your favorite keyword research tool and see what numbers are spit back at you. Unfortunately, these initial scans only return a fraction of the relevant information you should consider when analyzing a potential target keyword, so be sure to perform the analyses described above in order to get a complete picture of what it will take to get ranked for your chosen keyword.

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