8 Keyword Research Mistakes to Steer Clear Of

Keyword research is the cornerstone of SEO, but it’s easy to fall into traps that can undermine your online presence. These traps are keyword research mistakes that even experienced SEO professionals can make occasionally.

Knowing about and avoiding the most common ones is crucial to ensuring your content reaches its target audience.

Here are the most critical mistakes to avoid, ranked from most to least significant.

1. Ignoring Searcher Intent

Overlooking the intent behind a keyword is the cardinal sin of SEO. Whether users want to buy, learn, or find a specific website, content must align with these intentions.

Misjudging search intent puts your content in front of the wrong audience, rendering even the best SEO practices ineffective.

The 5 Search Intents

  • Informational Intent. The person is seeking information or answers to questions. Example: “How to tie a tie.”
  • Navigational Intent. The user aims to find a specific website or page. Example: “Facebook login.”
  • Transactional Intent. Someone intends to complete a purchase or engage in a transaction. Example: “Buy noise-canceling headphones.”
  • Commercial Investigational. The user is considering a purchase and wants to compare options or find reviews. Example: “Best smartphones 2023.”
  • Local Search. Users look for products, services, or information in a specific geographic area. Example: “Italian restaurants near me.”

2. Not Doing Keyword Research

Skipping keyword research is one of the biggest keyword research mistakes you can make. That’s like shooting in the dark. You need to understand what your audience is searching for to avoid investing in the wrong kind of content.

Here’s how to conduct effective keyword research effectively.

  • Start by understanding the target audience, their interests, needs, and the language they use.
  • Use tools like Google Keyword Planner (free) or SEMrush (paid) to find relevant keywords. These keyword research tools provide insights into search volumes, keyword difficulty, and variations of your primary keywords.
  • Ensure you have a list of seed phrases or keywords ready to guide your research. For example, “cloud storage” (seed keyword) leads to discovering “cloud storage magazine” and “cloud storage photography.”
  • Do your research by uncovering every possible relevant keyword that’s suggested based on your seed terms.

Other important things to remember when doing keyword research include the following.

  • As noted earlier, you must understand the user’s intent for each keyword discovered to guide content creation. For instance, a PDF publication would be ideal for a keyword like “career development plan pdf.” Note that Google search can index PDF files just like any web page. However, while it can extract text from images using the OCR (optical character recognition) algorithm, it does not index images in PDFs (as of this article).
  • Look for long-tail keywords. These are longer, more specific terms that are less competitive and often have a higher conversion rate, even though search volume can be low.
  • Consider seasonality and trends. Use tools like Google Trends to understand how keyword popularity changes over time and align your content accordingly.
  • Group and prioritize keywords. Organize each term based on relevancy, search volume, and ranking difficulty. Focus on those most relevant to your audience and have a reasonable balance of search volume and competitiveness.
  • Perform regular updates because keyword trends can change rapidly. Regularly updating your keyword research document ensures content stays relevant and competitive.

3. Competing for High-Competition Keywords

For new sites, competing for highly competitive keywords is an uphill battle. Instead, focus on low-competition or long-tail keywords that offer a better chance of ranking and converting.

Your keyword research tool should provide keyword difficulty, but you can assess it manually, too. Just remember that manually calculating keyword difficulty is subjective and depends on the depth of your analysis.

Here are some suggestions.

a) Analyze Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)

  • Start by entering the keyword into a search engine and analyze the first page of results.
  • Check the Domain Authority (DA) of the websites appearing in the top results using tools like MozBar. High domain authority indicates strong competition.
  • Evaluate the quality of the content ranking for the keyword. High-quality, well-optimized content suggests a competitive keyword.

b) Check Backlink Profiles

  • Use an SEO backlink tool to analyze the number and quality of backlinks the top-ranking pages have. More backlinks from high-authority sites usually mean higher difficulty.

c) Evaluate Keyword Search Volume

  • Your keyword research tool will provide search volume data. Many keywords with a higher search volume have higher competition and difficulty — but this is not always the case.

d) Look at Keyword Intent and Relevance

  • Determine if the keyword’s intent matches the top-ranking pages’ content. Misaligned intent can imply difficulty in ranking.
  • Assess how relevant the keyword is to your site’s existing content. The more relevant, the easier it may be to rank.

e) Analyze Content Depth and Type

  • Look at the type (blog posts, videos, product pages, etc.) and the depth or length of the content ranking for the keyword. Longer, in-depth content can mean the keyword is more competitive.

f) Look for SERP Features

  • Check for featured snippets, knowledge graphs, local packs, etc. Multiple SERP features can indicate a higher difficulty due to reduced visibility for organic results.

g) Competitor Strength

  • Identify who your competitors are for the keyword. Established brands or niche authorities will make the keyword more difficult as a target.

h) Historical Data

  • If you have previously tried to rank for similar keywords, consider how well your page performed. Past performance can be a good indicator of future difficulty.

i) Manual Scoring

  • Based on your analysis, assign a difficulty score to the keyword. This can be on a scale of 1-10 or a simple classification like low, medium, or high.

4. Using Keywords with No Search Volume

Optimizing for keywords that your audience doesn’t use is a futile effort. These might be too niche or not in line with how your potential customers speak.

Ensuring your keywords align with common user queries is key to driving traffic.

5. Focusing on Exact Keywords Only

Relying solely on exact-match keywords limits your content’s reach. Synonyms and related phrases can broaden your content’s appeal.

For example, if you’re targeting the keyword “healthy smoothie recipes,” also consider including variations like “nutritious shake ideas” or “wholesome smoothie blends.” This caters to a broader audience and aligns with how different users might search for the same topic using varied terminology.

An exact keyword-only focus is a very common keyword research mistake.

6. Singular vs. Plural Dilemma

Sometimes, the choice between singular and plural forms can impact your content’s search relevance because it subtly shifts meaning. To determine the best form to optimize for, analyze the search volume and the specific intent behind each version.

Optimizing for the plural form is generally advantageous if the singular and plural forms share similar search volumes and the underlying searcher intent remains consistent.

That’s because it can potentially capture a broader audience.

However, if there’s a noticeable difference in either search volume or user intent, it’s important to make a strategic choice that aligns with your specific SEO goals. For instance, the singular form might be more informational, while the plural could indicate a desire for comparison or purchase.

7. Keyword Cannibalization

When multiple website pages are optimized for the same or similar keywords, it leads to keyword cannibalization.

This issue can significantly dilute your SEO efforts, creating internal competition among your pages. The search engine will struggle to determine which page to prioritize, often causing fluctuations in ranking positions for those keywords.

In addition, keyword cannibalization results in splitting your traffic across multiple pages, which reduces overall SEO strategy effectiveness.

To prevent keyword cannibalization, it’s crucial to strategically plan your content and ensure each page primarily targets distinct keywords. This approach helps clearly define each page’s purpose and audience, allowing search engines to rank them appropriately without confusion.

8. Failing to Evaluate Keyword Performance

Not regularly reviewing keyword performance is a missed opportunity for optimization. Continuous evaluation allows you to adjust your strategy and align it better with user search patterns and preferences.

Ideally, avoid editing content that’s high-ranking unless absolutely necessary. What can occur if you do is a drop in rankings.

BONUS Points: Keyword Research Mistakes to Avoid

  • Neglecting Local Keywords: Overlooking the importance of local search terms for businesses targeting a specific geographic area.
  • Ignoring Long-Term Trends: Focusing solely on current popular keywords without considering long-term search trends and sustainability.
  • Overlooking User Feedback: Failing to incorporate insights from customer queries, feedback, or social media discussions into your keyword research.
  • Using Irrelevant Keywords: Including keywords that don’t align with your content or audience’s interests, leading to poor user experience and bounce rates.
  • Not Integrating Keywords Naturally: Forcing keywords into content in a way that feels unnatural or disrupts readability can deter users and search engines.
  • Disregarding Keyword Difficulty Metrics: Choosing keywords without considering the difficulty score leads to unrealistic expectations of ranking potential.
  • Overlooking Keyword Relevance to Conversion: Focusing on keywords without assessing their potential to drive conversions and business goals.
  • Ignoring the Balance Between Broad and Niche Keywords: Focusing too much on either broad or niche keywords without finding a balanced strategy that caters to both brand visibility and targeted reach.

Each of these bonus points addresses a common oversight or keyword research mistake, helping to ensure a more comprehensive and effective approach to SEO.

In Closing

Effective keyword research requires a strategic approach and an understanding of common pitfalls. Avoiding these eight critical keyword research mistakes ensures your SEO efforts are efficient and more likely to yield the desired results.

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