Keyword Research and Space
Did you know that a day on Venus is longer than a year on Venus? I read this as a kid and thought it'd be a fun question to ask someone every once in awhile, and man did I get some looks. I've even been corrected. Only a couple of folks thought about it for a bit and said “Cool!” I don't think about what a day is much. A simple concept we all take for granted. Just like a year. What's a year? 365 days. Obviously a day cannot be longer than a year. Wait! We didn’t define a year, we measured one. Oops. The definition of a year (my scientific one anyways) is a planet’s lap around the Sun. A day is a spin on its axis. Guess what? Venus does a full lap faster than a spin (the only planet in our system that does this). One lap = 225 Earth days. One spin = 243 Earth days.
What’s my point? Sometimes we get tunnel vision, and in SEO it can be very easy after reading the 50th article talking about that one general technique. Be smart like a 3 year old and keeping asking why. This isn't programming where a function will always do one thing. You might even have to reconsider a successful technique you've applied only a month before. There are more variables than Rain Man could comprehend and they’re forever changing. If you don’t stay frosty, you can get stuck into thinking that a year is 365 days and nothing more, and miss out on a very cool space fact.
Let’s get started with keyword research; you can’t win the game by shooting on the wrong net. A mantra often repeated in SEO is that if a keyword is searched for a lot and is not difficult to rank for, then it's a winner. It's a great generalization to consider, but not nearly enough. Let's dig...
I don't know your reason for wanting to rank in the search engines, but my imaginary friend Jim is a COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language) programmer looking for work (poor guy). COBOL is a programming language developed in the early renaissance period, and has been declining in popularity since. Let’s pretend the phrases below are the keywords Jim’s interested in. Take note of how Jim's research might apply to you.
COBOL – The most generic query. If the top result is "the official maker of", then followed by its wiki, then a few other behemoths like Twitter and Facebook, there’s a 99.9735% chance you’re not going to get in that space. You’ll probably find that the site ends up well-optimized for the word anyways, and you won’t rank for the word alone, but being optimized for this most-general word will bring other unexpected long-tail queries, like “amazing COBOL coders that eat Doritos”. Fun fact: one of our clients got hits for about 2,000 unique queries so far this year and about 2/3’s of those queries were searched for only once, and they’re all relevant.
COBOL programmers – Looks like a good generic query where there’s lots of play/competition. The titles all read like super-saver-basement-bargain-explosion ads and it’s kind of overwhelming Jim, but after some research he decides this one’s a no-brainer as it seems many people use this query to hire COBOL programmers (go figure). These queries are often tough to rank for, but for a good reason. Those titles look silly to users, but tasty to search engines. Jim makes sure his title and description stand out from the rest, and balances the words used between appeasing both the searcher and search engine.
Hey, what about coders, developers, builders, or monkeys? thesaurus.reference.com is your search engine optimization friend. Jim wishes to be #1 for them all, but is smart enough to not copy cobol-programmers.htm to cobol-developers.html, cobol-builders.html, etc., with all content, switching out only the keywords. Jim's too classy for such manipulative techniques. If he were to make all those pages duplicating that content, he'd probably find his site penalized or banned altogether from any self-respecting search engine.
COBOL developers vs. COBOL development – Jim is shocked to see that the development results are catering to people looking to learn, not hire. Good thing he looked into it first! programmers vs. programming vs. programs could also bring much different results. This is called keyword stemming.
COmmon Business-Oriented Language – Would someone really type that all out? Internet users are typically impatient and use as few characters as possible. Those who are patient might use the longer words and generally spend more time on your site considering your services.
COBOL legacy support – These searchers may be mega-corporation CEOs looking to upgrade their massive systems. Landing just one gig could set up Jim until 2020, so he plans to build a page featuring his legacy support capabilities and optimizes it accordingly.
Certified COBOL – What if there’s a certified textbook, and the results are all about that? If Jim ranked well would it do him any good? If these searchers spend an average of 5 seconds on his site, then probably not.
COBOL experts – Jim feels that’d it be easy to rank for, but for some reason only gets 2 searches a month. Waste of time? What if the searcher is using the word expert to filter out the non-experts? Jim would probably get a good client out of it. What if you found a dozen different keyword phrases in this scenario, where you can become the top dog with little effort because everyone else is ignoring these little gems?
COBOL Calgary - Don’t forget about localized searches (a blog post in itself really...).
Just because you think you can rank well for a given keyword doesn't mean that you should. On the flip side, research opportunities that you usually might shrug off. Be thorough, but don’t get the "paralysis by analysis". In our next SEO article we’ll start diving into how to use your shiny new keyword list to optimize your site. Thank you for reading!