Keywords Have to Match User Intent

Writing by Nick Stamoulis

Let’s say you took the time to do thorough keyword research (or hired an SEO consultant to do it for you) for your website, a wholesale fruit distributor that sells to restaurants. After weeks of combing through hundreds of potential keywords, you narrowed it down to your top five choices for every page. The keywords accurately reflect the content of each page and you took the time to update the Meta tags, H1 tags and page content so the keywords seamlessly fit without disrupting the user-experience. Not too long after you optimized the site, it moved up in the search rankings for your choice keywords. Everything looks great…but you aren’t seeing any significant in traffic. Houston, we may have a problem.

There can be a variety of reasons that, even if you have good SEO working for you, your site just isn’t seeing the traffic increases you were hoping for (I mean a realistic increase). One thing to consider is that you carefully selected keywords don’t match user intent and therefore, even though your site is being pulled into the search results, it doesn’t contain the information the user is looking for. It’s not enough to just rank, people have to actually click over to your site. Sometimes it isn’t a simple thing to connect the two.

So you’re a wholesale fruit distributor, right? Well, a very common fruit is the apple, which you selected as one of your top keywords for your apple page. Here is the problem- if a user types “apple” into the search engines, do you really think they are looking for a wholesale fruit distributor? Chances are they are looking for Apple, of the Steve Jobs variety. In fact, if you type “apple” into Google, it’s going to be a few pages before you find any results that aren’t related to the computer behemoth.

If you wanted to go after “apple,” it would probably be better to make the keyword a long tail keyword and incorporate something like “apple fruit” and “apple fruit distributor” into your content. The difference is using the word “fruit.” Someone searching for “apple distributor” or “apple seller” is most likely looking for an authorized dealer of Apple products. While these phrases may have less people searching for them, it is going to help place your website into the search results of a more targeted user who is more likely to click through to you site.

Understanding user intent when they type in their search query is not something that you can learn over night. It can take years of getting used to small differences. For instance, in the SEO world, someone searching for “SEO consultant” is usually looking for a single person to work with. Someone searching for “SEO consulting” might be looking for an SEO consulting company, not just a one-man enterprise.

There is no rule about going back in to your keyword research and redoing it after a few months. Some pages may be right on target after the first round, others make take a little more editing to really hone in on the keywords that both matches the content and coincides with user intent.

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What Keywords Do I Rank For?

by SEOMoz

As you start tracking your rankings and taking SEO more seriously, you’re bound to ask the question (and we hear it a lot) – “What are ALL of the keywords that my site ranks for?” Sounds simple enough, but it turns out this question isn’t just complicated – it’s probably unanswerable.

I’m going to walk you through why it’s such a tough question, discussing two myths that lead us to ask it in the first place. Then, I’m going to try to at least give you a partial answer – maybe not all, but enough to keep you busy for a long time.

Myth #1 – The Ranking Table

If you have any experience with programming, databases, or even just Excel, it’s pretty easy to envision Google as some kind of giant ranking table. It might look something like this:

While this approach might work for a very basic, closed system (like an internal knowledge base), it’s not remotely practical on the scale of something like Google. The sheer scope of data, the blinding speed it gets updated, and the way that data has to be distributed across server farms (made up of thousands of servers), means that modern search is essentially a real-time calculation. There is no master table.

Myth #2 – Google Won’t Tell Us

Ok, so it’s not a table, but Google still knows what we rank for or they could figure it out, right? While Google definitely has plenty of data they won’t let us see, some things are mysteries even to them. Back in 2007, Google’s VP of Engineer, Udi Manber, shocked the search community by suggesting that as many as 20-25% of all Google queries were queries they had never seen before. Let’s say that again – as many as 1/4 of all Google searches are new. Google later clarified that this is within a time window (not all of search history), but the number is still staggeringly high.

Much of this has to do with the fact that queries are naturally getting longer and more specific, with over half of search queries in 2010 being 4 words or longer. As people get more comfortable with asking detailed, natural-language questions, this trend is only going to continue. One way or another, your site is ranking for new keywords every day, and some of them are a surprise even to Google.

Tactic #1 – Mine Your Analytics

So, is figuring out what you rank for as elusive as the unicorns in my table? Fortunately, no. While you’ll never know ALL of the keywords you rank for, you can definitely find a solid pile of data. Your best, first destination is your own analytics – here’s an example from Google Analytics (go to “Traffic Sources” “Keywords “Non-paid”):

Google Analytics keyword list

Of course, these are only keywords that drove clicks, but for my own site this represents 1,435 keyword phrases in just 1 month. My blog is hardly exceptional – it gets just over 200 visitors per day. So before you dismiss your analytics because they don’t show you EVERYTHING, ask yourself if you’ve even come close to using the data they do provide.

Tactic #2 – Review GWT Keywords

The second place to look for keywords you’re ranking for is Google Webmaster Tools, which is one of the only places to see data for keywords that drive search impressions but NOT clicks. Within GWT, go to “Your site on the web” “Search queries”, and you’ll see something like this:

GWT keyword list

The “Clicks” column actually only goes down to “10”, so it’s difficult to tell exactly which keywords drove no clicks, but comparing this data to your analytics data can help fill in some of the holes, if you really want to see the big picture.

Tactic #3 – Analyze Inbound Anchor Text

So, what if you want to find keywords that people aren’t currently searching for but for which you could potentially rank? One place you might look is the anchor text that external sites use to link to your site, especially the longer tail phrases. For example, in our own Open Site Explorer, click on the “Anchor Text Distribution” tab and you’ll get a full list of the phrases or terms external sites use to link to you (export to excel for up to 10,000 results):

OSE anchor text report

For example, I would rank #1 for “muppet intern yoozer”, if anyone actually ever typed that phrase (before I did today). I’m not sure how that helps me, but at least conceptually, seeing what phrases people are using to link to you can give you a sense of what you have the capacity to rank for, even if those phrases don’t currently drive searches.

Stop Obsessing Get to Work

So, maybe you can’t find ALL the keywords you’d ever rank for, but so what? Using these techniques and extrapolating a bit (put in some quality time with Excel), you can easily generate a list of hundreds or thousands of keywords that you either currently or could potentially rank for. That ought to keep you busy for a while.