Keyword research is arguably the most important building blocks of any SEO campaign. The keywords you select will determine what searches your site ranks for and who can see your site. Selecting the wrong keywords means placing your site in front of the wrong audience or, worse, means you won’t be found at all.
That is why it is so important to be realistic with your keyword research and selection.
Let’s say you own a small shoe store and are looking to re-optimize your site. It’s been online for several years, so your site has a good trust factor established with the search engines. You rank extremely well for localized keyword phrases (shoe store Medford, MA), but you want to take it to the next level and go after more general keywords with a high search volume (like shoes, women’s shoes, men’s shoes, and so forth).
I got to be honest with you. It’s not going to happen. You will never rank on the number one page in Google or Bing for something as generic as “shoes.” First off, a word with that high of search volume is also going to have a lot of big businesses trying to “own” that keyword. Your local shoe store is trying to compete with mega-corporations like Payless, DSW and Famous Footwear, not to mention online shopping giants like Zappos. After the corporations come branded shoe sellers like Converse, Nike and Steve Madden. They have the marketing budgets and manpower that you just don’t have.
When it comes to selecting keywords, you want to go after the ones that you have a good shot at gaining ground with. Obviously “shoes” is going to be used all over your website (you are a shoe store after all), but that shouldn’t be your primary keyword. Long-tail keywords are the small business owner’s best friend. They allow you to carve out a very specific niche for your company and give you a fighting chance at building an online presence.
Brick and mortar businesses should definitely target localized keywords (a keyword plus town or zip code). As most brick and mortar businesses rely on foot traffic for most of their business, you want to make sure you rank well when someone does a local search. If I’m looking for a place to eat in Boston, you can bet I’ll search for “Boston Thai restaurant.” That way I know I’ll get results that are relevant to my location. What good does knowing there is a great Thai restaurant in San Francisco do for me?
Don’t make your SEO any harder than it needs to be. Sure, there might be 30,400,000 monthly searches for “shoes” in Google, but trying to go after such a competitive and generic keyword is like fighting an uphill battle. You want to make sure you choose a good mix of broad and long tail keywords so you have the best chance at success.