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Alex Moss

How to Improve Your Relationship With Keywords

Alex Moss

Some online marketers have an odd relationship with keywords.

Some spend too much time looking to rank for those “golden keywords” when instead, there are greater opportunities elsewhere. Sometimes we don’t give enough attention to why we want to rank for that keyword and what ranking for it would actually mean.

I experienced past clients who wanted to rank for specific keywords because they thought this was the best term for them. “Vanity keywords” do have potential for increased traffic but will likely be coupled with a poor conversion rate, as their intent isn’t necessarily transactional (I like to call them “window shoppers”).

Let's talk about how to target better keywords.

Business Goals are More Important than Rankings

Keyword targeting shouldn’t just be about the core products and services your client offers. Of course, this should not be ignored, but it’s even more useful to take a step back and understand your client’s business goals.

What does your client want to gain from his or her website? What is his or her core business goal? Which service or product offers the highest profit margin to the client? These are questions that should be covered from the outset.

As an example, ­ a clothing store might want to rank for “shirts.” But if they generate a larger profit from shoes than KPIs on rankings, they should have “shoes” as a priority.

Bigger Brands Rely on Their Overall Authority to Rank for Money Keywords

Most of the time these big brands rank for products solely off their overall domain authority. As a result, internal landing pages from categories down to deep product pages can rank from the domain’s general authority and affect the way these pages are linked to internally. Therefore, larger brands don’t need to necessarily worry about ranking for long tail and product-specific terms.

However, with that comes opportunity because of the lack of off­site optimization to those 
landing pages. A smaller brand can take advantage of these longer tail opportunities and, in some cases, outrank the bigger bigger brands.

For example, this SERP shows Domain Authority isn’t everything despite the keyword being fairly competitive within this niche. Have a look at the illustration below to see how Moz’s DA compares by rank:

dermatitis claims

Search Volume from AdWords Should Be Taken With a Grain of Salt

The Google AdWords Keyword Planner should not be considered the best source of keyword data by any means, especially for SEO research purposes. Below is a list of tools we use at FireCask when conducting keyword research: 1. SEMrush ­ — I think you may know this one. ;)

2. Uber Suggest —­ This doesn't give volumes for keywords, but it does give you some good, related ideas for keywords.

3. Google Search ­ — Autocomplete is your friend. Yes, it's manual, but it still provides valuable insight into general search trends from the initial keyword.

4. Google Trends — Let's use the term “used cars” as an example. We can find trend patterns over time, as well as queries segmented by Top and Rising, which provide a few examples of related keywords:


5. Industry-related forums (initially found via one of ViperChill’s useful guides) — Many forum topics can be segmented into tags when submitted by the poster, and you can uncover some great keyword ideas.

For example, you can use search operators to view a SERP such as inurl:forum "visitors found this page by searching for" cars that returns results from forums that collect keywords used when users land on the forum thread pages. The inurl search operator digs deeper by only returning results with forum within the URL of the page itself.

To learn more about Search Operators, our Head of Search, Ben Barker, wrote this very extensive guide.

6. Google Analytics Internal Site Search ­ — This is a great way to analyze keywords users are searching for while visiting the site in question. If this isn’t being tracked within your GA profile, then I suggest you enable this right away.

It is extremely simple to set up: Navigate to your profile and click on Admin > View Settings. You should see the option below:

site search tracking 

Set the site search tracking option to “on,” and enter the URL parameter attributed to the internal search function of the site. In the example, above we used “s,” which is the default URL parameter for WordPress sites. If you are unsure of what your parameter is, Google has provided a short guide on how to identify it.


Site authority doesn’t always matter in relation to ranking for given keywords. With the correct keyword research and execution, a site without the highest authority can still rank well for terms being competed against by larger brands. Remember:

  • Define business goals and objectives before carrying out keyword research
  • If your competitors are much more authoritative and clearly rely on their domain alone to 
rank for products, you still have a chance to outrank them with solid on­site optimization 
and a few well placed external links
  • Use as many sources as possible to gain as much information as you can on keywords, 
keyword variations and search volume

Finally, most of us need to rethink and reassess our relationship with keywords. Don’t be put off by trying to compete with the bigger sites because you deem a keyword to be too difficult. While this obviously differs across industries, it isn’t always as black and white as we think!

Alex Moss is Director at FireCask and Co-Founder of Peadig. He develops WordPress themes and plugins, and writes and speaks about all things digital.

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