When doing SEO, it’s easy to get lost in your keyword list to the exclusion of other possibilities. It’s not difficult to understand why. You’ve put a great deal of work into research. In many cases you’ve gone through multiple iterations of the list as a result of client input, an evolving understand of your client’s marketplace, and the like. You’ve boiled down a list of potentially thousands of words to just a few that solidly represent what your client does, who they need to be in front of.
You’ve written copy, including title tags and meta descriptions, with those keywords on a list in front of you. You’ve isolated sections of the site that correspond with groups of important terms. The work’s been implemented, time has passed, you’re starting to see results.
(The previous two paragraphs occur in a perfect world; rarely is that process quite that easy. You know that. Regardless, for the point of illustration, they do the job.)
Now’s the time you should free yourself from your obsessions.
I’m not saying you should stop paying attention to how those particular keywords are performing; I’m saying you need to move beyond that to comprehend (in as much as that’s possible) what’s going on on a much larger scale. And the way to do this is to start digging into the site’s longtail search traffic.
You shouldn’t be using an analytics program that doesn’t tell you the total number of keywords that are bringing traffic to your site, and what those keywords are. An increase in the total number of keywords for which your (or your client’s) site is being found should be one of your KPIs. For example, if you’ve optimized around a certain 3-word phrase, say “purple monkey dinosaur,” you’d want to see that you’re getting better visibility for and more traffic on “purple monkey dinosaur.” You should also, though, be seeing increased traffic on a number of variations, e.g., “dinosaur monkey,” “scary purple monkey dinosaur,” even “why is there a purple monkey dinosaur in my hot tub, and what should I do about it?”
This is good. The reason being that if you’ve written your copy well, and as a result the site is a good resource to those looking for the products/services represented by the keywords you’ve optimized around, the increased number of longtail terms you’re seeing indicates that the work is taking hold far more globally than you could plan. Which is the beautiful thing about search engines.
According to Google, 55% of all search queries contain three words or more. Even more telling, 70% have no exact match, and 20% have never been seen before in the past 90 days.
And as the engines get better at contextual search, more adept at tracking search behavior, better able to “understand” why your site is relevant, you’ll see the number of those terms and the resulting traffic and conversions increase accordingly. In addition, your longtail results can inform future work – if you’re getting a lot of traffic on a certain term, but zero conversions, well, why is that? Does your copy help the user choose an appropriate action? Where are those people landing – are they not finding what they need, then bouncing?
So pay attention to your longtail traffic. It’s telling a story far more complex than that told by your initial keyword list.