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Top 7 SEO Keyword Research Mistakes to Avoid in 2023

Still ignoring long-tail keywords and user intent? Discover the top 7 most dangerous SEO keyword research mistakes you should avoid in 2023.
SEO Keyword Research

Keyword research mistakes can creep into our work like fleas on a poodle. Then we are left scratching our heads, wondering where we went wrong.

You are not a hack. I have no doubt you care deeply about your SEO projects – or you would not be here reading up on the professional practice, anyhow! So, kudos to you. Just by being here, you are already on your way to becoming better at keyword research.

The marketing sphere has the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to SEO strategies. In this guide, I will share the main pitfalls of keyword research.

Losing Sight of the Domain’s Topic Niche

It’s all very well identifying keywords that are trending in search engines across the digisphere. Yet there is no point in selecting keywords that do not complement the rest of the content in the existing or future editorial pipeline. Take, for instance, optimizing a page on a domain that sells commercial cleaning equipment. There’s no need to angle for keywords around caring for your houseplants, home-schooling children, or the lineup for national sporting events.

Excellent keyword researchers never lose sight of the domain’s area of expertise. Google looks favorably on domains with authority in a particular topic niche; domains should stick to just a few topics closely related to the purpose of their site. When it comes to digital marketing, nobody trusts a ‘Jack of all trades.’

Failing to Inform the Team What You’re Doing and Why

Many stakeholders have editing rights to web pages, perhaps more than you may realize. If you have not informed colleagues about the keywords you want to optimize for and why; you may well find all your hard work researching keywords go to waste.

You see, SEOs make SEO decisions. Editors make editorial decisions. It’s worth ensuring everyone is on the same page about which phrases need to remain unchanged and why. So remember to leave a note, send an email, or share a spreadsheet at the end of each research round.

Forgetting to Factor in User Demographics

It is not enough to research keywords to rank on particular phrases. No two users are the same, even if they are searching for the same thing. So dig into the demographics of the domain’s regular (or intended) readership, so you can understand who it is that your research aims to target.

Generational differences account for enormously varied use of search engines; the way a pensioner and her grandson browse the web for products to buy is vastly different. For instance, an older web user is likely to type, “What is the best proposal automation software?”; whereas a teenager may simply enter “free proposal software” into Google.

Competing on Overly Difficult Keywords

Many researchers opt for keywords without a realistic view of the domain’s ability to rank on them. The lure of attracting users near the bottom of the sales funnel can lead to SEO decisions that are, frankly, silly.

If the keyword you select has a high difficulty score and your domain is just months old with low traffic, why would Google favor it? (Hint: It will not). It is crucial to honestly assess the likelihood of the domain stealing the top spots from competitors on SERPs. Again, this comes back to the domain’s authority, which you should keep front of mind during keyword selection.

As a quick guide, take a look at Ahrefs keyword difficulty ranking system:

Steering Clear of Long-Tail Keywords

Look, I get it. When the client is pressuring you to drive up sales on their data breach software no matter what it takes, it can feel natural to overlook the broader aims of SEO. You begin to avert your eyes from the long-tail keyword lists because they do not feature the words buy, discount, or best.

Yet you are doing your client a disservice if you neglect long-tail keywords. It’s the same as getting too used to a tool and failing to see the better choice for document management, which may be that one DocuSign competitor. Time and again, I have seen better-ranking results for domains that went for niche and unusual search terms rather than trying to dislodge massive brands from top-volume phrases.

Sweating Over Keyword Synonyms

Recall the golden rule of SEO: you are creating content for SERPs and humans. Natural Language Processing (NLP) informs Google algorithms, which means they can interpret synonyms in keyword phrases. Bottom line: Do not panic over switching out keywords for closely related terms. Google will know what you mean. Consider the below example, a SERP for the query, “CBD products for dogs.”

The first and third results do not even contain the word products, and the second one does not include the word CBD. For the second result, Hemp is bolded because Google interprets this word as a synonym for CBD. The third snippet bolds the word Pet because it is a related term to dogs.  If it better fits your brand, readership, or linguistic sensibilities, feel free to substitute a keyword here and there.

Ignoring Keyword Search Intent

This is the biggest mistake of all, yet it’s surprisingly easy to fall foul of. During the keyword research process, it is tempting to fixate on the numbers: how many people are searching for my desired phrases, how steady is this search volume, what are the changes in its popularity since last year, etc.

Before getting lost in the Land of Statistics, remember to reflect on what kind of user you want to hook. Someone typing in “cloud integration” probably just wants a broad definition of cloud integration. Someone else typing in “cloud integration freelance hire” has a different need. The former is new to the subject and unlikely to spend any money, whereas the latter is looking to hire a professional in the field. Always consider the intention behind each search query.

Go Forth and Optimize!

There you have it – my best advice on the keyword research mistakes to avoid in 2022. If you keep the above in mind, you will have much greater success in your SEO endeavors.

To reiterate, you should always be mindful of your target user’s search intent because Jennifer’s search, “what is contract management software” is not the same as Ethan’s search, “legal contract software.” The former is at the top of the funnel, and the latter is at the bottom of it. That is not to say each type of content cannot coexist on the same domain, but you should be aware of the kinds of users you are trying to draw to each page and why.

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Yauhen Zaremba, Director of Demand Generation, PandaDoc
Yauhen is the Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc, the best free electronic signature in the market. He’s been a marketer for 10+ years, and for the last five years, he’s been entirely focused on the electronic signature, proposal, and document management markets. Yauhen has experience speaking at niche conferences where he enjoys sharing his expertise with other curious marketers. And in his spare time, he is an avid fisherman and takes nearly 20 fishing trips every year. Check out his LinkedIn.

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