Someone we all know and love here at SNC recently said “SEO is all about the situation”. And about the same time, Conrad Saam, over at Search Engine land was having a Ranking Report Rant. It got me thinking about the situational nature of keyword targeting. How different kinds phrases have different value, and need to be evaluated in different ways in a ranking report, or even a link building planning session. When you break it down you can shine a new light on your ranking report, your link building efforts and your keyword strategy.
I recently had an exchange with a civilian, someone who has a website, but really knows very little about SEO. I told him what I do for a living in the usual way. I said: “I help websites get better search engine rankings”. He’s young and cocky and said to me, “Oh I don’t need that, I already rank for my name.” I then turned my attention back to my soup. But it did bring to mind all of the people who are satisfied to merely rank for their names, or brand name or domain name. The thing is, you SHOULD rank for those things, pretty easily in fact.
Obviously, we all want to rank for branded keywords like personal names or business names. We NEED to in order for the people who are looking for us to find us. Branded keywords matter, and for a lot of websites they are the top referral phrases. They also play a role in online reputation management. So it’s good to care about them, but in the rankings game, they are nothing to brag about. Saying “I rank for my name!” is like saying “I got out of bed this morning!” Unless you are sick or suffering, that should pretty much always be the case. Just like you should expect to rank for your name and if you don’t there’s a much bigger problem.
But that doesn’t mean that brand name anchor text on links isn’t worth doing once in a while. Sure, you probably already rank well for it, but if you are getting a link in a highly visible place that could send traffic, you want the name recognition. If you can introduce the name of your business to a new audience in a meaningful way, it can build your reputation, help your credibility and maybe even increase the number of people that ARE actually searching for your name.
But keyword targeted anchor text is still by far the best way to go. Big companies have an over abundance of branded links and small businesses stand little to gain by focusing too heavily on links bearing their name. Sure, you have to get your brand name to mean something to people if you want to grow, but keywords are still the best way to get a foot in the door. Dave put it perfectly to me over Skype: “If we want to get the brand out there, we must engage people with the terms they are searching.”
Everybody wants to rank for the competitive keywords, that’s kind of what makes them “competitive”, in the first place. These are the short tail specific queries that people type in by the millions monthly. So there is a virtual dog fight to be at the top.
Teeth and claws come out in the form of spam reports and questionable link building tactics. Who can blame us, I mean these phrases are money right? If you rank well you get traffic in droves and if you can convert your visitors then it pays off big time to own a competitive phrase.
But there’s more than a few if’s involved. If you can rank high for something competitive, you can bet there is someone ready to challenge your Alpha status. If you’re site doesn’t immediately turn people off and send them back to the SERPS. If you can convert the visitors you get to customers. If you can serve people well enough, to make them want to be return customers. If, if, if. When you neglect the If’s and focus only on the keyword rankings, you miss the bigger picture.
It takes a lot of hard work to rank in the top 10 for a highly competitive phrase, it means employing all kinds of link building strategies, content creation, networking, guest posting, maybe even buying links if you’re into that sort of thing. It takes time, money and skill to climb competitive mountains. So if you’re going to embark on that journey make sure that you are actually ready to reach the top. That means, an on-going link building plan, optimized landing pages and a business that, overall, deserves to be there.
Conrad touches on the local aspect in his article and makes a great point; he says “How do you report rankings for searches that include local results?”
It can be difficult to tell when a visitor comes in from a search that included local results. Perhaps your true organic ranking is somewhere in the 30’s or 40’s but you managed to make the front page of a search due to local results.
They do throw off the SEO game a little in terms of rankings and traffic. But there are certainly local phrases which are glaring in any kind of report. When the entire query includes a location you can tell from analytics. That’s why it’s important not to forget about geo-targeted search phrases.
Including geo-targeting in link building can help support on-site efforts to rank for searches attached to locations. Occasionally building city and state names into your anchor text is extremely useful if you have a geographical location that people visit. While numerous on-site tactics will help with this, adding a layer of geo-targeting into link building is usually worthwhile.
Long Tail Keywords
Long tail is an interesting species. They are slightly unpredictable and wear several different faces. But they may be some of the strongest contenders for bringing in traffic. Rankings for long-tail phrases can be easier grabs than more competitive keywords, requiring minimal links combined with strong on-site/page targeting. And ranking well for one specific long-tail phrase can also help you rank for some of its variations.
But they can be most effective when they don’t stray too far from a competitive core. If you get too specific in link building for long tail phrases, then you limit your own progress. But when you focus on long-tails that include more competitive short tails you’re killing two muskrats with one stick.
The Most Valuable Insights
Ultimately, all of this is entirely theory until you get into the brass tacks of what matters; what phrases are actually sending you traffic?
Unless your site is brand new, analytics should be one of the driving forces in shaping your keyword strategy. Short tails phrases which are bringing you traffic but don’t rank #1 are prime targets for link building. If you are getting 500 visitors a month ranking #4 then pushing that phrase up to #1 could mean a significant increase in traffic.
The long tail phrases which are bringing visitors give you insight into the kinds of variations and longer phrases that you can incorporate. Another indicator is the absence of traffic. If you’ve been targeting something for a while and ranking well for it but you’re not getting visitors for it, perhaps your time is better spent elsewhere. There are a lot of different kinds of keyword phrases to rank for, and some may be more important to target than others. As with everything in SEO it will be different for everyone. But it’s easy to get so lost in what we think matters that we lose sight of what actually does.