Early in my internet marketing career, I was taught that search engine marketing revolved around one central point: the keyword.
Just as planets orbit a sun, all marketing activity should revolve around the targeted keyword. That was the story. And, at first, I guided my professional life by this story like a disciple of any mythical truism does. To me, it made total sense to target one "high-value" keyword, and optimize all resources for that one true keyword. To have all I did for any employer / client resonate with that one-true-keyword.
Yes, though many keyword-agnostic elements impact rankings — such as uniqueness of content across a domain; or page load time — in essence, these keyword-agnostic features were to be more like "multipliers" for ranking a page for a keyword. Like intercessors between my hopes and text; and the Algorithm.
The one-true-keyword reigns supreme, I told myself. The one-true-keyword was the center of my marketing universe. Everything else was like gravity pulling my keyword toward the central, specific, point of (keyword) mass. In all things, I thought, I needed to ensure my actions resonated with the one-true-keyword.
Eventually, my site began to rank between positions 1 and 3 for the targeted keyword center of my SEO universe. That's when I was asked to shoot for others.
I asked myself, were the evangelists who'd asked me to believe in the one true keyword asking me to put other keywords before the one-true-keyword?
The answer? No – just to intentionally include other keywords alongside or immediately after my primary target; but to nevertheless focus on a wider set. You see, my belief system held thanks to crafty self-deception! Nevertheless, this expansion from one to many helped me to learn one essential truth: a larger target is almost always more accessible than a smaller target.
And so, new keywords were added to the mix. Yet, oftentimes, these new keywords were to be associated with the same resources for which the one true keyword was associated. Eventually, the pieced-together pages evolved into monstrous mush pots of oddly worded phrases and one big messy visual "design". Apparently, this "frankenpages" eventuality is somewhat common. Being unable to withstand imperfection for long, and caught between conflicting ideologies, I just knew something wasn't right with my pluralistic worldview. I needed a better model by which to visualize my keyword targeting than "the one true keyword" model or the "pluralism" models which I'd subscribed to.
I had it right when I moved from "the one true keyword" to a short set of "pluralistic" keywords. What wasn't right is that this decision to expand should have been made much sooner in the overall SEO process; and shouldn't have stopped at a shortlist. Indeed, it became apparent the most effective way to attract the broadest array of engaged most-likely-to-convert visitors is to first expand one's list to all known, relevant, related keywords and keyword phrases; then filter that long list down into a manageable set of syncretic keywords.
Look Marquis keywords (anyone's "one-true-keyword") earn big brag rights, but don't always have a high search volume month to month; and often include searchers whose intent isn't exactly a match to what's desired by the site owner. For instance, managers of a site selling text-message coupons might want to rank for "online deals" – even though (outside of Q4 2009), search volume for "online coupons" is usually 4 times greater.
In the example above, given my newfound wisdom, I would not suggest "abandoning" the marquis keyword "online deals" — just also including "online coupons" in one's expanded keyword strategy. In fact, I'd also include "mobile coupons" and "text message coupons" in my syncretic list of keywords to target. Assigning different levels of priority to each keyword clears up which should receive more attention and which should receive less. But the data should be included — even if it is to be eventually filtered out.
I suggest prioritizing with as much data about as many relevant keyword and keyword phrases as possible — sorting by a personally defined score based on search volume, resonance with desired intent; keyword difficulty; and what rankable resources exist for the keyword.
Above, I described the philosophical shift necessary to expand one's SEO belief system from "monochromatic" worship of one keyword to a broader "syncretic" inclusion of a keyword and all of its variants, parallel markets, and related terms. But what is the actual process? It's called keyword expansion, is normally used in paid search marketing; and is an exceptionally useful practice for ranking for a broad set of related keywords. Here are some useful resources on the subject:
- Keyword Expansion Best Practices
- How do I find new keywords related to specific terms or phrases?
- 5 Simple Keyword Expansion Ideas - Note: sadly, Google Labs closed, so the Wonder Wheel is no more. Thankfully, we can sill use AdWords' keyword expansion tool.
Keyword expansion and prioritization not only expands your marketing reach, but it also saves you time and resources from otherwise poorly distributed money and effort.
SEO's and the dons of SEO's, take note: unless you're Google Bowling, target a wide array of keywords. Not only will the added entry points help a wider array of probably interested searchers become visitors to your site; their visits will up the probability that they'll return to your site — thanks in part to the increasing influence of personalized search results on an individual's SERPs.
Like so many, when I first started in SEO, I thought of a short list of keywords as the central point for which all marketing efforts should revolve — my one-true-keyword was the "sun" my work revolved around.
The flaw in this thinking, I found, is not in the solar system model; but in the quantity of suns for which my efforts were revolving. Indeed, in an expanded "syncretic" approach, there were many topical "suns" for which my efforts should revolve. Rather than revolve around my one-"Sol", my efforts should resolve around a many- "Mizar".
Glenn Friesen has been an Internet Marketing Pro for just under a decade, is a WordPress fanatic, and helped launch a fully funded Internet Startup, Qmania. Nowadays, he manages SEM at MindBodyOnline, a leading Salon Studio Software Company. Glenn also draws a lot of concrete poetry and is thinking about Rap Similes and Metaphors on the regular.