No matter what you are in the business of selling, people will use all types of phrases to describe it. Over many years I have played a role in the optimization of hundreds of websites. At the start of every one of the projects, the business owner or marketing team responsible for the sites’ success has tasked me to rank for a singular phrase that they believe will bring their online revenue to new heights. While there is nothing wrong with keeping your eye on the prize for your ‘brass ring phrase’ as a long-term goal, one must not forget about the other variations of phrases that prospective customers use when searching for your product/service online.

SEO for Geo-Targeted Keywords

If your business only serves a local market, then you should focus on keyword phrases that are applicable to your service area. For example, if you are a culinary school that services the Chicago area, your SEO efforts should be focused on culinary school phrases specific to Chicago (i.e. ‘Chicago culinary school’, ‘Chicago culinary classes’). The geo-specific phrases are less competitive that the non-geo version, so rankings success is easier to obtain. Of course you can argue that more people search for the phrase ‘culinary school’ than for ‘Chicago culinary school’. Fear not – if your on-site optimization is correctly implemented for geo-target phrases, your website may also rank for non-geo phrases in your target market. So, if a Google user in Chicago searches for the phrase ‘culinary school’, your culinary school site has a good shot at being on page 1 of the search results – above the lead aggregators and national corporate entities.

SEO for Competitor Brand Keywords

To put it simply, this is not a productive use of your marketing efforts. I have spent much analysis on user engagement metrics of website visitors that arrive due to typing competitor phrases. Bounce rates are high, pages per visit are low, and time spent on site are low – all suggesting that users came to the site looking for the competition, and left when they realized they were in the wrong place. My experience has shown that when people search for a branded phrase, they want to engage with that brand, not the competition. Putting competitor branding and trademarked phrases on your site is also not advised—unless you have legal permission to display them for product comparison purposes.

SEO for Long-Tail Keywords

Every industry has a coveted ‘brass ring phrase’ – the phrase that is the most actively searched. Depending on your type of business, a ‘brass ring phrase’ can even be a geo-targeted phrase. Yes, these one and two-word phrases can bring a substantial amount of traffic to your site. However, there are just as many people that will search for other phrases related to your product/service. These phrases can consist of any combination of 3-7 keywords, often referred to as long-tail phrases. I manage many clients that get 40-60% of their traffic from such long-tail phrases, even when they have top rankings for their ‘brass ring phrase(s)’. My extensive analysis of website traffic data has also shown that user engagement metrics can be more favorable for many long-tail keywords – the theory being that people search for short keyword variations when they begin their research for a product/service, and refine their search activity as they learn more about the product/service and get closer to a buying decision.

Keyword Variation Essential for Today’s Rankings Success

Thanks to the Panda and Penguin updates, not only is optimizing for multiple keywords recommended, it is now required. Many websites have lost coveted page 1 rankings because they placed too much marketing emphasis on one keyword variation. The engineers at Google understand that people use many phrases to refer to a particular product or service, and have made adjustments to their algorithms to accommodate this behavior. If your marketing efforts don’t emulate the behavior of people, Google can not only decide to push you off of page 1, they can decide remove you from their search results altogether – GAME OVER.