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The Great 'Major Keyword' Scam

May 25, 2008
I have been doing the job of Search Engine Optimization for a number of years now. I started with the goal of placing my first foray into the internet world, a property MLS for Spain, at the top of the search engine rankings. It was a steep learning curve! but was the sort of challenge I enjoy. Opinions on how to best achieve good SERP, (thats Search Engine Ranking Position) or "P1G" as I like to call it, were varied and ranged from the believable to the obviously absurd.

It took seven months to get my first Google ranking. It was August 5 th 2006. I had diligently been adding my site to directories and e-mailing relevant sites to exchange links. I had also been creating as much new content as I could possibly manage. Spain is a big country and covering all the towns and villages to get exposure across the board was no mean feat.

But we did it. I hit my keyword targets one after another and within eighteen months has climbed to the top of nearly every major keyword that I was told, people used to search for properties in Spain.

After a few months at the top I started to muse at the statistics. There was, and still is, a massive gap between what you would expect from the search results and the actual statistics coming through to the site. The biggest discrepancies lay in the major keywords and the traffic they produced.

As a company that needed to market its services to other businesses, this visibilty was necessary, if not essential. What is there better to put in your marketing than independent statistics from 'the market leaders', Google, showing the traffic stats for the most competitive keywords and explaining to your potential clients that 'this is where the traffic is' and 'here we are at the top'. It's what the competition does, so do it better.. and you should reap the rewards.

And to a point we did. In terms of commercial success, the site grew as quick as we could grow it and all in the garden was rosy.

It was under my new hat though, as a well seasoned SEO that I began to have doubts.

The fact was, that on analysis of the traffic from the site, the contribution made by major keyword placement amounted to less than 10% of traffic, yet I had been spending some 90% of my time achieving and maintaining it. Something was wrong and I started an exercise to uncover the truth.

My analysis has led me to some conclusions that have dramatically altered my SEO strategies and begs the question as to whether the information statistics that we get from the Search Engines and take, hand in glove as gospel, are entirely true. In fact if you could get at the entire facts, I think it would be more likely a case that the statistics are true but in a world where algorithms have been developed to the extent that they could filter the Polonium out of Russian tea, the statistics we are fed are at best, so bland and unfiltered that they perpetuate myths that frankly are false.

Not wanting to sound too ambiguious, here's what I mean.

Take a 100 website owners all of whom have sites for dog food. The statistics from the main search engines tells them that the search term 'dog food' gets 1200 searches daily and is the top search term for their industry. Avoiding PPC, they diligently go off to optimize their site for the term, writing articles, building links, all the usual SEO suspects. Like me the 100 owners are ultimately curious as to where they are positioned for the term and at intervals through the day click onto search and diligently type in the term to see how their position is progressing.

Now if all of them are avidly watching their position they will pretty soon be making up the majority of the statistical searches recorded by the search engines and be as confused as I was, as to why the actual traffic they receive from the keyword search, nowhere nearly matched the expectations of the traffic their sites actually got from the term.

In my own sites analysis over the previous twelve month period, I found that with a little over 125,000 unique visitors over the period, visitors had found my site through nearly 52,000 different keyword searches and out of the four major keywords that I had spent time and energy optimizing my site for, I had received less than 10% of my traffic.

Whether this 'anomoly' is puposely perpetuated by the Search Engines must be true. They are after all, just advertising comapanies hiding beneath the guise of service providers. Their revenue is derived from the perpetuation of competitive keywords gaining ever increasing revenue as we all chase the dragon. If they spent a fraction of that revenue improving the data they put out about search results, filtering repetitive searches or searches from different IP addresses broken down into geographical location. The sort of information they do give out to us in the analytics data we get from our actual visitors.

Then maybe, the face of competitive keywords would become too blurred to facilitate such high bidding from the PPC fraternity and the revenue bubble would burst. More likely though, would be that the goalposts would keep changing, making it more difficult for any keyword to sustain competitive edge long enough to gain the revenue that they currently do. In any event, any blurring of the marketplace would ultimately reduce revenues which is a good enough reason to keep the staistics vague and the revenue flowing.

From an SEO point of view, it seems that to increase your traffic effectively, you should disregard building links to the keyword 'red herrings' and concentrate of building as much intuitive content around your subject matter as possible.

Whilst this has always been the premise of good P1G rankings the smoke screen of competitive keyword placement is an awful lot of energy going to waste!
About the Author
Neil Ebsworth is co-founder of AMLAspain.com, TheSpanish property MLS. and writes articles for OMDN
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