Internet Marketing

Insights Into Keyword Research Through My Failures

published on

Panda 3.9 just dropped.

Now that that's over and done with, I wanted to take a look at the way I've been doing keyword research and analyzing past failures to see if I can improve my methodology. The way I've been doing it thus far is to use Ultimate Niche Finder's keyword evaluation along with an analysis of statistic data from the top 10 in any given niche (page authority, domain authority, title competition, backlinks, etc.). In addition, I've also been taking a look more closely at link profiles and seeing how hard they are to replicate, as well as the types of sites that rank well in the top 10. What I mean by this is simply if the sites at the top are blogs, e-commerce sites, etc.

Typically I don't dwell on past failures too much as I prefer to move on a build new sites. However, with some new keyword research methods from Hayden over at NohatSEO, I decided to compare how SEOmoz and UNF determine keyword difficulty using a select bunch of keywords:

  1. Keywords that I will putting on sites using a combined SEOmoz/UNF strategy.
  2. Old keywords that were used on sites where I failed to establish any good rankings.

My findings are summarized in this table:

KeywordSEOmozUNFNiche#1 SiteStatus
KW #143ModerateHealthForumNew
KW #238Very EasyHomeLead GenNew
KW #355ModerateBusinessAuthority SiteNew
KW #433EasyHomeAffiliate/CPANew
KW #551EasyEducationAuthority SiteNew
KW #639Very EasyBusinessAffiliate/CPANew
KW #755ModerateHomeAuthority SiteFailure
KW #861ModerateEducationAuthority SiteFailure
KW #949ModerateHealthAuthority SiteFailure
KW #1053ModerateBeautyAuthority SiteFailure
KW #1155HardTechnologyNewsFailure
KW #1245ModerateAppliancesE-CommerceFailure
KW #1351Very EasyEducationAffiliate/CPAFailure
KW #1446EasyAutomotiveWeb MagazineFailure
KW #1553Very HardBeautyAuthority SiteFailure
KW #1659ModerateSelf HelpAuthority SiteFailure
KW #1733Very EasyDietAdSenseFailure
KW #1841ModerateWeddingsE-CommerceFailure
KW #1948HardTechnologyAuthority SiteFailure
KW #2064ModerateEducationBlogFailure

*** Post-Panda 3.9 Rankings, July 25, 2012

Defining Easy and Hard Keywords

Sup? I'm back, did you miss me?
Sup? I'm back, did you miss me?

With Hayden's method, an SEOmoz score of 43 or lower is roughly the tipping point where a keyword is "good enough to build a site for." According to him it will generally take the least amount of links to rank well using this criteria. I haven't been able to prove this yet as my private network is still in the process of construction.

With Ultimate Niche Finder, the program itself evaluates the keyword using amalgamated results from the top 10 that the keyword is found in. It then gives a graphical rating in addition to the difficulty on a scale that goes from:  Very Easy, Easy, Moderate, Hard, and lastly Very Hard.

Comparing the Values

If you look at the table above, you'll find that SEOmoz and UNF are mostly in line with their evaluations. What's interesting is where the numbers don't jive. For instance, keyword #13 where UNF ranks the keyword as being Very Easy whereas SEOmoz assigns the keyword a difficulty rating of 51.

It's difficult to make a blanket statement as to who is "correct" in their difficulty assessment of the keyword. This analysis is literally the day after the Panda 3.9 release, which skews the results somewhat. If you take a look at keywords #1-6, you'll see that I am potentially screwed on a couple keywords there where the SEOmoz difficulty is above 43. They were below that number when I did my initial research. It'll be interesting to see what happens to those sites when I build them out. The content has already been placed on those sites, so I'm past the point of being able to put the brakes on and re-analyze the niche.

Analyzing Failure - What the Hell Went Wrong?

Quite frankly I cannot explain what happened to keyword #17. Both SEOmoz and UNF seem to agree that the niche is very easy to rank in. Also, this is the only niche from my sample set that has an AdSense-related site at the #1 position currently. It's basically a niche where you get points just for showing up, so to speak. Anyway, I've gone over this one quite a few times and can't put my finger on it, so I'm just chalking it up to random failure on my part. I may try again with a new site and new content just to see what happens.

For the other failures (keywords #7-20), I believe what happened is likely caused by a few factors:

  • Underestimating keyword difficulty. If you recall I didn't always have UNF and was using SECockpit before. It's very possible that I misread the data at the time.
  • Being the odd man out. This is one of my new theories. Basically the idea is that I won't have any success trying to rank a blog in a sea of e-commerce sites, for example. I believe that you have to somewhat match what you can find (and should find) in the top 10, otherwise you'll have trouble with ranking during the next merry-go-round shuffle.
  • Being greedy. Several of these failures are exact match domains. I chalk up the failure to seeing the domain available, snatching it, and trying to rank the primary keyword. This is why I am not a fan of EMDs per se, since I have been successful without them for the most part. The moral of the story though is not to be greedy; sometimes is better to pass on the EMD as it may not give you the rank boost that you're looking for.

How I Define An Authority Site

On a side note, you might observe that authority sites are featured prominently in the table above. Firstly, let me cut you off at the pass and define authority sites as those who:

  • Have had their domains aged for quite some time.
  • Have a large search and social following.
  • Are generally large and provide great value to the reader in terms of content.
  • Have many ways to interact with the visitor.
  • Are generally not monetized through AdSense or affiliate offers.

Authority sites are NOT:

  • Made-for-AdSense/Amazon niche sites with 50-100 pages of content. The more the better.

I see this being touted around under the "authority site" moniker on many IM guru-style blogs. Sorry, but simply having a lot of content doesn't make you an authority. It ain't the years, nor the mileage. It's the years AND the mileage. 6-month old sites with tons of content is all well and good, maybe even preferred. But that doesn't make you an authority. You've got to earn it.

Rant over.

Where to Go From Here

So what types of sites should you build? What types of keywords should you go for? Do the niches matter? Does the site type matter?

I think that the true answer is probably one that you don't want to hear:  It depends. I think if I continually analyze my past failures, I will end up finding patterns where there should be none, and no patterns where there should be some.  In reality I would probably wasting too much time.  So my direction is just to keep doing more keyword research and building more sites rather than to dwell on unsuccessful ventures.  You get better over time so more experience helps.

I will probably avoid the niches where I have had minimal success, like the technology niche. Instead, I'll concentrate more on niches where I have found repeatable success. In the past I preferred to do everything in broad strokes, but I suppose that it might be more beneficial to specialize in at lost some small degree or so.

Neither keyword difficulty assessment tool, SEOmoz or Ultimate Niche Finder, will be perfect.  Proper keyword research requires a deeper understanding beyond what mere tools can tell you.  To a certain extent, I think it requires a lot of confidence and a lot of faith in your gut feeling.  Some things that you can't really quantify (or even qualify) unless you've done a lot of keyword research and have gone through hundreds or even thousands of keyword evaluations. The tools do give you a good idea as to what you're looking at, but ultimately the go or no-go decision is yours.