4 keyword research pitfalls that will ruin your SEO to oblivion

The SEO landscape can be unforgiving to those who cut corners.

Picture this: you pour in thousands of dollars building links. You finally manage to reach the first page. Plus, you went all in and got your hands dirty with pay-per-click (PPC).

But, wait. Despite ranking first and running PPC campaigns, your site isn’t raking in the cash.

Then it hits you — you were targeting the wrong keywords all along.

You rushed your keyword research. You didn’t think it through. You didn’t study user intent before matching keywords to content. You didn’t do your homework.


4 Keyword Research Pitfalls That Will Ruin Your SEO to Oblivion

Breezing through your keyword research like it’s nothing is a foundational mistake that can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Remember that the goal of SEO is not to rank high. The goal is to attract more customers. Not more traffic, necessarily, but more customers.

Customer: (n) a person wanting to give you money in exchange for what you have to offer.

If you want amazing results from your SEO efforts, here are four keyword research pitfalls to avoid.

Chasing numbers

When doing keyword research, a lot of marketers focus on the metrics. Why? Because that’s what the gurus keep harping on:

“You need a target keyword with a high search volume.”

“You must find keyword opportunities that have low competitiveness.”

Yadda yadda.

Although metrics are important, you shouldn’t pin your hopes solely on the numbers. There are more mosquitoes in the world than humans, but they don’t have much purchasing power. There’s more to attracting paying customers than just numbers.

Do you make this mistake? It might be that you are focusing too much on your industry rather than on the audience.

Let’s look at an example: “wedding photographer”. That term might get a ton of searches, but does that make it a good keyword to target? Have you considered the intent of the users who search for “wedding photographer”?

Let’s boot up Ubersuggest, a free and capable keyword research tool.

We see that “wedding photographer” has an average monthly search volume of 40,500.

Keyword research for wedding photographer

We can assume that some of the people searching for this term want to:

  • research the career
  • hire a wedding photographer
  • become a wedding photographer

The first and third searches are informational searches. The people in these groups want information. They want to learn, not to buy. Some informational searches are precursors to buying. These are not, since the searchers are not planning a wedding.

Your interest is only in the second group. That’s the group that wants to pay you money. That group might actually be 95% of the searchers. Or it might be just 5% of the market. With no other data, you can only guess.

However, we are not done. Longer search phrases that qualify “wedding photographer” might give us clues as to the searchers’ intent. There are also related phrases with commercial intent (the key to attracting profitable traffic).

Let’s see what Ubersuggest can tell us about intent. The keyword results page shows us a long list of search terms, based on the seed keyword (“wedding photographer”).

Let’s create filters to see only question-based on commercial terms, like:

  • hire
  • for hire
  • how to find

These variations are easy to come up with. Brainstorm with a business associate if you wish. Think about what a person wanting to hire a wedding photographer might search for.

Keyword research to hire a wedding photographer

As we type these terms, the list of keyword suggestions shrinks dramatically. We are filtering the long list to create a short list with commercial intent.

We can also see longer variations on the results page.

Keyword research to hire a wedding photographer

Look at the search volumes. These keywords are not as popular as “wedding photographer”. But they are the words people use when they want to buy, not just to learn.

Give me one customer ready to drop a wad of cash on my desk over a crowd seeking information any day.

Forgetting seasonality

When it comes to keyword research, many people overlook seasonality. Actually, it’s surprising how little online marketers discuss seasonality. Check out the monthly search volume for “seasonal keywords”. It’s tiny. It’s itsy bitsy. It’s just 10 per month.

Keyword research for seasonal keywords

We use shampoo at pretty much the same rate all year. But many, many products have seasonal fluctuations. Seasonality is how a keyword spikes and dips in searches over the course of a year.

For example, “Christmas decorations” may have an average monthly search volume of 110,000. But we see that most of searches are in November and December. That’s no surprise, of course.

Keyword research for Christmas decorations

Many brands and many retailers should include seasonal keywords in their SEO strategy. Just don’t put your eggs in one basket. Diversify your portfolio, so your site earns money all year round.

Looking at monthly search volumes helps you identify upcoming trends. With that information, you can optimize for the new keywords way ahead of your competitors. This applies especially to brands in specific niches, like:

  • gifts
  • fashion
  • technology
  • gourmet food
  • entertainment

Stay tuned to the latest news and events in your niche. It’s pretty easy with content research tools like:

When you’re done scouting, turn your ideas into seed keywords. The numbers will do the work for you. Just be careful of blips. A blip is when something is in the news, such as the launch of a new phone. Searches might spike one time, such as when it is launched. That does not make it seasonal, since it is unlikely to spike again the next year in that month.

Keyword research for smartphones

Ignoring localization

As with seasonality, some marketers overlook the keyword localization. Most people default to either the whole world or to the USA (where the most money is to be found). So they get global search results or US search results.

Why is this a problem? Let’s look at an example: “laptop case”. We put this seed keyword into Ubersuggest, without changing the default search parameters. Here’s what we get:

Keyword research for laptop cases

Now, let’s switch the target language and location to “English / Malaysia”.  It’s easy to do, back at the initial keyword interface.

Keyword research 10See how different the results are?

Keyword research for laptop cases localized

People in different locations use different words when they search. Same search intent, different search words.

What does this mean for your SEO strategy?

If you are a local business, you might be missing out on your main customers. In the example above, let’s suppose you do business primarily in Malaysia. If you don’t localize, you might fight like mad to compete for “laptop case”, while your target market is searching for “laptop bag”.

If you are a global business, you will probably want to fight for “laptop case”. But wait! You notice that in Malaysia, they search most for “laptop bag”. Can this better inform your SEO strategy? You bet! Here’s what you do:

  1. Create amazing content around the term “laptop bag”.
  2. Mention Malaysia in the content. Refer to people and places well-known in that market.
  3. Build links from Malaysian websites to these pages.
  4. Check what they search for most in Singapore. And New Zealand. And Australia. Now you have a truly international website, poised to win sales from all over the world. One global website, many targeted customers.

You can take keyword localization even further by focusing on a specific city or region. The better you laser-target the right people, the more likely you are to find paying customers.

Sticking to one keyword difficulty

Keyword difficulty refers to how competitive a keyword is. For instance, “ghostwriter” is a single word, sometimes called a “short tail keyword”. One word, many searches. It is fairly competitive, because of how many searches it attracts.

But there are many variants of “ghostwriter” that are less competitive, because there are much fewer searches for each one. For instance:

  • ghostwriter for my book
  • find a ghostwriter in Ohio
  • memoir ghostwriter for hire

Because there are so many of these, each with fewer searches, they are called “long tail keywords”. Many people consider them hidden opportunities. I certainly do.

Some people focus just on the big fish, the short tail keywords. But those are highly competitive. Let’s face it, among 1,000 ghostwriter services, only 10 can rank in the top 10 for “ghostwriter”. So, wisely, many businesses target the short tail keywords.

But it’s not one or the other. A good strategy is to set up your website to target all keywords, the easy ones and the tough ones. Then focus on the low hanging fruit to start attracting customers, while building a long-term strategy to rank for tougher search terms. That means doing plenty of keyword research.

Don’t forget that there are also terms of medium keyword difficulty. In this example:

  • book ghostwriter
  • ghostwriter Ohio
  • memoir ghostwriter

If SEO is a major part of your marketing strategy, create a three-tier campaign and target all levels of difficulty. Over time, you will become more competitive for tougher search terms.

Whatever you do, don’t fall in love with one keyword difficulty. Learn to adapt. Learn to measure the performance of your keywords to refine your strategy as you go.


Understanding the pitfalls to avoid in keyword research is just the beginning. It can help you increase your chances of getting great ROI from your marketing campaigns. But your success lies in the execution. In persistence. In the content you create and in the online relationships you build.

What keyword research mistakes have you made? What horror stories have you survived? Please share them in the comments below.



  1. Hi David! You did a great job here with these 4 keyword research pitfalls to avoid and I really got a lot out of all of your screen shots to.

    I know I am so guilty of all of these research mistakes.. Oh Yeh I have used the Ubersuggest keyword tool in the past, yet never knew how to localize, GEEZE

    Great Share My Friend.
    Chery :))

  2. Great research – you are right that people miss searcher intent, I missed it too.
    Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
    And I want to add another intriguing datum – 93 percent of all searches on Google are done for phrases that have less than 20 searches per month – another reason for targeting long-tail keywords.

  3. This is a great article. Over the years I have also found that the keywords that drive traffic are not necessarily the keywords that drive revenue. I have seen sites with very low traffic being highly lucrative because they attract the right sort of traffic and convert those visitors into clients.

  4. Hi David,

    A truly useful article. It surely drives home the point that SEO is not something we breeze through. It requires careful thought and planning. You made the points very clear using examples.

    Also we need some knowledge and experience with keyword research tools because there are techniques using which we can make best use of those tools.

    Thanks for sharing the tips with us. Have a great day!


  5. Sunil Kumar says

    Hi David, your blog is informative for me. I think, I am wrong in choosing the right keywords for my blogs. I will use your trick and go for it.

  6. This is a great article. Over the years I have also found that the keywords that drive traffic are not necessarily the keywords that drive revenue. I have seen sites with very low traffic being highly lucrative because they attract the right sort of traffic and convert those visitors into clients.