Selecting your keywords for SEO – Part I

September 30th, 2011 Posted by Local SEO 2,253 comments

An old-salt at SEO, Jerry West teaches his students that getting traffic without converting it is a big waste of time and money.

He is so right.

Why invest much in your website optimization if you haven’t tested how your keywords convert ― i.e. some of your visitors take the action you expect from them?

This action can be subscribing to a newsletter, downloading a coupon or some freebie, asking for more information, purchasing a good. Converting means transforming a visitor into a prospect, a subscriber or a buyer.

Baseline keywords

You are optimizing your site for a couple of good keywords.

You did your research: these keywords are in demand, they attract traffic. You used Google’s Keyword External Tool [or much better: KeywordSpy] to determine the volume of this traffic, and have an idea of the competition you face to rank your site in Page 1 of Google.

Congratulations, you are at square one.

Are you ready to fire up on all cylinders and light up the SEO sky? No, you ain’t.

If you optimize your LocalRanker site correctly for these seemingly good keywords, your site will start climbing up in the search results. Visitor traffic will increase. People will see your pages, products, services.

What if they don’t buy? What if they are not interested in subscribing? What if they bounce off your site as soon as they enter it?

The most common causes of keyword misfiring are:

  • Product/service isn’t of interest to prospect (for whatever reason: price, type, mismatched need-offer)
  • Sales message isn’t good enough.
Because you did all this research on keywords, you are pretty sure the issue lies with your sales message. And it might very well be the case. But what if the main reason is that your keywords weren’t targeted well enough?
The case of “attorney los angeles” vs. “personal injury attorney los angeles”

Consider the table below. It shows the number of monthly searches as reported by KeywordSpy for “attorney los angeles” and for “personal injury attorney los angeles”.




We can clearly see that the first block of keywords draws much more traffic than the second one. Many more persons search for “los angeles lawyer” (135,000 searches monthly on average over the last 12 months) than for “los angeles personal injury lawyer” (9,900 searches monthly on average over the last 12 months).

There is something more remarkable to observe however: despite much lower demand numbers, the cost per click (CPC) of the second block is much higher than for the first block.

Los Angeles law firms that specifically advertise to get ‘personal injury’ cases are willing to pay much more money for a click to their website than when they advertise for a broad keywordsuch as ‘attorney’.

Generally speaking, products that attract higher demand command higher prices. Except for rare collectible items, this principle tends to prevail for all products and services.

Why then would a keyword that attracts 13 times less traffic than the other… cost 2.2x as much?

Personal injury attorneys in Los Angeles are a dime a dozen, so rarity does not start explaining it. On the other hand, personal injury carries high rewards (bounty?) and will therefore command premium advertising prices.

There is another factor at work here: the length of the search query.




Online marketers have known for a long time that the stronger the intent to buy, the more accurate the wording of the search query. People who know what they want don’t lose time foraging among the very general results returned by very general queries. They state precisely what they want to find.

Less precise search queries are usually the work of people farther away from buying.

Emma the housewife searching for such rare cookbook written by such author and published in such year by such publishing house is much more likely to buy this book than Annabel the housewife browsing for “cookbooks”.

Personal injury attorneys in Los Angeles know this fact well: that’s why they will pay for this eager would-be plaintiff more than twice the price fetched by a prospect searching for a ‘Los Angeles attorney’.

The more precise the search query, the closer the prospect is from buying.

Back to your site

You may think it would still be more interesting to have many visitors coming to your site: after all, the larger the number the larger the potential to find a buyer among them, no?

And wouldn’t it be better to be in front of 135,000 eyeballs every month than in front of 9,900?

Yes and no. You could theoretically benefit from being in front of 135,000 eyeballs, but this traffic would not necessarily buy your services. And the statistical probability that they buy yourpersonal injury attorney services is unproven ― at best.

What’s the downside? Check out the “About _________ results” line under the Google search box in these examples:




Over 57 million result pages indexed in Google for the wider, more searched term.

‘Only’ 2.6 million results pages indexed for the narrower, less searched but more likely to convert keyword.

The difference in competition is stiff: over 20 times stiffer.

Getting to Google Page 1 under “los angeles lawyer” will be much more difficult.

  • What will be the cost of this SEO campaign?
  • When will you see a positive return from it?

Even if you had very deep pockets, it would be a much more efficient strategy to push your website to Page 1 under very efficient keywords (more likely to convert), generate revenues, then expand your strategy to the much more competitive (but not necessarily more efficient) keywords ― even if this means building a second website.

At LocalRanker we always recommend the following sequence:

  • Aim at the more precise query. 
  • Optimize your site for it. 
  • Get high rankings. 
  • Get conversions. 
  • Get sales. 
  • Deploy the second leg of your strategy.


(To be continued in Part II)


Phil Chavanne