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Celebrating Useless Keyword Victories
First a little background...
My first foray online was 13 years ago. It was 1996... it was on a friends computer... it was love at first 'site'.
Over the ensuing months I'd get a taste of it now and then when I visited his place. It didn't sate my desire, all it did was whet my appetite for more.
I got more the next year when I bought myself a modem and hooked up with an ISP. A whole new world was open to me.
The year after that I would graduate from being a mere surfer to being AN ONLINE PUBLISHER.
A proud yet somewhat hollow boast. My first webpage was whipped up in less than an hour and uploaded to GeoCities. I may at times come across as a harsh critic but I'm not afraid to apply the same standards to myself. Within a couple of days after the elation settled down, I knew my site sucked. And thus began the long journey of learning web graphics and HTML. But I discovered something else of value along the way (website statistics) and I believe my ability to learn was unencumbered by the fact that I was making webpages for fun a long time before I started doing them for profit.
I'm not going to go into specific detail about what the website was about. It wasn't life changing by any means for the people that visited it. It was geeky, it was quirky. It was a novelty site. It can best be described as Digital Illustrations of Celebrities. Which is probably why it did so well with getting attention. Because it was about familiar faces. And because it didn't focus just on one celebrity it meant the potential audience was quite large, given the amount of fans that would appreciate the site.
It wasn't until 2000 that I really started to pay attention to the web stats. After all, when people are only finding your website because you've personally told them where it is, doesn't lend itself to inspiring visitor stats.
Before GeoCities put bandwidth quotas on their free accounts, they were actually quite a brilliant webhost. You could get a break down of referring traffic by URL, Search Engine and keyword for each and every page.
In 2000 I started a fulltime course in Digital Arts & Media. I figured I may as well get a piece of paper to prove the abilities that I had invested so much time and effort into developing in my spare time. It was an interesting time in my life. The teacher who taught us how to use Macromedia Dreamweaver had never actually uploaded a website to the internet. It became quickly clear that I knew more than most of my teachers. But I didn't let it become an excuse for inflating my ego. I knew that there were things that they would know that I didn't. Things that would be missed if I were the sort of idiot who sat with a head wobble at the back of the classroom.
While I won't take the time to pinpoint the things I did learn, I must have impressed them enough with my humility as well as my experience and knowledge, because within 6 months I got an offer to teach at another campus for semester 2. Keep in mind I had no formal teaching qualifications. Much to the delight of my fellow students our semester two timetable had Fridays free. Except for me of course. I got to teach on Fridays.
But back to my career as a student... I went one step further for an assignment which involved demonstrating how our proposed website would work, via a projector onto a screen at the front of the class. I was the only one to actually have my site live and online. And the Unique Visitors total was doing something strangely bizarre.
Up to that point I was getting less than 10 visitors a day on average. On the odd occasion it would push past 20, which for me was a cause for celebration. This day however it was sitting on 1000+. I thought something was broken.
But every time I refreshed the stats there was a dozen or more new unique visitors. My classmates were as excited about it as I was. By the end of the day I had 8000+ people who had visited my site. It was due to a backlink from cool.com, which back then, was actually a hip, cool and very popular site.
Over the next few days the traffic flow subsided and then leveled out. The unique daily visitors may have settled around the 100 mark, but didn't drop below that.
Over the coming months I'd see traffic spikes as other 'cool' sites would plug the site. After these peaks my Average Daily Unique Visitors would see a marked step up from what it had been before.
My First Domain Name
I moved the site the following year to its own web hosting. I had already bought a domain name and was using it as a domain redirection. People could find the site through both the GeoCities URL and my domain. So when I set the Domain Name Servers to resolve to my own hosting I didn't have a problem with people finding or following me over. That was more due to blind luck than forethought.
The new web site stats were good, though unfortunately it didn't break it down to individual pages. But I could still track and see where the traffic was coming from.
I would see a slow but steady climb of the unique daily visitors: 200... 300... 500. 1000 was a cause for celebration. Google played a major hand in giving me traffic as well as a lot of return visitors (I was updating the site almost every weekday). When I got to 5000 unique visitors daily and holding steady my traffic spikes would be in the 20k+ range.
I'd see backlinks from the cool sites, as well as blogs, occasionally a news site. I was also made aware (by visitors) when they found my site due to being mentioned in magazines (real ones made of paper!) and also newspapers (being featured in an Israeli newspaper really spun me out).
One newspaper, in Australia actually, which is where I am by the way, referred to me as being a geek with far too much time on my hands, and made a disparaging remark of my obvious lack of being able to have a real girlfriend.
My wife wasn't impressed by the statement, but it didn't worry me. I was getting web traffic!
My numero uno search engine keyword was seeing me sit firmly in the first page of results. In my heyday, which lasted for two years, saw me positioned in the top three. Though results would shift at least three times a day (I'd check in the morning, midday and in the afternoon). At least once I clawed my way into number 1. But I didn't see much of a difference in traffic. Anywhere 'above the fold' (before a person has to scroll down) is a fantastic position to be in. But this particular keyword itself was one that would see visitors dig deep in the Google results. I know this because even when it was somewhere down in the 40's on my slow climb up the SERPs I was already starting to get good traffic.
This wasn't the only keyword traffic tap that was turned on though. Because my site featured celebrities, I was also getting traffic for those individual celebrity names. Which was an interesting lesson in surfer behavior.
With 500+ celebrities on the site, and some of them somewhat obscure (because I was featuring Australian celebs who had not yet achieved international fame) I'd sometimes see a spike in the stats for a particular name. Why? Because this person had somehow, somewhere become newsworthy for some reason. I interpreted as being an actor or actress had done something or was in a new movie release and talk of them was either in the papers or on the television news, this prompted the fans and curious onlookers to do a quick search, finding my link in the results and clicking thru.
It must have been the movers and shakers who were the first to hear something and sought out more information online, because I could say to my wife 'Hey, what's such and such been up to?" and she wouldn't know, but then in the next few days that person was all over the news.
There were lessons learned that I can't quite put into words, but I kept a diary of random thoughts and sites. Though some of the thoughts are now outdated or the websites defunct.
But you can't beat simple, short keyword domination. "Longtail" is okay, if people are in fact searching for those terms.
As a newb, you need to realise that to understand and read web stats, you need a lot of data.
You need thousands of visitors and many many months of such traffic, to be able to see trends.
And if you think you can see a trend, or even go so far as to predict a trend, it's most likely luck.
And getting excited because you typed in a longtail keyword search term and being on the first page of results or even number one, is not a success story. It's not something worth wasting your time celebrating.
People partaking in useless keyword celebrations aren't stupid. In fact their hubs/articles/webpages are quite intelligent. Their only misdemeanour is that they're uninformed.
Celebrating Useless Keyword Victories
All too often I see webmasters and writers getting excited about coming in at number 1 out of however many millions of webpage results. The first thing these people need to learn is that webpage results are NOT an indication of the amount of people searching.
One keyword tool that's good to start with, is the Google AdWords Keyword Tool.
Lets look at these three phrases and see how some HubPages hubs fare in the the results:
Why the Easter Bunny Speaks Latin (currently 1 out of 9,370)
Fun and Interesting Easter Facts (currently 2 out of 778,000)
The art of Ukrainian Easter eggs (currently 5 out of 37,300)
But are people actually searching for these terms?
According to the Keyword Tool, no one searches for those terms. Or as they put it: Not enough data
You should also be aware that a longtail keyword search which reaps millions of results only means that is there that many pages with those words on the same page. It is no indication of its popularity as a phrase used by people in real searches. To get the number of pages that have the actual phrase on them you have to put quote marks around your search in google. Which will narrow down the number of returned results by a LOT. Which of course means less competition. But you need to go back to 'how many people are actually searching for this search term'?
And it's not only longtail keyword searches that people can find distraction. Short and ridiculous words can also be wasting a persons time.
I once saw a fairly new forum with a strange name, we'll call it Borkt.com (it was a totally made up word), and the founding members were absolutely delighted to see that a search for "borkt" was bringing their site up in number one position.
The competition was, of course, slim. There weren't any other internet surfers using that word anywhere else on the world wide web except for some completed stuffed typo's. And the only people actually searching for that term were the very few people on that forum.
These people were celebrating a useless keyword victory.
"You can rank #1 in Google, Yahoo and MSN for "purple baked dog doo", but if no one is searching for it, then no traffic, no clicks, no money."
It is a touchy subject to broach, asking a person "how many people are actually using this search term?". I see often in forums, not just HubPages, where people are excited, even ecstatic about their Keyword Victory. But they haven't thought much past googling the term. They haven't checked their web stats or Google Analytics to see if it is actually getting them traffic.
Even more laughable is when people give the glory to their God for being responsible for their Keyword Victory. Or self appointed SEO 'gurus' who are more in the business of selling snake oil than Search Engine Optimization.
In communities such as HubPages and Squidoo I've tried to help in the most subtle way as possible. I could have perhaps used harsher words in stronger tone, but being subtle has been crushing enough it seems.
Noses get put out of joint, sensitivities are walked over, enthusiasm is trampled, 'accomplishments' are stomped on, hearts are broken...
I'm not pointing out the obvious or publishing this just so I can rain on their parade. I'm doing it so people can learn, stop wasting their time, recalibrate their thought process and reset their sights.
I want them to find real targets, hit real goals, and find real success.
You can bet your sweet glutes I won't be popping open the champagne when this hub shoots to #1 with a bullet for a search for "celebrating useless keyword victories".
If you're serious about learning about what people are searching for online, you need to read this book.
It isn't a heavy read. In fact it's written in a conversational manner. It's as if a brilliant guy who knows how to communicate to normal people, is sitting down and having a one on one conversation with you. Read it while eating breakfast, sipping a coffee for morning tea break, on the toilet or when you go to bed.
You will learn more from this book than scouring through thousands of forum posts of conflicting (and unfounded) theories.
If you want to know what millions of people do online and why it matters, you need to read this book.