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3 important things to remember in your SEO research

Posted by Marian Buchanan on April 20th, 2011

Are you looking for information about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and how to do SEO research? This post is not intended to be a comprehensive article on the subject, but I do have some tips I wanted to share -- prompted by, of all things, spam.

In my last post, I talked about the ignorance of some kinds of spammers, after receiving an unsolicited email that was different from most, but still failed. It was from an SEO consultant offering to get my client’s site ranked higher in Google's search engine results pages (SERPs).

I usually just ignore this kind of spam, but this time I was tempted to reply with a little feedback (from one SEO consultant to another), because of the failure of the sender to demonstrate that he knew what he was doing. I haven’t yet decided whether or not to reply, but at the very least I thought I’d share my thoughts with you here. Maybe some of you are SEO consultants yourselves and need a reminder about the three important things this person failed to take into account in his SEO research; and maybe some of you are website owners looking into SEO and need help separating the wheat from the chaff when you, too, receive this kind of unsolicited mail or need to do your own SEO research.

The message started with a chart of data, in which the Search Position was allegedly that of the site in question. The keywords all related to homeschooling because the site is owned by a provincial association of homeschooling parents. Here is the chart that was sent:

Search Position Term Daily Searches
48 home school 270
50 home schooling 220
44 homeschool supplies 24

Next was an introduction:


I wanted you to see for yourself (please see chart above) where you are currently ranked in the natural listings on Google for the highest daily searched organic keywords associated with your website. As you can see, you have no keywords appearing on page 1 organically. If you are interested in getting those keywords to the top 4 positions of page 1 in the natural/organic listings (in Google’s ‘Golden Triangle’), where 85% of internet traffic searches for goods and services, and maximizing your company’s website exposure on the internet, please let me know. I wanted to show you a proven method of how this can be accomplished for www.ontariohomeschool.org.

I look forward to hearing back from you and working w/ you.

Then followed an article about the Golden Triangle, reprinted from some unknown source. (The included link did not lead to the original source, but rather to the WordPress plugin that was used to grab it from somewhere. I’m afraid that, too, warrants a checkmark on the Fail list.) The article is in reprint all over the web, but with so many reprinters claiming authorship, I can’t refer you to the original source either. But basically, all you need to know is that it’s about eye-tracking research that suggests that the best positions on SERPs are the top non-paid (“organic”) positions -- which rely on SEO to get there, as opposed to the right-hand sidebar where the paid Google Ads are.

I suppose it's not a bad idea to provide research-based "proof" in a message intended to persuade the recipient of the need for one's services. It got my attention partly because it was different from the usual SEO solicitation, and partly because I am always curious about research on perception and therefore like to read anything on it. This particular information was not new to me, but it’s possible someone not as SEO-savvy could be enlightened by the information and swayed by this approach.

But the purpose of this post is not to discuss the Golden Triangle or the value of providing "proof." Instead, I wanted to talk about what this SEO consultant either forgot or never knew about: three really important things that should be taken into account when doing SEO research.

1) Geo-targeting

Google displays results based on their geographical relevance to where the searcher is located. If you are testing rankings from your own location instead of from the location of the site's target audience, then your figures are way off unless you implement the adjustment mentioned below in point #3.

Certainly they are way off in this case. He has listed the SERPs position for the site in question as being between 44 and 50, depending on the search term, whereas for a searcher in Ontario (or even Canada more generally), which is the geographical area of relevance, the site's position is often 1 and never worse than 4 (depending on the term and whether it's broad or in quotes). If the searcher adds the location Ontario explicitly in their search words, the position is always #1 (unless they also include the city, in which case it's still never worse than 4).

2) Audience targeting

Just because you might use a particular phrase for a topic doesn't mean that's the way most people would phrase a search for the same thing. Especially if they are the target audience and you are not. You may not be aware of the topic's jargon.

If you use the Google Keyword Research Tool, you can find out which phrase is used most frequently.

In this case, the words "home" and "school" can be used in searches that have nothing to do with homeschooling, so it needs to be the phrase "home school" rather than simply the two separate words in a search together. In the Keyword Research Tool, you have to set the Match Type to Phrase rather than Broad.

What you find is that most people looking into homeschooling use the phrase "homeschool" rather than "home school," and "homeschooling resources" rather than "homeschool supplies." Here's how it breaks down:

Global search volume Local search volume
(for this site, it's Canada)
"home school" 165000 5400
"homeschool" 550000 18100
"home schooling" 74000 4400
"homeschooling" 301000 14800
"homeschool supplies" 1900 73
"homeschooling resources" 2400 140

By the way, notice how the Daily Searches in the email’s table are very significantly lower than what's indicated by the Keyword Research Tool, even when we multiply them by 30 to arrive at a Monthly Volume, which is what is given by the Keyword Research Tool. I presume the consultant has some kind of automated software to grab the data, so it makes me wonder if there's something wrong with how it's coded. Another checkmark on the Fail list, and another reason to do one’s own research instead of depending on an unsolicited email to be accurate.

3) Relevancy

If it weren't for Google's geo-targeting, a search for "homeschooling" should logically show sites that are about homeschooling in very general terms, i.e. relevant to anyone in the world, rather than how to homeschool when you're living in a specific country under a regional government's legislation. The flip side of that is that it doesn't make sense to gauge one's effectiveness in connecting to the target audience by looking at how the site ranks for terms that are targeted to a much broader audience.

For those un-savvy searchers who forget to specify the location of relevance, their location of search (the IP address of their computer) saves them from getting results that are less relevant. But as the person optimizing the site, one has to let Google know what location is relevant by including the geographically relevant words in the content -- and also in looking up the ranking during the "before" and "after" phases of SEO research for a specific site. (This ties in with the first point about geo-targeting: if you can't search from the geographically relevant location, you can at least include the relevant location in the search to make the search results more similar to what you would see if you were indeed in the target area.)

Geographical relevance is not the only kind of relevance, though. The SEO consultant included the data for the search phrase "homeschool supplies" even though the organization that owns the site does not sell homeschool supplies. They do list suppliers, so the site does actually show up in the first organic position for that phrase in the geo-targeted results, but the point is that the target audience is not people looking for supplies but people looking for information and support -- an additional hope being that they will become members. It would make more sense to gauge effectiveness with the phrase "homeschool support" than "homeschool supplies." It's unlikely the SEO consultant who sent the email bothered to look closely enough at the site to really research this aspect of the relevancy of what he was suggesting.

Unethical, incompetent, forgetful, or unaware?

I realize this consultant probably automates both his email queries and the related SEO research itself, but that's partly my point: relying on software to evaluate what's relevant is not helping him look like he knows what he’s doing. If he’s relying on sheer quantity of queries to yield a sufficient number of positive responses, maybe that's all he’s interested in. But it makes him a spammer, and the discrepancy between what he’s saying about the site and what's really happening makes it look particularly bad.

So one could be forgiven for thinking he is one of those unethical SEO guys hoping to mislead people into thinking their rankings are worse than they really are, and counting on them being too uninformed to know how to look into it. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, but what that means instead is that he is either insufficiently knowledgeable, or forgetful, or unaware. None of which makes it seem wise to hire him, even if the need for SEO help were there.

As you can see, though, the ontariohomeschool.org site does not need help in the ways the email mistakenly indicated, because my SEO practices are working in getting the site ranked extremely high where it matters. One might draw the conclusion that I know what I'm doing when it comes to SEO research and implementation, and my advice on the subject might therefore be worth following -- wouldn't you say?

So I encourage you to follow it by taking these three important aspects of SEO research into account -- whether you’re someone needing to hire an ethical and knowledgeable SEO consultant, or a website owner trying to Do-It-Yourself, or a consultant who does not want to be a spammer but would rather be seen as -- and actually be -- an ethical SEO professional who knows what they're doing and genuinely wants to help the businesses and organizations they are contacting.

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About Marian Buchanan

Marian Buchanan is the owner of Heartwood Web Design. She is fascinated by image and perception, immersed in both the artistic and technical sides of design and communications, and passionate about ethics and ethical marketing.

2 Responses to “3 important things to remember in your SEO research”

  1. Hi… I got the same email as you use in your example. Just thought I would explore on some keywords and this Webpage came up. Thanks for the good service to those who don’t know better!