Joel Klettke is a Search Engine Optimization specialist at Vovia. Joel's also an experienced writer and local marketing expert.

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Dude, Where’s My Traffic?

dudecarSo, you’ve worked hard and you now rank in the top 10 for one of your targeted keywords. But when you throw open Google Analytics expecting a surge in traffic, traffic has barely moved. What’s the deal?

Surprisingly, the problem might be at step 1 in your process: your keyword research.

Broad Match Is Misleading

A popular keyword research tool is the Google Adwords Keywords Tool. Note that all numbers reported by this tool are approximations, not hard facts.

That said, here’s the problem: the default display for Google Adwords’ Keyword tool is “broad match”. As noted by Google: “Broad match includes variations of your keywords. Keyword
variations can include synonyms, singular/plural forms, relevant variants of your keywords, and
phrases containing your keywords.”

When you think you’re seeing the traffic level for “Red Bicycles”, you’re really seeing traffic for:

“red bicycles, red bikes, red tricycles, red bike, Red once owned a bicycke, I hate red bikes”,

Those big traffic numbers are enticing, but misleading!

Wise Up: Use Phrase & Exact Match

There’s two more accurate ways to gauge traffic, both of which can be selected from the left-hand menu of the keyword tool: Phrase Match accounts for traffic from queries containing your exact, uninterrupted phrase. For “red bicycles”, this would include: “Buy red bicycles, red bicycles sale, I own red bicycles”, and so on.

Exact match, the most accurate of the three, displays traffic generated by ONLY the exact phrase, “red bicycles”.

For the best indication of how much traffic a phrase can generate, use exact. Phrase is quite helpful for determining which phrases might drive long-tail traffic.

Position Is Everything!

The fact is, even phrase and exact match can be misleading. But wait a second – didn’t I just tell you to use these?

The fact is that you shouldn’t expect to get 100% of the traffic for a keyword phrase, even if you rank #1. This is nicely explained by this article, but to sum up: the #1 spot will get 34 – 35% of all the traffic. Spots #2 and #3 get 17% and 12% respectively. After that, traffic drops like a stone.

So if you’re not in the top 3, don’t expect anywhere near the (approximate) reported number!

Is There Anyone We Can Trust?!

Sadly, any tool that tries to predict the future won’t be entirely accurate.Take heart: the Adwords Keyword Tool does a very reasonable job of identifying relative traffic levels. You can  roughly tell which keywords drive more traffic than others.

The key to the future is often in the past. Be sure to have Google Analytics installed and when your site has collected data over time, use it to determine what keywords or themes of keywords are actually driving traffic. If a phrase brings in significant traffic, but you don’t rank in the top 3 yet – that keyword is probably a great candidate for further optimization.

Another option is to run a short-term, well-organized PPC campaign using the keywords you’re considering for targeting. In doing this you will be able to get some real-world feedback: which keywords are driving impressions? Which keywords are driving conversions? Reflect on the data and use it to power your SEO campaign. If you’re new to PPC, have a seasoned pro organize this campaign to avoid getting misleading data in return.

Summing it Up

Hopefully I’ve helped to shed some light on why broad match is a poor indicator of real-world traffic levels. Just like infomercials, pyramid schemes and miracle cures, if it looks too good to be true – it probably is.

(P.s. A great tool for your adwords campaign: convert your phrases into broad match, phrase match and exact match quickly: Keyword Wrapper)