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Why Do Some SEO Companies Limit Keywords?

Robot with Question Mark for headAs an owner of an SEO agency, prospects often show me proposals from other SEO companies and ask me to compare them to mine. First of all, that’s often difficult because no two SEO companies use the same methodologies, so it’s often not an “apples to apples” comparison. But one common theme I see in other SEO companies’ proposals really puzzles me, and that is the limitation on the number of keywords they will optimize a site for. To explain why this puzzles (and irks) me, I’ll give a quick rundown of how SEO works.

SEO Fundamental #1: Technical

The first aspect of SEO revolves around optimizing a site technically. Good SEO companies will tackle this with tasks such as performing code audits, assessing site structure, use of redirects, server performance, and adding semantic code markup like Schema and Authorship. Pretty straightforward, and not related to the keywords, so this isn’t necessarily what confuses me. That comes into play in the next section.

SEO Fundamental #2: On-Page

The “on-page” aspect of SEO involves selecting which keywords to use, where and how to use them, and how to organize the content on a site. The first step here is keyword research, i.e. determining which phrases have the best ranking potential for a site, and this is the first part that makes me perplexed as to why some SEO companies limit the number of keywords they’ll optimize for.

When my team and I perform keyword research, we analyze TENS of thousands of variations of different ways to describe the client’s products and services. Obviously not every variation of a phrase is directly relevant to the client’s business, so we will cull down the initial list of synonyms until only the most relevant phrases are included. However, even then, even for the smallest of companies, we still always end up with between 1,000 and 2,000 phrases that have good search volume and KEI ratio. KEI stands for “Keyword Effectiveness Index”, a supply-demand-type ratio between the popularity and competitiveness of a phrase. It basically helps determine which variations of a phrase will bring the client a good amount of search traffic without being too difficult or impossible to rank for due to the competitiveness of the phrase.

That’s my first area of confusion: HOW in the world can some SEO companies narrow that down to 5 or 6 or even 50 or 60 phrases? My research has proven over and over again that almost all websites, even small business ones, have at least 1,000 related phrases that could be used to either describe products and services, or be written into information articles. I’ve never been able to narrow it down lower than that without removing phrases that are indeed relevant, and have good potential ranking ratios.

I mentioned “informational articles” – as most people know, fresh, high quality content needs to be added to a site on a regular basis in order to really succeed at SEO. There is a direct statistical correlation between the frequency of new content added to a site, and the traffic and rankings the site gets. In most cases, and what is typically most effective, is to utilize blogging to achieve that goal. I find that blogging weekly (although the shoemaker’s kid over here doesn’t always do that herself) works best for my clients. That almost brings me to another point of keyword-limitation-confusion, but first, I must point out one more SEO fundamental. Search engine crawlers (a.k.a. robots) are just that – robotic programs. They are not humans. They cannot infer things like we can. Therefore, in order not to confuse poor little brainless Googlebot, it is most effective to utilize ONE phrase per page of website copy.[Tweet this!]

If you describe the topic of the page or article with just ONE variation of a phrase, just ONE way of saying it, that makes it perfectly clear to the search engine robots what that page is about. It is also important not to optimize multiple phrases for the same page, as they will compete against each other, and again, poor Mr. Googlebot may get confused as to which one it should rank for that phrase. (If you pay close enough attention, you could probably spot which phrase I’m optimizing this article for. Feel free to take a guess in the comments.)

And there’s my biggest area of confusion: When SEO companies limit the number of keywords they will optimize for, then how could they possibly add new content on a regular (ideally weekly) basis and optimize each one of those pages for just ONE variation of a phrase, not using the same variation twice? In other words… It’s not logistically possible to perform SEO correctly when limiting the number of keywords used. SEO companies that do this are blatantly ignoring best practices. [Tweet this!]

SEO Fundamental #3: Off-Page

As if that wasn’t enough of an explanation of my confusion (and irritation), I’ll tack on one more thing. There is one more aspect of SEO, and that is often referred to as “off page,” i.e. the things that happen OFF of your site to boost the reputation of it in the eyes of the search engines. That involves inbound linking, the building of social media “signals” on content, and citations. This whole aspect of SEO is enough to fill an entirely different article (with an entirely different key phrase, of course), but I touch upon it here to make one more point about SEO companies that limit keywords. The concept of linking for SEO purposes usually refers to external websites linking in (inbound) to a site. However, linking has impact within a site as well. This is called “internal linking.” It’s important to create “relevancy paths” where a search engine robot can take a stroll down a certain topical path on your site via pages that are linked to each other. Linking together multiple pages that are about the same topic, but have different variations of the phrase on each page, is a very effective way to both provide these relevancy paths, and get indexed for multiple variations of a phrase. So again, how could these SEO companies really be performing SEO in full for their clients if they are not creating many, many different pages with many, many different variations of phrases, and linking them all together?

SEO Companies that Limit Keywords are Limiting Your Results

After that somewhat complex explanation, the conclusion is simple: SEO companies that limit the number of keywords are limiting your results. [Tweet this!] Potential explanations for why they do it may vary, and I guess it’s possible that there may be a valid budgetary reason for restricting things in that manner, but according to the science of how SEO works, limited keywords = limited results. Plain and simple.

Learn More About How SEO Works

If you want to learn more about how SEO works, you can register to watch this FREE webinar I recorded recently, “A Framework for A Successful SEO Strategy: 2014 Edition.”

Pam Aungst Cronin
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