Sneaky Keyword Research Tactics That Expose Opportunities





Blog Date

June 6, 2024


UK, Manchester

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Sneaky Keyword Research Tactics That Expose Opportunities

Sneaky Keyword Research Tactics That Expose Opportunities

Shots fired… I have no doubt that I’m going to get some hate for this statement. But after 5 years working with small business owners to rank on Google, I’ve consistently found that keyword research, specifically the endless hours spent finding the “perfect” keyword with low competition, high traffic, and high buyer’s intent, is now a complete waste of time. Not only that, but keyword research as a service sets poor expectations for the client who begins to believe Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a high stakes gamble where they attempt to “outwit” Google’s algorithms.

Before I dive deeper into my thought process, let me preface this with another comment: I WANT to be proven wrong. If you’ve had a different experience, where keyword research was the difference between success and failure for a client, I want to hear from you in the comments, or in a rebuttal post. I’ll also point out that I’m primarily referring to SEO for websites where 1,000 per month in organic traffic would be life-changing, i.e., local small businesses.

So, why do I think keyword research is a utter waste of time? And why does it set poor expectations for clients? Let’s go back to the beginning, to the early 2000s. Some of you may remember this period as the “Golden Age” of SEO or the “Wild Wild West” of online marketing. Nationwide, would-be entrepreneurs and wanna-be digital marketers were rushing to do whatever it took to make money online, regardless of the questionable ethics involved. The most notable change to the SEO world being the advent of “Black Hat SEO.”

If you’ve never heard of Black Hat SEO, it’s essentially SEO tactics designed to circumvent or directly conflict with Google’s terms of service, often with amazingly positive results… at least in the short term. Tactics such as “keyword stuffing”, where keywords were either blatantly overused throughout a page or worse, visually hidden and hard-coded into the website, were all the rage. In the early days, websites could utilize these tactics without fear of punishment. Even if the customer experience was awful, the traffic gain almost always outweighed the loss.

That was until Google decided to fight back. In rapid succession, Google began punishing websites attempting to game their system, and each year has continued to crack down harder and harder on anyone who doesn’t play by their rules. You might be thinking, “that’s cool, but how does this have anything to do with keyword research?”

From this chaos and the early days of SEO, the concept of keyword research was born. It was fundamentally based on the idea of finding the sneakiest, easiest, and most direct path to organic traffic success, regardless of whether it helped the consumer. Even at the height of “keyword research” as a white hat strategy for long-tail keyword (hyper-specific search terms) strategies, businesses would pump out tens to hundreds of near-identical articles targeting minor variations of keywords such as “stomach fat vs tummy fat” and flooded the market with low-quality content.

For a time, this too worked. But as Google got better at understanding a searcher’s intent and the connection between keywords such as “stomach fat” and “belly fat”, the days of long-tail keyword strategy rapidly died off. Despite this change, keyword research remains relevant to large-scale websites, but even they are feeling the consolidation of keywords as Google starts to clump together keywords and kill off long-tail in favor of “medium-tail” or slightly less specific keywords.

Unfortunately, the troubles don’t stop there. In addition to the death of long-tail keyword opportunities, content and service aggregators such as Yelp, Justia, Thumbtack, AngiesList, Avvo, and many other well-funded and aggressive companies are absolutely dominating most keywords relevant to small business owners. With massive global marketing teams, there’s not much a small business can do to seriously compete for their most important keywords.

So, with no long-tail keyword opportunities to “sneak” their way into and giant competitors closing in on all fronts, what are small businesses supposed to do to compete for organic traffic? You’ve surely seen the Google Map pack before, or the other types of “related” results such as “local news” that often pop up immediately below ads and above organic results. As part of its initiative to include local small businesses in their massive ecosystem, Google intentionally launched additional “SERPS”, or other types of “ranking opportunities”, where local small businesses could fairly compete against each other.

Sounds great, right? But, here’s the thing… The map pack ONLY shows up for very obvious searches like “personal injury lawyer new york” or “lawyer near me.” So, to rank for the map pack, you’re forced to compete only on the most locally relevant keywords that trigger the map pack. Combine that with the extreme competition from content aggregators, and keyword research becomes irrelevant.

Instead, local small businesses are encouraged to turn their attention entirely on locally relevant keywords and competition on the map pack. It’s easier than you might think. If you instead think of Google as a network of “Trusted” and “Authoritative” individual sites connected through backlinks, content, and social shares, the answer becomes obvious. Be a website that Google can trust. Be a website that exudes authority.

It’s not a game. It’s about serving the needs of your clients with content that is useful, trustworthy, and authoritative. It’s about proving to Google that not only do your users trust your content (i.e., by social sharing), but so do other websites (i.e., backlinks). Be a website that Google can trust and looks to as a niche authority, and you will succeed. This is especially true for Local SEO and the Google Map pack.

Whether you’re getting more reviews, filling out your profile fully, getting social shares, creating awesome content, or acquiring high-authority backlinks, it’s all about proving to Google, and to your customers, that you’re a business people can and SHOULD trust. SEO is quickly moving away from the “game” of tactics and embracing the ideals of serving the needs and wants of the customer.

As Jeff Bezos once “sort of” said: Approach your marketing from the eyes of the customer. Go forth and conquer, my friends. Be sure to comment if you disagree. Or comment if you’ve had similar experiences.


Ronnie Deaver is the Director of Web Development and SEO at The SMB Team, a Digital Marketing Agency focusing on lead/case generation for law firms. If you’re a law firm looking for help generating cases and leads through PPC, SEO, or your Website, let’s talk.

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