Is it worth ranking for single-term keywords?

In examining the sites in my three way links network, I've noticed quite a few folks targeting single keyword search terms (i.e. "puppies" or "networking" or "apparels"). It's a small minority of all keywords, to be sure, but still enough that I felt the need to write about whether or not it makes sense to target single terms.

To get right to the point, most of the time it does not make sense to target single keyword search terms. There are exceptions, of course, which I'll discuss in a minute, but first let's go over the 3 reasons why it usually does not make sense:

1. Untargeted Traffic

In most cases, it's impossible to know precisely what a searcher is after when they put in a single search term. For example, somebody searching for "puppies" might be looking to buy a puppy, or perhaps they're wanting to find information about how to care for puppies, or maybe they just want to see pictures of cute and cuddly puppies. There's no way to know for sure based on a single keyword.

2. Low Conversion Rates

Because the traffic is so untargeted, and it's very difficult to know what a searcher is after, your conversion rate from a single keyword search term is inevitably going to be very low. In keeping with our previous example, if somebody is searching for "yorkshire terrier puppies for sale" you know exactly what to have on the page that you rank for those keywords. You know what the searcher wants, and can hone in on that desire and fulfill the need.

If you rely on AdSense or another pay-per-click program for income, the low "conversion rate" means a low click-through rate. AdSense, as good as it is about targeting ads to a page, will have a difficult time knowing what ads to show on a page that is very generic in nature. But for a page like "yorkshire terrier puppies for sale", AdSense will usually be spot-on.

With a single keyword search term you can only hope that what you have on the page appeals to some of the visitors who find your page. You can, of course, provide a variety of choices on the page (puppies for sale, puppy pictures, puppy care, etc.) but keep in mind that too many choices is not a good thing for improving conversion rates. Too many choices on a page leads to a visitor being overwhelmed and less inclined to act in the manner which you would like them to.

Keep in mind, too, that somebody searching for a single keyword is less likely to know what they want to begin with. If somebody is unsure of what they're looking for, they'll be equally unsure about buying from you. Again, this leads to lower conversion rates.

3. Too Much Work For Too Little Return

Despite the lower conversion rates for single keyword terms, they are notoriously difficult to rank for in most situations. That's because many deep-pocketed companies still see the volume of traffic they receive as being at least as important as the return on their investment to get that traffic. "Long tail" keywords (keywords with 3+ search terms) are generally much easier to rank for because the competition is a lot less fierce.

Very large companies are looking to brand themselves as much as they are looking to actually sell something from the potential customer's first visit to their web site. They want to get their name out in front of as many people as possible, with the understanding that if they consistently do this, when the time comes for the individual to actually need what they provide, their name will pop into the customer's head. It's basic psychology, and it works very well.

But smaller businesses can't afford to wait years before they see a return on their investment. They need to have a solid conversion rate from the get-go to warrant the constant effort and expense it takes to maintain their search engine rankings. If you're in that crowd, then ranking for single-term keywords probably isn't the right goal for you.

Exceptions to Every Rule

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Some single-term keywords are much more narrow in definition, and therefore more likely to be worth ranking for.

For example, anyone searching for the acronym "SEO" is quite likely looking to increase their search engine ranking, so it's not hard to design a page around that need if you rank for that term. There are many terms which are also narrowly defined enough to be quite targeted, though they are, of course, in the strict minority.

Also, if your site relies on a CPM advertising model (where you're paid by the number of ad impressions, rather than the number of ad clicks), ranking for a single term keyword can be quite lucrative. Because those same companies that want to build brand awareness are also happy to pour money into advertising for that same purpose. It's not the number of clicks they care about so much as the number of eyeballs that get the company's logo burned into their brains that matters.

From My Own Experience

I realized the truth about single keyword rankings a couple of years ago when I got a site ranked in the top 10 for the term "veterinarian". I was sure that with all the traffic I would receive that my site would be a big earner — but it wasn't. The traffic was there, but the term just wasn't targeted enough to get a high click-through rate from AdSense or to be able to convert into any kind of real sales. I finally stopped working to maintain the ranking since it was not giving me nearly the return I had expected.

So when you're sitting down to determine what keywords you want to rank for, keep in mind that, unless you're looking to brand your site or to earn from a CPM model, single keyword terms are usually not worth the effort.

Please leave your thoughts in a comment below.

Source: Rank In Google