The “Keyword Relevance” Myth

 by: Jim Pryke

You’ve probably heard the standard advice about keywords.. “Find lots of keywords that are relevant to whatever you’re selling, get lots of traffic, and you’ll make lots of sales”. Sounds sensible, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, it’s rarely that simple.

To make it clear why that is, let’s start with an extreme example. For a site selling horses, the phrase “horse pictures” is clearly relevant. In many ways, it looks like an ideal phrase. It gets quite a lot of searches. There is very little competition in organic listings. You can get very prominent positions for this phrase cheaply on most pay-per-click search engines. But you are very unlikely to ever sell a horse using the phrase “horse pictures.”

Why doesn’t the phrase “horse pictures” generate sales? Because the people who type this phrase into the search engines are either the parents of children who want to look at pictures of horses or the children themselves. In almost every case they have no interest in buying a horse. Worse yet, they have no place to put a horse if they did purchase one. The most persuasive sales copy in the world couldn’t sell these people horses.

The phrase “horse pictures” connects you with the wrong person. Many other phrases connect you with the right person, but at a time when they are in the wrong mindset. If you have the right person in the wrong mindset, you will probably fail if you try to bully them into buying. But you can often make sales by leading them into the desired mindset.

How do you change someone’s mindset? It’s often easier than it sounds. Just figure out what the person wants and give them exactly that. Then immediately follow up by offering what you want them to buy.

Continuing with horses, here is an example. Imagine that most of your horses are sold to dressage enthusiasts. Let’s say that the big dressage event is called “Dressage 2005” (not a real event as far as I know, I’m making it up for this example). Let’s also suppose, for the sake of example, that there were a huge number of searches last year for the phrase “dressage 2004 schedule”, so you have very strong reasons to expect a lot of searches for “dressage 2005 schedule”.

In order to convert a reasonable percentage of the people who search for “dressage 2005 schedule” into buyers, you need to create a landing page on your site that features the schedule of events for “Dressage 2005” very prominently. Make it as clear and detailed as possible. Immediately below the schedule place a headline that presents your horses for sale as compellingly as possible, and include sales copy and / or pictures to entice visitors to check out your horses. Done properly, this solves your visitor’s problem, frees them to think about other things, creates some small measure of goodwill, and coaxes them to consider your horses for sale.

The easiest sales are made to the right people when they already have the right mindset. Phrases like “buy horses” and “horse prices” can put cash in your pockets, but if your market is competitive, it will be hard to get good listings in organic searches and expensive to buy them in pay-per-click listings.

If you master the subtle art of adjusting the mindset of your visitors, you can make money in almost any market.

Copyright 2004 Jim Pryke

About The Author

Jim Pryke provided search engine marketing expertise to his clients as president of NetInstitute Inc. for more than six years beginning in 1997. He has now moved on to a career in social services, but he can’t resist dabbling in search engine marketing and sharing his experience at

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