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Vanity Keywords: A Useless SEM Strategy

Ranking for 'Vanity Keywords' simply doesn't achieve the same marketing ROI as a long-tail approach. Here's why the practice should be put to rest.
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How many times have you thought something like, "Why aren't WE No. 1 for [insert vanity keyword here]'? Many marketing leaders and troops on the ground already understand that ranking for 'Vanity Keywords' simply doesn't achieve the same marketing ROI. Here's why the practice of measuring vanity rankings should be put to rest for eternity.

1. Personalization

Due to personalization, ranking No. 1 on any keyword for every search engine user just isn't possible anymore. Historically, search engines only used a combination of links and on-page factors that resulted in a very specific search engine ranking. This antiquated practice has been replaced by robust decision engines that take into account a number of variables unique to each individual user, including time, location, web history, bounce rates, time on site and personal social network connections. All of these variables are calculated for each individual user prior to delivering search results, which has caused the large variation in search engine ranking positions that we see today.

So, how do you fill in the gaps between personalized results and gain exposure in organic search results? Today, this can only be achieved through a long-tail search strategy focused on digital relevancy. Being digitally relevant means that your organization is a thought leader that creates and shares great content on a regular basis. A strategy focused on ranking for a few vanity keywords is a narrow strategy that will ostracize the majority of search engine users.

2. Growth

Fat-head keywords, or search phrases with only one or two words, are eroding with respect to the total market share of keywords being searched today. In 2010, Google announced that over 20 percent of searches for that year were phrases that the search giant had never seen before! Additionally, 80 percent of searches today contain five or more words within the phrase. And in Slingshot SEO's study on long-tail traffic, we found that long-tail keywords provide more than four times the volume of traffic than their vanity keyword counterparts! This study also found a 643 percent increase in the total number of keywords driving traffic as a result of a long-tail content strategy.

The fact is that users are demanding much more specific results from search engines, and they're using longer and more complicated search phrases. Today, value is driven by how many keywords send traffic to your website, rather than where you rank for any specific keyword. Every executive understands the importance of growth, so use these data when explaining the declining value of vanity keywords.

3. Conversion

Anyone in sales will tell you that a more informed buyer is closer to a buying decision. This principle also applies to the web when measuring conversions and sales. Another long-tail study also found that long-tail keywords have 2.5 times the conversion rate of their vanity keyword counterparts. You might have fallen in love with the idea of a vanity keyword ranking, but you might get cold feet when they realize you're missing out on 150 percent more sales and conversions!

4. Make Your Case

It's time to convince everyone else what you now know. Understand that vanity keywords do have value, but it is a very different kind of value. The value driven from vanity keywords mostly revolves around PR and your company image, so they rarely generate a measurable return comparable to the long-tail approach. Understanding these differences will help you use these approaches appropriately.

When presented with vanity ranking challenges, the main question to ask your executives is if they would rather have rankings or sales. Use the data above as proof that a long-tail approach is a long-term strategy to increase search traffic and website conversions. Make sure that your executive team understands the difference in value between the vanity terms and long-tail strategies. Also be sure to read The New Rules for SEO Success in 2013 to be on top of the latest inbound marketing tactics when making your case for a holistic inbound marketing strategy.

Last updated: Feb 7, 2013




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