SEO’s Three Stages of Keyword Success

Filed in Featured, MY BEST POSTS, SEO by Matt McGee on October 21, 2011 3 Comments

dark-caveSmall business owners: When you’re just launching a new website and getting started with SEO, it’s okay to feel like you’re walking around in dark cave. You don’t know what’s ahead nor what to expect. And you’re not sure if you’re going in the right direction. And that’s perfectly normal. Over time, though, things will become clearer if you’re on the right path. One way to monitor that is to watch for the three stages of keyword success.

(This post is written for small business owners; SEO folks, you can move along.)

Three Types of Keywords

There are three basic types of keywords that will drive traffic to your site:

1.) Branded keywords: These are keywords that match or use your business name (or your product name if it’s a unique product not available anywhere else).

2.) Non-branded, long-tail keywords: These are terms that don’t use your business name and are generally less competitive. An example might be a term like “dermatologist recommended skin care regimen” that sends traffic to a dermatologist’s website.

3.) Non-branded, short-tail keywords: These are terms that don’t use your business name, but are more competitive. Dermatology-related examples would be terms like “skin care products” or “clogged pores.”

I’m simplifying things a bit here, but those are the three main keyword types that I monitor.

Three Stages of Keyword Success

If you’re just starting out with a new site and/or SEO campaign, my experience tells me this is what you should expect to see if you’re doing SEO the right way.


Early Stage

In the beginning, you’ll probably only be able to rank for and get search traffic from branded keywords. Short of some miracle (like an appearance on Dr. Phil or something) that leads to amazing exposure, buzz and links, you won’t be getting traffic from many non-brand terms in the early stages.

Even this stage might be difficult if you have a common business name. Keep in mind that SEO success requires patience. Think marathon, not sprint.

Middle Stage

If you’re doing things the right way and making progress, you’ll start to rank for and get traffic from more than your branded keywords. It’ll still be too soon to get traffic from short-tail phrases, but you’ll see less competitive phrases showing up in your keyword referral list — things like the “dermatologist recommended skin care regimen” example that I mentioned above.

When will this happen? That depends on your industry, your competition, how strong your SEO and social media efforts are, and so forth. It will likely take months — could be 2-3 months, or it could be 6-8 months or more. I can’t tell you that.

Late Stage

I don’t want to call this the “final” stage, because SEO is an ongoing process that should never come to an end. But the third stage of keyword success is when you start getting traffic from non-branded, short-tail keywords. These are the competitive phrases like “skin care products” and “clogged pores” from my earlier example.

When will this happen? Again, it depends on all the factors I listed two paragraphs earlier. It could take 6-8 months, or it could take a couple years. There’s no fixed answer I can share. It takes time, though, and not everyone gets to this stage.

If you get to this stage, and you haven’t taken any shortcuts or cut corners that might get you in trouble, you can be certain you’re on the right path. Your website and SEO plan are doing well. (Ultimately, of course, you should measure success by how much money your website and SEO plan are bringing in, not just by how much traffic you’re getting. Don’t forget that.)

How Do You Get To The Third Stage?

I think you have to hit a home run with the four keys to online success: a well SEO’d website, a great and active blog, a strong social media presence and a great product/service.

I think you have to focus on earning trust in everything you do.

And I think you have to understand all of the pieces that define long-term SEO success.

It ain’t easy, but it sure is worth the hard work and long hours when you get to the point where search engines are sending you traffic for fantastic keywords that lead directly to sales or leads.

(Stock photos via Shutterstock and used under license.)

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  1. SearchCap: The Day In Search, October 21, 2011 | October 21, 2011
  1. Chris Reilly says:

    I wish everybody could read this before they start the SEO journey! The “we need to be #1 for XXXXXX” mentality results in disappointment predictably. One can’t hang a shingle in a new market and expect 20% marketshare overnight, and the same is true with search engines.

  2. Jerrick says:

    i been focus on 3rd stage all the time with the short tail keywords.
    Because it do have the highest search compare to long-tail.

    I won’t concern on brand name at 1st because brand name because no one going to search on your brand name if unpopular .
    Target the niche with long tails keywords and expand your market with short tails keywords.

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