Trophy Phrases vs Long Tail Search Terms
In a great video on checking search rankings, Google’s Matt Cutts explains quite a bit about how you should be examining your search phrases and which ones you should be optimizing for.
The question the the video aimed to answer was “What is the best way to check your own site for keyword rankings?”, but Matt actually spent quite a bit of time talking about what phrases you should be optimizing and how you should choose them. He did onfirm that simply Google searching your target phrase and searching through the results is the best way to find out where you are ranked. However, he then explained that that is not a very good way of doing SEO. Instead of picking certain phrases (“Trophy Phrases”) and trying to concentrate on them specifically, you should be focusing on the more general range of phrases which you already rank for (“Long Tail”).
You can use either your server logs, or analytics software like Google Analytics, to monitor what phrases people are already using to search for your site (Google passes the search term in the URL parameters). It’s also worth mentioning that because of the personalization which Google attempts to do with search results, you may get different search results than your users, so trying to check your ranking in search results is not a universal indicator of SEO success.
You should focus on optimizing the phrases which you know your site already ranks for, rather than picking the phrases you want to rank for and trying to optimize them. Those familiar with Google’s philosophy on SEO will recognize that it fits in with their belief that you shouldn’t focus on trying to rank well for certain keywords, but rather create good content, and that then you will rank well. They assume that they can pick the best keywords for your site, and that you shouldn’t be trying to game the system. That means that this whole idea is a little biased towards Google’s slightly anti-SEO view, however that does not make it a bad way to do site optimization.