Sometimes there’s a gap between the keyword you think you’re ranking for and the keyword you’re actually ranking for. And that’s okay.

I’ve been working on a keyword project. The idea is to identify high-volume keywords in areas where my company is invested. Specifically, we put on a bunch of events and each of these events aligns with a technical area. These areas revolve around unique technologies and techniques, and technologies and techniques just happen to map beautifully with keywords.

So, we’re building original content that’s constructed to rank well for target keywords. And we’re doing this in a non-sleazy way that’s editorially sound and won’t make my journalism degree burst into flames.

I’ve been using Google’s Search Console with this project. While poking around in this tool, I’ve discovered there’s sometimes a significant gap between the keyword I think I’m ranking for and the keyword I’m actually ranking for.

Here’s a theoretical example:

Let’s say you’ve identified “muffins and rainbows” as a high-value keyword phrase that maps well to your business (you run an odd business). You’ve determined that an article with the title “10 resources to help you learn about muffins and rainbows” is a smart investment. So, you write the piece, you apply all your SEO tactics (paying close attention to the title, the URL, headers, alt tags, etc.).  You publish the article and then wait for that sweet organic search traffic to roll on in.

After a few weeks you go into Google Search Console to see how your “muffins and rainbows” post is doing. And that’s when you discover that despite your effort to rank for the term “muffins and rainbows” you’re actually generating more traffic from the phrase “muffins and rainbows definition.”

What the …? How’d that happen?

Google keeps its ranking criteria secret, so you’ll never know exactly why “muffins and rainbows definition” is hitting the mark. But, it likely has something to do with Google’s machine learning tools, which work to identify a searcher’s intention rather than parrot back a bunch of search results that contain exact keywords.

Anyway, you’ve got this keyword gap. What do you do?

There are two options:

  1. You can double-down on your original keyword and update your article to rank for that initial keyword. (This tutorial is an excellent resource if you opt to go this route.)
  2. You can take what Google is giving you and rework your article (in an editorially-sound way, of course) to better align with the keyword phrase that you are ranking for.

I’m sure SEO experts look at those two options and respond with a blunt “duh.” And that’s fair. It is pretty obvious when you think about it. But, I hadn’t really considered the second option until I faced this issue.

Coming from my world — which has largely focused on identifying target audiences, creating valuable content for those audience, and optimizing for conversion — I had always applied SEO as a one-and-done sort of thing. Important, certainly, but something that was incorporated into the editorial and production stages and not revisited after publication.

The more I think about option #2, however, the more I like it. It’s the “turning Google’s lemons into lemonade” approach.

Choosing option #2 isn’t easier than option #1. It requires follow through and additional work. If you’re going to revise your article to map to the alternative keyword you also need to spend time evaluating that new keyword. What kind of search volume does it have? How hard will it be to make a dent in the search results for that keyword? You don’t want to invest in a keyword that’s got no juice.

But if there’s juice to be had and you’re already squeezing some of that juice out of Google (how far will I stretch this juice thing?), ditch the original keyword and go where the lemonade flows freely (I’m done now, I promise).  

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