Search Frequency Is Meaningless

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One of the big misconceptions I see on business forums is the idea:

“That the number of documents returned on a keyword search on Google, has a direct correlation with the competitiveness of the keyword.”

Once you see people posting examples of their “SEO successes” by use of this measurement, you can easily see that search frequency has little to do with competition – after all, it does exactly what it says on the tin – and simply returns a number based on frequency of the keyword appearing in documents.

I raised this as part of a UK Business Forums thread – in an attempt to educate people about the basics of SEO. Because it’s apparent a lot of the general non-SEO’s there are pretty clueless about SEO. Small businesses in general.

An interesting counter was made, suggesting that using quote marks with help narrow down who the actual competition down.

For example:
1. pink elephants London shows nearly 2 million results returned.
2. fixed rate mortgages shows just over 2 million results returned.

However, with quote marks on those keywords, it shows a huge disparity in the frequncy of documents returned on a phrase match basis – 2 – 2million as it happens.

The trouble here is that it can lull a person into a false feeling of confidence, because it’s still dealing with frequency and tells you nothing directly about competitiveness.

For example, “read a book” returns 2 million results as well – but how many of those returned documents are being used to actively rank for the keyword search “read a book”? The frequency doesn’t tell you.

Additionally, some keyword areas with a relatively low number of returned documents can be far more competitive than for larger frequency sets.

As an analogy:

1. You are a competition class runner, and want to find out more about who you may be competing against.

A MORI poll might tell you that 2.0 million Britons run on a regular basis (frequency). It doesn’t tell you how many of those are Olympic-class runners (competitors).

2. You are a competition class shot-putter, and want to find out more about who you may be competing against.

A MORI poll might tell you that 200 Britons practice shot-put on a regular basis (frequency). It doesn’t tell you how many of those are Olympic-class runners (competitors) – but you can guess the competition is probably tougher.

Swap MORI above for Google, and you have the basis of the analogy – that knowing the frequency of a keyword cannot be directly correlated to the level of competition for a keyword – certainly not in a generic sense.

I know some people use frequency of a search term as an indicator, and if someone is very focused on a particular niche then perhaps they are qualified to be able to make an interpretation of frequency figures that generally reflects the level of competition.

But in general terms, frequency really is a meaningless measure by itself.

The bottom line is that it’s easy to feel that numbers Google provides provide a meaningful value you can use – but the meaning is in the perception of how you use those numbers, and use them relatively and in context with other data.

Only then can you even begin to give such numbers such as document frequency for a keyword any kind of meaning related to the actual level of competition for that keyword.


Search Frequency Is Meaningless
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