Keyword Research

Understanding the Importance of the Right Keyword

When building out a list of keywords, there are a lot of points to take into consideration. What do we use to determine a keyword’s value? How do we decide which particular keywords are worth tracking, and which should be put aside?

One of the easiest and most popular methods among digital strategists is looking at keyword volume. After all, a keyword that has a high search volume has the potential to bring a large quantity of new users to the website.

However, not all keywords are born equally. While keyword volume is certainly an attractive way to sell SEO  (even thoughthose volumes might be a bit suspect right now), it isn’t the best way to approach targeting for your website.

Let's take a look at an example using a fictional hospital in Dallas, Texas. Our hospital wants to increase the number of patients coming to their cancer center. In researching keywords, we’ve come up with his list:


Volume (Dallas Texas)



Breast Cancer




Dallas Oncologist


Based on the keyword volumes, we have k obvious winners and losers.  However, before we put together our landing pages and set up tracking, let's take a look at the SERP (or Search Engine Results Page) for these keywords.

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SERP Results for Cancer keyword

First and foremost, let’s look at the type of page appearing on the SERP. These pages are informational. They are providing general information about cancer (with one even geared toward horoscopes).

From this, we gather certain expectations as to what Google deems relevant to this search. Google thinks that anyone searching for the keyword “cancer” is looking for general information. What does that mean for our hospital? Well, if we are wanting to rank for this keyword then we are going to need a page that provides general information about cancer. Does this fit with our overall goal? Is it likely that someone searching for general information about cancer will then convert to being a patient? We’ll circle back to these questions in a moment.

Next, let’s look at the websites that are being displayed. Discounting the news, we see the following top results:

• Wikipedia

• National Cancer Institute

• WebMD

Google rankings are based on a number of factors that are constantly being updated, weighted differently and adjusted in order to serve better results to each search. For convenience sake, we are going to focus on one factor in particular, that of domain authority. Domain authority is a figure used to represent the amount of “trust” Google places on a website. A high domain authority means that Google trusts a website to a very high degree and thinks that the information provided on the site is trustworthy. A low domain authority could mean that Google does not trust the site, or that the site is new enough that Google is unsure how to rank it.

Let's say that our hospital’s website has a domain authority of around 40 (a fairly average level of authority you’d expect to see on a typical hospital website). How does that stack up compared to the top three results above?

• Wikipedia : 100 DA

• National Cancer Institute: 100 DA

• WebMD: 96 DA

These websites have an incredibly high authority, which would be incredibly difficult for our hospital to compete against.

What’s more, it’s probably not important that we do so. Take another look at the result page above, specifically at what you are not seeing. Hospital pages and individual doctor pages are not listed. So judging by Google’s search results, we can determine that this keyword isn’t frequently used by people actually looking for a hospital to visit or a doctor to make an appointment with.

Smaller Volume, Higher Intent

Let’s now take a look at the SERP for the last keyword on our list, the one we had first dismissed due to its low search volume - “Dallas Oncologist.”

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SERP results for Dallas Oncologist

Not only does this keyword display a Local Pack (one of the best ways to drive conversions for local businesses), but the entire page is either directories for doctors or website specific to physicians in the Dallas area.

All of these websites are conversion focused. They are providing information to the searcher so they can better determine which doctor to use in the Dallas area. Based on this SERP, we can absolutely say that “Dallas Oncologist” is a keyword we should focus on in our overall digital strategy.

The Bigger Picture

In reality, any keyword list we build is going to be far longer than four keywords, and the variation we see in SERPS for them is going to be far more nuanced than the clear dilation in our hypothetical. But a firm understanding of what a SERP can tell you is paramount to building that initial digital strategy.

Jake Young