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What does Trophy Terms mean in SEO?

I can't tell you how many clients have approached me wanting to rank for Trophy Terms (sometimes also called Trophy Phrases). They don't know that's what they are and they don't know that even if they did rank it might bring them visitors but it wouldn't make their website a success. I'll explain why.

What exactly is a Trophy Term or Trophy Phrase


OK lets start with the definition. Its a keyword or phrase that you want to rank for but if you did the result would be either:

  • It would bring you no or little traffic - because people never actually search that phrase
  • It might bring you a lot of traffic but not the right visitors who will convert (e.g. buy a product, sign up to a service)

Why do people try to rank for Trophy Terms


Often webmasters go on a gut feeling. They think "If I could rank for that my website would be successful".

The other main reason is that when they carry out keyword research they find keywords and phrases that are searched thousands or millions of times a year and smell gold if they can get a bite of the action.

"But" I hear you ask "Surely if a phrase is searched thousands or millions of times a year surely getting a slice of those Internet users can't fail"

Not quite. A search on the Internet can often start off being quite vague and that person will then educate themselves in the choices before carrying out more specific searches. Its at the point that they are carrying out specific searches that they are ready to act and so its actually there that you want to rank.

In eCommerce this is referred to as the Buying Cycle.

When I was looking to replace the roof on my house my buying cycle went something like this:

  1. I started off with something vague like "Roofs for houses".
  2. I visited several sellers to find out what my options were.
  3. Then there was time on forums and blogs and articles understanding the pros and cons of each.
  4. Finally I was ready to buy and searched for a local supplier and installer of the specific brand and model of roofing material I wanted


The Trophy Term here is "Roofs for houses". It will bring you traffic and you can feel good about it but it won't bring you customers.

The Buying Cycle is also true of many other Internet searches. I might start by looking for a local builder but then realize I need a local roofer so roofers ranking under 'builder' would be wasting their time.

How do you know if you are considering a Trophy Term


Obviously tools like the Google Keyword Planner help you flush out phrases which are never searched on the Internet but what about the competitive ones?

The easiest and most cost effective way, and believe me it will save you big time, is to invest in some small Google Ads campaigns. To test a particular keyword or phrase is unlikely to cost you more than $100.

Get an advert out there targeting that word and after it has generated 50 to 100 visitors see how many converted (to do this you will need your Google Ads account connected to Google Analytics with Goals set up). If the answer comes back, "absolutely none of them" then its a Trophy Term.

Summing up


So Trophy Terms are those phrases that give you a warm feeling inside when you find yourself ranking from them at the top of the search results but they never bring visitors who convert. Pursuing trophy terms is a common SEO mistake and its easily avoidable with some basic testing using pay per click adverts.

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

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