If all things were equal, SEO would be identical no matter what the search term was. With the right balance of keywords, links, social signals, and all the other finer points (such as having your on-page SEO properly set), you should be able to rank for anything.
However, there are different situations where different rules apply, and knowing about them will not only make you better at SEO for those situations but also give you a better insight into the finer points of google's logic.
For example, ranking for eCommerce terms with affiliate sites can be impossible, and eCommerce sites have their own difficulties too. On top of that, local search has further complexities that you wouldn't otherwise need to consider.
Google puts a lot of emphasis on user intent now. I've seen different interpretations and explanations of what this means, but in its purest form, it just means that for some search terms, you're only going to see certain types of results.
Do a search in Google now for something like “PlayStation 4” and you'll notice that pretty much every site is somewhere that sells Playstations. There will be one or two others in there, but you certainly won't find a blog or affiliate site. I haven't even researched this term, I just know it will be the case.
I'm going to dig into three different types of SEO now, and use further examples to get the point across. This will really teach you a thing or two about the mindset of the Google search team these days.
Now I'll be the first to admit I'm not a huge eCommerce expert. I'm basing this section on what I've witnessed on search engines, what I've seen taught by experts I trust, and my own intuition (which might or might not be a hindrance).
When someone searches for a product name, Google has learned that in most cases, they want to buy it or at least learn about it from somewhere that sells it. Maybe they figured this out by analysing millions of searches, maybe they just guessed. The fact that they have patents around http://www.seobythesea.com/2011/10/googles-exact-match-domain-name-patent-detecting-commercial-queries/” target=”_blank”>determining whether a search term is commercial or not suggests that they've at least thought this through.
Go ahead and search for “Gillette razor” “Pool pumps” or something similar, like “Pink road bike”. I'll show you a snippet of what appears below, but it helps if you follow along.
What this shows is that for the majority of searches like this, Google will show eCommerce websites. There ARE some exceptions; If you search for “straight razor”, you'll find a mixture of informational and eCommerce sites. Google is constantly adjusting.
You may think that by optimising your site better for those keywords, or by building links better, you'd be able to rank for them with any site, but time and time again Google proves this not to be the case. Do you really think that no one has tried optimising or link building for any of these terms shown above?
Now, eCommerce sites still need to build links, use keywords, and do all the other SEO best practices, but they first need to be the right type of site to show up in the first place.
Let's change the above search terms ever so slightly by adding “best” or “review” onto them. Look at the SERPS for “Gillette razor review” or “best pool pumps”.
As you can see, there are virtually no eCommerce sites, and a whole bunch of affiliate and authority sites. Google knows that when you add in these words, your intent is more about research and information. These search terms tend to still get a good search volume, but you're much more likely to rank for them if all else is the same.
This is why we do our keyword research this way for our done for you sites.
Interesting note: For some products, you can rank a “review” article for the main search term. For example, if you search for RankXL, you'll see my review article showing up. This gives you a kind of “backdoor” into ranking for those eCommerce type search terms. If you were to write a review of Gillette razors, you might end up ranking for both terms, but if you don't, at least you'll rank for the review term. As I mentioned earlier, searching for “Safety Razors”, which should be mostly eCommerce listings, it is possible to find ‘best' articles in there too.
A good way to work out how likely this is would be to google the term, and see if anyone else has had success ranking a review article for the main term. If the search volume is high enough, it could be worth your while to try.
So onto our third and final section. Local SEO works differently right off the bat, because you've got geo-specific keywords thrown into the mix. On page SEO is more important, and geographical as well as niche relevance are important.
If the formula for normal SEO is “Keywords + Links = Ranks”, the formula for local SEO is more like “Keywords + Location + Links + https://moz.com/learn/local/citations” target=”_blank”>Citations = Links.”
Of course, each of those examples is just a distilled basic version.
Local SEO differs also because the freshness of a site isn't as important. Most local businesses have static websites, and Google really doesn't expect them to blog on a weekly basis in order to maintain their rankings.
As well as making sure that there are geographic keywords on the page, there also needs to be geographic relevance. What this means is that other articles on the site, or links from other sites are also based in the area. So if you're a doctor's clinic in Austin, it's not enough to just have “Austin” in your homepage, you also need links from other Austin businesses and websites, and you should probably have other articles on your site related to Austin as well.
Another thing to point out is that low search volume can be much more profitable, so the whole way of approaching local seo keyword research is different. When you can get $4,000 for a new rhinoplasty customer, 100 searches a month suddenly seems like a golden keyword.
Putting All Of This Together
While these examples are by no means exhaustive, this article is designed to show you that SEO is a flexible process, and by no means are science. You'll rank for some keywords using some methods, and not even get closing with other keywords. It's important to bear this in mind so that you don't waste your time writing content for things you'll never rank for, and also so you accept that you're not going to hit it out of the park every time.
What's cool is, once you learn to understand this, you get a lot better at your keyword analysis, and ultimately you'll rank for many more terms, and that's the most important thing of all.